Bowling conjurs images of shiny lanes, matching shirts, funky bowling shoes, contraptions that reset the pins, return the bowling balls, birthday parties, bowling leagues, bad food, Fred Flinstone, cheesy movie scenes … at least in my head. And something else that bowling brings to mind for me is roadside architecture, thanks to the giant bowling pin on the roof of Port Jeff Bowl. Not quite as exciting as the Long Island Duck, the bowling pin remains part of Long Island’s roadside architecture collection.

Port Jeff Bowl in Port Jefferson Station, NY.

Port Jeff Bowl. The pin doesn’t rotate or light up, it just stands on the building.

Port Jeff Bowl

Maybe some fellow Long Islanders can give me a hint as to the age of the building, bowling alley and the pin (Mom, any ideas?), but I have been unable to find any information so far. Anyone else know of a giant bowling pin?


Suburbia & Dead Malls

Who would expect suburbia to be showcased at an art museum? All of a sudden people are looking at suburbia with fresh eyes and examining its idiosyncrasies and theorizing about what it will become.  Such is the case at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History (though suburbia appears at the art museum, the two museums connect.)  While art museums are not my typical outing as a tourist, I was up for a new adventure (knowing the admission fee covered both museums) and agreed to visit the museums with my colleague.  My favorite exhibit at the museum is located in the Heinz Architectural Center: Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.

Worlds Away addresses suburbia and its changes through the decades in the form of photographs, interpretive drawings, and a 19 minute “video” that I almost ignored, but then decided to watch. This video was created by the New York urban design and architecture firm, Interboro, a firm founded by four 2002 Harvard graduates (according to the website.)  It is called In the Meantime, Life with Landbanking and was Interboro’s entry into the LA Forum for Architecture’s “Dead Malls” Competition.  Interboro chose the Dutchess Mall of Fishkill, New York.

The project/video was displayed on a platform on the floor. The platform, perhaps made of foam core, had a 3D model of a strip mall built on it. The movie began with a 1st person voice, which turns out to be that of the Dutchess Mall, now designated a “dead mall” because it was officially closed ca. 2003.  However, the voice of the mall explains how it cannot be “dead” because there is always activity going on, even with just a handful of businesses in operation. The local bus route still stops at the mall, there is a flea market every Saturday, truck drivers pull into the parking lot for an impromptu rest stop and a man sells hot dogs from his truck, someone practices golf, and many other random activities occur.

I have an aversion to strip malls, but for some reason I kept watching, perhaps because the building was talking to me and sounding like it needed a hug.  Part 2 used a “ghost narrator” to explain the history of the mall and possible future uses, since it was still in a developing area.  Even though the mall was empty, the owner did not want to sell.  The ghost narrator explained an interesting idea – to plan temporary adaptive reuse if an owner does not want to do anything to the property. There is not a true outcome to this story, since the artists could not predict the future, however they envisioned what was possible and the variety of businesses that could serve the community together.

Different internet searches give the impression that the Dutchess Mall has been demolished, but I cannot find concrete evidence. However, I am amazed at the conversation on the internet about “dead malls” and what to do with them. Of course, a discussion that goes along with that, is what did the mall take the place of originally? Often, it was a historic site.

Despite opinions and the fate of the Dutchess Mall, it is fair to say that there are many modern but abandoned commercial buildings in this country and devising ways to revitalize them rather than demolish them only to build again, is preferable. Perhaps it will be a conversation more in vogue in the near future. If you have the chance, watch the video on the Interboro website* or see it in person on one of the traveling exhitions (see schedule there.)

Two books that were on the reading table near the exhibit that seemed interesting: Borderland by John R. Stilgoe (Yale University Press, 1990) and Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened by Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen (Basic Books, 2000). I think these are going on my “must read before grad school” list.

*Quicktime required.


Billy Joel is a genius. [Don’t believe me?  Study some of his lyrics and get back to me.]  Moving on, it wasn’t until recently that I started to understand the political analysis and social commentary of his music [aside from We Didn’t Start the Fire, but that’s plain obvious.]  No Man’s Land, a song from River of Dreams album, didn’t top the single charts and it’s not played at parties or on the radio, but it definitely one of Joel’s great commentaries.  [Vinny can elaborate on such topics at a much greater length.]


Preservationists, do yourselves a favor and listen to No Man’s Land or at least read the lyrics.  To hear the song, click “launch player” in top right of the page.  From here, choose River of Dreams from the Albums tab.  No Man’s Land is the first song. You can listen to the entire song. [Beware that music plays right away.] Without posting the entire song, here are portions: 


I’ve seen those big machines come
rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their
Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice
Now we’re gonna get the big business
Now we’re gonna get the real thing
Everybody’s all excited about it
Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man’s land
We’ve just begun to understand
Out here in no man’s land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man’s land
I see these children with their
boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we’re to blame for
their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night,
this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there’s cable now in Zombietown
Now we’re gonna get the closed circuit
Now we’re gonna get the Top 40
Now we’re gonna get the sports franchise
Now we’re gonna get the major attractions…


Now isn’t that a cry against suburbia, if there ever were such a thing? Maybe it’s not as entertaining as some of his other songs.  Maybe this song rings true for too many people that it just never became a favorite. Of course, there are many people in this country who like strip malls, subdivisions, shopping malls, fast food chains… or do they do?  Do they just not know otherwise?  Is society brainwashed?  Well, another issue for another time.  After all, some might say preservationists are brainwashed. 


Speaking of brainwashing, here a few reasons as to why I love listening to No Man’s Land:


1. Hearing a famous musician who happens to be from Long Island speaking out against the new Long Island and what suburbia has become, offers a refreshing glimpse of hope.  Billy Joel likely has everything thing he could ever need or want, but, at least in this song, he is still concerned with the trends of society.  [Please, this is not time to bash Billy Joel. Substitute any appropriate celebrity name here.] 


2. It undeniably sings to preservationists.  Any form of inspiration is appreciated, and if it’s a great song, then it’s even better.  It reminds of the effect that Big Yellow Taxi has on us preservationists, even if slightly different.  The lyrics don’t offer instantaneous understanding, but upon closer examination it is so obvious what they are actually saying.


3. The descriptions of suburbia, while to one extreme, are just accurate enough to further my own personal case against suburbia.


4. And simply, I have always loved Billy Joel, as previously implied. 


Thank you, Billy Joel, for helping our quality of life and sense of place case.



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.