Society for Commercial Archeology, Papers Symposium


Society for Commercial Archeology, Papers Symposium

This sounds very lofty, doesn’t it? Here is how the planners viewed this day: “The heart of any SCA conference is the papers symposium where members and new friends have been selected to make visual presentations on roadside resources they have been photographing, writing about and researching.” As mentioned in my first post, the list of topics made my head spin and my heart leap with joy – the challenge – I want it all!  …but I had to choose – so here goes my brief recap of the wonderful presentations I attended:


… so I took the author at his word and brought my camera – and took pics during the presentation!

He covered the history and evolution of Florida tourist attractions, making note of the small mom and pop businesses that discovered using a huge animal or object was a great way to get people’s attention – and they might stop, come on in and spend a few dollars!

Obviously, many of them did not make it – Dog Land may have been one of those!


He told an amusing story about the Everglades Snake Gardens, that was having trouble attracting visitors, until their research revealed that the word “snake” was repellant to women. When they changed the name to “wonder gardens”, business picked up!


These great old photos are from the famed Weeki Wachee Springs – where we were treated to the legendary mermaid show the next day on our bus tour. So heartwarming to know that some of these great old tourist attractions have been preserved – many are now owned and operated by the state.


Here’s a fun one that bit the dust in 1957.


I didn’t originally realize that most of the presenters were also coming along for the ride at the conference, so it really was a delight to be able to chat with folks after their talks and find out more about their passions. Almost everyone I spoke with has another full time career – and follows this passion from some inexplicable inner drive (some might think we’re crazy?!)

I jumped over to the next room to hear a talk by Frank Brusca titled “Time Travel along U.S. Route 40: A Half-Century of Landscape Changes along America’s Midsection.” Talk about passion for a subject! Frank has spent years going back and taking pictures to update the classic book by George Stewart “US 40, Cross Section of the United States of America”. He showed us examples of the original photos taken and the challenges he faced in creating the same camera angles describing the scenes today. In some cases, the tall building is gone where the original photo was taken, and he had to create inventive solutions to replicate the shot. His passion for this subject is inspiring! Bravo Frank!

The following speaker was Dick Bjornseth, who gave a fascinating talk on “Modern Relics: Roadside Remnants of the Sunshine State”. I was thrilled to finally get a definitive definition of the phrase that’s used a lot these days “mid-century modern”! Here are some of the things he used to define the term: Mid-century modern architecture is from the 1950′ and 60’s

Cantilevered, flat and folded roofs
Decorative mosaic tiles and decorative/punched out concrete blocks
“Googie” style – using all kinds of building materials at the same time
Bringing the outside in – first use of stone inside the home
Using exposed cement block inside the home
Space age symbols
Hawaiian and Polynesian themes and icons used

The next speaker was the impassioned Kevin Patrick, another avid roadside enthusiast who has devoted years to documenting every (seriously EVERY) diner in the state of New Jersey! What an accomplishment! His talk was entitled “Diners and the Suburbanization of New Jersey” and although it was a relatively short talk, (I had the feeling he could have spoken for hours) he packed a lot in. We gleaned the story of the evolution of the diner from the very first cars that were made and shipped via trains, to the advent of the highway system and how diners were then liberated from the size constraints of a railroad car. He described how diners have undergone one renovation after another through the intervening years – he had some GREAT photos to illustrate. And how ultimately this trend in diners renovating their “look” is continuing through the present day and will continue into the future. Diner culture is here to stay! Hooray for this part of our roadside history that still thrives! Here’s a link to one of his excellent books.

Next up was the delightful Christine Henry. Her talk was “Storybook Ending: The Many Lives of the Enchanted Forest Theme Park” which was a fixture in her life growing up in Maryland. She described the journey from the birth of the park in 1955 (around the same time as Disneyland first appeared) and it’s years of success to its eventual demise and closing in 1988. At this point in the talk, I thought she would end – and we would be left with that sad feeling that so accompanies many roadside stories – but NO! Some of the most beloved features from the park have been purchased and refurbished by the owners of Clark’s Elioak Farm and they are once again lighting up the lives of many families in the area. No kidding – I had to choke back some tears to think there are folks out there who are willing to pay lots of money to keep these treasures alive. So wonderful!

The morning talks ended on a very upbeat note with Penny Perkin’s presentation, “Neon Icons: Vintage Roadside Signs along Florida’s Scenic Byways”. As Penny spoke, I knew I had met a soul sister! She shared a lot of tips about how to get the most out of your photographs – for fellow roadside enthusiasts – using an iphone or smart phone and numerous apps, her favorite being hipstagram. I concur with her assessment that there is something inherently perfect about some of the app filters for giving roadside signs and scenes that special “pop” which enhances a feeling of nostalgia. Here’s one of Penny’s photos that she gave me as a gift. I look forward to more time spent on the road taking pics with Penny!


We broke for a really delicious lunch – kudos to Nancy for choosing an excellent caterer! And much as I wanted to go to every paper presented in the afternoon – those great motel signs on 4th Street North were calling my name. The afternoon was my only time to get some great pics – will post what I found tomorrow!



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