Dr. Patrick’s Postcard Roadside

Old Reading Beer

When the Old Reading Beer billboard went up over Penn Square overlooking Reading, Pennsylvania’s downtown retail district it was advertised as the largest animated sign in the state.

This was the end of the 1930s, Prohibition had been repealed a few years before and the Reading Brewery, founded in 1886, returned to its advertising campaign for “Pennsylvania Dutch beer” by having these neon-lit, cartoon beermeisters prance around the top of their billboard with steins for everyone. After World War II, however, the billboard and advertising campaign seemed out of date. Beer sales slid and in 1952 Old Reading became, “The Friendly Beer for Friendly People.” In 1958, the ‘Old’ was dropped for a new name, Reading Premium Beer, “The Friendly Beer for Modern People.” None of this bode well for quaintly animated, stein-toasting, neon-lit beermeisters who had been replaced by a Modernist clock by 1948. Reading Beer’s billboard was balanced by local competitor Sunshine Beer’s billboard advertising from the opposite side of Penn Square. Reading Beer retooled its Penn Square billboard several times into the 1960s, the brewery surviving until 1976.

The Tropics

The Big Band sound faded with the postwar rise of Rock and Roll, and with it, venues like The Tropics in the Chicagoan Hotel.

By then Sam Bari and Red Duncan, Chicago’s “famous” and “nationally known” Blind Pianist, were history. The Tropics were leveled along with the Chicagoan, the Morrison and the entire block at Clark & Madison in 1965. Four years later, the Chicago First National Bank Building, now the Chase Tower, and its expansive pedestrian plaza stood in their place.

The Chicagoan Hotel was an early adopter of the Polynesian-themed cocktail lounge that would sweep the nation after World War II. The hotel was built in 1930 as part of the sprawling Morrison Hotel complex at Clark & Madison streets in Chicago’s downtown Loop. With 2,210 rooms to fill during the Depression, the Morrison Hotel hived off the 1930 addition in 1937, leasing what became the Hotel Chicagoan. The Tropics was the Chicagoan’s Hawaiian themed cocktail lounge, with bamboo trimmed bar and hut booths, tropical drinks and a lively house band, Sam Bari and his Men of Rhythm. The hotels around Clark & Madison were the heart of Chicago’s Big Band scene from the 1930s into the 1950s.

Magic Forest

The magic of Magic Forest was its willingness to mix roadside wonders from wherever.

The Lake George, New York, attraction opened in 1963 as the storybook variant of a postwar passive park, a children’s park relying on static displays, tableaux and baby animals to pet rather than being a ride-driven action park. But Magic Forest never limited itself to the pages of fairy tales as depicted in this postcard advertising its Indian Village, as well as projecting sign icons for Santa, Bambi, Indians and Spaceships. You want to tell Santa what you want for Christmas, pet Bambi, then run around the woods with a six-shooter and a ray gun looking for Indians? Have at it. Magic Forest survived a surprisingly long time. When it finally closed for good in 2018, the park probably appealed more to SCA-minded adults looking for remnants of their childhood than kids searching in vain for the water slides. The plan for Magic Forest is to be reinvented as Lake George Expedition Park with dinosaurs as the main attraction.