Novelty architecture can take on many fantastical forms — think municipal water towers done up like peaches — but animal-shaped buildings are in a league of their own. Often built as roadside attractions meant to lure motorists off the highway, these completely functional structures serve a greater purpose than just kitschy ornamentation. Some are truly mimetic — that is, the building is representative of its original purpose be it a poultry shop, seafood restaurant, or woolen clothing boutique. Others are more symbolic, which is probably a good thing.
Big Sheep Wool Gallery
While the two most Instagrammed structures in the tiny farming outpost of Tirau on New Zealand’s North Island have likely birthed a nonstop, bottleneck-induced traffic headache for the locals, at least it’s easy to give directions. Just take a left at the incredibly large sheep. Can’t miss ’em. He’s right next to the dog with the stained glass windows. Built from corrugated scrap iron in 1994, the Big Sheep Wool Gallery, a woolen goods emporium and souvenir shop, was the first of the two mimetic structures to be erected. A few years later, a dog-shaped visitor center, also designed by local artist and entrepreneur Steven Clothier, went up directly next to the sheep on the town’s main drag. While the two structures are Tirau’s only corrugated iron buildings shaped like animals, an array of whimsical sculptures and signage also crafted from the popular roofing material can be found throughout Tirau, a town that’s lifted itself from rural economic depression to become New Zealand’s premier folk art-heavy pit stop.
While hard to classify as a proper building, the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma — aka the world’s most famous cement sperm whale with a waterslide jutting out of its side — is considered royalty in the world of kitschy roadside attractions. After all, the gentle leviathan is beached permanently right off of Route 66, the most iconic American roadway of all. Built over a private pond by retired zoologist Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift for his whale figurine-collecting wife, the Blue Whale was initially a family-only affair. But as Davis soon found out, when you erect an 80-foot-long marine mammal alongside America’s most vacationer-heavy highway, people will pull over and gawk. And pull over and gawk they did. It didn’t take long for Davis to open the Blue Whale up to the public and convert the pond into a proper swimming hole complete with a sand beach and picnic area.
Lucy The Elephant
You’ve really got to hand it to Lucy, the most famous pachyderm on the Jersey Shore. She’s a true survivor, having persevered through decades of vandalism and violent weather, demolition threats, and extended periods of decay. Hell, both Prohibition and Hurricane Sandy proved no match for this feisty 90-ton gal. Built from wood and clad in a tin, Lucy has towered over the seaside resort town of Margate City (home to Marvin Gardens of Monopoly fame) since 1881 when she was erected by Irish-born animal-shaped building progenitor James Lafferty. Lucy has served numerous functions over the years: real estate office, café, summer cottage, and, most notoriously, a tavern. A community-led relocation and restoration helped Lucy make it through the neglect-heavy dark years and, in 1976, achieve designation as a National Historic Landmark. The six-story beast’s current function is a gift shop and good old-fashioned tourist attraction. In fact, she’s apparently the most popular “non-gaming attraction” in the Atlantic City region.
Dog Bark Park Inn
Located right off Highway 95 in the sleepy Camas Prairie community of Cottonwood, the Dog Bark Park Inn is the only lodging establishment that we know of in which guests hunker down for the night within the (air-conditioned) belly of a 30-foot hound dog. The luxury of sleeping inside of said hound — the lovable beagle also responds to the name Sweet Willy — includes an “expansive continental self-serve breakfast” among other amenities. Your gracious hosts are world-renowned chainsaw-wielding folk artists Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, whose creations can be purchased in the gallery next door. And yes, canine guests are welcome to stay at the inn — all done up with doggy-themed décor, naturally — pending prior approval and a nonrefundable pet surcharge.
Freshwater Fishing Hall Of Fame & Museum
Ever dreamt of saying “I do” within the gaping jaw of a 143-foot long muskellunge? We’ve got just the spot for you. The semi-terrifying crown jewel of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, the massive fiberglass muskie (which, if you’re unfamiliar, is a large and particularly unattractive member of the pike family that’s caught for sport in the Midwest) is a singular spot for intimate wedding ceremonies — or, at the very least, super-ironic wedding photography. Boasting a needle-toothed mouth/observation deck that can accommodate about 20 people, the belly of the four-and-a-half-story fish is home to the museum’s Shrine To Anglers. And since the museum’s extensive outboard motor exhibit, intriguing as it is, doesn’t exactly scream “after party,” good times can be had at Hayward, Wisconsin’s other top attraction: the Moccasin Bar.
The Big Duck
A wacky, quacky work of avian-themed novelty architecture, this plus-sized bird has been a grade-A source of rubbernecking since it was first unveiled in the early 1930s by Long Island duck farmer Martin Maurer as a roadside egg emporium. While the 20-foot-tall reinforced-concrete waterfowl have moved around a handful of times over the years, born-and-bred Suffolk County residents should easily be able to identify the current location of “that really large duck” in Flanders, New York. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and named one of the 7 Wonders of Long Island (it beat out that Montauk Lighthouse and a motor lodge with heart-shaped Jacuzzi tubs and mirrored ceilings), the Big Duck is more than just a souvenir-peddling tourist trap.
The Big Merino
The Sydney Opera House. The Cape Byron Lighthouse. The Harbour Bridge. The Queen Victoria Building. The Tower Eye. The Big Merino.
While that last architectural landmark may not ring a bell with most visitors Down Under, particularly those who stick to Sydney and the coastal areas of New South Wales, if you ask a native about the “knitwear boutique housed in a 50-foot-tall concrete ram,” chances are they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Located in Goulburn, a mid-sized NSW city best known for its maximum-security prison and fine wool industry, the Big Merino — locally known as “Rambo” — has been distracting motorists since 1985. In 1997, the 97 metric ton ruminant — the largest sheep in the world, by the way — was relocated from its original spot to a more high-traffic location near an expressway exit.