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.
23 thoughts on “Red shingled roof: even when detached from the brand, we know what it was. But why is it what it is?”
There’s another ex-Hut near your old home, just north of Stop 11 and Meridian, that has become a very successful outpost of the local mini-chain fish market Caplinger’s. The roof is now blue, and the building cladding is corrugated metal; they kept the trapezoidal windows.
Congrats–you’re referencing the Pizza Hut that was a pretty important part of my high school years! And, if my memory serves me well (partially reinforced by archived Google Street View images), it held its own up until around 2018-2019, though it morphed into the Pizza Hut/WingStreet hybrid. And it wasn’t closed for long before it turned to Caplinger’s Fresh Catch. And that means that Caplinger’s opened only a year or so (at most) before COVID, yet is still going strong. And up to five locations after less than a decade in business, in the notoriously fish-phobic Midwest? Lots of excellent indicators.
That Hut moved south a mile to an inline space in the strip mall at the NE corner of County Line and Meridian. (Anchor is Dollar Tree, in a former Walgreens space and the center has vacancy/turnover issues.)
Another once well-known brand that evolved from their distinctive orange roof is Howard Johnson’s.
You’re absolutely right, but I’ll confess I only know this from research. I’m trying to convince myself, after seeing enough online photos, that I might have MAYBE run across a Ho-Jo’s restaurant in my childhood, but I’m not willing to be quoted on it. Formerly as important of a piece of the commercial landscape as Pizza Hut, the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant began to plummet in popularity in the late 80s and were critically endangered by the late 90s.
Perhaps you know: did they all have the space-age Googie-style weather vane? If so, that’s probably the most prominent feature. After all, as great as the orange roof might have been, not all of them had those extreme pitched roofs and prominent gables, so a simple coat of paint would have made it easy to conceal the old Howard Johnson brand. But that weathervane is something else. It probably was far easier to remove than the weird embedded pitch to the Pizza Hut remove. And so new owners usually got rid of them. Probably quite a collector’s item.
I’ve stayed a few times at the Ho-Jo’s hotel, which seems likely to survive as a competitor to something like La Quinta, I’d imagine–nice than a Comfort/Quality inn, but more budget-oriented than a Hampton Inn or Wyndham (the parent company for Ho-Jo’s now). They do still tend to use the same shade of orange in the sign, and sometimes on the building’s exterior, but it’s nowhere near as consistent of a motif as it was for the restaurants. The last Howard Johnson’s restaurant (largely disputed) was also in upstate New York and closed just a few months ago. https://archive.ph/MGM58
The majority of them did have the weather vane. I gather that most of the vanes do not survive. It is also common to repaint the roofs of old HoJos. Another use of the orange roof was on the gate houses of the classic HoJo motor lodges from the 1960s. Even though I never specifically noticed them as part of a chain, I recognize the gate house roof structure readily from 80’s roadside architecture. Here is a somewhat modified example: https://www.roadarch.com/13/8/bphj2.jpg
Thanks for the share. If the Jetsons-inspired weather vane doesn’t survive, the structures with that abnormally pitched triangular roof will still retain some level of distinctiveness that no amount of paint will ever hide…much like the Pizza Hut roofs. Unfortunately, my guess is the Ho-Jo’s brand was either not quite widespread enough or has faded from too many people’s memories to leave a lasting impression. And, if many Ho-Jos didn’t have those roofs, that would dilute the opportunity for an immediate brand association. Conversely, basically ALL free-standing Pizza Huts from 1970 to 2000 used the signature roof.
Should Pizza Hut ever go out of business (a prospect that seemed unthinkable 7-8 years ago but much less so today), it’s possible that the shingled “stetson hat roof” will become an obscure relic someday as well. But it’ll take a very long time. Most people in the Midwest, Mid-South, and Mid-Atlantic still recognize Mail Pouch Tobacco, which hasn’t been an active brand for 30 years. https://dirtamericana.com/2012/10/mail-pouch-tobacco-treat-best/
“used to be a pizza hut”. I had a college roommate from Painted Post!
Small world! It’s not much bigger than a POSTage stamp, but it’s got a prominent interstate exit ramp…which means lots of commercial buildings and big-boxes (Home Depot, Walmart). Unfortunately for the tax base of the village, the successful ones are all outside the municipal boundaries. This dowdy location with the Moose Lodge is within city limits.
Did you go to the glass museum?!
I had to be up on the northern end of the Finger Lakes within a couple hours, so I had to leave town before the museum opened. Too bad. But I got to go through downtown Corning and it looked like it had a healthy main street of mom-and-pops!
A great town at the north end of the Finger Lakes is Geneva, which has an amazing small-city downtown…more than just a “main street”. (Or did, the summer before the pandemic.)
Absolutely. Geneva was my final destination that day. Still looks pretty good–perhaps a little higher vacancy than it otherwise might have had, but overall a healthy downtown. I was most impressed by the long, uninterrupted row of impeccably maintained federal-style homes on South Main Street near Pulteney Park. There’s bound to be a blog article in the not-so-distant future.
“It’s a tired old strip mall anchored by Big Lots and Dollar General, and across the street is even bleaker:”
Is that an old Service Merchandise? It hasn’t been updated since the 1980s at the latest.
Wow, that’s an amazing eye you’ve got. If you’re referring to the place in the third photo that’s now labeled “BOXING”, I think you’re right. Doubly impressed because you spotted one of my favorite relics of retail yesteryear.
I can’t confirm, but that big brown windowless second floor was a signature feature of Service Merchandise–one of the few places that overtly signaled their storage through the legendary “conveyor belt from above”. Not quite Pizza Hut level, but definitely a feature we associated with the brand. The best I can do to confirm your speculation is an old, grainy Google Street View from 2008, when a different sign was there. Not legible, but it has the shape of the capital S and cursive that was common to SM’s logo in its final years: https://goo.gl/maps/bn1ng5unm2qnVK1UA Even back then, the store would have been empty for at least 6-7 years.
The company is still operational vestigially through online ordering, though exclusively selling jewelry these days: https://servicemerchandise.com/?page=about A bricks-and-mortar SM was where I bought my first piece of jewelry as a gift (back in high school)–the most expensive thing I had ever purchased at that time. Incidentally, the Wikipedia article for SM used to mention it as “online-only” and linked the website, but now it only lists it in past tense, though technically it is still around, presuming it’s not an online scam capitalizing on an old-established brand name.
That looks like the Ames department store logo. They also seemed to rely heavily on that 1980s brown box aesthetic.
Yep. Looking at it again, you’re right. I think I unconsciously wanted it to be a Service Merchandise so badly that I ended up seeing the big capital “S” (from SM’s final logo) rather than the “A” of Ames. Ames was more common in the northeast, so it makes sense. It also finally threw in the towel during more or less the same post-9/11 recession as Service Merchandise. I think Ames’s decline was more drawn out. It never really had a foothold in the Midwest; my only memory of it was that it flopped. Service Merchandise was still doing gangbusters until the mid-1990s, then fell hard as other more specialist category killers squeezed it out of most non-jewelry related markets. The website (which I corrected from my earlier reply to you) basically equates the company to “an online jewelry catalog”.
There’s a lot of good things, under our roof! 🎶
I had to look this one up, I’m afraid. Looks like it was from an era when they tried to a do a “lot of good things” more than pizza! These approaches often don’t work; remember the 1980s roast beef chain Rax? PH gave it another try in the mid 2000s with Pizza Hut Italian Bistro. I can’t find any evidence that any Italian bistros are still around. They need to keep things simple under that roof!
Rax was simply gross. I went there once. Lunch meat was heated over a steam hole emanating from the counter.
I do miss the Pizza Hut from the ‘70s into the ‘80s, when it was pizza, pitchers, and a jukebox. Such a nice atmosphere.
Enjoy your writing, Eric. Keep it up!
That Rax steamer was once upon a time cribbed from Roy Rogers (a largely East Coast roast beef chain.
Roy’s actually roasted big roasts to rare, then freshly thin-sliced (like, Philly cheesesteak thin) the beef to order. Then it was put over a steam jet and covered with a stainless cup and finished to your requested degree of doneness.
It was the best fast food roast beef ever, accompanied by a “fixins bar”.
Hardee’s acquired the chain in the early 80s when Marriott got out of the restaurant business and converted the stores to Hardee’s outlets but kept “Roy Rogers’ Roast Beef” sandwiches on the menu for a short while (until people figured out that it just wasn’t the same).
Probably by the time our Author and Host was a student in West Philly, the Roy’s was already long gone…
I had to re-read to confirm that you were talking about Roy Rogers the entire time and not just in the first sentence. Incidentally, I live near the epicenter of Roy Rogers territory now, and, though a shadow of their former self (much smaller than post-Rome Byzantium), they’re still not too hard to find in the DMV. Supposedly about 40 locations left, which is much more than Rax…which is down to 5. Never been to one.
I’ve gotten on kind of a Rax kick lately because I’m fascinated with their misanthropic anti-mascot, Mr. Delicious (which they explored as a sort of scorched-earth marketing campaign just months before filing Chapter 11 in the early 90s). From everything I’ve gathered, most people thought Rax roast beef was superior to Arby’s as well–when I was a kid that was the go-to during the short time we had easy access to Rax locations. Then again, the people praising Rax are also watching vintage Rax commercials along with me, so they’re probably Rax chauvinists.
I’ll have to ask people who grew up around DC what their thoughts are on Roy Rogers.
Knew it at first glance.