Brown Derby – Los Angeles, California - Atlas Obscura
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Los Angeles, California

Brown Derby

Outposts of this restaurant chain were shaped like jaunty chapeaus.  

This iconic California restaurant chain, which launched in 1926, was an early adopter of mimetic architecture—that is, buildings designed to look like other structures, from dogs to igloos to giant shoes. Diners at the Brown Derby were invited to “eat in the hat,” because many of the buildings were made in the shape of giant, dapper caps. 

The first outpost, on Wilshire Boulevard, quickly became a place to see and be seen. Hollywood heavy-hitters and social climbers tucked in to feast on everything from caviar to burgers and Cobb salads, said to have been invented there. The walls were lined with caricature-style sketches of the famous folks who flocked there.

By the 1930s, the flagship hat moved a bit down the block. After sustaining damage in an earthquake, the Hollywood location came down in February 1994. Local preservation groups staged a funeral at the demolition, toting a casket and wearing derbies of their own. 

Eventually, at the Wilshire location, only the dome remained, tucked behind an otherwise forgettable shopping center. The dome can still be seen today, an easily overlooked relic of the iconic midcentury architecture.

The Wilshire dome is not the only remnant of the chain’s legacy, though. Today, Disney World has a replica, and an original sign is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Neon Art, though it spends most days in a warehouse.

Know Before You Go

The dome of the original Brown Derby on on Wilshire Boulevard can be seen within the shopping complex.