Roadside comments

The SCA – Society for Commercial Archeology

south dakota caveIt was around 1993 when I first encountered the SCA, though the roots of the organization go back to the mid-70s, around the time I was graduating from college.  I don’t recall how I stumbled on the group, but I will be forever grateful that I did.  Founded by like-minded people who had a passion for the American roadside, in particular its quirky architecture and culture, the group has been a steady force in trying to advocate for the preservation and scholarship in this area.

Just last week I was elected to the Board of Directors of the SCA and I am thrilled to be able to jump in with both feet and lend a hand.

Plans are afoot for another tour, but the details are not ready to be released as of yet.  At least some of you may have been part of these great events in the past.  My first was the Delaware Diner tour, followed by the South Dakota event a year later.  The cave image above is from that wonderful event which was based out of Rapid City.

So here’s hoping you’ll want to jump in and join us as well.  We’re always looking for new members like you, the kind of folks who are always up for a — road trip!

Merry Christmas, from Pittsburgh.

andy's bar pittsburgh

Our traditional image.  This was the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh about 15 years ago. Today, the neighborhood continues to tradition into a more genteel area, chock-a-block with the “creative class,” new restaurants and small businesses.  Along with East Liberty, it was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

You can argue the merits of gentrification, but was there any other choice?

American Sign Museum: Ten Years On

I recall being there on the first day that the American Sign Museum opened in Cincinnati.  It was in a difficult spot to find, just to the east of the downtown area.  I went around the block several times (in the days before ubiquitous GPS help!) before figuring it out.  But I finally made the requisite turns and found the place. What I discovered at that point was a museum that housed a wide variety of early American roadside signage which had been saved from certain destruction…

Fast forward.  Today was the tenth anniversary celebration of the museum in its new digs just west of downtown, hard off of I-75.  The larger space (and there is more available) is beautifully conceived and the interpretive information is just enough to help the average visitor get a handle on how signage has developed and changed over the past hundred years or so.

american sign museum anniversary 1I share an odd connection with Tod Swormstedt, who is the driving force behind this unique museum. Some years ago, a lovely woman by the name of Jane Powell, contacted Tod about early poster and “show card” artists.  She and her daughter Lori were trying to dig up more information about the painters and artists who had painted one-off movie posters in the early part of the 20th century.  One of those artists happened to be my grandfather, the wonderful R. J Rogers. (Renfred, for those who care)  Tod’s family happened to own the industry trade magazine “Signs of the Times,” in which my grandfather had advertised aid for others who were painting movie posters at the time.


american sign museum hojos sign

Personal feelings aside, The American Sign Museum is a gem…  My congratulations to Tod and everyone else involved. Now that so much of our roadside has been lost, there is, at least, this one place where you can walk back through a glittering American that existed — not too long ago.

Buzzfeed get diners wrong, mostly

boulevard diner worcesterIn it’s ongoing attempt to create click bait for millions of bored web surfers, Buzzfeed recently published a list of the “21 American diner you should eat in before you die.”

There are some classic, notable diners in the bunch;  The Miss Worcester, Mickeys, Tops, but also a whole raft of wannabees and neverweres.  My fav amongst that group is “Slim Goodies,” which, we are told “…has been serving up creole goodness for nearly 12 years.”  Really?  Twelve whole years?  That makes it a classic in my book anytime!

For our part, if we had to pick one diner in Worcester to highlight it would have been the venerable Boulevard, not Miss Worcester, despite that diner’s close connection to the Worcester Lunch Car Manufacturing Company.

Anyway, we just wanted to share the link, on the off chance that you’re one of the five or six people who hadn’t seen it already…

The Roadside, In the Rearview Mirror….

overnight cabins old signIt has been a long time coming, but it was always inevitable, particularly in a nation which seems to value “new and shiny” over just about anything else. I’m speaking of the general state of the American roadside at this date and time.  Though much that we love remains, much has been lost, and continues to be bulldozed each year.  Just try finding a classic old motel in your corner of the nation, or a diner, or a drive in.  Most of the motels have been swept away in an almost manic building spree led by the Hiltons, Holiday Inns and Marriotts, who now manage a diverse group of properties, each aimed at a certain niche in the market. Fran and Bill’s Motel is, for the most part, a distant inn great sign

Was that always the way this was going to go down?  I suppose so.

Many early mom and pop motels were (generally) thrown up quickly and cheaply. As American’s took to the roads, particularly after WWII, the need arose and it was filled.  But it wasn’t long before the Holiday Inn, with its “great sign” began to challenge the independent operators.

So, what to do?  Well, the only option is to get out there and find what’s left!  There are still a lot of small businesses hanging on, but it’s always a question of just how long.  When you drive by them the next time — you may see only a pile of debris.  So, don’t delay.  Hit the road.  Today or tomorrow or this weekend, but do it!  Now.


When one door closes….

Welcome back to The American Roadside.  In just a few short years, much has changed along the road, and much of it has been for the worse.  Whole swaths of the old American roadside has been obliterated.  Just try finding a small, mom & pop diner anymore or a motel, other than in a 1930’s movie on TCM.  They have been bulldozed.  And, unfortunately, many of the memories have been buried in the rubble with them.

However, all is not lost!  For my fellow travelers along that long stretch of macadam, there is still a lot to be seen and appreciated.

It’s good to be back on the road!