I could have sworn I’ve written about this architectural masterpiece before, but, somehow, it seems like I haven’t, so let’s just solve that right now. My friends, please allow me to introduce you to 19611 Ventura Blvd in Tarzana, California, otherwise known as The Fleetwood Centre, other-otherwise known as That Strip Mall What Looks Like A Cadillac.
It looks like it’s now called Fleetwood Square, and it’s white instead of its original pink (it may be pink again?), but I think you get the idea.
While a number of buildings, including some quite obvious and famous ones, have looked to automotive design for inspiration, I don’t believe there’s any building that so completely and specifically bases its design on a car, at least not one where the purpose and goal of the building is general and not explicitly automotive.
The building was built in 1987 by the firm Matlin and Dvoretzky, with architect Lee Oakes handling the design.
Oakes described his inspiration to The Los Angeles Times in an article from the year it was built:
“Very rarely do I have creative impulses like this. I was just walking around and saw this Cadillac grille. It just clicked.”
I didn’t realise this, but it seems that building built like this—as a visual emulation of another object—are known as having mimetic design. That colossal picnic basket in Newark is another example of this, and also highlights a danger of such buildings—while undoubtedly fun and memorable, it’s hard to re-sell them to new owners as the designs are so specific.
I recall in the town I grew up there was a building that looked like a giant flower in a pot for a florist/nursery, and later it was sold and became a hair place, but it still looked like a flower pot. Here, look:
Interestingly, the Fleetwood Centre never had this problem, because the look of the building was not related to any of the businesses within; it just looked like a Cadillac because, well, the architect wanted it to look like a Cadillac, and that’s it.
This somehow bought it the freedom to just be a big Cadillac, since it never was tied to the actual purpose. It just is.
More specifically, it seems like the Cadillac that it just is is a 1970 or so Fleetwood:
While the point of the prow had to be flattened, everything else is pretty much there. The quad headlamps rendered as rings on the flanking windows, the badge on the nose, and even a suggestion of the turn indicators on the prominent fenders, their linear chrome trim rendered in what appears to be neon, for some fun night effects.
While it’s fun to think of the building one day becoming a car museum or something related, I think I prefer the design independence of the building that just happens to look like a Cadillac.
If any of you are bored and around Southern California, why not take a nice, socially-distanced trip to pay homage to the most Cadillac of buildings, perhaps even the Rolls-Royce of Cadillac-shaped buildings?
If you can do it in a vintage Caddy, even better. I’d tell you to be sure to take some pictures, but of course you will.
This article was originally published in May 2020.