LA’s Mid-Century Dingbat Apartments Showcase Vintage Typography & Design
The boxy, mid-century apartment buildings known as dingbats are often disparaged by Los Angeles residents, if not completely ignored. Yet they’re an essential part of the city landscape, and have been chronicled in two books, Dingbat 2.0 and Pretty Vacant: The Los Angeles Dingbat Observed, plus an Instagram account called DingbatsAndMore. A product of the 1950s focus on postwar urban expansion and the rise of car culture, these simple rectangular structures hoisted above drive-in carports are recognizable for their relative uniformity, as well as for their more distinguishing accents—usually evocative apartment complex names in sprawling retro script and an embellishment such as a star, diamond, or coat of arms.
This is exactly what fans of the dingbats appreciate: the vintage typography and retro flourishes. The constructions may have been cheap, but the artistic touches intended to spiff up the exteriors are indicative of the design landscape of the 1950s and 1960s. With their looping letters and exotic names, the buildings revel in the escapism and fantasy of postwar America. (It’s a design sensibility that’s especially appealing to the millions of people who discovered mid-century style as a result of watching Mad Men.) Their current appeal may also be a result of their fading place in the city’s architectural landscape; just as these buildings once replaced the beloved Craftsman bungalows and single-family Victorian homes of Los Angeles, they are now being replaced by new high-rise condo and apartment buildings.