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The Strange Second Life Of Vintage Pizza Huts

From pawn shops to mosques, a new project aims to document all the ways that the franchise’s once-iconic huts have been repurposed.

These days, you’ll find Pizza Huts everywhere, from shopping mall food courts to nondescript retail storefronts. But in their glory days, Pizza Hut locations were every bit as iconic for their odd, hut-shaped structures as McDonald’s is for its golden arches. And over the years, the rule that every Pizza Hut franchise should be shaped like a hut has lapsed. The old huts still live on, however, passing into a second life where they’ve been repurposed into everything from grocery stores to funeral homes.

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Photographer Ho Hai Tran is obsessed with Pizza Hut second lives. He’s on a quest to find and photograph every reincarnated Pizza Hut as part of Pizza Hunt, a new book project he’s funding on Kickstarter.

According to Tran, no one knows how many vintage Pizza Hut buildings still exist. They were all largely built in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, modeled after the shape of “Pizza Hut Number One,” the first franchise location in Wichita, Kansas. These locations all have a two-tiered, shingled red roof and trapezoidal windows, which makes their silhouette still clearly identifiable, even after the Pizza Hut branding has been stripped away.

The goal of Pizza Hunt is to find as many of these old buildings as possible, photographing them and mapping them for posterity. According to Tran, the hut’s iconic shape possesses a allure that is unique to the Pizza Hut franchise. While a hut’s shape makes its pedigree as an ex-Pizza Hut immediately obvious, it’s also strangely adaptable to other contexts.

“The weirdest ones are the funeral homes and mortuaries,” he says. “It’s just such a juxtaposition.” Even so, Tran says he’s seen ex-Pizza Huts serve as everything from “churches, mosques, pool shops, and pawn shops–the list goes one. No matter what they become, they still always hint at their past.”

But why should we be fascinated by the repurposing of old corporate architecture? To that question, Tran quotes author Philip Langdon, author of the book Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: “The chain restaurant is something of a strange object–considered outside the realm of significant architecture, yet swiftly reflecting shifts in popular taste and unquestionably making an impact on daily life.”

If these huts could go from mainstream to forgotten so quickly, it really makes you wonder how quickly today’s architecture could be swept away . . . and what strange second lives it will have.

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