South of the Border and a Playground

Traveling down (or up) I-95, you cannot miss the South of the Border billboards. At one point there were 250 billboards from New Jersey to Florida! These signs tell you that you’ll find souvenir shops, food, lodging, amusements, and fireworks at this roadside rest stop. Kitschy Americana or useful rest area? You be the judge. Before you decide – do you know the history of South of the Border?

In 1949, Alan Schafer, who owned a distributing company, opened the South of the Border Beer Depot in Hamer, South Carolina. This small cinder block building sat just over the Robeson County, North Carolina border, which was then a dry county. Within a few years, Schafer added a motel and dropped “Beer Depot” from the name. Schafer decided to outfit South of the Border with a Mexican theme and over the next decade it grew to 300 acres and included a motel, gas station, campground, restaurant, post office, drugstore, and other shops. (Read more about the South of the Border in this article.)

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What about those billboards? While a number of billboards have faded, some have been updated in the past few years (to include South of the Border’s Instagram account, for example, @sobpedro). It seemed to me that a lot of the obviously questionable (some racist) billboards had been removed. Had they? According to this 1997 article, the Mexican Embassy complained, in 1993, about the “Mexican speak” billboards and other advertising materials. Eventually Alan Schafer agreed to take down the billboards, though it took a few years. For that reason, you will no longer see them on I-95. Some people have documented them. See D.W. Morrison’s website for the billboards. Good news, the billboards that remain are still quite entertaining! I laughed at quite a few.

If you’re a regular Preservation in Pink reader, you know that I cannot resist a corny joke or roadside America (and thus, I cannot resist South of the Border). And I love to share roadside America with the ones I love. On our family’s recent trek from Florida to Vermont, we stopped at South of the Border. After all, we had to introduce the baby flamingo to some crazy flamingo ways. We posed with a flamingo statue and a large concrete Pedro statue. She was unimpressed. Since she’s an infant, I assume she’ll grow to love it like her mama. (Fingers crossed.)

As we drove around, we found South of the Border surprisingly busy, yet still maintaining its eerily-sort-of-rundown vibe. The amusement park is shuttered. We couldn’t decide if one of the motels was open. The restrooms were clean. The worst part is that South of the Border sits on either side of US Highway 301, and lacks adequate pedestrian crossings or sidewalks, so it’s a nightmare attempting to cross. Hold your children and look both ways!

And now my favorite part. On our drive-about, much to my surprise, we found an old playground behind one of the motels. I’ve been to South of the Border a few times, and have never spotted this before. I had to get out and snap a photographs, of course.

Most, if not all, of the playground equipment is Game Time, Inc. equipment and remains in good condition. This equipment dates from the 1970s. Here is a tour of the playground.

These are called Saddle Mates.

 

More saddle mates on a merry-go-round

“Game Time / Litchfield Mich / Saddle Mate / Pat Pend” – Always check for the manufacturer’s stamp!

Saddle Mates on the “Buck-a-bout” from Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971

Single Saddle Mate, Donkey edition

The Stagecoach, a popular playground apparatus.

The Clown Swing, Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971. The Clown Swing would have had two swings. Other versions included the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion.

View of the Rocket ship slides and the Clown Swing. These rocket ship slides were often made by Game Time, Inc., though other companies manufactured them as well. If you’re wondering, I did slide down the slide.

View of the playground, as seen from the parking lot behind the motel. The road behind is I-95.

Looking to the motel

Good stuff, right? Hopefully some kids still play on the playground. A bit of Google searching led me to find images of an abandoned hotel & playground near South of the Border. Comments lead me to believe it no longer exists, but it used to be a part of the Family Inn. It looks straight of a 1970s Miracle Recreation Equipment Company catalog to me. Check it out. And remember, if you come across an old (historic?) playground, snap a few photos and send them my way. I love old playgrounds!

With Your Coffee

A view from the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, VT.

A view from the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, VT

It’s the With Your Coffee Monday edition, as the weekends are much too nice to spend time in front of a computer screen. Wouldn’t you agree? I hope you had a fabulous weekend. My weekend took me to/from central Vermont and north/south on the Island Line bike path in gorgeous weather, both with historic site explorations. What about you? Here are some reads to start off your week:

Cheers! Have a great week. 🙂

PiP On the Road

Preservation in Pink is heading south to Wilmington, VT for the historic preservation and downtown conference.
Hope to see you there!

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In the meantime, check twitter or facebook for PiP updates and photos. PiP will give this social media a test run.

House Hopping with Preservationists

Let’s take a trip together! How about a cross-country road trip this week to visit historic (or old) homes inhabited by and loved by preservationists and their families? Have you wondered how preservationists live in and treat their own homes?

This week, Preservation in Pink, will do just that with the introduction of a mini series: House Hopping with Preservationists. Step into the homes of preservationists, who will share their historical research, analysis of alterations, thoughts on restoration and renovation planning, project implementation and project completion. Join in for the variety and lots of images.

Get ready, the first tour begins today.

A repeat, but still adorable: Scooter hugging Mr. Stilts.

And none of the houses will include stuffed or lawn flamingos or cats (my house is not on the tour for this round).

 

Preservation Photos #90

Chelsea Royal Diner on Route 9 in Brattleboro, VT: where many of the flamingo girls stopped for a meal. Vinny and I enjoyed ice cream at the attached ice cream stand. Recommended!

Classic roadside sign, but we didn’t see it at night so I don’t know if the neon still functions. Anyone?

The Upside of Interstates

The Eisenhower Interstate System began in June 1956, and changed the American landscape and culture forever. For much of my preservation life, I have only thought of the negative side of the interstate system. Interstates bypassed small town America, fueled sprawl, encouraged poorly designed developments at exits … basically everything that ruined America. Need a small town America sob story? Watch the Pixar movie Cars. It tugs at my preservation heart strings and makes the interstate the devil.

Driving up and down I-95 never helped, either. It is not a pretty interstate, particularly between New York and Virginia. The only positive associations I had associated with the interstate were the entertaining billboards for South of the Border and Ron Jon’s in Cocoa Beach, FL. However, while they were entertaining, they certainly did not help the scenery. Driving through Virginia and the Carolinas always showed glimpses towns that seemed to be split by the interstates — houses and old town centers just sitting on the side of the road.

My opinion of the interstate began to change in 2006 when I took a road trip with my mom and sister. We drove across South Dakota on I-90 and loved every bit of it. Yes, there were many billboards (think Wall Drug!)  but we loved the drive because of the new scenery and big Midwestern sky. Still, I knew what the interstates did to towns across America. There is no denying that small towns suffered and died and the pace of American life grew faster. We all changed. My opinion of the interstate was quite complicated by now, as I had traveled on the decommissioned Route 66 and read the harrowing effects of the interstates.

I recall driving from Southern Pines, NC out to Wilmington, NC and passing through “future corridors” of an interstate. A slow country highway was going be an interstate even though we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and these little crossroad towns would be forgotten. It hurt to think about. So, in general, I did my best to avoid the interstates – especially on road trips.

But, then I moved to Vermont. Our interstates do not have billboards. I-89 is beautiful, scenic and green. There is barely any traffic and I love driving on I-89. Once I started working on project reviews with the Agency of Transportation, I began to understand the benefit of interstates. This high speed road allows people to work far away from where they live. Vermont is a small state and some drive 75 miles each way. On the interstate, that’s not much more than a one hour drive — an easy one hour drive without traffic. This enables me to visit project sites, as well.

The biggest realization and change in my interstate opinion is that while interstates funnel much of the traffic away from village centers, they are also protecting the smaller state roads. In Vermont, many of our small towns have building directly adjacent to the road — practically on the road. Increased traffic often means upgraded safety standards, which equates to widening the roadways. If every state highway or smaller road had to be widened, then these buildings would be in the footprint of the road and severely affected or demolished.  And yes, the interstate system did cause destruction to the landscape and cultural resources, it is important to keep in mind that as preservationists we are also managing present actions with respect to the future. Thus, protecting the existing resources is important, and the interstates help in their own manner. For those who are commuting, the interstate is often the best route of transit; whereas we hope that travelers take the “blue highways” and appreciate the historic and cultural assets of Vermont.

My complicated feelings about the interstate will continue.  How about you?

Good resources for history of the interstate system are FHWA – Eisenhower Interstate System and the Interstate Highway System in Tennessee.

My Ode to Derby

Note: if you don’t know me, you might think I’m crazy. That seems to be the trend this week. I’m not. But you’ve been forewarned.

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This is written in memory of my beloved green 2002 Subaru Outback Impreza Sport, whose existence met an untimely end on October 21, 2010. Since the day I bought the car in 2006, I referred to it as “Derby.” Derby traveled with me to Nebraska, on Route 66, around the Midwest, to North Carolina, to and from work at Fort Bragg, to Florida, to South Carolina, to New York, around the Great Lakes, and throughout Vermont for a while. This was my first car, and I loved it dearly. When I switched my license and plates to Vermont, I even crowned Derby with a plate, “THE DERB.”

Derby and me, August 2010.

Derby loved off-road driving, drive-in movie theaters, preservation adventures, getting lost, winding, rural roads, and long road trips. His compass never worked after visiting Carhenge in Nebraska, and more than once the Check Engine light turned on for no good reason. Derby had an attitude and I loved it. Also, Derby was a proud displayer of the bumper sticker, “Historic Preservationists Make It Last Longer.” Derby made me love driving and I understood the American fascination with the open road and the automobile.

Derby camped out, happily, in East Harbor State Park, Ohio, May 2009.

On October 21, 2010, a drunk driver hit my parked car in front of my house (which was parked legally, in the parking lane). I saw and heard it happen, all in a blur in the evening. Luckily, I was not in the car or hurt, nor was anyone else, and the drunk driver was arrested before she could kill someone. Derby took one for the team. I cried when it happened and the next day when Derby was towed away. At first, the promising news was that Derby would be fixed at no charge to me. The auto shop ordered the parts and began the work, only to discover that the damage was much more than expected (the rear driver side of my car was smashed, though it looked perfectly fine elsewhere on the exterior). So, now, the final news was that Derby would be totaled. Insurance is never fair, even when it’s not your fault, and what ensued is not something I’d rehash here, but just know that the entire situation is terrible.

The aftermath. Note that the wheel should not be where it is.

As you can decipher, I was irrationally attached to Derby. I could probably claim permanent emotional damage, but I won’t (outright anyway). Say what you will about my personification of inanimate objects, but when you spend as much time driving as I did, it’s inevitable. And apparently it’s in my nature: my mother said that when I was two years old, I cried as my parents’ 1972 Chevy Impala was towed away. At least the story explains that part of my personality, I suppose. I never wanted any other car and my 2002 Subaru had so much life left in it before the accident. It was a miserable experience and I’ll probably never love a car as much as Derby.

Fast forward to now and I have another car – another Subaru. I heard somewhere that Subaru owners have an unexplainable attachment to their cars. I will never ever park this car on my street, even though it’s completely normal and everyone else parks there. I like my car, and we’re getting to be good friends, but I still miss Derby and feel a twinge of sadness every time I see an identical one on the road.

Do you love your car, too? I hope so. It certainly makes driving more fun.

How Derby would like to be remembered: among the motorcycles heading towards the South Dakota Sturgis Rally 2006.

Long live the spirit of Derby.

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Does anyone know where I can get another Historic Preservationists Make it Last Longer bumper sticker – identical to those from Mary Washington? My new car and I will be eternally grateful.

Derby's round one of bumper stickers. They later changed (but the preservation one stayed - talk about an attention grabber!)

How about something like this, too?

 

This is written in memory of my beloved green 2002 Subaru Outback Impreza Sport, whose existence met an untimely end on October 21, 2010. Since the day I bought the car in 2006, I referred to it as “Derby.” Derby traveled with me to Nebraska, on Route 66, around the Midwest, to North Carolina, to and from work at Fort Bragg, to Florida, to South Carolina, to New York, around the Great Lakes, and throughout Vermont for a while. This was my first car, and I loved it dearly. Derby loved off-road driving, drive-in movie theaters, preservation adventures, getting lost, winding, rural roads, and long road trips. His compass never worked after visiting Carhenge in Nebraska, and more than once the Check Engine light turned on for no good reason. Derby had an attitude and I loved it. Also, Derby was a proud displayer of the bumper sticker, “Historic Preservationists Make It Last Longer.” Derby made me love driving and I understood the American fascination with the open road and the automobile.

On October 21, 2010, a drunk driver hit my parked car in front of my house (legally, in the parking lane). I saw and heard it happen, all in a blur in the evening. Luckily, I was not in the car or hurt, nor was anyone else, and the drunk driver was arrested before she could kill someone. Derby took one for the team. I cried when it happened and the next day when Derby was towed away. At first, the promising news was that Derby would be fixed at no charge to me. The auto shop ordered the parts and began the work, only to discover that the damage was much more than expected (the rear driver side of my car was smashed, though it looked perfectly fine elsewhere on the exterior). So, now, the final news was that Derby would be totaled.

As you can decipher, I was irrationally attached to Derby. I could probably claim permanent emotional damage, but I won’t (outright anyway). Say what you will about my personification of inanimate objects, but when you spend as much time driving as I did, it’s inevitable. And apparently it’s in my nature: my mother said that when I was two years old, I cried as my parents’ 1972 Chevy Impala was towed away.  At least the story explains that part of my personality, I suppose.  I never wanted any other car and my 2002 Subaru had so much life left in it before the accident. It was a miserable experience and I’ll probably never love a car as much as Derby.

Fast forward to now and I have another car – another Subaru. I heard somewhere that Subaru owners have an unexplainable attachment to their cars. I like my car, and we’re getting to be good friends, but I still miss Derby and feel a twinge of sadness every time I see an identical one on the road.

Do you love your car, too? I hope so. It certainly makes driving more fun.

Long live the spirit of Derby.

———————

Does anyone know where I can get another Historic Preservationists Make it Last Longer bumper sticker – identical to those from Mary Washington? My new car and I will be eternally grateful.

Tennis in New York, Larger-than-life Texas, Roadside Utah, Missouri Preservation & Vermont Outhouses

Happy Monday! Here are some interesting links and stories I came across over the weekend (with a super-long post title to attract your attention).  Enjoy!

A New York Times article on September 11, 2010, featured an article about “Long Past the Last Match Point, Debating What’s Next at Forest Hills.” The gist of it: In Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, NY, the West Side Tennis Club owns the historic West Side Tennis Stadium, constructed in 1923, which was host to the US Open and many significant events in tennis history. A tennis match has not been played at the stadium in years and the wooden benches and concrete structure are suffering from neglect and deterioration. The club, operating at a loss for many years, does not know what to do with the stadium, which is small for today’s standards. Even if money can be raised for restoration, the West Side Tennis Club is in need of a creative solution. Thoughts? {Picture below shows the Tennis Stadium in 1960. Source: the NY Times, September 11, 2010, by Patrick A. Burns. Click photo for original source.}

Need some fun places to visit? Check out 10 Endangered American Tourist Attractions Worth Saving (with pictures!) on the blog, Searching for Authenticity, based on an article in Spring 2010 Society for Commercial Archaeology newsletter (and reproduced on the SCA blog). I want to visit Tex Randall in Canyon, TX.

Tex Randall. Photo source: RoadsideAmerica.com. Click for source.

Check out this awesome blog by Steven Cornell, Utah-rchitecture, dedicated to the past, present, and future architecture of Utah. It began in January 2010 and features only a few posts per month, but all seem well-written, well researched, and very interesting! The most recent post discusses the The Birth of Utah’s Automobile Tourism — lots of motel postcards & images included.

Another blog I just found is by Preservation Research Office, a project based collaborative research organization based in St. Louis, MO.  The blog, Ecology of Absence, seeks to be,

“… a voice for historic preservation and a chronicle of architectural change in the St. Louis region… The major theme of the blog is historic architecture and the primary goal is to build awareness of that architecture and interest in preserving it. The editorial approach is to “strike the roots” and look beyond threatened buildings at the larger forces that create, change and often destroy the built environment of the city. Public policy is a key part of the analysis. Consequently, the blog focuses on changes in the built environment that come about as St. Louis attempts to stem the deindustrialization, depopulation, shrinking public services and loss of architectural fabric that define the modern American urban condition.”

Roadside, real estate, policy – good stuff. Check it out!

And lastly for today, how about designing outhouses? Believe it or not, people think about such things. The book, Outhouses by Famous Architects, proves such a statement (thanks Elyse!)  In Vermont, the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association (VWMA) has invited Vermont architects and woodworkers to participate to design the “Green Mountain Comfort Station,” a wooden structure that will house a composting toilet to be used at outdoor recreation areas and state parks in Vermont {see article here}. The winner will be announced on September 25, 2010. Read more about the contest rules in the Burlington Free Press article from September 12, 2010, “Designers pit themselves against the old, standby trailside outhouse.”

How could you not love Vermont, I ask.

Sunset Drive-In

As part of the road trip with two of my sisters,, Sarah and Erin, Vinny and I took the girls to the drive-in! The Sunset Drive-in Movie Theater in Colchester, VT is one of my favorite drive-ins that I have visited. Granted, I love all drive-ins but this one tops the charts. The Sunset Drive-in has been operating for 60 years and today features four screens. And it is an excellent deal: $8.50 per person for a double feature. With four screens, there is likely a movie to fit your interests.

Why? Mostly because it had an awesome playground. Drive-ins often had playgrounds, mini golf courses, small trains, and other fun features to get the family to arrive early and spend more time (and subsequently snack money). We arrived just before dusk with enough time to play on the playground, get a good spot at one of the FOUR screens, tune the radio, and grab some snacks from the snack bar. Since it was a Monday in May, it wasn’t crowded at all, but I imagine (and hope) that it’s busy in the summertime.

Back to the playground. Check it out:

Screen 1 with the playground and "mini putt" area below at, just as you would expect.

When was the last time you saw see-saws anywhere? My sisters and I were so excited!

And a metal slide!! Wow. It was not, however, very slippery.

A merry-go-round, too!? One unlike we had seen anywhere else. It needed some oil or something, it got stuck, but we still enjoyed it. Thanks to Vinny for spinning us on the merry-g0-round!

Swings under the screen. Check out the links on the swing. I imagine this playground is about as old as the drive-in itself.

Wood swing seat - way better than those rubber/plastic seats in modern playgrounds.

Me on the see-saw. I told you I loved playgrounds.

Okay, we were there for more than the playground, but it was empty so we had to play on everything first. There was also a mini-putt area, but it looked closed for the night so we didn’t try to play. Instead, we went back to the car, set up the blankets and pillows and headed to the snack bar.

The snack bar: clean, quick, and friendly employees.

While I’ve been to drive-ins in Virginia, Iowa, and Vermont, it was the first drive-in experience for my sisters. Sarah may have been most excited to see Iron Man 2 but both Sarah and Erin loved the whole thing. Erin couldn’t believe that it was just like in the movie Grease. The only thing missing was the speakers rather than the radio, but the radio worked just fine here.

Sarah cannot control her excitement - she's jumping up and down before the movie starts!

If you have a chance to visit a drive-in, definitely do it! In their prime, there were about 4000 drive-ins across the country, but now only 300-400 remain. Find one near you: Drive-in List or search by zip code.

Vermont Roadside

Recently I traveled from New York to Vermont with my two youngest sisters, Sarah and Erin; we traveled by interstates and US  highways. As I’m talking about buildings Erin exclaims, “Is this a preservation trip? No one told me that!” With me, it’s always a preservation trip, Erin. But, as I discovered, they enjoy good American roadside culture just as much as I do, particularly giant roadside culture. And really, who doesn’t?

Erin & Sarah in Brandon, VT.

Me & Sarah in Brandon, VT.

Erin with the giant Dakin Farm Maple Syrup jug in Ferrisburgh, VT.

They may not be the biggest rocking chair (it did actually rock) or maple syrup jug in the world, but we were certainly entertained by them. And had we traveled by I-89 rather than US Route 7, we would have missed this entertainment.  And are we the only ones who think that the maple syrup jug should depict how many quarts would fit in there rather than 1 quart on the label?