Monday, September 19, 2016

Here it is

My new children's book, Candy Cane Lane, is now available. My author copies arrived today.  See the previous post for more information.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My new picture book: Candy Cane Lane

       Candy Cane Lane, from Simon and Schuster, which will be released September 20th, is my fifth picture book.  So far as I know, it's the only book ever written about Christmas lawn ornaments.  It's the story of a little plastic choirboy who one fateful night suddenly finds himself heading off on a adventure far beyond the confines of his little neighborhood.

      You'll be able to buy it on line and in most bookstores.
      But first a bit of backstory: this little tale was inspired by a true event in my childhood.

      In those days of yore there was something called trading stamps. They were a premium given out at grocery stores and gas stations.  With every purchase a  certain amount of trading stamps were given out with which were redeemable for various products, but first they had to be pasted into redemption books. Once you had the requisite number of books for any given item in the catalogue, you went to the redemption center (usually near a retail center), to collect your prize.  It felt like you were getting something for nothing. Of course you weren't, but no one seemed to work that out at the time. Notice the boastful remark by the successful looking father below and the operative word, 'free.'

      Popular items at redemption centers were waffle irons, picnic baskets, and other things most people never knew they needed.  Every family we knew who had a badminton set or croquet set had always purchased them with trading stamps.
      There were often long waits at the redemption centers. Unlike simply handing over cash or a credit card, the clerks had to check each redemption book carefully to make sure every page was filled. 
     You'd get the books at any supermarket or gas station that gave out that specific trading stamp.  Sunoco and Kroger's gave out Top Value, so that's where my family faithfully went.  This certainly helped the stores with brand loyalty, even if there were no kickbacks directly from the trading stamp companies.

It took fifty single trading stamps to fill a page. That's a lot of pasting. After a while, they started issuing stamps that were worth ten or fifty stamps, like larger sized bills. 
      After redeeming the requisite badminton and croquet sets, my mother set her sights on a little
choirboy, a plastic 'blowmold' about two and a half feet high, illuminated by one large-sized Christmas bulb. The choirboy was our first and only lawn ornament and I was quite excited when my father placed it on the front porch.  Naturally, we had to walk to the edge of the lawn to see how he looked from the street.  I vividly remember my mother gushing how adorable he was as we shivered there in the night air. 
            A page from a Top Value Catalogue. From these items, my mother chose the aluminum tumblers and the yellow plastic canister set.

      But the euphoria was short-lived.  Just a few nights later, we were sitting in our living room, probably watching a variety show on television, when a windstorm blew up.  Suddenly, something flew by the windows.  "What was that!" shouted my mother.  We all rushed to the front door.  The choirboy was gone.  My father pointed to the shrubbery ten to fifteen feet away. The choirboy was lying there face down, his light gone out and his neck broken. My mother rushed over to him, cradled him in her arms and cried, "My poor choirboy!"
      My mother seemed to think my father could repair anything and to be fair, he always assumed he could, too.  But competent as he was with tools, when it came to fixing plastic lawn ornaments, he had few resources at his disposal.  This was before the days of most specialty glues; all we had were things like Elmer's and plastic model glue. Therefore my father did what always did in situations like this: he turned to his favorite method of repair -- tape. As opposed to glue, my father had many different types of tape -- masking tape, electrical tape, duct tape, cloth tape, cellophane tape, and his very favorite, a large, prized roll of nylon tape. "Go get that nylon tape," was a oft-repeated phrase in our house.
        You can just make out our ill-fated choirboy in these blurry old snapshots.

      He wound the nylon tape and masking tape round and round the poor little choirboy's neck with less than perfect results.  His head was no longer exactly perpendicular to his body. But after all that saving and pasting stamps in books, my mother wasn't about to give up on our choirboy just yet. After his fateful flight, he found himself back on the front porch, imperfect but not noticeably so from the street --  at least most of the time.
       For a while, he seemed to bear up fairly well, but this was Kentucky, where the winters can be quite cold, and soon the tape became brittle and flaked away. Sometimes I would arrive home from school and I'd notice the choirboy's head was looking up, down, tilted to the side, and in more than one instance, it had fallen off completely.  Once his head had rolled off the porch into the middle of the driveway. I found it funny. My mother didn't.
       Over the next several years, the choirboy's neck gradually become more and more fragile until one Christmas there was simply nothing more to be done.  We pulled the plug and the poor little choirboy was tossed into the trash. 
     The choirboy in Candy Cane Lane meets this same sad fate, but from there the story takes a very different and much more fantastical turn.

In his unexpected journey, the little choirboy meets other lawn decorations,

and leads them on a journey into the unknown.

 I always start my books with a dummy with rough drawings like these and work out the story visually, usually even before I write one word.  It's the same way I do storyboards for animated features.  In fact, I sometimes prefer my roughs to the final artwork.  Someday I hope to do a book with more spontaneous drawings.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Algonquin Manor -- Louisville's ill-fated shopping center

When it opened about 1960, Algonquin Manor Shopping Center, a sprawling midcentury modern complex, was touted with great fanfare. It would be bigger and better than its sister center to the south, Dixie Manor, which had been an enormous success as it was surrounded by the rapidly growing suburbs of Shively and Pleasure Ridge Park. Unfortunately, Algonquin Manor was located in what might be termed a 'fringe' area that was expected to improve but went the other way instead. The result was a woefully short lifespan. In the distance is a Ben Snyder Department store, a local chain.

All of the shopping centers in Louisville built in the 1950s and 1960s had impressive road signage.
Algonquin Manor featured the state's largest bowling alley and in an unusual arrangement.  The coffee shop and office were in the middle, surrounded by an astonishing seventy-two lanes.  
The Hobby House featured, as was typical at the time, a large slot car racetrack where kids could come in and race their own cars. This one was probably the largest in the city.
Algonquin Manor was notable for its semi-enclosed walkways, a first for the city. In just a few years, however, Louisville's first fully-enclosed (and very chic) The Mall opened on the opposite side of town.

Besides the aforementioned Ben Snyder's, Family Fair was the other department store anchor.  For years I could not find out any information about the chain. It wasn't until I discovered the website Pleasant Family Shopping that the mystery solved.  It was owned by Interstate Department Stores, which also owned Topps and White Front.  In Louisville, Family Fair pre-dated K-Mart and Zayre, so in Louisville, at least,  the concept of a discount department store seemed fresh and unique.  (Imagine that if you can.) 

I got this 1960 Plymouth Valiant promotional model car at Family Fair. 

Alas, the store would meet a calamitous demise that would signal the end to the entire shopping center.
One Sunday morning in 1965 (when Louisville still had Blue Laws, so the store was closed) a gas leak in the garden department caused Family Fair to explode and burn to the ground. The handwriting was on the charred wall when Family Fair was not rebuilt, nor was anything else.  For years there was simply a fenced off, gaping hole in Algonquin Manor.  That wouldn't have seemed so odd downtown, perhaps, but this was a relatively new shopping center.  It was a clear sign that Algonquin Manor was failing, and it did so with surprising speed. By the early 1970s, Algonquin Manor was the destination of few shoppers. The other Family Fairs disappeared, too, hopefully without leaving smouldering craters in their wake. Interstate's Topp's chain would survive for several years well into the 1970s before finally succumbing to the increasingly intense competition between discount department stores.

 Today there are but traces of Algonquin Manor.  The Big A still remains though it appears not to have any current significance as it does not appear to be part of the name of anything.
The buildings themselves have been converted to other uses --even including a church. Above is what I think had been Ben Snyder Department Store.  Here's more information about the history of Algonquin Manor from an article in Louisville's Courier-Journal.

The footprint of Algonquin Manor remains quite obvious to this day.  Once L-shaped, Family Fair occupied the bottom right corner.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mister S -- the forgotten 1960s hamburger chain

What was the name of that drive-in restaurant near our house in Pleasure Ridge Park, KY, in the 1960s, I'd wondered for years.  A decade or two would pass, and it was back in my head, nagging me again. I recall one particular steamy summer day in 1968 when my friend Neal and I made a rare and dangerous venture down Dixie Highway on our bicycles to buy a record at Dixie Manor Shopping Center. On the way back we stopped at this mystery spot for lunch. Something compelled us to play Tiny Tim's hit, Tiptoe Through the Tulips on the restaurant jukebox. Yes, it had a jukebox -- a notable distinction from any of the other hamburger chains. As the record played and we sat there laughing at our outrageous choice, a policeman walked in. We were sure he would at very least give us a disapproving look. but he ignored us and Tiny Tim completely. His mind was on a 15 cent hamburger.  As I recall their food was acceptable, along the lines of Burger Chef, which is why for a while I decided it probably was Burger Chef.  Except it wasn't.  The local Burger Chef was a few miles north near the Watterson Expressway.

Then one day it occurred to me that my old friend Becky Royalty lived only a few hundred feet away from the place all through her childhood.  Alas, she too had forgotten -- but her brother Troy hadn't.  At last I had the answer.  It was Mister S, he said.  I thought when I heard the name I would slap my knee and say, "Yes, of course! Now I recall!" But that's not what happened.  "Mister S? Is he sure?" I asked.  Then Dave Conover saw my post on Facebook and found this clipping of a Mister S from a Lorain, Ohio newspaper. It was only when I saw the S at the top of the sign did a rather bent old penny drop.  The caption states Lorain's own Mister S was apparently quite special -- it was the pilot plant of a brand new chain. Logic suggests that Mister S may have been based in Ohio.

Since that moment of earthshattering discovery, I've found very little about Mister S on the internet, such as this post from a drive-in restaurant forum from over a decade ago and this post from a blog about Lorain County. Perhaps this post will lead to even more Mister S discovery. 

It's very possible the Dixie Highway location was only the one in Louisville -- and possibly in all of Kentucky if the chain sputtered out as quickly as I suspect it did.  Sometime around 1970 it became a locally owned restaurant called Poynter's Pups, but that didn't last long either.  Much to my surprise, and though extensively modified, the building itself exists today. But if you look closely, you can still see portions of its mid-century modern steel frame.  The massive signage structure, however, has disappeared.

That is not the case with the sign at the Lorain, Ohio location.  Though the top two thirds has been removed, the original base has clearly remained intact.
Another conversion in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In this case, the top of the sign was also cut back, but the original shape of the Mister S lower signage remains intact. 

Below, a caption from flickr states this is Jim Heddle's photo of a Mister S near Huron Parkway, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

1960 DeSoto -- the deluxe brochure

It seems a bit odd that in the next-to-last model year of DeSoto, Chrysler would publish such an extravagantly large brochure (12" x 18"). Perhaps it was to reassure the dealerships they had every intention of continuing the division.  Because it takes me a while to piece together the scans (I do not have a large scanner) I'll be adding onto this post over the next week until it's all here for your viewing pleasure. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

1955 Los Angeles Auto Show Part Eighteen: Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Mercedes and Volkswagen

I'll conclude this lengthy series with all the ads for the foreign cars which appeared at the 1955 Los Angeles auto show.