In his invaluable book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville, David Freeland of Gotham Lost & Found takes us into Times Square's Grand Slam, "the Number 1 tourist store in Manhattan." Next to the hideous new American Eagle Outfitters (replacer of HoJo's and much history), Grand Slam is three stories of New York souvenirs--snow globes, giant pencils, tons of Yankees stuff.
It also happens to be the site of the former Horn & Hardart Automat, the big one, the flagship, the glorious Times Square Automat. Most of its glories, however, have been covered up. Most of them, but not all.
Armed with camera, taking Freeland's words as a guide, I went inside to seek out the remnants of that lost landmark.
all color photos from my flickr
Of the smooth, brass-railed stairs, Freeland writes, “If the stairway appears proud, stranded amid the miles of tourist ephemera, it has a right. A genuine Broadway survivor, it can remember the days when ham sandwiches were sold instead of Zippo lighters, when troupes of matinee ladies in pillbox hats would sip coffee at front tables by the window, their conversation rising and falling against the happy squeals of children armed with nickels.”
Looking up, in all the clutter, you will see something remarkable.
Writes Freeland, “In the ceiling’s dead middle, clustered around a central pillar like a stalactite formation, twists a lovely design of blossoms and foliage, interspersed with tiny holes for the placement of incandescent bulbs…"
"...it is what’s left of the Art Nouveau centerpiece unveiled that long-ago morning of 2 July 1912, ignored but not yet willing to disappear."
Imagine taking away all the Big Apple sweatshirts, the "New York Princess" baseball caps, the yellow cab shot glasses and Wipe Out Terrorism rolls of toilet paper. Imagine replacing the racks of souvenirs with tables and chairs. Take the Derek Jeter posters from the walls and install automat dispensers of cream-cheese sandwiches and slices of key lime pie. You will see 1557 Broadway as it used to be:
For another Times Square artifact in a tourist shop, see: Secret Peeps.