From a huge fiberglass Santa statue in Haubstadt, Indiana; to a neon diving lady in Mesa, Arizona; to perhaps the largest collection of mid-century motels in Wildwoods, New Jersey; to a sprawling Western-themed motel in Oxnard, California, bulldozed a month before being listed, many of America’s iconic roadside places are threatened.
The Society for Commercial Archeology announces its 2011 Falling by the Wayside, a list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States.
1. Airplane Filling Station, Knoxville, Tennessee
2. Bartles-Maguire/Wadhams Service Station, Waukesha, Wisconsin
3. Boots Motel, Carthage, Missouri
4. Buckhorn Baths, Mesa, Arizona
5. Diving Lady, Mesa, Arizona
6. Doo Wop Motels, the Wildwoods, New Jersey
7. Giant Santa, Haubstadt, Indiana
8. Premiere Lanes Sign, Santa Fe Springs, California
9. Roundtop Filling Station, Sherwood, Arkansas
10. Wagon Wheel Motel, Oxnard, California (destroyed)
These places are all marked by threats which can include natural weathering, economic hardship, neglect, abandonment, inappropriate zoning, lack of maintenance, demolition and even a setback to preserve a historic roadside place. The list showcases the diversity of roadside places and highlights the issues and challenges facing the preservation of these important resources.
The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) established the Falling by the Wayside program in 2010 to raise awareness of the importance of roadside places throughout the United States.
“Our goal is to focus public attention on the unique character and historical importance of our nation’s roadside commercial architecture—and the factors that challenge their long-term preservation,” says Nancy Sturm, co-president of the organization. Along with the attention, SCA will help property owners connect with local, state and federal preservation programs. And for one place, the Diving Lady of Mesa, Arizona, SCA is making a $250 contribution to the help the sign’s restoration.
Established in 1977, the SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape. The SCA offers publications, conferences, and tours to help preserve, document, and celebrate the structures and architecture of the 20th century: diners, highways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs, and more.
For more information http://www.sca-roadside.org/
Click here for a Google map of this year’s endangered places:
Additional Information on Endangered Places:
Airplane Filling Station, 6817 Clinton Highway (U.S. 25W), Knoxville, TN
Located on the side of the busy Clinton Highway, northeast of Knoxville, the Airplane Filling Station catches the eye of passing motorists. Elmer and Henry Nickle built the plane-shaped gas station in 1930 along the newly widened U.S. 25, the Dixie Highway with that just in mind. Just missing its propeller and landing wheels, the “Airplane Filling Station” looks similar to Charles Lindbergh’s famous Spirit of St. Louis. But the practicality of a plane-shaped building eventually limited the use of the property, which stopped selling gas in the 1960s. The building took on new uses over the years—a liquor store, used car dealership—as it wood elements deteriorated. Formed in 2003 as a nonprofit to preserver the building, the Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association is slowly restoring the “airplane.” Although the first phase to purchase and stabilize the structure is complete, the economic downturn delayed further work. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, it is the only example of mimetic architecture in the state, and is arguably one the best surviving of its type in the nation. While not in immediate danger, money must be raised to continue to restore this one-of-a-kind roadside property.
Contact: Rock Bernard, Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association, (865) 933-7158
Bartles-Maguire/Wadhams Service Station, 422 E. Broadway, Waukesha, WI
Located along East Broadway in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the Bartles-Maguire Oil Company service station opened in 1929 in a Tudor Revival “house” style gas station, featuring a brick chimney and prominent gables. The gas station went through a series of owners and different uses, mostly recently a car rental. In May 2010 the YMCA purchased the vacant building, with the intention of tearing it down for parking. In reaction, the property was designated a Local Landmark in July 2010. The YMCA appealed the designation to the Waukesha Administrative Review Appeals board, which upheld the landmark listing in January 2011. A month later, the YMCA announced they would put the gas station up for sale. A provision in the City of Waukesha’s Landmarks Ordinance allows an owner of a historically designated property to petition to have the listed rescinded, if after making a good faith effort, the property does not sell. If the petition is made, the Waukesha Landmarks Commission will have 60 days to find a buyer; failing that, the designation will be removed. With a letter from the YMCA stating they plan to petition for rescission, the future of this historic gas station in jeopardy.
Contact: Mary Emery, (262) 547-8364
Boots Motel, 107 S Garrison Avenue (old US 66), Carthage, Missouri
Built in 1939, by Arthur G. Boots, the Streamline Moderne-influenced motel, with its once distinct pink and green neon, evolved into a Route 66 icon. After Arthur’s wife, Ilda Boots, passed away, the motel sold several times. The most recent owner tried to negotiate a deal with Walgreens to build a new store on the property. Route 66 advocates and community members rallied to save the motel from demolition. Walgreens decided to build elsewhere, and while the motel remains, its maintenance has ceased and is now used for long-term rentals. Damaged by a storm, its broken neon dangles from the building; the vacancy sign on the office reads only “ANCY.” The property is again for sale. Ron Hart of the Carthage-based Route 66 Chamber of Commerce is looking into a way to purchase the property to preserve it as a vintage motel, and potentially a museum. But until that happens, the future of this Route 66 landmark is unknown.
Contact: Ron Hart, Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, (417)385-6966
Buckhorn Baths, 5900 East Main Street (old U.S. 60/70/80)1, Mesa, Arizona
Designated in the 2010 Falling by the Wayside list, the Buckhorn Baths is again listed due recent developments.
Preservationists became alarmed in November, 2010 when Alice Sliger, the 103-year-old owner of the Buckhorn Baths, died. With her death, the future of Mesa, Arizona’s famous roadside oasis became murky. Many predicted the motel would be sold and razed for redevelopment. But a group of preservationists came together to save the property. The newly formed non-profit Mesa Preservation Foundation, with the help of other local preservationists, will encourage the city to buy the Buckhorn and manage it as a cultural asset. “We hope to fulfill Alice Sliger’s desire to keep alive the legacy of what the Buckhorn gave to the community,” says Vic Linoff, president of the foundation. If the city agrees to acquire the property, the foundation will assist in raising funds to restore the motel and Ted Sliger’s taxidermy museum, which contains the largest collection of display animals in Arizona. The foundation is currently in the process of appraising the property as a first step to potential city acquisition. Buckhorn Baths opened in 1939 at the site of a hot mineral well. In 1947, the New York Giants moved their spring training camp to the area, and were frequented users of the baths. The motel closed in 1999. In 2007, the Arizona Preservation Foundation included the property on the Arizona’s Most Endangered Historic Places list.
Contact: Vic Linoff, Mesa Preservation Foundation, (480) 967-4729
Doo Wop Motels, the Wildwoods, New Jersey (Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest)
Potentially the largest collection of mid-century modern motels in the United States, the Doo Wop Motels of the Wildwoods, New Jersey, are threatened. Despite their photogenic popularity, the area comprising the “Motels of the Wildwoods” has lost nearly 50% of its vintage motels since the late 1990s. Real estate development and speculation has resulted in demolition of nearly 100 motels, including the notable Casa Bahama Motel, while others, such as the Singapore Motel, have undergone significant renovation, undermining their original appearance. The local government does not recognize the Doo Wop Historic District and there are no ordinances to prevent demolition or unsympathetic renovations. While chronicled in books and dozens of websites, without a preservation ordinance to protect them, the long-term future of these eye-catching motels is unknown.
Contact: Dan Mac Elrevey, Doo Wop Preservation League, (609)-523-1958
Diving Lady, Starlite Motel, 2710 E. Main Street (old U.S. 60/70/80), Mesa, Arizona
The “Diving Lady” is an animated, three-part neon sign of a woman diving into electric blue water. A local landmark, she could be seen making her plunge at least two miles in each direction from her home at the Starlite Motel on Main Street. But October 5, 2010, a severe storm sent her crashing to the ground, shattering the sign’s neon and twisting its metal. The recently formed Mesa Preservation Foundation is working with the owner and a neon sign shop to restore the sign. The restoration will be costly—$60,000-70,000. Already the middle figure of the sign has been restored and is on display at a Mesa shopping mall. The foundation is hoping national attention will help fundraising to complete restoration and reinstallation of this famous lady. As part of the 2011 Falling by the Wayside listing, the Society for Commercial Archeology is contributing $250 to assist the restoration.
Contact: Vic Linoff, Mesa Preservation Foundation, (480) 967-4729
Giant Santa, 516 Ruffian Way (U.S. 41), Haubstadt, Indiana
With his left his left arm outstretched, the Giant Santa once greeted cars and trucks pulling into the Busler Truck Stop, a discount gas station and 24-hour restaurant off U.S. 41, north of Evansville. But with the gas station now closed—its pump islands and restaurant sealed off by a string of limestone boulders—Santa waves to no one. Measuring at least 30 feet, the fiberglass Santa Claus statue is one of the tallest in the United States. With no maintenance, the statue paint has faded and his body is now home to hundreds of pigeons. The property for sale and prime redevelopment, the fate of this huge St. Nick is problematic.
Contact: Debra Jane Seltzer, Agilitynut, (347) 526-9825
Premiere Lanes Sign, 13210 Telegraph Road, Santa Fe Springs, California
A burst of blue and red stars, the Premiere Lanes sign sits orphaned on a cleared lot, its advertised namesake demolished for redevelopment. Revealing the spirit of the space age, the sign is adorned with nine “sputnik” forms. Tall with a huge signboard, the sign, though for sale, is too big to be tucked away in a museum. With no local preservation ordinance to protect it, it is likely it will be dismantled and parted, with its sputniks going into private ownership. Premiere Lanes, a prominent regional bowling center, and once home to a chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League, closed in 2008. While there are several dozen space-age signs across the United States, perhaps none have more sputniks or is of its scale.
Contact: Debra Jane Seltzer, Agilitynut, (347) 526-9825
Roundtop Filling Station, intersection of Roundtop and Trammel roads (old U.S. 67), Sherwood, Arkansas
It’s a Hansel and Gretel fairytale building surrounded by an acre of asphalt. Constructed in 1936 for the Pierce Oil Company, the Roundtop Filling Station was designed in the mimetic style, taking on the look of a giant mushroom. Being situated on U.S. 67 between Little Rock and St. Louis, the gas station saw a steady stream of traffic for nearly 50 years. When bypassed by a new highway in the 1970s, the storybook gas station lost its business. For years it sat abandoned, stripped of its pumps, sign and lights. In 2008, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Sherwood, its owner, hopes to preserve the fairytale building, and is looking for grants to repair its partially torn off roof, broken windows and door. But until then, the mushroom-shaped former service station sits vacant.
Contact: Ralph Wilcox, (501) 324-9880
Wagon Wheel Motel, 2751-2755 Wagon Wheel Road (U.S. 101), Oxnard, California
The Wagon Wheel Motel, a ranch house-like motel of turquoise board and batten board buildings and decorative wagon wheels, once sprawled across its site. The motel came about when Oxnard booster and real estate developer, Martin “Bud” Smith, bought an old hog farm and moved in surplus Seabee barracks from nearby Port Hueneme, arranging them in “U” shape to create a motel court. To give the place a ranch look, Smith reportedly hired Roy Beatty, a Hollywood set designer to desing the wrought-iron lamp fixtures and the decorative rustic furniture once found in each room. During its heyday, the Wagon Wheel was a local fixture and prominent stop on U.S. 101. But over the years it lost its customers, closed and became a boarded up eyesore. When word got out that the motel could be demolished for a mixed-use commercial project, local preservation groups rallied to save the property. The San Buenaventura Conservancy filed an appeal to stop demolition under the California Environmental Quality, arguing that preservation of a small two acre portion of the motel and restaurant was feasible, given the size of the 64-acre project. But on March 17, an appellate court upheld a lower-court ruling permitting demolition. The Wagon Wheel Motel and associated buildings were demolished a week later. There is no foreseeable date as to when redevelopment will start, as the project sponsor is waiting for the economy to recover.
Contact: San Buenaventura Conservancy, (805) 652-1000