Jolly Cone Drive-In Sign, old Route 99, Bakersfield, CA, ca. 1950s, This very engaging sign along an old commercial strip on the south side of the old highway is a survivor of a lost era in sign design. The anthropomorphic transformation of an ice cream cone into a little neon-encrusted fellow is a beguiling example of the commercial folk art of its time, a time which has long since come and gone. It is redolent of times gone by as well because it denotes a "drive-in."
Highway Diner, Route 66, Winslow, AZ, ca. 1940s Diners, usually shaped as railroad cars to spin off of the imagery and romance of eating in a dining car, were very seldom an actual transformed train. Instead, they were prefabricated structures, with most of the factories located in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The Highway Diner, a survivor along old Route 66, looks less like a railroad car than its east coast counterparts.
Sonic Drive-In, Central Ave., old Route 66, Albuquerque, NM, ca. 1990s, Sonic, the largest chain of drive-ins in America, opened its prototype restaurant in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1953. It has bucked the trend of most chains by offering the almost extinct experience of in-car service.
Wienerschnitzel, Las Cruces, NM, ca. 1990s, This very colorful franchised restaurant, specializing in serving up the all-American hot dog, makes up for its small size by the brilliance of its color scheme. Wienerschnitzel began as a hot dog stand in Wilmington, CA, in 1961, and it has become "the world’s largest hot dog chain" with over 300 locations in 10 states and in Guam.
Pizza Hut, Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM, ca. This gigantic purveyor of pizza pies has established its identity along the highway strips of the late 20th and early 21st century by it bright and omnipresent red roof that makes the buildings very hard to miss. But Pizza Huts were certainly not the first establishments to proclaim themselves by the color of their lids.
San Carlos Hotel, 1st and Main, Yuma, AZ., 1930, When the Art Deco San Carlos Hotel opened in Yuma, with its rooftop pinnacles reaching to the sky, it was the showplace of the city. The five-story hotel, the first air-conditioned building in this desert hot spot, had 80 rooms with ten-foot ceilings.
Cortez Motel Sign, Alameda Ave., El Paso, TX, ca. 1940s, This motel sign, with its representational imagery and neon, was intended to attract tourists along old Highway 90, affectionately called The Old Spanish Trail. Signs of this type were once commonplace along the old commercial strips on the outskirts of towns.
Wigwam Village # 7, Foothill Blvd. (Route 66), Rialto, CA, 1953, Frank Redford "invented" the teepee motel after he was inspired by a drive-in restaurant he saw during a trip to Long Beach, CA, in the early 1930s. He returned to his home in Horse Cave, KY, and built a "wigwam" gas station-restaurant, with flanking teepee restrooms for "squaws" and "braves."
Aztec Motel, Central Ave., Albuquerque, NM, ca. 1950s, Folk artist owners went berserk in this survivor along old Route 66 on the east side of Albuquerque. It is encrusted with voluminous amounts of ornamentation reflective of Mexican American tradition prevalent in the Southwest, and it proves definitively that too much is never enough.
Super 8 Motel Sign, I-8 Business Route, Gila Bend, AZ, ca. 1990s, The heroic couplet pronounced proudly on its sign is the corporate slogan, and it trumpets the new tradition of standardization in American roadside lodging. And while the experience of staying at a Super 8 might not always be "great," there’s a great deal to be said in its favor. The Super 8 chain, founded in 1972, has over 2000 motels in North America, boasting that it became the largest budget lodging business in North America
Fox Theater Forecourt, 20th and C Streets, Bakersfield, CA, ca. 1920s, Most movie theaters were razed after their heyday had come and gone. But fortunately not so for the grand old Fox Theater in downtown Bakersfield. The 1500-seat Spanish Colonial Theater designed by S. Charles Lee opened on Christmas Day, 1930 and ended its run in 1977.
Balboa Theater, 4th and E Streets, San Diego, CA, ca. 1920s, The Balboa, a splendid Spanish Colonial style movie theater in downtown San Diego, designed by architect William Wheeler, opened in 1924. It has about 1400 seats, 904 on the main level and almost 500 in the balcony. Although it was remodeled in 1964 at a cost of $125,000, it is badly in need of further restoration. The theater went dark in 1985 when the city condemned it and took it over.
Dream Catcher, Route 285, Española, NM, ca. 1990s, What was once a glorious tradition of architecturally ornate structures along the main streets of Americas has been transformed into sparse and ascetic multiplex buildings on the outskirts of towns. The Dream Catcher, with its freestanding decorative tower beside it, is more attractive than most multiplex theaters.
Pacific Gaslamp All Stadium 15 Theater, 5th Avenue and G. Street, San Diego, CA, ca. 1990s, A notable exception to the dreary formula of most contemporary multiplexes is this tour de force in the turn-of-the-century district of downtown San Diego. It respects and celebrates its neighborhood instead of violating it.
Shear Indulgence Beauty Salon, Winslow, AZ, ca. 1930s, Old commercial buildings lead a hermit crab existence. This interconnected addition to an old gas station has now become a place of beauty along the Route 66 Main Street of Winslow, Arizona. What the shop lacks in architectural exuberance is more than compensated for by the clever word play of its name.
Look Sharp Barber Shop Sign, Yuma, AZ, ca. 1990s, The ancient and revered barber pole symbol has been given a contemporary spin in this 1969 Volkswagen gone berserk. The barbershop itself in buried off of the main drag in a strip mall. But the red, white and blue VW helps to offset the disadvantage of its hidden location.
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As a photographer and writer I have spent nearly 30 years crisscrossing the continental United States in search of unique and typical examples of roadside and Main Street architecture and design. In traveling over 100,000 miles in a long series of marathon automobile trips, I have taken some 100,000 photographs of about 15,000 older buildings, signs, storefronts, and other commercial and civic structures. My 2003 Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship is allowing me to hit the road again in a series of four research trips in several regions of the USA to revisit many places I have not seen for decades. My objectives in these journeys are threefold: to see how places have changed; to record what remains of this individualistic "mom-and-pop" tradition in American commerce and how places I have previously photographed have evolved; and to make a record of the new omnipresent business chains which have homogenized the environment of America. This first report shows some of what I found in my first trip through the Southwest in over 3000 miles in 17 days. The Lone Ranger rides again.