Gerald M. Panter

Photography

During the past twelve years, I’ve searched out and photographed more than three hundred of the rapidly-disappearing little hamburger, hot dog, teriyaki and taco fast food eateries scattered throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

 

This comprehensive body of work collects under one cover all those little eateries still in business, those which have recently closed forever and the structural and menu changes undergone by those still surviving. It memorializes their fascinating variety of sizes, shapes, signage and decoration and is a unique and invaluable source for those interested in documentary and architectural photography, history, urban culture and architecture.

 

“The fast food stand is a species of structure native to Southern California. What often begins as something mobile – a push cart, an abandoned caboose, a roach coach – becomes fixed in a specific location to serve a particular clientele. Sometimes it evolves into a chain, but more often it remains solitary, the realm of the lone vendor. When that vendor retires, dies or his/her clientele evaporates, the structure either disappears or is taken over . . . .”¹

 

Called "joints," "stands" or "shacks," these small, independent, freestanding eateries, with little, if any, on-site seating, struggle to survive in the face of rising real estate values, increasingly more stringent building and health code regulations and changing demographics. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters work in these claustrophobic structures, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. On their feet twelve to fourteen hours a day, six and sometimes seven days a week, newcomers from diverse cultural and ethic groups take their entrepreneurial first steps at attaining the American dream of having a business of one’s own.

 

Some of these joints have modest, but noteworthy, connections: Irv’s Burgers was pictured on the inner foldout of Linda Ronstadt’s “Living in the USA” album; “Sunset Grill” (demolished and replaced with a rather nondescript successor retaining the name) was the subject of the Don Henley song of the same name, “Tail of the Pup” served hot dogs to Steve Martin in “L. A. Story” and “Dos Burritos” hosted a meeting of the principals in “Pointblank.” In business since 1929, “Molly’s Burger & Hot Dog” was used as a backdrop for several movies, including “Busting,” “The Golden Child” and “Jimmy Hollywood.”

 

During the time that I’ve spent compiling this series, a great many of the eateries have gone out of business, their structures abandoned or demolished, some just months after I had photographed them. Others have undergone one or more changes of name and/or extensive renovation either by virtue of having come under new ownership or in a last-ditch effort at self preservation. To accommodate a neighborhood’s change in demographics, menus which featured hamburgers and hot dogs have given way to those featuring tacos and burritos, while former purveyors of such Mexican fare now feature teriyaki and other Asian specialties.

 

Thus, “Orange Bee Jay” has been converted to “Machos Tacos,” while “Rocky’s Famous Hot Dogs,” the hamburger-featuring “Grill on Hill” and the hamburger and taco-serving “Phil’s Place” have all converted to Asian fare under the names “Sweet Home Grill,”  “KUKU Teriyaki” and “Prince Restaurant,” respectively. “Red’s of Hollywood” reinvented itself as the short-lived “Thai Town Express” (which continued to sport the anomalous giant roof-top hot dog of its predecessor until demolished in 2012).

 

On the other hand, a few have managed to survive the vicissitudes of time and could proudly claim to have been in business for over fifty years, elevating them to virtual landmark status (e.g., “Larry’s Chili Dogs,” “Irv’s Burgers,” the “Original Tommy’s” and, until they were razed, “Jay’s Jayburgers” [2005], “Molly’s Burger & Hot Dog” [2012] and “Irv’s Burgers” [2013].

 

Keeping track of and staying current with this ever-changing scene would be a daunting, never-ending, task. Nevertheless, I did return to some previously-photographed sites to photograph a new owner’s change of design, signage and/or color scheme.  Placed side by side, these paired photographs highlight structural and design changes made in an effort to dodge the wrecker’s ball.

 

In the case of several of these joints, I set up my equipment inside the confined space and created 360̊ panoramic views of their interiors.  These virtual reality presentations convey a sense of the space (or, more accurately, the absence thereof) in which the cooks toil. Having been invited inside their "home," I was also given permission to interview them, recording their histories and daily routines.

 

“As a building type, the solitary fast food stand is endangered.  Because they are the simplest of structures, often just a metal box plopped next to a sidewalk, they cannot easily grow. Building codes limit expansion as well, requiring things like parking lots and accessible bathrooms for even the most modest change. Finally, health department standards that favor the larger, more modern kitchen result in ratings rarely above a ‘B,’ discouraging all but the more adventurous diner.”²

 

While the clock inexorably runs out, customers continue to take their orders of fast food of predictable quality away with them, or avail themselves of what minimalist, well worn, seating may be provided by these colorful local neighborhood purveyors of fast food, catering to hungry Angelinos eating on the run.

_________________________

  ¹Marble, Tom, A City is Not a Forest, Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, May 2005, p.7

  ²Marble, Ibid, p.8

 

 

I am pleased to announce that a selection of photographs from my Eating on the Run project was featured in the July 2006 issue of Polar Inertia Journal (Polar Inertia Archives) and in the August 2011 issue of Neworld Review at

(http://www.neworldreview.com/vol_4No_23/portfolio.html).

 

To document the passing of many of these eateries, some torn down just months after I photographed them, I've created

13" x 19" poster featuring a selection of 18 black and white images of these "Joints Out of Time."  (To see a small .jpg

of the poster, click here.)  This signed and numbered poster, in a limited edition of 100

is available for $55.00, which includes tax and shipping.

 

If you are interested in purchasing the poster, or want additional details, please contact me.

 

© 2005-2014 G.M. Panter.  All rights reserved.