Programmatic Architecture and Roadside Attractions Bedford Coffee Pot, Bedford Pennsylvania

The term "programmatic architecture" is used to describe buildings that are designed to portray or symbolize their purposes or uses - directly or indirectly - in their exterior forms. Programmatic architecture was not new to the United States or the twentieth century. It developed in the past in a number of ways. In "high art" architecture, architects used geometric forms transformed in scale (the French architects Ledoux and Boulle, for instance, designed projects with huge spheres in the eighteenth century), traditional building types or architectural elements changed in scale (as in Mannerist woric in Renaissance Italy), or exotic forms from foreign lands or from the mythical past (the nineteenth century Brighton Pavilion in England is a particularly good example). In "low art" architecture, growing out of a tradition of sign-making that utilized symbolic forms of products (for example, a large tooth to represent a dentist's office), architects employed symbolism in the form of oversized sculptured products, people, or animals. One of the earliest and most famous examples of public programmatic architecture in the United States was Lucy the Elephant, which was constructed in 1881 in Margate, New Jersey, to promote seaside real estate.

The popularity of the automobile, beginning in the 1910s, transformed the commercial landscape in the United States and ushered in a Golden Age of programmatic architecture. At first, businesses catering to the automobile trade conformed to the Main Street storefront building precedent that had developed in the years after the Civil War. The challenge of selling to customers in fast-moving vehicles was two-fold: to attract attention quickly, and to prompt a decision to stop and purchase. The first impulse, and one that continued in traditional Main Street settings, was to utilize larger and more visually aggressive signs.

Outside of traditional business districts, however, entrepreneurs were tempted to unify architecture and advertising by blending the building and the sign. The developing highway system on the outskirts of town, with its cheap land and lack of context and regulation, became the ideal spot for these businessmen to try to capture the business of the motorized customer. By the 1920s, there was already an increased use of enlarged sculptured products to advertise businesses. Then, by the mid-1920s, buildings began to appear that united architecture and signage into particular images for quick identification and to have popular appeal. Some of these images were comfortably domestic, while others were more exotic, either in time (such as castles) or place. Yet others were fantastic, utilizing the bizarre and the surreal to attract attention. Beginning with oversized versions of everyday objects used as signs, soon buildings themselves were designed to look like oversized versions of everyday objects. Thus, giant bottles, bowls, ice cream cones, dogs, teacups, and coffee pots began to arise along the newly-paved roads across the United States. Such buildings utilized their surreal scale to startle, shock, and amuse passers-by, and by so doing, to catch their eye and attract them to the business within.

One early location that was hospitable to the construction of programmatic buildings was the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway, which was constructed between 1913 and 1925, was the first transcontinental automobile highway in the United States. Its improvement across Pennsylvania between 1916 and 1918 coincided with increased popularity of automobile travel in the United States and led to a great increase in the number of road travelers across the state. This in turn led to the development of many new businesses in the 1920s, including restaurants, roadhouses, cabin courts, and filling stations, to provide goods and services to these motorists. These businesses prospered in Pennsylvania until after 1940, when the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike diverted cross-state and cross-country traffic from the Lincoln Highway.

Since the Lincoln Highway had just been completed at about the time that programmatic architecture achieved its peak in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, it is not surprising that it was the site of a number of fantastic buildings in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these buildings, which often were not built very sturdily, have succumbed to the ravages of time and lack of maintenance and to the loss of business to the interstate highways. Among the long-time survivors, though, was the most spectacular work of programmatic architecture that was ever built in Pennsylvania. This was the S. S. Grand View Hotel, the "Ship of the Alleghenies", which was built in 1932 on the edge of a cliff at Grand View Point west of Bedford (where one could "see 3 states and 7 counties). The S.S. Grand View Hotel was constructed on a nautical theme, so that it resembled a large ship aground in the mountains. Business declined over the years, and the hotel was closed, vacant, and derelict for many years. Unfortunately, it was completely destroyed by fire in October 2001. Another surviving example is the Shoe House in Hallam, Pennsylvania, near York, built in 1947 by Col. Mahlon Haines, the "Shoe Wizard", for advertising purposes. The Shoe House is three stories tall, covered with stucco, with an observation deck at the top. It is still open as a tourist attraction.

A third work of programmatic architecture on the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania is the Coffee Pot on the outskirts of Bedford. The Coffee Pot was built in the peak period of programmatic architecture, in the mid-1920s, and it was designed as a surreal, oversized coffee pot in order to attract the attention of motorists and inform them that coffee and food were for sale in it. In the Coffee Pot, building and sign were one. It remains, even vacant as today, as an exemplary artifact from the early years of automobile-oriented business on the nation's highways, and as a prime example of programmatic architecture.

Another survivor, just outside the state, is the two-story-high Teapot in Chester, West Virginia, on the Lincoln Highway at the Ohio River. The Teapot was constructed in 1933 and was used as a kiosk to sell snacks and to advertise its owner's pottery business. Today, the Teapot is owned by the City of Chester and maintained as a tourist attraction.

Besides the Teapot in Chester, there are a number of other buildings in the shape of coffee pots in other parts of the United Sates. These include:
• The Coffee Pot Restaurant and Colonial Room, near Richmond, Indiana, on Route 40, which is a standard building with a giant coffee pot on its hipped roof,
• Bob's Java Jive, in Tacoma, Washington, built in 1927, and shaped like a giant teapot;
• The James River Coffee Pot, constructed in 1959 in Lexington, Virginia, as a coffee shop and restaurant; and
• The Coffee Pot, in Port Malabar, Florida, built in 1947 along Highway 1 as a souvenir stand.
In addition, there is a large shed-metal coffee pot on a pole in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is too small to be occupied, but has been a tourist attraction for many decades.