What does someone call a short street with only a single outlet to a larger street? I wondered because I found different terms that varied geographically. There seemed to be a cultural dimension to it as well. Certain suffixes seemed to be more prevalent in the United Kingdom and others in the United States, with Canada displaying elements of both. I’ve fixated on such suffixes before, notably in What the Drung and What the Stravenue. This time I focused on the humble cul-de-sac.
Sprawling Subdivison in New Jersey. Photo by Kaizer Rangwala on Flickr (cc)
Cul-de-sacs didn’t get much respect in recent years. They became a favored symbol of unbridled construction and suburban sprawl. All those dead end streets allowed developers to stuff more homes onto lots at the expense of traffic efficiency. I couldn’t do anything about that — some things were way beyond the abilities of Twelve Mile Circle — although I could examine some etymology. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1738, as an anatomical term, from French cul-de-sac, literally "bottom of a sack," from Latin culus "bottom, backside, fundament." …Application to streets and alleys is from 1800.
I guess it made sense. The cluster of homes at the end of a road resembled the bottom of a sack. Cars going into the sac could only exit the same way. No other choices existed. Actually I didn’t intend to beat up on the Cul-de-sac (or any generic dead-end street) as a design element. The point today was to examine the designation of such roads, specifically the suffixes appended to them.
Wheat Sheaf Cl., Isle of Dogs, London
I got started on this unfortunate idea when I examined the Isle of Dogs in the recent Random Islands article. I noticed a street with an odd suffix; Wheat Sheaf Close. Nearby I soon spotted Inglewood Close, Severnake Close and Epping Close. Was this a common thing, I wondered? Were little dead-end streets in the United Kingdom sometimes referred to as Closes? It seemed to be the case as I checked various random corners of the British Isles. Twelve Mile Circle’s loyal UK readers should be able to confirm its usage and frequency if that’s the case.
They existed in Canada too. Canada Post included Close as an acceptable suffix. However it did not offer an abbreviation for it. The UK specified "Cl." In London’s Isle of Dogs someone could write a letter to Wheat Sheaf Cl and that would be acceptable. Head to Medicine Hat, Alberta, on the other hand, and the address should include the entire word, as in Smith Close SE. New Zealand also used the abbreviated form in its address system although I couldn’t find any real-world examples. I couldn’t find any information about Australia, though. Any Closes in Australia, dear readers? Conversely, the United States Postal Service didn’t even include Close amongst its recognized suffixes.
Nonetheless the suffix made perfect sense. The roads indeed closed at one end.
Coves in Memphis, Tennessee
The US Postal Service did include something more unusual however, the suffix Cove. It referred to the same thing, a short road with a dead-end or a cul-de-sac. I suspected the usage must have been sporadic, geographically confined, or both. I’d never personally seen a street with a Cove suffix. Even so, the USPS reserved the abbreviation "CV", so it obviously existed with at least some level of frequency. Wikipedia referenced the suffix and singled-out Memphis, Tennessee. Naturally I needed to find a Cove in Memphis. I plugged common street names into a map randomly until Ash Cove appeared, as did several others nearby. I didn’t know why Wikipedia singled-out Memphis though. Other coves appeared in in Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona before I got tired of looking for more.
I wish this suffix got greater use. I liked the image it evoked.
Lulworth cove. Photo by Alex on Flickr (cc)
A cul-de-sac resembled a perfectly formed cove, like Lulworth Cove (map) along the coast of Dorset, England. A cove offered refuge and safety, a nice analogy for a quiet suburban home away from traffic.
Just What Is This Street Sign Trying To Convey?
Photo by raider3_anime on Flickr (cc)
I was most familiar with the use of Court as a suffix. I wondered if that sounded weird in other places, like Close and Cove sounded to me. Actually Court seemed so normal to me that I never even considered other possibilities until I stumbled upon Close. That, of course, made me wonder why someone chose Court as a suffix for a street with a cul-de-sac or a dead end. The etymology supported it, though. It derived from Old French via Latin, for an "enclosed yard." Over time it came to applied to various enclosures, e.g., royalty (king’s court), government entities (court of law), or sports (tennis, basketball, etc.). A street closed at one end, using the same logic, could also be a Court.
I enjoyed the photo I found to represent the concept. Aspirations Court featured a Dead End marker — where aspirations went to die, perhaps? What were the sign makers in Modesto, California (map) thinking?
I guess the recent Ghost Signs got me thinking about the way things used to be in an earlier age. My memory circled back to a time when professional baseball didn’t exist in Washington, DC and we used to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. This happened a lot when I was a kid, long before the Orioles occupied the beautiful, iconic Camden Yards that so many other ball clubs copied. The Orioles took the field on a much less beautiful and nowhere nearly as iconic Memorial Stadium before that. I even think we saw the Baltimore Colts play (American) football a couple times there too. The Colts left Baltimore in 1983 just to show how far back my mind wandered. What happened to Memorial Stadium after its replacement, I wondered.
Memorial Stadium; Baltimore, Maryland, USA
I drilled into a satellite image and discovered that the old stadium still existed. Well, not really. The city tore it down in 2001. However many fragments remained, spread throughout Baltimore. Its basic shape also remained. A new residential neighborhood occupied much of the land originally part of the Memorial Stadium property. It included a ring-road that approximated the circumference of the stadium itself. Inside that asphalt oval, an open field covered the spot where professional sports teams once played. It offered configurations for baseball, football and soccer.
That made me consider other stadiums wiped from the earth. In many cases new stadiums simply covered the exact footprint occupied by their predecessors. In other instances not a single sign remained at all. However, I enjoyed the ones like Baltimore the most, where people kept their memories alive. Those stadiums continued to exist in an odd ethereal way. The roar of the crowd now silenced, the crack of the bat or the kick of the ball no longer felt, but the stories remained in the landscape.
Some quick searching found several more examples.
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium hosted both the Atlanta Braves of baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of (American) football at various times before a controlled implosion finally took it down in 1997. The brand-new Turner Field rose on an adjacent parcel, and the spot once occupied by Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium became part of its parking lots. The old footprint occupied a large section of the Green Lot (it looked awesome on satellite view). Even more of a bonus, the spot where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th Home Run continued to be commemorated. Aaron accomplished that feat in 1974, surpassing the lifetime record of Babe Ruth, when Aaron hit a ball over an outfield fence and into the Braves’ bullpen. The memorial in the parking lot replicated the fence and the bullpen at the exact spot where it happened.
I realized that marker made little sense to much of 12MC’s international audience. Just understand that a really great sporting event happened there and its preservation was a nice touch.
Yankee Stadium; The Bronx, New York, USA
Once a ballpark, now just a park. Photo by Benjamin Kabak on Flickr (cc)
The New York Yankees baseball team played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from 1923 until 2008 (map). The team left for a new Yankee Stadium on an adjacent lot. Then the city demolished the old stadium and created Heritage Field on the same footprint. As the New York Times described it,
… nearly every inch, from the pavement stones underfoot to the three natural grass ball fields, has been elaborately designed to pay homage to the Yankees and their celebrated former home. Even the sod is the same that the Yankees, professional baseball’s biggest spender, chose for their new stadium… Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands.
Now amateur and high school baseball clubs from all over the city stand where some of the greatest professionals once played.
Milwaukee County Stadium; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Helfaer Field. Photo by Rough Tough, Real Stuff on Flickr (cc)
Combine the idea of a parking lot and a small ball field on an original footprint, and that became the fate of Milwaukee County Stadium. Miller Park replaced it in 2000 on an adjacent parcel. Although large surface parking lots grew completely around Miller Park, the former spot of Milwaukee County Stadium became a baseball field. It took the name Helfaer Field with room for 500 spectators in its bleacher seats. People can rent it for "softball, youth baseball, kickball, tailgates, meetings and much more." It looked pretty good on Satellite view sitting there, surrounded by parking lots.
Memorial Stadium; University of Minnesota, USA
McNamara Memorial on Wikimedia Commons (cc)
The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota played (American) football at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis from 1924 to 1981. The stadium became totally obliterated. An alumni center filled its former spot (map). However one vital feature remained, its entry arch, inside of the alumni center. People could still walk through the old entryway, although its passage no longer led to a gridiron. Instead it opened into a large room called the Heritage Gallery, "a multimedia museum … [that] honors the accomplishments of University of Minnesota alumni, faculty, students and staff."
Waverley Park; Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia
I found faded stadium footprints outside of the United States too. A prime example existed in Australia. Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria once hosted up to seventy thousand Australian rules football fans. Concentric ring roads circled the demolished stadium, part of a masterplanned community, with a grassy centerpiece remaining at the spot of the original stadium now serving as a practice facility,
Today, as Hawthorn football players train on the oval, the sound of boots striking balls evokes memories of a sporting past. For some, the ‘Hawks’ are simply part of the scenery, for others they bring new meaning to ‘backyard footy’, with star players running junior clinics for tomorrow’s footy legends. Residents of Oval Front Homes have box seats, cheering on from their balconies during practice matches and training.
The original stadium no longer existed although a grandstand at one end still held room for a couple of thousand spectators.
Cathkin Park; Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Cathkin Park. Photo by Tom Brogan on Flickr (cc)
I found a particularly early example in Scotland, a football (soccer) stadium called Cathkin Park in Glasgow. Professional football there dated back to 1884 when the Queen’s Park club called it home. Third Lanark took over in 1903 and remained there for more than sixty years until the team folded.
Sadly there are no fond memories for Third Lanark fans of that era. They were shattered to witness the Cathkin gates being closed for the final time on 30th June 1967.
Much of the stadium was removed as it fell into disrepair (map). However, terraces ringing three sides of the stadium remained in place, as did the old field. The area became a public park and a home field to various amateur and student teams.
It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.
Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign. My own photo
This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.
From her house on High Street in 1906, Clara Riley watched as sign painters created a huge advertisement, out of a milk and whitewash mixture, on the side of the mountain. Mrs. Riley remembered the year because she was in labor with her first child while the sign was being painted.
The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!
A Ghostly Phenomenon
Butte Ghost Sign VI. Photo by Rex Brown on Flickr (cc)
Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.
Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.
For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.
Black Cat, Dingley Road. Photo by Caroline on Flickr (cc)
The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.