It’s Urban Season!

The time between the holiday season and wildflower season can be hard on landscape photographers. So my friends and I have been TRAVELING AROUND TOWN — taking photos of street art, old signs, architecture — anything that doesn’t bloom. This one is from a trip up Highway 99 through the central valley of California…

Photo by Stephanie Roberts,


Photography opens doors.  Armed with just a camera, I’ve entered closed buildings, scary alleys, abandoned barns, and trespassed on fenced property…and usually with an enthusiastic guide I’d just met.  I think it’s because, just by taking a picture, I’ve indicated interest in something they’re interested in, too.  A recent trip through the California Central Valley, via Highway 99, proved several times — it’s all about the people you meet.


I found out about the Five and Dime Antique Center on Google+.  It’s a 3-story antique mall in the old Woolworth Building in downtown Bakersfield.  The original luncheonette is still open and still in operation.  My friend April (she’s a professional photographer, but just as obsessive as me — ) and I were standing outside the luncheonette taking photos of the store windows when a woman emerged from the building.  She asked if we’d been here before and then told us that when she was young her mother used to take her shopping downtown to JC Penneys, and then they would come over to Woolworth’s for an ice cream treat.  She said she loved sitting on the stools at the counter, and she felt very “big” sitting there.  I asked if they had served real cherry Cokes — the kind with cherry syrup poured into a glass of Coke — and yes, they did.  That’s the same memory  I have of a similar soda fountain in Lowe’s Drug Store in Blue Springs, Missouri, where I grew up.


In an alley in Bakersfield we stumbled across one of the best neon signs ever…Guthrie’s Alley Cat.  While we were photographing every inch of it, a guy walking his dog came along and asked if we had noticed the wooden beam poking out of the building across the street.  He said that there had originally been 4 of them, and they were used to attach a winch and haul goods and furniture up to the top floors. He also pointed out a restaurant down the alley, which he said had originally been a stable, and the center arch is where they washed the horses.  It was later “gentrified” and became a club called The Horse’s Tail; now it’s a restaurant called Muertos Kitchen and Lounge. Great stories!


This sign was located at the front of the building in a mostly-abandoned main street area in Tulare.  But when we drove through the back alley (we do that a lot), we noticed a rusty beauty above the back entrance.  While we were photographing, a young man in his 20’s walked through the alley toward us.  He said he had lived there all his life, and he remembered his father taking him to this store as a youngster, for a new suit.  What a nice memory.


Steve, from a local radio station, was working a Sunday afternoon all by himself when he noticed us photographing (and peeking in the windows) outside this gorgeous old building in the Fulton area of downtown Fresno, which has seen recent revitalization with new lofts, farmers markets, art shows, and a new Mural District with beautiful artwork on buildings.  He came out, unlocked the door, and generously invited us in to look around the meticulously-restored building with a student art exhibition in the lobby.  He then opened the back door to an alley we had not noticed that was covered in beautiful street art, including a 2-story portrait of Frank Sinatra in his prime.  He said he didn’t often get to share the artwork that his boss had accumulated, so when he saw someone who was interested, he liked to share.  It’s the kind of offer that makes traveling so unexpectedly rewarding.


As we were photographing an adorable sign on the Lamp Post Bar (now the Lamp Post Bar and Art Gallery, a woman came out of the building and noticed us.  She pointed to an American Eagle sign on the building just down the street and said we need to shoot that, too (of course, we already had!).  She said that “back in the day — the seventies…we used to come out of the Rainbow Ballroom when it closed and then come over here to the Eagle Cafe for coffee.”  Looks like the Rainbow is still rockin’…



This section of Fresno is known as Motel Drive, and has seen better days.  Most of the motels are closed, abandoned, or occupied by people with no place else to go.  On a Sunday morning, we were surprised to see so many people out on the street.. walking, bicycling, pushing carts full of their belongings…going places.  Going where?  Some were very friendly, but most just ignored us.  One man, in red pants, stopped to ask if we were with the “High Speed Rail people” — he said they’d been through here taking pictures.  While photographing the iconic Fresno Motel sign, a woman stopped and asked “Is that sign worth anything?”  We replied that it was priceless to us, as a piece of history.  But she said that the High Speed Rail people would probably sell it when they cleared out the area for the new railroad.  She said she lived at the Relax Inn (yep, it’s real) just down the road, and that the plan was to destroy all the buildings from that point down, and to clear the first 100 feet of the property we were standing on.  Of course, all the signs sit on the first ten feet of the motel properties.  I can only hope that if this ridiculous high speed rail project that no one actually needs somehow proceeds, that someone will take responsibility for saving these historic signs and the people who are currently protecting them (not one of them has any graffiti).  If not…shame on them.


Photo Gallery

Day 3- Flagstaff to Winslow

Photo by Stephanie Roberts,

Only 80 miles today. Gas was $3.39/gallon.

Flagstaff is cool!!! I expected to like the historic part, but I had no idea there’s a vibrant art scene in Flagstaff. It’s kind of the last place I thought I’d find street art, which I love, but there’s some cool stuff there if you wander the alleys (which I do) (sorry, Mom).

Lots of cool architecture and old signs…


Day 1- Los Angeles to Kingman

Photo by Stephanie Roberts,

Hill Top Motel, 1901 E. Andy Devine Avenue, Kingman, Arizona 86401, 928-753-2198


I DID IT!!!  We’re ON. THE. ROAD!

343 miles today. Temperatures as high as 115 degrees; gas as high as $4.99/gallon — both in the same place (Needles, California).

Kingman is full of Route 66 spirit and history, and the Hill Top Motel is one of the classics, here since 1954.  And they still turn on their neon signs at night. Clean and functional — nice hotel staff. It is definitely an “authentic” Route 66 experience.

Got here in time for a beautiful fireworks display in the distance behind the hotel.

MAJOR NOTE:  I bypassed many ultra-cool California Route 66 stops because I’ve already done them. But there are so many can’t-miss California spots. Check out my Route 66 – California gallery here  A few snaps from today (note to my Mom:  Make sure you scroll down below the Kingman Club photo!) —

Photo by Stephanie Roberts,

I have a history in Kingman. My mom and I first stopped here in 1981, in my first epic road trip — five weeks on the road with my mom/bestfriend from Missouri to California. I was just out of college, my first year teaching high school (a nightmare!), and a bad break-up (stupid boyfriend!). We stopped in Kingman to visit my great-aunt Beryl (my maternal grandpa’s sister) and my great-uncle Elmer.

I’ve never met a more interesting couple than Beryl & Elmer. They originally moved to Kingman because of Elmer’s health issues (asthma, I think). Elmer built their house by hand, by himself, even digging the basement with a hand shovel. Beryl worked all her life as a waitress at a local cafe, and I can’t imagine a waitress/employee who would have been more loved. She was absolutely the sweetest, kindest, most generous, happiest person I ever met. I inherited my love of red (her favorite color) from her.

And there were lots of reasons for her to not be happy, but she ignored them. They didn’t have much money, but somehow they found a way to eventually buy the house next door to them when that couple died. But, even though it was a newer, bigger house than theirs, they didn’t move into it – they just used it for storage. She took us up there once and it was full of canned goods, paper towels, soap…they stockpiled when things were on sale. These are the people I come from, I’m proud to say.

Elmer was fascinating. He loved cats and fed about a dozen strays every day, but he didn’t like people much. Beryl & Elmer took us on our very first trip to Las Vegas (yes, the Grand Canyon was RIGHT THERE, but we went to Vegas). We arrived at night and I was mesmerized (remember…1981). Beryl had a jar of nickels that she had saved from her last trip to Vegas, and that’s what she spent on the slots. Elmer didn’t gamble, but seemed to enjoy watching us. This might be when my mom caught the slot bug. (Hi, Mom!).  🙂