The teepee was one of the regional images used in designing shelters for picnic areas located along Texas' Interstates. This structure was photographed for Safety Rest area Development c. 1970
The limited access nature of Interstate Highways meant that a stop within these sites was often the only contact travelers had with regions they were passing through. Before the development of interchange business there were few options for stopping available to drivers on newly constructed stretches of
SRAs took the place of both the roadside park and the roadside store, while the sites did not allow for commercial business; they did provide a place where travelers could stop, rest, eat a picnic lunch, appreciate local landscapes and enjoy the use of comfort facilities.
The functionality of these sites made feasible the less tangible directive of connecting people with the regions they passed through; replacing the local flavor that would have once been readily accessible from the roadway.
Architecture was an essential element in developing the context of a site. Safety rest areas were designed around a central architectural theme which was established in the toilet building and then reflected in the other structures, most commonly picnic and information shelters.
While the standard was to develop sites that reflected a cohesive design aesthetic, developers often took liberty matching modern with regional. The scale of early toilet buildings was modest, frequently exhibiting a modernist aesthetic, while picnic shelters became a means of creative articulation. Exaggerated expressions of regional flavor, approaching the monumental, manifested in picnic shelters that often became as sculptural as they were functional. Thus travelers passing though
Safety rest areas continue to function in their original capacity, due to this; their buildings, structures and original site plans are continually threatened by redevelopment. As the demands of travelers change and increase, safety rest areas are targeted for redevelopment to meet the new needs of capacity and serviceability. However with the passage of time these sites have become more than stewards of Interstate travelers. They are important cultural landscapes, expressing the expansion of road building and the growth of leisure travel that emerged during the mid-century period. As well they articulate the desire people felt to remain personally connected to their nation even as it was growing ever more disparate; and are quirky and engaging manifestations of the mid-century’s cultural aesthetic and ideology.
Rest area history.org is dedicated to documenting and communicating the unique and significant history of Interstate safety rest areas. It is our belief that these sites illustrate an important aspect of the American travel experience and specifically articulate our experience of travel as it was shaped by the Interstate era beginning in the 1950s. SRAs are significant both for the nature of their off road spaces and for the architectural forms found within them. As we are gaining increased appreciation for our mid-twentieth century architectural landscape it is becoming increasingly important to look for significance in unlikely places and to recognize that many buildings constructed during this era have relevance in our lives today. The history of safety rest areas is one that we participate in each time we visit one of these sites..