Some companies embed their brand into the very architecture of their locations. Prominent ornamentations or physical features on the structures assert themselves, almost as their own logo. Sometimes they ascend in importance to become the logo. After all, the famed golden arches of McDonald’s didn’t always simply hint at the letter M atop a pole-mounted sign; back when the McDonald brothers developed the concept (and before Ray Kroc made it the nation’s first fast-food mega-franchise), they hired an architect who designed two huge yellow sheet-metal arches that flanked a mid-century diner design. Few examples of this old-school design still survive (though my previous home of Bethlehem Pennsylvania still boasts those arches, appended to 21st century architectural language). But the big yellow M remains one of the most recognized logos in the world. It started as enhanced structural support.
As is the case with McDonald’s, an architectural feature achieves a sort of marketing metonymy when when the signifiers get severed from its original meaning, but it’s still obvious what it’s alluding to. Another clear indicator of this tendency is the Google Street View linked here: tons of people recognize the signature teardrop cut out of the pitch of the gable, used in both the building and its sign. It’s a vacant Bob Evans. But for those who are from the West Coast, the South, or New England, it’s probably not much of a signifier. Bob Evans is only prominent in the Midwest (particularly east of the Mississippi) and the Mid Atlantic.
So is there an architectural feature used nationwide that people still recognize as part of the building, more even than those Golden Arches? I can think of no better recent example than this one in a down-and-out strip mall in Painted Post, New York, a small town just outside the slightly larger city of Corning, famed for its glassworks; it’s still home to the Fortune 500 Company Corning Incorporated. The architectural cue should be obvious to anyone born before 1995, and it doesn’t require a degree or even a basic familiarity with architecture. (This is a brand, after all.)
Yes, it’s that red shingled roof. Anyone born before 1990 knows it.
I can think of no part of a building more enduring and distinctive than the artificially protruding, pavilion-style red shingled roof to Pizza Hut. Created by Richard D. Burke, a Wichita-based architect and college friend of the two brothers just a few years after their restaurant’s 1958 founding, that signature design now enjoys a patent (no. 852458). Though Pizza Hut hasn’t really been an independent company since 1977—purchased first by Pepsico, then spun off in 1997 into a fully autonomous conglomerate that became Yum! Brands Inc. alongside such other juggernauts as Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)—it retains the red shingled roof that also serves as a key feature of the printed 2-D logo, like a Stetson atop the words “pizza” and “hut”. Even when Yum! has experimented with some short-lived aesthetic modifications to the “Pizza Hut” logo, like the one in Florida that I never saw anywhere else, the firm has always retained that red shingled roof among the imagery. We might even call it “iconic”, if I weren’t so unfond of the cliché.
So this building in Painted Post is obviously no longer a Pizza Hut, but it’s impossible for it to betray its roots. Bloggers have noted the amusing repurposing of numerous old Pizza Hut locations that make varying attempts to conceal the red shingled roof—or none whatsoever. (An old Pizza Hut where I grew up, several miles north of the vacant Bob Evans, is now an unlicensed used car dealership.) As for this one in Painted Post, zoom in a bit further and it’s clear:
The Loyal Order of Moose (LOOM): a Moose Lodge! Yes, it’s the 140-year-old fraternal organization that most people have heard of but relatively few know much about—such is its nature to be relatively secretive, with engagement to the outside world often coming in the form of charitable works: support for various fundraisers for terminal illnesses, for Scouts, veterans organizations, etc. While it remains male-only, a female LOOM (Women of the Moose) has operated for over a century. Moose Lodges face fewer charges of discriminatory practices than other businesses and institutions because they are a private organization, though their racially discriminatory practices from the past have received condemnation from Moose International (based in Mooseheart, Illinois) for well over fifty years.
Like many—perhaps most—voluntary institutions and organizations, the Loyal Order of Moose has declined sharply in enrollment over the last several decades. This drop in membership somewhat parallels that of Mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian), most of which peaked around 1960 and have fallen sharply ever since, some declining nearly 70%. The collapse of these once-dominant American churches is subject I’ve featured multiple times on this blog. From what I can tell, LOOM reached its peak in the 1970s at about 1.3 million members and has fallen by about half since then.
Perhaps, then, it’s all the more appropriate that they re-animate the dormant red shingled roof of an old Pizza Hut? After all, like many long-standing chain restaurants, Pizza Hut has faced its own struggles. In theory, shortly after Pepsico spun off the company into what became Yum!, leadership abandoned the red shingled roof as a building prototype, in part because Pizza Hut began operating fewer sit-down and more express or delivery locations to compete with Domino’s. These locations didn’t need as much space; they have little to no table seating or service, so they often leased small operations in strip malls. No red shingled roofs. Meanwhile, new freestanding Pizza Hut locations assumed a sleeker, more modern design that has rendered the old roofs “vintage”. Additionally, it’s almost as much a global brand as McDonald’s: half of its 18,000+ locations are outside the US. As Pizza Hut continued to face challenges to its domestic dominance not just by other big-name chains like Papa John’s, Little Caesars, Donato’s, or Uno’s, a number of small-scale up-and-comers with a slightly more boutique, gourmet vibe were siphoning consumers away from all the big names. In 2019, after two decades of abandoning the red shingled roof, Yum! Brands reintroduced it. But the red roof revival has proven mild and elusive and may hint at desperation; after all, the company has closed more locations than opened these last few years: 800 since the onset of the pandemic.
The Painted Post location hasn’t been a Pizza Hut in ages, at least since 2008, when the Google Street View shows a clearly vacant building. The Moose Lodge is an improvement from a revenue standpoint for this tiny little town of 1,800; as a private club, it pays taxes not unlike a retail venture. But the fact that the Moose Lodge chose the red shingled roof may bespeak the malaise of the commercial strip in general. It’s a tired old strip mall anchored by Big Lots and Dollar General, and across the street is even bleaker:
Did the Loyal Order of Moose choose to locate its Lodge 274 in an old Pizza Hut because of another signature architectural feature: those odd trapezoidal windows? Frankly, this Painted Post building may be the quintessential Pizza Hut from the restaurant’s 1970s and 80s family-friendly heyday: the era of jukeboxes, table-side arcade games, the scalloped red drinking glasses, and those suspended, checkered, stained glass lamps. It really was a design-conscious brand back in the day.
I’m still scratching my head on those windows at the Painted Post Moose Lodge though. Like such other fraternal organizations as the Freemasons, the LOOM has earned some notoriety for the deliberately secretive nature of the activities within lodges during their members-only gatherings. Many Masonic Halls, Elks/Moose Lodges, etc. are windowless. All things considered, this old Pizza Hut is a very strange choice, but at least it lends the Loyal Order of Moose some transparency that the public may have demanded. And the land’s probably cheap. Most institutions with double-digit enrollment declines aren’t lining up to by waterfront property in the Hamptons of Long Island. Not too many red shingled roofs out there either.