Redesigning downtown: the fabrication of German-themed villages in small-town America

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Redesigning downtown: the fabrication of German-themed villages in small-town America

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Title: Redesigning downtown: the fabrication of German-themed villages in small-town America
Author: Swope, Caroline Theodora
Abstract: This dissertation examines the conversion of Leavenworth, Washington, and Helen, Georgia, into Germanic-themed towns in the 1960s and '70s. Although neither community had a Germanic ethnic base, both sought economic and physical rebirth by remodeling their town cores in an "alpine" or "Bavarian" style. My research indicates that these efforts to "create culture" betray the same fundamental instinct pioneered in a series of world's fairs and in Disney's theme parks. They also share a living history element with Colonial Williamsburg, another American community that has a fabricated cultural and historical identity. This study argues that Helen and Leavenworth's revitalization movements are related to a rising preservation movement in the United States, and proposes that they constitute important variants of the national trend to capitalize on tourism as other forms of economic revenue declined.Close analysis of the circumstances and the architectural design processes behind the civic transformations (including extensive archival research and interviews with the surviving protagonists) suggests that the choice of a Germanic theme was a direct result of American military presence in post World War II Germany. The principal community designers for both Helen and Leavenworth were stationed in post-war Germany, and both sought to recreate a vision of the appealing Alpine and late-medieval landscapes they had encountered overseas. Back at home, their positive and romantic vision of Germanic culture was promoted by America's growing travel and entertainment industry. Books of Germanic fairy tales featured illustrations of half-timbered chalets, while Disney used similar elements in cartoons like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, which promoted a connection in the American psyche between German architecture and childhood fantasy. America's extensive Germanic heritage, combined with its central role in the reconstruction of post-war Germany, made it particularly receptive to the idealized "Germanic" environments created at Helen and Leavenworth, which continue to inspire similar communities. Finally, this thesis explores the challenges and successes of these communities' strategies over time, investigating how they may provide helpful case studies within a broader investigation of the problem of "created culture."
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2003

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