Sunday, March 02, 2008

When in Rome (Do the Jerk)

I admit, I've been waiting to use that post title for a couple years now. I've never known much about Rome (Georgia) -- it got its name because of a topographical similarity to Rome #1, and that's about it. I knew a girl who went to college there, but she seemed markedly unenthusiastic about it. Between that and a really psychotic right-wing web page celebrating the city's virtues, I didn't expect much of it. Oh, there is a minor league baseball team up there, which has always sounded like a nice way to spend an evening, but since they're called the Braves, I figure the fans do the tomahawk chop, which always makes me sad to be alive.

Still, I wanted to go up there, really for one reason only: the city has a statue given as a gift by Benito Mussolini.

Yeah, that Benito Mussolini.

It's still there: Romulus and Remus, donated by Il Duce. In fairness, it was given to the city well before World War II, and he gave it out of a spirit of Roman brotherhood, rather than ideological sympathy. Still, aside from the 45-foot tall statue of Saddam Hussein in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it's hard to think of any other gifts of such notorious origin.

Yep, Benito.

Anyway, I drove up there almost solely for the statue -- it's quite a hike, 45 minutes or so on the interstate and then it's another 30 miles off the interstate. But to my surprise, Rome turned out to be really charming and pleasant; more bustling and interesting than I'd expected.

Lots of old buildings, for one thing, and largely still in use. Up at the very top is the DeSoto theater. That's just one of 16 bazillion pictures I took of that great building. Fantastic sign, and slightly down-at-the-hell without appearing neglected -- the window shutters look to be original, or at least really really old. The building's still in use by a repertory company (there was a sign advertising "Footloose" in the window).

Haven't seen a barber pole in ages.

Freemason temple. They always look so cool.

One of the charms of a town like this is the feeling that a resident from 1940 or 1970 could come back today and recognize the layout and buildings, if not the businesses inside. That's something that (for instance) Atlanta largely lacks. There's big chunks of main drags Ponce de Leon or Peachtree that are probably unrecognizable from even 15 years ago.

Things seemed to be pretty healthy in Rome -- most of these storefronts were occupied (though a few were vacant, and others looked like they'd been occupied briefly by fly-by-night tax filing shops). It was a really pleasant walking neighborhood, too.

Then there was this place, which looks to be straight out of the 1940s and still open (though not when I was there -- I was all set to stop in). There's a globe on top of the Partridge that looks like it lights up at night; unfortunately my photos of it didn't come out so well. Not to get all James Lileks on you, but all restaurants should have signs like this.

Koman's looked like it had been there for a long, long time -- the look of it sort of reminded me of the Michigan five-and-dime stores of my youth. It's located in the Kress Building, which apparently was a department store chain, and was there a long time itself -- the top of the building and the door handles (as seen here -- scroll down) still say "Kress."

I always have a fondness for buildings like this -- you know that at one point, there was something big next to it, so it didn't stick out like this. Now it just looks kinda sad and orphaned.

Ghost sign! Finally. I'd been getting worried.

I'll post a few more in the coming days. Lots of cool stuff, up there in Rome.

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