This week I will investigate a vague idea of site based on the question that I posed for the discussion Tuesday. My question was regarding the idea of how cultural sites get out of hand to the point that they are a bastardized destination. I believe this may happen for reasons due to capitalism and opportunity.
Capitalism is easy. Joe and Nelda collect gas pumps. They have the sickness of a collectors addiction and keep purchasing more and more vintage gas pumps. To justify their condition, they attach cultural value to their motivations and claim they are preserving history. After erecting a pole barn to store their collection, they begin letting people in. Soon, they call it a museum. It begins with a donation box while they wet their feet. Soon, their son comes to visit after finishing his business degree and decides to do some marketing. They make pamphlets, advertise the “world’s largest collection of vintage gas pumps,” add phrases like “a stroll down memory lane” and open a gift shop. Soon they are providing for antique car shows, writing press releases for everyone from the “local” section of the newspaper to the travel channel.
Some sites make it, some don’t. In the extreme, you have places like Las Vegas that began with nothing and somehow turned it into a top destination where people come to pour their money into the system. I am sure there are complete dissertations written just on the Vegas model. I firmly believe that Joe and Nelda want their Vegas as well. If people will keep coming and giving someone money for visiting their site, most people will keep accepting the income. Not every site has the choice. Sites that grow exponentially are reliant on factors of infrastructure . There are, of course, places in contemporary times that actually make an attempt to manage tourism, but if given the option, I believe that most people manage tourism as a response to the requirements and wishes of the patrons spending money as opposed to a proactive system.
I will be documenting support for this theory next month during me and Katie’s trip to Los Angeles via Route 66. Previous knowledge shows that this will be a prime area to study the opportunity side of sites as the route is no longer in existence as one continual road. Some parts of the route have been totally dislocated from the greater infrastructure and some have been replaced by newer routes that funneled traffic and allowed those areas to survive and grow. I will provide Collinsville, IL as a sample of the latter. As Route 66 was being decommissioned, the Interstate system constructed the all new I-70 across the south edge of town. This luck of fate allowed the small mainstreet community a chance to catch all of the traffic funneling into and out of the St. Louis metropolitan area. Many of the old “sites” somehow survived such as the Annual Ketchup Fest (which takes place under the world’s largest ketchup bottle) and the Horseradish festival which draws a huge crowd in the Metro East area as Collinsville is the horseradish capital of the world.
I am familiar with approximately 150 miles of the former US 66 and already have hundreds of examples where people have attempted, some more successful than others, to create destinations. Looking at the many US 66 travel guides, there is no doubt that we will find hundreds of other sites that either grew to more than they deserve [subjective opinion of the author] or withered to a ghost of a side show. Actually, the focus of our collaborative piece is the idea of seeking out the ghosts of US 66. We want to find the places that were not as lucky as Collinsville, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Pasadena, Hollywood, and Santa Monica.
Please share any comments. Always ready to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for listening!