Photo Essays

The Architectural Legacy of Pizza Hut Restaurants

Ho Hai Tran, "The Great Wall, Glendale Heights, IL, USA " (all photos courtesy Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill)
Ho Hai Tran, “The Great Wall, Glendale Heights, IL, USA ” (all photos courtesy Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill)

While our love for pizza will never die, the dine-in locations of the red-roofed Pizza Hut have been gradually shuttering across the world. Still, even if they no longer house cheesy, greasy goodness, their iconic hut-shaped forms endure, dotting the landscape as buildings for new businesses. For the past two years, freelance photographer Ho Hai Tran has been traveling the world, hunting down these shells of former Pizza Huts and photographing nearly 100 of them. The series of images in his forthcoming, Kickstarter-funded book, Pizza Hunt, is an homage to a particular period of the fast food chain’s history, one that introduced an unexpected architectural design that spread globally.

The former flatbread eateries now exist as Chinese restaurants, liquor stores, pawn shops, gospel churches, and funeral homes, but certain lasting or repurposed architectural elements remain that hint to days when patrons gathered around sticky tables to double-fist doughy slices and hunks of cheesy bread.

Cover of 'Pizza Hunt' by Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill (click to enlarge)
Cover of ‘Pizza Hunt’ by Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill (click to enlarge)

“The huts vary from the slightly altered to the drastically transformed but were all originally built in the same image,” Tran told Hyperallergic. “Some of the tell-tale features of the hut are the trapezoidal windows and the two-tiered shingled roof.”

Pizza Hut’s first location — which opened on June 15, 1958 and now exists on the Wichita State University campus — was actually just a small brick building, where a shortage of space on its entryway sign in addition to its architecture dictated the brand name. As the chain expanded and competing businesses emerged, however, its founders decided to set Pizza Hut apart with a new and unique design. As e-zine Dairy River explains in a heavily researched essay on Pizza Hut’s famous roof, a local architect Richard D. Burke takes responsibility for coming up with the red, pavilion-style roof. His design dates to around 1964, and it popped up just about everywhere, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Alimos, Greece.

Ho Hai Tran, "Olsens Funerals , Revesby, NSW, Australia"
Ho Hai Tran, “Olsens Funerals , Revesby, NSW, Australia”

Many of those red roofs are now repainted and many buildings disguised, but Tran, along with creative director and editor Chloe Cahill, combed Google Maps, mined existing online research, and spoke with locals to confirm a business’ original pizzeria status. Some are still easily recognizable, like the Pizza Hut-turned pagoda-style Chinese restaurant in Illinois that tweaked its roof with a teal paint job and upturned edges; or “Copycat,” a copy store in Pennsylvania that stays true to its name and pretty much adheres to the structure of the pizza parlor. Others, like Olsens Funerals in Australia, bear faint resemblance to Burke’s design, requiring much more digging into history.

 

Ho Hai Tran, "Copycat , California, PA, USA"
Ho Hai Tran, “Copycat , California, PA, USA”

“Pizza Hunt” isn’t the first compendium devoted to the enduring legacy of the hut-like diner, although it will be the first printed publication on the topic that is self-compiled. Since 2008, the blog Used to Be a Pizza Hut has been crowdsourcing photographs to document the current nature of the franchise’s old establishments. Like Pizza Hunt, its archives reveal the significance of Pizza Hut’s architecture not only in building the pie giant’s brand but also in creating a now-distant experience that predates the arrival of delivery services.

“The Pizza Hunt is a celebration of the golden era of dine-in fast food,” Tran said. “For anyone who’s ever made a mountain of mini marshmallows on their self-serve sundae, maxed out on free refills at the drink fountain or driven past a hut and felt its strange allure – this book’s for you.”

Ho Hai Tran, "Vacant, West Palm Beach, FL, USA" (click to enlarge)
Ho Hai Tran, “Vacant, West Palm Beach, FL, USA”
Ho Hai Tran, "Church of Our Savior, Boynton Beach, FL, USA"
Ho Hai Tran, “Church of Our Savior, Boynton Beach, FL, USA”
Ho Hai Tran, "Los Burritos Mexicanos, St. Charles, IL, USA"
Ho Hai Tran, “Los Burritos Mexicanos, St. Charles, IL, USA”
Limited edition Clams
Limited edition book with custom pizza box clamshell

Pizza Hunt is only available through Kickstarter.

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