Occasionally Twelve Mile Circle likes to feature lesser known architectural styles in articles such as Rock Cut, Pueblo Deco, Egyptian Rivival and Octagons. I came across another one I found both fascinating and rare that I wanted to share: Moorish Revival. This design became modestly popular during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century. Europeans and North Americans looked nostalgically upon Middle Eastern themes and it reflected in their architecture too. Onion domes, horseshoe arches and ornate design elements came from the Moors, a medieval Islamic culture from North Africa and Spain. Architects found the style particularly suitable for theaters, synagogues and the temples of fraternal organizations. I selected a single example from each category.
Georgians always loved opera and long flocked to their magnificent theater in Tbilisi (map). The opera house first opened in 1851 at the beginning of the Moorish Revival although it underwent several stressful episodes during its history. It burned twice. It also survived Russian and Soviet occupations. It then nearly fell during Georgia’s 1991 civil war:
"One day a group of paramilitaries gunned down the front door, telling us they needed the opera for shelter," he remembers. "After the gunmen left we had no front door and a wall riddled with bullets. When we opened again after the fighting, I wanted to cover that wall in glass and put up a big sign saying: ‘This is not how you treat culture."
The opera house underwent an extensive multi-year renovation recently, reopening in January 2016.
I wondered why so many of the notable synagogues built in the 1800’s adopted Moorish Revival designs. The Museum of the Jewish People provided an explanation.
The style of these synagogues, inspired from the oriental architecture, especially Moorish, was intended to evocate the glorious past of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and in medieval Spain, while the size and location of the synagogues in the city centers expressed the newly acquired legal status and social respectability of the Jewish community.
The Great Synagogue of Stockholm (map) offered an excellent case study. The building held 900 people at a time when "the entire Jewish community of Stockholm had less than two thousands members." The year of its completion, 1870, also coincided with the lifting of the last legal restriction placed on Sweden’s Jews.
Masonic organizations — branches of the Freemasons — came in many different forms and affiliations. The Shriners offshoot began in the 1870’s in New York City. This happened during a height of fascination with Middle Eastern themes.
Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
They adopted Moorish trappings, most famously the red fezzes they wore on their heads. Their logo also featured a scimitar and crescent. Their fraternal meeting places became Neo-Moorish monuments they called temples. The Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed these principals upon its construction in 1928 (map). It attempted to emulate the Taj Mahal. Oddly while the Taj Mahal was Mughal not Moorish, I guess it was considered "close enough" to be lumped in with Neo-Moorish when adapted in the US.
If 12MC had to pick a place that went most completely overboard with Moorish Revival themes, I would respectfully bestow the title upon Opa-locka, Florida (map). Glenn Curtiss, its founder, had already been a successful aviation pioneer and entrepreneur. He then developed several towns in Florida during the latter part of his career.
Curtiss’s interests were not restricted just to vehicles of transportation. In 1921, he essentially left the aviation business and moved to Florida to become a highly-successful land developer. With friends, he developed the Florida cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Opa-Locka. Opa-Locka was intended to be his crowning achievement, a planned community resembling something from the Arabian Nights.
Curtis built his Opa-locka dream world north of Miami. It even reflected his passion in street names such as Sinbad Avenue, Caliph Street, Ali Baba Avenue and Aladdin Street. Municipal buildings, shopping centers and residences alike adopted a Neo-Moorish style unrivaled anywhere outside of the Middle East. They were all thoroughly Americanized of course. Oddly the name of the town itself came from its earlier Native American inhabitants, from a Seminole phrase meaning "a big island covered with many trees and swamps."
The city fell into a long, steady decline after an adjacent Naval Air Station closed in the 1950’s. NPR reported in June 2016 that the state took control of Opa-locka’s finances and targeted city officials for corruption investigations. Many of its residents lived in poverty in those Arabian Nights houses. What a shame.
I selected US Route 23 through Ohio as we drove back from Michigan. This would have been a long detour in normal circumstances. However I wanted to count a few new counties so I cut through a quiet slice of the state. Hours passed, boredom hovered nearby and I invented little non sequiturs to pass the time.
Lame Dad Jokes became routine. I’m a trained master of Dad Jokes, the worse the better. Each new attempt drew eye rolls from the back seat and only encouraged me more. Then I found Waldo (map). I rarely spotted Waldo in those puzzle pictures. My brain didn’t work that way. Even so I clearly noticed a large sign pointing to a highway exit for Waldo, the township in Marion County, Ohio. A repeated string of "Where’s Waldo? — There’s Waldo" left my lips as I pointed to the sign to the kids’ complete indifference. Barely 300 people lived in Waldo although that made little difference. I only needed that large green side along a lonely highway as entertainment for the next fifteen minutes.
According to The History of Marion County, Ohio (1883), "Waldo was laid out in 1831, by Milo D. Pettibone, and named after his son Waldo." I felt sorry for a family with a Milo and a Waldo. I supposed if someone named me Milo I’d also call my kid Waldo out of spite.
The search for more Waldos began in earnest once I returned. I didn’t realize I’d already captured one, a big one, in Maine (map). Waldo County got its name from the colonial-era Waldo Patent, a land grant to an aristocratic military officer, Samuel Waldo. I traveled extensively through Maine several years ago. One day-trip brought me to Fort Knox — not the one with the gold — a different one. This Fort Knox perched high above the Penobscot River, protecting inland towns during the War of 1812. It sat adjacent to the very modern Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. The views from the observatory deserved a detour.
On the other hand, I’d probably try to avoid Waldo, Florida (map) although the situation improved recently. The Waldo police created quite a moneymaking operation at the height of their speed trap, one of the worst in the nation. CBS News reported that "Waldo’s seven police officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets [in 2013], collecting more than $400,000 in fines – a third of the town’s revenue." They also ran afoul of the law because they practiced a ticket quote system specifically prohibited by the State of Florida. Waldo disbanded its police force in 2014.
I’m still not sure I’d trust driving through there.
Some Waldos hid better than others. Oregon’s Waldo (map) disappeared by the 1930’s and quickly became a ghost town. It began with promise, even serving as the county’s seat of government during its heyday in the latter half of the 19th Century. Waldo depended on mining and the mines eventually played-out, and everyone left. Nothing remained except for a couple of cemeteries and an historical marker. The town started with a different name, Sailor’s Diggings, for the people who flocked there after the discovery of gold. They changed it to Waldo because of the most significant event in its brief history. The frontier hadn’t been mapped precisely. Nobody knew exactly where the border fell and residents assumed they lived in California. William Waldo, the Whig candidate for California governor thought so too. He came to Sailor’s Diggings to campaign in 1853.
Town officials with a sense of humor learned of the mistake and chose to honor Waldo, the man who courted California votes in Oregon.
The Waldo game could be played internationally too. A tiny sliver of Bolivia called Waldo Ballivián Municipality (map) existed in the Pacajes Province of the La Paz Department. Maybe a couple of thousand people lived there. I found a YouTube video featuring Waldo Ballivián. People danced, they packaged Quinoa and other Andean grains, they also talked a lot into a microphone. I couldn’t speak Spanish although they looked excited about something. Upon further digging and after liberal use of Google Translate it seemed they’d just received a new packaging machine. This would be quite useful in Waldo Ballivián, one of the poorest corners of the nation.
Texas claimed its independence from México in 1836 as a result of the Texas Revolution. It became a sovereign nation. Even so, México considered Texas part of its rightful territory. Texas faced many difficulties during its early years as a new country as it struggled to keep going. It pushed to join the United States and traded its sovereignty to become the 28th state in 1845. This also created tensions between México and the United States, leading to warfare in 1846. The United States won decisively and grew considerably at México’s expense. Its spoils included all of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, plus parts of several other states.
Elsewhere in the United States, settlers pushed out from the original Atlantic states onto the prairie. These included Mexican War veterans. They returned home, platted towns, and used names familiar to them. Some of those names reflected their war victories, bringing an odd smattering of Mexican themes to places nowhere near the border.
Montezuma ruled the Aztecs from his capital of Tenochtitlan when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519. Cortés famously captured Montezuma and destroyed his empire. The Aztecs — at their prime when Cortés arrived — fell as famine, disease and warfare ravaged its lands. Tenochtitlan then evolved into a Spanish colonial capital, Mexico City. High upon a hill within that city rose Castillo de Chapultepec, the Castle of Chapultepec (map), a home of Spanish and later Mexican rulers. These were the famous Halls of Montezuma referenced in the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. Marines stormed and captured Castillo de Chapultepec, a key to seizing Mexico City during the war.
I couldn’t find a single place called Montezuma in México. However military veterans picked up the name and moved it to spots in Georgia (map), Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, California and New York. The largest, Montezuma County in Colorado, actually did not come from the war. People once thought mistakenly that the Aztecs built nearby Mesa Verde. They named the county accordingly and called its primary town Cortez.
Matamoros, directly on the southern side of the Rio Grande River, became a staging point for an American invasion. The army of the United States under General Zachary Taylor built a fort on the opposite side of the river. Mexican forces bombarded the fort, the Americans called for reinforcements, and a large cavalry and artillery battle broke out (map). The U.S. army routed its foes with better, quicker-firing artillery. Maj. Jacob Brown died during the battle so Taylor changed the name from Fort Texas to Fort Brown. Later a town grew around the fort and it also adopted the name, becoming Brownsville, Texas.
Places inspired by the battle used a slightly different spelling in the United States, namely Matamoras. I stayed overnight in Matamoras, Pennsylvania on my way to New England recently (map). I wondered why a Pennsylvania town adopted the name of a Mexican city, and that inspired my search for more. Matamoras held other secrets including the easternmost point in Pennsylvania and a corner of the New Jersey – New York – Pennsylvania (NJNYPA) tripoint. It was also remarkably close to the New Jersey highpoint.
Buena Vista translated from Spanish as "good view." However, combatants probably didn’t get an opportunity to appreciate their surroundings. Mexican General Santa Anna hoped to crush the American army at the Angostura Pass (map). His army numbered three times that of his foe and he had them cornered. American artillery and well-trained infantry stopped the Mexican advance. Eventually they withdrew. Neither side claimed victory although México suffered greater casualties and failed to defeat its much smaller foe.
Buena Vista appeared again in the American heartland. It spread to places as far apart as Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania (map), Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and Virginia. Many of them emphasized an Americanized pronunciation, something closer to Beuwna Vista.
A vision of the Virgin Mary appeared several times in 1531 to a peasant outside of Mexico City. The spot became a sacred shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Much later, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led the Mexican War of Independence, ending Spanish rule in 1821. A town adjacent to the shrine combined the two names, becoming Guadalupe Hidalgo (map). The United States defeated México in 1848, destroying its army and capturing its capital. The two sides came together at this town and negotiated an agreement favorable to the United States. It became the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The largest Hildago in the United States appeared as a county name in New Mexico (map). Another county of Hidalgo was established in Texas. A much smaller Hildago also sprouted up in Illinois.