Architecture and Design, Voices

My L.A.: Learning to Love Baskin-Robbins

Continuing this week’s Getty Voices theme of Our L.A., Getty Research Institute editor Liz McDermott explores what makes a hot-pink-and-blue box on Victory Boulevard such a community draw. It’s vernacular architecture at its most highly sweetened.

Burbank Baskin-Robbins ice cream store

Great architecture? Perhaps not. Community hub? Definitely.

Until I moved to Burbank a few years ago, I thought Baskin-Robbins was a relic from a bygone era, like Tower Records or Borders bookstores. When I was 12 years old, Baskin-Robbins was one of my top destination spots. My friends and I would ride our bikes to the local mall and crowd into the tiny store. I’d always order the same thing, a scoop of Pralines ‘n Cream, my favorite of the 31 flavors. That flavor was the perfect blend of cream, sugar, gooey caramel, crunchy candy pralines, and just overall goodness. I had assumed Baskin-Robbins was long gone, done in by Scoops, Gelato Bar, L.A. Creamery, and the proliferation of trendy, artisanal ice-cream shops.

But lo and behold, on a long stretch of Victory Boulevard, near a spate of quiet residential streets, sits what must be the largest Baskin-Robbins ever. To put it kindly, the architecture is completely unremarkable—it’s a two-story, plain stucco box with a bright pink awning over the entrance. But it boasts over 40 parking spaces, cement picnic tables with hot-pink umbrellas, a drive-through with a gigantic neon sign spelling out all the flavors, and even a poster out front that announces that it’s a training center for budding ice-cream servers.

After months of driving past that behometh, nondescript building, I finally decided to check it out. Nearly every parking space was filled, the drive-through was six cars deep, and it was shoulder-to-shoulder inside. But then I saw it in a big tub under the glass counter: Pralines ‘n Cream. I bought a scoop and it all came back to me. It’s not the sophistication of lavender or basil and lime (two flavors from one of artisanal ice-cream shops over the hill), but it tasted just as fantastic as I remembered. Now when I drive past and see the enthusiastic crowds that still show up, I totally understand why.

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      From you have I been absent in the spring,
      When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
      Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
      That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
      Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
      Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
      Could make me any summer’s story tell,
      Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
      Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
      Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
      They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
      Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
      Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
      As with your shadow I with these did play.

      —William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564

      Vase of Flowers (detail), 1722, Jan van Huysum. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      04/23/14

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