After spending almost two years trying to make it a reality, I finally got together (separately) with Frank Roche, host of the wonderful podcast The Postcardist to talk about my research, my family, Florida, and the Ben Irving Postcard Project. I’ll include a handful of links to listen to the episode below, but I have borrowed and posted the episode file here. Enjoy!
Tennessee’s insane width (against its North-South length) presents a weird conundrum for anyone representing the state. Shortly after I moved to East Tennessee in 2013, a friend from Los Angeles surprised me with tickets to see FIDLAR at Exit/In in Nashville. I gave him a call on the long, winding, hour-losing ride home after the show to thank him, and he and I made vague plans should he ever come to Tennessee.
“If I ever get out there,” he said excitedly, “we’ve have to go to Graceland. I can’t miss that!”
I told him, in terms that wouldn’t put a huge damper on our conversation, that a trip to Graceland would require plastering at least three additional days onto his visit. For the amount of time we would spend in the car driving to Memphis (assuming some delays on I-40), drive to Tybee Island and jump in the Atlantic Ocean.
Largely for these reasons, my visit to Memphis for the wonderful Balancing the Mix conference at the end of March formulated my first trip to the Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll since 2011. For those doing the math, that was two years prior to my relocation to Knoxville. I’ve been a Tennessee resident for almost six years without one visit further West than Nashville. It’s disappointing, since I’ve met several visitors from Memphis, and I’ve been looking for a reason to get back out there. My 2011 visit, as brief as it was, clearly inspired me early in my geography career. One of the header images I use on this website is a photo of me standing outside of Sun Studios, after all.
Downtown Memphis (1935 / 2019)
Downtown Memphis, like I noted in my recent entry about re-tracing Ben Irving’s postcards in Nashville, reinforced a blanket notion about how increasingly privatized American cities have grown over the past few decades. Compared to when Ben mailed his postcards from Memphis (1935 and 1940), even the landmarks depicted have become surrounded by locked down landscapes.
Before I made the (questionable) decision to check out Beale Street on that very cold and windy Saturday night, I stopped by Memphis Park, formerly Confederate Park, as seen in this postcard, mailed at midnight on March 16, 1935.
Obviously, the park is still there. I stood at the corner of Front St. and Jefferson Ave. and snapped this, the only shot anywhere close to recreating the postcard image.
Yeah, I’m fairly disappointed, too. The wind and cold were unbearable that night, which made even holding my phone-camera still enough to get the streetlights into focus nearly impossible. You can see the building in the background of both images. Today, it’s listed as the Cecil Humphreys School of Law (University of Memphis). In 1935, it was the Front Street Station US Post Office. The Court Square area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1980’s.
In an attempt to subject myself to even more bitter winds at a slightly higher altitude, I looked around the intersection to see if I might get a superior angle. The first thing I noticed was a prominent parking garage opposite the intersection. Here’s a photo, which is actually ten times better than the above photo I took of the park. Figures.
‘Ooh!’ I thought. That upper level appears to be wide open, maybe I can just walk up the steps if it’s a public gara-NOPE, SORRY, TYLER, EVERY BLOCK OF EVERYTHING WITHIN 20 MILES OF ANY AMERICAN CITY’S CBD IS PRIVATIZED AND GUARDED 24/7 BY (probably underpaid) ON-SITE SECURITY CONTRACTORS. HERE’S A GATE IN YOUR FACE NOW PLEASE LEAVE WITHOUT A FUSS, SIR:
I’m sure my reaction wouldn’t have been so visceral had it not been miserably cold, but I would not have been any less disappointed. I was grateful that the twenty-first century had at least dumped the ‘Confederate’ from the park’s name in 2013. You win some, you lose some. Moving onto the much sunnier and less windy Sunday afternoon…
Thankfully, this one was a cinch.
Hotel Chisca, considering how MLK’s assassination occurred a few blocks down the street, had been in a decades-long decline before it was restored earlier this decade into the modern apartments that opened in 2015. The building itself first opened in 1913 and was in full operation as such when Ben mailed this postcard on March 16, 1935. Historic Memphis has a good overview (with a great catalog of artifacts preserved) on their website, including this tidbit about the hotel’s role, like so many places around the city, in Rock n’ Roll history.
The hotel’s historic significance comes mainly from its connection to Elvis Presley. From 1949-56, its mezzanine was the broadcast base for WHBQ radio’s “Red, Hot, and Blue” program. It was from there that Dewey Phillips broadcast Elvis’ first record July 7, 1954. And Elvis’ first radio interview was also conducted in the hotel by Phillips.
While the streetcar lines seem to function mostly to carry tourists up and down Main Street, I was glad to see they were in operation, unlike the Desire line, which had been long since ripped out of Royal Street in New Orleans. Here are some pictures I took of the current iteration of the Chisca building on different sides.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Well, Sage Francis said it a while back, but I’ll borrow it from him in light of my experiences recreating these images of urban spaces in the United States: “the only thing that stays the same is change.”
Downtown Humboldt (1935/2019)
One of the more obscure locations from which Ben sent a postcard was Humboldt, Tennessee, a small down located on State Road 79, about 20 miles North of where I-40 runs today. As is my bad habit when leaving anywhere, I pushed the beginning of my (very long) drive home well beyond the time I originally planned. I’d say it was well worth it after finding an old, dusty copy of Booker T. and the MG’s’ Green Onions (Stereo press from 1968, not the original 1962 Mono… I’m not a millionaire). Still, the sun was quickly caving into the horizon on my back when I rolled into downtown Humboldt.
From what I understand (and according to the Humboldt Historical Society), the town was on the L&N Railroad line. I think that Ben drove on most of his Depression journeys, but the railway still influenced his decision to pass through. I can only imagine how much Humboldt suffered following the demise of that line.
Since 1935, at least Main Street installed signal lights to handle the “onslaught” of traffic, and street parking had been sectioned off. Some of the buildings depicted in the gray-scale black and white postcard had also been knocked down and replaced. I walked up and down E. Main Street trying to figure out where, exactly, this original image had been taken. Thankfully, Sunday afternoon was relatively slow so I could stand in the middle of the street and not get run down. I made it all the way to the point where you can see those trees on the horizon of the postcard, where I found a small, public green space at the corner of Central Ave.
The Humboldt Plaza 3 cinema didn’t appear to be doing heavy business, but it was open and people were wandering in and out of it. According to the best website on the internet Cinema Treasures, the theater opened with 800 seats in 1942, seven years after Ben passed through and mailed the postcard. It was triplex’d in the early 1980’s, I imagine because it was the eighties.
I thought it would be fairly straightforward since the postcard clearly indicated the street and vantage orientation. I had gotten a bit too far ahead of myself. After walking up and down both sides of the street, trying to match a scratchy black and white image from the 1930s with the small town’s current formation, I finally found my architectural Rosetta Stone:
The building on the NW corner of Main and S. 13th Avenue still has its gorgeous sculpted awning, albeit in two different colors. The left side was painted black to foil the whitewashing, as was the ornamentation over the windows. Whomever duplexed and renovated this building really had to commit; just look at the window decoration in the middle. To one person, it may be tacky, but to me… well, it’s tacky, but I love it. They bricked over the middle window with, it appears, slightly different, newer bricks. I can’t stop looking at it. It’s so distracting.
So, here was my conclusion. I took the first photo at an angle from the south side of the street, and I took the second about ten yards too far back, but you get the idea:
From what I can tell, the entire block opposite of the duplex building was torn down, eventually filled (sort of) with a newer Regions bank building. For a Sunday evening, there were a good handful of people wandering in and out of the Mexican restaurant and the movie theater. Strawberries featured prominently in the downtown corridor to signify the town’s annual Strawberry Festival, which appears to be Humboldt’s biggest tourist draw. I’m glad Ben Irving’s postcard drew me through here, the place seems to be a quintessential slice of West Tennessee that disappears under Memphis’ increasing weight.
Alright – thanks to you (reader) for following this long long-term project on Sonic Geography, and thanks to the Ben Irving Postcard Collection for continuously providing a worthwhile distraction. Back to grading finals. Here are a couple more photos I took that don’t necessarily connect directly to the postcard sites, but I still love:
Last month, I spent a few days passing through the lower Midwest, including one of my favorite cities, Louisville. Not only is Louisville an overwhelmingly cool city with a great musical history (and according to Ethan Buckler a consistent threat of twisters), it’s also rich with history. Like its counterpart up the Ohio River Cincinnati, I imagine Louisville was a major crossroads during the antebellum era and reconstruction. It also gave us Muhammad Ali, quality baseball bats, and Elliott.
The two postcards I had on hand, like many items in the Ben Irving collection, were of newer landmarks the city was trying to show off in the WPA era. The Post Office and Memorial Auditorium both foreground Greco-Roman elements in their architecture. Only the Post Office postcard had any information about the building; it reads “Cost $3,000,000.00. Covers block on Broadway between 6th and 7th Streets.” Pretty straightforward. According to one inflation calculator, 3 Million dollars in 1930 would convert to $44,848,829.59 in today’s currency.
The more interesting building, for me, was the Memorial Auditorium. This postcard had absolutely no information on it, but according to the Auditorium’s official history, it opened in 1929 and was designed as a deliberate Greek Revival throwback by Thomas Hastings.
Though it looked like there were some city offices inside the building (I saw a security guard wander out one of the side doors and leave shortly after I took the above picture), nobody appeared to be home, so I couldn’t go inside. I did wander around the building to get a more detailed look. My favorite part may be the bas reliefs, which you can see pretty clearly on the 1936 postcard image.
Thank you for reading. Coming soon: a failed attempt at an ambitious vista re-creation in West Virginia!
Over Spring Break, a friend and I headed up to the Southern Great Lakes Region on a road trip. I brought along a few selections from the Ben Irving postcard collection. Here is what came of that.
Irving mailed this one from Indy to family in Hartford on the evening of September 23, 1934. The caption reads “Obelisk of black granite in the INDIANAPOLIS WORLD WAR MEMORIAL PLAZA AT INDIANAPOLIS showing 100 foot pink marble basin of electric fountain illuminated.” I always find the different ways objects reference the Great War interesting, considering how in 1934 the building blocks for World War II were in place but it was not yet imminent. I suppose it was common, more than fifteen years on, to refer to the Great War as ‘the World War.’ I wonder if the terminology differed depending on where it was published.
Also noteworthy was this card’s crude illustration and its unique publisher. Rather than the nationally oriented Teich Company, this card was printed and distributed by a local concern: the DeWolf News Co in Indianapolis. Strangely, this doesn’t turn up in a search for DeWolf in the Indianapolis Library Postcard Collection here. The artist seemed to want to depict the underlit fountain, which I’m sure would be running in full vigor during the summer, but what came out was a botched, blotched depiction that looks closer to how a schoolkid might draw fire. The obelisk at attention also appears to be dark blue with a golden triad on top.
At any rate, this shot was challenging. Thankfully, my smartphone’s camera has a smart iris/shutter tandem. I think I took this around 2pm, right before we left town and right when the sun was sitting almost directly above the obelisk’s tip from this vantage point. It took a couple attempts, but it came out. Here are a few outtakes where I played with card placement and focus.
Irving mailed this postcard home to Brooklyn from Wellsburg, WV (right across the state line) on December 16, 1936. The card was published by the Cadiz News Agency. His note on this one was pretty lengthy, asking my grade-school aged grandmother if she had been behaving. He also mentions “remember Clark Gable the actor was born in this town. His picture is all around here. Interesting.”
At the time Irving sent this card, Gable was probably the biggest star in Hollywood. Today, Gable’s birthplace and an annual festival there every February are the depleted town’s two biggest meal tickets. Though he was born there, he wasn’t from there, technically. At least, this was what Cadiz native Jamie Miller told me when we stopped to chat outside of her Ohio Valley Winery. Miller also told me that the vacant lot across the street from the Court House building (whose roof most likely provided the vantage point for this postcard) was occupied until a few years ago by Mr. Fish, a seafood joint torn down sometime over the past two years. My friend and I had to push on to Pittsburgh (as the sun was obviously setting), so we couldn’t stick around, but if you’re ever passing through Cadiz, check out their Winery.
We pulled into Cadiz with about 20 remaining minutes of sunlight and I did my best to get the photo you see above while it was still recognizable. Most of the features in the postcard are still visible, including the statue in the foreground. Here are a few of the other shots I took in the vicinity.
This souvenir packet, mailed to Brooklyn in October 1938, gave me so much material to work with. First of all, seeing Cleveland referred to as “The City of Industry and Refinement” invites a whole bunch of jokes about its de-industrialization. Of course, that’s been done to death. The cover features a vantage panorama of Public Square and Terminal Tower, which you can see in the blurry background of the photo above. The May Company Building, the white structure next to my thumb, now houses a Community College and a Taco Bell Cantina (a late-night Taco Bell that serves alcohol… what a time to be alive).
The packet had a slew of information about Cleveland’s then-recent development. It doesn’t mention anything about the May Company, but it does detail the function of the Terminal Tower and the network connected through the unified terminal, often called the “Gateway to the Continent” at the time. The only other featured site I was able to find nearby was the Public Auditorium, a massive building located next to the Fountain of Eternal Life. Though we couldn’t talk our way inside, I did snap this from a platform atop the submerged Convention Center across the way:
From what the desk guy told us, the interior was undergoing some work and was closed to the public. They could still hold events in there, however… he mentioned something about wrestling. No idea. Hopefully, next time I’m in town I’ll be able to make an appointment to recreate the interior shot featured here.
According to the booklet, the Civic Auditorium went up for $15,000,000 in 1922, which converts to $220,997,930 today, which is absolutely insane. The packet described it as “the finest and most serviceable municipal auditorium in this country…[with] acoustics [that] have been declared perfect.” Additionally, it describes a $100,000 pipe organ ($1.7 Million today) with over 10,000 pipes and 150 direct speaking stops. I’m not an expert on pipe organs, but that sounds massive. Here are a couple of shots I took around the lobby:
If you’re from any of these locations and have any good stories, pictures, or links to share, leave a comment! If you haven’t spent any time in any of these cities, make it a point to check them out, even if it’s just for the opportunity to live más in an old department store building.
Speaking of Cleveland department stores, we paid a visit to the house from A Christmas Story, which I will hopefully get a chance to write about soon. The visit couldn’t have come at a better time, since I will be introducing film geography to two of my classes in the next few weeks. What a perfect case study.
Anyway, have a great week, everyone.
[One sample] postcard [in our collection] was mailed on a Saturday in 1919. The message concerns an intended ride to town the next day by electric interurban car. “I wrote you a letter telling you I would be in town Sunday on the quarter to 9 car, but that makes me hurry so much that [I] will come later… on the quarter to 11… meet me…and I will take you to church.”
Today, most Americans forget (if they ever knew) how fast and dependable the U.S. Postal Service once was. In many localities, postcards could be used to set and change appointments, even within the course of a few hours’ time. Streetcars carried mailboxes, which were emptied after every run. In many cities, mail was delivered to homes several times a day.
– from Picturing Illinois: Twentieth Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo by John Jakle and Keith Sculle, p. 127. This completely clarifies, to someone going through antique postcards in 2014, the function and timing of postcards from that era. I’m fairly surprised the authors didn’t mention this much earlier in the book.
I was originally planning to include these all as part of one giant post from my travels, but then I got carried away writing about the experience of getting that picture from the balcony at Royal and St. Ann in New Orleans. These three cases did not incorporate nearly as intriguing processes of inquiry. They mostly involved luck and convenience. The only danger I encountered came from traffic turning onto MLK Boulevard in Chattanooga while I was taking this:
Not bad! I knew I would eventually scan the original so you could all have a better look at the original postcard (folded into a souvenir packet from 1938; below). If you’re seeking a good example of a southern city that’s done almost everything within their power correctly over the past three decades, look no farther than Chattanooga. All it took was a New York Times article in 1980 about what a hellhole the place was at the time, and the city’s elites set the wheels in motion. Today, it’s a somewhat-undiscovered gem. A big part of the city’s renovation was (like even the less-progressive southern cities have realized for themselves) major investment in their downtown. This brought about a nicely-maintained park across the street from the old U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Building. That park made it pretty hard to get a full photo of the front of this quintessentially Depression-era architecture that’s stood since the height of that period (1933); trees blocked any view I had of the full building unless I crossed MLK Boulevard and disrupted traffic for a second. Anyway, here is the original 1930’s postcard print.
Postcard buyers embraced images that positively reinforced what most Americans believe the United States to be. Indeed, the nation’s postcard craze was largely a matter of self-congratulation. (p.5)
Self-congratulatory or not, the early twentieth century also continued a highly American tradition of, for lack of a better term, idol worship. Few things better signified the impact of an individual or a group on a place than a statue. In Birmingham, I was wandering through Five Points and I landed on the statue of Brother James Alexander Bryan, one of the most notable (if overlooked, outside of Alabama) white proponents of the civil rights movement.
From what I’ve gathered from some light research, the city has moved the statue a few times, which explains why the placement seemed off compared to the original 1930s postcard from the Birmingham souvenir packet.
It seemed that the statue’s original placement sat on a (mostly) treeless island in the middle of the Five Points South intersection. Today, the statue’s location may be similar, though the city has either rebuilt the street behind it (it’s more of a walkway today, which you can see in the close-up photo of the statue), or placed the statue much closer to that gray building. I’m sure I could dig up articles from the Birmingham News about the statue’s moves, but I’ve only got so much time in the day. Also noteworthy, this postcard was mailed in the late 1930’s, and Brother Bryan didn’t die until 1941. Is it as rare as I think for somebody to be immortalized in that style while they are still alive to see it?
Speaking of the intense relationship between Christ, spirituality, and the South, here’s my second-favorite recreation I accomplished on the trip: Bienville Square in Mobile, AL.
How cool is that? The big cross and that gorgeous fountain in the background have largely been untouched. The grounds immediately around the cross are not as grassy, and there appear to be more trees immediately surrounding the cross than there were 75-80 years ago, but the character of the park seems strikingly similar. I stood in several different spots trying to cancel out the trees right next to me while still framing the cross and fountain closely to how the postcard did. I took one picture with the postcard in the foreground that actually worked, surprisingly.
Anyway, I’m here in Knoxville for August, preparing to begin teaching GEO 101 and continuing with my research. I’m so tempted to turn these photographs into something else if I had anything resembling the spare time. I’ve actually had a few people suggest I keep compiling these antique postcard re-productions and turn them into a book. We’ll see.
For a wide variety of reasons, postcards (specifically, antique ones) have been occupying a lot of my mental landscape recently. As I previously mentioned, a large collection of old ones landed in my lap last year. While I’ve been rotating the wheels in the arduous process of cataloging them, I’ve also had the assignment to review Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo (2012; University of Illinois Press), an excellent history of that state patched together through postcards from the first half of the twentieth century, land in my lap as well. I’ll keep this blog posted as that unfolds, but for now, the book is providing me with great context for what I’ve been gathering through this particular collection, that of which spans from the early 1930’s through the mid-1940’s.
The reason I haven’t been able to update this site too much lately was because I happened to be on a road trip across the Gulf Coast recently. Considering how much (Re)Photography has captured my fleeting interest over the past year, I did not miss my opportunity to track down a few of the locations in a few of my postcards and make some attempt to recreate the pictures. Today and Wednesday, I’ll be sharing a handful of arguably successful examples.
ROYAL STREET IN NEW ORLEANS’ FRENCH QUARTER
I’ve gone on record before saying that New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, crumbling infrastructure, rampant corruption, sauna-like heat 10 months out of the year, and all. I wouldn’t disagree with the postcard’s label on the back declaring it “AMERICA’S MOST INTERESTING CITY” at all; at least, that’s what I call it to anybody who has not yet visited it. There is nowhere on earth I can imagine quite like it. Even outside of the French Quarter (or, as many would argue, primarily outside of the Quarter) you’ll find plenty of unique local flavor, particularly because there won’t be quite as many hundred thousands of tourists devouring it and driving up prices.
That being said, no trip to NOLA is complete without at least a leisurely walk through the French Quarter. Considering how ornate the city has made sure to keep almost all of the structures within the Quarter, it’s easy to forget how many people actually live within that section of the city. I can’t imagine life is particularly easy for anybody in the Big Easy, and especially so for those who live in that hallowed ground between Canal Street to the West and Frenchman St. to the East. Based on my limited experience, one piece of advice I’d give is to take a walk down Bourbon Street just to say you did- and then get the hell off of Bourbon Street. The Quarter actually has plenty of good local haunts that friends there have helped me discover, even along other such touristy thoroughfares like Royal Street.
Last Sunday, I found myself with a little time to kill before finding a bar in which to watch the World Cup Final, so it occurred to me to pull out the postcard (above) from my bag, take a walk down Royal Street and see if I could spot where that illustration was made back in what I would assume was the 1920’s or 30’s, based on the mailing date of the postcard. I began on Canal Street, stopping into a hotel I once stayed at with my family in the late 90’s. I’d be lying if I said the pull of nostalgia outweighed the lure of functional air conditioning; although a storm had passed before I got to town, the humidity was still thick enough to make me pass out if I’d even tried chasing after a bus. I set down Royal Street for at least six blocks, pacing incrementally to study every lattice-work to compare it to the one on the postcard. I nearly interrupted two different tour guides to ask them if they either recognized the balcony or knew whether Royal had ever had a streetcar line (artists hired to illustrate places for postcards often took certain artistic license to complete their task of selling their employer’s city to outsiders; for all I knew, he/she could have been playing on outsiders’ attraction to streetcars, many of which were starting to disappear from American cities over the course of the 1940’s). In retrospect, I’m glad I chose not to be “that guy” and interrupt the tour guides and all of their patrons.
When I got to the corner of St. Ann, I turned around and looked up. There it was.
I had landed upon a new set of challenges. I had no way of knowing if the restaurant owned or had any access to the balcony where the photographer stood when taking the picture on the postcard. The only way was to, as politely as possible, ask. I stepped into Pere Antoine and asked if I could speak to the manager. There turned out to be several around, as they were in the mid-afternoon shift change. One of them, Holly, politely told me how cool the postcard was, and regretfully, the second story were all private residences. The restaurant had access to the balcony, but only managers and nobody from the public were allowed on it. She offered to bring my camera up there and take a picture from that perspective for me, which was very generous. As I prepared to hand it to her, she stopped me and said, “wait a second. Let me find James.” James was the restaurant’s GM, and he nearly flipped when I showed him the postcard. He asked if he could scan it and email it to the restaurant’s owner. I pulled out a few other New Orleans and Louisiana souvenir packets from the late 30’s, and the restaurant’s whole staff eagerly gathered to look through them. James looked at Holly for a few seconds asking almost rhetorically if anyone would really mind if he escorted me up to the balcony. As he went to get his keys, I smiled to myself and thought, repeatedly: ‘This is why you ask. This is why you always ask.’
Not bad. The planter (which James and I attempted to move, unsuccessfully) clearly was not in the photo illustration, and the Desire line (yes, that one) had long been torn out of the street below, and somebody covered the wooden structure with red stucco years ago, but otherwise, the block does not look a whole lot different than it did eighty years ago. James even pointed out that the yellow building on the opposite side of Royal, while the windows had been redone, was still yellow.
Thank you again to the enthusiastic and courteous staff at Pere Antoine Restaurant for making this possible. I was more than happy to stay there to drink and watch the second half (and extra time!) of the match. I’ll definitely be stopping back through to say hello the next time I’m back in the Crescent City.
Before I end this entry, I’m going to include these bonus tracks of sorts. I actually had a moment of pause while searching for the postcard balcony (which was located at 741 Royal Street) while passing by a gorgeous building at 700 Royal. It turned out to be a three-story facility that remains one of the most-photographed buildings in New Orleans. After getting back to Knoxville, I checked my archives and was able to dig up a pair of photographs I took on that block in 1998.
From what I can remember, I took this picture while on a walking tour of the area (the exact kind of tour I would come close to annoyingly interrupting sixteen years later). I remember fixating on the latticework and the hanging planters at the time; the latticework is still beautiful and the planters are no longer there. Also, the Royal Cafe, despite the best songwriting efforts of Mark Eitzel, closed down within the past decade, and I think there’s a tourist shop on the street level now. No idea how the upstairs spaces are being used.
I believe I took this facing Northeast, farther West from that previous photo, considering the direction the cars are facing. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more candid photos of people at that age; the benign inter-era fashions of the late 1990’s deserved more attention. Anyway, if you look farther down the street (provided this is still Royal Street, which I think it is) you can faintly spot the corner of St. Ann.
It’d be interesting to compare the palimpsest landscape of certain New Orleans neighborhoods to one another, hurricane destruction notwithstanding. Businesses and residents come and go in the French Quarter much like any commercially-zoned area, and like most historically-protected area, the city suppresses any major changes. This dynamic probably formulates the bread and butter of New Orleans more so than any major American city (though that conversation also includes tourist-savvy places like Boston and St. Augustine, the latter of which was enduring a serious septic rooting project when I stopped through there last week).
I’ll keep paying attention to this in my own way on subsequent visits. And there will be subsequent visits, believe me.
Anyway… TUNE BACK IN SOON FOR “(RE)PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH (PART TWO: MOBILE, BIRMINGHAM, AND CHATTANOOGA)” coming Wednesday.
Here’s a quick update to what I’ve been up to so far this summer. If you have any questions about the status or background of anything I may have not explained thoroughly enough, please send me an email.
POSTCARD BOOK REVIEW
I am currently reading this neat book about the “golden age” of postcards (I hadn’t realized that was a thing) from Illinois by John Jakle and Keith Sculle in order to review it for the journal Material Cultures. I’ve always been fascinated with the shifting discourse on depictions of place throughout the years, especially given how integral postcards have been in these constructions of twentieth century America. I’ve posted a few items about vintage postcards on this site, but Jakle and Sculle take that analysis to the next level with the book. From what I’ve read so far, they aim to juxtapose the images of pre-Depression Chicago with that of rural Southern Illinois, arguing that the two were light years apart ideologically, yet inextricably tied together via the icons of industry. I’m pretty excited to learn more about the Chicago of that era. I might argue that few world cities are more interwoven with the “Roaring 20’s” mentality and urban blue-collar America, even to this day. I love that city, and I can’t wait to visit it next year for the AAG Meeting. Who wants to join me at the Oakwood at 3:30 AM? I really hope that place is still around. Anyway, I apologize in advance for getting sentimental about my visits there. No apologies for rooting against the Blackhawks in the Western Final, though. I still have a soft spot for the Kings after those two years in Long Beach. Now that I think about it, I’m grateful to not be at the Oakwood while I write this.
PAPER ON THE USE OF THE S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS IN PEDAGOGY
I have been fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Ronald Kalafsky to be second-author on a groundbreaking work he has been piecing together on our GEO 451 – The Global Economy course. For those unfamiliar (which I was before TA’ing this course, with no real foundation in macro-economics), the S.W.O.T. Analysis is an analytic paradigm that companies use to evaluate locations before investing resources. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It was an interesting experience, especially since many of our students had never participated in a SWOT Analysis before, and should hopefully be interesting for anyone involved in the overlap between economics, geography, and teaching. More updates on this as it develops, but for now the research seems to be in good hands with Ron.
CHAPTER ON THE NEW ECONOMICS OF MUSIC
At AAG 2013 in LA, I participated in a panel that Brian Hracs (Upsalla University) organized about the “New economics of the music industry.” Well he recently announced that he will be turning several of the papers presented into a published book about new approaches to studying the confluence of place, music, and money. My chapter is currently titled “Emotional Landscapes and the Evolution of Vinyl Record Retail: A Case Study of Highland Park, Los Angeles.” I still have a lot of revision to do, but my argument is, as my Master’s Thesis argued, that relying on consumers’ emotional attachment to places (both concrete and imagined) is a key component in operating a physical music retailer today. While artists do their part in luring listeners in with iconic cover art that evokes place, the retailers are doing the same, and three businesses I got to know in Highland Park (one of my favorite places in all of Los Angeles) were perfect examples. Stay tuned for more details about this one.
“HEY CHUCK! IT’S YOUR COUSIN, MARVIN BERRY! YOU KNOW THAT NEW SOUND YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR? WELL LISTEN TO THIS!”
I don’t think I can leverage that as a title for the chapter, but I’m going to begin a chapter on the soundscapes of Hill Valley, CA. How exactly does the diegetic sounds (specifically, the music) in Back to the Future formulate our perceived landscape of Marty McFly’s hometown? We’ve had this project in the works for well over a year now, and we’re excited to see if slowly kicking into motion over this fall. I’m very excited to have a “Back to the Future” panel at AAG 2015 (naturally) featuring a number of the chapter authors in “Save the Clocktower! Imagined Geographies of Hill Valley 1885 – 2015.”
I’ve been getting more emails from interested writers for the project, and I’m still anxious to see what materializes over the next year. Ideally, I’ll get my own drafts done before long (including an introduction for the book with my good friend Teresa Anderson-Sharma), since I’m going to be teaching GEO 101 in the Fall here in Knoxville. A busy time, but I’d never get anything done if I didn’t stress myself out from time to time.
THE ERGS! on One Week // One Band
This one doesn’t have as much to do with Geography, but it’s nonetheless great for anybody interested in my music writing. I’m very excited to be contributing a week’s worth of entries on the kings of Jersey dork-pop for the great site One Week // One Band over the week of June 23rd. I wish I spent more time in New Jersey so I had more to write about their humble middle class middle-NJ origins… wait, no I don’t. But if there’s one positive thing New Jersey has given us by the boatload over the past few decades, it’s been great music. Perhaps no band has encapsulated the pissed off turn-of-the-century zeitgeist with as much humor as The Ergs! did. They stopped playing formally in 2008, all three members are still very musically active (Jeff in Black Wine, Joe in Night Birds, and Mike in every band that isn’t those two) and their legacy is growing.
So…. that’s what you can find me up to this summer. I’m also on board with your bike ride around the Knoxville area or spontaneous regional road trip. If I don’t see you around, I hope you have a great break, too and get out enough. See you back here soon.
A big thank you to all of the Geographers and supporters thereof who converged on the Tampa Convention Center and Marriott for AAG last week, and a big apology in advance to all the ones who I met that won’t hear from me for a little while as I’m busy catching up on work and otherwise getting my life back in order. I had grand ambitions to do some work while in Tampa, but if you’re reading this you can probably take a wild guess as to how that turned out. As anyone who’s been to a conference like it knows, everyone’s too busy being constantly distracted in order to really accomplish anything other than make new connections and pray they remember you.
I would love to give Tampa proper some attention here*, but in the interest of time, I’ll skip right to the point. A few months ago, I posted cryptically about some antique postcards that came into my possession. Where the postcards are from will hopefully one day be under an organized-enough umbrella to present here, but for now, let’s have a quick chat about (re)photography.
The term “rephotography” (alternate “re-photography” or “(re)photography”) didn’t originate in Jason Kalin’s 2013 article (found here), but he did bring the scope of its uses to my attention last year. Considering how easy the internet has made it, our culture can barely digest content without (re)contextualization. This is both a good and a bad thing, but acting on what I hope is a good manifestation of it, I decided to set out on foot from the Tampa Convention Center to try to recreate one of my the postcards myself. The over-friendly hotel concierge** told me the Davis Islands were located a walking distance from the downtown area, though strategically disconnected from the Convention Center area proper. I suppose they didn’t want legions of drunken Lightning fans stumbling over from the Forum into their bars (which are located way too deep into the island for the casual ambler).
Anyway, here is the result of my efforts:
Not perfect, but I would have needed to defy death and stand in the middle of Bayshore Boulevard in order to get a more accurate recreation of the original artist’s perspective. Also, the bridge from Hyde Park over to Davis Islands has been remodeled, and the Davis Island residential areas of 2014 are a far cry from that of the pre-War era. Obviously, the hospital and adjacent office buildings were not there when D.P. Davis*** imagined this crazy project before building it and disappearing.
From what I can tell, the fencing by the harbor has largely retained its character, and the vegetation nearby in the foreground is even quite similar to the classic depiction. The bright yellow building depicted on the postcard can be seen at a distance to the right of the hospital today, which helps highlight how the postcard image (obviously painted to sell the city and the Davis development) is based on an off-scale interpretation. I would need to dig deeper and find archival photographs of Davis Islands in order to determine what exactly was misrepresented, and thanks largely to the conference that brought me to Tampa backing up my workload, I have no time right now. At least there’s always Google, right?
LINER NOTES (SPECIAL “IF” EDITION)
* If you’re in Tampa, though, and looking for great places to hang out, look no further than New World Brewery (Ybor City), The HUB (Downtown and if you’re okay with smoke), and the Independent (Seminole Heights, next to the wonderful money-pit Microgroove record shop). Full disclosure, we didn’t make it into the Independent since our ride downtown was leaving, but you could just tell it was awesome.
** If you’re wondering if that’s a reference, the answer is yes.
*** If you want to read one of the most fascinating accounts I’ve found about the mysterious Florida land developer, check out this history thesis by Rodney Kite-Powell. It helps explain his legacy and bizarre disappearance.
Last week was even more of a mess than the week prior to it. This week? Plenty to do, but I do have a few minutes to post a quick update on some recent activity over here.
First, for those who missed it, I recently contributed a column to ZME Music commemorating the tenth anniversary of the release of my favorite hip-hop album of all time, Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth. Hip-hop had never cast such an anti-establishment love letter to any city as Ian Bavitz did to New York in a moment when that town desperately needed it. While what I wrote skewed heavier toward media studies and sociology than geography, there is plenty of place-based thought crammed into there. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you haven’t endured the positive brain-numbing of this record yet.
Last weekend, I inherited a massive stash of postcards mailed to Brooklyn from around North America over the course of the Great Depression and the onset World War II. I am not adequately prepared to explain the significance and context of these cards here, but I am happy to provide a teaser.
In honor of the upcoming 2014 Association of American Geographers meeting in Tampa, Florida, here are a few wonderful postcards from the region in 1938, with brief descriptions. Taken as a whole, they represent a fine cross-section of the pre-Disney Florida tourism industry imagery. (h/t to Derek Alderman for this observation). All scans are mine.
Many American cities have unfortunately done away with benches like these for class and urban blight-related reasons, but the ones in St. Pete have gone through a bizarre history, now lending their heritage to the city’s finest craft brewery. Read more about the green benches here.
Until I saw this one, all I could really tell you about Bradenton was that it was the subject of a Hot Water Music song. When I saw this archival photo on the postcard, flanked by these cool 30s-Hollywood decorations on the side, I discovered Bradenton had quite the fancy landmark back in the day. The city tore the building down in 1974. You can read more about that here.
About eight decades before Dubai had everyone in the developed world talking about man-made islands, the enigmatic D.P. Davis (one of the kings of the Florida land boom of the 1920s; read about him and the boom in this masters thesis here) pumped a bunch of mud onto a pair of small grassy atolls and created one of Tampa Bay’s first upper class residential communities. More background can be found here.
Of course what better place to stop than the Hotel Floridian? It has a fairly common story: built at the height of the Jazz Age in 1926, fallen into disrepair, and restored to a modicum of its glory, and available for those who can afford rooms today. The ribbon was actually re-cut last year, so looks like it was just in time for the hordes of Geographers who probably can’t afford to stay there but will definitely pass through and take a look.
There’s more where this came from, so don’t worry. Here’s a quote from John Blacking (and a music video by a Tampa band that pretty much proves his point) to tide you all over until next time:
The value of music is, I believe, to be found in terms of the human experiences involved in its creation. There is a difference between music that is occasional and music that enhances human consciousness, music that is simply for having and music that is for being. I submit that the former may be good craftsmanship, but that the latter is art, no matter how simple or complex it sounds, and no matter under what circumstances it is produced.
– John Blacking, 1973 How Musical is Man?, University of Washington Press, (2000 Edition), p. 50.