Category Archives: Road Trip

A Modern Motel Ghost Town

Report From a Motel ‘Ghost Town’
May 6, 2010
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer

Hawkins' Court, Lordsburg, New Mexico

LORDSBURG — Spring weeds have shot up through cracks in the pavement and a swimming pool sits filled in with concrete, a surrealist’s vision of summer fun.

The wind persuades some hanging metal to break into a tuneless song while faded paint advertises a menu lost to the passage of time, as well as the grammarian’s pen: “Truckers Special $5 Super Breakfast Anytime.”

Life along Motel Drive in Lordsburg can be pretty lifeless.

Oh, there are things happening along the three or four miles of the drive, which stretches from the easternmost offramp of Interstate 10 to its westernmost on-ramp.

Chile is being ladled out to a lunchtime crowd at Ramona’s Cafe. Downtown,they’re just putting this week’s issue of the Hidalgo County Herald to bed. And the TVs are on in a few of the rooms of the handful of motels still open for business.

Motel Drive has not been entirely forgotten, but it sure can feel that way.

In the 1930s, when cross-country car travel was young, Lordsburg — jammed into the bottom-left corner of our map — was sitting pretty on U.S. 80. The “Broadway of America” linked the East Coast and San Diego and was more traveled than Route 66.

By 1964, Lordsburg had 31 service stations, 21 motels and 20 cafes, mostly clustered along U.S. 80, and it was the biggest travel stop between Texas and Arizona.

What happened?

Two things: An interstate highway replaced Highway 80, spelling a familiar doom.

And, maybe because it’s harder to find rhymes for U.S. 80 than it is for Route 66, nobody wrote a famous song about the road that passed through Lordsburg, depriving its ghostly remnants of nostalgic cachet.

This is not ancient history. The interstate was completed in the 1970s, so thedecay of Motel Drive is only about 30 years old.

Still, it qualified recently for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s list ofthe 10 most endangered roadside places in the U.S.

John Murphey, a board member with the Society for Commercial Archeology and architectural historian with the National Park Service in Santa Fe, nominated the drive for the designation after taking a lonesome trip down the road.

“I was struck — for lack of better words — by this modern ghost town of motels,”Murphey tells me. “And I’ve watched them dissipate over the last 10 years.”

That dissipation has included some examples of important architectural styles, especially “cabin courts,” falling down or being torn down.

A few motels are open for business, catering mostly to long-term rentals, and a few still stand vacant. But most live on only in photos.

Lordsburg has been tied to transportation since its beginning. It was founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad and named for a train engineer, Delbert Lord.

When U.S. 80 was being replaced by Interstate 10, Lordsburg did not just roll over. Its townspeople knew that traffic flying by at high speeds did not mean good things for the town. One property owner built herself a shack on one of the proposed ramps, moved in and held up the project for three months. Her sit-in ended when she was arrested and thrown in jail.

The town won some concessions: The highway was elevated slightly so travelers could look down over Lordsburg, see its amenities and be encouraged to stop there. And three exits — one at each edge of town and one in the center — were
supposed to draw people through town.

They didn’t. They stopped them at the edges, where chain motels and truck stops now sit. People who study transportation patterns call these “interstate villages” — places where travelers jump out of their cars for a bathroom break,a fuel-up and some fast food.

Debbie Greene bought the old Vendome Hotel building in downtown Lordsburg on Motel Drive and is running her bookkeeping business out of it. She would like to renovate and open to interstate travelers, but she suspects that would be futile unless something changes in tourist patterns.

“You get off (I-10) and go to the bathroom and get your stuff and go. And you don’t see Lordsburg,” she says.

What you miss when you stay in that interstate bubble, according to Murphey, is a good collection of vernacular architecture of the 1920s and ’30s and 1950s and ’60s. The one remaining little cabin court with its Mission Revival parapet is a gem, and the big “spreaders” with their pools and neon come-ons conjure up images of family trips taken at a more leisurely pace.

“It’s a fairly good representation of the full spectrum of roadside accommodation in New Mexico.” Murphey says. “If these were along Route 66, they would have been nominated to the National (Historic) Register years ago. But that hasn’t happened here.”

When you roll along Motel Drive, it’s not that hard to envision the properties rehabbed to their historical glory and tourists making a destination of the old road in their classic cars. Route 66 through Tucumcari easily comes to mind.

Will it happen here? Is it too late?

The Society for Commercial Archeology distinction comes with nothing but attention. It’s going to take local action to make anything happen.

Edmund Saucedo, a Lordsburg native who returned home after a 35-year hiatus in San Francisco and was saddened to see the downfall of downtown and the rest of Motel Drive, has tried to ignite interest in preservation and revitalization. He
has, frankly, been frustrated by the response.

In City Hall, there’s a new mayor — Frank Rodriguez — who says he loves nostalgia, but knows there is little money available for rehabbing an entire street.

He hopes some moneybag is out there with an eye for neon and cabin courts, someone who can see all those potential customers zipping by on I-10.

“If somebody came in with the right ideas and some financial backing, that would be great. That would be great for our city,” Rodriguez says.

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UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Reach Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com.

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Filed under Broadway of America, Road Trip, Route 66, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Road Sustenance

Greasy burgers
Cheesy enchiladas
Star Bites
Dole orange juice
Pringles, Tabasco flavored
Bags of carrots
Broasted chicken
Flaxseed or fish oil, 1,000 MG
Gator tails
Super B-Complex
One-gallon jug of purified water
Light yellow pills with “V” imprinted on them
Coffee, of course

CS

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Route 66: the Garbage Highway

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Fifteen easy chairs, four couches, nine mattresses, two television sets, a pink cowboy boot, a fuzzy slipper; these are the roadside flowers of old Route 66, the garbage highway.

Take your truck on Oklahoma Highway 48/66 north of Bristow. About 3,000 feet beyond Magnolia Cemetery and the sign announcing “Future Home of Schumacher Funeral Home,” turn right down a dirt path; it will dump into a concrete road—old 66.

Head back toward town, and where the road makes a curve, slow down; look in the rearview mirror. Coast clear, stop.

I you’ve got a lot of un-bagged garbage, back up until your tailgate is perpendicular to Sand Creek. Open the gate and push out the crud with your flat shovel.

Don’t worry; it will join a regular Juarez-style landslide of filth, all slithering together.

If you got bigger stuff—a washing machine or a couch—drive farther until you see an abandoned trailer. Here you can dump your big stuff to mix with the refrigerators and 50 gallon barrels of who knows what.

Do your business quickly. But if you are curious, stick around, and poke through your neighbor’s garbage.

Flip over a couch and down flutters a Polaroid of a recent Halloween party. Open that bulging bag and there is a Masonic yearbook (2007), with photographs of tassel-hatted men doing various civic acts of goodness.

Mark Levin, broadcasting from the Ronald Reagan Foundation, harasses me to organize against the “radical ideologues,” as I use a stick to rip open another bag.

Someone I met in town said he once caught his neighbor dumping along the road. He “hasn’t talked to him since.”

While I’m poking around, a white Ford F-150 approaches silently. It stops; the two figures behind the windshield watch me. A hand on the passenger side taps a slow beat on the roof.

What the hell can I tell them?

Hopefully they can see my car is too small, too new, to be dumping.

CS

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Filed under Oklahoma, Road Trip, Route 66, Uncategorized

Black Backpacks on Sitgreaves Pass

SITGREAVES PASS, ARIZONA

You are in a van heading out of Kingman for the Oatman Highway. You are a passenger; someone else is driving.

The driver and guide point out things along the way: the Cool Springs gas station; an interpretive kiosk; a dangerous curve. You take it all in.

The van reaches the top of a pass. A sign announces: “SITGREAVES PASS ELEV. 3550.”

The van stops at a flat place. You look down, across iron-colored hills to a long valley. The guide says on a clear day you can see a smokestack–a coal plant or something–on the other side of the valley. You don’t see it, but say you do.

Below, a pack of bikers are leaning into a curve, moving in your direction.

You walk out farther on the point. You see a small, wooden white cross; it’s a grave marker for Jimmy Hoffa. You walk around more; you find a patch of rebar and concrete sticking out of the ground. An old foundation, the guide says.

You get back in the van; it starts to descend down some switchbacks. The driver stops again. He wants to show us something. A spring: a humble little hole in the limestone bubbling brownish water. It’s disappointing.

At this stop, you break off from the group and cross the highway to a stone retaining wall. It’s a steep drop down the embankment. Something catches your eye below: a large area of black, bulky things strewn across the rocks. People are always dumping garbage down road embankments, but this is different. You climb over the barrier for a closer inspection. You start to slide down the hillside, but you are determined to get there without falling.

The heap is made entirely of winter jackets and backpacks; hundreds of dark backpacks and heavy winter coats.

You haul two backpacks up to the retaining wall. You unzip one. It contains two black trash bags and two small plastic containers, nothing else. The containers interest you; they seem festive–colors burst from the label. Deciphering the label, Electrolit, Suero Rehidratante, you deduce it’s an electrolyte substance.

You open the other backpack; the exact same contents. You want to call to other passengers, but they are inside the van, avoiding the heat.

The driver walks over. You pick up a backpack to show him. He jumps back, as if you are holding a snake by its tail. He settles down and gets closer, but never touches it. For lack of a better term you call it a coyote bag. “I found all these coyote bags down the hill–look.” He peers down the embankment and then turns around and reassures you he will call the county Hazmat coordinator to get it cleaned up.

You want to take one of the Electrolit bottles as artifact. It seems important. The driver gives you a look that it would be inappropriate.

You photograph the contents and toss the backpacks over the retaining wall. The driver advises you to wash your hands with a sanitizer in the van.

Back in the vehicle, a passenger asks, “What were you doing?” You say found some empty backpacks, and leave it at that.

The tour goes on. You pass old mines and slow down in Oatman–a hokey Old West town with burros roaming the streets. The driver doesn’t stop. “Nowhere to park…too many bikers in town,” he says.

The trip ends in Bullhead City.

You get back to your home, several states away participate in normal routines: You go to work; meet friends for lunch; read about local politics; buy groceries.

During the weekend, you download the images from the trip and the image of the Electrolit, with its bursting, happy colors intrigues you. You search the word on Google; nothing comes up. You know what it’s for: to re-hydrate illegal aliens.

At work you Google “Border Patrol, Arizona Sector.” The first webpage that comes up is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tucson Sector. At the bottom left corner is a link: “Report Suspicious Activity to: 1-800-BE-ALERT.” You think the dump could be suspicious activity.

You call; a voicemail answers. You leave a deferential message, saying you are not trying to waste their time, but you discovered a huge dumpsite, possibly an illegal alien transfer point at Sitgreaves Pass on the Oatman Highway. You would like to know more about it, whenever it’s convenient to call back.

At night, when you can’t sleep, you try to imagine what happened at the pass. It must have happened at night, of course, in the winter; that’s why all the winter coats. Did it happen once or dozens of times?

You find something on the Internet describing how illegals are snuck across the border, and then packed into trucks to head north to a point where the vehicles stop at a remote location. There they are met by vans and smaller vehicles. The aliens toss off the winter gear and slip into street clothes. The vehicles go in different directions; to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas.

It could be this, or a lay-up point (doubtful, too far north), or just a dump site.

You find a video on YouTube capturing in “night vision” a coyote sneaking illegals into Arizona. You are mesmerized by the video, and watch it over and over again. You analyze it by sequence and camera angle. You forward it to friends and post it on Facebook.

Months pass, however, and you forget about the backpacks and the Oatman Highway.

Searching the web one weekend, you come across an article written by an early Route 66 free-lancer, Thomas W. Pew Jr. It’s a 1977 piece he did for American Heritage magazine; it’s about the great Okie exodus on Route 66.

Among others, he interviews Merle Haggard’s mother, Mrs. Flossie Scott. But what makes your eyes refocus is a conversation with Ed Edgerton, who ran a filling station at Sitgreaves Pass…the rebar and concrete you kicked months ago.

Edgerton tells Pew he frequently gave gas to the Okies, so that they could coast down to Needles. Then he summed up what it was like in the Depression for the Okies:

“Frightened they were, those people were frightened and they come through thinking they were headed for the promised land where they’d say ‘everything’s going to be all right.’ I warned them about those ideas. But they went on and, well, they didn’t find the promise land.”

All those backpacks make sense now.

CS

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Filed under illegal aliens, Road Trip, Route 66, Sitgreaves Pass, smuggling, Uncategorized

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

Looking for the Ocean

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA

Three weeks ago I found myself looking for the Ocean in Riverside, California.

I was there to get closer to the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Association, the first group to consider building a continuous road across the United States.

In early 1912, promoters of the highway met at the Glenwood Inn, now Mission Inn Hotel and Spa, to create a great “chain of societies” to connect the unconnected.

The Mission Inn in downtown Riverside is a sprawling campus of concrete Spanish-inspired buildings, with an ersatz array of architectural styles. Much like Henry Flagler’s hotels in St. Augustine, Florida, it fools one into thinking it is old.

When I checked in, I asked the girl behind the counter whether she knew where the Music Room (the site of 1912 meeting) used to be, thinking it had long vanished. She said it was still there, to the right, past the restaurant and down a set of stairs.

I went to my room in the older part of the hotel. It was designed to look like a monk’s cell, with thick plaster walls, a dark wood beam ceiling and a sitting niche. The room had a pleasant musty smell of old stuffed furniture.

Outside the window wind whipped a palm tree. It had been a strange day in Southern California. Storms from the Pacific had ripped across the Southland, dumping heavy rain; a tornado was reported near Long Beach. Electricity went out and restaurants closed early.

After lighting a candle I bought at Walgreens, I lay on the bed, pulling up Messiaen’s “Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus” on my iPod. I hit repeat “Regard du Pere.” The meditative mood of the piano relaxed my mind. I fell asleep.

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Filed under 1912, California, highways, history, Interstate 10, Los Angeles History, New Mexico, Ocean to Ocean Highway, Riverside, Riverside County, Road Trip, Travel, Uncategorized

Rare Broadway of America Mural Found

Rare BOA mural discovered.

The Broadway of America was an important highway. Formed in the fall of 1927, it was the “last” named highway, and learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. As an organization, it continued (regionally) until the late 1970s.

The BOA started in New York City and ended in San Diego. It didn’t follow US 70 all the way. Making the cross-country trip, the BOA stitched together eleven different US highways that had already been improved; this is how it succeeded where other named highways failed.

Tennessee is the only place along the BOA that still retains the name. And this find contributes to our understanding of the highway.

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Filed under Broadway of America, highways, preservation, Road Trip, Travel, US Highway 70