The Tail of the Pup — WeHo’s world famous hot dog stand — is finally getting a new lease on life
Bobby Green was no older than 10 when he saw Hollywood for the first time.
The memories of that family trip more than 40 years ago have faded for the most part, but one image remains etched by magic in his mind: The Tail of the Pup.
Like many kids of his generation, he was inexplicably spellbound by this wacky building — a hot dog stand shaped like a hot dog, giant sized but lifelike, complete with a wiener flopping out on both ends and mustard oozing down the buns.
It was one of the last and best examples of L.A.’s programmatic architecture — a whimsical style that flourished between World War I and World War II, producing eccentric shops and storefronts in the shape of giant Sphinxes, donuts, owls and ice cream cones.
From the moment it opened in 1946, the Tail of the Pup turned heads, and it soon became a trendy filming location for movies, TV shows and commercials. The Milton Black-designed building has remained intact for almost 80 years, surviving attempts at demolition, a move from its original location at 311 N. La Cienega to 329 N. San Vicente in the 1980s and 15+ years in a Torrance storage facility.
The restaurant has been closed since 2005, but Bobby never forgot it.
“It was just a staple of L.A.,” he said. “You purposely looked for it anytime you were driving to the Beverly Center. Even if you didn’t stop there, you looked for it, because your eyes want to see something interesting amidst square buildings.”
“That’s how big of an impact things like that have,” he said. “A tiny little hot dog building can have as much impact as the Hollywood Sign.”
Young Bobby headed back home to Oklahoma, grew up and eventually returned to L.A., becoming a successful restaurateur and business owner. As he watched the remnants of the city’s funky novelty architecture fall further into the realm of legend, he got together with business partners Dimitri Komarov and Dmitry Liberman and formed the 1933 Group, which has since spearheaded faithful restorations of iconic L.A. establishments like the Formosa Cafe in WeHo, Highland Park Bowl and the barrel-shaped Idle Hour in North Hollywood.
And while he always remembered the Tail of the Pup, he could never have guessed how its destiny would become so intertwined with his own.
About three years ago, the 1933 Group managed to purchase the building from its owners, the Blake Family, with help from the Valley Relics Museum.
Now, a new chapter is unfolding in the tale of the Tail, as the 1933 Group is seeking to re-open the restaurant at a new location, 8512 Santa Monica Blvd.
WEHOville spoke with Bobby about what lies ahead for this delicious piece of Hollywood history.
Why did it take so long to get the Pup back on its feet?
It’s taken us this long to find the perfect location because that would have been the biggest deal breaker. My goal was always to get it as close to the original location as possible. It would be impossible to do now because there’s a giant hotel sitting on this plot, but to get it as close as we could. There was a place on 3rd Street we tried, there was a place on Fairfax we tried, and they just didn’t work for some reason. Either the negotiations fell out or the licensing wasn’t going to work and so finally in January of this year, this location on Santa Monica and La Cienega became available. We went and looked at it and it was just perfect.
What does the future hold for the Pup and the 1933 Group?
I think the future is very bright. This is going to be our first venture into fast casual dining. We started out with bars for years and then we did restaurants for years and so I’m kind of just learning all the new things there is to learn about fast casual, which is so different. One of the other reasons it’s taken so long to find the perfect location is I really really wanted to add a beer garden element to the Pup. So finding a location that had lots of outdoor seating and was able to have beer and wine took even longer.
But the real focus is just getting the Tail of the Pup reopened, getting the menu to be as memorable as it always was. We’re not looking to completely change any of its history — that’s kind of the same way we did with the Formosa. The ingredients might be a little better because we have better taste for food nowadays than they did in the ‘60s but we try not to stray far from the original vision of what it was.
And the response has been just so overwhelming the past three years. I really think there’s more dedication and love and reverence for the Tail of the Pup than any other of our historical places that we’ve restored just because it was so open and visual.
We’re looking to be open probably early next year, the first quarter of next year. Hopefully this pandemic is a lot more behind us than it is now right.
Why did this style of architecture fall into decline?
I think like anything in L.A., things become passé. These are trends. Everything in L.A. is trendy and L.A.’s always been like, “Oh this is new and exciting.” They forget the old.
So programmatic architecture was born out of the rise of the automobile, and Los Angeles was created around the automobile. We’re the biggest grid of a city in the country because we’re one of the last cities to develop in America. And we had the automobile at the time and so the whole city was designed around that. And prior to the automobile, if you owned let’s say a restaurant or a shoe store, all you had to do is hang a sign out front and people would walk by or ride their horse and see your sign.
But once people started driving Model T’s and then Model A’s and then suddenly they’re going 30 miles an hour past your business, business owners were like, “Oh my God, how are we going to get these people’s attention?” And then you’re living in a time where there were no building codes like we have now, so you just build something crazy that someone could see a block away. If you owned a shoe store maybe you build a giant shoe, and if you’re a restaurant maybe you’d build a giant hot dog or a barrel to let people know you have beer and whiskey, or a giant hat like the Brown Derby. And so that’s how programmatic architecture became known.
But I think by the 1960s it was really passe, and kind of corny and old, and they were getting run down and not kept up very well. And I think people kind of poo-pooed them and laughed at them.
Why did the Tail of the Pup survive when so many of its contemporaries didn’t?
The hot dog is by far the most iconic and lasted the longest. It was designed in 1938, the architect drew it up, the people were planning to open it in 1938 or ‘39 and then World War II broke out and so the plans were obviously put on hold. And so they didn’t build it until after the war in 1946. Programmatic architecture was pretty much over by that time, but the Pup survived the longest. You could get a hot dog there up until 2005. That’s why people know it the most. It’s kinda the most famous hot dog in the world.
How did you get involved in giving new life to historic establishments?
I’ve always been a vintage nut. It started with cars and then clothes and music and lifestyle and architecture and everything. Everything in my life was vintage. I just really hated anything new and so I kind of brought that aesthetic and passion to our company, and so everything we did was vintage inspired or a vintage recreation.
It really wasn’t until the Idle Hour that we we got to actually restore a real vintage landmark of a place which was so hugely gratifying after kind of creating vintage style places but not actually getting a hold of something that’s truly historic and so that kind of just put us on our new path that we’ve been on. We jumped straight from Idle Hour to the Highland Park Bowl. Getting to restore L.A.’s oldest bowling alley was a huge, huge reward for me. 1927 bowling alleys are not something you come across every day and especially in Los Angeles.
And then of course the Formosa was massive. Everyone, including people who are 95 years old, have their own memories of the Formosa, so it was great to not only restore a place, but you’re kind of helping to restore people’s memories, letting them continue to live in a time that they remember.
There was a writer that coined a really cute phrase. They said that the 1933 Group just keeps writing love letters to Los Angeles which is basically true. I’ve loved L.A. since I was 10 years old and I still love L.A. There’s no other city in the world like it.