Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 3, 2010

Donut Go Gentle …

All across America you see them: the roadside attractions. We have our share in Los Angeles, and, as everywhere, they’re a threatened species. One Los Angeles icon, the Tail o’ the Pup, has apparently recently bitten the dust. Revisit its glory HERE. I thank my niece, Katie, for leading us to visit it a few years ago, before its demise. I’ll write about that and another famous Los Angeles doggery, Pink’s, some time (again, thanks to Katie, gourmand extraordinaire).

As for surviving attractions, Los Angeles boasts more than a few. Certainly you’re familiar with the iconic “Randy’s Donuts” in Los Angeles — a giant donut, thirty feet in diameter, perched on a little building. Actually, Randy’s is in the city of Inglewood, on Manchester, just north of LAX, on the west side of the San Diego Freeway. Built in 1952, it still stands. They’re famous enough to merit their own Web site, HERE.

What few non-Anglenos know is that what is now Randy’s is one of the survivors of a chain called “Big Donut Drive-Ins.”

This photo was taken in 1960 at the corner of Sepulveda and Washington Place, in Culver City, somewhat north of Randy’s, on the east side of the freeway. This view is looking southwest.

sepulveda washington 1960 (614x412)

You can see the Big Donut Drive-In donut on the right. That building is still there, although minus the donut. My colleague, Surf Boy, who’s the same age as I am, knocked me out by immediately remembering this scene from childhood. He attended high school not far south in Westchester, and worked on his family’s oil fields just a couple of miles away. He vividly recalls aching to have a rocket just like THAT one on the left in his yard. What tells you he REALLY knows his way around town is that from this photo alone he could say, “Oh, that’s the pastrami place now.” It’s always impressive to learn the degree to which we can recall those scenes from our earliest years, but we still can’t remember how to get off the freeway to visit Uncle Art. The San Franciscan, another colleague, added, “It’s called Johnnie’s.” Wow, raised in the woods so they knew ev’ry tree.

Sepulveda Night Brad Nixon 2437 (640x457)

(Editor’s note: the following paragraph about Johnnie’s has been disputed by a correspondent. I have to investigate further, and welcome any additional information.)

The Big Donut in that black and white photo is, as my colleagues noted, now Johnnie’s Pastrami. Here is a shot taken just tonight (March 3, 2010). It’s the original building, minus the donut. I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to cross Washington Place to give you the same perspective as the 1960 original. That’s for another day, although I’ll never have access to the lens the original photographer used to capture his or her impressive black and white image.

One additional culinary note. If you’re there, continue on to the right out of the picture 1960 photo, west on Washington Place, to Tito’s Tacos, famous everywhere for their tacos and Mexican food. Don’t go during the peak lunch time unless you enjoy long lines, although it’s fantastic scene if you have the time.

Another of the original places still exists, on Western Ave. in Gardena, now called Donut King II. (Update 3/15/11: the hunt is on to determine which of the other original Big Donuts may have become Donut Kings).

Donut King II Brad Nixon 2274 (640x480)

There three other surviving Donut Kings. The original, Donut King #1, built in 1950, is at the corner of Normandie and Century, in Inglewood. CLICK HERE to see a 2011 update to this story with a picture of Kindle’s.

Here’s an external link with a photo of Kindle’s.

These bits of food-culture architecture rank right up there with the Cabazon Dinosaurs, which I featured HERE. The Donut Kings, however, hail from what we think of as the heyday of such “programmatic architecture” attractions, mired as they are in the city sprawl, but the Dinos are late-comers, capitalizing on the era of freeway travel, and scaled to match the higher speeds and vaster differences.

Since I haven’t gotten there yet, we’ll let the folks at show us the Compton Big Donut, now Dale’s Donuts, corner of Alondra and Atlantic. HERE is another link.

Here I repeat my reminder that photographs of businesses may not be used for any commercial purpose. These images are the intellectual property of those businesses, and may not be used without the permission of the owners.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017



  1. We would look for those roadside attractions over thousands and thousands of miles our parents took us on summer trips. With five kids in the car you were an All-Star if you were the first to see Paul Bunyan or Babe The Big Blue Ox up ahead. All-Star MVP if you spotted them both together. (Points off if Paul’s axe had fallen out of his hand.) But it didn’t matter what they were promoting. Just seeing them said: “Stop!”


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