Once Upon a Time on Maiden Lane – NYC

I’ve always been fascinated by the name Maiden Lane, an east-west street in NYC’s Financial District. It has such a charming and magical Old World sound to it. The western edge is close to the World Trade Center site and I likely discovered it for the first time in 2005, when my daughter and I visited the Ground Zero memorial at St. Paul’s Chapel. The street’s original name was Maagde Paatje, which is Dutch for Maiden Path. It was a footpath along a rippling brook frequented by lovers, as well as mothers and daughters who washed their laundry there on sunny days – sounds idyllic, indeed. After the street was cobbled over in 1698, the Fly Market opened where vendors sold fresh produce, fish, and meat under a covered roof until 1823. The Maiden Lane of old was a far cry from the bustling street that is home to the Federal Reserve of New York, other imposing buildings, and of course, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Two of the jeweler’s buildings still exist – Cushman at One Maiden Lane and the Diamond Exchange at 14 Maiden Lane, which was constructed specifically for diamond merchants and jewelers and completed in 1894.   I collect beautiful fraternal jewelry – primarily Benevolent Order of Elks (BPOE), Masonic, and Odd Fellows. In fact, back in the late 1980s, I drew illustrations for the F.N. Kistner catalog, a huge supplier of fraternal jewelry and gifts in Chicago’s jeweler’s row. Unfortunately, I wasn’t collecting these pieces back then, so I didn’t acquire any from Kistner. What inspired the idea for this blog were gorgeous sterling silver pieces I kept seeing on eBay marked Alfred Schickerling, 51 Maiden Lane. Most had patent dates of 1910 or 1911. This opened a proverbial Pandora’s Box, or in this instance, jewelry box….

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A Tale of Cribbage – Boards & Fun Facts

In 1998 when I met Jeff, he introduced me to the game of cribbage. He grew up playing this game, while I had never played it. It quickly became a Sunday morning routine along with Jeff’s delicious homemade pancakes. It was also a nice activity to involve both our daughters, who enjoyed playing with us when they were pre-teens. Jeff and I played regularly for a few years and now only play once in a blue moon. Over the years, we also accrued quite a collection of vintage cribbage board and playing cards. If you’ve never played cribbage and are curious about the rules, click here. If you decide to play, be warned that the odds of attaining the elusive perfect 29 score in a two-player cribbage game are 1 in 216,580, and 1 in 15,028 for 28. Just once, I had a hand of 28, but not really because Jeff counted his hand first and won the game! A Brief History of Cribbage     British poet, playwright, and gambler Sir John Suckling popularized and described the rules of cribbage in its approximate modern form around 1632. Suckling lost his mother at age 4 and subsequently his father at age 18, inheriting significant wealth that he squandered on travel, women, and gambling. He invented a variation of an earlier Tudor-era game called Noddy, in which only three cards were dealt to each player, no discard, and therefore no crib. The turn-up card was counted in both players’ hands and the game was 31 points. Suckling’s cribbage game introduced the crib and was played with five cards versus today’s six. As for Sir Suckling, he lived a charmed and cursed life, was charged with treason in 1641, fled to France, and committed suicide by taking poison. He died destitute after…

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Tribute to Pamela Smith Simpson – Creator of the Rawhide Sculptures

  Thanks to Lana, granddaughter of Pamela Smith Simpson, for solving the mystery about the Rawhide sculptures! I’m thankful she found my 2014 blog and contacted me. Lana sent me wonderful photos and information about her talented maternal grandmother, making this follow-up blog possible! A Brit and Londoner, Pamela was born August 6, 1932 and passed away April 6, 2017. She graduated from Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (now called Camberwell College of Arts) in 1952, with a degree in Sculpture and Design. At Camberwell, she won many awards, taught as a student assistant, and attained professorship at age 20! Several of her sculptures were in the art school garden, but were moved after the school transitioned to modernism. The family doesn’t know where these early sculptures currently reside. Pamela immigrated to the U.S. in 1954 after meeting and falling in love with her first husband, an American GI. She found work in commercial art and design, including at the Knickerbocker Toy Company, where she designed boxes for toys. After the marriage ended, she moved out west, settling in Simi Valley, California, not far from the movie studios. And that’s where she met and married Lana’s grandfather. Pamela had two daughters (one is Lana’s mother) and two grandchildren, one from each daughter. She was divorced from Lana’s grandfather, who is still living and remarried. The Famous Rawhide Sculptures Pamela was commissioned by the studio to create the Rawhide sculptures. The commission came about through a talent agency of sorts that helped businesses find artists for jobs, such as set design. The actors modeled for her, which must have been quite an experience for a young sculptor! I wonder how she felt being in such close proximity to Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood! These sessions are captured in the extraordinary photos…

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No More Soda Fountains – Walgreens Then and Now

  My family has shopped at Walgreens for as long as I can remember and have always clipped the flier coupons. My parents still clip these coupons, while I prefer the digital versions. As I mentioned in my Michigan Avenue blog, I frequented the Walgreens at 757 N. Michigan and sometimes found coins on the floor to buy a trinket from the gumball machines. My mom only gave me exact bus fare to get downtown and my dad would drive me home. I didn’t have any change to even make a phone call, so I always looked for coins on the floor that people had dropped. In the early 1980s, my first husband and I would shop at the Walgreens in Lincoln Square and for some reason the guy in the liquor department really liked us. He would give us free bottles of wine, which I think got him fired eventually. Speaking of booze, after being dry since the early 1990s, Walgreens decided to bring beer and wine back to some of its stores in 2010.     Founded in 1901 as a single store on the South Side of Chicago by Galesburg native Charles R. Walgreen, the drug store had four locations in the same vicinity by 1913. In 1929, 525 Walgreens stores were in operation, including locations in New York City, Florida, and other major markets. As of August 31, 2018, Walgreens operated about 9,560 drugstores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Iconic Soda Fountain & Malted Like other drug stores, Walgreens stores had iconic soda fountains back in the day. In fact, Walgreens is famous for revolutionizing the malted milk fountain creation, thanks to Ivar “Pop” Coulson, who added Walgreens own vanilla ice cream to the mix…

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My Magnificent Mile – Personal Reflections & Short History – North Michigan Avenue

This blog is about my family’s personal connection to North Michigan Avenue (from the Chicago River north), also known as the Magnificent Mile, as well as an homage to a few iconic buildings and businesses that no longer exist. The stretch of North Michigan called the Mag Mile, for short, figured into my family’s life from the day I was born. While my dad first started his private psychiatric practice in a bathroom-sized space at 25 E. Washington (Field’s annex facing an alley) in October 1952 for $93 a month, that was his only office location not on the Mag Mile.     The Sterling Building (also called Michigan-Superior) Shortly after returning from serving in the U. S. Navy in Bainbridge, Maryland in 1958, my dad’s first office on the Mag Mile was at 737 N. Michigan (Sterling Building). Once I was old enough, I would shop at the Walgreens next door before going up to his office. In 1970, my dad was forced to vacate when Neiman Marcus decided to build on that site. Ironically, the deal fell through and a parking lot occupied this site for more than a decade. It took 14 years before Neiman Marcus opened its flagship Chicago store here in 1984. Designed by architect Andrew Rebori and completed in 1929, the Sterling Building was commissioned by the family that owned the Fine Arts Building. The gorgeous 5-story Art Deco building had an intriguing observatory on top. The building was originally designed to include artists’ studios, but even in the 1920s, artists couldn’t afford those rents.      The Farwell Building – 664 N. Michigan My dad’s next office was the 11-story historic Art Deco/Classical Revival Farwell Building designed and constructed in 1927 by architect Philip B. Maher. Arthur Farwell owned several other North Michigan…

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A Nostalgic Trip Down Canal Street, NYC

  My last blog discussed my love of “old-school” art supply and camera shops and my dismay about their dwindling numbers. After I posted that article, I started scanning black and white negatives I shot from 1976-1979 with my handy Canon FTb, mainly during magical sojourns to NYC from my ivory-tower RISD existence in Providence. Lo and behold – I discovered this panoramic view of Canal Street with Pearl Paint at the center. The street was a hop, skip, and jump away after my older sis moved to a garden apartment on Grand Street just east of Sixth Avenue. She was kind enough to put me up on all those NYC visits, even after she got married in 1978. Finding this photo and others brought back a flood of memories about how much I loved Canal Street back then and the many changes in the last few decades that have robbed this once quirky street of its unique character. Escalating rents have been killing ma and pa businesses in NYC for many years. Certainly, today’s gentrification is preferred to the blighted, empty storefronts that plagued the street for so long, but like other neighborhoods in NYC, Canal may be turning into any other upscale street in any other major city USA. A Short History of Canal Street Discovering my old photos of Canal Street prompted research on the intriguing history of the street that began as a solution for the growing problem of industrial run-off. Before Five Points slum existed, a small area of Manhattan called Collect Pond with its underground spring-fed lake, provided a major source of fresh water until the late 1700s. It became too polluted due to tanneries and breweries belching out vast amounts of liquid refuse into it. The water had nowhere to go because the…

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Art Supply and Camera Stores That Are No More

Favor Ruhl 425 S Wabash 1910 and 1938

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was born with a crayon in my hand. By the time I was 5-years-old, I was drawing all sorts of things on cheap yellow paper my dad bought by the ream. The crayon was replaced with ballpoint pen, magic markers, colored pencils, pastels, paint brushes, sculpting tools, and by age 12, darkroom equipment. Going to art supply and camera stores as a kid was nearly as glorious as walking up the street to the corner store to buy my favorite candy. That’s right, for many artists and/or photographers, a visit to an art supply or camera shop is like unleashing an overzealous kid in a candy store! Nowadays, it’s hard to find old school art supply and camera stores – many have closed. In Chicagoland, you can buy art supplies at Dick Blick, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JOANN Fabric and Craft, and a handful of small shops. Of course, you can always buy art supplies online, but it’s not the same experience. I first encountered Utrecht in NYC and later shopped at the store on South Michigan Avenue. Utrecht is now partnering with Dick Blick, although they are still doing business online independently. My favorite Chicago-area store is Artist & Craftsman Supply, an employee-owned shop in the old school model – while there are stores across the U.S., the Chicago location at 828 S Wabash reminds me of defunct stores of my youth. Good’s of Evanston is an independent store that has been in business for more than 100 years. It’s more renowned for its framing services and has a certain slick look these days that is the antithesis of old school. Thank heavens for Central Camera, a truly iconic old school store in the South Loop that has been…

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10 Monstrously Fun Christmas Toys from Yesteryear

Monster Soakies

Long before the Internet, CGI, smartphones, and other tech colored our world, we enjoyed simple pleasures – like looking through the Sears Wish Book to pick out our dream Christmas or Hanukah toys. Among the coolest toys were monsters – classics inspired by film and television. No computer-generated imagery, 200+ million movie budgets, or product tie-ins needed – just old-fashioned creativity with a healthy dose of camp. With all girls in our house, monster toys were not on our list, but as an artist, I’ve always found them visually delightful. Here are 10 awesome monster toys from yesteryear. This is for all you late Baby Boomers who grew up watching Creature Features (if you lived in Chicago it aired on WGN and WFLD), The Munsters, Addams Family, or any other classics. Many of these toys command high prices at auction, scooped up by people like you and me trying to recreate carefree days of youth (or at least we remember them that way).     The Great Garloo – 1960 One of the greatest toymakers of all time, Louis Marx and Company was in business from 1919 to 1980. The Great Garloo, released in 1960, was a battery-operated robot that looked a little like the Incredible Hulk and Jolly Great Giant’s son. It was $17.98 according to the 1961 commercial – quite a chunk of change for that time. The remote control toy moved forward and backwards, bent over, and could pick up objects, with a little steering wheel to control direction. A near mint one in the box sold on ebay recently for about $500, while others not as pristine have sold in the $135-$200.00 range.     Universal Monsters Soaky Bubble Bath Containers – 1963 Made by Colgate-Palmolive in 1963 for 59 cents each, a mint set of…

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One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words … or a Little Less

  Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, or at the very least, a few hours of sleuth work. When I saw this wonderful Vivian Maier photograph, circa August 1960, the first thing I saw was Donald Koehler, once billed the world’s tallest man at 8 ft. 2 inches tall. I love the two ladies standing in the middle of the sidewalk – both appear to be looking at and talking about Koehler. I can almost hear them clucking their tongues in amazement. A fellow standing against the light post also appears to be looking at him from afar. Koehler was days away from his 35th birthday when Maier took this photo and she had turned 34 on February 1. Photographer and subject were exactly 5 months apart in age to the day.     I wrote briefly about Koehler in my first Lincolnwood blog. I remember seeing him get up after dining and walk through the aisle past my table at a little coffee shop on Cicero just north of Devon. I was very young, but an incredible visual sight like that tends to stay with you forever. His dad owned the card shop on Cicero, just north of Devon, in the same little strip mall as the coffee shop. The Koehlers didn’t live in Lincolnwood, but close enough in West Rogers Park. Believe it or not, Koehler had a twin sister who at a mere 5 ft. 9 inches tall was 29 inches shorter than her famous brother. He started growing abnormally at age 10, although it’s unclear when he was diagnosed with acromegaly, the pituitary disorder that results from excess growth hormone. This is the same disease that afflicted Sam Kappel, owner of Howard Clothes, who I wrote about in this blog.     Koehler won…

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A Walk Across The Brooklyn Bridge

For eons, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge has symbolized New York City in much the same way as the Statue of Liberty. Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869 and it officially opened to the public on May 24, 1883. It has special meaning to me because my dad was born and bred in Brooklyn and is a true New Yorker through and through. He regaled us with tales of growing up in Brownsville, a Brooklyn neighborhood that has been rough since the 1960s. He and his pal Bernie started the Osborn Street Camera Club, played stickball in the streets, cooked potatoes in the dirt at the local playground, and frequented the local candy shop called Jake’s. I always wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and finally did with my daughter on September 3, 2018, which was Labor Day, so it was quite crowded. Right before we walked across, we rode on the delightfully charming Jane’s Carousel, which made me feel like a kid again. It was just after Noon and boiling hot – I was so glad when we reached the Manhattan side. The pedestrian walkway across the bridge is 1.1 miles (1.6 kilometers). I didn’t much care for the crowds, bicycles, or the sound of a few loose wooden planks under my feet. Still, I’m glad I did it because the views were magnificent and almost surreal. As I was walking, I remembered the searing images of people fleeing across the bridge on 9/11. Of course, they were going in the opposite direction.   Brooklyn Bridge Mishaps   John A. Roebling started designing what would become the Brooklyn Bridge in 1867. On June 28, 1869, he was surveying the area for the bridge when a ghastly accident occurred. While standing on the edge of the dock at…

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