Review: California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture

California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture
California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture by Jim Heimann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1980’s California Crazy was one of the early gospels for roadside art enthusiasts, documenting dozens of the state’s wonderful theme buildings of the early 20th century, from giant donuts to miniature sphinxes. Author Jim Heimann updated the book in 2001 with California Crazy and Beyond. The old version was presented as a logbook, and in some cases the images are larger. The new volume is redesigned as a more conventional picture book, with lots of additional pictures and a great deal more writing. Both are well worth having.

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Bottle Cap Valhalla: The Bottle Cap Inn

Joe Wiser’s Bottle Cap Inn in Miami was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but more importantly it was a triumph of an obsessive personal vision. Fortunately, many interior views were preserved in a series of postcards and press photos.

The bar was created in the 1930s by Joe Wiser, said to be a disabled World War I veteran. He choose to decorate with the most available ornamentation, covering every surface, and many objects, with bottle caps.

The bar went through a series of owners after Wiser, but was still functioning at least into the 1990s.

Bottle Cap Inn, Miami

The old Bottle Cap Inn building in 2008. It burned down July 4, 2012, victim of fireworks. Find more about the Bottle Cap Inn (and lots of other old Miami places) at Don Boyd’s site. (Photo by Dario Mercado)

Amidst the Gaudís

Antoni Gaudí, perhaps more than any other architect, represents the triumph of genius. Not because his designs are better than anyone else’s (though some might argue they are), but because they are so utterly idiosyncratic yet so monumentally visible in the city of Barcelona. Gaudí’s intensely personal vision prevailed in a field that, because of its visibility, has a tendency toward conformity. Gaudí, though, is not just tolerated but celebrated — indeed, funded, in the case of Sagrada Familia’s continuing construction.

Here’s a stroll through his greatness.

The Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix

Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix, Michigan

Earl Young’s Half House, 1947

Charlevoix, Michigan, developer Earl Young’s constructions showed a personal vision almost from the first house he built, starting in 1918, but fortunately the vision had several decades in which to fully flower. Even without their wacky appearance, the “mushroom houses” he went on to plant in Charlevoix would be interesting as examples of progressive residential architecture ahead of the post-war building boom. But their oddity makes them a unique case of one man successfully expressing a highly idiosyncratic vision across a whole swath of city. Continue reading

Souls Grown Deep — Art Gone Wild

A recent visit to the Souls Grown Deep/Bill Arnett art warehouse in Atlanta was even more mind boggling than reports had led me to expect. Souls Grown Deep warehouseThe space was bigger and the profusion of work more out of control. A modest selection was more or less set out for easy viewing, but that represented only a fraction of the collection. There were boxes and racks and cases and cartons of work spread around two massive rooms, corrals of sculpture, stacks of drawings, piles of books — just what you’d expect from a collecting mission that has outrun any efforts to organize it. Continue reading