‘Architecture at its worst’: Why LA’s ‘dingbat’ apartment is both an icon and eyesore

This “dingbat” apartment building, called “The California Riviera,” sits along California Ave. in Santa Monica. Photo by Brian Hardzinski/KCRW

In 49 states, a dingbat is an elementary school insult, but in California and especially LA, the term refers to a residential building with a very distinct style. These edifices are typically painted with bright pastels and are emblazoned with a script font, outlining the address or tropical names like “The Capri” or “The Pink Flamingo.” All of it is perilously perched above a carport.  

What’s the design history of these apartment buildings, and what lessons could they have for California’s current housing crisis? 

“They were cheap as hell to build. They were utilitarian. They enabled millions to kind of find a foothold and get started,” Bloomberg writer and editor Laura Bliss tells KCRW.  


A “dingbat” is typically emblazoned with a script font — “Neil Manor” in this case. Photo by Brian Hardzinski/KCRW


This “dingbat” touts a blue and green mosaic tile pattern on its exterior. Photo by Brian Hardzinski/KCRW


This “dingbat” advertises a vacancy. Photo by Brian Hardzinski/KCRW

Credits

Guest:

  • Laura Bliss - writer and editor for Bloomberg’s CityLab