Essays, Rest Stops, Roadside Architecture

Novelty Architecture

Tail o’ the Pup Hot Dog Stand – built in 1946 in San Fernando Valley, California. Credit: : Valley Relics Museum

Novelty architecture, programmatic architecture, mimetic architecture – they’re all names used to describe buildings that were designed and built to mimic the purpose or function of the building.While there are examples of it in history, such as the pyramids and sphinx structures in Egypt, it wasn’t until the 1920s that mimetic, or novelty architecture entered its heyday in the United States.

It’s no surprise that this time frame coincides with the rise of the automobile. Mimetic architecture was especially popular along the highways. Americans were using them more and more for vacations, business and Sunday drives and businesses wanted to get them to stop and spend money. These buildings were eye-catching advertisements designed to grab the attention in the second or two it took a driver to pass it in his car.

The idea worked.

The Ben Hur Coffee Pot, Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles – Built in 1930

You could get your coffee from a building that looked like a coffee pot….

The Donut Hole, La Puenta, California – Built in 1968 Photo Credit: John Margolies

….or stop for a donut from a building that looked like a donut…

Los Angeles, California film developer.

….or have the film in your camera developed in a little building that looked like your camera.

Bull Dog Cafe, Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, California – Built in 1928.
The Chili Bowl, Los Angeles, California –  Built in 1931. (gone)
The Mother Goose Pantry, Pasadena, California – Built in late 1920s.

Seems like shoes were popular, here at The Mother Goose Pantry in Pasadena you could grab a meal….

Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair, Bakersfield, California – built in 1931 and still there. Photo credit: John Margolies

….then in later years, head to Deschwandens Shoe Repair in Bakersfield to get your shoes fixed up. It’s still there on Chester and 10th in Bakersfield.

The Cream Can Beverage Counter, Los Angeles, California.
Benewah Milk Bottle at the Benewah Dairy Drink Counter in Spokane, Washington – Built in 1935 and still there. Photo Credit: John Margolies

California had a lot of novelty architecture, there’s even a book about it called Crazy California, but other states had some too….

Mammy’s Cupboard Restaurant Located  on U.S. Highway 61 in  Natchez, Mississippi. Built in 1940, and refurbished in recent years.

…like Mammy’s Cupboard restaurant on U.S. 61 in Natchez, Mississippi….

The Mother Goose Market, Hazard, Kentucky – built 1935-1940 and still there.

….the Mother Goose Market on State Route 476 in Hazard, Kentucky…

The Teapot Dome Gas Station on U.S. Highway 12 in  Zilla, Washington – originally built in 1922

…and the Teapot Dome Gas Station on U.S. highway 12 in Zillah, Washington.

Longaberger Basket Company Headquarters, Newark, Ohio – Opened 1997

There are newer examples too,  like the former Longaberger Basket Company Headquarters in Newark, Ohio.  It opened in 1997 and after three years on the market, the building  sold in January, 2018 to a firm specializing in historic preservation….

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

….and the Camera Obscura building in San Francisco.

Even the Hat and Boots Gas Station in Seattle, built in 1954, has been restored and relocated to a park  south of the city.

Hoot Hoot Ice Cream Parlor, Los Angeles, California – Built in 1925 (gone)

There are so many memories of these gems documented in photographs, and not quite as many still here. I’m drawn to them and I’m  feeling another road trip coming on! But for now?  I’d just like a root beer float at the  Hoot Hoot Ice Cream Parlor please.

Sources and further reading:

John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive – Library of Congress website
Weird California – website
Iconic Roadside Relic “Bull Dog Cafe” Saved From Destruction –
Los Angeles Public Library – website  – University of California Digital Collections


Recommended By Duncan Hines

“Duncan Hines, the cake mix guy?” That’s usually the reaction I get when someone sees one of my postcards that says “Recommended by Duncan Hines” somewhere on it. It’s one of the few times I get to say “it was before my time,” but yep, him. Long before he was the “cake mix guy” Americans relied on Duncan Hines as a connoisseur of restaurants and inns along America’s highways. It’s safe to say he was probably our first food critic, restaurant rater and hotel reviewer. You know, our first Yelp. All of which happened LONG before the cake mixes that my generation knows him for.

Duncan Hines

Duncan Hines was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky in March of 1880. He was raised by his grandmother there before attending college at Bowling Green Business University. He worked a while out west for Wells Fargo before choosing Chicago as his home base to live in as he traveled America’s highways selling office supplies.

He became a traveling salesman just as the automobile was becoming a national obsession. With the rise of the automobile came the rise of the highways and all the little restaurants and inns that serviced them. With no Yelp or Trip Advisor to count on, word-of-mouth was the only review system for these establishments. There wasn’t even a government inspection agency yet for restaurants that Americans could rely on to enforce safe food guidelines or even a Health Department that would inspect for cleanliness of these establishments.

For a time, Duncan Hines, with the help of his wife, Florence, was the most reliable rating and safety system travelers had.

He was never a chef, in fact he admitted to not being able to cook at all. But he was always desperate for a clean restaurant and a good meal as his job took him across miles and miles of American highways. The long hours behind the wheel gave him plenty of time to consider and record the best food he could find. He was always carrying a small journal in his coat pocket where he recorded specific information about where he found the best food and the cleanest kitchens that cooked it.

According to an NPR article by Nicole Jankowski in March of 2017, Hines “meticulously recorded the names of the most pristine diners with the tastiest food.” In his coat-pocket journal he recorded where the best prime beef was, where the stickiest sticky buns were, the hours a restaurant was open, its prices and whether or not it had air conditioning. If they served a particular regional food, he noted that too. It was a comprehensive collection of notes that turned this traveling salesman into a trusted roadside food connoisseur.

Duncan Hines’ friends and family were always asking for a copy of his list. It was word-of-mouth that convinced him to start sharing the list. It didn’t take long for other traveling salesmen and auto tourists to begin asking for his recommendations. In 1935 Duncan and Florence Hines printed the first pamphlet of 167 restaurants in 33 states that he felt he could safely recommend.

Demand for the list continued to increase. In 1936 Duncan Hines was 55 years old when he self-published the first edition of Adventures in Good Eating. He sold it for $1 each. In 1937 he raised the price to $1.50, and kept it there until he stopped publishing it in 1954.

Copies of the pamphlets were in glove compartments everywhere.

The rules were simple: If restaurants could not deliver Duncan Hines a quality meal or a peek at the kitchen, they were never included in the book. “The kitchen is the first spot I inspect,” he said. He accepted no ads or endorsements in exchange for reviews.

“Recommended by Duncan Hines.” became a valuable recommendation for restaurants and later for motels he documented in much the same way he documented restaurants. Business owners actively advertised and benefitted from the Duncan Hines’ “seal of approval”.

Duncan Hines also published: Lodging for a Night (1938), Adventures in Good Cooking (1939), and a variety of recipe and helpful kitchen books over the years such as, Art of Carving in the Home (1939) and the The Duncan Hines Barbecue Cookbook.

It wasn’t until 1952, when he was 72, that Roy Park and Duncan Himes formed the Hines-Park Company. It was this partnership that brought the Duncan Hines name to our kitchens in the form of cake mixes, brownie mixes and ice cream cartons. The company was sold to Proctor and Gamble in 1957. Duncan Hines passed away in March of 1959.  Today, the company is owned by Pinnacle Foods.

For more discussion and information there are active forums on where members discuss Duncan Hines and the remaining restaurants from that first list of 167. One of the members says, “Traveling the highways with his pencil and notebook changed the way American experienced the open road, one adventure at a time.” I think that sums it up perfectly.

Further Reading:

Duncan Hines: The Original Road Warrior by Nicole Jankowski for NPR
A History of Duncan Hines by John-Bryan Hopkins for Foodimentary
Duncan Hines

Diner Food Friday, U.S. Highways

Diner Food Friday – Cheesy Hash Browns

As I was putting yesterday’s post about the evolution of diners together the idea for Diner Food Fridays came to me. Hubby is a diner food junkie, he can’t help it, so there’s a lot of recipes around here and I’d love to share them!

This hash browns recipe is probably one of his favorites. The full recipe is posted below. A PDF version to print is also included.

This recipe easily serves 4 people.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pepper jack cheese (we grate ours, but thinly sliced will work too)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt for garnish (sour cream will work too)
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced


First, peel the potatoes.

Next, using the large holes on a box grater, shred the potatoes.

Place the potatoes on a clean cotton towel or napkin.

Wrap the towel around them and squeeze over the sink to drain out as much water as possible from the potatoes. (I learned this trick from Elise Bauer over at Simply Recipes and it makes for perfectly crispy hash browns every single time.)

In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with the onions, salt and pepper.

Next, in a large skillet heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add one cup of the potatoes to the skillet and press down flat with a spatula. Let it cook without stirring for 5 minutes or until the bottom is browned. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the potatoes and flip. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the bottom is browned. Sprinkle 2 heaping tablespoons of cheese over the potatoes and fold in half. Cook just until the cheese has melted and serve.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Add yogurt and scallions for garnish and serve with your favorite eggs. Enjoy!!

Easy Diner Hashbrowns Recipe

Serves 4
Print Recipe
1 1/2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pepper jack cheese (we grate ours but thinly sliced will work too)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt for garnish (sour cream will work too)
2 scallions, finely sliced


Peel the potatoes.

Using the large holes on a box grater, shred the potatoes.

Place the potatoes on a clean cotton towel or napkin. Wrap the towel around them and squeeze over the sink to drain as much water as possible from the potatoes.

In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with the onions, salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add one cup of the potatoes to the skillet and press down with a spatula. Let cook without stirring for 5 minutes or until the bottom is browned. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the potatoes and flip. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the bottom is browned. Sprinkle 2 heaping tablespoons of cheese over the potatoes and fold in half. Cook just until cheese has melted. Serve.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Add yogurt and scallions for garnish.

Essays, U.S. Highways

Highway Signs Added to Faded Highways on eBay Today

I’ve added a couple of vintage U.S. Highway signs from my own collection to Faded Highways on eBay today. I’m not sure how old they are. Both signs are scratched, beaten up and bruised but this just means they hold a lot of character, right? Both are authentic and were actually used on the highways.

If only these old signs could talk, I’d be all ears…

Click on the image to be taken to the eBay listing for this authentic Highway 51 road sign.

U.S. 51 was one of the original 1926 U.S. Highways and ran from Hurley, Wisconsin south through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. At one point it was over 1300 miles long. I’m not sure which of the states this sign was used in. It’s all metal and measures 36” x 36”.

Click on the image to be taken to the eBay listing for this authentic Highway 99E road sign.

This one was used along the highway in Oregon. Highway 99E was the part of U.S. Highway 99 that ran from Portland to Junction City, Oregon. U.S. 99 was an original 1926 U.S. Highway, and traveled over 1500 miles from Washington State south through Oregon and California. It was decommissioned in 1972. This sign measures 30” wide x 42.5” tall and is in used vintage condition.

There’s a lot more pictures at the eBay listings! These auctions end Sunday, November 26, 2017.

Book Reviews, Essays

Book Review – John Baeder’s Road Well Taken

John Baeder’s Road Well Taken
by Jay Williams
Copyright 2015, Vendome Press New York
272 pages

John Baeder’s Road Well Taken on:
Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

Look at the picture on the cover of this book. It precisely illustrates the vanishing roadside culture us roadside junkies would prefer to be in, right? Now look again. The old cars, the signs, the building? Not a photograph. It’s a painting. One that comes from the thoughtful mind and astounding talent of master photorealist painter, John Baeder. If you have never seen John Baeder’s work I assume you’re as surprised as I was when I first saw this book in the bookstore. Even now, my heart speeds up when I see it. Baeder’s paintings are nothing short of magical and this book is filled with them.

Yes, I am a big fan.

“Baeder is at heart a communicator who is amazingly effective when he has an opportunity to present his art in conjunction with essay and anecdote. His interest in national identity could be expressed only in personal, mythic terms.”  – art historian and author, Jay Williams

This is exactly what we get with this book. Thank goodness.

I bought this 10 x 10 inch book back in April of 2016,  and it’s been following me from room to room ever since. Every page is filled with Baeder’s incredible images coupled with his own words as well as Williams’ heartfelt, conversational text. It never fails to cheer me up and make me smile. I love this book. John Baeder’s Road Well Taken provides an escape into the place where that roadside culture and sense of community converge. I love spending time there. This book is the story behind these paintings that Baeder has graciously given us over the past 40 years.

When I bought this book I was not aware of John Baeder. That’s a shame and I’m ashamed to admit it.  I was aware of the “diner consciousness” movement his paintings provoked, but knew little about the man and his art. Before the diner paintings he might be most known for,  Baeder gave us powerful documentary-style photography inspired by the FSA photographers, he collected and continues to share his photographs and images of the vanishing hand-lettered signs he has found in his travels and he has always been a steward of the American roadside culture I am so consumed by. He has painted many, many scenes from small-towns and cities throughout the country and I feel right at home in every one of them. Needless to say, today, I am VERY aware of and VERY grateful for John Baeder. With this book,  the books he himself has written,  his website and his Instagram feeds (@johnbaeder and @gmmebbq) John Baeder has become a pretty big deal around here. I wouldn’t hesitate to call him an inspiration.

This book is a biography of John Baeder’s passion. He communicates his respect for the values of  roadside culture with every incredible painting. The still-lifes inspired by 17th, 18th and 19th century European still-life artists using north light and the vintage 1930s and WWII military airplanes that came later offer that same respect and admiration of subjects from the painter. Anyone that has even a remote interest in roadside culture, art, and/or painting would find great value here. I learned a lot in these pages about history, painting, John Baeder, even about myself. Jay Williams is an excellent writer, and I’m grateful he included so many quotes from Baeder himself. It’s enlightening to see how Baeder was affected by these places and the photographs and postcards from them and how they came to fruition later in his painting. It’s not a chronological book, but it is logical and covers the 40+ years of his artistic career from Atlanta to New York to Nashville.  It begins just before Baeder decided to become a full-time painter. At the time, he was the Art Director at New York City’s largest advertising agency, McCann-Erickson. As a former employee of a Chicago ad agency, I felt an instant connection to Baeder when I read that. I wasn’t an art director, but because of that experience, I know that the art director position he held was a very big deal and probably paid very well. To leave it behind and pursue a passion like painting is just one way Mr. Baeder inspires me.

I also felt a connection when I read about his postcard collection and his love of photography. I love these things too, and we have a similar (i.e., the same) interest in subjects. As I read through the book, more than once I said to anyone who was listening, “Me too! I do that too! How in the world did I not know of him before?!” Like I said, it’s a shame I didn’t.

The chapters of this book take the reader on an authentic roadside journey through the midcentury America that existed before the interstates. All of it through Baeder’s unique eye – his thoughtful, creative, unique eye – and his mega-talented ability to preserve these moments of our history. Photography and photographers, especially of the documentary genre, along with color-saturated linen postcards inspired Mr. Baeder, but his “respect for the culture of the common folk” is, in my opinion, what elevates his paintings in the hearts and minds of viewers.

“Baeder was concerned with “the humanistic implications of roadside architecture.”

It’s a simple explanation, but true. When I see the paintings I feel this. It’s exactly what makes them so special and what makes me feel so attached to them.

The largest section of the book is of course devoted to the diners. John Baeder started the diner preservation trend in the late 70’s when he drew attention to diner history with his paintings. He became an expert in diner culture when he crossed the country on “diner hunts” that were meant to inspire his art. He “created paintings that enshrined diner values,” says Williams. “He was very interested in their place in American culture.” There are well over a hundred of Baeder’s diner paintings in this book. Every time I stop and look at one I see something I didn’t see before. The detail, lighting, sharpness in each image amazes me.

After relating the “Final Diner Series” in Baeder’s career, Williams touches on what has come after. I’ve come to thinking of them as “bonus chapters” because they’re filled with subjects I didn’t expect when I first picked this book up. “The Still Lifes: An Inner Road Trip” is the chapter filled with the story behind the images of vintage cars, books, fruits and other objects Baeder has done since the diner days. The next chapter, “Taking Wing on a Higher Road” is filled with the monochromatic military airplane paintings he’s done recently.

The book is printed on sturdy paper with a design that does the images justice. Well, as much justice as a small reprint of an original painting of a 60″ x 72″ canvas can do.  It’s beautiful. I love getting lost in it. Author Jay Williams has written several essays on art and has developed and managed dozens of exhibitions for art museums and universities during his career as a curator. Williams curated the four-museum retrospective of Pleasant Journeys and Good Eats Along The Way: The paintings of John Baeder while he was curator at the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia.  John Baeder is a “captivating, complex, multifaceted” man and Jay Williams has done a great job of telling the reader why he feels like that. I appreciate that, but it’s John Baeder himself that makes this a book to hold on to and read often. He loves his subjects as much as we do.

Further reading:

After reading John Baeder’s Road Well Taken, I found Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950, by Jay Meilke, copyright 2016 from the University of Texas Press. It’s an excellent book about Curt Teich Chicago and the linen postcards that inspired Mr. Baeder. It references him several times which lends it a lot of credibility considering the size of Baeder’s collection of these cards.

“He found enchantment, awe and important artifacts of American culture in the creative tension between the postcards photographic realism and their surreal treatments,” says Williams.

Books by John Baeder:

Diners (1978)
Gas Food and Lodging (1982)
Diners Revised and Updated (1995)
Sign Language (1996)
Pleasant Journeys and Good Eats Along the Way: The Paintings of John Baeder (2007)

John Baeder’s Road Well Taken
Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

Book Reviews, Essays

Cookbook Review: Route 66 Cookbook – Comfort Food From the Mother Road

Route 66 Cookbook, Deluxe Edition: Comfort Food From the Mother Road
by Marian Clark
Copyright 2003 (Originally Published in 1995)
Council Oak Books
272 Pages
The paperback version appears to be out of print, but is available at used book stores and at Amazon. The hardcover version is currently in stock at Amazon.

Marian Clark travelled Route 66 many times to collect the recipes included in this cookbook and it shows, she knows her stuff.   There are several recipes from several restaurants from every state the highway travels through. This cookbook is an ambitious labor of love for the author and a lot of fun for the nostalgia-loving reader as well as the home cook. As Michael Wallis says in the introduction, “Eateries on 66 are as varied as their owners.” And that’s exactly what Marian Clark has curated with this collection.

We begin in Chicago and end in California, just like the highway itself. Recipes from Navy Pier in Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California are here. From ethnic foods like Mexican Squash to pure American diner staples like French toast and any one of a dozen or so burgers, they’re all here. And pie. There’s a lot of pie. 2400 miles of food divided by state. As an avid home cook and lover of food,  I can’t think of a better way to experience a place than it’s food and Marian Clark has given us quite a Route 66 experience. I’ve taken road trips on the Mother Road several times, but have not had the pleasure of eating in many of the places along it. I appreciate having these recipes! There are dozens of interesting mini-histories written about each restaurant and the towns they’re in that make this an adventure in food culture.  The restaurants  all have a description with them that includes its relationship to the highway too, like if it’s still there or how it came down if it’s not. Using old postcards to illustrate the book makes it all feel exactly right. Marian Clark is a terrific writer. You can tell she loves her subject and that makes all the difference.

Some recipes are restaurant-sized (i.e. huge) but all have been scaled down for home cooking. I found it interesting to see those big recipes though and how these cooks prepared their food for the mass of visitors every day. For instance, the first ingredient in the Palmer House Hilton French Quarter Seafood Gumbo? 2 quarts of oil.  No worries, a more manageable Gumbo recipe for us home cooks is right next to it but I love that these are included.

I feel right at home and comfortable with these recipes and have had a lot of fun cooking them. All the extra nostalgia and history makes me feel like I’m right there at the restaurant out there on the road. I’ve come across a handful of typos, but I haven’t found one in a recipe yet. In fact, the only negative I have for this book is that the index is horrible. Actually, there are two indexes, one by recipe and one by restaurant. One of the first things that caught my eye in the book was the Banana Cake from the U Drop Inn in Texas. I didn’t write down the page number when I saw it, thinking I’d be able to find it again in the index, and couldn’t remember what restaurant or state it was in. The index wasn’t helpful in finding it by simply looking up “Banana Cake.” (I never did find it in the index until I had the name of the restaurant) I had to go through each page (albeit gladly) to find it again. This time I marked all the recipes I wanted to try first. Problem solved.

Some of the recipes we’ve tried so far:

Black Bean Salad or Salsa

Bean Salad or Salsa, p. xx – from Molly’s Landing, Catossa, Oklahoma

It’s also good as a quesadilla filling, which has turned out to be our favorite way of eating it (with some Monterey Jack cheese). Many of the ingredients in this recipe came from canned vegetables, making it easy to mix together, but I can’t wait to try it with farmer’s market produce. It’s a pleasure to eat. It feels fresh, has a crunchy texture and made more than enough for other uses or leftovers.

U Drop Inn’s Banana Cake

Banana Cake, p. 110 – from the U Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas

I’ve been eyeing this cake since I first saw this cookbook in our local library a year ago. It screams “traditional diner food”  to me. I finally got to try it last week and I’m happy as can be with it! I know this might sound funny but I love that it’s a sheet cake baked in a 9 x 13 cake pan. I can just see it sitting on my grandparents’ kitchen countertop, with that sliding metal lid on it, waiting for our arrival. Grandpa always had a cake in that thing and this cake lives up to that sweet memory. It’s funny how food can bring up memories you thought were long gone. Anyway, I will probably add another banana to this cake next time, but other than that it’s sheet cake paradise. I can remember hating not enjoying caramel frosting on anything back in the day, but I sure enjoyed this one. We’ll definitely make this cake again. And again. Delicious.

Potato Pancakes

Potato Pancakes, p. 2 – from Polka Sausage and Deli, Chicago

I put Hubby in charge of this one. After all, he is the potato master at our house, and he was up to giving these a go. We both thought they were good, but I have to be honest, I wanted them to be a little crispier. Hubby reminded me that they’re pancakes, and not hash browns, and I accepted that. Sort of. We served ours with apple sauce and homemade rhubarb ketchup (the only way to go for these, in my opinion). I’m sure Hubby will make these again, he really loves them.

Meiki’s Route 66 Fettuccini Alfredo

Fettuccini Alfredo, p. 97 – Meiki’s Route 66 Restaurant, Oklahoma City

We don’t eat much Fettuccini Alfredo around here, but I had to try this because pasta of any kind brings back good memories from road trips. I’m not sure why, but it does and this one lives up to those memories. Once again it was a good eat and so simple to make.

I am loving how the recipes in this book bring back such good memories of road trips we’ve taken, says a lot for them.

The La Fonda French Toast

French Toast, p. 140 – from LaFonda, Santa Fe, New Mexico

It has been years since I’ve had French toast anywhere. Not sure why, because it’s one of my all time favorite things. I had some leftover Apricot Fennel bread that was sort of a bust for other uses, but it was absolutely perfect for French toast. This took just a few minutes to make and it was amazing. Great texture, nice flavor and yeah, it reminded us of a diner breakfast out on the road.

It doesn’t get any better than this!
There are so many recipes left to try, we’ll be cooking from it for years to come. This cookbook is a treasure!