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.)

img_0665

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!

South of the Border, part 1

Report to follow, but there is good news for those of you who love kitschy-road trip tourist traps: while some parts of South of the Border are definitely neglected, on the Saturday that we visited, many people were out and about doing the same. We were not alone in a desolate roadside attraction.

These photographs were taken by Kristin Landau. (I’m stealing her images because my house in the woods only has dial-up!)

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:

http://interactiverams.blogspot.com/2008/03/as-promised-review-of-south-of-border.html

[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