Wall, South Dakota. Population: 766. Not the first place you would expect to find the “Great White Way.” As the Rapid City Journal reported recently, the block of Main Street in front of the famed Wall Drug (once a simple drug store but now a block-long, tourist-oriented strip mall) is nearing the completion of a project that involved repaving the roadway in concrete and the addition of a row of old streetlamp standards that seems lifted from turn-of-the-century Broadway in New York City.

Wall Drug, which singlehandedly put Wall on the tourist map in the 1930s when its owners decided to reorient their drug store toward tourists passing through town, long ago became a western-themed attraction in itself. Its image has been anything but Broadway-like. More than a century ago, through the addition of ultra-bright  streetlights, New York’s famous street was dubbed the “Great White Way.” As a trendsetter for the nation, New York inspired countless cities and towns to adopt similar lighting on their main streets. From New Orleans to Portland, Oregon, to Gary, Indiana, city leaders hoped to cast their hometowns in a new light – literally. Even Palestine, Texas, a town of perhaps 12,000 in the 1920s, trumpeted its own White Way some ninety years ago. The triple-lamp standards connoted urbanity and seemed fitting for any community seeking to attract investors or tourists.

Seen in such a light, Wall, South Dakota’s choice of a White Way lighting scheme makes a little more sense, although it will certainly take away some of the wide-place-in-the-road quality of the Great Plains town.

New Orleans’s “Great White Way” lighting scheme turned night to day along Canal Street, which had the added distinction of purportedly being the world’s widest business thoroughfare at 170 feet across. Postcard from personal collection.

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