Out of Season

On September 21, 2017 · 4 Comments

A strange sight confounded my older son as we walked through a warren of shops near the Santa Fe Plaza during our recent New Mexico trip. He spotted a year-round Christmas store. It didn’t register on my mind until he pointed it out, I guess because I’d seen plenty of them before. Although, as I thought about it longer, the notion did seem peculiar. Christmas felt impossibly removed from the high desert in the middle of July. Yet, the shop attracted plenty of foot traffic and presumably did well enough to keep momentum even outside of the advent season. Twelve Mile Circle once posted a story on seasonal towns so it seemed like a fine opportunity to now study seasonal businesses that defied the odds.

More Christmas


DSC_0040
Bronner’s West entrance. Photo by Sue Talbert Photography on Flickr (cc)

I imagined that Christmas stores probably did better than many other off-season enterprises. As I mentioned, they didn’t even register on my mind until my son pointed one out. They’ve done so well they’ve been "normalized" in many people’s consciousness, even though they catered to an event that happened just one day each year. Amazing.

The granddaddy of all shops must be Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan (map). I have a relative that simply must stop there whenever nearby, as just one example. Apparently "over 2 million" other people per year agreed. Wally Bronner founded this epic Christmas extravaganza in 1945 and it grew to cover several acres of shopping space with 100,000 lights, 800 animated figures and parking for a thousand cars.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anybody although I don’t really understand the year-round phenomenon.


Fireworks


South of the Border Billboard
South of the Border Billboard. Photo by SeeBeeW on Flickr (cc)

I understood year-round fireworks just slightly more than permanent Christmas. Sure, almost every firework in the United States detonats on July 4 for Independence Day. Sometimes people saved a handful for special events though, like New Years Eve or if their favorite sports team won a championship, or things of that nature. Generally though, little plywood fireworks stands tended to pop-up a couple of weeks before July 4 only to disappear just as suddenly like mushrooms on a lawn. Operating an all-year fireworks stores didn’t seem like a great business model, yet they existed.

Lots of them seemed to flourish around state borders, generally in South Carolina although I’ve seen them in other states. They found a niche wherever the laws of one state fell out of balance with its neighbor. I mentioned that situation in Right up to the Line when I discussed the ever-tacky South of the Border (map). Plenty of other fireworks warehouses also clustered nearby, tempting drivers along Interstate 95 as they entered South Carolina. Practically anything that blew up could be sold there legally.

Unlike a Christmas shop, a fireworks warehouse probably couldn’t stay afloat just anywhere as an all-year business. It needed to work by osmosis. Sales seemed to focus on outsiders that wanted to bring "the good stuff" back to their home states.


Ice Cream


The Freeze
The Freeze. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)Yo

I switched my thoughts from annual events to extreme weather patterns. Near my home, and I’m sure near yours too, an ice cream shop kept selling its chilly treats even through the dead of winter. What if we took that notion to its utmost? Could a business like that survive all year in Alaska? Well, yes.

In Fairbanks, the average low temperatures generally hovered around -20° Fahrenheit (-29° Celcius) in the winter. It could get a lot colder than that, too. I found a bunch of ice cream shops in Fairbanks and most of them opened only during mild months, like May through August. That made perfect sense. Who would want ice cream warmer than the outside temperature? However, I did discover one place that remained open all year, College Town Creamery. They also offered non-frozen items so I’m sure that helped carry them through the cold, dark winter.

Really, I wanted to find something a little more Alaskan, a bit farther away from the city. The Freeze in remote Glennallen, Alaska (map) seemed to fit that definition. Unfortunately it appears they’ve closed. I guess ice cream in Alaska had its limits.


Hot Yoga


Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga. Photo by Todd Lappin on Flickr (cc)

Some people swear by hot yoga. This trend gained popularity largely through a style created by Bikram Choudhury. Other styles of hot yoga also existed. In Bikram yoga, room temperatures hovered around 104° F (40° C) as practitioners cycled through 26 predefined positions. I imagined people felt rather baked after an hour and a half-or-so in that oven. Maybe 12MC readers who’ve tried hot yoga can elaborate on its benefits or drawbacks.

I thought of Phoenix, Arizona where summertime temperatures often topped 110" F (43° C). I’ve never been hotter in my life than a summertime visit to Phoenix a few years ago. Would hot yoga businesses survive year-round there? Indeed they could. I found so many of them that I had to stop counting. It seemed people in Arizona could tolerate a lot of heat.

Cigarette Hill

On July 16, 2017 · 1 Comments

I focused attention on unusual street names awhile ago. That theme played itself out over time so I left it behind for the most part. However, every once in awhile, I came across something interesting enough to mention on Twelve Mile Circle. This time it appeared in Texas. What was it about Texas? Once I found a subdivision with streets named after South Park characters. This time I found something stuck in an even earlier period of time, probably the 1940’s or 1950’s. Cigarettes had a positive image back then. Sometimes advertisers even promoted alleged health benefits (e.g., "More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Brand"). In that context, perhaps, a subdivision with streets named for cigarette brands might have seemed like a good idea.

Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill; Dallas, Texas

Imagine the possibilities. One could live on Pall Mall Avenue, Camel Court, or Kool Avenue. Lucky Street seemed to be a stand-in for Lucky Strike. Maybe Durham referenced Bull Durham tobacco. I also spotted a Fatima Avenue. I’d never heard of Fatima cigarettes although they used to be quite popular. Liggett & Myers launched the brand in 1913 to capitalize on the popularity of Turkish tobacco. Fatima faded as the century progressed. It disappeared completely by the 1980’s.

The neighborhood earned a name, Cigarette Hill.


Hard Times on Cigarette Hill



Cigarette Hill stuck in a time warp just like the vintage cigarette brands of its street names. Its residents lived in poverty with a median household income of less than $15,000 in 2014. It also became a highly segregated neighborhood with an overwhelmingly (88.6%) African American population.

Ripple Road also traversed Cigarette Hill. Perhaps it existed as a coincidence or perhaps not. Ripple was an old type of a particularly nasty, cheap fortified wine. The television character Fred Sanford (played by Redd Foxx) considered Ripple his favorite drink. It gained "a reputation as a drink for alcoholics and the destitute."

By 2008, the City of Dallas recognized that Cigarette Hill and the larger Lancaster Corridor needed help. The local NBC television station reported on the situation that led to a Community Revitalization Plan.

…the neighborhood in the middle of the City of Dallas seems like a piece of old rural Texas. Residents complain the neighborhood has been overlooked for decades with no sidewalks, no storm sewers, few streetlights, and overgrown roads to name just a few problems… The Cigarette Hill area is very close to other Southern Dallas neighborhoods that have proper lighting, wider streets and complete sidewalks.

Still, it held a lot of promise. Cigarette Hill had ready access to employment centers and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) rail station. It also offered scenic views from its elevated position. Revitalization efforts still continue.


Cigarettes in Sterling Heights



Sterling Heights, Michigan

I found another cigarette subdivision in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Residents there could choose from Camel, Pall Mall, Parliament, Winston, Newport and Viceroy Drives. Ironically, it also included a Tarry drive (which by one definition meant "covered with tar"). I supposed a street surrounded by cigarettes would eventually become tarry as a result. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything else about this neighborhood beyond its themed street names. It seemed from Google Street View that the houses probably dated from the 1950’s or 1960’s based on their architecture.


Pall Mall


Pall Mall
Pall Mall Circa 1900. Reproduced by Leonard Bentley on Flickr (cc)

I found myself with a little extra room left in this article. Maybe I should take a look at one of those old-timey cigarette brands. What inspired the naming of Pall Mall I wondered?

The mystery solved itself pretty quickly. Pall Mall is a street in London, England (map). It connected St. James’s Street to Trafalgar Square, running past St. James’s Square. The 18th Century brought a lot of wealthy people to Pall Mall who lived in ornate mansions there. It also became known for art galleries and auctioneers. It didn’t take a lot of effort to see why a cigarette brand would emulate its name. Obviously it wanted to trade on the high-class status of London’s Pall Mall, a good bit removed from its later namesake on Cigarette Hill.

Reaching back farther, the street got its name from a lawn game. Pall mall — the game — grew in popularity during 16th Century. Later it evolved into croquet. The street ran along an area that once hosted a popular pall mall field. First came the game, then came the street, then came the cigarette brand, and finally the cigarette-themed neighborhoods.

King Boring and the Detroit Gems

On July 13, 2017 · Comments Off on King Boring and the Detroit Gems

The story of King Boring kept playing in my head. I imagined that longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already knew I’d have to revisit it in more detail. Plenty of extra information revealed itself on the Intertubes and in genealogy resources. To quickly recap, King Boring and his partner once owned the Detroit Gems, a precursor of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Los Angeles Lakers


lakers game @ staples center
lakers game @ staples center. Photo by woolennium on Flickr (cc)

The Los Angeles Lakers currently play in the Staples Center (map), a venue they’ve occupied since 1999. This multi-purpose arena includes enough space for nearly twenty thousand fans when configured for basketball. Games frequently sell-out due to the success of the team. The Lakers have captured sixteen championships during their storied history. I could go on and on, however that would take us down a tangent.


Detroit Gems


Detroit Gems Stadium
Detroit Gems Home Court
via Google Street View, November 2016

The Lakers began in much more humble circumstances as the Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League (NBL). The Gems played only a single season and performed horribly by all accounts. The team finished 4-40. They used the Ferndale High School gymnasium as their home court as the season began. Sparse attendance forced them to move to a smaller venue later in the season, to Holy Redeemer High School with a 1,000 person capacity. They didn’t have to worry about selling out even with tickets costing only $1.50.

The original Ferndale High School does not appear to exist anymore. A more contemporary structure bears that name now. However, Holy Redeemer survived the last several decades in Detroit (map) in a neighborhood now known as Mexicantown. The arena at Holy Redeemer provided an interesting contrast to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The precursor of the Lakers began with humble roots.

King Boring and his partner Maury Winston made a bad investment with the Gems. They sold the team for $15,000 after their initial and disastrous 1946 season. The new owner moved the team to Minneapolis where it became the Lakers, named for Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." A later owner moved them to Los Angeles.


The Years Before the Gems


Boring Residence
1020 N. Mildred Street, Dearborn, Michigan
via Google Street View, October 2016

King Boring (1903-1996) left a long paper trail in his wake, and I found a lot more about him on Ancestry.com. I mentioned the "King" nickname in the previous article. He began his life as Cleo Siple Boring, the son of Illinois farmers Willis Otto Boring and Linna B. Siple. Later, he legally changed his middle name to King (according to the Michigan Death Index) although people generally referred to him as King rather than Cleo. The Boring surname traced back at least to Ralph Bowring of Devon, England (1570-1609).

Forbes listed the value of the Los Angeles Lakers as $2.6 billion. Only the most wealthy individuals could afford to own an NBA team today. King Boring did not fit that description. He was just a regular middle-class guy. He worked as an accountant for the City of Dearborn when he formed the Gems and for most of his professional life. Six years earlier the 1940 Census recorded his salary as $2,300 (adjusted for inflation = $40,500). According to the Dearborn Directory, he lived in a modest home at 1020 N. Mildred Street (map) the year the Gems played.

His partner, Maury Winston, also came from a middle-class background. He owned Winston Jewelers located at 13502 Michigan Avenue in Dearborn. Winston provided the team its name. He was a jeweler so the team became the Gems.


Boring Legacy


dearborn, mi
dearborn, mi. Photo by Heather Phillips on Flickr (cc)

Boring became a beloved figure in Dearborn both for his years of service to the city and for his passion to sports. I already mentioned the King Boring Park and Field named in his honor in the previous article. Back in his original hometown in Illinois he became a member of the Salem Community High School Hall of Fame. He also had a Testimonial Dinner in his honor at the Fairlane Club in Dearborn in 1978. The program from that dinner included much more biographical information about the anything-other-than-boring life of King Boring, including his later sports escapades. Clearly people liked and respected him.

If only he’d held onto that team.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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