What is Commercial Archeology?

Today’s post is a guest post from Raina Regan (also a repost from her blog). Raina is on the board of the Society for Commercial Archeology and often finds herself answering the question: “What is Commercial Archeology?”  Short answer: it’s not just archeology! Read on, and Raina will answer all of your questions and share how she got involved with the SCA. 

Starlite Drive In sign credit Raina Regan

Starlite Drive-in Theater, Bloomington, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

by Raina Regan

When I mention I’m currently on the board of directors for the Society for Commercial Archeology, I often get a lot of blank stares or questioning glances. “What exactly is Commercial Archeology?” they might ask.

A formal definition from the Dictionary of Building Preservation (1996) defines commercial archaeology as:

The study of artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the American commercial process; includes both mass-produced and vernacular forms of the machine age: transportation facilities, such as highways and bus stations; roadside development, such as diners, strip retail, and neon signs; business district buildings, such as movie theaters and department stores; and recreation facilities, such as amusement parks.

What do I define as commercial archeology? In short, structures and objects of the commercial landscape. We traditionally look at items starting in the 20th century, including neon signs, diners, theaters, and more.

Oasis Diner plainfield indiana raina regan

Oasis Diner, Plainfield, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

I’m not really sure how my passion for commercial archeology developed. I’ve always thought I should’ve lived during the 1950s because of my love of diners, seeing movies at drive-in theaters, and ranch houses. Since high school, architecture and history from the 20th century appealed to me the most and my interest in commercial archeology is a natural outreach of this.

My real beginnings with commercial archeology in my preservation career started in 2008. When I attended the National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, OK, I participated in a day-long field session on Route 66. We traveled a section of the historic road, with drive bys of former filling stations and repair shops. We stopped at several icons along the way, but two structures specifically inspired me as a preservationist and historian of commercial archeology.

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The Rock Cafe, Stroud, OK, undergoing rehabilitation following the fire. Photo by Raina Regan. 

The Rock Cafe in Stroud, OK was recovering from a devastating fire at the time of our visit. But meeting with the cafe’s owner, Dawn Welch, was particularly inspiring. She told us stories about the Cafe and her passion for the road was evident. She was the basis for the animated character Sally Carrera in Cars, one of my favorite preservation-related movies. I know they reopened in 2009 and would love to go back for a visit.

Route 66 - Bridge #18 at Rock Creek, Sapulpa

Bridge 18, Rock Creek, Sapulpa, OK. Photo by Raina Regan. 

One of our first stops was at Bridge #18 at Rock Creek, Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Constructed in 1924 on the original Route 66 alignment, it is a Parker through truss and is still open to traffic on the historic Route 66. Seeing the original brick road was inspiring as a historian, allowing me to connect with all the travelers that had once traversed this bridge.

Wishing Well Motel Franklin Indiana

Wishing Well Motel, Franklin, IN, off US 31. Photo by Raina Regan. 

What makes commercial archeology special? From a preservation point of view, I see commercial archeology as accessible to everyone. The nostalgia factor of commercial archeology means everyone can connect to these resources in some way. These are places in our every day life that we grow to love, and as they age and gain historic significance, they become a cultural icon. Many spots are located on highways or other roads, which means they become well-known and idolized within our communities.

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Ski-Hi Drive-in, Muncie, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

Structures such as diners, motels, gas stations, and theaters are ideal for continued use or adaptive reuse. However, commercial archeology mainstays including drive-in theaters, amusement parks, and neon signs may present more difficult challenges for preservation. For example, the Ski-Hi Drive In outside Muncie, Indiana is slated for demolition. Although the 1952 drive-in theater is a local icon and has strong local support for its preservation, it is located at the crossroads of IN-3 and SR 28 in rural Delaware County. Raising the money needed to return the site back to a drive-in is difficult, while there are not many adaptive use options for such a site. I attribute the strong local support for its preservation because of nostalgia and strong personal connection many have to the site.

As a board member of the Society for Commercial Archeology, I try to advocate for the preservation of these resources whenever possible. As preservationists, we should use these resources as ways to connect preservation to a broader audience.

Abandoned Vermont: Addison Town Hall (Alternatively: What about Rural Preservation?)

An upfront disclaimer: The Addison Town Hall is owned by the Town of Addison. Technically, it’s vacant, not abandoned. Due to its condition and the attention it requires, I categorize it as abandoned. 

The Addison Town Hall sits at the center of the village of Addison Four Corners in Addison, Vermont, at the junction of VT Route 22A and VT Route 17. Addison is a rural agricultural community in Addison County, with some remaining working dairy farms. The shores of Lake Champlain make up the western edge of the county.

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The Addison Town Hall and the Baptist Church are at the center of Addison Four Corners. Photo: January 2016.

The Addison Town Hall holds a place in my heart, because I studied the building during graduate school, and completed a building conditions assessment in 2010. And I passed through Addison Four Corners on my way to work at the Lake Champlain Bridge site for years. Since 2010, I’ve been visually monitoring the condition of the building.

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The Addison Town Hall, as seen in January 2016.

The Town Hall was built in 1872 and has served as a school, a town hall, town offices, and grange hall. As community needs changed, the interior was adapted, including  the second floor stage addition and partitions on the first floor. (See a few interior shots here.) School has not been in session since the 1950s. Today the town hall serves only as storage for the historical society and the neighboring Baptist church.

If memory serves, since October 2010 there have been a few frightening exterior developments.

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There is a clear separation of the foundation stones, northeast corner. January 2016.

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The northeast corner of the foundation is slipping, probably due to water damage. January 2016.

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The same issues on the southeast corner of the building. January 2016.

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The banks of windows would have been added when the standard school requirements of the 1930s were instated. January 2016. You can see all sorts of damage in this photo: collapsing back shed, weathering clapboards in need of a proper paint job, broken windows.

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View from the southwest shows the larger picture of deterioration, including the cupola. January 2016.

The deterioration of the Addison Town Hall brings up a more important conversation in preservation than one building.

The Addison Town Hall is an example of building located in a still active community, but a community that is rural and without all of the financial resources to rehabilitate this structure. What happens to a building that is a visual and physical landmark in a town, when there is not an obvious use for it?

A community’s needs change, and those changes often affect the buildings. Historic buildings with outdated purposes or those that are not up to code are left by the wayside with no plans and money.  What will happen to them? Imagine if a town center lost one of its prominent buildings. Rural communities have small village centers, with only a few buildings to represent the entire village. Loss of a town hall or a church or a school is devastating.

Urban preservation is a great conversation and a fun topic. But, frankly, it’s easier than rural preservation. There are more people, more opportunities for catalysts and funding. We should be talking more about alternative, creative uses for buildings in rural areas, where a one building win/loss can have much more of an impact than in an urban environment.

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Addison Four Corners, January 2016.

Internship Searching?

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The 1848 Greek Revival Congregational Church in Charlotte, VT on a snowy January afternoon. Fun fact: The steeple is topped with a pineapple finial. 

It’s that time of year: internship and/or job searching for many students or for those looking for a change. While you probably have excellent Googling skills, I thought it might helpful to have a list of sites to check frequently for postings. Some you might know, some might be new. If you have others, please share.

Internships are the best. I’ve waxed poetic about the benefits of internships previously, so I won’t go on and on. Instead, in summary: Internships.

  • Low paying? Yes. You can do it for a short time. Get roommates.
  • Short Term? Perfect. If you don’t like, not the end of the world.
  • Experience? Tons. You’re the intern. You can soak up all the information you need. And then take another internship!

Good luck searching. If you want to talk internships or job searching or grad school, send me an email or leave a comment. Have fun!

Also, Happy Groundhog Day. Winter, what winter (in Vermont)?

Live at 5:25 – CCTV with Preservation Burlington

Today at 5:25pm, I’ll be joining Preservation Burlington on their monthly TV show to talk about social media + historic preservation. Watch it LIVE or catch it at another time in the Preservation Burlington CCTV archive (this episode).

Social media + historic preservation is a topic near and dear to my heart, of course, and I’m excited to join the hosts, Ron Wanamaker & Liisa Reimann, and another guest, Erin Barnaby of the Shelburne Museum.

PB

While I love presentations, I’ve never been on live TV, so fingers crossed for a good first TV experience! If you have suggestions for TV appearances, let me know in the comments. Cheers!

The John Roberts Houses of Burlington, VT

You might be wondering what the John Roberts houses are, as I’ve recently posted a few shots from around Burlington, VT. Good question, and it’s about time I gave you some additional information.

Peering over the picket fence at a John Roberts house in the Old North End of Burlington. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

John Roberts was a builder in Burlington, VT who constructed many Queen Anne style cottages throughout the city in the 1880s/90s. They are recognizable by their similar characteristics: 1.5 story, gable end facing the street, two narrow second story windows above the first floor bay window, a side porch, and decorative millwork on the upper story in the gable. This millwork is diamond cut shingles and criss-crossing patterns of applied stickwork. Many of these houses were built for about $900. There are about 50 of these houses throughout Burlington. (For reference: see the “Historic Guide to Burlington Neighborhoods, Vol. III).

A John Roberts house on North Winooski Avenue in the Old North End of Burlington, VT. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

 

A slightly less noticeable John Roberts house in the Old North End of Burlington, VT. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

The houses have been altered over the years as you can see in the examples I’ve shared. The bay windows are replaced or the two windows on the upper story are replaced with one window. The porches have been enclosed. The details is painted to match the rest of the house, rendering the tell-tale gable details more difficult to spot.

The same, but different. Can you spot it? #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Looking at the above photo, some of you noticed that these three houses are very similar. Correct! In fact, because  of the alterations, I had to step back from the sidewalk to notice that all three are John Roberts houses. The far left has been covered in vinyl (see photo below). The middle retains the most integrity. the house on the right has replaced the gable window, and converted the porch window to a door, allowing for an additional entrance.

It’s an interesting (albeit sometimes sad) game of comparison and contrast. And it makes you wonder why owners choose to remove some details and not others, why particular windows were replaced. Observing these John Roberts houses truly shows what can happen to buildings over time if craftsmanship is not maintained and respected. Thankfully many of the John Roberts houses are mostly intact. 

Wondering about those John Roberts houses all over Burlington? I've posted about them on PiP today (link in profile). Enjoy!

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink (@presinpink) on

And there are 50! Guess I’ll be out there searching for others – some good running entertainment. Do you know of any? If you leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to go take a look!

Revisiting Abandoned Vermont: South Ryegate Church

Last time I saw this church in South Ryegate, the rear addition was barely hanging out, as the ground below it washed away in Tropical Storm Irene. By luck, someone let me in the church that day to see the interior. Empty, neglected, but with such promise. That was 3.5 years ago. Recently while in the area, I drove by to see how the church was faring. From the front, it looked the same. This 1880 First Presbyterian Church is still beautiful.

It was still for sale, too. That was in November. As of January, the church is off the market.

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South Ryegate Church at 161 Church Street

The difference this time? The rear addition has been removed, likely due to loss of a foundation and to save the main building.

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Note the missing addition.

 

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I was not able to see what rear of the building looks like now.

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View from the next street.

 

 

Based on real estate listings, this was done a few years ago. Maybe someone bought the church this time? If I find out, I’ll let you know.

Cheers to 2015 & now to 2016!

Happy New Year, friends! Are you ready to say farewell to 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

I’ve had a fun and busy year of travel, a new job, general happiness and exciting adventures, and I hope that 2016 continues in such good fashion. A few favorites of 2015, in instagram form (as was the theme of 2015, it seemed):

Travels to New York City, Toronto, Quebec City. Montreal, and Washington, D.C.

Central Park, NYC. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Roundhouse Park in Toronto. Compare the scales of different centuries. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Is that a spaceship…on a historic building? Read PiP today to find out, and talk about old + new architecture. {link in profile}

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Streets of Old Quebec City, on PiP today {link in profile}. #quebec #oldquebec #streets #travel #ilovestonebuildings

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Doors of Montreal, part 2. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, with deepest gratitude to all of our veterans. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

And of course, exploring my beloved Burlington and all of Vermont.

Straight facade: Battery Street, Burlington. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

A Church of Marble in Proctor, VT. #presinpink

A photo posted by Preservation in Pink / Kaitlin (@presinpink) on

Professional preservation highlights include starting a new job as a Preservation Planner with VHB in April, and leading the Emerging Professionals session at the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference (#pastforward) in Washington D.C. in November.

For 2016, I’m looking forward to writing more essay-style posts, short and long, as opposed to the photo-centric posts of this year and revisiting important topics that I’ve touched upon throughout the years. I’m also hoping to continue to meet more of you and grow our preservation connections. Sound good? Is there anything you’d like to see/read? Have a topic you want discussed? Let me know. I continue to blog because of the community I’ve found in all of you and the friendships that developed, and all of the knowledge that you share with me and each other. When someone makes a new connection to historic preservation, it warms my heart and soul. That’s why we preservationists are here, isn’t it?

What are your favorite accomplishments of 2015? What do you hope for in 2016? Big plans? Adventures? A quiet year?

Enjoy the holiday. Hug your loved ones. Call your parents. The usual well wishes. Cheers to a healthy and happy 2016!

Here is what instagram says about 2015:

best92015

xo, kaitlin

Revisiting an Abandoned Vermont property: Fair Haven Depot

I’ve been photographing abandoned and neglected Vermont properties since 2011. This year I’ve been revisiting some of these properties to find out if anything has changed. A few have found better fates, but the majority remain vacant and neglected.

The Fair Haven Depot is located just outside the center of Fair Haven. The train depot is on the Clarendon & Pittsford Rail line, formerly owned by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, and now owned by Vermont Rail System (VRS). Until 2010, Amtrak stopped at this depot, though the stop was not inside the building. Passengers waited in a small shelter across the street. The building was surveyed in the 1980s by the Vermont Historic Sites & Structures Survey, at which time it was vacant and not used as a passenger station. That’s 30+ years ago. From what I’ve learned, the railroad is not responsive to any town or historical society attempts inquiring about the building.

Additionally, the 1930s concrete bridge that leads to the depot has been closed for a few years. There is another way around and not much traffic, so they fate of this bridge does not look good.

Interested in a walk around the depot with me? Read on.

View from the bridge. The depot looks pleasant thanks to yellow & green plywood painted to look like doors and windows. 


Vegetation and evidence of backsplash.

  

The trackside of the building. If you look closely at the foundation you can see water damage. The water pours down the hill (to the left of this photo) and flows into the foundation. 


Foundation and damage to the bricks, from water and deferred maintenance. 

  

Closer view of the damage. 


Cracks in the bricks. Critters can easily fit under that door. 

  

More brick spalling and the stone holding the bracket, which holds the roof, is not long for this world. 


More of the same. 

  

Foundation damage. 


Vegetation next to a building foundation is not good for long-term building health. 

  

The precipitation splashes from the ground to the bricks. And, as evident by the moss, there is not much sunlight to dry the ground. 


  

The side of the building that you see from the bridge. 

Something about this building breaks my heart. It must be my fondness for railroad depots. Depots are such valuable buildings to communities: transportation hubs, meeting places, often architectural gems in the town. Railroad buildings were built to last. There are many success stories of railroad buildings throughout Vermont.

What a shame that the railroad neglects its history and its beautiful, historic buildings throughout Vermont and the rest of the United States? Restoring a railroad depot always benefits the community – socially and economically and in all realms.

Do you have a similar story from your community? What advice can you offer? I’d love to know. This depot deserves to be saved. Have some thoughts? #savethefairhavendepot

Who Wore it Better? 

Facades on similar buildings, architecturally speaking, who are neighbors on the same street in Johnson, VT. Take a look.

Typical New England, two-story, gable-front commercial buildings.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

And it’s neighbor:

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident.

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident including the bracketed roof over the fire escape (safety in New England winters).

These two are not the same exact building, but strikingly similar at first glance to stop and gaze. What do you think? Is one better than the other? No wrong answers, just pondering evolution of streetscapes.

Ramp Entrances: Who Wore it Better? 

The same building, the same needs, and two entirely different results. 

 

Exhibit A: Access ramp of wood and transparent pipe railings.

  

Exhibit B: the more noticeable variety.

And, the funny thing is: the ramp on the left was constructed before the ramp on the right. My vote goes to A, for wearing it better. B obscures the historic buidling. Though, I mean no disrespect to Speeder & Earl’s coffeee; I love the coffee! 

 What do you think?