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Novelty Buildings

Basket Case: Are Novelty Buildings Bad Design or National Treasures?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Forty miles outside Columbus, Ohio, nestled alongside Highway 16, is the World’s Largest Basket.

It’s seven-stories tall from the ground to the roof, but it’s the swooping basket handles—weighing 75-tons each—that you’ll see from a mile away.

Get closer than that, and you’ll start to see the wear and tear on the building and the land it sits on. The Basket has been vacant since July of last year, when the last employees of the Longaberger Basket Company packed up and moved to a smaller facility. The company has hit hard times since 1997, when they built the Basket for $30 million.

The current asking price for the building is $5 million.

Novelty buildings like the Basket are a unique piece of Americana—usually the product of some eccentric’s dream. Back in 1882, James V. Lafferty built “Lucy the Elephant,” a 65-foot tall pachyderm-shaped building on the Jersey Shore. He charged tourists 10 cents a piece to climb inside and set off a design trend that may be tacky, but is undeniably loveable. Pretty soon, buildings resembling animals, food, and other ostentatious shapes began popping up across the country (especially in the post-WWII boom of the American middle class).

Take a ride across the country and you’ll find the (misnamed) “Wigwam” Motel in Kentucky. Or the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma. And of course, the world famous Donut Hole in La Puente, California, where you can drive through a giant doughnut to pick up a fresh dozen.

But while these buildings are often beloved, they seem to lack staying power—they often fall into disrepair after a few decades. Any architect worth their t-square will tell you a good building should last more than 35 years.

I’m no architect. But my friend Luke Wesselschmidt is.

I had him take a look at a few wild novelty buildings to get his professional take. He doesn’t have a problem with the concept of novelty buildings, but it comes down to one thing: does the form interfere with the function of the building?

We needed a few beers for this…

Rating Novelty Buildings with an Architect

Novelty buildings seem to lack staying power—they often fall into disrepair after a few decades. Any architect worth their t-square will tell you a good building should last more than 35 years. We put these buildings to the test with our friend and architect Luke.
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Posted by Ceros on Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Big, Garish, and Gaudy

Visit the World’s Largest Basket today, and you’ll find it empty. In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning last summer, one of the few remaining Longaberger employees chokes back tears as he shares what the company—and the Basket—mean to him: “It stands for something,” he says. “It stands for somebody who was a big dreamer.”

That’s what so many of these buildings represent. As you read through their history, each one seems to follow a remarkably similar trajectory: a harebrained dream becomes reality, falls into disrepair, and is saved by the community that rallies around it.

Novelty buildings break up the monotony of the surrounding landscape and stick in our memory not as something tacky, but unique. A sight that broke up the treadmill of sameness that always seems to plague any place we spend a great deal of time in. House after house, road after road, building after building, they all seem to blend together in our memory into a hazy mess of monotony.

Except for that one. Big, garish, and gaudy.

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