Ten Most Endangered Roadside Places

Organization with odd name announces “ten most endangered” roadside places…


National Organization Announces Ten Most Endangered Roadside Places

“From a huge concrete cowboy statue in Canyon, Texas; to California’s once common roadside orange stands; to a three-mile strip of forlorn motels in Lordsburg, New Mexico; to a Depression-era pullout in Garrison, Minnesota, many of America’s iconic roadside places are threatened.

The Society for Commercial Archeology announces its first Falling by the Wayside, a list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States. The list, ranging from a single building to a 65-acre park, includes the following threatened places:

1. Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona
2. California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California
3. Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County, Kentucky
4. Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas
5. Motel Drive (former US Highway 80), Lordsburg, New Mexico
6. Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas
7. Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota
8. Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
9. “Tex Randall,” US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas
10. Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington

These places are all marked by threats which can include natural weathering, economic hardship, neglect, abandonment, inappropriate zoning, lack of maintenance and demolition. The list showcases the diversity of roadside places and highlights the issues and challenges facing the preservation of important roadside places.

The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) established the Falling by the Wayside program to raise awareness of the importance of roadside places throughout the United States.

“Our hope is the list will bring attention to roadside commercial architecture—especially these threatened places,” says Nancy Sturm, co-president of the organization. Along with the attention, SCA will help property owners connect with local, state and federal preservation programs.

Established in 1977, the SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape. The SCA offers publications, conferences, and tours to help preserve, document, and celebrate the structures and architecture of the 20th century: diners, highways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs, and more.

“We’ve encouraged research and appreciation of highway architecture over the years. Now it’s the time to move toward advocacy, as more roadside places are threatened,” says Sturm.

1. Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona
Buckhorn Baths, a ten-acre oasis of palms, gardens and Spanish bungalows, sits along Mesa’s busy Main Street, a reminder of the town’s former life as a desert resort community. Closed for over a decade, future restoration and reuse of the property is growing less likely as the surrounding area redevelops for commercial use.

History: The business opened as a service station in 1936 on US Highway 60, the Apache Trail. While drilling a well on the property, the owners hit a mineral spring. In 1939 they constructed Roman-style bathhouses and guesthouses near the well, turning the property into a hot springs resort. In the 1940s the baths played a role in bringing the New York Giants spring training camp to Mesa, leading to the eventual establishment of Mesa as a center for baseball spring training. The resort remained open and operated by its original owner until 1999. The buildings are remarkably intact, which helped their listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Threat: The property has been for sale since 1999. It is still owned by the original owner, Alice Sliger, who is in advance of 100 years old. It is feared that if a suitable buyer does not come forward, the property could be sold for redevelopment. Buckhorn Baths is located in a transitional area that is currently undergoing redevelopment—including a new Walgreens across the street. In 2007, the Arizona Preservation Foundation included the property on the Arizona’s Most Endangered Historic Places list.

2. California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California
Before it was the Inland Empire, it was the Orange Empire. Long stretches of California US Highway 66 once passed through picture postcard landscapes of citrus orchards. Dotted along the highway were fruit stands shaped like oversized oranges. Here tourists could pick up a bag of fruit and delight to a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. With the widening of highways and spread of suburban growth after WW II, the orchards, along with their stands, soon disappeared. Now only a few are left scattered across California.

History: Orange blossoms, back-dropped by snow covered mountains, form an enduring image of Southern California. Tourists driving Route 66 between San Bernardino and Monrovia inhaled the sweet smell of the citrus orchards lining the highway. Similar scenes were seen on US Highway 99, tracing through the agricultural middle section of the state. In the 1920s, with the rise of auto tourism, enterprising citrus ranchers opened roadside fruit stands. Stands designed to look like huge oranges were an innovation that drew attention from drivers. From a window in the “orange,” attendants sold bags of fruit, snacks, and, of course, fresh juice.

Threat: Changes in land use patterns and the widening of highways resulted in destruction or relocating dozens of these stands. Now only a handful still exist in California: in Dixon, San Jose, Williams, Chowchilla, Shasta Lake and Fontana—most of them moved and none selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. While Fontana’s Orange Stand was saved, it now sits restored but unused in the parking lot of Bono’s Italian Restaurant and Deli. The Mammoth Orange, owned by the City of Chowchilla, awaits a new owner, while the orange in Williams continues to deteriorate behind a chain-link fence.

3. Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County Kentucky
Like a mushroom, the I-64 Clark County, Kentucky rest stop rises from a small knoll, surrounded by greenery. Designed in the early 1960s, it is wholly modern, with a folded plate roof and strong concrete and glass composition. Inside the circular space, a tile mosaic map of Kentucky stretches along a curving wall. Despite its architectural significance, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet may demolish this space-age rest stop.

History: Designed in 1962 by the notable Louisville modern architecture firm Sweet & Judd, the rest area was built two years later, one of four of the same design on the Kentucky Interstate System. Only two exist today. In 2005 the Clark County Rest Area was included on the Federal Highway Administration’s list of exceptionally significant features of the national Interstate Highway System.

Threat: In 1996 a long-range plan issued by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for rest area development called for the removal of the building. The building and its sister rest area in a neighboring county were inspected in 2009 by a consultant for structural integrity and were determined to be badly deteriorated. The consultant estimated $300,000 in rehabilitation costs for both structures. In response, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Maintenance Division recommended the demolition of both rest stops. Despite this recommendation, the Transportation Cabinet directed the maintenance division to maintain the buildings for up to five years. An additional threat is posed by a proposed new interchange that would require demolishing the Clark County rest area; the project is expected to be considered within the next year.

4. Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas
A horseshoe shaped building, tinted purple and green, with an adjacent wavy carhop canopy, the Pig Stand Coffee Shop in Beaumont, Texas is a classic post-war drive-in. But for all of its neon and flying saucer design, the owner of the closed restaurant cannot find a new tenant, and has threatened demolition.

History: Built in 1941, No. 41 is the most distinctive and architecturally significant of the Pig Stand chain, which started in Dallas in 1921. For over 60 years, the Beaumont restaurant served pig sandwiches—the chain’s signature—and delivered shakes and fries to cars parked under the canopy. It closed in 2006. The significant architectural design of No. 41 includes its circular shape and twin roof pylons, spelling “PIG STAND” in neon, and its distinctive carhop canopy. The property has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Threat: The owner recently threatened demolition and proposed replacing it with a gas station and convenience store. Negotiations, however, with a potential buyer, continue.

5. Motel Drive, former US 80, Lordsburg, New Mexico
Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico. At one end an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” at the other is a boarded up nightclub, and in between three miles of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs and others with their pools full of garbage. Things were different before the interstate.

History: Lordsburg, a city in southwest New Mexico, benefited for years from being located, like a curb along a street, on the edge of US Highways 70 and 80—proudly announcing in its newspaper in the 1930s that it was on the Broadway of America highway. In 1964, Lordsburg boasted 21 motels, 20 cafes and 31 service stations—making it the biggest gas-food-and-lodging stop between Arizona and Texas. But less than ten years later, the completion of Interstate 10 took it all away. The State Highway Department tried to appease Lordsburg merchants, promising to build the interstate at a slightly higher elevation so that travelers could look down and “see” the businesses. But this failed, and the interstate dealt a crippling blow to Lordsburg, a trauma from which it has never recovered.

Threat: Motel Drive continues to decline, with only one motel offering overnight accommodations. While the three-mile strip offers a catalogue of mid-century roadside commercial architecture, the interstate directs travelers and their business to another part of town.

6. Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas
The sign at the entry of Dinosaur World in northwest Arkansas announces the park is “CLOSED Until Further Notice.” And beyond, in a heavily wooded, 65-acre designed landscape, nearly 100 prehistoric replicas remain unvisited. Closed for five years, the future of the “largest dinosaur park in the world” is uncertain.

History: Built in 1960 and originally known as Farwell’s Dinosaur Park, Dinosaur World was a tourist attraction touted as the largest dinosaur park in the world. The life-size concrete dinosaurs were observed along a two-mile road. The prehistoric replicas were created by Emmit Sullivan, a sculptor who had fashioned similar creatures for Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota, Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Christ of the Ozarks statue, in nearby Eureka Springs. The park served as an opening scene for the horror movie “It’s Alive.” Closed in 2005, presumably much of the park is still intact, but deteriorating.

Threat: Dinosaur World remains closed; plans for its future are unknown.

7. Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota
Sitting along a curve of US Highway 169, in the tiny town of Garrison, Minnesota is a pullout to a stone-edged rest area built by the CCC. Landscaped with mature trees and with a sweeping view across Mille Lacs Lake, and a more recent addition of a huge walleye sculpture, it is the town’s only tourist attraction. Years of deferred maintenance have put the structure in a precarious position; urgent advocacy is needed to stabilize and restore the historic wayside.

History: The concourse was built between 1936 and 1939 by Civilian Conservation Corps Camp SP-15, one of four camps in Minnesota dedicated to roadside development projects. It was the cornerstone of highway improvements in the region. Collectively, the work represents the most extensive roadside development project undertaken by the CCC in the state. In 1990, it was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for its design and as a rare Federal Relief property, significant to the history of roadside development.

Threat: The threat facing Garrison Concourse is primarily one of lack of maintenance. Most crucial is the condition of the overlook wall, the base of which is under water and deteriorating. One concern is the structural integrity of the wall: if action is not taken to stabilize it, the entire structure could be lost. Lack of funding is a barrier to preservation and stabilization efforts. Nomination of this property to Falling by the Wayside is supported by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.

8. Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Fabricated in 1948, the Vale Rio Diner sat at the intersection of Nutt Road and Bridge Street for 60 years, serving up food to residents and workers at the Phoenix Iron Company and local textile mills. Like many diners, it was shiny and silver, but distinguished by an unusual pattern of stainless steel circles along its exterior; what diner experts call a “burnished disc pattern.” It was, as one Internet reviewer remarked, “a classic greasy spoon with horrible service.” But progress, in the way of a new Walgreens, pushed it from its coveted location to a storage lot a mile away, where its sits with an unknown future.

History: Paramount Diners of Oakland, New Jersey, fabricated the diner in 1948, which opened in Phoenixville, a town at the confluence of French Creek and Schuylkill River, on Thanksgiving of that year. It operated at its original location for 60 years and became a landmark for local residents. During the last weekend of its operation, a line of people formed out the door and onto the sidewalk.

Threat: The diner closed in 2008 when the lot on which it stood was sold. It was moved to a presumably temporary location for storage and has remained unused. Today it sits on cinder blocks, covered with a black tarp, its future uncertain.

9. “Tex Randall,” US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas
Looking over US Highway 60, the big cowboy leans on his knee, staring at traffic with a bemused smile. Constructed in 1959, Tex Randall—47′ feet high and seven tons heavy—is a landmark in the Texas Panhandle. But exposure, lack of maintenance and an unknown future is threatening the roadside giant.

History: Tex Randall was constructed by industrial arts teacher Harry Wheeler in 1959 out of concrete, steel and wire mesh. Originally known as “The Biggest Texan,” the cowboy advertised Wheeler’s Western Store, holding a cigarette and wearing real denim jeans and a red checkered shirt. Tex was restored in 1989 after a semi crashed into his left boot. Local businesses rallied around the cause, starting the “Save the Cowboy” campaign. Though deteriorated, Tex Randall remains a visual landmark in the Texas Panhandle.

Threat: Wheeler’s Western Store, which Tex once towered over, has been long closed and the building sits vacant. Discussions of redevelopment for the property have involved removing the statue. In 2008 a restaurant owner in Canyon bought the statue reportedly with plans to move it to his business, but was unable to complete the task when moving and reinstallation costs were estimated at $50,000. Current plans for the cowboy are unknown.

10. Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington
Constructed in 1922 to look like an actual teapot—with handle, spout and top—this gas station paid tribute to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. Today the iconic roadside structure sits vacant on the outskirts of Zillah, 15 miles southeast of Yakima.

History: Constructed by Jack Ainsworth, the form of the building referenced the infamous controversy which clouded Warren G. Harding’s presidency. Historically located along a US Highway 410 between Zillah and Granger, the construction of Interstate 82 forced the removal of the building from its original location in 1978. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is widely recognized as a significant roadside icon and one of the few tangible reminders of the 80-year-old scandal.

Threat: The building has stood vacant for several years. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation placed it on its 2007 Most Endangered Historic Properties list. The Friends of the Teapot Association formed with the intention of moving the structure to nearby Zillah for use as a visitor/tourism center. But the move and its restoration were priced at $250,000. The Friends group continues to raise money, but the rare roadside attraction sits unused.

Contact: sca.endangered@gmail.com”

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Filed under Broadway of America, California, history, Los Angeles History, preservation, Road Trip, Uncategorized, US Highay 80, US Highway 70, US Highway 99

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