On the Road Again: Scouting Out “Roadside America” Sites

When John Margolies gave a talk at the Library of Congress in 2011 about his project to photograph roadside attractions and commercial vistas all across America, he remarked, “If anybody knows if these places still exist, tell me later ’cause that’s very often the only way that I find out whether things are there anymore.”

Now viewers of Margolies’ Roadside America photographs have an opportunity to do just that. We posted in our Flickr account a first set of 50 photographs from the archive a couple of weeks ago. Flickr viewers immediately investigated using online sites and their own scouting efforts and determined that, yes indeed, some of the sites and scenes are still very much present and accounted for.

One viewer tracked down several restaurants using Google Maps, including this one:

Leon's Drive-In, S. 27th & Oklahoma, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by John Margolies, 1977. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00130.

Leon’s Drive-In, S. 27th & Oklahoma, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by John Margolies, 1977. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00130. View in Flickr | View in Google Maps (copyright 2017 Google; image capture Nov. 2016).

The same viewer verified that the pink elephant still stood outside a liquor store in McCordsville, Indiana as of 2013–and his giant spectacles hadn’t slipped even an inch down his nose, despite years of imbibing!

Pink Elephant Liquor Store statue, McCordsville, Indiana. Photo by John Margolies, 1980. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00665

Pink Elephant Liquor Store statue, McCordsville, Indiana. Photo by John Margolies, 1980. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00665. View in Flickr | View in Google Maps (copyright 2017 Google; image capture Sept. 2013).

Another Flickr participant pointed out an article in an online newspaper that gave background on the Loyola Theater and showed how it had been re-purposed (a discovery that tickled me doubly, as the article turned out to be by my very own history-blogging brother-in-law!)

Loyola Theater, Manchester & Sepulveda Boulevard, Westchester, California. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.05821.

Loyola Theater, Manchester & Sepulveda Boulevard, Westchester, California. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.05821. View in Flickr | View the Daily Breeze blog post.

She also offered an update on this streetscape in Red Bluff, California.

Main Street stores, angle view, Red Bluff, California. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00684

Main Street stores, angle view, Red Bluff, California. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00684. View in Flickr | View in Google Maps (copyright 2017 Google; image capture May 2015)

And she found a site that highlights what appear to be updated colors on the Sayrs Building in  Philipsburg, Montana.

Sayrs Building (1896), angle 2, Broadway, Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by John Margolies, 2004. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00949

Sayrs Building (1896), angle 2, Broadway, Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by John Margolies, 2004. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00949. View in Flickr | View Roads Less Traveled blog post.

Another viewer offered his own pictures as proof that some dinosaurs, even if they aren’t walking the earth, still remain standing.

Dino skeleton view 1, Flintstone's Bedrock City, Rts. 64 and 180, Valle, Arizona. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.03628

Dino skeleton view 1, Flintstone’s Bedrock City, Rts. 64 and 180, Valle, Arizona. Photo by John Margolies, 1987. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.03628. View in Flickr.

And more than one viewer, including one of our own staff members who grew up in the vicinity, recognized the giant peach water tower in South Carolina.  It apparently has recently gained fame in the American production of the series House of Cards as a landmark in the hometown of one of the main characters, President Frank Underwood.

Peach water tower, angle 2, Frontage Road, Gaffney, South Carolina. Photo by John Margolies, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00671

Peach water tower, angle 2, Frontage Road, Gaffney, South Carolina. Photo by John Margolies, 1988. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.00671. View in Flickr.

John Margolies set out to make a visual record of sites that he worried were fast disappearing. In his talk, he noted that “It was my intention to not go to places where I’ve been before and I can only think of a couple of instances when I did revisit places when the building looked better or the same as … during my previous visits.” And he told this anecdote:

As I was taking picture of this Norman kind of style gas station in Hamilton, New York, a man came up behind me…and said, “What are you doing, preserving this for history?” And my jaw dropped … how could this man know that? And I’ll tell you why he knew that, because I came back the next morning and they were tearing off the gas pumps.  So I got there in the nick of time.

John Margolies died in 2016. But he might have been reassured to know how many of the structures that he photographed remain standing and how much pleasure people are deriving in looking closely at the places he documented and hunting for them virtually or in person. We’re grateful to the individuals who have already given thought and effort to scouting out surviving sites.

All of the Roadside America photographs are available online in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, and we’ll adding more to the Flickr account every few weeks. We hope you enjoy taking a tour and, maybe, joining the hunt!

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