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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Saving Neon: A Best Practices Guide

Saving Neon: A Best Practices Guide By Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan
San Francisco: Giant Orange Press/San Francisco Neon, 2018
Magazine format, 40 pages, $20
Available at

Reviewed by Paul Sherman

If you’re reading this, chances are, at some point, you have passed a stylish neon sign battered by age and the elements and thought, “Someone ought to bring that sign back to its original glory.” Like most of us, though, you might have no idea how actually to do so. There are the costs, the physical logistics and the simple nuts and bolts of how to repair the neon lighting, painted metal base, and electrical wiring.

Cocktails Across America

Cocktails Across America: A Postcard View of Cocktail Culture in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s

By Diane Lapis and Anne-Peck Davis
New York: The Countryman Press, 2018
223 pages, $24.95 hardcover

Reviewed by Harold Aurand Jr.

Diane Lapis and Anne Peck-Davis probably had no plans for contributing anything to the field of commercial archeology when they were writing Cocktails Across America. Avid collectors of old linen postcards, they noticed that a big part of their collection was focused on restaurants, supper clubs, and other establishments from the 1930s through the ’50s, where drinking, especially cocktails was the order of the day.

A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles & Southern California + Art Deco Los Angeles

A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles & Southern California
Gebhard, David, and Winter, Robert
Santa Barbara: Peregrine-Smith, 1977, pap. $11.95

Pildas, Ave. Art Deco Los Angeles
Text by Liza Williams
New York: Harper and Row, 1977, pap. $4.95

The commercial architecture of Los Angeles has long been renowned for its imagination and creative spirit. Two recent books prove the reality of the image. David Gebhard and Robert Winter, established experts in the area, have produced an impressive guide to Los Angeles architecture. Within electric blue covers is a valuable survey of the notable roadside restaurants from the 1920s and 1930s - what the authors call "Programatic" architecture for want of a better term.