#AAG2017 Recap Part II: Boston, 1935-1952

I have a bad habit of over-planning, making grand plans that would be inconceivable to complete in whatever short time span I’m presented. Of course, this results in me spreading myself too thin on occasion when on the road. I mentioned in the first Part that my AAG Boston experience was somewhat truncated, so if I was going to pursue a couple of re-photography sites, I would need to act strategically.

This meant that I needed to sacrifice at least one morning of the conference, which is never an easy decision to make. I also needed to take weather into consideration, since pouring rain and 50-degree weather (which would encapsulate the entire day and night Thursday) would not lend themselves to a hypothermia-free walkabout. Because it appeared that the rain would hold off for most of Wednesday and I had not committed to any sessions until that afternoon, I decided to start off my conference in side-project territory.

After visiting registration early, buying an AAG hoodie on the way for a fantastic deal (I forgot, somehow, to pack something suitably insulated or warm for early April in Boston), I set out eastbound on Boylston Street toward the Common. Though I would normally take a detour through the park, the lagoons were drained and half of the paths were covered in mud. Some would still probably be interested in this “anti-tourist-gaze” dynamic, but because my time was somewhat limited and I needed to make it to Cambridge by lunch time, I kept walking. My first site, conveniently, sat right at the far corner of the Common at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets.

The Hotel Touraine / 62 Boylston

My great-grandfather Ben Irving sent this Hotel Touraine postcard home from Boston on December 1, 1943. The information on the back of the card indicates this building was “erected on the site where John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, lived, and his son Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, was born. Opposite Boston Common.” It does not provide any dates, but according to the National Register of Historic Places, it went up in 1897 and operated as a hotel until 1966, when it closed down to become an apartment building. Its early-20th century charms included an impressive little hotel library.

The farthest I got into the building was the security desk, as you’d expect with any private residence. I spoke for a few minutes with the desk clerk Mike, who took my card and told me he would pass it along to anybody in the leasing office with a historical interest in the building (nobody was there at the time). He also told me about one elderly resident named Elaine who he understood had been a resident of 62 Boylston (as it is currently known) since 1967, the building’s first full year zoned residential.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building on the SE corner of Boylston and Tremont is now a Starbucks.

J.W. McCormick Post Office & Courthouse Building

Here was where my day got interesting. This postcard, which has been damaged since I inherited it a few years ago, was mailed home from Boston on September 24, 1935. The caption on the back reads “NEW FEDERAL BUILDING AND POST-OFFICE. Boston Postal district is the fourth largest in the United States. Postal receipts of this district aggregate more than $13,000,000 a year.” According to the US Inflation Calculator, that amount inflates to $231,344,014 in today’s currency (cumulative inflation 1,679.6%), which is impressive either way, given how much more communication was done via the Post back then (and how much more efficient the system was).

At the end of my PechaKucha talk about the Ben Irving postcard collection, I implored my audience to “always, always, always” ask (I think I used “always” three times for Marge Simpson-style/’part of us all’ repetition/emphasis). After snapping that surprisingly challenging photo of the building from the far corner of the intersection, I wandered into the main entrance, which is probably impossible to discern with the construction scaffolding wrapped around the first level of the building, but it’s there in the center. The security guards were hardly warm and cuddly, but the first couple of whom I spoke to near the metal checkpoints offered suggestions for who to seek out upstairs.

Immediately after the checkpoint, a set of steps leads you up to the second floor, where I took that photo of the sign that they never bothered to junk when the news stand shut down (date unknown). Today, the EPA’s Boston offices sit in that space, and a couple EPA employees with connections throughout the (somewhat vacant) building were happy to show me around.

One EPA employee (whose name I forgot to write down) brought me up to the third floor and introduced me to Jim Sheehan of the GSA. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that, contrary to what I had assumed, the McCormick building actually pre-dated the WPA era. I had only assumed it was a WPA building since a 1935 postcard was showing the building off, but he told me it was an easy mistake to make. I would later find the GSA’s broadsheet about the building, which had more information that I should have probably looked up before going there.

The EPA employee brought me by the old post office window bay, which had long fallen out of use, but were virtually untouched for decades. He also brought me upstairs to a beautiful old courtroom that had also fallen out of use since the era of the Anderson vs. Cryovac, Inc. battle in 1986 (which would inspire the Jonathan Harr book A Civil Action, which inspired the 1998 John Travolta movie of the same name, which was filmed on site in said courtroom). Most of the legal texts had been removed from the shelves, but enough remained to lend the room a slightly creepy semi-used aura. The Depression-era brass/steel doors that led to the original judges’ chambers were also among the coolest I had ever seen; nobody really knew the last time half of them had been opened. In retrospect, it’s probably better that I forgot the EPA employee’s name since me saying any of this may get him into trouble.

So, yeah, if you’re curious about a place, always ask. The next destination was a bit more confusing to find and a bit less security-heavy.

Boston’s Old City Hall

Because I care about my readers, I’m not going to subject you to any images of the brutalist atrocity that the city government moved into post-redevelopment. Nope. None at all. Let’s focus our gaze instead on this 19th century building, tucked away around the corner from the Old South Meeting house. The Meeting House, by the way, was the first building the the U.S. designated for historical preservation, and remains today a key reference point. I actually bumped into my colleague Jordan Brasher across the street from it, as he was headed to meet an old friend for coffee nearby. I wasn’t expecting to run into any geographers that far away from Hynes that early in the conference week, but I clearly wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the window to wander.

Anyway, the postcard there on the left is one of the later items in the Ben Irving collection; he sent it home from Boston on January 21, 1952. The front caption is visible above, and the rear caption reads “Boston City Hall located on School Street dates back to 1865. A Latin School stood here in colonial times, later the County Court House. Statues of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy stand at the entrance. At the rear is the City Hall Annex.” The statues are still prominent, but I’m not entirely sure what part of the building constituted the Annex.

As I was taking the photograph(s) recreating the postcard shot from the corner of Province Street, the scrums of tourists wandering around the sidewalk in front of the Hall diverted a bike messenger, who crashed into a pillar and flipped over his handlebars onto School Street. I was looking away when I happened, but I heard it as it happened, and walked over to check on him as he slowly got up and got back on his bike.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building next door is now a Starbucks. The restaurant with the red awning that used to occupy that space was called Purcell’s (difficult to make out on the postcard, perhaps intentional, though Thompson’s Spa is prominently labeled in the background). Sean McCullough, who worked in the Old City Hall’s management office downstairs, told me that the Starbucks kept the original Purcell’s tiles at its corner entrance, but I couldn’t find them. Also, there was not much room to wander into the coffee shop and inspect the floor without having to order something out of guilt.

Seriously, I could probably compile an entire photo collection dedicated to Starbucks that currently occupy spaces in historic city scenery, but I’m not doing that without serious kickbacks from the Starbucks Corporation. They already have enough free advertising from the customers on Instagram (and I suppose writers who complain about them).

Hopping on the Red Line and moving into Cambridge…

Harvard Square with Lehman Hall in Background

Ben sent this one home down to Brooklyn late in the afternoon of November 15, 1943 (two weeks before the one of the Hotel Touraine). Due to the historic status of Harvard’s buildings and the clearly demarcated and still existent (unlike some squares in Boston) landmark, the site was very easy to identify. I tried to recreate this angle; I really did. But timing and fate prevented it from happening. The best I could do was that shot from the opposite side of the T station entrance from the Harvard gates. I deduced almost immediately that the postcard image was taken from atop the Abbot building, a flatiron-type structure located at 5 JFK Street. Given my longstanding inability to let sleeping dogs lie, I wandered into the Curious George shop to ask the employee if she knew who had access to the roof. Of course they didn’t. I found the entrance on the side nearby and wandered up the stairs (the lift was broken, which was fine since it did not look like anybody used it anyway). The window with the “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe” (get it?) decal on the third floor would have been a great spot to recreate the superior angle on the Square, but of course Car Talk staff office had nobody home when I knocked on the door.

I wandered up to the fourth floor, where I found a very intimate Dentist’s office (the office was intimate, not the dentist… I never met them so the jury is out on the latter). I spoke with the two receptionists, including one girl with a thick Boston accent who told me I could, in spite of hand-written signs that said otherwise, could go out on the lower level of the roof. Every moment I spent outside, though, I felt like someone on a different floor or in a neighboring building would see me and call the cops. The level they had access to was a flight below the main roof and on the opposite side of the building from Harvard Square. I walked over to the ledge, leaned around, and snapped this photo (right) around the side aiming toward Lehman Hall. It wasn’t great, but it was the best I could do in the circumstances. The entrance to the top roof was padlocked.

Completely Insane Post-Script

As I mentioned in Part I, my parents came up to meet me, my cousin, and her husband on Saturday. I told my father, who worked for FEMA through the early 1980s, about my visit to the McCormick building. He told me he used to work there. I didn’t believe him, since the GSA and EPA guys told me that FEMA had been located at 99 High Street since the 1980s. ‘No,’ he said, ‘FEMA’s offices were in the McCormick Building when I worked there. They moved to 99 High Street after I left.’ What made this seem crazy was that I have clear memories of going downtown with my mom to visit my dad in his office when I was 2 or 3 years old. This means that I had been in the building before, about thirty years earlier. The only part I can still remember was the cluttered FEMA office (FEMA? Disorganized? Unbelievable, I know), but apparently the building had not changed a whole lot since then. Discovering this all, post-facto, from a short conversation with my father blew my mind.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this! Tune in on Friday for the third part of this AAG/April recap with a bonus re-Photography excursion in the Sunshine State.

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GEO 320: Core Concepts in Cultural Geography (Fall 2016)

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I’m excited to announce here that I’ll be teaching Geography 320, our department’s core upper-level cultural geography course, this coming fall. This class has no prerequisite, though general proficiency in global geography (GEO 101, for example) is recommended. I’d be happy to have students from other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and ethnomusicology, especially those who haven’t been able to take a geography course yet while at UT-Knoxville.

Cultural Geography, like culture itself, is incredibly fluid. But with this course, I’m aiming to focus on how the relationship between people and place is interpreted through media, popular culture, religion, and public memory. By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and describe the effects of nature of culture, and vice versa.

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East TN music historian Shane Rhyne delivering a guest lecture in my GEO 101 class, October 23, 2014.

Similar to how I connected with the East Tennessee History Center’s “Made in Tennessee” exhibit in my GEO 101 curriculum last year, I’d like to continue that collaboration with their new “Come to Make Records” exhibit. This is one of a handful of interactive projects I’m looking forward to pursuing with this course, in addition to some great guest speakers and elements that students will be pleasantly surprised to find in a geography course. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach it while working on my dissertation.

The syllabus will be a work in progress over the summer, but if you’d like a preview of a some material I look forward to incorporating, check out (1) Duncan Light’s entertaining and informative 2014 piece on place names and (2) this article about Steven Lee Beeber’s research on punk rock’s manifestation of Jewish New York. Hopefully you enjoy this tip of the iceberg; if not, there is plenty more well outside of both those subjects. If you’re a UTK undergraduate student and interested in attending the course, don’t hesitate to write me and ask any questions at SonicGeography[at]gmail[dot]com.

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AAG 2016 in San Francisco this Week

The AAG meeting really snuck up on me this year. I don’t remember if I said the same thing last year (probably not), but it’s hard to believe it’s here already. I still have a couple of changes to make on my presentation before I meet up with Joseph Palis and everybody on my panel on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyway, here’s where you’ll be able to find me this week:

Tuesday (tonight!)

Geo Slam II
(Geographic storytelling and performance jam sessions of sorts)
Time: Tuesday, March 29, 2015, 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM
Place: 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM in Imperial B, Hilton Hotel, Ballroom Level

I’ve already written a good deal about Geo Slam here, and can’t wait to see how year 2 goes/grows. Make sure to add us on Facebook here.


 

Wednesday (tomorrow night!)

Paper Session:
2628 Geographies of Media IX: Musicscapes and Spaces of Music (1)
5:20 PM – 7:00 PM in Union Square 1, Hilton Hotel, 4th Floor

Here is the session breakdown, according to the AAG schedule. Some great scholars here! Thanks to the Communication Geography Specialty Group for putting their name on it, as well as Aether. My paper is at 6 but make sure to come at 5:20 for Caitlin Grann; we presented together at AAG 2013 and it’ll be great to catch up with her.

Organizer(s):
Joseph Palis – University of the Philippines-Diliman
Laura Sharp – University of Arizona

Chair(s):
Joseph Palis – University of the Philippines-Diliman

Abstract(s):

5:20 PM   Author(s): *Caitlin Grann – University of New Mexico

 Abstract Title: Ghost Bikes: A Trialectical Journey into the Place of Music within Grassroots Memorials

5:40 PM   Author(s): *John Byron Strait, Professor of Geography – Sam Houston State University

Abstract Title: The Impact of Aloha on the Birthplace of the Blues: The Hawaiian Roots of the Slide Guitar

6:00 PM   Author(s): *Tyler Sonnichsen – University of Tennessee

  Abstract Title: Finding the Washington, DC Landscape in French Punk

6:20 PM   Author(s): *Douglas L. Allen – Florida State University

 Abstract Title: “We are a New Race”: Booker T. Washington’s Use of Music in the Placing of a New Negro Image

6:40 PM   Discussant: Ola Johansson – University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

 

Session Description: These sessions examine the geographical implications – social, political, cultural, and economic – that are often contained within the spaces and places of different forms of media. Geographies of media extend beyond their original form and text to include the broader industrial and political complex in which culture is an economic commodity set within the broader frame of a global and postmodern era.  Geographies of media link between these realms and our daily lived experiences, from our cities to streets, from the living rooms to imaginations. These contexts invite inquiries into the production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption of all types of media. Geographies of media sessions are brought to you by Aether: The Journal of Media Geography (www.aetherjournal.org).


Otherwise, follow me on twitter at @sonicgeography and I’ll try my best to keep it updated with any big changes. But per usual, it’s impossible to predict what I’ll get pulled into here. It’s been a while, San Francisco, and you look wonderful.

[UPDATE: Deadline Extended!] Submit for the 2016 Tennessee Geography Symposium at UT (Deadline 1/1)

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** UPDATE: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 1/15 FOR ALL SUBMISSIONS**

Dear colleagues near and far (as well as those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet),

This is just a call and reminder that the deadline for (free!) submissions to present at the second biennial University of Tennessee Interdisciplinary Geography Research Symposium (or GeoSym) is approaching! Please take a few minutes by Friday, January 1st, and visit our page and form to submit your abstract for your paper, your panel, or your poster (Undergrads have until 1/15 to submit for our poster session).

This February 5&6, we’ll be welcoming keynote speaker Dr. Dydia DeLyser of Cal State-Fullerton to our event. Her presentations have been a highlight of every event I’ve seen her speak at, and her research in the field of cultural geography continues to be groundbreaking. In short, she is not to be missed. Here is some more background on Dr. DeLyser:

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Also, if you haven’t yet, please RSVP to our Facebook event and invite anybody on campus or in the region who may be interested. The more interdisciplinary we get, the better the program.
I’ve kept relatively mum about it on this site thus far, but I’m honored to be one of the chairs of the coordinating committee for GeoSym this year. Anyone who was at the event in 2014 knows and I can’t emphasize enough, this is our event as an organization of Geography graduate students and in representing our discipline on the UT Campus and in the Southeastern Region. It also provides an excellent opportunity to run your research in preparation for AAG or any other conference you may have coming up this Spring. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me or co-chair Savannah Collins (scolli15@vols.utk.edu).
On behalf of the GeoSym coordinating committee, I hope you’re all having a great Holiday season and have a happy and healthy New Year!
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Dr. William Moseley (Macalester College) delivers his keynote speech at the inaugural UT Geography Symposium in 2014. (Matt Cook Photo)

City of Angles: An AAG Recaptrospective

Do you ever have that feeling that you had a year stricken from your life in the course of a few days, every fiber of your being swallowed by a teeming current of hyperactivity? I remember visiting Washington, DC at 13 with my eighth grade class way back in the mid-90’s. Our bus pulled away from our middle school around 4 in the morning, and we arrived in the nation’s capital in the early afternoon, fitting in a series of afternoon visits to monuments, memorials, and ultimately our HBO-blessed hotel somewhere in the distant Virginia suburbs. I’ll never forget my friend Mike saying to me on the bus as we left the district on that first night, “Remember boarding the bus in Connecticut and leaving? Doesn’t that feel like yesterday?”

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The view from the 30th Floor of the Westin Bonaventure. Depending on the smog level, you might be able to see your house from there.

Yes, it did feel like that one day had taken up two, and my first day at my first AAG meeting felt like it took up three. My wonderful compatriots and I piled ourselves, plenty of coffee, a box of promotional postcards, and presentation notes into the car around 6am and headed up the 710 into Los Angeles. Before my head hit the pillow that night, I had presented a chapter of my thesis research to acclaim, watched innumerable others impress with their own research, ate a (sponsored) breakfast with enthusiastic and outgoing Cultural Geographers, explored one of LA’s most impressive bars, reunited with the first Geography TA (and Professor) I’d ever had over a decade ago, reunited with an old professor who (I told her) was the reason I’m where I am today (she recommended the CSULB program and wonderfully wrote me a letter of reference), talked musical politics with a group of Texans, had a serious discussion with a Dentonian about Denton’s music scene, attended a GPOW reception at LA’s coolest bookstore, hung with some Penn State folks at LA’s hottest Jewish bar, ran into an old friend who relocated to B.C. that I hadn’t seen in 8 years, took a Kentucky friend for a ride on Angels Flight and for her first(!) Pupusas at Grand Central Market, and somehow managed not to collapse and need my cohort to cart me back to the car a la Weekend at Bernie’s 2.

So, Wednesday was quite a day. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday certainly weren’t slouches, either. I was fortunately to meet three of my favorite Geographers (Tim Cresswell, Dydia DeLyser, and Mona Domosh) in the span of 5 minutes on Friday afternoon. Dr. DeLyser’s presentation on her cultural archaeological investigation on the first neon light in Los Angeles, by the way, may have been the coolest thing I saw all week.

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This kid stole my logo idea! Well, Lance’s idea, but still. I hope he won the competition. We need more musical geographers to rise through the ranks.

On that note, I’d like to welcome the new readers I’ve won from handing out my shiny new Sonic Geography business cards around the conference (all 3 of you). Seriously, though, despite the amount of sleep lost and missed work which I need to cut this short in order to resume, to borrow a line from one of my research subjects, I “couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the zeitgeist.” The fact that these were the only two photos I took all week further proves my claim.

Back to the grind… from the grind. Talk to you all soon.

Storage Wars: CSULB Edition

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The one folded back into a book. Early settlement patterns of colonists in the United States, pre-1700.

My friend David and I decided to rummage through our department’s storage pit, unearthing a ridiculous bounty of USGS Maps from the post-War era that covered everything from climate to topography, as well as innumerable other classroom treasures from over forty years ago. It’s crazy just how much physical material passed through a typical Geography department before the digital revolution; I can understand why nobody was particularly sad to transition to zeros and ones. Still, we barely found anything that wouldn’t look awesome on someone’s wall. We’re currently thinking about doing a CSULB antique map show somewhere in Long Beach this spring.

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We found a beautiful hand-drawn map of Hungary on the back of a classroom map of Europe. If you had any hand in this, contact me so we can give credit.

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