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The Folklore of the Freeway

The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City

Series: A Quadrant Book
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Folklore of the Freeway
    Book Description:

    When the interstate highway program connected America's cities, it also divided them, cutting through and destroying countless communities. Affluent and predominantly white residents fought back in a much heralded "freeway revolt," saving such historic neighborhoods as Greenwich Village and New Orleans's French Quarter. This book tells of theotherrevolt, a movement of creative opposition, commemoration, and preservation staged on behalf of the mostly minority urban neighborhoods that lacked the political and economic power to resist the onslaught of highway construction.

    Within the context of the larger historical forces of the 1960s and 1970s, Eric Avila maps the creative strategies devised by urban communities to document and protest the damage that highways wrought. The works of Chicanas and other women of color-from the commemorative poetry of Patricia Preciado Martin and Lorna Dee Cervantes to the fiction of Helena Maria Viramontes to the underpass murals of Judy Baca-expose highway construction as not only a racist but also a sexist enterprise. In colorful paintings, East Los Angeles artists such as David Botello, Carlos Almaraz, and Frank Romero satirize, criticize, and aestheticize the structure of the freeway. Local artists paint murals on the concrete piers of a highway interchange in San Diego's Chicano Park. The Rondo Days Festival in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Black Archives, History, and Research Foundation in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami preserve and celebrate the memories of historic African American communities lost to the freeway.

    Bringing such efforts to the fore in the story of the freeway revolt,The Folklore of the Freewaymoves beyond a simplistic narrative of victimization. Losers, perhaps, in their fight against the freeway, the diverse communities at the center of the book nonetheless generate powerful cultural forces that shape our understanding of the urban landscape and influence the shifting priorities of contemporary urban policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4289-6
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION: The Invisible Freeway Revolt
    (pp. 1-16)

    In this age of divided government, we look to the 1950s as a golden age of bipartisan unity. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, often invokes the landmark passage of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act to remind the nation that Republicans and Democrats can unite under a shared sense of common purpose. Introduced by President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, the Federal Aid Highway Act, originally titled the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act, won unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans alike, uniting the two parties in a shared commitment to building a national highway infrastructure. This was big government at...

  2. 1 The Master’s Plan The Rise and Fall of the Modernist City
    (pp. 17-52)

    The American city was in crisis after World War II. The suburbanization of business, retail, industry, and home ownership depleted the urban core of the riches it had hoarded over the past century or so. Against this backdrop, public officials at federal, state, and local levels, many reared within the managerial cultures of the Progressive Era and the New Deal, prescribed massive interventions to remedy what they diagnosed as an urban crisis. They confronted a conundrum of their own making. To counter the consequences of policies that promoted the decentralization of employment, consumption, and home ownership, they implemented bold measures...

  3. 2 “Nobody but a Bunch of Mothers” Fighting the Highwaymen during Feminism’s Second Wave
    (pp. 53-88)

    She towers over the city below, clutching a car in her hand. Her miniskirt and bikini top reveal long sturdy legs and heaving breasts. Traffic has come to a halt as people flee their cars in terror. The police cannot stop the destructive march of this buxom giant, who visits her feminine wrath on the city. It’s the Fifty-Foot Woman, and the freeway between her legs is about to topple (Figure 2.1).

    A 1958 B movie,The Attack of the 50-Foot Womantells the story of an abused woman who grows to giant size through an alien encounter and gets...

  4. 3 Communities Lost and Found The Politics of Historical Memory
    (pp. 89-118)

    In 1995 the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Eight-Mile district of Detroit sponsored a play for its parishioners that dramatized the vibrant history of the black neighborhood it once served. The construction of the Chrysler Freeway in the mid-1950s wiped out this neighborhood, but the sponsors of the play nonetheless staged a dramatic reenactment of its history some forty years later. The all-black cast, dressed as characters from Detroit’s Jazz Age, performed the music and dance embedded in Detroit’s black cultural history, acting out the struggles of their forebears to forge a thriving community against the odds of poverty...

  5. 4 A Matter of Perspective The Racial Politics of Seeing the Freeway
    (pp. 119-148)

    Though his work defined a marketable image of the suburban good life in 1960s Los Angeles, David Hockney never actually painted an L.A. freeway. The closest he came was his 1980 portraitMulholland Drive,but this is a road, albeit a fabled one, not a freeway. Throughout his artistic career, Hockney painted a lot of palm trees, swimming pools, and naked men, but he never really tackled the new freeways that defined the city’s identity in its postwar heyday. He did not have to. A British expat settling in the secluded canyons of the Hollywood Hills, Hockney mostly hung out...

  6. 5 Taking Back the Freeway Strategies of Adaptation and Improvisation
    (pp. 149-180)

    There she was, suddenly and unexpectedly, appearing on the walls of a dark freeway underpass of Chicago’s John F. Kennedy Expressway on a cold morning in April 2005. In what Chicago highway officials confirmed was the yellowish residue of salt runoff on the concrete wall of an expressway underpass at Fullerton Avenue, Elbia Tello saw the image of the Virgin Mary. Others affirmed her vision, and soon a makeshift shrine to the Virgin had been assembled in this forbidding space, a shrine replete with candles, flowers, and rosaries. Hundreds of worshippers reached across police barricades to touch the sacred image....

  7. CONCLUSION: Identity Politics in Post-Interstate America
    (pp. 181-194)

    Dwarfing the high-rise office and apartment towers of Honolulu, Hawaii, the Ko‘olau mountain range presides over the island of Oahu. The range was formed tens of thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions; it has peaks jutting twice the height of the Empire State Building. These verdant mountains, laced with streams and waterfalls, cradled the civilization of the first Hawaiians.

    Driving the sixteen miles of Interstate H-3 from Honolulu to Kaneohe Bay takes one through the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel, bored through the Ko‘olaus in the 1980s. To undertake this monumental feat of engineering, construction crews extracted half a million cubic...