People

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 Roadfood.com 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

Hotels and Motels, Places

Early Art Deco Scenes from Miami Beach

The Berkeley Hotel via the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress

Miami Beach was incorporated in 1915 after John Collins and his partners had spent some time in the area developing land for crops. As Collins and friends worked the land and built canals to get their avocados, etc. to market, the potential for a beach resort became more and more obvious. The partners and their investors  built the first hotel in 1915 and began the promotion of the area as a resort for wealthy northerners who wanted to escape. Several hotels were built and the resort idea was a success.

Until the hurricane of 1926 brought everything to a halt.

After the hurricane, Miami Beach struggled to rebuild. It wasn’t until the 1930s, a few years after the 1929 stock market crash, that things started to get back on track. Promotion of the beach resort started again as investors funded dozens of small-scale hotels, restaurants, apartments and rooming houses, many of them in the Art Deco design style. It was a was a simpler design style, a more modern answer to the excesses of the Victorian era of design that came before it. And it arrived just in time to turn the blank slate of Miami Beach into a destination of modern elegance. This Art Deco district has had downturns over the years, but with some help it endured and thrives even today.

Postcard scenes from the  1930s and 1940s Art Deco District of Miami Beach:

The Churchill Apartment Hotel

 

Hotel Granada

 

Hoffman’s Cafeteria

 

The Hotel Chesterfield

 

The Shelby

 

The Belmont

It was the 60s and 70s when things turned again for the area. It had become rundown, neglected and some even say the Art Deco neighborhood was dangerous. In 1976, Barbara Capitman, a new resident to Miami Beach at the time, became obsessed with the dilapidated buildings and crumbling neighborhood. It didn’t take too long for her to find other residents, tourists and designers that felt the same. Together, they founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL).  Thank goodness. Their mission was to save these historic structures from neglect, fire and demolition. The MDPL is responsible for making sure the Art Deco District of Miami Beach got on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979. Once again, thanks to the MDPL, the area was on the rise. This time much of it would be known as South Beach. The MDPL started Art Deco Weekends in 1977 to bring residents and tourists to the district for a couple of days of events. In 2018, there were 85 events for visitors to take part in – it’s still going strong.

U.S. Highway 41’s southern terminus is Miami Beach. As a U.S. Highway-obsessed lover of architecture, architect’s wife for Pete’s sake, AND a Florida fanatic, I’m ashamed to say I have never seen these dreamy places in person.  I’ve been mere blocks from the Art Deco district (MERE BLOCKS!)) and missed it completely. It’s a shame……more like shameful, really. But a terrific excuse for another road trip don’t you think?

Sources and further reading:

Miami Beach Art Deco at The Library of Congress
100-year story of Miami Beach – Miami Herald, March 21, 2015
Miami Design Preservation League
Art Deco – Flashback Miami

Hotels and Motels, Rest Stops, U.S. Highways

Then and Now – City Center Motel, Mauston, Wisconsin

2009. City Center Motel on U.S. 12 and the former U.S. 16, now WI state highway 16.

Can you imagine old cars lining the building in that parking lot? Can you imagine parents running after their kids along that second story railing? Can you imagine how noisy those air conditioners were?

Seeing the City Center Motel like this in 2009 was probably the first time I felt a strong need to document the architecture of the American roadside during the heyday of auto tourism.  We were on a U.S. 12 road trip in Wisconsin when we drove up on this motel in Mauston, Wisconsin. It took my breath away. All at once I felt a rush of sadness at its current condition, but also a wave of happiness.

The City Center Motel postcard from its early, single-story days.

Mauston wasn’t a destination. No doubt the travelers that stayed at the City Center Motel were on their way to the Wisconsin Dells, or to Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis or Chicago…or points farther. I’m sure it wasn’t always the case, but I like to think the travelers that stayed here were excited, happy and enjoying their trips.

In the years since that first visit, I’ve come across a couple of postcards that depict the motel in those earlier, happier times.

Vintage postcard of the updated, two-story City Center Motel.

Looking at the postcards proves business at the City Center Motel was thriving at some point – They added a whole second story!

2009. Abandoned City Center Motel.

But at some point it fell into disrepair and was abandoned.  According to the Juneau County Star-Times newspaper, the building had become a detriment to the community. As of 2010, it hadn’t welcomed travelers for years, says the newspaper. It no longer met building codes, and became an eyesore on Mauston’s main thoroughfare. At one point, the city of Mauston couldn’t even find the owner to issue its demolition order.

Demolition Auction Notice in 2010. Photo from the Juneau County Star-Times.

Eventually they found him in a suburb of Chicago and issued the order.

2011 – Former site of the City Center Motel, Mauston.

After months of back and forth “discussions” between the owner and the city, the City Center Motel was demolished. During another one of our road trips though the region in 2011 we found nothing remaining except the u-shaped concrete platform the motel once sat on.

2017. Former site of City Center Motel, Mauston.

We drove by it again last weekend on our way to Minnesota. It’s still a vacant lot…..

2017 Former Site of City Center Motel. Available for sale.

…..this time it was for sale.

I prefer to think of it in its heyday.

I know not every building can be saved. And not every building’s story can be told. But I like imagining what these walls could say about the roadside memories shared within them. I’m so grateful for the old postcards I’ve found of the City Center Motel too – they captured it at the high point of its life. And I prefer to think of it this way.

Sources and Further Reading:
Juneau County Star-Times
Razing and Revitalizing Recommended in Mauston – Juneau County Star-Times
City Center Motel Owner Can’t Be Found – Juneau County Star-Times

Hotels and Motels, Rest Stops, Restaurants

The Orange Roofs

Those orange roofs.  I never had any problem spotting one of them from the back seat of the dark green four door Mercury we’d take our family road trips in. Howard Johnsons, and those orange roofs, meant one of two things: 1. Ice cream. 2. Motel with a swimming pool.  As soon as I spotted one, I’d cross my fingers and hope with all my might that we’d pull in for one of the other. Or both.


Howard Johnsons was that kind of a place for a little girl like me. No matter how I looked at it, it always meant fun. I know now my parents loved the restaurants because the food they served was always good no matter what location we stopped at. They also knew us kids would spend hours expending energy in the swimming pools at the lodges if we decided to spend the night at one, making us much more agreeable to spend hours on the road with the next day. Howard Johnsons was a win-win for our entire family.

The Howard Johnson’s empire began in 1925 when Howard Deering Johnson started his first soda fountain in a drugstore he bought in Wollaston (Quincy), Massachusetts. He purchased that drugstore after his father died and left the family with $40,000 in debt.

There’s a bit of a debate as to where the recipe for the now famous ice cream came from – some say it was his mother’s recipe, others say it was purchased from German immigrant, William Hallbauer, who owned an ice cream shop in Quincy. Whoever the original source was, Johnson added more butterfat to the ice cream recipe and purchased a special freezer to help keep it “exceptionally” smooth. Word got around quickly about that excellent ice cream. That $40,000 debt was gone within three years.

“I think that building my business was my only form of recreation. I ate, slept and thought of nothing but my business.” – Howard Johnson. 

And that’s exactly what he did over the next several decades –  giving us a “Landmark for Hungry Americans” along the highways.

Oh those orange roofs….

 

Sources and further reading about the history of Howard Johnson’s:
HoJoLand.com
There Will Soon Be Just One Howard Johnson Restaurant Left in the United StatesFortune Magazine, August 24, 2016
The Last Howard Johnson’s In The Universe – Eater.com
HighwayHost.org
A History of Howard Johnson’s by Anthony Mitchell Samarco 

Hotels and Motels

The Del Tahquitz Hotel – Palm Springs, California

 

Del Tahquitz Hotel Palm Springs, California – Linen Postcard street view

I picked up a couple of pretty linen postcards last week of the Del Tahquitz Hotel in Palm Springs, California. That led me, as these purchases usually do, to find more information about this lovely place….

Fritz Ridgeway, silent film actress, builder of the Del Tahquitz Hotel

The Del Tahquitz Hotel, named after the nearby Tahquitz River Canyon, was originally an ode to the Pueblo Style of architecture that silent filmactress, Fritzi Ridgeway, loved so much when she built the hotel in the late 1920s. It was part of the Palm Springs’ transformation from a “health resort” for respiratory patients to an exclusive winter resort for the wealthy.  The Del Tahquitz was built at the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Baristo St. in Palm Springs. Ridgeway loved American Indian styles and decorated the Del Tahquitz with Indian art she had collected on her travels. The hotel officially opened on November 28, 1929.

 

The Tahquitz’s Saddle Bar X with its saddle bar stools.

Ridgeway sold the hotel after just a year (or more, depending which source you  refer to) to Tom and Wilberta “Billie” Lipps.  Under their watch, the hotel became known for a variety of things like the Saddle Bar X (A western bar with bar stools made from saddles)…..

Pool deck at the Del Tawquitz

…the pool and nude sun bathing at the rooftop solarium. Among other things. Like an ice rink floor in the dining room? I couldn’t find a picture of that….

By all accounts, the Del Tahquitz was a favorite place for pilots ferrying airplanes to the Palm Springs Air Field during World War II. The Ferry Command, as they were known, loved the place. Especially Billie, who became “mom” to them whenever they visited. She was the first female president of the California Hotel Association but her main love was taking care of her “boys” in the Ferry Command. Many of those pilots corresponded with Billie until her death, at age 96, in 1991.

Courtyard at the Del Tahquitz

The Lipps sold the hotel in 1946 to M.A. Charleston who sold it again in 1960 to the Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan. They demolished it soon after they purchased it to make way for their new headquarters.

This is the back of one of the postcards I bought last week. I couldn’t find any reference anywhere to the J. H. Norman who is listed as owner of the Del Tahquitz here.

Sources and further reading:

desertsun.com – A USA Today newspaper.

Resorts of Riverside County by Steve Lech, Arcadia Publishing  – Google Books

City of Palm Springs Citywide Historic Context Statement

This is Palm Springs Blog – (hasn’t been updated since

Calisphere.org – Online University of California image archive.

Lobby at the Del Tawquitz
Guest room at the Del Tahquitz Hotel
Dining room at the Del Tahquitz
Lobby Sketch
The Del Tahquitz