Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details

On March 30, 2014 · 5 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

Town of County Line

On March 16, 2014 · 1 Comments

I’m always on the lookout for odd town names and that’s what drew my eye to a dot, the aptly named County Line, Alabama.

County Line, Alabama, USA

I wish I could make a better map, however Google seems to be stripping features away from "old" Maps — and the newer version is even worse — so I can’t do simple things like customize the size and placement of embedded images anymore. The actual county line ran diagonally through the town of County Line, from northwest to southeast, right along the hypotenuse of that strange little doughnut triangle surrounded by the town. Jefferson County fell to the left (including the triangle) and Blount to the right. Incidentally, Mob Rule’s Google Maps with County Lines was extremely helpful for this exercise and keeps getting better and better. Go ahead and type County Line, AL into the search box there and the situation will become obvious.

Naturally, that began a 12MC quest for additional places named County Line. The general Intertubes wouldn’t be much help this time. There must have been a billion barbeque joints named County Line BBQ or something similar. I couldn’t find a plausible reason either. Maybe the wording reflected a quaint faux-nostalgia comfort for residents of the lower latitudes of the United States, something akin to emotional combinations like Biscuits and Gravy or Cracker Barrel.

Oh look, there’s one now:

County Line BBQ, Austin TX 05 by Larry Miller on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

This led to my reliable standby, the Geographic Names Information System, which wasn’t much help either when it generated 510 County Line results. I learned that lots of churches and cemeteries considered County Line to be a fine name. One could dine on County Line Barbeque during the week, attend County Line Church on Sunday, and rest in peace at County Line Cemetery after continuous feeding on County Line BBQ caused clogged arteries and a stroke, I guess.

That’s deliberately facetious. GNIS of course included an option for listing only Populated Places. That dropped the list to 26 sites including historical locations. I discarded those and was left with a manageable handful.

After all that, I discovered… the Alabama instance I found at the very beginning was probably the best. There were others, and I’ll get to those in a moment, although County Line in Alabama was the only incorporated town and it had at least 250 residents. The rest were rural crossroads, if that.

County Line Town Hall by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I never said it was a large town, just an incorporated one. Notice the size of the town hall and it became self-evident. The Fire Marshall will only allow 40 people in there at a time, strictly enforced, as happened during the landfill protests of 2011. That was the biggest thing to ever happen in County Line, Alabama. Combine small town politics, family friction, and large cities running out of garbage dumps, and it had the makings of an ugly fight.

From March through June that year, news sources recorded unsavory details in articles such as "Residents along Jefferson County-Blount County line protest proposed landfill," then "County Line Council approves landfill," leading to "Angry residents seek way to block proposed County Line, Alabama landfill," and finally "County Line, Alabama, landfill hearing on for Monday" as the story petered out.

It was a family affair, quite literally. John David Calvert owned a 219-acre parcel that he hoped to convert into a landfill, aligning with a group of speculators called Thornhill Marion Properties. The parcel had been annexed by County Line only the previous year, which according to those opposed to the landfill, was a deliberate attempt to eliminate opposition. That made it a town issue instead of a county issue so neighbors living next to the proposed landfill in immediately-adjacent unincorporated areas couldn’t prevent it. Pretty slick.

Did I mention that John David Calvert’s cousin James Larry Calvert was mayor of County Line or that "all but one member of the town council [was] connected to the Calvert family, and three of the five council members [were] appointed by Mayor Larry Calvert, since three elected members resigned"? Before getting too outraged, understand that the primary landfill opponent was Sue Calvert, another cousin. Apparently there were numerous interrelated Calverts in and around County Line, turning this into a family spat as much as a local political ploy.

The issue became moot later that summer when Alabama, finally tired of being a dumping ground for other States’ trash, put a statewide landfill moratorium in place. However the No County Line Dump Blog remained live, awaiting a day when it might be pressed into service once again.

What about the other County Line Settlements?

County Line, Oklahoma, USA

Two other County Lines befitted minor footnotes, one in Oklahoma (map), actually named Countyline (one word) and one in Wisconsin (map). They both seemed inconsequential unincorporated areas with maybe a few buildings, and in the Oklahoma instance, mostly abandoned.

The others were even smaller.

  • ARKANSAS, Fulton Co. / Baxter Co. (map): It was a little east of the county line (quarter mile) and intersected by State Line Road, which paradoxically did not run to the state line that was a couple of miles farther north.
  • GEORGIA, Meriwether Co. (map): Probably a half-mile north of the Harris Co. line.
  • NEW YORK: Niagara Co. / Orleans Co. (map): Definitely on the county line which ran north-south; not much more than a few houses.
  • OHIO: Preble Co. / Montgomery Co. (map): Also on the county line which ran north-south; and similarly not much to it.
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Montgomery Co. / Bucks Co. (map): A solid example in the suburbs with the county line running northwest-southeast; not as much a distinct place as an artificial border extending through sprawl.
  • TEXAS: Rains Co. (map): Maybe about a quarter mile from the northern border of Rains Co., although maybe only one building remains today.

May they all grow significant enough to spark their own landfill fights.

Drive Me Crazy

On December 1, 2013 · 11 Comments

Previous 12MC articles delved into creative and sometimes bizarre pairings of street names with suffixes. Those were explored in posts such as Order in the Court, He Went Thata Way and No Way! Way!. Enough with the Courts and Ways (curds and whey?). It’s time to drive.

Line Drive

Line Drive, Manchester, NH, USA

Readers from international areas devoid of baseball might wonder why Line Drive would be an odd street name choice. It’s an intuitive term to those of us who grew up with the sport, and similarly difficult to translate to outsiders. No doubt, someone trying to describe a Cricket term to me would have the same problem in reverse. Instead I’ll steal the dictionary definition: "a ball that is hit by the batter and goes in a nearly straight line not far above the ground." It can be dangerous to players on the field at the receiving end of a line drive and can also lead to spectacular plays when handled properly.

Consequently I found several Line Drives at municipal ball parks and baseball diamonds including two at professional minor league stadiums.

  • The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays plays at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (formerly Fisher Cats Ballpark) at 1 Line Drive in Manchester, New Hampshire. What is a fisher cat? It’s a type of weasel.
  • The Iowa Cubs, a Triple-A farm team of the Chicago Cubs, plays at Principal Park, at 1 Line Drive in Des Moines, Iowa.

Disk Drive

Disk Drive, Madison, AL, USA

I suppose at one time maybe 15 years ago Disk Drive would have sounded like a clever street name for an industrial park hoping to attract information technology companies. At least the occurrence in Madison, Alabama had an honest-to-goodness linkage to the IT industry. Intergraph Corporation, a software development and services company, maintains an office there albeit with a street address other than Disk Drive.

Honorable Mentions

Scenic Drive, Hamilton, ON, Canada

There were often several examples of each name. I tried to select ones that were the most representative.

  • Scenic Drive, Hamilton, ON, Canada (map)
  • Cattle Drive, Austin, TX (map)
  • Over Dive, Vermillion, SD (map)
  • The Drive Drive, Benoni, Gauteng, South Africa (map). This was an amusing Google Maps error. Other online maps labeled it The Drive with no suffix attached so apparently the true name was more than Google could handle
  • Sunday Drive, Hanover, PA (map). That was as close as I could get to Sunday Driver.
  • Just Drive, Fort Worth, TX (map). It was located in a trailer park. Of course it was. I’m still looking for the more crude variant Shutupan Drive, which I think would make a fine name for a street. I found a coffee shop in Incheon, South Korea called Shutupandtakecoffee which made me recall the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. Shut up and take coffee! No coffee for you!
  • Could there really be no Pile Drive?

The Best (or Worst)

Doctor Dr., Virginia Beach, VA, USA

I held a special fondness for Doctor Drive, located in a number of places nationwide. The answer might not appear all that obvious until converted to its logical abbreviations. Doctor Drive shortened to Dr. Dr.

The example I highlighted from Virginia Beach would be noteworthy from a couple of perspectives. First, it intersected with Hospital Drive so that implied maybe at one time it could have been appropriately named for its circumstances. Second it offered additional opportunities for abbreviated mischief. Thus, the Get Reel Lure Co. (caution – annoying website background music) could potentially shorten its address to: 204 Dr. Dr., VA Beach, VA!

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