Attn: Roadside Architecture Junkies

One place that screams kitsch-Americana, cheesy, not politically correct roadside architecture, is South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina.  It’s located at the intersections of SC Highway 9, NC 15-501, and I-95.  Ever since traveling to Florida with family, years back, the terribly amusing billboards stretching hundreds of miles North and South have intrigued me.  Finally, senior year of college, Maria, Amy, Elyse & I stopped there on our we’re-dorks-preservation-spring-break to investigate the shops and take pictures.  However, we did not explore too much as we were trying to get to Florida as fast as possible.  I’ve since been through a few times to take pictures of the concrete flamingos.  (I know you’re not surprised.)  In the next few weeks, Kristin (see contributors page) is going to come visit me and although she is my best friend, she has somehow been immune to my ridiculous adoration of roadside America.  This is about to change when I introduce her to South of the Border and a drive-in movie theater. 


I write this post to inform you roadside lovers to visit South of the Border soon.  From reading the blogs of others who mention South of the Border, it’s becoming quite the seedy place and much is in disrepair & neglect. Is it possible that South of the Border will someday be completely abandoned, dismantled, and a thing of the past? I would have to guess that, yes, someday this might be the case.  As a pre-mitigation measure, I will take as many photographs as possible and report back in a few weeks (possibly saving this for an actual Preservation in Pink issue – expect June to be the next one.)  However, the seediness of South of the Border could be just the nature of it, similar to Coney Island.  You know what you’re getting yourself into, but that’s the draw. 


Here are two links to articles of concern:

[I can’t find the other one – I’ll update it when I do.]


In the meantime, keep those cameras with you at all times! And here is one of our many South of the Border photographs:


 Amy, Elyse, a flamingo, and me


3 Hours in the Life of an Oral Historian

Oral history is rewarding, insightful, amusing, frustrating, repetitive, and exhausting and this is often all in one day!  Since September 2006 I have completed 30 interviews that total 1600 pages of transcript and 75 hours of recording.  As I work on the public history project (the presentation / product, essentially) I still have a few lingering transcripts that require permission in order to use in any form.  It is quite a task, trying to retrieve all of them.  After each interview, I write a reflection, but once in a while there is a visit that requires a reflection as well, because it is just so memorable. (That or I need to decompress.)  Probably no one will ever read my reflections, but I thought I would post this one to give everyone a sample of part of my day as an oral historian. 

April 2008, Visit with Interviewee

First off, let’s keep in mind that I interviewed this 90 year old woman in 2007.  Since then I have transcribed her interview, delivered it to her, and then began the process of trying to retrieve the transcript.  While the round of phone calls to retrieve the transcripts are always easier than the initial can I interview you phone call… it’s a different kind of hard.  I’m still asking for something from these people, completely at the mercy of everyday folks who have busy lives or the people who just cringe at the sight of their words on paper.  I understand, which is possibly why I hesitate to make phone calls.

For her, the successive phone calls over months always ended the same way: in some manner of wording she’d tell me that she wasn’t feeling well, call back when the weather was better, she’s not sure about the transcript, yadda yadda ya.  Finally in November or somewhere around there, I called and she pretended not to be her! I know her voice. I know she answered the phone.  Perhaps she didn’t recognize me because she doesn’t hear well.  Still!  And I thought, well, there goes another one.  She didn’t respond to any of my sweet messages either.


In the beginning of this month, I decided to send out oral history project update letters to all of our interviewees since it had been about 1.5 years since the interviewees, in some cases.  I didn’t want these people to think we forget about them or that the project fell through.  Shockingly, she called me!  Maybe she remembered everything once she received the letter. (I knew it was a good idea.)  I arranged to go to her apartment today at 10:00 am and get the transcript. Or so I thought…


She was extremely happy to see me and had the letter out and was all set. Luckily, I had a copy of the transcript and deed of gift with me, because she and her nurse just could not find it anywhere.  The meeting began well, but somehow she launched into 40 minute monologue about her physical ailments for the past 30 years.  I’m not kidding.  The beginning was rather interesting, mostly because she somehow survived being rolled under a car and breaking half of her body.  But did I really need to know every doctor’s name, every doctor whom she thought was a crack, every person associated with this ordeal and all of the later affects?  No. Did I want to hear it? No. But what was I supposed to do?  When I had been there over 1 hour, I wanted to scream, but I could do nothing of the sort so I resorted to placing my hands on my lap and squeezing one hand.  It sort of worked, but I was still wondering how long she’d hold me hostage.  Plus, I wanted the permission for the transcript.  So she talked and I listened, appearing as intently as I could.


FINALLY…she finished her story.  Had she been talking about Overhills, I would have listened all day, but ailments? No thanks.  I finally got to ask for her to sign the deed of gift and she said she needed to review the transcript again.  WHAT? The lady had an entire year.  ONE YEAR!  But what else was I going to do?  However, I couldn’t bear to leave that apartment without a deed of gift. It would have been such a waste.  She sincerely said that she would get it back to me, but how was I supposed to believe the woman who pretended not to be herself on the phone?  But, no matter what, she would not concede to sign a deed of gift.


Once I got up to leave, she decided it was time to show me her living room and everything in it.  My gosh.  But I couldn’t leave. I have to appease her because a) she’s 91 so she’s earned it; b) I need her to adore me so she’ll give me back the transcript; c) if I can make the day of a 91 year old, then who am I to internally whine about being tortured by someone’s oral history of their medical ailments.  She just wanted to talk and I’m in the field of making people take pride in their lives and teaching them to talk about their life.  (She, however, must have always been a talker, even if she’s just talking at you.)  All in all, I’m glad to offer company for a few hours to my interviewees and to develop these relationships.  Most people would not even stand for that.  Hopefully I looked interested enough and she’ll actually give me back the transcript. 


She is one of these oral history cases that I’ll always remember; a good portion of that memory will be the talking in 3rd person phone call.  And for the record, I, generally, love my job.


This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to take a short trip to see my family, friends, town, and house. I love going home, but only because it is home. I know the streets, the houses, and the neighbors. But, every time I arrive on the outskirts of my town all I can think is, “god, this place is ugly.” I didn’t grow up in a slum that outwardly looks ugly. I didn’t grow up in the inner city or near anything that you might think of immediately. The place I grew up elicits two typical responses: 1) the perfect American dream with picket fences, barbecues, neighbors, happy kids, etc. And 2) visions of strip malls, parking lots, big box retail, and lack of that infamous “sense of place” we love to talk about.

That’s right: I grew up in suburbia, on Long Island or what I have dubbed, the “ultimate suburbia.” When I finally got off Long Island and went to school at Mary Wash, I met people who came from real small towns. Small as in, they could distinguish the beginning and end of the town. There could be miles of open space in between these towns. I just could not grasp this concept. I had to see it for myself. If you are unaware, that is not the case on Long Island. One town bleeds into the next. The only way to indicate that you have entered another town is a sign on the side of the road. In one instance, a branch of the volunteer ambulance for my town sits just past the sign for the next town. Odd. I instantly became fascinated with my friends who knew the boundaries of their towns or those who came from a town that did not have its own school district. Pretty much every town is its own school district on Long Island.

Eventually I wondered, had I grown up in a small town would I have the same loathe of suburbia? Would I have the same enchantment of small towns? Here I get to the point of the title: nature vs. nurture or perhaps more accurately, the environment vs. the education. All have played a part in creating who I am. I credit my initial draw to preservation to my mother, who instilled a love of old houses and mysterious places in me. And I credit my understanding of what can happen without respect for place and important (i.e. historic) resources to living in suburbia.

Despite what growing up in suburbia did for me later in life, I will never again live in such a place. Out in the country, in a city, in a small town, sure. All of those have character, but the auto-centric, immediate satisfaction, status crazed suburban lifestyle is not for me. Currently I live in a gorgeous southern small town (that looks like it’s trying to be a New England town) and the pine trees and blue sky just make it one of the prettiest places. Although I’m always sad to have leave home to come back to this temporary home, I have to smile when arriving in town and comment on its beauty.

How has your environment influenced you? Would you rather have grown up elsewhere? For the record, I treasure my childhood and no, I would not trade locations (but that is because my memories are there.) What indicates a “pretty” town to you (take the meaning however you like.) How does one location influence your opinions of others?

More posts to come on these related topics.

*Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on any of these topics, I just like thinking about them and hearing what others have to say.

Accessibility to Historic Preservation

Normally I shorten “historic preservation” to “preservation,” and I’m not sure when this habit began; perhaps, it was a result of not having enough time to study for, let alone pronounce my major.  Two other reasons: 1. to make “historic preservation” more people friendly and accepted by the masses or 2. Anyone who is a historic preservationist understands what I mean when I say preservation. 


By making something more people friendly, I don’t mean bending the rules to appease the naysayer; rather, just offering accessibility to the field.  That is one reason why, to me, historic preservation can be defined by the term “quality of life.”  The term will have a different definition to every single person who answers, but the general idea is that quality of life isn’t uniform and that’s what makes it important.  Rural dwellers as opposed to city folks will value divergent aspects of their environment, yet the roots do converge.  What do people like about their environment?  What intangible aspects distinguish that area from another area?


Perhaps it is the appearance (i.e. architecture, landscape, combined restoration and planning) or the culture (i.e. folk traditions and new traditions / museums at work) or the sense of belonging and the history (i.e. historical, archaeological research at work presented to the public).  Every aspect of historic preservation complements the others, which in turn provide citizens with a place that they love and respect, thereby improving their quality of life.  If they were to take away even one of the aforementioned aspects, for example, the appearance, then the affect would change.  Without appealing sites and gathering spaces, it takes away respect for the built environment and subsequently the historical environment.


Being a preservationist is an uphill battle, one that we have all willingly and knowingly dedicated ourselves to conquering.  Our best bet to reaching the public is to continue to do what we’re doing, but to present it in less daunting terms.  If we lived in Utopia, everyone would eventually see the light, but we need to concentrate on teaching people how to preservation friends, one by one.  Intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with an audience being familiar with preservation; even the smartest college graduates need an introduction to historic preservation. 


For all of these reasons, the connectivity and the accessibility, that is why, “quality of life” fits historic preservation.  I believe it has the greatest potential engage interest in our field.