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, 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

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.

JohnBaeder.com

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

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
Book Reviews, Essays

Book Review – Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950

Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950
By Jay Meilke
Copyright 2016
University of Texas Press
520 Pages, $45.00

1900s postcard of the Curt Teich postcard factory in Chicago. Many of the postcards that will illustrate Faded Highways were designed and printed in this factory.

Curt Teich and Company began printing the linen postcard in Chicago in 1931 and sold hundreds of thousands of them over the course of the next 20 years. Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950  is their story. Jeffrey Meikle gives us not only an extensive history of Curt Teich & Co. and its cards, but a comprehensive observation of the cards’ cultural significance. For someone like me who loves these postcards for their beautiful images and the cultural history they hold, this book is a genuine treasure.

Postcards have been recording our cultural history en masse since their popularity exploded during the Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893. That’s when they were introduced to the crowds as souvenirs of their visit to that year’s World’s Fair. They’re popularity didn’t slow down for decades. They’ve undergone some changes since then, but none were as unique as the linen postcard. These cards, called linens because of their embossed surfaces that resemble linen fabric, were little pieces of artwork that included photography, painting and graphic manipulation to create the perfect image of a memory for its customer. Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950 is the first time anyone has taken a comprehensive look into the process, places and the people behind linen postcards. If, like me, mid-century history and nostalgia is your thing you will love this book.

Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950 is divided into four sections, the first being a readable, brief history of postcards in general and Curt Teich’s role in that history. This leads right into the beginning of the linen postcard industry and Curt Teich’s dominance of it during the early days of the linen phenomenon. The next section is a “portfolio” of cards called, “Landscapes.” This portfolio is broken down into the sections: Representative Vistas, The Southwest: A Regional Aesthetic, Travel and Tourism, Scenic People, Resources and Infrastructure and Transportation. The second portfolio is “Cityscapes” and includes sections devoted to postcards with scenes of: Overviews, Skyscrapers, Main Streets, Landmarks, Recreation, World’s Fairs and Accommodations.

Linen postcards weren’t at all like the black and white, documentary-type of photography that the Real Photo Postcards before them were. The linens were manipulated images meant to respond to the bleak years following the Great Depression they came of age in. They were a record for the way “people wanted things to look.” John Baeder, the realist painter and postcard collector said, “their popular imagery defies the dark cloud of the the 1930s.” And so it was. Curt Teich’s new trademarked color process, C.T. Art-Colortone, was introduced (it was more of a “happy accident” as the reader sees in the book) to produce these bright, surreal images of everything from architecture to highways to national parks in the light America wanted them to be in.

There is a somewhat detailed description of the C.T. Art-Colortone process that produced the linen postcards. I love knowing that the sales agents were very often the designers of these cards too. Meilke describes the process in detail from the initial source photograph to the Art Institute of Chicago artists who made collages out of several photographs for one postcard to the retouch department’s hand in creating the bright, vivid colors used in every linen and ultimately the printing process for them.

Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation 1931-1950 is a beautiful book that is not at all cluttered or overwhelming. It certainly could have been. There are just enough images of the cards for the book to have a visual presence but there’s plenty of room left for Meilke’s detailed history of the linen postcard. I especially found Meilke’s thoughts of each individual card ambitious without giving the reader information overload. Again, all of this easily could have gone the way of being cluttered and overwhelming given the volume of cards available to Meilke from the Curt Teich job files he had access to as he was writing this book, but it wasn’t at all. I found myself wanting more. I love knowing that there are more people out there who are as fascinated as I am about the history within these postcards. Reading Meilke’s history of them here almost felt like I was having a discussion with him about each individual card. It was a terrific read.

The final section of the book, “From a Rearview Mirror: Contemporary Reflections,” is a nice wrap up of all this book has covered. These cards are our every day American history. They are, as the author writes, “wanderers through time.” With linen postcards, however, the actual past they survived from was not the one portrayed on their vivid, surreal surfaces” but the one the people of the day wanted their history to be.

I’ve had this book for a while now, and I still have it out on the coffee table and pick it up often. The book is beautiful.

First reviewed by me on Goodreads October 12, 2016.