You’ve seen them and you may have even known their name. “Dingbats,” a stucco box building that was a common building type for multi-family buildings built in Los Angeles between 1954 and 1968. The name “dingbat” comes from the decorative elements that were attached to the exterior of the buildings. The elements were often abstract geometric forms or referenced popular motifs of the Atomic Age, such as starbursts or diamonds. Color and texture could be added with panels of wood, scored stucco, mosaic tile, or stone veneer, often framed by thin wood battens. The use of the term “dingbat” was popularized by Reyner Banham in his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (Penguin Books, 1971).
The Dingbat was one of the most distinctive of the multi-family housing types in postwar Los Angeles, that proliferated throughout various parts of the city in the 1950s and 1960s. These typically two-story apartment houses, developed over the full depth of a single-family lot with tuck under parking and minimal ornamentation, reflected developers’ attempts to capitalize on the widespread demand for postwar housing with as little investment and as much profit as possible, according to SurveyLA.
“As noted by writer and urban designer John Chase, the stucco box was “ruthlessly expedient, made out of the cheapest materials, by the simplest construction methods, allowing the maximum number of units to be shoe-horned onto a single lot.”68 However, the stucco box’s most important design determinants were local parking requirements. The one-to-one parking space per dwelling unit requirement led to its creation in the 1950s, more stringent requirements rendered the type obsolete in the 1960s.”
“The stucco box’s period of proliferation also happened to coincide with the rise of postwar Modernism, and its simple rectangular forms and smooth surfaces – driven more by a need for economy of design than by any stylistic preference – conveniently passed for Modern minimalism.”
It’s hard to believe we are celebrating these exceedingly plain and rather cheaply constructed buildings but compared to their contemporary counterparts, they are quite interesting. A sad commentary on new building forms.
The Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously at their August 17 meeting to accept the Los Angeles Planning Department’s recommendation that 4733 Beverly Blvd (at the intersection of Beverly Blvd and Gramercy Place) be considered an LA City Cultural Heritage Monument. This was the first dingbat considered for monument status, a fact that surprised even commission members, given the notoriety and prominence of the building type.
The application for monument status for 4733 Beverly Blvd was prepared by James Dastoli, a local resident and Buzz reader who has a passion for architecture. In particular, architecture that celebrates well-designed elements like windows and doors. As a digital designer for movies and television, it’s Dastoli’s job to notice details in reality and translate them to graphics for television and film that give the viewer a realistic sense of place. Dastoli is equally passionate about bad alterations to historic buildings and has undertaken a campaign to get historically intact buildings landmarked by the City’s Culture Heritage Commission, to prevent the destruction of original windows and replacement with inexpensive vinyl windows that destroy the character of a building. He was also successful in securing consideration for the Piccadilly Apartments at 682 Irolo Street, an excellent example of Chateauesque architecture constructed in 1929.
“When considering dingbat buildings, because they were so simple, even the smallest alteration to the ornaments, windows, bezels, or accent cladding, kills the look of the whole thing,” Dastoli told the Buzz.
“They’ve got this great balanced sense of simplicity, so you can’t just go removing original elements. Ideally, people will see this article, and beg their landlords not to alter the front elevations. Window replacements are as always one of the biggest concerns,” explained Dastoli. But, he adds, these buildings can be upgraded to meet the city’s enhanced earthquake standards.
“The soft story retrofits are fine, and generally do not negatively affect the look,” said Dastoli.
4733 Beverly Boulevard is a two-story multifamily residential building located on the north side of W. Beverly Boulevard between N. Wilton Place and N. St. Andrews Place in the Greater Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Constructed in 1958, this two-story dingbat with an irregular plan, a flat, hip, and gable roof, integrated carports, stucco cladding, cantilevered side walkways, and Mid-Century Modern style decoration. The building was designed by architect Arthur C. Munson (1886-1969) as a stucco box or dingbat-style apartment building for owner Herman Ostrow. Ostrow was a dentist and later, a property developer. The School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California is named after him. The subject property has functioned continuously as a multifamily residential building since its construction.
4733 Beverly Blvd is one of only a handful of dingbats in our neighborhood in contrast to the large number of Los Feliz. Thanks to Dastoli, one of them is likely to be preserved.