John Margolies

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John Margolies
Born(1940-05-16)May 16, 1940
DiedMay 26, 2016(2016-05-26) (aged 76)
OccupationPhotographer, architecture critic
Years active1970–2016
Partner(s)Jane Tai

John Margolies was an architectural critic, photographer, and author who was noted for celebrating vernacular and novelty architecture in the United States, particularly those designed as roadside attractions. Starting from the mid-1970s, he began to photograph sites during long road trips, since he was concerned these sites would be displaced by the growing modernist trend. He was credited with shaping postmodern architecture and recognizing buildings that would be added to the National Register of Historic Places through his documentary work. Starting in 2007, the Library of Congress began to acquire his photographs, and created the public domain John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive in 2016, consisting of 11,710 scans of color slides taken by Margolies.

Early life[edit]

John Samuel Margolies was born on May 16, 1940 in New Canaan, Connecticut, the son of Asher and Ethel (née Polacheck).[1] During childhood road trips, he would beg his parents to stop at roadside attractions, but they refused, believing it to be "the ugliest stuff in the world."[2] Margolies studied at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor's degree in art history and journalism, and a master's degree in communications.[1]


After graduating, Margolies took a job at Architectural Record and worked as the program director of the Architectural League of New York, where he exhibited the work of Morris Lapidus in 1970. Lapidus was famed for designing the Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, and the exhibition horrified Margolies's peers.[1] He began to photograph novelty architecture in the mid-70s, concerned that these sights were starting to disappear.[3] Margolies was funded through grants and fellowships through the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Alicia Patterson Foundation,[4] and architect Philip Johnson.[1]

Margolies exhibited his photographs at the Hudson River Museum in 1981, a show described by critic Paul Goldberger as "pure joy" and "an articulate plea against the homogenization of the American landscape."[5] The Library of Congress credits Margolies with shaping the postmodernist movement, and digitized his work in 2016, making it available as public domain.[3]

The photographs distinctively omit people and are taken in full sunlight with clear skies, a deliberate choice to reduce visual distraction.[6]

Other interests[edit]

Margolies was also a noted collector of postcards,[7] maps,[8] and other travel ephemera.[2]



  • Garfinckel, Nina; Reidelbach, Maria; Margolies, John (photography) (1987). Miniature Golf. Abbeville Press. ISBN 9780896596849.
  • Margolies, John (1993). Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station. Bulfinch Press. ISBN 978-0-8212-2284-3.
  • Margolies, John (1995). Home Away from Home: Motels in America. Bulfinch Press. ISBN 978-0-8212-2162-4.
  • Yorke Jr., Douglas A.; Margolies, John; Baker, Eric (April 1996). Hitting the Road: The Art of the American Road Map. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0811810159.
  • Margolies, John (1998). Fun Along the Road: American Tourist Attractions. Bulfinch Press. ISBN 978-0-8212-2351-2.
  • Orcutt, Georgia; Margolies, John (April 2007). Blue Ribbon USA: Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 9780811854849. Retrieved 28 June 2018.


  1. ^ a b c d Fox, Margalit (2 June 2016). "John Margolies, Photographer of Whimsical Architecture, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b Powers, Rebecca (25 July 2015). "Retro signs galore: The ultimate American road trip". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b "John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive". Library of Congress. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  4. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (8 June 2016). "Farewell to John Margolies, who glorified the diners and motels of roadside America and left us 13,000 photos". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  5. ^ Goldberger, Paul (24 July 1981). "Art: Breuer Furniture; Neon, Hotels and Diners". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  6. ^ Burchard, Hank (12 May 1995). "Historic preservation through a lens". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  7. ^ Slesin, Suzanne (10 September 1989). "Style Makers; Emily Gwathmey and John Margolies: Postcard Collectors". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  8. ^ Patton, Phil (12 November 2006). "When Maps Reflected Romance of the Road". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2018.

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