All posts by irenelule

Gone to Cincinnati

Irene here with a post about a trip to the Buckeye State, Ohio! In early October, several members of the Alexander Architectural Archives attended the 40th anniversary conference of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) in Cincinnati, Ohio. If you wish to learn more about the processing of the SCA collection, please read my previous post. Along with educating the organization about the processing portion, we were also there as an outreach measure for both monetary and archival material donations. My supervisor, Stephanie Tiedeken, Archivist for Access and Preservation, and I co-presented on the project during the paper sessions. Beth Dodd, Curator of the Alexander Architectural Archives, also attended the conference. Along with presenting, we were also fortunate to participate in tours focusing on the history of Cincinnati and the surrounding area.


Day 1

We arrived on Wednesday, October 4th for the opening reception at the Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant. After dinner, those brave enough to climb several hundred feet below the surface visited lagering cellars that exist below many structures. Cincinnati had a very active brewing business in the 1800s until the Prohibition Era. The tour guide noted that Cincinnati is thought to have the largest underground system of these cellars in the United States.

Day 2

The next day consisted of a tour of Cincinnati. We toured the Carew Tower, which was the tallest building in Cincinnati until 2010. We were treated with wonderful views of the surrounding area.

The view at the top of Carew Tower.

After, we loaded up on the buses and visited one of Cincinnati’s historic neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine. As mentioned before, the city had an active brewing economy mostly due to the large amount of German immigrants that came into the area. The tour consisted of us walking around the neighborhood and learning about the influence of German immigrants in society and the local economy. Additionally, architecture is a big theme with SCA. Walking around Over-the-Rhine provided an interesting way to see first-hand the evolution of architecture from then to now. We also visited more underground lagering cellars.

Bruce Willis apparently filmed part of Marauders (2016) in this cellar. These cellars would house the barrels of lager until the Prohibition Era.
Bruce Willis apparently filmed part of Marauders (2016) in this cellar. These cellars would house the barrels of lager until the Prohibition Era.

We also stopped at a restaurant where the owner had covered the outside facade and lawn area with neon signs. The one below is one of my personal favorites of the whole trip.

One of my favorites! Any guesses why? Ballantine's was Martin Crane's (from Frasier) favorite beer!  In the background, you can see more neon.
One of my favorites! Any guesses why? Ballantine’s was Martin Crane’s (from Frasier) favorite beer! In the background, you can see more neon.

The best part of Day 2 was the 40th anniversary dinner at the American Sign Museum. Along with the wonderful food (including a tasty mac and cheese bar!), Tod Swormstedt, a former SCA board member, gave a very detailed tour of the space. The ambiance coming off the lights really created a wonderful atmosphere to celebrate the 40th year of SCA. Check out all of the fantastic neon signs.

Just a small sample of the signs at the American Sign Museum!
Just a small sample of the signs at the American Sign Museum!
The American Sign Museum also had a Big Boy sign! I didn’t get the pose exactly right…

Day 3

Friday was the presentation of the papers. I had never presented at a conference before, so the nerves were quite high. Stephanie and I were in the third session of papers, The 20th Century Roadside in the 21st Century. The two other paper sessions were Exploring the History of Cincinnati and the Buckeye State, and History and Preservation of the American Roadside. Each presenter was allotted 20 minutes to present with a 20 minute Q&A after each paper session. I am happy to report that our presentation went very well. I tried to slow down and focus on positive faces on the crowd. We received a lot of questions about the SCA collection from the audience. Following the paper sessions, Neon, a documentary covering the history of neon in the United States was shown.

Day 4

The focus of Day 4 was a tour of the Dixie Highway, one of the first major highways in the United States. We loaded up on the buses at 8 am and began our travels to Lima, Ohio. Along the way, we stopped at various regional mom-and-pop shops including Kewpee Hamburgers for a late lunch. We also stopped at businesses with interesting signs as seen below. The day concluded with the closing dinner at the Mecklenburg Gardens for a German dinner.

Mom and pop shops have some of the more unique signs!

The context for why we attended this conference was centered on acquiring additional SCA archival material, but also educating others about what the Alexander Architectural Archives does as an archive. Many times I have had to explain what an archive does and how archivists operates within such an institution. The opportunity to speak directly to SCA members, the individuals donating their material, about the SCA collection was education for both groups. We actually came home with new acquisitions including posters and towels for a conference in Miami during the early 80s.

The opportunity to present at the SCA conference was a highlight of my fall semester. Among my classmates, I have been one of the few to have had the opportunity to present at a conference for their job. I also learned more about the amount of preparation needed to create a professional level presentation, which is always needed! Stephanie and I created a nice PowerPoint presentation, which we both practiced numerous times including one final run on the day of paper sessions.  On a more personal level, I have become quite knowledgeable about the history of SCA. It was wonderful and slightly bizarre to actually meet the individuals featured in the collection. I was starstruck a few times. I am very grateful for the opportunity to present on a project that has been a passion of mine. Next time you see a neon sign or a diner, stop and take a look around! You won’t regret it!

Order Up! – The SCA Collection at AAA

Hello! This is Irene Lule, Graduate Research Assistant for the Alexander Architectural Archives (AAA), with information about our most recent processed collection, the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) records. Formed in 1977, the Society for Commercial Archeology is a nonprofit organization focused on the 20th century built environment. Its collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive documents the activities and business of the organization from its inception to the present. From diners to neon signs, SCA publishes a quarterly newsletter, Road Notes, and a journal, SCA Journal along with organizing tours and conferences for its members. The value of any collection is always dependent on the user. For myself, the processor, learning more about processing archival collections, how an organization functions, and a look into commercialism from the mid-20th century are three of the most important. The following blog post will discuss some of the challenges and highlight some of the true gems in the collection.


The overall goal of any processing project is to establish physical and intellectual control over a collection. Measuring at 9.42 linear feet and with over 900 photographic materials, the SCA collection can be called an artificial collection, which is “a collection of materials with different provenance assembled and organized to facilitate its management or use.”[1] During the first two accessions (the act of acquiring/transferring archival materials to a repository) in 2016 and 2017, a vast majority of the material came from former SCA board members including the Alexander Architectural Archive’s curator, Beth Dodd. Combing the records of different board members to create one cohesive collection is a difficult task mostly because everyone has a different way of organizing their individual records. The way one person files their documents will not be the same as the next person. In this case, we attributed many of the folders to their original creator. For example, Beth Dodd was one of the co-organizers of the SCA’s conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September 2008. Since many of the records contain her personal notes, we made sure to attribute the proper folders to her. Bringing together the records of former board members is critical in creating the SCA collection, but it is also important to attribute the individual creators when appropriate.

Other challenges with the collection include privacy and photographic materials. Since many of the records are from a single individual, names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers are found throughout. As archivists, we have a code of ethics which speaks directly to protecting the privacy of the individuals in a collection. For SCA, each folder with personal information was labeled as “Restricted” This label serves as a warning to Nancy Sparrow, who is in charge of public services for the Alexander Architectural Archives. To be clear, the “Restricted” label does not necessarily mean the material will not be available for research. The label notifies Nancy to go through the material and determine the best course of action including redaction of sensitive information. Redaction is “the process of editing text for publication.” All of these measures are used to ensure the privacy of the individuals featured in the collection.

Photographic material in any collection is always challenging due to its specialized housing needs. In the case of SCA, a portion of photographic material was found in envelopes. As archivists, we have to determine the best way to rehouse these items while also maintaining the original order and provenance. In many cases, I rehoused the photograph in a four-flap enclosure and attached the original letter using a plastic paper clip, which is much less harmful than metal paper clips since metal may rust and stain. This tells others that these items are meant to be together. I also included a small note on the top of the enclosure indicating where the photograph came from as a secondary measure.

Collection Highlights

One of my personal favorite features of the SCA collection is the material documenting the publication of the quarterly newsletter, SCA News (now known as Road Notes) from 1994-1999. We were fortunate to acquire the records of its former editor Gregory Smith. As editor, Greg received correspondence, letters, and clippings from SCA members and the general public about the current events in the commercial built environment. A vast majority of our photographic material comes from this section of the collection including some wonderful photographs of neon signs.

Some of the photographs documenting the neon signs on the American roadside!
A draft of the newsletter from the SCA collection. These are examples of the types of materials former editor, Gregory Smith, would receive for publication consideration.

Additionally, the SCA collection documents the various events of the organization. Particularly active in the 1980s, tours and conferences featuring diners to quirky cities like Wildwood, New Jersey provide a glimpse into the past activities of the organization. These events served the purpose of bringing together individuals with shared interests.

SCA has a particular fondness for diners.
As a nonprofit organization, SCA is run by volunteers. Board members from various backgrounds are the backbone of the organization. This photograph is of a guide created by SCA board members for a tour in the 1980s. As you can see, diners are a common feature for SCA!

Along with these two features, SCA also contains the minutes, agendas, and various administrative records of the organization. Given its status as an artificial collection, there are some gaps we are hoping to fill through outreach. We recently attended the SCA’s 40th anniversary conference in Cincinnati, Ohio where we presented on the project and also sought archival material donations. We are expecting to receive future accruals. I often think of the SCA collection as a living collection. After I leave the Alexander Architectural Archives, someone else will continue to work on integrating both legacy and current materials into the collection. As long as SCA exists, this collection will continue to grow.

Personal Notes

The Society for Commercial Archeology collection has a very special place in my career. As the largest and most complex collection I have ever processed, I have taken away a lot of lessons about rehousing, description, arrangement, and project management along with educating me about a quirky and unique part of the built environment. I am grateful to Stephanie, Beth, and Nancy for this wonderful opportunity. Please feel free to schedule an appointment with Nancy Sparrow if you wish to view the SCA collection. We are currently wrapping up the final edits of the SCA finding aid, which will be made available on Texas Archival Resources Online and ArchiveGrid.


[1] “Artificial Collection,” Society of American Archivists, accessed November 20, 2017.

World War I & UT-Austin

Hello! My name is Irene Lule. I work at the Alexander Architectural Archives as a graduate research assistant. I was fortunate to spend my summer interning with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. The Veterans History Project, created by Congress in 2000, “collects, preserves, and makes accessible” the records of our American veterans from World War I to present.[1] My specific project focused on increasing the discoverability of World War I veteran collections through finding aids. A finding aid, as described by the Society for American Archivists, is “a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.”[2] Ultimately, our goal was to create finding aids to facilitate greater use of World War I collections. By the end of my internship, I had encoded 10 finding aids documenting the experiences of World War I veterans. As someone not too well versed in the United States’ role in World War I, I could not have asked for a better educational experience. To learn more about my experience at the Veterans History Project and the veterans I worked with, read my two blogs for the Library of Congress about soldier homecomings and WWI-era postcards. As Junior Fellows, we presented our projects to Library of Congress staff and the public. Check out the picture of me (in the blue dress) below on Display Day!

LOC_1                     Photo by: Shawn Miller for the Library of Congress

After returning to The University of Texas at Austin (UT) campus for the fall semester, my experience with World War I archival material increased my awareness of the university’s World War I history. Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of Veterans Day.  Enacted in 1938, the holiday also marks Armistice Day in other countries.[3] Along with being the first “modern” war, America mobilized over 4,000,000 soldiers in two years and suffered over 100,000 casualties during World War I.[4] While typically associated with the Vietnam War, a majority of these men were conscripted (drafted) from all over the United States.[5] On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed between the Allied and Central Powers ending the fighting in World War I. Memorials to the American soldiers of World War I are seen throughout the UT campus since post-WWI years marked a period of tremendous expansion for the university. As time marks away the years, the visual representation of these memorials are not lost. There are several memorials commemorating World War I at UT, including one large stadium. Erected in 1924, the current Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (DKR) was originally dedicated to all Texans that had served during World War I.[6] Following the successive wars that followed, the stadium was re-dedicated (for a third time) to all Americans soldiers in all wars in 1977.[7] Next time you are near the stadium, stop by the Red McCombs Red Zone to view the plaque listing the names of Texans that perished in World War I and a rendering of a doughboy (slang for an American soldier during World War I).

IMG_1549A rendering of a WWI doughboy outside of the Red McCombs Red Zone.

In addition, the Alexander Architectural Archives contains archival material related to the World War I memorials designed by Philippe Cret. Paul Philippe Cret, a prominent architect hired by the UT administrators to create a master plan for the University and design the Main Building, has an interesting connection to World War I. A noted architect, Cret was born and raised in France.[8] He relocated to Philadelphia to teach architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but still visited France during the summers with his wife.[9] With the breakout of World War I in June 1914, Cret, at the time in France, joined the French army, where he remained for the duration of the war.[10] Cret actually “suffered from serious deafness as a result of his service in World War I.”[11] Following his service, Cret was commissioned by the American Battle Monuments Commission to design World War I memorials. The Alexander Architectural Archives has an extensive collection containing Cret’s drawings, photographic material, and papers predominantly related to his work with the University of Texas as well as materials related to his work involving World War I memorials. The following paragraphs will discuss some of these materials from the Littlefield Fountain and Chateau-Thierry Memorial.

Cret_4Cret (in the middle) with William Battle and fellow architect, Robert Leon White (WWI veteran) at UT Austin on November 8, 1932.

As mentioned before, much of our most UT iconic structures can be credited to the post-WWI years. One of these is the Littlefield Fountain, which was constructed following a donation from Major George W. Littlefield. Created in the context of Southern remembrance, the fountain’s history is extensive and complicated. Littlefield originally imagined an arch lined with the “figures important to Texas and Southern history.”[12] Pompeo Coppini redesigned Littlefield’s idea to be a fountain commemorating World War I with the (now removed) Confederate statues surrounding the fountain as a “monument of reconciliation portraying World War I as the catalyst that inspired Americans to put aside differences lingering from the Civil War and unite in carrying the torch of liberty to the Old World.”[13] Paul Cret came into the Littlefield Fountain process well after its inception, but as the consulting architect for the university, his approval was crucial. He reorganized the location of the Confederate statues away from the fountain and along the mall where they remained until August 2017.[14] After years of back and forth, Littlefield’s death in 1920, and various other issues, the Littlefield Fountain was unveiled in 1932 with both Littlefield’s and Coppini’s original intentions “hopelessly blurred.”[15]

There are several features of the fountain that are very obviously about World War I. Alongside the side of Columbia, there is a soldier and sailor on her sides.[16] The back of the fountain contains a plaque listing the “Sons and Daughters” of the university that died in the Great War.

IMG_1540The sailor, located on the right side of Columbia, on the Littlefield Fountain.

Located just outside of Chateau-Thierry, France, the Chateau-Thierry Monument “commemorates the sacrifices and achievements of American and French fighting men in the region, and the friendship and cooperation of French and American forces during World War I.”[17] The photograph below depicts an eagle with a map of the region (designed by Cret) nestled underneath.


Along with “heroic sculptured figures representing the United States and France,” the monument is a double colonnade rising above the valley of the Marne River.[18] The American Battle Monuments Commission has digitized the 1937 dedication of the monument on YouTube, which includes a speech by General John J. Pershing! The photograph below depicts an eagle with a map of the region (designed by Cret) nestled under from a scrapbook in the Cret collection.[19]

Cret_3Another angle of the eagle. All three World War I memorial photographs are from a scrapbook in the Cret collection.

Cret was also commissioned for World War I monuments in the United States. Below is photograph of the Providence World War I Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cret_1A World War I memorial, also designed by Cret, in Providence, Rhode Island.

In addition to the Paul Philippe Cret collection, the Alexander Architectural Archives contains several collections from World War I veterans including Ralph Cameron, Theo S. Maffitt, Preston M. Geren, and Robert Leon White. Cameron and Maffitt also served during World War II with the Corps of Engineers. Most of these collections focus on the veteran’s career as an architect with some exceptions.

Next time you find yourself on the 40 Acres whether it is walking to class, rushing to a meeting, or watching the Longhorns play in DKR, take a moment to reflect on the memorials and read the names of UT’s past.


[1] “About the Project,” Veterans History Project, accessed November 7, 2017,

[2] “Finding Aid,” Society of American Archivists, accessed November 7, 2017,


[3] “Veterans Day,” Wikipedia, accessed November 7, 2017,

[4] “United States in World War I,” Wikipedia, accessed November 6, 2017,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Handbook of Texas Online, Richard Pennington, “Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium,” accessed November 06, 2017,

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Paul Philippe Cret papers,” University of Pennsylvania, accessed November 6, 2017,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jim Necar, “Symbolism Amok,” Alcalde, May/June 2001, 80.

[13] Speck, Lawrence W., and Richard Louis. Cleary. The University of Texas at Austin: an architectural tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, 88.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Speck, Lawrence W., and Richard Louis. Cleary. The University of Texas at Austin: an architectural tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, 87.

[17] Elizabeth Nishiura, American Battle Monuments: A guide to military cemeteries and monuments maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1989), 4.

[18] “Chateau-Thierry Monument,” American Battle Monuments Commission, accessed November 6, 2017,

[19] Elizabeth Nishiura, American Battle Monuments: A guide to military cemeteries and monuments maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1989), 50.