October 18, 2006

Hope Floats in Smithville

Smithville, Texas is 40 miles east of Austin and 20 miles west of La Grange. It is one of many "railroad towns" in Texas that flourished back when the railroad system was the primary means of travel and mover of goods and supplies. Many towns such as Glen Flora and Timpson have never recovered from the rise of the interstate (Glen Flora's tracks have even been torn up and paved over). The film Hope Floats (which I have not seen) was filmed in Smithville in 1997, and the town has no doubt benefited from the influx of Hollywood money.

It probably still gets curiosity seekers, such as myself, who spend money while visiting. If you were to go to Smithville, you'd see clear signs of the movie having been filmed there. On the sides of several of the old brick buildings are faux "ghost signs." I can imagine real ghost sign hunters, like myself, who don't know they are bogus, becoming extremely excited when stumbling upon them.

Here is some interesting information on how to tell the real ones from the fake (via the excellent Texas Escapes):

Lettering on movie signs isn't as meticulous as legitimate signs since they only appear on camera for a few seconds, if at all. The artists could certainly match the sign painter's skill if they had time. We're sure some of the older set painters are former wall dogs. Some set artists for the movie Hope Floats (filmed in Smithville) have even painted faux ghost signs - creating false layers of faded paint bleeding through the "real" ghost sign which may be for a product that did or didn't exist. Confused? Just watch the movie until the sign appears (if you can manage to stay awake).

Another way of telling a false ghost is the peeling and flaking of the paint. The current "safe" paints used by Hollywood degrade and flake off in a few years. Smithville's once outstanding Bright and Early Coffee ad has in 3 short years become almost invisible.

Compare this picture from Texas Escapes, taken in 2003

to the one I took last Saturday (October 2006):

Yep, it's basically gone.

Here is a good example of peeling and flaking:

Nonetheless, the ones remaining are very cool:

This was my favorite:

There's an undeniable degree of artistry involved!

The building made over as "Honey's Diner," although currently being used to store lumber, once housed an epicenter of the Smithville economy.

The owner of the building happened to come out as I was snapping pictures, and told me some of its history. The signs at the top of the building ("Cafe," "Hotel") are authentic, as it was a bustling hotel and cafe. Its close proximity to the railroad depot (about two blocks) guaranteed the hotel owners what must have seemed like a never ending supply of guests. The current owner was very nice, and expressed some regret about being the building's landlord. He said, "Enjoy Smithville," as he returned inside to his woodworking.

I'm not sure about the authenticity of this business. Cool font, anyway. It's a little bit too perfect, so I'd suspect it's faux:
The Masonic Lodge was built in the 1870s. My dad, who drove through Smithville many times in the early '60s when making the drive between Austin (where he was attending U.T.) and Eagle Lake (where his parents lived), thinks he remembers seeing the ads on its side, which are now "ghosts." I'm skeptical.

Seems like there are too many clear layers of ads for it to be real.

This was done before the movie was made, probably very recently (the late '80s or early '90s):
Finally, I didn't think there were any of these left in Texas!


slesl said...

I love "Hope Floats" - and I've always wanted to do the tour in Smithville - I just never have! Maybe one of these days I will...

Chris said...

You should, Leslie! It's fairly close to you, and it is definitely worth a visit. I'd recommend parking and strolling!