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Caught Our Eyes: Coffee and Donuts, Anyone?

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Even those of you who don’t feel as strongly about your morning cup of joe as I do can understand why this photograph would catch my eye!

Bedford Coffee Pot, Bedford, PA. HAER Photo by Joseph Elliott, 1999.

Just imagine the thousands of cups of coffee it could hold!  The Bedford Coffee Pot no longer dishes out coffee along the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, but it certainly makes me crave a cup. (Happily, the unique structure, shown in hard times in the above photo, has been restored and moved to the Bedford County Fairgrounds.)

Scattered throughout the holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division are more examples of what is called programmatic or mimetic architecture, where the shape of the building is often the clue to what is sold inside. Need a donut to go with that cup of coffee? Drive through the The Donut Hole in La Puente, California. (Still satisfying L.A. County’s sweet tooth today!)

The Donut Hole drive-through stand in La Puenta, Ca. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006.

Mimetic architecture is all about catching the eye of a person driving down the highway and bringing in business, so it’s no surprise photos of these structures are so engaging. Check out a few other examples from our collections below, some of which are still in operation today while others exist only in memory. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!

Do you need:

  • Postage stamps?  In 1961, you could step up to the giant mailbox in Times Square! (I’m sure we would all send more mail if we could visit one of these to do it.)
  • A cup of lemonade? Visit the Jumbo Lemon Booth of 1925.
  • Slice of watermelon? The Melon Patch could help you in 1930.
  • Glass of milk or a scoop of ice cream? The structure now known as the Hood Milk Bottle sells ice cream outside Boston Children’s Museum now, much as it did for many years in its original home in Taunton, Mass.
  • Fried clams? Stop by the Clam Box Restaurant in Ipswich, Mass., shaped like its namesake.
  • Cup of tea?  Going further back, the 1907 Jamestown Exposition featured the ‘biggest tea-pot on earth’, where tea was served to visitors.


Comments (6)

  1. Check out the “coffee pot” near Buena Vista, VA. It’s a canoe rental business. Sorry, I have no picture.

    Susan Patrick

  2. I love these!
    I was always fascinated by the “Mammy” restaurant just south of Natchez, MS, and recently discovered it’s still there!
    Now I know that type is called mimetic architecture.

  3. Big smile blog! Thanks. I see that “mimetic buildings” is in the Prints and Photographs set of subject terms ( and that the bibliographic records for some of your examples carry that term. And then–when testing that term in an search–I also found an eighteenth century elephant-as-structure in Paris and a 1941 comic strip in which Nancy pelts a milk bottle building with a rock. Always fun to dig deeper into the collections.

  4. Thanks for the great comments so far! This topic is always a fun one.

    mikipfeffer: We actually have a photo of Mammy’s Cupboard Restaurant in Natchez, Mississippi as part of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive! You can see it here:

    Carl: Glad you enjoyed it! I almost included the 18th century elephant structure (amazing!), but decided to focus on the type of mimetic architecture where the building shape tells you what is actually sold there. We have numerous examples which haven’t been indexed with the term yet, so I may suggest further indexing!

  5. I grew up in Chester, W.Va., home of the World’s Largest Teapot (pottery was sold there, as well as hot dogs). Sadly, no photo of it in the Library’s collections (yet).

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