Qualified Condition

October 7, 2008

Brown Derby or Happy Fun Ball?

Filed under: Buildings Shaped Like Stuff, Vive le Strip Mall — qualifiedcondition @ 9:21 pm

I am by no means an expert on the history of the Brown Derby.  I know that it was a restaurant chain in LA (if 3 or so restaurants can constitute a chain) and that there were locations in Hollywood, Los Feliz and Wilshire Center.  The Los Feliz location at Hillhurst and Los Feliz Blvd is still there,  though today it is called The Derby and is more of a night club.  The Hollywood location near Vine and Hollywood Blvd is also still there, though only the front facade remains and it’s hanging on for dear life as the W Hotel project envelops it.  The coolest of all these though, was the one in Wilshire Center (right at Alexandria and Wilshire).  I don’t know if this was the spot where Lucy and Ethel caused all kinds of hijinks in their Hollywood adventures, but I do know that of all the Brown Derbies this restaurant was actually shaped like a Brown Derby.  I snagged the picture below from the LA Library Archive (if you haven’t browsed the historic photos in their archive you must!).  Based on the Cadilac I’d say this is no earlier than 1966.

In other posts I’ve suggested that these beloved buildings-shaped-like-stuff are hard to keep around because new tenants or developers may not identify strongly withthe iconic image.  Big ol’ hats don’t really sell manicures or noodles.  I suppose this is where the City’s historic preservation mechanism usually comes into place.  Perhaps the Derb’ was destroyed before it could be designated as a monument.  Perhaps tossing it on top of this building was deemed to be a compromise between the developer and the Cultural Heritage Commission.  I haven’t the time to Google such things; I’m just going to say that we managed to save a ramshackled bungalow where Bukawski lived for about five minutes when he wasn’t even writing anything cured cancer, we could have done a little better here.  If I had money I would buy this strip mall so that I could burn it to the ground.  Who want’s to help me re-build the rim on that there derby?


(By the way, check out the Chapman Marketplace in the background on 6th Street–there’s a historic building we did manage to save from the K-town stripmall epidemic.)



  1. Little known fact- when I was in high school I named my ’79 brown Volvo 240 The Brown Derby or The Derby for short. I was really disappointed to find that the Derby was no longer a big brown Derby hat after I moved to LA. *sigh.

    Comment by xie — October 8, 2008 @ 4:59 am

  2. “I’m just going to say that we managed to save a ramshackled bungalow where Bukawski lived for about five minutes when he wasn’t even writing anything, we could have done a little better here.”

    I’m going to assume you’re exaggerating for dramatic effect, but in case you’re not, Bukowski lived at that residence for 10 years, and wrote many things there including his first novel.

    But I agree on “we could have a done a little better here”. A shame indeed, and a mistake not to be repeated let’s hope…

    Comment by Lauren — October 8, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

  3. Yes, it was a compromise with the developer and the city, yet these comprises ultimately yield a lose/lose proposition.
    The trouble is with such an iconic building – it has no utilitarian use beyond the occupant that created it. And since the tenant went out of business, and no one stepped up to buy it and keep it going, the owner of the property wanted to redevelop the site, yet had to deal with the stupids in city hall & conservancy that ultimately led to something worse than a vacant lot – hence, lose/lose.
    Not all preservation is good, yet Chapman Market, which has a useful shape, layout, etal., survived and quite nicely, and we are all better off for it. But it is on 6th Street, not across from the Ambassador Hotel site and zoned for a potentially 20-story building if so desired, although back then, leasing any office space in that area was very difficult.

    Comment by carter — October 8, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  4. @ Lauren: Sometimes Hyperbole and I go out for drinks and then she dares me to say things that I don’t really mean.

    Comment by qualifiedcondition — October 8, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  5. I own the frame of the Brown Derby’s menu window, from the building in your c.’66 photo above. Here’s the story. I was watching the news. The reporter said the Derby was going down, probably illegally. So late in the night I leaped the fence before it could go down, had my girl stand watch, and I yanked it off the wall.

    True. I have it still.

    Comment by Darrell — October 8, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

  6. Do not taunt the happy fun ball…

    Comment by Dixon — October 10, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

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