Picture Postcards Provide Colorful Glimpse into Past and Present Histories

Much has been written about the history of postcards and there are a plethora of websites, collector’s clubs, blogs, and books on the subject. The earliest known picture postcard dates back to 1840. It was a hand-painted design on a card, sent in London to the writer Theodore Hook with a penny black stamp.

A rather eclectic postcard collection is among the many treasures I have accumulated over the years. Easy to store in one large shoe box, I take these out on occasion as inspiration for my collages. I have yet to sell any of this collection, but really have no attachment except for a few postcards that evoke long-lost personal memories. Some of these postcards date back to my youth – a few are vintage late 1890s-early 1900s. I have fond memories of riding my bike as a young teenager to Archie’s Coins in Edgebrook and buying a few really cool antique postcards for pennies. I also have an attachment to beautiful, early handcolored photographic postcards bought in 1979 at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris – my first trip to Europe.

A history buff, I have always been fascinated by the “That was Then, This is Now” genre. I get a kick out of pieces that uncover what obscure child stars are doing now, as well as dialogues of more substance. As a little history project, I decided to delve into my postcard shoe box and pull out a lucky 11 intriguing tourist-related picture postcards. The goal of this fun endeavor was to see what I could uncover about these randomly chosen sites via Internet sleuth work. This proved easy in some cases and quite difficult in other instances.

The first postcard is the only one that has personal meaning for me, although the sight of it conjured up only faint memories of the actual resort. In August 1974, my parents took my younger sister and I to the Tres Lagunas family resort in Pecos, New Mexico. I remember the owner had an impressive tooled saddle that he had won in a rodeo – he was quite a gruff fellow, but amusing. I had a lot of fun fishing in the trout-stocked lakes and was elated when I caught three trout on one hook. I had just started taking photographs seriously and created a double of exposure of my mom in a field at the resort between two horses. I entered this in a high school art contest at Illinois Wesleyan University in early 1975 and won an honorable mention. I think the reason more does not stand out about this vacation is because in 1976 we went to a dude ranch in Jackson Hole that eclipsed Tres Lagunas in every possible way. I think the cabins at Tres Lagunas were either razed and the property sold, or renovated into luxury condos sold by Sante Fe Properties. I could not find any mention that this was once a dude ranch/family resort.

I love collecting postcards from Miami – with its bounty of Art Deco architecture and kitsch, there are plenty of great postcards. And my late grandparents lived in Miami Beach for many years, which gives special meaning to collecting Miami-themed postcards.

Upon researching this postcard from the West Flagler Kennel Club (postmarked April 1944), I uncovered quite a bit of intriguing information. Now the Magic City Casino, this venue still offers live Greyhound racing from June through October – that surprised me because other tracks across the country have been shuttered. It is Miami’s first and only casino to feature Las Vegas style slot machines. Greyhound racing had its fastest growth in Florida, with tracks opening in Hialeah (closed in 1926), St. Petersburg in 1925, Miami in 1926, Sanford-Orlando and Miami Beach in 1927. In 1930, the West Flagler Kennel Club became Miami’s second track.

The Bellboy (1960) starring Jerry Lewis, was filmed on location in Miami. While the majority of the movie was filmed at the famed Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach, the bellboys head to the track to bet – on location at the West Flagler Kennel Club. The club can also be seen in the Frank Capra movie A Hole in the Head (1959) starring Frank Sinatra.

Surprisingly, my sleuth work on the above Miami Beach postcard (postmarked October 1957) turned up very little. The Normandie Hotel was on the Ocean at 4th Street in South Beach, home to all of those great Art Deco hotels. I couldn’t find anything and given that there was no exact address, I had to settle for deducing what resides today in close proximity to this locale. I did discover that a gentleman named Irving Frankel built the Normandie Hotel in the 1930s. Mr. Frankel died in Key Biscayne in 1985 at the age of 87. In looking at Google maps, it appears that The Sense Hotel at 400 Ocean Drive is in very close proximity to where the Normandie stood – perhaps in the exact same spot.

The Indian Mission Grill at the Hotel Alexandria in Downtown Los Angeles boasts a rich history – although more so the hotel than the grill. Built in 1906, The Alexandria was designed by famed architect John Parkinson and played host to many Hollywood legends. Among the stars who played and stayed there: Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, and Greta Garbo. Politicians including Winston Churchill, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt were also guests. The only mention of the Indian Mission Grill that I could find was a piece on the hotel published in the 1906 book, Southern California, The Hotels and Resorts that Have Made Its Fame. “On the main floor is the public restaurant, also in Spanish Renaissance; and in the marble basement is the Indian Mission Grill – a refined Bohemia that has attained great popularity.”

Although its elegant design inspired countless film shoots and its iconic Palm Court ballroom is a protected Los Angeles landmark, the hotel fell into a total state of decay for many years and the rooms were rented out to low-income residents. Due to its proximity to Skid Row, the building became very dangerous and riddled with drug crimes and as many as three deaths a week. The neighborhood has undergone a transformation and major renovation of the building started in 2005. Today, the Alexandria contains a mix of market rate and subsidized housing.

I pretty much came up empty handed on the above postcard – The Bird in Hand restaurant that was located at 1659 Broadway between 51st and 52nd Streets in New York City. I tried to search on Google maps and that address does not appear to exist – the closest I could find was 1657 Broadway. What I do know is that this is in the Theatre District and there are an abundance of overpriced electronics stores, fast food restaurants, a few delis, a Duane Reade, and souvenir shops in the same block. My card is circa 1946, and I did find an earlier postcard from the 1930s that indicated the restaurant had moved.

In the early 1930s, The Bird and Hand was located at 711 7th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets. Apparently, they sold champagne cocktails for 25 cents and featured Nathan Schweitzer Company meat products. This location is also in the Times Square/Theatre District area, albeit sleazier than Broadway. One of countless souvenir shops, Playland Gifts, is currently at 711 7th Avenue.

The above postcard of the Sea Fare at 41 W. 8th Street in Greenwich Village turned up more information. Greek-born owner Christos Bastis opened Sea Fare in 1941 in the Village, with a second location four years later in the ritzy Sutton Place neighborhood on First Avenue near 57th Street. Before she became a famed restaurant critic and was still a student at NYU, Mimi Sheraton would dine at the Sea Fare on 8th Street with friends. In Eating My Words she wrote, “Black waitresses in colorful bandannas served the signature Nesselrode pie, a rum-flavored chiffon pie that was highly popular at the time and now all but forgotten.” His 1999 NY Times obituary states about the 95-year-old restaurateur, “At a time when the typical American seafood restaurant was a lobster shanty decorated with nets and cork, Mr. Bastis saw an opportunity to serve traditional Mediterranean seafood dishes in elegant surroundings and to broaden the taste of his customers by presenting them with new kinds of fish.”

The Lomography Gallery resides today at 41 W. 8th Street. Lomography is a magazine, a shop, and a community dedicated to analogue photography based on Lomo Kompakt Automat, a small, enigmatic Russian camera that produces experimental, colorful images.

Googling The Doll House Restaurant (postmarked June 1954) in Salt Lake City produced unexpected results. The restaurant is defunct but the DollHouse is an escort service and that is what initially turned up. Further sleuth work when Googling the address at 1518 South Main indicated that The Doll House Restaurant was reinvented as The Golden Dragon Restaurant, still in the same building as of June 2007. However, that restaurant moved to 1716 South State Street and is now called The New Golden Dragon Restaurant. Just as The Doll House Restaurant postcard proclaimed “Only the Finest in Food” – apparently the New Golden Dragon has the finest Dim Sum in Salt Lake. As for the DollHouse, they claim to employ Salt Lake’s hottest escorts.

Another wild goose chase which produced very little was the Hotel Stanley in Atlantic City. All I could locate were other vintage postcards, and what is stated on the back: A Cordial Welcome Awaits You. Ocean End of So. Carolina Avenue; Atlantic City’s House of Comfort and Plenty; Accommodates 500 Guests – Phone A.C. 46023; Large Veranda; Television; Patio; Dining Room; Dancing; Free Parking; Free Bathing From Hotel; Elevator to Street. There is no postmark on this unused card but it looks like circa 1940s. This was disappointing and without an exact address, I had to settle for Googling what currently exists around the Ocean End of South Carolina Avenue – a gift shop called Irene’s and closer to South Ocean Avenue is Massage Paradise.

The Hotel Chicagoan (postmarked May 1945) was built in 1932 at 67 W. Madison Street with 450 rooms as an addition to the adjacent Hotel Morrison. From September 1-2, 1940, the hotel hosted the 2nd World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), called Chicon I with 128 participants. In 1945, single rooms started at $2.75 a night and doubles from $4.40 a night. The Chase Tower now sits on the site of both hotels.

A great bit of kitsch is the postcard of the Rest Room at Grundy’s Redwood Terraces on the Redwood Highway. This particular rest room was carved from a giant Redwood tree and was located on the Redwood Highway 22 miles south of Garberville. There were several others along the route. My Google search revealed that the closest town to the “She He” Rest Room is Leggett, an isolated little hamlet situated 175 miles north of San Francisco at the junction of US 101 and Coast Highway 1. It is known worldwide for its Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree. A drive along the Redwood Highway is a popular vacation destination with many intriguing sights, even if this bit of roadside kitsch no longer exists.

The last postcard is the most exotic and far afield – from Gibraltar, a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. The Whale Jaw’s Arch pictured in this card is still displayed in the Alameda Gardens (Gibraltar Botanic Gardens), but it looks like the bones have been cut down at the top.

The gardens, built in 1816, were laid out with numerous interconnecting paths and terraced beds, set out mainly with native Jurassic limestone rock that was tinted by the local red sand. Improvements through the early years included the introduction of gas lighting along the west side of Grand Parade and the erection, perhaps in 1842, of the archway made out of the whale jawbones. In researching this postcard, I discovered that whale jawbones displayed in public are not that uncommon, especially in Scotland.

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