The Magical Inner Sanctum of a Greenwich Village Treasure

  On my recent trip to NYC, I stumbled upon a hidden treasure trove at a four-story historic building at 23 Jane Street. I have been to NYC many times – both in the mid-to late 1970s, once or twice in the early 1980s and at least a dozen times in the 2000s. How did the existence of this remarkable relic escape the eyes of a trained sculptor and artist? Well, I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m still fascinated with NYC. Despite its gentrification, razing of so many historic buildings, the Disneyfication of Times Square and those pencil buildings on 57th Street that drastically changed the iconic NYC skyline, The Big Apple reveals historic treasures when you least expect them! I was taking photos of the P.E. Guerin window and exterior shots from across the street. A nice gentleman who was standing nearby asked if I would like to see the inside. Heck, yes – this is the kind of adventure that makes my heart skip a beat. We went inside and my eyes nearly popped out. I was surrounded by such exquisite pieces on every wall that I felt I had stepped back in time to Paris or London, not NYC, circa June 2022. The place is a veritable museum and feast for the eyes, especially for artists, sculptors and antique collectors like me. At RISD, I took several foundry courses, so I know more than the average person about bronze and casting processes. Not surprisingly, art students from Parsons, Pratt, Cooper-Union and FIT have toured this wonderful place.     I met P.E. Guerin Vice President Martin Grubman, who has worked at the firm since November 1987. Marty was kind enough to talk to me on the spur of the moment and share the company history,…

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Remembering Holidays Past and B. Shackman & Co.

During my childhood and many years thereafter, my parents would make an annual trip to NYC in December for a psychiatric meeting. For several decades, they stayed at the Waldorf Astoria where the meeting was held. As a native New Yorker, my dad loved going back to NYC and combining the professional trip with pleasure. My parents would always see at least one Broadway play, went to museums and art galleries, and enjoyed eating at the Lexington Candy Shop, the original 2nd Avenue Deli, Carnegie Deli, and later Sarge’s Deli when they stayed in Murray Hill. One of my fondest memories is when plain cardboard boxes of candy would arrive from Russ & Daughters. Back in the 1960s, gourmet candy shops were scarce in Chicago. My dad would go to the store on the Lower East Side and order dark chocolate covered coffee beans, chocolate lentils, and chocolate-covered raspberry rings that were shipped to our house. I fondly recalled this in a 2014 blog. Although my dad was strict in many ways, this didn’t apply to candy – we ate as much as we wanted, which kept our childhood dentist busy! In addition to buying candy, my parents liked shopping at B. Shackman. If the meeting was in early December and Hanukkah occurred later in the month, they would bring home cool little gifts purchased there. In much the same way as Christmas stocking stuffers, we would receive these nifty little items after receiving our major gift the first night. I clearly remember receiving the animal erasers with googly eyes. B. Shackman sold an amazing array of novelty toys, miniatures for dollhouses, and reproductions of antique toys and paper ephemera. Interestingly, many of the reproductions they sold in the 1960s would now be considered vintage collectibles. Plenty of B. Shackman…

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Vintage Providence – a Photographic Journey on Weybosset Street

I have many fond memories of exploring downtown Providence during my art school days at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was somewhat decayed and run down and I liked that aspect.  I already wrote about historic buildings and personal memories of past haunts on Westminster Street, in an earlier and more comprehensive blog. The oldest street traversing downtown Providence, Weybosset Street curves along its length, intersecting with Westminster at the northeast end. The origins of Weybosset date back to the Pequot Indian Trail, which originally traversed the southern edge of Weybosset Hill at its northeast end. A bluff existed on the narrow eastern end of Weybosset Neck at the current site of the Turks Head building. The name used by Indians for the crossing point in the Providence River between the east and west sides was Waubosset, which means “at the narrow passage.” In the 18th to 19th centuries, various parts of Weybosset (especially from Dorrance to Chestnut Street) were called Broad Street, however, by 1893, the entire length was known as Weybosset. Until 1964, Weybosset curved north to meet Westminster in front of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The western portion of the street was closed to create the Weybosset Hill Redevelopment Project parcel. And in 1978, the Westminster Center Project transformed the street into a uniform width from Mathewson to Dorrance Street, while creating a park like area on the street’s north side.   The Arcade, 65 Weybosset   Built in 1828, the Arcade is the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall featuring Greek Revival columns, granite walls, and classic facades. I found a few charming trade cards from Arcade businesses, pictured in the above gallery. The Arcade is a commanding presence on both Westminster and Weybosset Streets. It was designated a National Historic Landmark…

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Connecting the Past to Present in NYC Photographs

Over the last two years, I have scanned black and white negatives and a few color slides I shot in NYC between late 1976 and 1980 when I was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. My older sister lived in various apartments in SoHo and Greenwich Village and I visited every chance I got on school breaks. I enlarged and matted about 25 of these photos and took them with me when I moved to Rotterdam, the Netherlands in July 1980. I never printed any of the other photos, so scanning them provided an avenue of rediscovery of my own youth and a gritty NYC that no longer exists. This project summoned an array of emotions and memories about this “coming of age” period in my life and the inevitable passage of time.     In 1981, I showed these photos in Rotterdam and got some press, one of which was a little critical and missed the point of my photographs. The critic said that my photographs lacked the social commentary of Bruce Davidson’s work. Although I admire Davidson’s work, it was never my intention to emulate his socially conscious photography. A few select photographers informed my early photographic work – especially those who worked for the Farm Security Administration, such as Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Jack Delano, and the great photographer Berenice Abbott. Today, my photos have far more meaning than they did back then because they picture a NYC that no longer exists due to gentrification, over commercialization, and greed disguised as progress. NYC in the 1970s I was a little astonished that I ventured into areas that were considered dangerous back in the 1970s, as evidenced by many articles written on this dark and turbulent era in NYC history. Yes, the city was edgy and…

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In This Day of COVID – Remembering Family Road Trips

  I think nearly everyone who has ever been a road trip with their family has tales to tell – whether you had the time of your life or would prefer to banish those memories forever from your brain. For many months, I planned one of my dream road trips. In May, I was going to fly to NYC, pick up my daughter in Manhattan, travel by subway to Jersey City, rent a car, and travel down the Jersey Shore. I already had complied a list of must-see boardwalks, arcades to play Skee-Ball, and far more. About a week before I was going to book the hotel and buy my airplane ticket, the pandemic hit in full force. Not being able to travel due to COVID-19 inspired writing about a few memorable moments from family road trips and my return to Chicago after graduating from RISD. Sadly, most of the photos from childhood trips were ruined in various floods in my parents’ basement.      Road Trips – 1966 to 1980 1966: When I was 8 and my sisters Debbie and Janet were 12 and 3, respectively, we drove to Gatlinburg, Tenn. in my mom’s gigantic Chevy station wagon. Before we arrived at the motel, we stopped in Knoxville, where I enjoyed the kitschy tourist shops. My Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Jay, and their three boys Michael, David, and Bryan drove up from North Miami Beach, Fla., so it was a family reunion of sorts. We splashed and played in the motel pool immediately after arriving, which unfortunately resulted in bacterial infections for a few of us. My cousin and Debbie quickly recovered, however, I was lucky to get a raging infection that resulted in vomiting, a fever, and the most excruciating ear pain. I was sick in bed the entire…

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You Could Find It At The Village – Lincoln Village

Built by Chicago banker E. G. Shinner in 1951, Lincoln Village preceded Old Orchard by five years and was considered groundbreaking at the time. The motto of the $2 million dollar shopping center was, “You’ll find it at the Village.” Indeed, when I was growing up, Lincoln Village was our go-to shopping center when we wanted a more intimate experience than Old Orchard. I recently unearthed some 1950s Chicago Tribune ads featuring many Village businesses that existed before I was born and some I remember from my youth, which prompted writing this blog.  Despite a good deal of sleuth work, I have never been able to find any photos of my favorite store, Harmony Hall, and no online mentions, except for a few comments on my blog. It’s almost as if the store never existed. I remember the sidewalk sales during my years working at Bronson Coles Studios. While I rarely found anything, I recall thinking Barnett’s clothing was better suited to middle-aged or older women. The original Lincoln Village shopping center was quaint and intimate – today’s remodeled, re-imagined modern version resembles an ugly strip mall.   Bronson Coles Studios My close friend Joan worked next door at the Fannie May and saw a sign posted on Bronson Coles that they were looking for somebody to do photo retouching. I started working at the photo studio the beginning of my senior year in high school and came back during summers during college. Joan and I would meet in the communal bathroom in the basement, which was kind of creepy. This was long before cell phones, so we would have to preplan when we’d meet. I lucked out when the full-time darkroom technician Dennis left to start his own studio in Park Ridge. Since I graduated early from high school…

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Once Upon a Time on Washington Street – One Fantastic Block

  The east-west presidential streets we know today already existed on an 1833 map of the Chicago Loop – Washington, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson. During the 20th century, a number of intriguing businesses existed on Washington Street. The most famous non-defunct landmark may be the Marshall Field clock at the corner of State and Washington (installed in 1897) and the one on the corner of Randolph and State (installed in 1902). While many people, including yours truly, mourn the demise of Marshall Field, at least we still have the beautiful, massive iconic clocks. This blog is specifically about Washington Street from Dearborn to State Street and the businesses lost to history that once graced this block. It all started with the above photo and blossomed … as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. Unfortunately, some of the photos I included don’t have dates – the majority of the street shots are from the 1940s to 1950s. We’ll start this tour at the northeast corner of Washington and Dearborn Streets and the sign atop the landmark McCarthy Building and travel east, then cross the street and head back to Dearborn.  George D. Kells Democrat George D. Kells served as an alderman of the 28th Ward from 1931 to 1951 and also made an unsuccessful run for County Treasurer in the November 7, 1950 election. This is the same election in which Richard J. Daley became the Cook County Clerk, a position he held until he became mayor in 1955. Kells was born in 1893, died in 1959, and is buried in Hillside at Mount Carmel Cemetery. According to the book Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia, the 28th Ward was the headquarters of Pat Nash, who was Kells’ mentor. The book states that the underworld forced Kells…

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Downtown Providence – A Nostalgic Stroll Down Westminster Street

When I was an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design, I loved exploring downtown Providence and taking photographs. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of my RISD graduation on May 24, 1980, I’ll be posting a series of blogs looking back – featuring historic photos and postcards. The first blog is about Westminster Street and some of the wonderful landmark buildings that still exist. Also included are now-defunct businesses I encountered during my RISD years, as well as long-forgotten ones from the late-18th to early 20th centuries. I fondly remember walking on Westminster all the way past downtown to Olneyville to buy jewels at Wolf E. Myrow. During my RISD years, the portion of Westminster in downtown Providence was a pedestrian mall and closed off to vehicles. I loved the somewhat seedy quality of downtown Providence and would likely bemoan its gentrification if I returned. Department Stores Woolworth: Located at 185 Westminster in a five-story building from 1920, I would buy things at this five and dime now and then, but it didn’t have the charm of my favorite Chicago Woolworth store.     Thom McAn: I remember this retail chain on Westminster since it was near Woolworth, but I never went inside nor purchased shoes from this brand. Their retail stores closed in the late 1980s after being bought by K-Mart and subsequently Sears, who still sells this brand – that doesn’t bode well, although I think Walmart also sells them. Lerner Shops: Located in the former Wilkinson Building (mentioned separately later) at 210–216 Westminster, I never shopped here, nor at the location on State Street in Chicago. Founded in 1918 by Samuel A. Lerner and Harold M. Lane in NYC, New York & Company purchased the company in 2004 and they’re still in business.   …

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The Demise of Gem Spa is Another Sign of a Vanishing NYC

Like so many others businesses that have closed in the last decades, Gem Spa in NYC’s East Village couldn’t sustain its business and closed in early May 2020. Although they had financial problems over the years, and most recently in 2019 after losing their lottery and tobacco license, the current owners said the COVID-19 pandemic was the last straw. If you read my blog, you may know that NYC is like a second home to me. The closing of Gem Spa feels like one other place of my youth has slipped away. Although I’m also upset that Jeri’s Grill closed in Chicago, NYC will always be associated with a magical time in my early adulthood when I was spreading my wings creatively, intellectually, and emotionally. This was before sky-high rents forced so many businesses to close and prior to gentrification stripped the Big Apple of much of its gritty character. Unfortunately, Gem Spa isn’t the only thing that has changed on this once incredibly hip intersection of the East Village. When I visited in 2018, I thought St. Mark’s pretty much resembled many other somewhat gentrified NYC streets, albeit with a few vestiges of its storied past.   Located on the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, the beloved and iconic newsstand dates back to the 1920’s. It operated under a different name until 1957 when the name changed to the Gems Spa – at some point the S was dropped in Gem. It was a favorite hangout of Beat poets, hippies, punk rockers, local residents, and tourists. They sold local newspapers and magazines, including a wide array of international and underground papers and magazines, except for pornography. The little corner business was also famous for its egg creams (a NY drink made from milk, chocolate or vanilla…

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Take Me Back to the Five and Dime

In April of this year, I posted this 45-year-old photo I took of the Woolworth at 674-676 N. Michigan Avenue on Forgotten Chicago’s Facebook page. It generated more than 2.8 thousand likes, 384 comments, and 157 shares. When I shot this photo, I was a high school junior and my mom and I sat down at the counter for lunch afterwards. I always loved this location more than the giant flagship store on State Street. It was a block away from my dad’s Michigan Avenue office and I found the atmosphere more intimate than the vast downtown store.  I believe this photo struck a chord for so many people due to the nostalgia factor – looking back on a more “innocent time” helps people momentarily forget about reality – and this horrific pandemic. Many people were appalled by the smoking woman and wrote pithy comments. The overwhelming response was also indicative of how many people loved Woolworth back in the day. I reread the comments and incorporated some of them in this blog, including the bold robbery that occurred in October 1952. Since scant photos of this location are available, I’ve included other wonderful photos and ads culled from my research.   My Candy-Coated Woolworth Memories I went to the Gold Coast by myself as a child on the Pace bus, but my mom rarely gave me any money beyond what I needed for bus fare. I managed to find spare change on the ground or sometimes brought meager savings earned from returning Diet Rite bottles to the corner store. Buying little trinkets at Woolworth provided solace during some difficult years of my childhood, which thank goodness were mostly behind me by the time I took the 1975 photo. I loved the counters and displays filled with delightful trinkets, and…

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