SCA Frequently Asked Questions
The SCA focuses on a field of archeology that is often referred to as above ground archeology (the term was coined by John L. Cotter of the National Park Service and refined by Thomas Schlereth of Notre Dame). Research takes place above ground level and includes the study of buildings and the landscape. But piecing together these above-ground elements, it is possible to interpret the past and its importance to contemporary matters. Schlereth considers the following in his definition of above-ground archeology:
Place and Street Names
In the Dictionary of Building Preservation (1996), commercial archaeology is defined as “The study of artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the American commercial process; includes both mass-produced and vernacular forms of the machine age: transportation facilities, such as highways and bus stations; roadside development, such as diners, strip retail, and neon signs; business district buildings, such as movie theaters and department stores; and recreation facilities, such as amusement parks.”
The term roadside architecture applies to buildings and other structures directly and indirectly associated with roads. Obvious examples include restaurants, motels, and gas stations. Other examples include signs, vernacular buildings, shopping and retail centers, and programmatic (or mimetic) structures, as well as theme and amusement parks.
The mission of the SCA is to recognize the unique historical significance of the 20th-century commercial built environment and cultural landscapes of North America, emphasizing the impact of the automobile and the commercial process. To this end, the SCA will carry out projects of documentation, education, advocacy, and conservation to encourage public awareness and understanding of these significant elements of our heritage.
The SCA was organized by a group of scholars and experts who had an interest in commercial archeology. The group met in Vermont, and in 1979 they formally organized.
The SCA maintains an archive of its own materials in Austin, Texas.
Any person or organization with an interest in commercial archeology is eligible for membership in the SCA. Each member in good standing shall be entitled to one vote on matter submitted to to the general membership. Joining the SCA is very easy. Click here for more information about joining.
Start by contacting your state historic preservation office, statewide preservation non-profit organization, or local preservation organizations in your area (click here for a directory of preservation organizations). Make sure to share details about the resource, including the nature of the threat and photographs. Additionally, contact organizations that are directly interested in the type of resource, for example, the United Drive-In Theatre Owner’s Association.
If the resource is endangered, consider a nomination to our Falling by the Wayside program, the SCA’s official list of endangered roadside places. You may also contact your state or local preservation organization, who might also retain a list of endangered places.
Lastly, don’t give up! Preservation efforts can take years and many hours of dedication. Find local allies who believe in your cause. The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes Preservation Tips and Tricks for saving historic resources.
The SCA’s interests are as varied as its members. The diverse interests of the groups range from the commonplace to the eclectic. Some of the more common interests include:
Architecture of all styles including Art Deco, Modern, Googie, Programmatic/Mimetic, Vernacular, etc.
Highways of all types
Restaurants including diners, drive-ins, and coffee houses
Motels, hotels, tourist cabins, motor courts, etc.
Retail centers such as Main Streets, strip malls, indoor malls
Theatres, both enclosed and drive-in
There are many ways you can be more involved with the SCA.
First, consider becoming a member. Membership provides you with publications, invitations to participate at conferences, and the opportunity to meet others who share your interests. If you’re like most SCA members, chances are you have a story to tell, or maybe there is something you’d like to share with the other members of the SCA. If this sounds like you, consider writing an article or making other contributions to the SCA Road Notes or the SCA Journal. Members are also encouraged to serve on the Board of Directors or to volunteer for its many projects and events.