The movie business was big in 1929. So big the Loew's Theatre chain built five new 'Wonder Theatres' in the NYC area, temples to entertainment of a scale and befitting the industry's success.
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The 1990s-looking lobby of the Standard Hotel gives little indication of the exquisite golden den on the 18th floor, which has some of the most spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline.
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In their final posting, our New York correspondents Jon Hammer and Karen McBurnie celebrate an overlooked aspect of the adman's art.
Sometimes the most humble doorway offers an opportunity for time travel. Walking crosstown between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in New York City’s Diamond District we did a double-take when we spotted these classic examples of an advertising form from the past. Reading up the stairs is a tenant directory in grab-ya primary colors, stark sans serif type font and no-nonsense brevity. Of course we live in an age where every square inch of available space can and will be used for hawking some sort of commercial enterprise. The surprise is that this type of signage, once ubiquitous midtown, has all but died out except in these blocks of 46th and 47th Streets.
While the workaday well-trodden stairs are picturesque, it’s encouraging to find fresh examples of step ads making a comeback around town. (Nyaaah, we do like some new stuff.) Most prominent is at Lincoln Center.At Josie Robertson Plaza, the point-of-entry fronting Columbus Avenue, the zippy LED-light steps are programmed to welcome visitors in several languages, and elegantly trumpet the events of the day.
Next we noticed that Bloomingdale’s, a 1930s art deco department store hidden under ‘70s glitz and fashion hubbub, has tech-ed up the joint. A stairway to the mezzanine contains illuminated messages urging you to take advantage of telephone charging facilities -- a useful service and a shrewd way to keep potential customers on premises.
Step ads call to mind the classic Burma Shave billboard advertising of the early 20th century when the brushless shaving cream company entertained automobile travelers with serial billboards featuring roadside poetry like this:
Had no B.O.
But his whiskers scratched
So she let him go.
Nothing so clever today, but still we are cheered to see a current example in the subway caves, a reminder of scuzzy, scary old NYC.
Above: Bloomingdales; below: Lincoln Center
This is the season for tradition. Whether it is unwrapping our favorite ornaments or having the same screaming fight with the relatives we had last year, there is comfort in the many little rituals that make up the holiday. We think the best traditions are the ones you create. A thrifted 1960s felt reindeer named Twiglana, singing along with Yak Shaving Day from Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas, or that cookie recipe Mom culled from The Pocket Cook Book paperback; it wouldn’t be Christmas at our house without them. Likewise, spending time with our friends is at least as important at this time of year as catching up with family.
Our Christmas Eve is spent in Manhattan and includes a Japanese meal, a stroll through the avenues strikingly hushed of traffic and din yet buoyant with tourists and die-hard New Yorkers in festive spirits, and topped with a nightcap at a ritzy hotel bar that is decked out in eye-popping holiday tinsel.
But our favourite celebration of all is the annual radio Christmas party hosted by the one and only Rex Doane on his Fool’s Paradise program. That means schlepping out to Jersey City, NJ to the mighty WFMU studios. WFMU is listener-sponsored freeform radio at its finest. From the deejays to the support staff, the station is a labour of love for all involved. In Rex’s case, his devotion is focused on presenting the kookiest bop, slop and schlock, the oddest examples of rock'n’roll he can find, as long as it has been pressed on vinyl and spins at 45rpm. We like to say he’s the Keeper of the American Novelty Songbook, and that means we will be treated to a very extraordinary brand of Christmas music.
Besides the crazy tunes, there are gifts to give and holiday treats to eat. (Both are fascinating for the listener at home). Another highlight is something we like to call Radio Bartender, in which your editors of Grade “A” Fancy mix up a new original cocktail, live on air, to honor the season. A Fool’s Paradise cocktail, as a matter of policy, requires no special-order syrups, no eye of newt-infused spirits, no eyedroppers or custom gadgets; all of this stuff is available at your grocer’s, and from the local spirits emporium. This year’s concoction is called O Tavern Bound. It’s a comforting seasonal potion, a little spicy, a little fruity, and deeply boozy. Here's to us all! Drink up every one.
WFMU is available on your radio dial at 91.1 fm in New York, at 90.1 fm in the Hudson Valley. If you are not in the tri-state area you can listen in real time via the World Wide Web, or sample an archived show any time, any season.
Season's ho-ho, Jon & Karen
Our New York guides, Grade "A" Fancy's Karen McBurnie and Jon Hammer, take a step in time.
Manhattan is too much, all the time. We have too many favourite restaurants to become regulars at any one. There is always so much to do that some nights we would like to send out our clone so we could laze at home with an old movie and a highball.
Take any familiar street and no matter how many hundred times you've walked in that direction there can be something you have missed. Perhaps because you are usually on the north rather than the south side, or some favourite detail demands your attention, or if you always look right instead of left, or up not down; there's a good chance there will be some choice tidbit you will never see. We're usually looking up at some architectural surprise or ghost sign, or avoiding traffic and pedestrians, but now and again one has to look down at the sidewalk, though it's usually to avoid dog poo, scary fluids or other ickiness. If you are standing on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane it's a mistake to focus all your attention on the crowds trying to shove you off the sidewalk to your certain doom because if you'll just look down at your feet you will find a unique bit of street furniture. Here is a real working clock imbedded in the sidewalk.
A sidewalk clock in a free-standing pedestal base (like a lamppost) was a fairly common advertising gimmick for jewelers and hoteliers beginning about the 1860s, but this is the only example in the city of a clock mounted in the pavement. It is courtesy of William Barthman Jewelers, which opened in the 1880s on Maiden Lane, relocated around the corner to 174 Broadway in 1885 and in 2006 moved to larger quarters at number 176. According to the New York Times, this clock (another preceded this one) as it appears today may date from 1923, or 1951, or 1966 – no one is quite sure anymore, written records are incomplete.
Speaking of dazzling jewels, we're used to thinking of the Diamond District as that busy stretch of West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, but in the last half of the 19th century Maiden Lane, four blocks north of Wall Street, was where you went for precious baubles. At one point there were 308 jewelers in a two block section. By 1924 rising rents, driven by encroaching insurance and financial business in the neighbourhood, had forced the jewelers uptown.
Maiden Lane itself runs eastward from Broadway, the curve in the lane following the stream that long ago ran to the East River; to the west it is Cortlandt Street, known in the early half of the twentieth century as the city's Radio Row back before construction of the World Trade Center confiscated some blocks and displaced the businesses.
Pause for Refreshment: Near the curve in Maiden Lane, between William and Gold Streets at number 75, is Jim Brady's, which at first glance seems to be yet another prefab Irish bar. Inside it is a spacious restaurant with appealing low lighting, surprisingly good food, and what is said to be the actual bar from the famous Stork Club. If your gaslight-era American history is fuzzy we'll remind you that "Diamond" Jim Brady was a colourful figure from the Gilded Age, when too much, all the time, was barely sufficient. He was a man with a taste for opulent jewelry, and his appetite at the dinner table for consuming the very best quality in enormous quantity – and then still greater quantity – was legend.