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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