Old Devil Moon / Popular Song in the Early 1950s When Randy’s First Opened
Sung by Don Francks and Petula Clark
Not surprisingly, for anyone who grew up in LA, one of the greatest icons of the city is a gigantic donut that is 32 feet in diameter that sits atop Randy’s Donuts, a bakery and a landmark building in Inglewood, California near Los Angeles International Airport. It is built in a style that dates to a period in the early 20th century that saw a proliferation of programmatic architecture throughout Southern California. This style had its heyday from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. By the late 1950s however, the trend of designing structures in the shape of the product sold there had changed to focus on signs rather than architecture itself.
As noted on the Los Angeles Conservancy site (a nonprofit membership organization who work through education and advocacy to recognize, preserve, and revitalize historic architectural and cultural resources of Los Angeles County) the building itself is a fairly unremarkable if admirably intact Mid-Century Modern drive-up food stand, and it may not technically count as Programmatic architecture (in which a building looks like the item it hawks). But the donut on its roof is just so large, so uncompromising, so demanding of our attention that we’ll look the other way and consider Randy’s a Programmatic design.
Randy’s is represented by a giant doughnut on the roof of an otherwise ordinary drive-in that is a dedicated doughnut bakery. The building was designed by Henry J. Goodwin. The 24-hour drive-in is at 805 West Manchester Boulevard where it intersects with La Cienega Boulevard. It is near the Manchester Boulevard off-ramp of the San Diego Freeway.
In the late 1940s, doughnut machine salesman Russell Wendell founded a chain of drive-in doughnut shops named Big Donut. The first location opened in 1951 in Westmont. The second location which is now a Randy’s Donuts, was opened in 1952. Designed by architect Henry Goodwin and structural engineer Richard Bradshaw, the rooftop doughnut is constructed out of rolled steel bars covered with gunite.
In 1976, after shifting focus to his Pup ‘N’ Taco chain (bought by Taco Bell in 1984), Wendell sold the Big Donut Inglewood location to Robert Eskow who renamed the location “Randy’s Donuts” after his son. In 1978, Eskow sold the shop to Ron and Larry Weintraub, who decided to retain the name for the business.
In 2015, Randy’s Donuts was purchased by lawyer and entrepreneur Mark Kelegian. Since that time the brand has added franchise locations in Southern California, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Las Vegas.
In Popular Culture
The big donut has a long history in popular culture. The building was featured in the films Earth Girls Are Easy, Entourage, The Golden Child, Into the Night, Stripped to Kill, Problem Child, Breathless, The Kissing Booth 3, California Girls, 2012, Iron Man 2, Get Shorty, Volcano, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angele, Esxcape from Petropolis, Blood In Blood Out, Dope, Love Letters, the Futurama episode “When Aliens Attack” and the film Mars Attacks! Garth can be seen slurping jelly from a Randy’s Donut in Wayne’s World. In Steven Universe, a building known as the “Big Donut” is shown in the show.
It was also featured in the music video for Becky G’s “Becky from the Block,” Randy Newman’s “I Love LA,” the Prodigy’s “Wind It Up,” as well as a music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Similar buildings with giant donuts, under different names, are featured in the video games Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Need for Speed Most Wanted, City of Heroes and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as well as in “Marge vs. The Monorail” in an episode of The Simpsons.
The Space Shuttle Endeavor Passes Randy’s Donuts in Transit
The iconic structure was shown on the History Channel series Life After People, showing what would happen to the building without human repair. The building was shown in the Masked Rider Episode “Ferbus Maximus” where an overgrown Ferbus takes the giant doughnut and tries to eat it, only to reject it for being fake.
The building’s famous doughnut can be spotted in the scene changes of the Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious. In the episode “Pier Pressure” of Arrested Development, in a sequence showing Buster’s medical trial for THC, a picture is shown of Buster standing next to Randy’s Donuts on the roof attempting to eat his way through it.
The doughnut sign appears in the animated short film Logorama. The store was mentioned in The Big Bang Theory as Howard tells of a prank pulled on Sheldon while pretending to be Dr. Stephen Hawking to meet at the Randy’s Donut at 2 in the morning.The building was used in Ken Block’s “Gymkhana 7” video. On 4 July 2017, Inglewood rapture band Fever 333 had their first public performance in a U-Haul truck in the parking lot of Randy’s Donuts. It was also featured in the pilot episode of The Bernie Mac Show and in the Runaways.
All together, the above shows that the great donut has some meaning or symbolism. Not to mention that many thought it produced the best donuts in LA and there’s no symbolism to this.
The Model of Randy’s Donuts
Not only had Randy’s Donuts become an icon of LA and it was also the subject of a small model in N scale from Walther’s Model Railroad Company. The Walthers name is very familiar to me as my father used to buy much of his models for his model railroading layout in our basement. So I had to have the big donut shop when I saw it somewhere on the Internet.
The donut shop in the kit was not called Randy’s Donuts, though, but the Hole-in-One Donut shop. I ordered the kit and put it together. I painted the donut with a honey brown color and think I got it pretty close to the real thing. Spray painted the roof with an aluminum acrylic and painted the based a concrete grey. Left the white plastic pre-made sides of the donut shop alone as looked realistic enough for my purpose. That is, to eventually put my little somewhat real N scale model of Randy’s Donuts into its position in Los Angeles. It is with this position that a true symbolic diorama might be created. As one can see in the photos below, Randy’s Donuts is at the intersection of two major streets in LA as well as an on and off ramps to the 405 freeway.
Walther’s Hole-in-One Donut Shop / The Building Much Smaller Than Randys
The colors are not the same as the original Randy’s Donuts but it’s obvious Walther’s used the original Randy’s as a prototype for their model. I put a few tiny N scale people in the model (sorry about the girl in green at an angle … she needs a little more glue … maybe she has had one too many donuts!). I was pretty satisfied with the model but didn’t work much on detailing it.
But I knew it needed something else. It needed to be located in its true context or landscape within LA. It needed to be put into some type of diorama scene. I went to aerial shots of Randy’s and got the below photo. On Google Maps I found the location of the original Randy’s Donuts at the intersection of South La Cienega and Manchester, right next to the San Diego Freeway. A busy slice of LA. Incoming flights to LA can see Randy’s Donuts out the airplane’s windows as it’s only about a few miles east of the runways for LAX. In the photo below, it appears as a Cheerio that looks out over the big intersection and the San Diego Freeway. Almost like a great eye. Or type of beacon. For this particular area of LA.
The Approach to LAX / Randy’s is Left of Center in the Photo
Zooming in to Randy’s on Google maps I able to see the intersection of La Cienega and Manchester. Truly an LA intersection for those who know LA.
Zooming in On the Google Map
Putting Randy’s Donuts in Context
Putting Randy’s in its true context is a challenging modeling project and easier said than done. Randy’s is not on some quiet street tucked away somewhere in LA but at the major intersection of Manchester and La Cienega Boulevard next to the San Diego Freeway (the 405) with its 10 lanes of traffic as well as on and off ramps for Manchester. Of course this is a fitting location for one of the most famous icons of LA and this visibility has undoubtedly helped it become famous as almost everyone who flies into LA can see Randy’s from the 405.
To start things off, printed out a color print of the Google map of the area above Randy’s Donuts and cropped it so that Randy’s is on the far left in the Google photo at the NW intersection of Manchester and La Cienega. To the right, down a 50′ sloping embankment is the 405 Freeway. Manchester goes over the freeway and connects with S. Ash Boulevard where I cropped the photo and the area I want to model. (See the photo above “The Approach to LAX” to see this better).
The scale I am modeling I calculated to be approximately 1/500 scale. It’s really called the architectural model scale made to model huge projects like planned real estate developments for marketing purposes. To create the great donut on top of Randy’s, I got a Cheerio from a box of Cheerios and painted it the honey brown color of the donut in the Walther’s Hole-in-One Donut model. The donut on the Walther’s N scale model is small at only 1 3/4″ diameter but the Cheerio is only 1/2″ in diameter and represents the 32′ in the approximately 1/500 scale diorama. I ordered a commercial jet from in 1/500 from the small scale airplane modeling company of Herpa and will put the jet into the diorama at about 4″ (240′ high in scale) above the diorama held up by a clear acrylic tube. The jet will be on the right side of the diorama heading left as it makes its final approach to LAX 2 miles away (or about 7 1/3′ in the 1/500 scale of the diorama). Approaching jets do pass over Randy’s Donuts when landing on one of the runways at LAX.
I’ve started to create the diorama on a 6″ x 8″ Blick Studio Art Board. The diorama really has two levels: the level that Randy’s is on and the level of the 405 Freeway about 50′ (3/4″) in the small freeway canyon below. I cut out the streets from the map and drew their outline on a 1/8″ sheet of balsa wood and then cut the balsa wood shape. The on ramps from Manchester will be difficult to model as they must drop to the 405 or about 3/4″. I’m thinking of redoing this balsa wood piece using a 1/8″ sheet of Evergreen styrene plastic and cutting the on ramps all in one piece.
Below, is the mock-up so far. The little jet from Herpa arrives in a few days. Will update everyone when I do more on the diorama … that is if I don’t get frustrated and stop the project.
Putting Randy’s into a Diorama (The Cheerio sitting on Randy’s and not yet glued upright)
Still waiting for the little Herpa 1/500 scale jet to arrive. While waiting for it, I move forward with landscaping on the diorama. First, cut out an Evergreen sheet in the configuration of the roads and freeway in the map and glue them to a left and right piece of 1/2″ balsa wood to make the two dimensions of the diorama: one for the streets and buildings and the other for the 405 San Diego Freeway. Then, apply some air dry clay for landscaping and put in some initial trees.
Then, I paint the landscaping using a watered down Vallejo Brown Green for the base color. More trees are added as well as a little homeless encampment under the Palm Tree on the right side of the diorama. There really is a homeless camp shown in the Google photos.
Painted Landscape of Diorama / Looking North on an Empty 405 Freeway
Finally, the Herpa jet arrives and I attach it with a thin wire and super magnets.
Then, I line all the roads on the diorama. I use a 8mm acrylic white paint for the lines on the San Diego Freeway and micro-pinstriping for the lines on the streets. Then, I glue on the 1/500 scale cars painting in gloss black, grey, silver and white. These colors are the major colors of cars in California (and most states). The diorama is finally completed!
The Completed Diorama
Menu at Randy’s Donuts (The Premiums Are Worth a Trip Out to LA Just by Themselves)
Logo of Randy’s Donuts
5 thoughts on “LA’s Great Donut”
I love your historic, scholarly treatment of this fantastically playful period.
I love this!
I’m such a huge fan of a time when every brand of car, every food franchise, every commercial building had it’s own style and character. Growing up in Canada, we had similar structures, but on a smaller scale, and nothing as impressive as Randy’s Donuts. We though the original revolving Kentucky fried Chicken bucket was the greatest thing!
As for model railroad structures, what more can you ask for. To do a layout or diorama featuring these American landmarks would be awesome!
Love this, and your diorama….This really brought back memories of that era, and also some of the movies you mentioned…I saw also, Iron Man and Crocodile Dundee, Get Shortie, etc.ha. loved those, and this era, the donut makes you hungry for one!! Thanks for sharing there memories…Barb
Love it! How much work you put into this diaorama!!! It’s great…
there was a similar donut shop in Florida – near Lake Wales…sure it is gone by now.
Congrats, John! 😉 What fun! 😉