Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A Drive Down 1951 Wilshire Blvd, LA, in Color

Clean and Pristine, Stark and Beautiful

Wilshire Boulevard, LA, in 1951
Wilshire Boulevard in 1951. You can see a Bank of America sign in the distance. Bank of America has a long history stretching back to 1784, but it acquired its name in 1922 with the formation of Bank of America, Los Angeles. It was considered an "immigrant's bank" for Italians in those days, though that reputation was quickly changing by 1951. Amadeo Pietro Giannini, who basically founded the modern Bank of America, had just passed away in 1949. 

I love peeks into the past that provide a new perspective on things we think we know about. New algorithms and apps enable old films to be enhanced to make them more enjoyable for modern audiences.
This film, restored by NASS on Youtube, shows Los Angeles, California, in 1951. That was an important year for LA because the Jack Webb television series "Dragnet" began that fall and showcased the city and its police department for the next twenty years. This film was likely made to provide background shots for films and television productions and, who knows, may even have been made with Dragnet in mind. We go up and down 1951 Wilshire in Los Angelese a few times but get different perspectives each time.

LA in 1951 movie theater
Would you like to go to the movies tonight? That new Richard Widmark picture is playing down on Wilshire.

We know the film is from 1951 because we see two movie marquees. They advertise "The Frogmen," a Richard Widmark film released on 29 June 1951, and "Fugitive Lady," a Janis Paige film filmed in Rome that was released in the U.S. on 15 July 1951. The NY Times called "Fugitive Lady" "meandering claptrap," However, "The Frogmen" fared better, earning two Academy Award nominations. In addition, if you have sharp eyes and know your car history, there are some 1951 models passing by.

Bomb Shelter for $795
Buy a cheap bomb shelter!

The film shows the scenery on Wilshire Boulevard. Do you need a bomb shelter? Get one cheap for the bargain price of $795! The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949, and the fear of a nuclear holocaust permeated the 1950s. The May Company, seen in the background, was founded in Leadville, Colorado, in 1877. It effectively went out of business in 2005-06 when acquired by Federated. We see the La Brea tar pits park before all the development that later occurred around it.

A cafeteria on Wilshire
A Cafeteria on Wilshire. Traffic in those days was a bit more lively than it is now, with drivers "taking command of the intersection" as their driving instructors taught them.

Sometimes the things that you don't see are what matter, like in the Sherlock Holmes tale of the dog that didn't bark. Very few, if any, foreign vehicles. The numerous billboards don't feature any scantily clad models. You won't see any McDonald's or Burger Kings fast food joints in this film. McDonald's was founded in 1940 in San Bernardino but did not really expand beyond a few locations until 1955. White Castle predates McDonald's, but there aren't any on Wilshire. Burger King was not founded until 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Coffee Shop on Wilshire
A typical coffee shop on Wilshire.

In 1951, you went to a "Coffee Shop" or a "Deli" if you wanted lunch. These were not little, insignificant places off on some side street, either. They were bold, magnificent, and often the centerpiece of the block.

Street scene in LA 1951
So little traffic, you often had the road to yourself. I love the sharp angles and sleek styling in this capture.

If you're a fan of art deco, fastback cars, and empty roads, 1951 Los Angeles was the place to be. Some of the scenes look like they came out of an Edward Hopper painting like "Nighthawks" (1942).

Zoot Suit 1951 LA

Men's fashions were a bit baggier in the 1950s. That fellow in the foreground appears to be wearing a Zoot Suit, though I'm not enough of a fashion expert to be sure. If you needed rust-proof gasoline, Richfield was for you! That fellow in the billboard in the distance could have served as an inspiration for James Bond. Incidentally, Ian Fleming began writing his first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," at Goldeneye in Jamaica not long after this film on 17 February 1952.

Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951
Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951.

You may buy your groceries at Ralphs. Well, that chain has been around since 1873, founded in Los Angeles. It opened its most famous store, in Westwood, in 1929. This one a few miles away is pretty impressive, too. That's a sweet convertible in front of it.

Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire, LA in 1951
An Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire. The huge Arthur Murray sign dominated the Wilshire street view for miles.

Imagine driving on empty streets like this through the heart of LA today. Maybe at 3 in the morning, but not in the middle of the day. Oh, and if you want to be in pictures, you'd better know how to dance. There's an Arthur Murray Dance Studio over there if you need some lessons (founded in 1925, though he began a previous business that failed in 1912). Compared to Murray, Fred Astaire was the new kid on the block.

Coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire in 1951

Another coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire, with traffic looking like the wild west. Have some art you want to sell? Put up a folding table and a chair on Wilshire and have at it!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tour down Wilshire in 1951. It hasn't changed that much, but really it's changed completely from the way it was back then. Just another example of how society marches on and completely remakes itself every few generations. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Then and Now: 58th Street at 5th Avenue, NYC

Time Stands Still On Fifth Avenue

58th and 5th 1984
58th and 5th Avenue in NYC, 1984.

Sometimes, things just stay the same. We like to think that everything involving us is new and improved, so much better than, you know, "before." But that isn't true in a lot of ways. We are just continuations of generations before us, adding our own unique style but really not changing the world as much as we might like to think.

I like city views that show how little time can mean to big cities. If you go to many places in Paris or London, they'll be exactly like they were in the 1800s. New York City has some of those spots, too, though they're a bit less common. But sometimes you come across a view that has changed very little in almost 40 years, and that's saying something.

Above we have a view of 58th and 5th Avenue in 1984. If you're a native New Yorker or a longtime resident, you'll recognize the scene instantly even though it isn't taken from a typical tourist vantage point. We're looking south toward the Empire State Building, which you can see pretty clearly in this shot silhouetted against the sky. If you're a film buff, you may recognize this stretch of road as being close to where Audrey Hepburn's taxi brings her to Tiffany's at the start of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1963). That was when traffic still went both ways on Fifth Avenue, which ended in 1966 so that now it only goes south.

Just for fun, let's do a comparison with how this scene looked recently.

58th and 5th June 2019
58th and 5th, looking south, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

While I couldn't get the same precise angle, the above is close enough. It shows a similar view south toward the Empire State Building. Let's pick out the things that are the same and a very few that have changed.

Southeast corner of 58th and 5th, July 2021
58th and 5th, looking east, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

The first thing you will have noticed if you have very sharp eyes is that the business at the extreme left of the 1984 photo (on the southeast corner of 58th Street) was F.A.O. Schwartz. It was an institution in 1984 and it likely seemed it would never close its flagship store on 5th Avenue. You may remember it from "Big" (1988) when Tom Hanks danced on the giant piano. New Yorkers fondly remember it for its annual Christmas displays, one of the highlights of the season.

F.A.O. Schwartz operated at 745 Fifth Avenue, the site shown in the 1984 picture and the one directly above, until 1986. Then, after some mergers and acquisitions that were all the rage in 1986, a new owner moved it across 58th Street to 767 Fifth Avenue, better known as the GM Building. That would be behind and to the left of where the 1984 photographer was standing.

Alas, after numerous ownership changes and a bankruptcy, F.A.O. Schwartz wound up being bought by Toys 'R Us in 2090. That corporation had a lot of problems. So, the flagship store in the GM Building closed down in 2015.

But not to fear! F.A.O. Schwartz reopened its store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in November 2018. So, we can all still get our holiday fix there.
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue NYC
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue on the left, with 745 Fifth Avenue at the center-right in August 2021 (Google Street View).

Just to give a little perspective, the above capture shows the two sites of F.A.O. Schwartz on Fifth Avenue. The old site from 1931-1986 is in the center-right, while the 1986-2015 location in the GM Buildings is at the left. Yes, they literally just moved across the street. I personally identify F.A.O. Schwartz as being in the GM Building on the ground floor. It was spacious and had good light. I saw Susan Sarandon, who lives nearby, give some kind of presentation there in 2001. It really was a great location.
Bergdorf Goodman, 58th and 5th Avenue NYC
58th Street and 5th Avenue, looking southwest, June 2019.

Speaking of Bergdorf Goodman, you probably knew that it was that massive building on the far side of 5th Avenue in the 1984 photo. It has been there since 1928, so its centenary is coming up fast. Now, while it may have seemed like F.A.O. Schwartz was eternal, Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue actually is eternal. It seems that if there's ever, God forbid, a nuclear holocaust, the cockroaches will still go to Bergdorf Goodman to buy their $300 sweaters. Bergdorf opened a men's store across the street (on the east side of 5th Avenue) in 1990 and since has expanded to take over the F.A.O. Schwartz space. 

You may remember Bergdorf Goodman from the film "Arthur" (1981). It was already a long-established presence then. However, Neiman Marcus, which owns Bergdorf Goodman, recently filed for bankruptcy due to the 2020 pandemic, so who knows what the future holds in store for it. Strangely enough, due to numerous corporate transactions, F.A.O. Schwartz, which has recently opened stores in Beijing, London, And Dublin, now is probably more financially sound than Bergdorf Goodman. That's life in the big city.
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, and Sir John Gielgud in "Arthur" (1981)
Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Avenue, in the background of a scene from "Arthur" (1981).

Anyway, so the view of Fifth Avenue south from 58th Street hasn't changed much since 1984 aside from some that. If you go there today, you'll see basically the same view and probably will for decades to come. As I like to say in this series, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the view south from 58th Street down Fifth Avenue in NYC proves it.
Looking north on Fifth Avenue NYC from 58th Street, 2019
58th Street and 5th Avenue, NYC, looking north in June 2019 (Google Street View).

Before we take our leave of this spot, let's do a 180 and see what that 1984 photographer had his or her back to. That's the Plaza Hotel over on the left (built 1905-07 with many later renovations), Central Park off in the distance in the center (created 1857-76), and The Sherry-Netherland at 781 Fifth Avenue on the right (built 1926-27). Yes, this little corner of the world has been pretty much the same (including the GM Building, built 1964-68) for a long, long time.

Thanks for stopping by! Please visit some of my other pages as we look at how things looked then, and now.