Book Reviews

NOTE: Book reviews featured here are “reprints” from the SCA Journal, both recently published and from our archives. Not all titles may still be in print, or if in print, offered at the price or in the format listed.

Pennsylvania in Public Memory: Reclaiming the Industrial Past

Pennsylvania in Public Memory: Reclaiming the Industrial Past
By Carolyn Kitch
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012
260 pages, $23.99, Paperback

Reviewed by Harold Aurand Jr.

Our Statement of Purpose appears inside the front cover of every issue of the SCA Journal: “The purpose of the society is to recognize the unique historical significance of the twentieth-century commercial built environment and cultural landscapes of North America.” That means we focus on stores, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, tourist attractions, and their advertisements and ephemera.
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American Autopia: An Intellectual History of the American Roadside at Midcentury

American Autopia: An Intellectual History of the American Roadside at Midcentury
By Gabrielle Esperdy
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019
384 pages, Cloth, $49.50

Reviewed by Ralph S. Wilcox

The introduction of the automobile into American life in the early 20th century brought a myriad of changes to the landscape. American auto travelers required new types of facilities that weren’t needed with wagon and railroad travel. Gas stations, service garages, motels, and tourist courts sprouted up along the highways of the U.S. like plantings in flower beds along a sidewalk. The book American Autopia: An Intellectual History of the American Roadside at Midcentury examines how the development of the automobile changed the American landscape, and how the changes appeared to contemporary sources.
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Traces of J.B. Jackson

Traces of J.B. Jackson: The Man Who Taught Us to See Everyday America
By Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz
University of Virginia Press, 2020
Hardcover, 328 pages, 51 color and b&w illus., $39.50

Reviewed by Philip Langdon

If commercial archeology had a patron saint, it would doubtless be John Brinckerhoff Jackson. A writer of originality and eloquence, Jackson focused on commonplace buildings and settings for much of his life, including gas stations, roads, signs, and other elements of an automobile-propelled nation.

Includes EXTRA INSIGHTS By Daniel Scully
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Reading List: Race, Architecture and Travel

This fascinating reading list, a mixture of academic journals, books, and newspaper articles curated by SCA board members Kimberly Ellis and Irene Lule, introduces us to a range of work on the related topics of race, architecture, and travel.
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Greetings from Las Vegas

Greetings from Las Vegas CoverGreetings from Las Vegas
By Peter Moruzzi
Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2019
Hardcover, 176 pages. $30

Reviewed by Douglas C. Towne

I’ve finally found a roadside book that inspires me to skip the casinos and go to church instead on my next trip to Las Vegas.

Not for a confessional about any activities in Sin City, mind you. My misdeeds have been minor: lingering a tad too long at the complimentary Bloody Mary fountain at the El Morocco or using fireworks to ward off evil spirits at the Stardust, two long-demolished gambling halls.
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Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past

Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past
By Frank Mastropolo
Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2019 Hardcover, 128 pages. $19.99

Reviewed by Ronald Ladouceur

For crying out loud, you’re in Manhattan, look up. No, not at the new supertall or other showy structure trying to command your attention. But instead at the weathered, broken, and graffitied bits of commercial history that still cling to the City’s gritty surfaces. As Frank Mastropolo demonstrates in Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past, you’ll be richly rewarded, for these artifacts, invisible until they aren’t, are portals in time.

As they say, every picture tells a story.
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Q&A: Alison Isenberg on Downtown America

As part of our commitment to exploration of the scholarly history of the American roadside as it relates to issues of race, class and gender, we proudly present this Q&A with Alison Isenberg, author of Downtown America.

From the Q&A: Downtown America was once the vibrant urban center romanticized in the Petula Clark song — a place where the lights were brighter, where people went to spend their money and forget their worries. But in the second half of the twentieth century, "downtown" became a shadow of its former self, succumbing to economic competition and commercial decline. And the death of Main Streets across the country came to be seen as sadly inexorable, like the passing of an aged loved one.
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Q&A: Victoria Wolcott on Race, Riots, and Rollercoasters

The SCA is building a list of academic works focused on the intersection of American culture and the American roadside. To kick things off, we invited Victoria W. Wolcott, Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, to answer a few questions about her book, Race, Riots, and Rollercoasters.

From the Q&A: Contradicting the nostalgic image of urban leisure venues as democratic spaces, in Race, Riots, and Rollercoasters, author Victoria Wolcott reveals that racial segregation played a crucial part in their appeal. Wolcott shows how black activists and ordinary people fought such infringements on their right to access public leisure. When African Americans demanded inclusive public recreational facilities, white consumers abandoned those places. Many parks closed or privatized within a decade of desegregation. Wolcott's book tracks the decline of the urban amusement park and the simultaneous rise of the suburban theme park, reframing these shifts within the civil rights context.
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