My love for NYC goes back to when I was a teenager and visited my older sister, who at the time was living in her first dive apartment, a 3rd floor walk-up on Sullivan Street north of Houston. However, it was during my four years at RISD, from 1976-1980, that I became immersed in NYC. I have written about this before, in Reflections on a New York City Christmas, Own a Small Piece of Vanishing New York – Vintage 1970s, and The Times Square of My Mind. I have photographed the gritty streets of NYC going back to my RISD years. Every time I return, another small or large chunk of my youth slips away, swallowed up by gentrification and cookie-cutter commerce.
Howard Clothes was a name I heard throughout my childhood, as my dad regaled us with tales of his youth. However, I never took the time to learn more until recently, which proved quite a challenge. My 92-year-old dad has a spectacular memory, but I was seeking concrete information on this rather obscure clothing company that has seemingly been lost to history. The first Howard Clothes store opened in New York in 1924 and was founded by Samuel Kappel, Joseph Langerman, and Henry Marks – named after Langerman’s son Howard. A corporation was subsequently organized in New York in 1925 under the name Howard Clothes Inc. and was later changed to Howard Stores Corporation. The company operated a massive factory in Brooklyn, just on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, in the neighborhood now known as Dumbo. They sponsored a radio show called Howard Dandies, broadcast on WABC. Their line was limited to men’s clothing, with a major competitor being Bond Stores. Bond operated numerous retail outlets across the U.S., with a factory in Rochester, N.Y. and a flagship store at 372 Fifth Avenue at 35th Street in NYC. Although Bond was primarily a men’s clothier, by the mid-1950s some stores carried women’s clothing, and in their heyday, like Howard Clothes, they also had around 150 stores.
My paternal grandfather Abraham immigrated by himself to America in 1905, leaving behind my grandmother Nettie to fend for herself with their firstborn infant, my Aunt Ella, in a small village near Lomza, Poland. Once my grandfather settled in NYC, he worked in the garment industry as an embroiderer – the trade he learned in the old country. He returned to Poland in late 1911, already a U.S. citizen – Jacob (my Uncle Jack) was born in 1912 and when Abraham left again for America later that year, he was unaware that my grandmother was pregnant with Dora (my Aunt Dottie), who was born in 1913. When World War I broke out, he was separated once again from his family, this time for even longer. He returned to Poland in 1919, moved the family temporarily to Lomza, and worked towards the goal of immigration for his family. Abraham, Nettie, and the three children stepped foot on Ellis Island on April 9, 1921, after sailing from Southampton on the Aquitania. My dad Sam was the only member of his immediate family to be born in America, in September 1923.
A few days ago, I posted an ad of a backyard roller coaster on a Facebook page dedicated to advertisements from the 1960’s-1970’s. This ad and another photo were shared by a reader on my Toys from the 1960s-1970s blog. I know nostalgia strikes a chord with many people, but that blog has elicited far more comments and views than anything else I have ever written. Published in December 2013, the blog still generates a good deal of interest. What is even more amazing is that the Facebook post has evoked a torrent of comments, some of which I will share further on in this blog. Reader Robert Jaye shared information about this backyard roller coaster in June 2014: We had a backyard roller coaster set from Montgomery Ward. It was little more than a tubular slide set. The tubes slipped over one another and one climbed to the top of the slide, and sat on a cart with wheels that were molded to ride the tubes. You pushed a release and down you went, all of five or six feet at a gentle slide angle. You rolled on for another five feet before encountering two small bumps that slowed you down before you rolled off into the grass.
Although certain candies bring back really sweet memories of childhood, I’ve been thinking lately about some of the bath and beauty products from my youth. These items are associated with vivid memories of a simpler time, devoid of all the gadgets and high tech products kids have today. Some of them, like unopened feminine products from yesteryear, are actually collected now for their nostalgic factor – I have personally sold a few on Ebay. If you have any products you used in your youth that bring back memories, whether fond or angst-ridden, please share. Procter & Gamble introduced Prell shampoo in 1947. Growing up, the clear green concentrate packaged in a tube was my family’s shampoo of choice. The color really looked radioactive, but the plastic tube was ingenious – lightweight and no risk of breaking a glass bottle. Although Prell was also available in a plastic bottle, the tube is what I associate with its iconic image. According to the website, in 1955 Prell was marketed for “women who wanted their hair to have that radiantly alive look”. Honestly, I cannot remember if the shampoo was good for our hair, but thinking about it brings back a host of memories. Procter & Gamble sold Prell to Prestige Brands International in November 1999. Prestige sold Prell, along with its other two shampoo brands (Denorex and Zincon) to Ultimark Products in October 2009 in order to focus on other product areas. Much to my surprise, the tubes are available for purchase on Amazon.
I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find. When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical.
While cleaning out my parent’s basement, I discovered a bunch of old newspaper clips from the Apollo 11 moon landing, dated July 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1969. The clips themselves are intriguing, although essentially worthless from a monetary standpoint. I actually found myself more fascinated by the ads. I have highlighted a few of the business of yesteryear that once upon a time graced the Windy City. Although I have blogged about other defunct Chi-Town shops, this article only features retail stores for which I found ads – a subsequent article will cover a few cultural venues unearthed in these clips. Benson-Rixon Benson-Rixon men’s store had multiple locations, including the flagship location at 230 South State Street – now home to a McDonalds on the ground level. This is not a store that my dad frequented – he was a Brooks Brothers guy through and through! This store has a fascinating history – in the ad it is called Benson-Rixon, but other references refer to the store as Benson & Rixon. Hans A. Rixon, born in 1864, the son of a German manufacturer of woolen goods, immigrated to Chicago with his family. In 1886, he started clerking for Charles Rixon at 701 Milwaukee Avenue and served as the store’s general manager. In 1890, he opened his own gent’s clothing shop at 851 North Avenue, continuing this business until 1895. He then combined his business with Mr. Rixon’s business, moving to 1730 Milwaukee Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Rixon became a partner and vice president of the Benson-Rixon store, originally established by Paul J. Benson and Albert Rixon in 1889. According to an excerpt from the History of Cook County, Illinois, by 1909, the gentlemen owned three stores.
The late Fritzi Jane Vee and her husband Chris Vee (Vlachos), who died in 1992, ran several camps in Wisconsin, but most notably Camp Sandstone on Green Lake, from 1958 until it closed in 1972. This was the girls camp and the boys camp was called Camp Day-Cho-Lah. In September 2009, at the age of 86, Fritzi met an untimely death when she was hit by a truck while crossing the road at the intersection of Water and Lake Streets in Green Lake. When I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided that I should be shipped off to overnight camp. I really did not want to go, but my younger sister Janet and I were getting into increasingly nasty spats, and in retrospect, I guess they thought this was a good idea. The previous summer we had gone on a family trip to California and I was blamed for the constant bickering with my kid sister. Not wanting to repeat what they claim was a vacation from hell, my parents opted for this alternative. Back then, camp representatives made house calls, giving personalized pitches on why this experience would be life affirming and wonderful. My friend Alison wanted to go to overnight camp and my parents went to her house to hear the pitch. A family friend’s son and daughter had gone for years and loved it so much that they became junior counselors, so the camp came with a personal recommendation. The girl, Kathy, was my age – she was an expert swimmer and later excelled on our high school swim team. Needless to say, because she was a junior counselor and a seasoned camper, our paths rarely crossed once I was up at camp.
With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers, with all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal, would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear. Bicycles Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it’s because no injury surveillance systems were in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if any prevention organizations existed, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today. My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of…
As an impressionable young woman, I journeyed to fabled Manhattan from my relatively sheltered life as an art student at RISD in Providence, R.I. Upon alighting at Penn Station for the very first time, there was a bit of a glitch. My older, worldlier sister who had already been living in the Big Apple for 3 years had not given me clear instructions on where we were to meet. Those were the days before cell phones – there was no way to get in touch with her. I was an innocent 18-year-old in New York City wondering what the hell had happened to my sister – after about 40 minutes or so I decided to go search upstairs and there she was … my street-smart sister nearly as frantic as I. For a good part of this visit I was on my own – marveling at the gritty, wonderful streets of NYC. Camera in hand, I attempted to summon the spirits of dead immigrants on the Lower East Side, admired the Art Deco lines of the Empire State Building – imagining King Kong and Fay Wray at the top, and prowled Canal Street for Vintage. A longtime admirer of the photography of Bernice Abbott, Jacob Riis, Walker Evans, and Helen Levitt, I too desired to capture a moment in time in “The City that Never Sleeps.”