Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details

On March 30, 2014 · 4 Comments

I experienced the joy of traveling within the Twelve Mile Circle — the Delaware geo-oddity for which this site was named — while visiting with some dear friends last weekend. In Wilmington, at Rodney Square specifically, I glanced up and noticed the wonderful Egyptian Revival architectural details on the Wilmington Public Library. I’d been sensitized to the style because of my earlier Egyptian Revival Churches research, which provided evidence that I’ve actually learned a few things while publishing this rag. Now I could bore my companions with tales of trivial knowledge.

Architectural Detail on Wilmington (Delaware) Public Library
My Own Work

Then I noticed the swastika. I already understood that it was an ancient symbol existing for thousands of years before the Nazis co-opted and defiled it, converting it into a symbol of hate.(¹) As the US Holocaust Memorial Museum explained:

The swastika has an extensive history. It was used at least 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler designed the Nazi flag. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being”… In the beginning of the twentieth century the swastika was widely used in Europe… Despite its origins, the swastika has become so widely associated with Nazi Germany that contemporary uses frequently incite controversy.

I couldn’t have agreed more. The Wilmington swastika jumped like a bolt into my consciousness by its mere existence, even while I understood its historical usage intellectually, a reflection of severely negative connotations forever associated with its symmetry. Edward Lippincott Tilton, a master architect of public libraries in the United States, could not have foreseen the result of his decorative choice when he designed the building in 1922 and likely would have been appalled had he not passed away before the war.

The Wilmington Public Library included various architectural details based on classical ideals. None of them became the least bit controversial except for the swastika. Feel free to check some of them out by clicking the left-and-right arrows on the Flicker image above or from what you can spot on Street View. I’m a fan of the little owl sculptures on the second-floor window ledges.

I posted my discovery on the 12MC Google+ page(²). Reader "Benjamin" kindly posted a couple of links including a vintage photo with an advertisement for Swastika Sodas and a page on the Early Use of the Swastika in WA State. That led me to wonder about the prevalence of swastikas as a North American architectural detail during the early 20th Century, before such usage became unthinkable.

More examples survived than I could have possibly imagined, both in clockwise and counter-clockwise orientations. Below are just a few that I noticed either photographically or on Street View.

Skillman Branch Library, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Opposite Ends by Charles Dodds on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Notice the decorative fret running around the Skillman Branch Library perimeter which included both attached and standalone swastikas (it was also visible in Street View). The building was constructed in 1931/32 and originally called the Downtown Library until its extensive renovation and re-opening in 2003. The Skillman Branch may be known best as the location of the extensive National Automotive History Collection.

Lampposts, Glendale, California, USA

[Glendale Lamppost Swastika by Jeremy Sternberg on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The City of Glendale, California erected a series of cast iron lampposts along some of its busier downtown commercial and residential streets in the 1920′s, notably on Broadway between Glendale Avenue and Brand Boulevard. More than 900 vintage lampposts included decorative swastika bands within their design. In response to a complaint, the City Attorney conducted an extensive evaluation in 1995 and concluded,

The contention was that these approximately 2 inch by 3 inch symbols encircling the base of these old lampposts, were Nazi swastikas, were offensive and should be removed… Not a scintilla of evidence exists to indicate that the counter clockwise swastika design at the base of the lampposts was intended as a political or other statement in support of any group or organization.

The City Attorney offered several alternatives including "take no action and preserve the lampposts as they are." An April 2011 Street View image seemed to confirm that selection.

Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Columns at Jefferson Co. Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Swastikas also appeared on columns outside of the main entrance to the Jefferson County courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. This granite and limestone Art Deco building dated to 1929, as designed by the noted Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Root.

The building’s National Register of Historic Places application listed numerous exterior architectural details.

Bas-relief sculpture adds subtle and sometimes elegant decorative detailing to the facade. Particularly notable are the series of sculptures by Leo Friedlander symbolizing attributes associated with the seat of justice and cultural and political influences from the county’s past. Over the west entrance the panels depict the Indians, the Spanish, the French, early American settlement, the Confederacy, and the English. Other panels of the building symbolize vigilance, power, justice, and mercy. Columns topped with the American motif of New World corn flank the main entrance. Handsome Art Deco lanterns also mark the entrances.

Nowhere did it mention swastikas.

The Travellers Hotel, Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada

The Travellers Hotel, Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada

North America usage of this motif wasn’t limited to the United States, as evidenced by the façade of the Travellers Hotel, in Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada, constructed in 1913:

The large and highly detailed Traveller’s Hotel building speaks to the prosperity and optimism that existed in pre-war Ladysmith… an excellent example of an Edwardian-era, commercial style building… The most striking features are the brick swastika symbols on the front facade. At the time of construction, the swastika was a relatively common symbol of prosperity and peace; during World War II, concerns were expressed about the symbol’s association with Nazism. The building was not altered in response to these concerns and the Traveller’s Hotel remains in substantially original condition.

Today the Travellers Hotel Cooperative hopes to "revitalize and reopen" this historic hotel.

Kimo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Kimo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Native Americans, including the Navajo and other tribal nations of the US Southwest that used swastika-like decorative designs. This was carried forward into the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque. I couldn’t find a decent public domain or creative commons photograph to embed, nor a decent Street View image, although one good photo existed on the City of Albuquerque’s Kimo Theater swastika page. The Kimo Theater, first opened in 1927 and now owned by the city, represented the "flamboyant, short-lived architectural style" known as Pueblo Deco.

Thus, the Kimo Theater (map) wasn’t a throwback to ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. It represented Native American, particularly Navajo artistic elements, for whom the swastika represented "life, freedom and happiness."

(¹)For example, and as noted previously in 12MC to represent a Buddhist temple in Japan or the name of a town in Ontario, Canada.

(²) I try to post unique tidbits, breadcrumbs and non sequiturs on each of the various 12MC pages, whether here on the flagship site within those "completely unrelated" footers or on satellite locations such as G+ or Twitter. Readers won’t get the full 12MC experience on any one site; they all contribute to the whole. Often I use Twitter to announce new articles, mock spammers and conduct nonsensical public conversations that chase away readers which is why I can’t seem to get my subscriber base to grow. Imagine that. I often use G+ to mention weird 12MC visitors from oddball locations and such. Nobody uses G+ although I still like to keep it alive. There will never be a 12MC Facebook page, though. There’s no particular rhyme or reason for what I post where except in very general terms


On March 27, 2014 · 6 Comments

I’ve long wanted to add Washington’s San Juan County to my county counting list and maybe someday I’ll succeed. Pondering that eventuality I began to grow increasingly curious about its only incorporated town, Friday Harbor, specifically the story behind its name.

Friday Harbor, Washington, USA

It seemed unusual to name a settlement after a day of the week. What confluence of events could lead to something like that? Maybe an early explorer sailed into a harbor on a Friday, I figured, maybe even one of the original Spanish expeditions that charted the archipelago in the late 18th Century. Actually that wasn’t the case at all. The name referred to the day of the week although it happened decades later and indirectly.

View from Friday Harbor House by Jamie Campbell on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

According to the San Juan Historical Society:

Friday Harbor was named for a Kanaka — a Hawaiian named Joseph Poalie Friday, who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company to tend sheep on the land overlooking the harbor. His was the only habitation to be seen for miles, and when sailors coming along the coast saw the smoke from his camp, they knew they had reached “Friday’s Harbor” … Poalie is a shortened form of “Poalima,” the Hawaiian word for Friday. Joe might have dropped his native surname in favor of Friday when he came to the Northwest.

That sounded a bit convenient, perhaps apocryphal. I examined the reference using a modern Hawaiian dictionary. It included the word Pō’alima and confirmed the definition Friday. The theory wasn’t completely out of the question. Thus Friday Harbor was likely named after a man either with the surname Pō’alima or Friday, in either case Friday.

Friday, Texas

Friday, Texas, USA

Texas included a small village named Friday. I love encountering Texas place names because I can almost always find an explanation in The Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association. That source noted,

FRIDAY, TEXAS… was established around the time of the Civil War and was originally known as Ellis Prairie… In 1903, when a post office was established, the name was changed to Friday. By 1914 the community had a general store, a cotton gin, and a gristmill… The post office continued to operate until 1955… The population in 1990 was forty-one. In 2000 it had grown to ninety-nine.

While the Handbook explained when Friday became Friday, it did not explain why that happened although it dangled a tantalizing clue. I speculated that there was already an Ellis elsewhere in Texas and the residents had to select an unused name in a hurry if they wanted a post office. The pages of 12MC record numerous instances where unusual names arose from similar circumstances.

Joe Friday Well

Jack Webb Harry Morgan Dragnet 1968
Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) on Dragnet
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the Public Domain

I mentioned Joe Friday only a few weeks ago in Just the -fax, Ma’am when I wrote,

Police sergeant Joe Friday never actually said "just the facts ma’am" on the vintage television show Dragnet, according to Snopes. Rather, the character played by Jack Webb uttered different lines that were later confused with the classic phrase now erroneously attributed to the show.

Joe Friday Well, Arizona, USA

Nonetheless Joe Friday had his own well in Arizona. Or maybe it was Joe Friday for whom Friday Harbor was allegedly named? Seriously, what were the odds of three different Joe Fridays suddenly appearing in a matter of days on 12MC? I swear it wasn’t intentional. If it were I’d have created an entire Joe Friday article.

Friday Island, Queensland, Australia

Friday (and other day) Island, Queensland, Australia

Friday Island appeared off of the Cape York Peninsula at the far northern tip of Queensland, about as close as Australia could possibly get to New Guinea. I didn’t find anything unusual about the name as much as when it was combined with some of the neighboring islands including Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Islands. And what happened to Monday and Saturday, which didn’t seem to be present, and Sunday charted much farther down the peninsula (map)? Notable features included lighthouses on Tuesday and Wednesday, pearl farms on Friday, and a sizable population of about 3,500 residents on Thursday.

Black Friday Lake, British Columbia, Canada

I wondered about Black Friday Lake in British Columbia, Canada, too. Which Black Friday inspired the name? I assumed it wasn’t the 1945 riot at the Warner Bros. studios, or the 1910 suffrage protest in England, and certainly it wasn’t the day after Thanksgiving shopping event in the United States because that would make no sense at all in Canada. Perhaps it referred to the alternate name for Good Friday.

Best Avoided by Those With Delicate Sensibilities

Reader "Glenn" sent an email to 12MC with a map link, and a firm "no comment." I followed the link, chuckled, and noticed another geographic feature about a mile southwest of there. I replied, "apparently we have quite the, um, interesting theme going on there in Florida’s nether regions."

Keep those comments, ideas, and discoveries coming!

Starting Points

On March 23, 2014 · 8 Comments

Preparing for a quick out-of-town jaunt to visit with friends living in the Twelve Mile Circle, the actual geographic quirk in Delaware for which this site was named, prompted me to plot a course designed to avoid the dreaded Delaware Border Tax. I succeeded in that goal by the way although that wasn’t germane to the story. Rather, this was more about the starting point (singular) although in actuality it became a matter of starting points (plural).

For some odd reason I won’t type my home address into any of the online mapping programs, harboring an unrealistic expectation that somehow those all-powerful corporate or government entities can’t find me or track my movements if I take that one simple step. I know. Fit me for a tinfoil hat. I realize it’s completely delusional and irrational from an intellectual standpoint even though that doesn’t change my behavior. That’s why I found myself dropping a rather generic "Washington, DC" into several mapping programs to research an optimal route and noticing that each site defined that simple starting point differently.

It reminded me of a day many years ago during the infancy of online mapping applications, if I can go down a tangent for a moment. I was taking a walk and noticed a woman driving through the neighborhood visibly lost. Finally she stopped to ask for directions after passing me three or four times. She wanted to find a very specific apartment building several miles away and had simply designated "Arlington, Virginia" in (I think it was) Mapquest which directed her to a point two blocks due north of my house. First, I thought, what kind of idiot would put the name of a 26 square mile county into a map site and expect it to bring her to the exact spot she needed; and second, hey it was pretty cool that I lived so close to the value the map returned. Don’t bother attempting that trick today. Mapquest changed its starting point for Arlington to the more logical county courthouse site years ago.

Back to the present, either intellectual curiosity or boredom — it could have been both — led me to examine Washington, DC as defined by several mapping sites.


OpenStreetMap’s Washington, DC Epicenter

OpenStreetMap specified a point on the northern edge of the Ellipse just across from the White House.

Zero Milestone Marker
My Own Photo

This was a spot that fell near if not directly atop the Zero Milestone marker. It was an excellent choice. The marker itself read, "Point for the measurement of distances from Washington on highways of the United States." It was hard to argue with that. Well done, OpenStreetMap. You get the Gold Star today.

Bing Maps

Bing Maps’ Washington, DC Epicenter

I’m not sure what made 14th & Madison, NW so special. It fell just outside of the Smithsonian’s American History museum, had a nice view of the Washington Monument, and provided easy access to the National Mall. That was a pretty location among hundreds of other pretty locations nearby. Nothing indicated why Bing chose that particular intersection as the starting point for Washington, DC.


Mapquest’s Washington, DC Epicenter

Ditto for Mapquest at 6th St. & Constitution Ave., NW. I love the National Gallery of Art, and the tip of Federal Triangle seemed like a slightly more logical starting point although the Zero Milestone would have been better.

Google Maps

Google Map’s Washington, DC Epicenter

And then there was the wackiness of Google Maps which selected Scott Circle for some inexplicable reason. It got weirder. I’m certain this little trick will only work for a short time. It will be eliminated once Google learns of the glitch so if someone reading this article in the future tries this trick and it doesn’t work, then understand the situation.

Type "Washington, DC" into (old) Google Maps. Use the slide bar to zoom-in to the extreme street level, then take the peg man and drop him onto the red marker. This will take you to the Secret Bunker under Scott Circle. I’ve provided a direct link too; I wanted to show you how it could be found manually so you didn’t think I was nuts.

Secret Bunker
Nathan Rhoades’ Secret Bunker, Washington, DC
via Google Street View, January 2014

I also took a screen shot in case it disappeared someday. It was a single room with typical Google 360° imagery, although one can only look around in a circle and not move anywhere. What a weird room, too. I see a couch, a chair, three flat-screen televisions, what appears to be a bottle of Kahlua atop a wooden crate, and a billiard table. Otherwise it was spartan, almost sterile. Maybe this is where the President of the United States will hide during the next disaster. I think Dick Cheney may have used it on 9/11. I’m kidding!

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, however it appeared to be a user error. Nathan Rhoades, whoever he may be, must have accidentally specified Washington, DC as the location of his awesome rec room, and Google dutifully posted the file where its algorithms thought Washington, DC should be. One can click on Nathan’s name in the online version and it will jump to his gallery. This included an additional image of the same room, this time located at a house in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Nice man cave, Nathan!

Completely Unrelated

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with reddit over the years, often reserving praise for the underlying premise with a heaping plate of scorn (if you must know the gory details) reserved for its MapPorn subreddit.

This weekend was an exception. I noticed quite a number of new visitors because of a user on the MapPort subreddit who demonstrated courtesy by taking an extra step. Redditor "CupBeEmpty" handled this exactly as it should be done in my opinion, respecting intellectual property and copyright. He went out of his way to acknowledge ownership by posting a prominent link to the original 12MC article that described the "borderlocking" phenomenon. Thank you CupBeEmpty.

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