HOWARD JOHNSON’S was one of the largest and most popular restaurant and hotel chains in America during the 1970s, with more than 1,000 locations across the country. The restaurant’s trademark orange roof and weathervane welcomed customers who came for the fried clams, frankfurters and ice cream. There was even a location on Bank Street in New London, popular with Connecticut College students.
Though the hotel arm of the business continues, only two restaurant locations remain: one in Bangor, Maine, and another in Lake George, New York.
Well, three locations—if you count the home of Warren Erickson ’74.
The retired financier and former College trustee has spent nearly 40 years collecting Howard Johnson’s memorabilia, scouring flea markets, auctions and Internet sites for everything from salt shakers to an entire soda fountain.
When Erickson moved from Connecticut to Maine, he remodeled his home to feature his collection in what he has dubbed “The HoJo Room”—a nearly perfect reconstruction of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, set as the centerpiece of his house.
Growing up in central Massachusetts in the ’50s and ’60s, it was my family’s favorite restaurant. I have such fond memories of the hot dogs, fried clams and the famous 28 flavors of homemade ice cream. I also grew to admire Howard Johnson himself, who was a visionary in advertising and created a business model for fast food and restaurant chains that’s still used today.
I went to a flea market in Hartford in the 1980s and came across a tiny syrup dispenser with the Howard Johnson’s logo on it—a drawing of Simple Simon and Pie Man. I started to sweep antique shops and flea markets around New England, picking up items here and there; my mother even started to help, and became known as “The HoJo Lady.”
It’s much easier now with eBay and other online sites, but the competition is greater. I used to know most of the competition, but now more and more collectors have joined the scene from around the world. It’s not hard to find smaller pieces like plates and silverware, but there are some really rare ones out there.
It has to be one of the most extensive collections out there. I have a waitress outfit that’s quite valuable. A friend of mine came across an outdoor trash receptacle at an auction in Massachusetts and picked it up for me—it’s the only one I’ve ever seen. I have an entire cupola from the roof of a restaurant with the weathervane attached that’s about three stories tall; when I renovated my house I made sure I had a ceiling high enough to include it in the collection.
I always get a kick out of seeing their faces the first time they see it. For me, it’s not as fun to have the collection as it is to share it. I always make sure guests have a meal in The HoJo Room—sit at the soda fountain, turn the jukebox on and turn back the clock for a while.