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!

Abandoned Vermont: St. Albans Drive-in Theater (R.I.P)

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St. Albans Drive-in Movie Theater, as seen in May 2012. 

As of the 2012 photograph of the St. Albans Drive-in Theater, it was not abandoned. It was still open and operating, one of Vermont’s four remaining drive-in movie theaters.  As of 2014, the drive-in closed after 66 years of business, partially due to costs required to upgrade to the mandated digital projection from film reels. As of 2014, the land was for sale, and still is. Such is the fate of many drive-in theaters, especially on valuable land.

Because I’m a sentimental nostalgic fool for roadside America and Vermont, I wanted to photograph the St. Albans Drive-in Theater one more time, before it disappeared. On a cold, windy, February day, I said my goodbyes to this bit of roadside America.

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View from across US Route 7. Not as cheery as the 2012 view. February 2016. 


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Entrance & ticket booth to the drive-in. Still lined with lights. February 2016. 


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The speakers at the St. Ablans Drive-in theater were removed years ago. Instead, viewers tuned into the radio station. February 2016. 


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Ticket booth. February 2016. 


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No admission charge today. February 2016. 


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The screen is in disrepair and new traffic lights are in place for the development across the road. February 2016. 


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Stepping back you can vaguely see the remaining mounds in the earth for the cars to park. February 2016. 


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The snack bar (right) and the movie projection room (left). Note the chain protecting the projection. Windows are all broken. February 2016. 


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View of the playground and the dilapidated screen. February 2016. 


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The playground (swingset) remains intact, if not jumping out of the ground with its concrete foundation. Slide, two swings, rings, trapeze, bar, and see-saw. February 2016. 


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Beneath the screen looking into the drive-in. February 2016. 


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Pieces of the screen have fallen to the ground. February 2016. 


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Possibly from up there. February 2016. 


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The back of the screen. February 2016. 


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Some drive-in screens have their structures concealed. This one is out in the open, nothing too fancy. With high winds, the structure has to be sturdy. February 2016. 


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From the entrance road. February 2016. the marquee is barely visible, but you can see it to the right of the screen supports. February 2016. 

I can’t say for certain, but I would bet that one factor in the closure of the St. Albans drive-in is the construction and opening of this across the street:

As seen from the Walmart entrance road. February 2016.

With its October 2013 opening, I shared my lament.

Here is a great article from the St. Albans Messenger that highlights history and memories of the drive-in.

RIP St. Albans Drive-in. You’ll be missed by many.

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 New York: Frontier Town

Consider it pure luck or good karma for chatting with strangers. Traveling up and down Route 9 in New York State, we were intrigued by the sad end of the roadside motels. This one had a small play area out front, so we stopped. (I have a documented interest in playgrounds.)

The Frontier Town Motel off US Route 9 in North Hudson, New York.

The Frontier Town Motel off US Route 9 in North Hudson, New York. 

Normally when photographing abandoned roadside anything, it’s more comfortable when no one else is around to either a) get in your photo or b) ask what you’re doing. However, an older couple was strolling around the front of the motel. They seemed nice (and not like people who would be annoyed that I was taking photographs), so I put on my good preservationist smile and went over to say hello. And what a good idea to be friendly that day! This couple shared their memories of this area – formerly known as Frontier Town.

Frontier Town was a wild-west theme amusement park of the 1950s era variety. Think trains & robbers, shooting showdowns on the “Main Street”, sheriff badges, horse shows, kid-friendly, small park activities “cowboy and Indian” style. Art Benson opened the park in 1952 and it operated until 1998, except for a few years in the 1980s. Frontier Town’s prime was the 1960s/1970s. Being located next to I-87 certainly helped its prosperity, and it’s location in the Adirondacks where there are few theme parks.

Back to the couple who started talking about Frontier Town. We chatted for a bit and then they said, Want to see it? Follow us. You can still get there on the access road. But it’s easier to follow. 

Follow us. Hmm. I wouldn’t follow any random stranger into the woods, but since they were in their own car and we were in our car, and they seemed like normal people, this was okay. Such is the life of a curious preservationist. Down this access road we went, dodging potholes, and closing the windows because mosquitoes were starting to swarm into the car.

True to their word, they lead us into abandoned Frontier Town.

Road in Frontier Town.

Road in Frontier Town.

Main Street, Frontier Town.

Main Street, Frontier Town. Mostly overgrown. 

A flash storm had just rolled through the area, hence the hazy air and cloudy skies. And as soon as we got out of the car, mosquitoes swarmed. Intensely. Then again, I’m mosquito bait. Always bring me along if you don’t want to be the one attacked by bugs. The couple walked with us on Main Street for a bit. The woman was especially sweet, warning us of unstable floors and dangerous places to step. I wanted to say, We’re preservationists; we do this all of the time – step on the joists! But I restrained myself, lest she think we’re crazy.

Watch out for the hole in the floor!

Watch out for the hole in the floor!

Most of the interiors looked like this.

Most of the interiors looked like this.

While the four of us were walking along the Main Street stores, the couple told us some of their memories and how their kids like to come walk around Frontier Town when they are home visiting. And, apparently it’s a very popular thing to do. Other folks were strolling around, too. People seemed curious, not destructive.

Another view in Frontier Town.

Another view in Frontier Town. Talk about mosquitoes. 

Frontier Town closed in 1998. Eventually the property was seized due to back taxes. Everything was sold off at auction. And over the years, the property has been vandalized, and anything remaining has been stolen. Various groups over the years have attempted to save Frontier Town, without luck. All that remains is a collection of decaying buildings among the overgrown vegetation, with curious and nostalgic visitors. It holds a special place in the hearts and lives of many. As of July 2015, the land was owned by Essex County and the town of North Hudson was trying to buy it.

And such is the fate of the majority of 1950s era amusement parks. Have any near you? Have you been to Frontier Town, or have you heard of it? Please share in the comments!

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Interested in more photos and info? 

With Your Coffee {Monday Edition}

Hackett’s Orchard in South Hero, VT

And, it’s back! With Your Coffee took a break {a coffee break…ha, ha, ha}, but now that fall is in full swing, it’s time to focus on work and writing again and sharing the news. What better way to start than on a Monday?

On that note, hello! How are you? How have you been? Been reading lots lately? The weather has been gorgeous in Vermont and we’re in a stretch of good weekends. Apple picking, foliage, hot coffee, hot chocolate, chili, good stuff. Here are few stories from around the internet, some recent and some I’ve been saving to share.

Coffee cheers!

Tourist Cabins: Marshfield, Vermont

Former tourist cabin clusters are easy to spot on the roadside, as they have recognizable massing, size, and settings. Unfortunately, defunct tourist cabins tend to be the norm, and now they sit empty, used for storage, or converted to housing. Often these forgotten groupings have a few cabins left, a few missing, remnants of sign post, or a driveway to the cabins. Others have been relocated, and are harder to spot. But, look closely along U.S. or state highways and you’ll spot them. My most recent find is this grouping off U.S. Route 2 westbound in Marshfield, Vermont.

Spotted while traveling on US Route 2 in Marshfield, VT. This is a common arrangement of tourist cabins.

Spotted while traveling on US Route 2 in Marshfield, VT. This is a common arrangement of tourist cabins.

Adjacent to the cabins is a dirt road and farm complex. Perhaps the same property owner?

Adjacent to the cabins is a dirt road and farm complex. Perhaps the same property owner?

Tourist cabins in a row. The cabin in the foreground is larger, perhaps for the owner or for a larger family unit.

Tourist cabins in a row. The cabin in the foreground is larger, perhaps for the owner or for a larger family unit.

The cabins are quite similar: corner screen, centered front door, novelty siding, gable roof.

The cabins are quite similar: corner screen, centered front door, novelty siding, gable roof, former light to the right of the door. 

Cabins, in the woods now.

Cabins, in the woods now. Note the window on the left side of the cabins, next to the corner screened window. 

A telephone pole in front of the cabins. No evidence remains of a driveway shape or other elements to this tourist cabin collection.

A telephone pole in front of the cabins, perhaps once supplying electricity to the cabins. A relic of farm equipment sits next to it. No evidence remains of a driveway shape or other elements to this tourist cabin collection.

I am unable to find any information about these Marshfield cabins. If you have the name or any information, please comment below or send me an email. I’m so curious. In the meantime, other tourist cabins in Vermont:

Happy travels!

Project Drive-In

Save the Drive-in

Save the Drive-in. Project Drive-in.

Drive-in theaters represent classic Americana, a part of our roadside, automobile-loving culture that is still tangible on the landscape. The first drive-in opened in Camden, NJ in 1933.  At the height of the drive-ins in the 1960s, there were thousands; whereas today there are only 368 drive-ins operating. Drive-ins declined with the creation of air-conditioned movie theaters, the increase in land values, and a sinking reputation that followed. Now the greatest threat to drive-ins is the necessity to convert to digital projection, which all must do by 2014 – a cost of about $80,000. Without this conversion, these remaining drive-ins will not be able to reopen for the 2014 season.

Project Drive-in is a partnership between Honda and all drive-ins across the country. Honda will donate five digital projectors to the drive-ins that earn the most votes. Aside from votes, you can also pledge money to the drive-in project, which will help to fund the drive-ins. Watch the Project Drive-in video to learn more. It’s about three minutes long, with great stories and images of drive-ins at the end. Definitely worth a watch!

How can we help Project Drive-in? There are four things that this project recommends:

(1) Vote!

(2) Donate what you can.

(3) Spread the Word via twitter, facebook, blogs, emails, word of mouth, anything!

(4) Pledge to visit a drive-in this summer. Not sure where there is one? Check out the map to find one closest to you.

Have you been to a drive-in theater? Where? Is it still operating? A few that I’ve come across in my travels include the 66 Drive-in Theater, Carthage, MO; the Moonlite Drive-in, Abingdon, VA; Badin Road Drive-in, Albemarle, NC; Sunset Drive-in, Colchester, VT; St. Albans Drive-in, St. Albans, VT; and the former Rocky Point Drive-in, Rocky Point, NY.

I hope you’ll make the pledge in one form or another. Drive-ins have a special place in my heart. While a historic preservation undergrad at the University of Mary Washington, I wrote a research paper on drive-in theaters and nostalgia in American society. That was a fun semester for this American girl.

And lastly, what do you think about Honda sponsoring this project? Most of us aren’t fans of big corporations, but it is nice to see one helping out. It makes perfect sense that a car company would partner to save drive-ins. After all, it’s hard to go to a drive-in theater without a vehicle! However, here’s some drive-in trivia for you: there were also fly-ins and drive-ins for boats. Often towns and schools and community groups have big screen nights out on a green space, but there’s something unique about a vehicle drive-in. To see them disappear from the American landscape would be an absolute shame.

See these related posts from Preservation Nation.

Save the Drive-in!

Save the Drive-in!

Tourist Cabins: Wallinda Cabins

Perched on US Route 2, just west of Marshfield Village are the Wallinda Cabins. For years I’ve seen this sitting quietly on the side of the road, presumably unoccupied but having a neat and tidy appearance. Just last week on my way through Vermont, I decided that I would finally stop and photograph these before they disappeared. Unfortunately, I was just a few days or weeks too late — only three of the five remained!
This sign used to be posted on the roadside for passersby. It was only recently removed.

This sign used to be posted on the roadside for passersby. It was only recently removed.

The view from the driveway. The missing cabins are on the far left and the right.

The view from the driveway. The missing cabins are on the far left and the right.

One has been removed.

This one has been removed.

The cabins still have beds in them! Perhaps they were recently occupied.

The cabins still have beds in them! Perhaps they were recently occupied.

A key!

A key!

Front of a cabin.

Front of a cabin.

Rear of cabins.

  Rear of cabins.

It's a picturesque spot.

It’s a picturesque spot.

Novelty siding, original doors and windows, interior furnishings: these cabins seem more intact than most. It’s a shame that the land and the cabins are for sale. If you have any information, please share. And here’s my lesson: if you want to photograph something, don’t wait four years!

Tourist cabins have not been easy to photograph, but here’s another one.

Roadside Summer: Donnelly’s Ice Cream

If you’re in the Adirondacks near Saranac Lake, NY make sure to stop by Donnelly’s Ice Cream on Route 86. A small white building on the side of the road has been making soft serve ice cream since 1953 (with the same ice cream maker!). You line up in and out of the building to order, but only choose your size as their is one flavor per day. Homemade, locally made and a local favorite – what more could you want from ice cream in the summer? There’s plenty of parking and a great view and it’s delicious ice cream. Enjoy!

The front of Donnelly's.

The front of Donnelly’s.

The Registry of Very Special Places (Please do not confuse with the National Register of Historic Places).

The Register of Very Special Places (Please do not confuse with the National Register of Historic Places).

This is much appreciated for those of us who are indecisive.

This is much appreciated for those of us who are indecisive.

The smallest size.

The smallest size.

Adjacent to the ice cream shack.

Adjacent to the ice cream shack.

View while eating ice cream.

View while eating ice cream.

Donnelly's (and Annie O'Shea, USA Skeleton athlete).

Donnelly’s (and Annie O’Shea, USA Skeleton athlete).

The rear of the building.

The rear of the building.

Busy on a Sunday afternoon.

Busy on a Sunday afternoon.