Tag Archives: Great Depression

Old New York In Postcards #15

Postcard Views of 125th Street – The Heart of Harlem 1905-1910

A dreamy view of 125th Street looking east from the elevated station circa 1910

A dreamy colored sky hangs over 125th Street looking east from 8th Avenue circa 1910

What was 125th Street like at the turn of the 20th century? It was the commercial center of a genteel neighborhood, the heart of Harlem. Restaurants, hotels, businesses and entertainment venues lined the prosperous street. 1900 census data shows the area was white with almost no blacks living around the surrounding streets. Residents around the area were primarily Jewish, Italian, German or WASP.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

By 1910, things were changing and blacks now made up around 10 percent of Harlem’s population.  That gradual change occurred after real estate speculators built apartments when  the subway was being constructed between 1900 and 1904. The anticipated housing boom was a bust and these buildings were slow to fill with white tenants. A shrewd black real estate manager and developer Philip Payton Jr. was instrumental in changing the demographics of Harlem starting at 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue around 1905. Payton seized the opportunity in filling new and vacant buildings with black families. Soon other surrounding blocks were attracting black families.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor's sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor’s sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

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Rae Samuels & The Last Bottle Of Beer

Vaudeville Star Rae Samuels Tries To “Steal” A Heavily Insured Bottle of Beer

Rae Samuels last bottle of beer Dec 30 1932Will Prohibition Be Finished? – The last bottle of beer that was distilled in the U.S.A. before prohibition and that during several years was a fine attraction of theatres and shows in Chicago – Americans like a good joke, will surely “have lived.” This bottle of beer has been insured against “accidents” for $25,000.

You know, it’s funny how some stories change when you start looking into them.

When I first started to write about this news photograph the focus was on the end of prohibition. But then I wondered who was the unidentified woman in the photograph? It turned out that her story was more interesting than the beer bottle and the end of prohibition.

The woman being “pinched” by the cop is Rae Samuels, for over 20 years one of vaudeville’s biggest stars, earning $2,500 per week. She is so forgotten today that she does not even have a Wikipedia page. Continue reading

70 Years Ago Today – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Dies

The Nation Mourns After Learning of the Death Of  F.D.R.

This is how the New York newspapers announced the death of F.D.R. on April 12, 1945.

70 years ago today when the 32nd President of the Unites States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly of a massive stroke at the age of 63 in Warm Springs, GA  there was an overwhelming outpouring of grief across the globe.

With the exception of Adolph Hitler and a few die hard anti-FDR Republicans most of the world was saddened to learn of Roosevelt’s death. Roosevelt was held in high esteem by most Americans, even those that did not agree with many of his policies. There were also those who could not stand the man, but were in awe of Roosevelt as a shrewd politician and the job he had done in seeing the United States through the Great Depression and World War II.

It was especially sad that Roosevelt never got to witness the end of the war which brought final victory to the Allies. Less than four weeks after Roosevelt’s death, Hitler and Mussolini were dead and Victory in Europe Day was celebrated May 8, 1945. Japan unconditionally surrendered on August 15, 1945.

What I cannot imagine happening now in today’s world of partisan politics is having a universal outpouring of sorrow if a President were to die suddenly while in office. There is so much outright hatred and disrespect in modern politics that we will never see anything like this again.

FDR's funeral procession in Washington D.C.

FDR’s funeral procession in Washington D.C.

The Brooklyn Eagle Continue reading

The Little Girl Harpo Marx Was “Crazy About”

Harpo Marx Loved A Little Visitor To The Set So Much, He Seriously Wanted To Buy Her

Harpo Marx with Shirley Temple in the studio commissary during the filming  of Duck Soup 1933

Harpo Marx with Shirley Temple in the studio commissary during the filming of Duck Soup 1933

Maybe today this would be considered kind of creepy, but anyone who knew Harpo Marx would have said it was not, because it was “so Harpo-like.”

The story sounds apocryphal, but according to Groucho Marx as told to Richard Anobile in The Marx Brothers Scrapbook it is true.

In the midst of the Great Depression during the production of the Marx Brothers film Horse Feathers in 1932, Harpo Marx would see this adorable girl who was about four-years-old along with her parents watching the Marx’s work on the set. During breaks in the filming, Harpo starting talking to the child and her parents. Groucho says, “Harpo was crazy about this girl.” He became so enchanted with this little girl, that he offered to adopt her and give her parents $50,000 as compensation.  They of course refused.

Shirley Temple with Shirley Temple doll 1934

Shirley Temple with Shirley Temple doll 1934

This all happened before the little girl was in a single film and would go on to become the biggest child movie star of all-time – Shirley Temple.

The photograph at the top of this article was taken a year after Harpo’s offer. By that time, Shirley Temple had still not made a feature film, but appeared in many ten minute shorts. Shirley was just beginning to become known to the public when she revisited Harpo while in the studio commissary.

Shirley Temple died in Woodside, CA, Monday February 10, 2014 of natural causes. She retired from motion pictures at the age of 21 in 1949. Shirley was happily married for 55 years to Charles Black. She became a United States ambassador and by all accounts had a very happy and fulfilling life.

Because Harpo’s wife Susan Fleming was unable to have children, Harpo did eventually adopt four children who all say he was the most wonderful father in the world.

Old New York In Photos #34

An Aerial View Of The 1939 World’s Fair Before It Opened – January 25, 1939

1939 World Fair Aerial

The Trylon (shown with scaffolding) and Perisphere feature prominently from this fantastic aerial view over Flushing Meadows in Queens, three months before the 1939 New York World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1939.

The World’s Fair was expected to cost $40 million to build and generate revenue of over $1 billion. It ended up costing over $150 million to build and ended in bankruptcy 18 months after it opened.

Though the Fair lost money, for anyone who attended, it was a marvelous and memorable experience. The World’s Fair pavilions and buildings held exhibits which demonstrated the possibilities of a utopian society where the future was filled with promise, hope and amazing technological innovations as the world emerged from the Great Depression.

Four months after the World’s Fair opened, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

The caption for this Acme news photograph reads:

The Theme Center

This is how the Theme Center looked recently from a visiting American Airliner. Dominating the scene, as they will the Fair, are the Perisphere and Trylon. Removed scaffolding reveals they are well past the half-way mark. Although the various buildings shown seem widely divergent in architectural form, all conform with the latest theories of functional design.   (Credit Line Acme Photographs – January, 25, 1939)

The First $2 Billion Bank

Chase Bank Had Two Billion Dollars In Deposits During The Depression

In New York City on June 30, 1930 The Chase National bank announced it had deposits of $2,065,434,000.

It was the first time in history that any bank’s deposits had topped the two billion dollar figure.

Chase achieved this lofty figure by a series of mergers. On June 2, 1930 Chase merged with The Equitable Trust Company and The Interstate Trust Company. Chase had also merged in the past year with National Park bank. These mergers increased Chase’s deposits by over one billion dollars in less than a year.

Eighty years later some banks lose significantly more than that sum in a bad quarter.

According to their annual report as of December 30, 2011, JP Morgan Chase, as the company is now known, has total assets of $2.265 trillion dollars.

What Goes Around Comes Around – Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!

Nertz?!

Sometimes the songs of yesteryear are apropos for today.  The lyrics of a song from the 1920’s or 30’s can translate very well in today’s economic tumult, with millions of Americans still out of work in the midst of our “economic recovery.”  I see many of the same things happening today that transpired during the Great Depression.

Bread Line 1930’s Brooklyn, NY

Current events played a bigger role in the writing of songs back then, including this gem from composers Wesley and Mischa Portnoff and lyrics by Norman Anthony, performed by Eddie Cantor in 1931, Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz! The song was featured in the 2005 film Cinderella Man.

Eddie Cantor was one of the great entertainers of all time. He was a humanitarian and optimist.  His rags to riches story is one that I shall elaborate on at another time.  He was usually among the first choices for many songwriters to showcase their work.

Is the current recession over? I don’t believe it.

And what does nertz mean? — nonsense or nuts or (a polite way at the time of saying) B.S.

Here for your listening pleasure an mp3 with lyrics below of Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!

Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!

Cheer Up, Smile, Nertz!

Sure, business is bunk,
And Wall Street is sunk,
We’re all of us broke, and ready to croak.
We’ve nothing to Continue reading