French Quarter Flattery Revisited

Posted on May 16, 2014

Two years ago I posted “Sincerest Flattery in Tourist Lands,” highlighting a few notable examples of places outside New Orleans that mimic the famed French Quarter. Since that time I have discovered so many more such examples of the “sincerest form of flattery” that it’s worth revisiting the subject. Ranging from careful replication of what is sometimes called the “French Quarter Revival” style in resorts and theme parks to hackneyed adornments on otherwise ordinary apartment complexes, French Quarter-style architecture dots the American landscape. Of course what we call French Quarter-style architecture is in fact far from unique to the French Quarter. Many New Orleans structures outside the Vieux Carré also have original ironwork, and many more have added it. Many cities in the South (Mobile, Alabama, Galveston, Texas, and Savannah, Georgia, among them) and the Americas, including Tampico, Mexico, also have ironwork designs that owe to a shared Latin past. As geographer Richard Campanella has argued in Geographies of New Orleans, the “aesthetic appeal of the swirling patterns of iron lace” is easily exported far and wide.

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This recently built burger joint at Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street in the corner of New Orleans’s Irish Channel neighborhood sports French Quarter Revival style. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC AT-SA.

The stereotypical iron-lace galleries that grace many buildings in the New Orleans French Quarter include both “genuine” 19th-century examples and many later imitators. As I explored in New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City, by the middle third of the 20th century, preservationist appreciation of the tout ensemble, or the assembled whole, of the Quarter was enshrined in local law. The Vieux Carré Commission–formed in 1925, chartered in 1936, and strengthened incrementally through court rulings thereafter–paid careful attention to the facades of buildings in the historic district. Although it protected against the demolition or careless alteration of many structures, it also privileged a certain look and was at times willing to approve new construction with evocative ironwork to replace actual “historic” buildings, especially for hotels.

Even the presumedly inauthentic can and often does become “historic.”

The first hotel to adopt what gradually came to be called French Quarter Revival styling was the Royal Orleans on St. Louis Street between Royal and Chartres streets. Originally the site of the historic St. Louis Hotel, which was so badly damaged by a 1915 hurricane that the owners opted to demolish it, faced no serious opposition because it seemed an improvement over the abandoned lumber yard along St. Louis. Constructed in 1959-60, it reflected the investment of the New Orleans philanthropists Edgar and Edith Rosenwald Stern and leg work of budding hotel developer Lester Kabacoff. Although it attracted no hostility, the wave of additional hotels its success unleashed made the Royal Orleans a point of departure for preservationists.

Soon they had to contend with plans in 1963 for the Bourbon Orleans Hotel that was to replace the St. Mary’s Convent, with its historic Orleans Ballroom, the site of controversial “quadroon balls” a century before. In 1965 a building constructed on the “uptown-riverside” corner of Chartres and Barracks in the early 20th century as a macaroni factory in what was sometimes called “Little Palermo” was remodeled as Le Richelieu Hotel in the French Quarter Revival style. That same year, the Downtowner Hotel opened at 517-541 Bourbon Street where the old French Opera House had burned down in 1919. In 1968-69, yet another major new hotel, the Royal Sonesta, replaced the old American Brewing Company plant on half of one city square along Bourbon Street between Bienville and Conti streets. Although no one appeared eager to rescue a shuttered brewery that increasingly seemed anomalous in a fantasy of frilly 19th-century townhouses, by the late 1960s preservationists locked in battle with developers over what kind of French Quarter residents and tourists would have to visit in the future. They succeeded in getting the city to adopt a moratorium on new hotel construction in the French Quarter in 1969, but conversions of existing buildings into guest quarters would become the next problem–one that was far more difficult to curb. The last hotel projects grandfathered in at the time of the moratorium opened in the early 1970s. Chateau Le Moyne Hotel opened at 301-311 Dauphine Street in 1971, and the Maison Dupuy Hotel at 613-615 Burgundy Street opened in 1972. Of course, the ban did not apply outside the district. What is now called the French Quarter Suites Hotel opened in 1970 across North Rampart Street in Faubourg Tremé.

Just as French Quarter Revival hotels embellished a neighborhood that was morphing into a caricature of itself, French Quarter replicas outside New Orleans became a hook for enticing tourists. In 1948 the Illinois Central Railroad, which operated passenger service between Chicago and New Orleans, created a small French Quarter replica exhibit at the Chicago Rail Fair. The exhibit touted the southern terminus for the railroad’s Panama Limited trains to its largest market for passengers. Twenty years later, the German-American Volksfest, sponsored by the U.S. Army in West Berlin, featured a French Quarter model along with a Mississippi riverboat and jazz music performed by the Olympia Brass Band to entertain American servicemen.

Beyond luring tourists to the place itself, Vieux Carré models also became draws calculated to bring visitors to entirely different attractions. Long an admirer of New Orleans, Walt Disney opened New Orleans Square, a scaled-down sampling of a French Quarter streetscape, in Disneyland in 1966. One New Orleans journalist, fearing the prettification of the Quarter to attract more tourists, lamented that apparently some New Orleans leaders had visited Disney’s French Quarter and concluded they liked it better than the real thing. Ironically, almost a half-century later, Disney’s own attempts to alter the Court des Anges in New Orleans Square have elicited at least some pushback, demonstrating the fuzziness of any boundary between the authentic and inauthentic. Even the presumedly inauthentic can and often does become “historic.”

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Court des Anges at New Orleans Square, Disneyland. Photo by MarkWDW85 on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

In later years, the Walt Disney Company renewed its longtime affinity for French Quarter theming, extending the concept to its central Florida park. In 1991 it opened Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, including a French Quarter “region” replete with more life-sized Vieux Carré-style buildings and even replicas of the Quarter’s traditional street lamps like those that had been added in the 1920s as embellishments in the real French Quarter.

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Galleried facade in Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter. Photo by Gator Chris on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

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An unknowing viewer might mistake this nighttime scene of a French Quarter Revival building at the Opryland Hotel might for a scene along Royal Street. Photo by Jeffrey L. Cohen on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA.

Disney held no monopoly on making New Orleans part of a theme park environment. At the Opryland Hotel, a French Quarter under glass emerged alongside other themed attractions beneath its giant atrium. Nor did the French Quarter mimicry confine itself to tourist destinations. Unsurprisingly, as New Orleans’s French Quarter grew in popularity after World War II, it became the model for countless more modest imitations. Dozens of apartment complexes in the 1960s and 1970s adopted a loose approximation of French Quarter architectural motifs, including examples in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Miami, Florida, among many others. In the upscale Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta, the French Quarter Apartments included an imitation of the Quarter’s lampposts and street signs. In Houston, Texas, a city that New Orleanians either envied or scorned, one could also find glimpses of New Orleans. Brennan’s, which emerged after World War II as a leading French Quarter restaurant, opened its second location in downtown Houston in the early 1980s amid a small cluster of Vieux Carré-influence office buildings. More recently, a larger mixed-use development nearby, called Calais, has appeared. The Fairhope French Quarter, a similarly ambitious re-creation, opened in Fairhope, Alabama, a small town on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, in 1994. Although nearby Mobile shares with New Orleans a French and Spanish past that left it with longstanding examples of buildings that might seem right at home in the French Quarter, it seems likely that New Orleans was the bigger inspiration for the Fairhope imitation. Perhaps the most bizarre reincarnation of New Orleans’s famed attraction is the perennial French Quarter pop-up village that has been constructed and occupied in the ephemeral “Black Rock City” in northern Nevada for 17 days each August since 2011.

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The French Quarter Apartments in Miami. Photo by Drew Leavy on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA.

Just one year after Hurricane Katrina, when the city’s fate remained unclear, River Ranch, a 300-acre, master-planned, mixed-use development in Lafayette, drew the attention of the New York Times, which reported that some displaced New Orleanians were sinking new roots in the ersatz development and that in New Orleans the development spurred debate over whether ersatz architecture should have a place in the Crescent City’s post-Katrina recovery. The reach of French Quarter Revival architecture shows no sign of fading in popularity some fifty years after it became a noted cultural export.

For Further Reading

Historic New Orleans Collection, The Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Digital Surveyhttp://www.hnoc.org/vcs/.

Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabric Before the Storm (Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006).

Susan Saulny, “Replica of New Orleans: A Study in Urban Cloning,” New York Times, July 16, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/16/us/16replica.html.

J. Mark Souther, New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006, 2013).

____, “The Disneyfication of New Orleans: The French Quarter as Facade in a Divided City,” Journal of American History, 94 (December 2007), http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/projects/katrina/Souther.html.

Anthony J. Stanonis, Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

The Super Easy

Posted on February 3, 2013

Super Lights

Photo by Tom Pumphret on Flickr, Creative Commons license

The pageantry of New Orleans is on display for all the world as the Super Bowl returns to the Big Easy for the tenth time–tying the city with Miami as the most frequent host–and the first time since Hurricane Katrina. This year, with the game coinciding with the official twelve-day Carnival celebration (hence the nickname “Super Gras”), the city has pulled out all the stops in its savvy marketing of the New Orleans brand. The big show may be about the Ravens, the 49ers, and Beyonce’s halftime extravaganza, but tourism promoters have assured that the city will shine through it all and leave lasting impressions.

To an even greater degree than on the eve of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, Super Bowl XLVII preparations have exerted a tremendous stimulus in New Orleans, catalyzing hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements and frantic efforts to complete an overhaul of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal in time to roll out the red carpet for Super Bowl visitors. On their arrival, football fans found an airport filled with soulful serenades as bands filled the concourses and baggage claim areas with jazz and blues. The same firm that produces the city’s annual Jazz Fest has also transformed the French Quarter riverfront into the Verizon Super Bowl Boulevard, another musically driven venue. And the company that builds most of the city’s Mardi Gras floats has built the longest one ever just for the occasion. Indeed, the entire city is flush with opportunities to imbibe New Orleans culture.

The Super Gras scene represents a logical progression from the city’s longtime experience at wringing tourist dollars out of football’s biggest prize.   At one time, the Crescent City’s music took center stage at local football games.  In 1967, at the inaugural game of the city’s new Saints team, New Orleans’ Olympia Brass Band, one of its most important cultural ambassadors, high-stepped into Tulane Stadium (the Sugar Bowl), where it starred in the “Sights and Sounds of New Orleans” halftime show.  The brassy show, complete with umbrella-toting second-liners, conjured visions of Mardi Gras for spectators.  Staged just one year after Disneyland opened its miniaturized version of the New Orleans French Quarter, the show reflected the imagination of producer Tommy Walker, who had just left his post as entertainment director for Disneyland to produce nationally televised events.

New Orleans hosted Super Bowl IV–its first– in 1970.  Also played in Tulane Stadium, the game featured another Tommy Walker-produced halftime show titled “Way Down Yonder” and featured a mix of local and national musicians ranging from Al Hirt to Doc Severinson.  The show culminated with cavalry and cannon in a reenactment of the Battle of New Orleans, after which the Olympia Brass Band staged a mock jazz funeral.

Tonight’s buzz may be about Beyonce, Super Bowl commercials, and, yes, the Ravens vs. 49ers matchup, but New Orleans will make its most critical post-Katrina debut on the national stage.  With the city in the midst of an ambitious (and controversial) push to nearly double the number of annual visitors by its tricentennial in 2018, it is a reminder that the so-called “City That Care Forgot” has not forgotten how much it cares about attracting tourists.

Ferraris and Swamp Buggies

Posted on August 20, 2012

Mention Naples, Florida, and images of ostentatious wealth quickly come to mind. On any given day, driving its residential streets requires dodging landscape company trailers for the hundreds whose buzzing equipment grooms banyan-lined, palm-studded green carpets of St. Augustine. Surely few places its size have more golf courses, gated “communities,” palatial homes, in-ground swimming pools, posh boutiques, and high-luxury cars (The town’s Ferrari Club is one of several local enthusiasts’ organizations). A trip down Fifth Avenue South conjures a vision that is one part Mediterranean seaside town and one part lifestyle center. It was not always so.

For much of the twentieth century, as American Tourism contributor Aaron Cowan of Slippery Rock University argues, Naples mixed downscale “old Florida” with upscale nods to Palm Beach. Perhaps nothing symbolized the enduring presence of old Florida more than Swamp Buggy Day. Created in 1949 by enthusiasts of swamp buggy racing (which involved the ultimate “sport utility vehicle, a balloon-tired amphibious craft), this civic celebration grew around the sport and included a swamp buggy parade down Fifth Avenue South.

Swamp Buggy Day Parade in the early 1950s. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

As Naples built its reputation as an upper-class winter destination, Swamp Buggy Day evolved into Swamp Buggy Days. Drawing larger crowds each year as a result of national TV coverage on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the 1950s, eventually the downtown parade clashed with the town’s efforts to make downtown streets more appealing to well-heeled snowbirds.  According to an article in 1962 in the St. Petersburg Times, officials responsible for the Swamp Buggy Days parade “decided that beauty should prevail over tradition and the line of parade moved off the Fifth Avenue South business area for fear the crowd, lining the avenue, would ruin or damage extensively the $15,000 worth of planting recently installed there.” The decision prompted a furor, with some arguing that the parade would not be the same if moved to another route. Ultimately a compromise was reached whereby the route would be shifted four blocks down Fifth Avenue South so as not to “endanger the ornate plantings to the west.”

Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, 1946. By the end of the twentieth century, Fifth Avenue South was converging aesthetically more and more with Palm Beach’s refined thoroughfare. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Eventually the parade shifted over to the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), a multilane highway that skirts “Old Naples” to the east, ending two blocks to the north of the city’s prettified main drag. Then last year the City of Naples, seeking to trim its budget, voted to stop sponsoring the annual event, turning over responsibility to the Collier County Sheriff’s Department. In a sense the parade, still highly popular, reflects changes all along Florida’s coastline, where tastes–and incomes–skew toward the high end while “old Florida” recedes ever farther inland. If U.S. 41 once divided the pricey from the affordable, in the last decade, as more and more tourists have made the destination home, the boundary has marched eastward to I-75 and beyond, propelling the market for affordable housing far away from the Gulf.

Naples straddles two worlds: Ferraris centered on Fifth Avenue South and swamp buggies at Florida Sports Park, home of the Swamp Buggy Races, at the dead end of Rattlesnake Hammock Road–and, for a day, parading U.S. 41. As a New York Times reporter noted several years ago (Robert Andrew Powell, “On Florida’s West Coast, A Would-Be Palm Beach,” New York Times, March 12, 2004, F1), one ambivalent buggy racer and air conditioner installer who turned to selling high-end real estate mourned the gradual eclipse of old Florida. For now, though, the swamp buggies roll on in Naples.

Tropical landscaping added to the refined appeal of Fifth Avenue South by the 1960s. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Shutterbugs on Holiday

Posted on August 16, 2012

In Eric Fischer’s representation of Las Vegas, the Strip appears as a large red boomerang.  Fischer’s “Locals and Tourists” Flickr set, which expands upon his Geotaggers’ World Atlas, is a fascinating window into where tourists and locals spend their time in more than one hundred cities around the world. Based on public Flickr and Picasa APIs, Fischer’s maps graphically represent the so-called “tourist bubbles” that geographers have long described in cities.  As he explains in his methodological statement, there is room for interpretation of these geocoded representations of picture-taking activity, but his analysis lines up very well with what we know about these cities.

In the case of Las Vegas, it suggests the relative popularity of the Strip versus Fremont Street, Vegas’s much older downtown casino district, which appears as a small crosshatch to the north of the “red boomerang.” It also confirms the extent to which some cities manage to cultivate multiple tourist centers while others lean heavily on a single concentration. The map of San Francisco, for instance, reveals tourist bubbles in all the expected places. While Chinatown, the subject of an essay by California State University-Fullerton professor Raymond W. Rast in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, appears as a red honeycomb, it shares tourist dollars with many other “red” spots, among then Alcatraz, Fishermen’s Wharf, the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, Cliff House, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Union Square, Alamo Square, Haight-Ashbury, and Lombard Street. In fact, though, rather than a bubble, San Francisco seems more of a “tourist ring,” with tourists seemingly frequenting sites along the coast east of the Golden Gate Bridge to Fishermen’s Wharf, then southward through Chinatown to Market Street, then southwest and west along Market and in Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean, and finally north along the coast back to the Golden Gate Bridge.

While a sea of red dots cannot in itself prove how tourists move about a city, it gives a pretty good idea. It also suggests that wherever one finds a sea of blue dots might well become a tourist destination. To the possible chagrin of guardians of local culture, these maps might function much as airline magazines’ articles on discovering hidden treasures “off the beaten path” in heavily touristed cities.

Locals and Tourists #123 (GTWA #17): Las Vegas

Locals and Tourists #123 (GTWA #17): Las Vegas. By Eric Fischer on Flickr

Locals and Tourists #3 (GTWA #4): San Francisco

Locals and Tourists #3 (GTWA #4): San Francisco. By Eric Fischer on Flickr

Hope Springs Eternal for Riverfront Tourism

Posted on August 14, 2012

Countless cities have harnessed rivers as focal points for civic renaissance and tourism gambits. Memphis’s Mud Island and Minneapolis’s Mill District are but two of the nation’s riverside destinations. San Antonio’s River Walk, by dint of its age, is a more iconic example. First envisioned in the 1920s and constructed with federal funding under FDR’s New Deal, the River Walk became as much a handle for San Antonio as the famed Alamo. While creating a great riverine attraction on the surface may appear straightforward, it involves much more than meets the eye.

Maintaining San Antonio’s tourist and civic goldmine is not simply a matter of maintaining the infrastructure at water’s edge. Rather, at this time of year, especially in droughts, it is a matter of maintaining the existence of the river itself. With no natural flow in summertime, the River Walk, as journalist and water-issue expert Charles Fishman has observed, depends on the recycling of wastewater — not exactly a thought that meshes with images of a romantic Spanish fantasy. It is a reminder of how thoroughly constructed both tourist attractions and the environment of cities are.

River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

River Walk, San Antonio, Texas. Image by Morten Skogly on Flickr

“Natural” or not, the River Walk prompts not only millions of tourist pilgrimages annually but also plenty of observational junkets by economic development officials from other cities ever in pursuit of downtown revitalization and tourism. Recently, as reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader, officers of Commerce Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky, made such a trip and returned heartened by the fact that Lexington’s culverted Town Branch offers something even the San Antonio River doesn’t–uninterrupted flow. If Scottsdale, Arizona, can create a “waterfront” from a desert drainage ditch, Lexington’s buried brook seems as good a place as any to engineer a riverfront renaissance.

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Scottsdale Waterfront, Scottsdale, Arizona. Image by Dru Bloomfield on Flickr

Hartford, Connecticut’s experience too suggests that cities need not imitate the River Walk or any other noteworthy riverfront success. While tourism development often involves conscious mimicry, as we have noted repeatedly on this blog and as our contributors demonstrate in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, the wide-ranging diversity of the nation’s rivers offers the possibility of tailoring promotional efforts to local conditions. Hartford has no need for a River Walk knockoff. With the recent designation of the Connecticut River as the first National Blueway, Hartford will do well to emphasize its many recreational uses of the river. As the Hartford Courant points out, Hartford visitors are more likely to come for bass fishing and kayaking than anything like San Antonio’s annual rubber duck race.

River-oriented tourism promotion requires placemaking work but also an appreciation for what makes a waterway unique, the cultivation of activities that draw people closer to the water, and–most important–a willingness to work tirelessly to safeguard the natural resource itself.

Fun Las Vegas Infographic

Posted on July 31, 2012

Would you believe that all the hotel rooms in San Francisco would fit inside just four Las Vegas resorts? Or that the 15,000 miles of neon tubing that illuminate the Strip would, if connected end to end, result in a continuous neon tube framing the outline of the Lower 48? These are just a couple of the fascinating pieces of trivia in the following infographic, titled “7 Reasons Nothing Leaves Las Vegas” by Frugal Dad. Taken together, the graphically represented factoids really hammer home the impact of one of the nation’s preeminent tourist destinations.


7 Reasons Nothing Leaves Las Vegas

I (Heart) Moscow?

Posted on July 17, 2012

Moscow city officials are searching for their own version of Milton Glaser’s “I Love New York” campaign. Through an open competition they hope to encourage the creation of an “original and organic logo to project Moscow as a global tourism center.” New York’s famous campaign, as Art Blake describes in his essay on New York City in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, is credited with rebranding New York City as a tourist-friendly destination after decades of urban decline. It is understandable that Moscow, with its many connections to New York in terms of immigration and cultural outlook, would seek to imitate New York’s success. The right combination of design talent, urban management, and timing must, however, come together for places to truly reposition their global images. An open competition, moreover, is also a risky move for city officials. Would Glaser’s simple “I Love New York” campaign have necessarily won in an open competition?

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Sincerest Flattery in Tourist “Lands”

Posted on July 14, 2012

Although tourist destinations often trade on their distinctive visual presence, often there is no lack of imitation to go along with the unique.  Replicas of other places have long been a hallmark of tourism.  Well before its renown for country music, Nashville, Tennessee, styled itself as the “Athens of the South” and even built a full-size Parthenon for its Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897.  In more recent years, Las Vegas has borrowed architecture unabashedly from places as far-flung as New York and Venice.

Few places have inspired more imitations than the New Orleans French Quarter, one of the featured destinations in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition.  Much enamored of the Vieux Carré, Walt Disney added New Orleans Square, a miniaturized version of the famed district, to Disneyland in 1966.  Twenty-five years later, Walt Disney World added Disney’s Port Orleans, a themed resort with one “region” loosely patterned after Vieux Carré architecture.   Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort features an even more realistic assemblage of Vieux Carré buildings beneath its gigantic glass atrium.  Even apartment complexes (French Quarter Apartments in Tuscaloosa, Alabama), motels (Holiday Inn–French Quarter near Toledo, Ohio), and mixed-use developments (River Ranch in Lafayette, Louisiana) have copied the trademark iron-lace balconies found in the French Quarter.  Perhaps our favorite example is the extremely miniaturized (1:20 scale) French Quarter model in the MiniLand USA section of Legoland California in San Diego, where a large swath of the Quarter from Jackson Square and St. Louis Cemetery #1 is recreated in loving detail with millions of Lego bricks!

Have you discovered examples of French Quarter replicas or replicas of other famous places in your travels? Tell us about them!

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Opryland’s French Quarter replica in Nashville. Photo by Cliff on Flickr

The French Quarter of New Orleans area of MiniLand USA.

The French Quarter replica in MiniLand USA section of Legoland in San Diego, California. Photo by lori05871 on Flickr

Atlantic City Boardwalk Heyday

Posted on July 4, 2012

The R. C. Maxwell Company photographic exhibit on Atlantic City, New Jersey’s Boardwalk, curated by the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History in the Duke University Libraries, offers an extraordinary glimpse into the excitement created by the company’s larger-than-life electric signs. One such image, taken on July 4, 1936, appears in Bryant Simon’s essay on Atlantic City in American Tourism.

 

Beale Street Bucks

Posted on June 28, 2012

Following recent violent incidents on famed Beale Street, city leaders in Memphis, Tennessee, are contemplating a proposal by business leaders to impose a $10 fee on weekend nights, which would buy a $9 voucher for purchases in the tourist venue’s many clubs, bars, and restaurants. It is just one of several remedies under review. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported earlier this month, Memphis leaders are being very careful to characterize this proposed policy as anything but a “cover charge,” which carries the unwanted connotation of privatizing public space. It is indeed a touchy subject. In 1982, as College of Charleston history professor Robert D. Russell describes in his essay in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition (Chicago, 2012), when Beale Street was considered “skid row,” the City of Memphis entered into a public-private partnership with a real estate management firm with the latter responsible for coordinating the process of making a short segment of Beale Street into a major tourist destination. Although the city government wrested complete control of the district from the private company in 2011 following a decade-long legal battle, Beale Street remains much more akin to an outdoor mall than an ordinary public street.

The concern over loitering and crime is hardly unique to Beale Street. Plenty of other cities have devised various tactics to control crowds and police public behavior for years, often in ways that blur the boundaries between public and private space. It is hardly surprising that streets in tourist zones enjoy (or endure) greater control to ensure a predictable experience, but in recent years, the tensions that underlie the use of public space have reached a boiling point in many urban destinations. In 2010, for example, Cleveland, Ohio’s historic Warehouse District, which centers on a four-block-long strip of nightspots along West Sixth Street, a highly publicized incident outside a popular nightclub raised questions about racism, nightlife, and policing. In its wake, one Plain Dealer reporter suggested that Cleveland could learn from Memphis’s treatment of Beale Street, both in terms of its theming and its policing of public behavior. Memphis’s nighttime curfew, heralded just two years ago, clearly has not in itself proven sufficient to maintain the safe, predictable tourist atmosphere the city’s businesses demand (and that Beale Street delivers on most nights).

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Police cars bookend the Beale Street tourist strip in downtown Memphis. Photo by m0bile on Flickr

Last summer, in the Cleveland inner-ring suburb of Cleveland Heights, the annual Coventry Street Fair ended with a suspected flash-mob incident that raised a similar set of concerns to those in Memphis and Cleveland. Nicknamed the “Haight-Ashbury of Cleveland,” Coventry Village is no stranger to difficulties with public behavior. In the early 1970s police fought a motorcycle gang that frequented the street, and the original street fair was shut down in the mid-1980s as it swelled to what some regarded as an uncontrollable crowd. Following the most recent unrest, which developed at the time police were attempting to clear the street, the city of Cleveland Heights imposed a controversial 6 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied youths in Coventry Village and one other popular commercial district, both of which, if not national tourist destinations, are certainly leading metropolitan-area attractions.

From curfews to cover charges, urban destinations are the proving grounds for various tactics to maintain a carefully controlled environment. As explored in many of the essays in American Tourism, imposing control over places is a hallmark of tourism, and nowhere is it more challenging than in cities. Urban destinations reflect both the delicate balancing act inherent in restricting freedom and the ambivalence we continue to bring to our cities – places we seek for their excitement but also go to great lengths to make predictable.

Roman Pools, Dutch Windmill

Posted on June 17, 2012

Crowded beach at the Roman Pools bathing casino – Miami Beach, Florida – March 11, 1923. RC04693. State Archives of Florida

The large Dutch windmill in Miami Beach appears to be merely a folly – an eye-catching, exotic structure – that marked the site of two side-by-side Roman pools, which were very large swimming pools. Can you share information about this curious piece of bygone Miami Beach architecture?

American Tourism Now Available!

Posted on June 15, 2012

American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition is now available to order from your favorite bookseller.

American Tourism reveals the remarkable stories behind the places Americans love to visit. From Independence Hall to Las Vegas, and from Silver Springs to Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the collection draws back the curtain on many of America’s most successful tourist traps to reveal the carefully hidden backstory of transforming places into destinations. Readers will discover that a powerful creative process, rather than chance, has separated the enduring attractions from the many failures that litter the highways and byways of tourism history. American Tourism‘s thirty-five lively, illustrated essays tap the expertise of the country’s leading academic and public historians, writers, and tourism professionals. The contributors illuminate the visionaries who created iconic destinations and the business models that sustained the attractions once the founders had passed from the scene. In each essay the authors also highlight the design choices that made places memorable, the cultural work that turned places into experiences, and the long-term impact (both good and bad) of these sites on their locales, regions, and the nation as a whole.

We, the editors, would like to thank our contributing authors for their dedication to seeing this project to fruition. Looking back through early email correspondence, we are reminded that this project dates to 2007, an illustration of how much time it often takes to shepherd a book to completion. It has been a great journey!

Imagining the Future in Central Florida

Posted on June 14, 2012

These two images, drawn from the Department of Commerce Collection at the State Archives of Florida, give a sense of the land as Roy Disney and his entourage of company officials found it during their mid-1960s exploratory trips into the area to the southwest of Orlando. The Walt Disney Company would quietly assemble tens of thousands of acres in what would forever transform the economy of Florida.

Roy Disney (center, in glasses and dark sweater) and company during an inspection of the future site of Walt Disney World, ca. 1964. C069089CH. State Archives of Florida

Disney inspectors navigate one of the many small lakes that dot central Florida, ca. 1964. C067089BV. State Archives of Florida

Hotel Veranda as Celebrity Stage

Posted on June 13, 2012

United States Hotel on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New York, ca. 1905. Detroit Publishing Company, DPC11168. Curt Teich Postcard Archives. Lake County Discovery Museum

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the sweeping verandas of America’s foremost resort hotels served as veritable stages across which the nation’s well-to-do promenaded. As historian Jon Sterngass observed in his book First Resorts, such spaces offered perfect places “to see and be seen,” even as resorts like Saratoga attracted a broader and broader swath of American society. In Saratoga, the “celebrities” of the day literally strode high above passersby on the Broadway sidewalk below as if enacting a tableau.

The United States Hotel, along with Congress Hall and the Grand Union Hotel, was one of the great elite resort hotels of the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century. Originally built in 1824, the United States Hotel (like many wooden hotels) went up in flames and was rebuilt on a grander scale, reopening in 1874. It weathered the gradual erosion of Saratoga’s popularity with the smart set, but after fifteen years of depression and war, American tourists turned their backs on most large Victorian summer resort hotels. The United States Hotel met the wrecking ball in 1946.

Today few large Victorian resort hotels remain in the U.S. One of them, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, with its famed 660-foot-long porch overlooking Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, responded to the loss of leisure travelers to newer destinations by courting the convention trade after World War II. Doing so enabled the hotel to maintain Mackinac’s genteel image, described by Steve Brisson in American Tourism, long after Saratoga had become little more than a place to bet on the horses.

A Not-So-Small World

Posted on June 11, 2012

The title of the Sherman Brothers’ tune, made famous by Disney’s use in its iconic boat ride that debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair before being rebuilt at Disneyland, aptly describes the small size of the Anaheim, California, theme park carved out of orange groves less than ten years earlier. As suburban sprawl engulfed Disneyland, its 160 acres began to seem a big too small. The reason Walt Disney wanted a clean slate when he contemplated a second theme park and the reason he chose central Florida are apparent – albeit less so than in the past – in these satellite views. Even with sustained development over the past four decades, the 47-square-mile Walt Disney World Resort retains substantial forestland that creates both buffers for each of its attractions and room for future expansion.

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