Friday 15 August 2008

Go Greyhound

Today we return to a subject I wrote about last summer, the Greyhound Bus and its distinctive corporate image. All the mainland US states are stitched together by this network of bus routes and the Greyhound survives to this day as one of America’s enduring icons. In terms of visual style, its greatest impact was in the 1930’s and 1940’s when the company constructed a vast number of city centre bus terminals in a highly developed Art Deco-derived idiom making liberal use of streamlined forms, gleaming tiled surfaces in corporate colours with muscular visual branding and signage. The examples shown here come from linen postcards of the period and present an attractive but somewhat idealised image of the company architecture. The postcards are the subject of a recent book, Greyhound in Postcards: Buses, Depots, and Post Houses, details can be seen by clicking here.

While air travel was the preserve of the wealthy, the company’s main competition came from the railroads. The heyday of railway station building was long past by the 1930’s and the railroads were left with oversized and expensive to maintain structures that had become to look antiquated. The strategists at Greyhound exploited their advantage by developing compact structures with a high degree of visibility and an indelible association with Modernism and Streamline Graphics. From 1937 the lead architect responsible for these designs was William S. Arrasmith (1898-1965) of the Louisville firm of Wischmeyer, Arrasmith & Elswick. According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville he designed more than 65 terminals, beginning with this example in his hometown in 1937. He also invented the enamel colouring process with which to clad the buildings in “Greyhound Blue”. The result was that these buildings were extremely effective in the way in which they echoed the blue and chrome trimmed styling of the buses themselves to provide the passenger with a sense of a complete all-embracing experience. In 2006 a book on the subject was published, The Streamline Era Greyhound Terminal: The Architecture of W.S. Arrasmith by Frank E. Wrenick, to read a review, please click here.

Finally, a few examples of Greyhound publicity from the pages of Life and Saturday Evening Post. The Art Deco idiom was not favoured when it came to mass circulation advertising. It would have been exciting if the services of someone like Joseph Binder or A M Cassandre had been employed but more conventional combinations of image and text prevailed. Even so, there’s much to admire in the ingenuity with which the copywriters emphasise the association with the freshness of the great outdoors, thus neatly sidestepping the odour of hot diesel fumes. The advertisers were not slow to spot that the blue livery of the coaches was perfect for making the connection with the air-conditioned interiors. All the discomforts of bus travel, the lack of ventilation, the proximity of strangers of doubtful probity and personal hygiene, the claustrophobic experience of being wedged into your seat, were artfully eliminated from the picture!

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