Recently, a MissPres reader sent me the link to John Margolies’s obituary. You may not know the name, but if you enjoy mid-century commercial Modernism, you’ve probably seen his images of neon signs, interesting roadside vernacular architecture, and other sites you might see as you drove down Route 66 or Highway 80 in the 1960s-1980s.
Margolies’s last book, Roadside America, came out in 2010, and I bought it for a friend, back when it was $40.00 instead of over $100 as it is now on Amazon. In that book are three Mississippi images, two on Jackson’s Highway 80 and one from Highway 61 south of Natchez. Maybe you can guess the Natchez roadside building, but the two Jackson representatives weren’t as obvious to me, partly because both are now gone. Luckily, I have postcards of both the Jackson buildings, the Flamingo Motor Hotel, and the Green Derby Restaurant, the subject of a previous post on MissPres.
The Flamingo is still there, at least the building is as a Regency Inn, but not the fabulous, albeit faded sign that captured Margolies’s attention in this photo from the opposite angle.
The Green Derby, also on Highway 80, is completely gone. Someone said on Facebook recently that the sign was crushed for scrap. I don’t have Roadside America in front of me, but I think the sign that Margolies photographed was a later version than this postcard, and this photo on Flickr may show the later version.
And finally, Margolies’s third Mississippi photo in Roadside America is the much-photographed Mammy’s Cupboard on Highway 61 south of Natchez. Back when Margolies took this photo, in the 1970s, Mammy was much darker than she is now, her skirt was much brighter red, and the gas pumps were still there. Someone should really do a thesis on the different famous photographs of Mammy’s Cupboard, including by Edward Weston in 1941.
John Margolies’s photographs inspired many people to look seriously and document seriously the temporary or ephemeral commercial architecture all around us. I’m thankful for his life and thankful he came through Mississippi. Maybe someday all of his photos, which have been donated to the Library of Congress, will be available for the public to see.