The Big Shoe
Southern California was at the center of the programmatic architecture craze, when commercial structures were built in the shape of the things sold inside. This eye-catching architecture thus became a three-dimensional advertisement. Motorists in pre-freeway Los Angeles might zip past buildings in the shape of tamales, hot dogs, or pianos, or stop their cars to eat inside of a gigantic brown derby hat. In 1947, Chester Deschwanden of Bakersfield dreamed of building his neighborhood shoe repair shop in the shape of giant shoe.
Deschwanden built his shop, located at the corner of his house lot at the intersection of Chester Avenue and 10th Street, on nights and weekends over the course of one to three years (depending on the story). He apparently designed and built the giant shoe himself using lathe and plaster. The building measures 30 feet in length, 10 feet in width, and is 16 feet at its highest point. The single (right-foot) Oxford shoe has a black sole that is raised on a reddish platform. A horizontal window on the vamp (front half) of the shoe faces the main drag of Chester Street. The plate-glass front door is at the corner, adjacent to two square windows along the 10th Street facade. A 50-foot length of real rope serves as the shoe’s laces. Inside the shoe is a storefront room with shelves for repaired shoes running the length of the wall. A restroom occupies the space of the heel, while the air conditioning unit is hidden from view in the roof above it.
Chester’s son, Donald, continued the family business after his father's death in 1950. After Donald's death in 1992, the store remained vacant for over a decade. A motorist drove into the building in 2000, damaging the sole. Chester’s wife, Margaret, repaired it the following year and ultimately sold both the giant shoe and their adjacent 10th Street residence to Salomon Olvera in 2006. The new owner rented the store to cobbler Felipe Torres, who changed the name to The Big Shoe and has conducted his business there ever since. The building has made cameos in films and has been featured in magazines and books on California’s unique architecture. The storefront is easily visible from the road.
Andrews, J. J. C. The Well-Built Elephant and Other Roadside Attractions: A Tribute to American Eccentricity. 1st ed. New York: Congdon and Weed, 1984.
Heimann, Jim. California Crazy: American Pop Architecture. Köln: Taschen, 2018.
Price, Robert. "A Big Shoe to Fill, but Owner Up to the Task." Bakersfield Californian, February 10, 2006.
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