Roadside Architecture

by the other theo


Carvel stand, Darien, CT
(courtesy of

One thing that’s happened in recent years is increased fascination with mid-20th design and architecture.   I think part of this is due to the understanding that I no longer live in the world into which I was born, in so many ways.   Coming into the world in the late 1960’s, my early, early childhood was spent in a country that had only known prosperity and an increasing standard of living for 25 years or more.

It also marked the beginning of a long period of decline for the Northeastern United States.   The city where I was born ran out of undeveloped land to build houses by the late 1950’s, forcing workers drawn by a still prosperous economy to settle elsewhere… much like the area where I now live today.  That began a shift in revenue and cost that was the start of a decline, in development, in population, and eventually economic activity from which it still has not recovered.

Still, it was the tail end of a time of exuberance… where new things where tried, in design and in architecture.

One of the more curious examples of this time in roadside architecture was the corporate design of Carvel Ice Cream Stores.   The chain was the child of Tom Caravelas, a Greek-born businessman who is sometimes credited with the invention of soft serve ice cream, but who definitely developed and sold machines for freezing and dispensing it.   He developed a regular blueprint for Carvel stores, with a pitched roof and sheet glass front.   He and Ray Kroc knew each other, and the Carvel store design is said to have influenced the design of early McDonald’s stores.

I didn’t know any of that growing up, of course.  The local Carvel “stand” was just over a mile from where I lived, and we used to go there for soft or hard ice cream… usually soft, mostly on a cone, but sometimes in a sundae with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, peanuts, and a cherry.

The picture above shows a store in Connecticut that looks very much how “my” store exists in my memories.

I had occasion on a recent trip East to get some soft serve ice cream at the old location.   It’s fallen on hard times.   It ceased to be a Carvel store sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  It had one independent owner for a while, and now on this recent trip, another.   The soft serve sundae was still delicious and much as I remember it, though made by different hands.   I was glad to share that particular experience with the Missus and the Peanut.

There was a citation in the window for Architectural Excellence for “preserving unique roadside architecture.”

My Mom tells me that she hears rumors around town that the store won’t be open for much longer.   That would be a shame.   If anywhere in town should have ice cream, it’s there.