SCA directors at Brattleboro, Vermont, winter 1977

SCA directors at Brattleboro, Vermont, winter 1977. Front row: Chester Liebs, Peter Richards, John Dugger, Arthur Krim. Back row: Douglas Yorke, Carol Schofield, Miriam Trementozzi, Dan Scully, the late Kathlyn Hatch, Lynne Spencer, John Axtell, the late Maurice Purpora.

By Chester Liebs

On November 20, 1976, I chaired a meeting at the University of Vermont’s Robert Hull Fleming Museum to explore the future of the commercial heritage generated by the automobile in the 20th century. Only ten years had passed since the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 gave birth to what was referred to at the time as “the new preservation.” Surveys of historic places in 50 states were underway, and sites more than 50 years old were being added to the National Register of Historic Places. Also, in response to the abandonment and demolition of historic industrial structures across the American “rust belt,” a Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) had been recently founded in 1971 to encourage research and conservation of the nation’s industrial legacy.

Along with the industrial heritage, another huge phylum of the built landscape—the commercial places, signs, and symbols along the American highway long ignored as a subject of serious study—was gradually receiving attention. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steve Izenour had published their influential polemic, Learning from Las Vegas, only four years before in 1972. Evocative paintings of diners and other vanishing roadside icons by Photorealist artists such as John Baeder were gaining in popularity, and photography books on the disappearing roadside, along with studies of roadside building types such as White Towers, diners, gas stations and motels, began to appear in bookstores.

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Did you enjoy this article? Join the SCA and get full access to all the content on this site. This article originally appeared in the SCA Journal, Spring 2017, Vol. 35, No. 1. The SCA Journal is a semi-annual publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology.

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