Monday, June 14, 2010

Automat Fossils

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…"

" 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:

from NYPL

For another Times Square artifact in a tourist shop, see: Secret Peeps.


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I used to cut from Haaren HS, which was on 59th St & 10 Ave, and drift down to Times Square. The Automat was my favorite spot there to get a good sandwich and something to drink (coffee wasn't my favorite in those early years). But I'd been to many Automat's in the area, 57 & 8, 42 off 8, 42 & Park, 34 & Broadway, 14 & off Irving, on and on. They were pretty much everywhere you went to in NYC. A nice place to rest and plan what you will do.

FGFM said...

We lost an old Horn & Hardart building in Chicago a few years back at Van Buren & Wabash, not sure if there are any others still standing.

VisuaLingual said...

Incredible; I love that your photos don't even show the current store, just the old detailing.

EV Grieve said...

Here's one reason to actually venture into the Grand Slam store... compelling as usual, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i never would have gone inside if it weren't for Freeland's book.

genefoto said...

Check out this find about 5 Beekman Street at

Jeremiah Moss said...

amazingly beautiful!

Yoni said...

It literally hurts reading this :(

Rodin said...

I look for signs of Automats, even Bickfords. I wonder if this still exists in 2018. I spent a good part of my childhood in the automat.
IT wasn't all nickels for the little window. There was a regular cafeteria line. Their mashed potatoes have never been equaled. both a friend and myself rave about the mashed potatoes. I'm going to check this out.

speaking of remnants of theaters, their are remnants of the Boulevard Movie theater at the Boulevard restaurant on Northern Blvd.