Tag Archives: Postcards

Beauties Of The Past & Classic Hollywood #61 – Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper, The Beautiful Actress With Amazing Hair – circa 1910

If there was a Hall-of Fame for best hair, Gladys Cooper would be a member.

British theatre and screen star Gladys Cooper (1888 – 1971) made her stage debut in 1905. As you can see she photographed exquisitely and was constantly in demand as a model. From about 1905 through the 1920s postcard manufacturers churned out hundreds of different images of the popular actress.

Gladys Cooper, Robert Redford – Twilight Zone

Gladys had a 70 year career as an actress, though most people would not recognize her name or face today. If they did know her, it would probably be because of a memorable 1962 Twilight Zone television episode in which she plays an old woman who fears death, co-starring a very young Robert Redford.

Modern movie and television audiences would never have realized Gladys was once absolutely gorgeous .

In 1914, when asked by a newspaper columnist who was the most beautiful star on the London stage, fellow actress Ethel Levey replied, “It depends upon the type. As to the blond type I should say Gladys Cooper. She is as beautiful a woman I have ever seen.”

Sari Petrass, a famous Austrian actress appearing at the time in The Marriage Market agreed with Levey about Gladys’s looks and said, “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And you have some very beautiful women in London.’

When told of her fellow actresses compliments, Continue reading

Sex Before Marriage? Early 20th Century Postcards That Are Risque

It’s Easy To Say, But Hard To Do – Turn-of-the-Century American Postcards That Hint At Having Sex

easy-to-say-1-3

french-postcard-semi-nude-handcolored

A French postcard

You may be familiar with the term French postcards, which were images showing nude or semi-nude women at the turn of the 20th century. Imported to America from Europe, these postcards excited an entire generation. However If you possessed or mailed such material you could be arrested for violating the Comstock Law, with its broad definitions for what was considered lewd, lascivious or obscene material. As mild as French postcards seem now, they were the pornography of the day.

In early 20th century America men could only hint at their intentions when it came to relations with women. To say Americans were puritanical and repressed when it came to sex would be an understatement.

Victorian manners and morals carried over from the 19th century persisted until after World War I.  Women were given the right to vote and soon the roaring 20’s ushered in a new spirit of sexual liberation.

It is hard to imagine that at the-turn-of-the-century most people could not talk about sex let alone consider having premarital relations. That being said, men have always been on the prowl, trying to hop in the sack with women.

In this series of postcards from around 1905, the woman is preserving her virtue and not giving in to having sex before marriage. But as we know men are persistent.

The series called “It’s Easy To Say, But Hard To Do,” is a double entendre reference to a man asking a woman to get married. It can also refer to asking for sex, but how and where can you do it? Looking at these postcards the viewer had to infer the meaning of who was saying what to whom in the captions, and what it all meant. I’m unsure how many variations of this card were produced in the series, but I have seen at least eight.

In the first postcard at the top of our story where the man has the woman sitting on his lap and he is practically groping her he is saying “How about it now kiddo?” The woman of course refuses.

easy-to-say-2-2“Ask, and you will get it,”  a not too subtle hint – ask me to marry you and then we can have sex. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #16 – 1960s & 70s Aerial Views of Manhattan In Color

Color Aerial Views of Manhattan’s Skyline In The 1960s & Early 70s

nyc-skyline-1-1

The Staten Island Ferry is arriving as Manhattan’s classic skyline is seen from the south c 1963

As Manhattan grows more crowded with slender glass boxes rising all over the island, some say New York is losing its classic skyline.

The truth is that classic skyline started to be lost  in the early 1950s as box-like buildings replaced older “obsolete” structures.

Developers were aided by city planners like Robert Moses whose vision of urban renewal often lead to urban devastation. In the mid 1950s Moses proposed building a ten lane elevated highway, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, across the neighborhoods now known as TriBeca and SoHo. Dozens of historic buildings would have been bulldozed in the process to connect a highway from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Fortunately after a long debate the city abandoned the plan in 1969.

For the most part in the past 300 years, progress and the money involved in Manhattan real estate has never let sentimentality or a sense of history stand in the way of demolition.

Sites that once held classic tall buildings such as the Savoy Plaza Hotel and the Singer Building were demolished in the 1960s to make way for even bigger skyscrapers. With the exception of a few well designed buildings, hundreds of nondescript office and residential buildings have been constructed over the past 60 years.

The current skyscraper building craze has blocked views from many vantage points of Manhattan’s iconic buildings.

These photo postcards were all taken between 1963 and 1974. Manhattan still had many vestiges of its classic skyline and sense of scale in place. They capture lower and midtown Manhattan from various angles just before the permanent eradication of these classic views.

nyc-skyline-1A close view of lower Manhattan’s financial district looking north in 1963. Only a few post-war buildings have been constructed in the financial district.

nyc-skyline-1-2Looking northwest, change has begun as several boxy buildings are under construction near South Street and the FDR Drive as seen directly behind the Staten Island Ferry terminal (1965).

nyc-skyline-2Looking south in 1964 towards the financial district. On the left are the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges spanning the East River. The tallest building on the right is the Woolworth Building. Other tall buildings seen in the center, include the Cities Services Building, the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, and the City Bank Farmers Trust Building,. The modern tall glass and aluminum structure is the 60 story Chase Manhattan Bank Building bounded by Nassau, Liberty, William and Pine Streets. When opened in 1961 it was the sixth tallest building in the world. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #62

Lower Manhattan As Seen From The Brooklyn Bridge Tower – c. 1905

View Manhattan From Brooklyn Bridge tower circa 1905 locThis unusual view was taken from the top of the New York tower of the Brooklyn Bridge around 1905. Lower Manhattan is in transition from low rise buildings to the ever increasing number of skyscrapers dotting the landscape.

We see smoke rising from many chimneys. Elevated trains make their way across the Brooklyn Bridge while many pedestrians use the bridge’s center walkway.

Near the waterfront atop a building, the Uneeda Biscuit Company billboard is conspicuously advertising one of the most popular turn-of-the-century brands right next to the heavily trafficked bridge.

Postcard Brooklyn Bridge transportation terminal hub on Park Row c. 1905

Postcard Brooklyn Bridge transportation terminal shed on Park Row c. 1905

At the end of the bridge on Park Row, the four and a half story shed structure is the transportation center also called Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #14

Twelve Postcard Views Of The Vanished New York Elevated

Elevated South Ferry Terminals

South Ferry Terminals, where all four of New York’s elevated train lines commenced and ended their travels

The most dramatic change in transportation in 19th century New York came with the building of the elevated train, known simply to generations of New Yorkers as the “el” or “L”. Here with 12 postcard views is a brief history of the New York Elevated.

Battery Park Elevated

Battery Park Elevated with the Washington Building on the right, and the Whitehall Building on the left.

The first elevated train line was the Ninth Avenue El which began service in 1869 as a single track line which was operated by a cable. The train ran from the Battery to 31st Street. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #13

10 Postcard Views Of Fifth Avenue From 31st -59th Street

postcard Fifth ave street sceneLet’s have a look at ritzy Fifth Avenue. All the postcards depict scenes from about 1900 – 1935. Fifth Avenue has a long association with wealth and privilege. Several of these postcards  capture the shifting tide of commercial intrusion into a neighborhood once dominated by  private residences.

As we look over the avenue, the one thing you will notice is how much traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, increased after the 1920’s.  We’ll start south and work our way north.

postcard Fifth Ave from 32nd St Waldorf AstoriaThis photo postcard taken around 1915 is looking north on Fifth Avenue from 32nd Street. The turreted Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with its American flag raised on the roof is the focal point of this scene. There are no traffic signals to interrupt the  vehicular traffic on the avenue. People cross the street with little difficulty as the traffic is light.

postcard Fifth Ave 34th St 1936In just 20 years Fifth Avenue has changed dramatically. Looking south on Fifth Avenue from 34th Street in 1935, the Waldorf-Astoria is gone and the Empire State Building is in its place. The Empire State is directly behind the double deck Fifth Avenue bus. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic is substantial and in front of the bus a policeman deals with the congestion. Continue reading

When Rent Cost $10 Per Week In New York City

The Cost of Apartment Living In New York In 1892

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street - typical turn of the century brownstones

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street – typical turn of the century brownstones

New York has always had a wide range of housing choices. But the gulf in living conditions between rich and the poor remains vast. If you have a lot of money, your housing choices are unlimited. If not, you are hard pressed to find anything decent. As Kansas gunslinger and New York journalist Bat Masterson observed in his final column, “Everybody gets the same amount of ice — the rich get theirs in the summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.”

The lowest of New York's living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

The lowest of New York’s living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

Over time when it comes to housing a lot of things have changed, others have not. In 1892 living conditions for the very poor in New York were abysmal. Maybe not as bad as they are now, but pretty close. The majority of New Yorker’s were not living in poverty, but were just plain working people at various income levels; some struggling to survive and in many cases raise a family.

Which brings us to the question about living in New York in 1892 – just what sort of housing did you get for your money?

Kings Handbook of New York coverThe fabulous King’s Handbook of New York City, (1892), delves into everything related to New York, including home life, and answers the question.

One chapter in the book devotes itself to the types of housing available in New York.

The mansions, high class homes, bachelor apartments, middle income flats, boarding houses, tenements and lodging houses are all covered.

The most surprising thing is that you could live in a relatively decent neighborhood with room and board for about $10 per week. Realize of course that an unskilled laborer might barely earn that amount of money and paying room and board put them at the the precipice of poverty. For those people it typically meant finding lodging at a $2 per week boarding house.

152nd Street Riverside Drive Onondaga Apartments postcardThe wealthy, professional and merchant classes could afford to choose their housing according to taste and preferences with a good deal of flexibility. The middle class also had choices which varied widely. So when you read about what you got for your money at $50 or more per month, you cannot help but feel envy for Gotham’s dwellers of the past. You come away with the feeling that New York was a much more affordable city 123 years ago. The prices quoted may have you looking for a time machine.

From King’s Handbook, a selection from the section on housing: Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #12 – 20 Historic Buildings That Were Demolished

20 Historic, Beautiful New York Buildings That Were Demolished

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building - all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building – all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

New York City real estate developers will always knock down a building if a buck can be made. So it really should come as no surprise that these buildings were demolished because they outlived their usefulness or more often than not, the land they sat upon was deemed more valuable than the building itself.

Nathan Silver’s must-own book, Lost New York (1967) Houghton Mifflin, was the first book to explicitly point out what New York City had lost architecturally over the years. If you have never read it, you should.

For our short postcard essay, there are hundreds of examples we could have chosen from and we picked 20. We omitted places of worship, theatres and restaurants which are the most transitory of buildings.

We’ve covered hotels before, and we could do another story on all the historic hotels that have been torn down, but we’ve included a few in this retrospective.

Rather than comment extensively on the buildings, a brief summary will suffice and the images should convey what we have lost. These postcards have been scanned at 1200 dpi in high resolution, click on any postcard to enlarge.

Singer Building hresSinger Building – 149 Broadway (corner Liberty Street),  A gem by architect Ernest Flagg, built 1908. Once the tallest building in the world. The Singer Building was elegant and sleek. Demolished 1967-68 and replaced by a ugly box of a building built by the Unites States Steel Corporation.

Produce Exchange hresProduce Exchange – 2 Broadway between Beaver and Stone Streets. Architect George B. Post’s splendid work of grace was built in 1883, demolished 1957.

Gillender Building 2 hresGillender Building – northwest corner Wall Street and Nassau Street. Architects, Charles I. Berg and Edward H. Clark, built in 1897 at a cost of $500,000. The Gillender Building was the tallest office building in the world for a brief time. The 20-story tower lasted only 13 years. In 1910 it was the first modern fireproof building to be demolished and it was done at breakneck speed, in under 45 days. The Gillender Building was replaced by the Bankers Trust Tower. Continue reading

New York’s Chinatown Described In 1898

Joss Houses, Chinese Restaurants and Opium Smoking

Chinatown 1896 looking at 22 Mott Street

Bing Chung Importers (near left) in the heart of Chinatown at 22 Mott Street in 1896

The great thing about reading old guidebooks to New York City is that you can see the world through contemporary eyes. This usually means all foreigners were viewed as curiosities with their exotic customs and provincial ways.

In 1897 the Chinese population in New York City was only 7,000 – almost all living in Chinatown centered around Mott Street. In 2015, New York City’s Chinese population is now over 500,000 people spread throughout the five boroughs.

The guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This portion is called “A Ramble At Night”, and the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. such as Little Italy and The Bowery. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Chinatown.  Continue reading