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Archive for February, 2008

Columbia Museum of Art & Science, Bull Street & Senate Street: 1998   7 comments

Posted at 4:40 pm in attraction,historic

First of all, for me, it was the "Columbia Science Museum" with the "Art" part very much a secondary non-issue. Which is the opposite of the actual situation as in retrospect, the Science Museum was almost an afterthought in the combined enterprise.

There was a small lot behind Gibbes Planetarium where we would generally park, and take the brick walkway around the planetarium to the Science Museum front door. Right inside was the greeting desk which doubled as a gift kiosk. The only thing I can definitely recall being on sale there were Radiometers which were essentially light bulbs with solar-powered windmills inside. They also had various brochures and free premiums. The one I remember best, and which I am sure I still have an example of around somewhere was a small wallet card which had a table giving your weight on all the planets (and the sun).

If you walked past the greeting desk straight down the hall and steps all the way to the back door, you would come out in a small arboretum, no bigger than a couple of patios, planted with a variety of local plants, all described with placards. I think there was also a small pond, though I don't recall any fish.

If instead of going all the way to the back, you turned left, you would be in the main hall of the museum, which had a number of exibits, some semi-permanent, and some which changed from time to time. The semi-permanent exibits were a mad scientist's Jacob's Ladder, and a Foucault's Pendulum in a lucite cage which demonstrated something or other about the rotation of the earth. The jacob's ladder was my favorite, as it was "interactive" in the sense that it had a button you could push to turn it on. Watching the sparks climb the gap, and hearing the distinctive sizzle was something I found endlessly fascinating.

Off of the main hallway to the rear, was the museum's nature area where they had a bank of glass fronted cubicles with live examples of various South Carolina snakes, lizards and bugs. They also had a charmingly low-tech teaching device which had some sort of electrical wire, which if you toched it to the right answer to the wildlife question would illuminate a small bulb.

If at the front desk, you turned right, you would be in the small planetarium wing of the museum which housed the entrance to the planetarium, and a few other exhibits most of which changed from time to time. One which didn't change was the computer. I call it a computer, actually it was a piece of a computer, the "front panel" and some other parts if I recall correctly. Now the computer on which I'm typing this is much more powerful than the Science Museum computer, even if they had the whole thing there and running, but it's not nearly as impressive. The Science Museum computer was positively resplendent with cryptically labeled lights and toggle switches, and they let us flip any switch we wanted to! You know how in any old movie with a computer they always show the lights blinking on and off and a tape drive moving back and forth? They may not have had a tape drive (which were miserable to work with as I learned painfully later), but the lights and switches made up for it. In fact, I suspect on some level that my fascination with that partial computer combined with a number of other factors led me into programming..

If you walked down the main hall at the Science Museum past the nature room, you would come to the entrance to the Art Museum (or you could enter the main Art Museum door from the street). The Art Museum was basically the place your mother made you go after you had seen the Science Museum. It was set up in an old two story house with a fairly large one story addition on the back side. Since I didn't care much, my memory is pretty hazy, but I think they had a core collection with various exhibits on loan rotating in from time to time. I seem to remember that the bulk of the displays were in the rear, with the upstairs being reserved for especially uninteresting stuff like doll collections. Of course there were always a certain number of statues and paintings of naked ladies which were nice, but at which you could only glance briefly if with your mother. They always seemed to have some antique chairs, carefully roped off to keep them from being sat on, and enough nooks and crannies to do some running and hiding.

I can recall being interested in a particular show at the Art Museum only twice. Once they had part of the King Tut treasures as a visiting exhibit, something that drew huge crowds, and another time when I was in high school, they had a hologram exhibit which became a class field trip for most of the city schools (and was a rare good use of the upstairs space). Apparently it was a bit premature to call holograms an art form however, as they have kind of fallen by the wayside as a true "artistic medium".

Apparently the Art Museum had been feeling cramped for quite a while, and with the closing of most of the Main Street retail district, a lot of prime real estate became available downtown. In 1998, the Art side of the museum moved to Main Street, and the Science Museum and planetarium were simply closed with the buildings eventually being used by the USC Campus Police. There's probably an old warehouse somewhere in Columbia with a box labeled "computer parts" holding the marvelous space-aged Science Museum computer front panel..

UPDATE 21 June 2011: Added two pictures [at top] of the Science Museum from an old Chamber of Commerce promotional book. First kids queueing by the planetarium and then kids learning about nature in the back garden.

Written by ted on February 29th, 2008

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Denny's, Two Notch at I-77: early 2000s   6 comments

Posted at 5:12 pm in historic,restaurants

What can I say about Denny's? Well, if you are working until 2AM, it's the only place other than The Waffle House that you can eat at, and the food in the pictures on the menus looks really good!

No matter which location of Denny's I stop at, I have invariably found that the service is both slow and poor, and that the food, while edible, rarely looks nearly as good as the pictures on the menus. I recall an incident in the news some years ago where a couple of Secret Service agents, who happened to be black, were suing the chain for discrimination. I remember thinking at the time:

Well, it certainly could be discrimination, but it's also possible that they got the standard Denny's service and couldn't believe something that bad was not on purpose..

At one time, Denny's had three locations in Columbia that I can think of, this one, one on Airport Blvd and one on Harbison Rd. I think at this point only the Harbison location is left. I recall this location in particular as one to which my father, aunt, sister and I went once when we had the urge for pancakes. My father was the nicest man in the world, and would put up with anything, but even he commented on how bad the service was. After Denny's failed in this location, it was a sports bar for a while, and is now a carpet and floor store -- but I bet they could still get you a plate of pancakes faster than Denny's could.

Written by ted on February 26th, 2008

Richway / Gold Circle / Target, 2500 Decker Boulevard (Decker Mall): early 1990s   59 comments

Posted at 6:16 pm in historic,stores

Richway was the discount arm of Rich's. Now, half of you are thinking Rich's had a discount arm? and the other half are thinking What is Rich's?, but that can't be helped.

The idea of Richway was to be K-Mart, but a little more upscale. (Wal-Mart was not a factor at the time). To accomplish this, they made their store architecture a bit more "modern" and eye-catching and the insides somewhat less cluttered and more pleasant looking. Whether the architecture "worked" was a matter of some dispute. At the time, Mazda had just come out with a car called the RX-7 whose shape was very triangular, and whose ads featured all the "hip" RX-7 owners having triangular garages. When Richway built its stores (Decker Mall, Bush River Mall and Woodhill Mall), the question I heard several times was Why did they put RX-7 garages on the roof?.

I think they did suceed in making their stores a better shopping experience than K-Mart (it didn't take much!), but failed in creating their own distinctive brand and "experience". In fact, the only distinctive part of their branding that I can remember was a sham. In front of their battery of check-out lines, they had a pole with a light-switch on it, and a sign that said something to the effect:

If you ever find all the open lanes have more than two people waiting, flip this switch, and we will open another lane.

This raised two questions: 1) Why should it be the customers' job to monitor Richway's checkout lanes, and 2) what would happen if you actually flipped the switch?

I think the answer to the first question was: It shouldn't be, and the answer to the second was: Nothing. I actually made the experiment during one holiday season when I came in and found about half the lanes open and all backed up; it didn't accomplish anything other than me losing my place in line.

I'm a bit hazy on the circumstances of Richway's downfall, but it happened years before the actual Rich's stores were phased out. It might have been Macy's purchase of the parent chain that did it, or it might just have been that the stores weren't really profitable as the rise of Wal-Mart reshaped the retail world. At any rate, the whole chain went under, and the local Decker and Woodhill stores were aquired by Target (the Bush River store was not), which had a more successful "upscale discount" branding concept. After Target joined the flight from Decker, the building stood empty for a good while then was remade as a self-storage facility, anchoring what remains of Decker Mall (with the DMV anchoring the other end).

UPDATE: SAL (thanks for the link!) says it was a Gold Circle after being Richway and before being Target. I don't really remember that, but I may have been living out of town at the time.

UPDATE 21 Dec 2010: FInally added Gold Circle and Target to the post title.

Written by ted on February 25th, 2008

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Galaxy World, 7814 Two Notch Road (at I-77): 1980s   4 comments

Posted at 6:44 pm in business,entertainment,historic

As I wrote in my post on Robo's Video Ardade, nothing says "80s" like an arcade. But perhaps an even better example than Robos is the arcade which was at Two Notch & I-77 (although actually I-77 wasn't completed to that point at the time).

This arcade was a spec-built freestanding building located a good ways from any customer base, or foot-traffic. Robos was across the street from the University, other arcades were in malls, this one was meant to be a destination in itself, and it worked for a while...

I remember that in the summers while I was in grad school, I would drive out to Bell Camp (to be the subject of its own post someday) for an afternoon swim and drive home via Two Notch with my hair still drying in the breeze from the car window to make a stop at the arcade. I recall that the set of games skewed a bit from my favorites, but I still found enough I could play that I could drop a few dollars and spend an hour or so.

Soon after that, the arcade phenomenon crashed and arcades all over town closed down. My memory is that the next occupant of this building was some sort of carpet store, and that there may have been another before its current tenant, a golf center. I do know people who like golf, but I'd still rather visit an arcade.

UPDATE 16 July 2010: Finally updated the post title from "Video Arcade" to "Galaxy World", and added the full street address.

UPDATE 7 January 2014: Fix street address from 7813 to 7184.

Written by ted on February 24th, 2008

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Gibbes Planetarium, Senate Street & Bull Street: 1998   30 comments

Gibbes Planetarium was part of the old Art & Science Museum at Senate & Bull. I'll do a post on the museum at some point, but the Planetarium was, in my mind, its own entity. The Planetarium was a small round brick structure with a domed roof, and from the outside looked tiny, but on the inside was quite spacious (I believe it seated 55). One of the zombie web-sites mentioning the Planetarium says it was established in 1959. I don't remember that far back of course, but we started going in the mid 1960s when it still had the original equipment. You would walk in through a short hall from the Science Museum, and there would be two rows of bench seating wrapped around the room with this black, very boxy looking contraption on a pedastal in the middle. In the 1970s or 1980s they did a major upgrade, and the black boxy projector was replaced with an almost medical-imaging looking projector full of lenses and servo motors, all controlled from a space-age console that looked to me like it belonged on the bridge of The Enterprise. Not only did the new projector whir and piroutte, it showed a vastly more numerous field of stars, and had a number of built-in special effects.

The Planetarium was open on the weekends, and that generally was when we would go. If we had cousins staying over, it was practically mandatory. They ran a number of different shows during the year. They would almost always have some sort of "identify the local constellations" show, and they would have special topic shows on black-holes, supernovas and space exploration. Part of the equipment upgrade in addition to the new star projector was the installation of remote-controlled slide projectors all around the rim of the roof, so they could script elaborate shows with non-star images projected on the different sectors of the ceiling. During the Christmas season they usually had a show speculating on what astral phenomena could have been interpreted as the "Star of Bethlehem", and during later years they did several shows dramatizing classic science fiction stories. I remember in particular, their production of Asimov's "Nightfall", about a planet lit by a number of different suns which had never experienced darkness until one fateful day..

The experience of sitting in the Planetarium as the lights went down was always special. Whoever the presenter was always had a very smooth voice, and as the stars came out, and he spoke, I was always struck by an almost physical wave of sleepiness though it passed quickly.

When the Art Museum moved into bigger digs on Main Street in 1998, they dropped the "Science" part of their mission. I had hoped that the Gibbes Planetarium might carry on on its own, but it was not to be, and now the building houses part of the USC Campus Police, and the Planetarium is apprently used as a simple auditorium. I don't know what happened to all the equipment, it's not like you can use a planetarium projector for anything else -- I hope it found a good home.

UPDATE 18 October 2009: Well, I am sorry to report this, but I went by the Planetarium on 9 October 2009 during business hours, hoping to get permission to take some pictures inside. The front desk folks of the Campus Police were very friendly, but told me that the old Planetarium space was not in fact in use by them, as I had assumed, but was closed off with no access, and that they thought the interior was falling apart. Although it has only been 11 years since the space was in use, I suppose this is possible if there are leaks or mold or whatnot. I find this quite sad.

On the plus side, I have added 11 more high-res shots of the exterior.

UPDATE 21 June 2011: Added picture [at top] of kids queueing outside the planetarium from an old Chamber of Commerce promotional book.

Written by ted on February 22nd, 2008

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Hollywood Video, 4500 Devine Street: Feb 2008   2 comments

Posted at 9:07 pm in stores

If it's another day, it must be another Hollywood Video closing. This one is on Garners Ferry Road next to Ruby Tuesday.

UPDATE 23 October 2009: Actually the address is 4500 Devine Street, Garners Ferry doesn't start that soon. I have updated the post title.

UPDATE 29 January 2010 -- Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Barr is now open in this location:

Written by ted on February 19th, 2008

Egg Roll Station (Egg Roll Chen), 715 Crowson Road: 2007 (remodel)   1 comment

Posted at 7:28 pm in historic,restaurants

Then:

And Now:

Don't panic: The Egg Roll Station (also known as Egg Roll Chen) is not closed. I just thought that I should note the loss of the original building here. I understand why they might have wanted a newer building, but the old one (which I believe started as a Hardee's) had a unique "space-age" look.

I think that with the demolition of this building Silver City (the comics store) on Knox Abbot Drive in Cayce is the only remaining structure of this type in the Columbia area.

UPDATE 30 April 2010: I've corrected the street address in the post title. Also, I've found they have their own web site which has a good picture of their old building.

Written by ted on February 19th, 2008

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Nationwide Mattress, West Beltline Blvd: Feb 2008   no comments

Posted at 7:22 pm in stores

Here's another furnishings store on the way out of business. It could be a marginal location, or it could be another casualty of the housing market.

Written by ted on February 18th, 2008

Moxie's / The Cork & Cleaver / Cobblestone (?) / John Paul's Steakhouse / D. B. Hooter's / CJ's (?) / D's Wings, 806 Saint Andrews Road: Early 2008   19 comments

Posted at 6:57 pm in historic,restaurants

D's is a local (I believe) chain of casual restaurants with an unusually large menu. They have a little something for everyone, and are the only restaurants in Columbia (that I know of) which fry their own potato chips ("raw fries" they call them). They have a number of locations; I can think of Clemson Road, Parkland Plaza, and Beltline Blvd. They now have one less.

This particular building on St. Andrews Road appears to have a restaurant curse attached to it, as I have seen a number of operations go into it over the years, and none of them have lasted very long. More prosaically, it may just be that while it is easy to exit I-26 to eat there, it is difficult to get back on the Interstate because a left turn out of the parking lot is almost impossible when traffic is moderate or heavy.

UPDATE 24 Feb 2010: Added a bunch of previous names to the post title based on the comments. Also see here (Baja's Southwestern Grill) and here (Delmonico Diner) for the next two operations in this building.

UPDATE 31 Jan 2011: Added the full street address to the post title, finally.

Written by ted on February 18th, 2008

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Mr. Muffler, 5314 Two Notch Road (@ Pinestraw Road): 2007   4 comments

Posted at 7:24 pm in stores

Mr. Muffler was a very low-key, "We only do one thing" auto shop on Two Notch. As far as I could tell walking or driving past the place, they were never overwhelmed with work, but never wholly idle either.

"Mr. Muffler" himself was a cheerry 1950s looking cartoon guy who had a big smile as he carried a muffler. In the picture, you can see where he used to be, but the cut-out itself is gone. That makes me think that Mr. Muffler must be a chain with some other locations. Chains like to take all of their branding down from defunct locations while one-off stores don't really care.

This shop was located next to a sketchy trailer park, and all around the park are now signs warning that the park is closed and there is no tresspassing. One of those signs has been affixed to the Mr. Muffler store, making me wonder if a developer bought out the park & Mr. Muffler to mark this whole corner of Two Notch & Pinestraw for development.

UPDATE 30 Jan 09:

Here's the "Mr. Muffler" cartoon character from the Earl's Mr. Muffler on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia. (Note that he is facing in the opposite direction from the one which was taken down from the Two Notch store building).

UPDATE 17 March 2010 -- I've added the full street address to the post title. Also, the building has been boarded up now:

UPDATE 11 January 2012 -- More pictures (27 August 2011) of the place boarded up:

UPDATE 30 September 2011 -- at some point someone has torn down the plywood window sheets. I'm thinking this was a break-in, or just random vandalism as they have now been put back up:

UPDATE 10 January 2012 -- As this picture from a few days later (1 October 2011) shows, the property owner has put up stakes around the parking lot to keep people from driving in there. I noticed 18-Wheelers in particular using the lot as an inpromptu pull-off:

Written by ted on February 16th, 2008

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