Giant milk cans, flower baskets, barrels, cameras, pianos, accordions, coffee cups and coffee pots. And, of course, a large shoe or two.

The roadside architecture of Southern California in the early and mid-20th century was a riot of unusual buildings designed to call attention to themselves as motorists whizzed by.

Humongous human figures, enormous owls, ostriches, elephants, toads, rabbits, cows, chickens, dogs, even stockinged female legs.

The academic name for these cartoonish structures is “programmatic architecture,” and Jim Heimann, a cultural anthropologist, has collected scores of (mostly bygone) examples into his book California Crazy: American Pop Architecture (Taschen, 2017).

Colossal donuts, hamburgers, hot dogs, pickles, pumpkins, lemons and oranges (of course) and just about anything else under the California sun.

Los Angeles had “an optimistic attitude that anything was possible,” Heiman explains in the book’s introduction. “A climate was created that served as a perfect incubator for the outrageous and amazing.”

Fanciful roadside igloos, teepees, windmills, boats, airplanes, castles and sphinxes. The infamous pagodas of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre seem mundane by comparison.

A handful survive: an enormous donut remains a Inglewood landmark. But pretty much all that’s left of these unique buildings are the photos in Heimann’s book, memories of a bygone California.

jim heiman, crazy california, big donut drive in, inglewood, circa 1955
The Big Donut Drive-In in Inglewood (circa 1955).
jim heiman, crazy california, pup cafe, culver city, circa 1934
“California Crazy” chronicles the history of some of the state’s more unusual structures, including Pup Cafe in Culver City (circa 1934).
jim heiman, crazy california, brown derby, los angeles, circa 1930
The Brown Derby in Los Angeles (circa 1930).
jim heiman, crazy california, hoot hoot i scream, san gabriel, circa 1932
Hoot Hoot I Scream in San Gabriel (circa 1932).
jim heiman, crazy california, toed inn, santa monica, circ 1931
Toed Inn, in Santa Monica (circa 1931), is another example of “California Crazy” architecture.
jim heiman, crazy california, big red piano, los angeles, circa 1977
Big Red Piano, Los Angeles (circa 1977).
jim heiman, crazy california, deschwanden's shoe repair, bakersfield, circ 1985
Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair, Bakersfield (circa 1985).
jim heiman, crazy california, tail o' the pup, los angeles, circa 1959
Tail o’ the Pup, Los Angeles (circa 1959).

jim heiman, crazy california, salsa man, malibu, circa 1988
La Salsa man, Malibu (circa 1988).
Mark Potts was the founding managing editor of Alta.