The 1950s was an age of kitsch motels, wacky-looking shops and eccentrically designed restaurants popping up along the roadsides of America. But, by the 1970s, out-of-town shopping malls and interstate highways meant these colorful businesses were struggling for customers. Many closed and were left abandoned. Luckily, one photographer spent nearly 40 years capturing their magic before they disappeared. Click through to see the most eye-catching of the bunch…
These attraction won’t be forgotten, thanks to U.S. photographer John Margolies, who documented these businesses over a period of decades with photographs that would eventually be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Pictured here is an ice cream stand built in the shape of an ice cream cone on the side of a road in Long Beach, Florida. Mr Margolies snapped the picture in 1979.
The unusual buildings sprung up in earnest in the 1950s when car ownership skyrocketed in America and businesses across the country took the opportunity to draw in new customers by setting up on roadsides – like this building, which features a giant bird sitting on top of the ‘Mother Goose Market’.
Mr Margolies began photographing the buildings in 1969, and, so, was able to save them for posterity when they began shutting down in huge numbers in the 1970s and 80s. Here, you see a quirky place for drivers to fill up their gas tanks in Zillah, Washington.
Originally from Connecticut, Margolies drove thousands of miles across the country, snapping images of the sometimes dilapidated buildings until 2008. Spray Foam Trucks in Albany, Oregon, pictured in 1987, was certainly visible from the roadside thanks to its huge prospector statue and sign.
‘My parents’ generation thought it was the ugliest stuff in the world,’ he told The Washington Post in 2015. ‘I liked places where everything was screaming for attention: “Look at me. Look at me.”‘ The Hoot Owl Cafe in Southgate, Los Angeles, pictured here, drew in the crowds as the eyes in the top of the owl, made from Buick headlights, would blink. Margolies captured this shot in 1977 – two years before it was demolished.
This shot of the Hat ‘n’ Boots gas station on Route 99 in Seattle, Washington, was taken in 1977. The gas station dated back to 1945 and appeared in the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Margolies’s pictures often showed the buildings with no humans or cars in sight and against the backdrop of a clear, blue morning sky. He wrote in his 2010 book, Roadside America: ‘I love the light at that time of day; it’s like golden syrup. Everything is fresh and no one is there to bother you.’ The Shell Service Station is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was pictured here in 2001.
Margolies took this picture of Harold’s Auto Center on Route 19 in Spring Hill, Florida, in 1979. The business is still in operation today.
The Coney Island Dairy Land snack stand on Route 285 in Aspen Park, Colorado, appears abandoned in this 1980 photograph.
This vintage shot of a worn Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant was taken in 1984 in Quincy, Massachusetts. It’s unclear whether the building has been demolished since this photo was taken.
Mr Margolies stumbled across this windmill at the entrance to the Fountain Valley mini golf attraction in 1981 in Fountain Valley, California.
This Candy House at the then Castle Amusement Park in Riverside, California, stayed open after this photo was taken in 1985. Today, Castle Park remains open, but the fate of Candy House is unclear.
Margolies generally rented a Cadillac for his road trips and shot his images with a Canon camera outfitted with a basic lens. Drivers looking for a quirky place to stay on Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona, could check into the Wigwam Village Hotel, and they’re still operating.
The Townley milk bottle sits on top of the Townley Dairy building in Oklahoma City. It was snapped in 1993 and has been abandoned since 1998.
Taken in 1980, this shot shows the Sioux Chief Train Motel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When the business failed, the cars were sold off separately to private businesses.
Mr Margolies was not only drawn to architecture that came to define travel by car such as motels, diners and gas stations, but also to quintessentially American oddities like diners. Pictured here in 1984 is Mickey’s Dining Car on West 9th Street in St Paul, Minnesota. It typically operates as a 24-hour diner today, but it is temporarily closed at the moment.
Drivers would almost immediately notice the ice cream cones attached to the roof of Gary’s ice cream parlor in Jacksonville, Florida, pictured here in 1979.
This is the Fleur De Lis Cocktail Lounge on the side of Government Street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1982. The building remains today, but it now functions as a pizza restaurant called Fleur de Lis Pizza.
Margolies died in 2016 aged 76, but left his stunning collection of 11,700 quirky images to the Library of Congress. The former Leon’s Drive-In restaurant, pictured here in 1977, is still in business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, today.