Friday, October 17, 2014

Tales of Urban Renewal

The Hotel Biltmore, formerly of Oklahoma City, OK, was built in 1932 at a cost of $4 million.  At the time, it was the tallest building in Oklahoma, standing at 33 stories.  An architectural achievement for its time, the art deco tower had over 600 rooms, 7 elevators, 5 telephone operators, 3 radio channels in every room, and its own ice plant producing 100 tons of ice daily.   The hotel was renovated in the 1960's, at a cost of $3 million, and renamed the Sheraton-Oklahoma, but its days were numbered.

Shortly after that, as in many urban centers, "white flight" began an out-migration to the suburbs, and the answer for fixing the city center was "urban renewal."  In Oklahoma City, big plans were made, with contributions by architect I.M. Pei, to rebuild a vast swath of downtown, creating a massive shopping mall called the "Galleria" and adding a huge convention center.  The idealistic plan (with a cool 1960's orchestral soundtrack) can be seen in a documentary on YouTube, consisting of Part 1 and Part 2.   If you hate what urban renewal did in many cities, you will love hating this video!  The film says "Like many cities, Oklahoma City is showing a disease called blight, which like a deadly mold is settling over downtown and killing it."  The answer?  Tear it all down!!

And that includes the Hotel Biltmore.  Originally, it was included in the new plan, and you can see it in the video Part 1 at 4:16.    But the Hotel, like other downtown businesses, started to fail financially, so it was thrown into the mix of tear downs.
Photo by PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND, the oklahoman archive

At the time of the demolition, in 1977,  it was the tallest steel-reinforced building in the world ever demolished with explosives. Nine hundred explosive charges were used in the building to bring it down.  After everything was demolished and torn down, few of the promises were kept, and only the parking garage for the "Galleria" was built, along with a large park called the Myriad Gardens.  Stagnation was the rule through the eighties and into the nineties, but after that improvements began to pick up, and things are in much better shape today, even with a recovery from the Timothy McVeigh bombing in 1995.  However, the old Hotel Biltmore is gone.  Although it's a story of Oklahoma City, maybe it's not "OK."


Thursday, October 9, 2014


A nice foliage-oriented card to go with the beautiful scenery here in New England.  A bit saccharine for my tastes, and I'm not too keen on the boy loading his gun up, so I imagined that shortly after this card was made, the following epitaph appeared on a gravestone in the pet cemetery:
Here lies the bones of our pal Rover,
His days of hunting are now over.
Lesson learned, but now it's done
Don't let Johnny hold that gun!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Organ Time

Today we take a closer look at a postcard in my collection, postmarked 1945, with an intriguing handwritten message.  The postcard is a picture of Dr. Robert Leech Bedell, seated at the organ.  The description on the back of the postcard says that he belongs to A.S.C.A.P., the music publishing organization, and that he is an organist and composer.  It also lists "Recitals -- Church -- Instruction" as his interests.  He apparently used these cards as his stationery for short notes and business purposes, as there's an important message for the addressee, Mrs. Cora Conn Redic, on the other side. 

The message is: "Dear Mrs Redic, Have just corrected the 2nd proof on your "Grand Choeur" for the H. W. Gray Co.  Have asked them to send you a copy of the proof-sheet as a souvenir, to be framed with the title page showing your name at the top; where you can hang it in your home or in the room where the club meets.  Yours, Robert L Bedell."

Dr. Bedell was pretty easy to find out about -- he had published several organ works, one of which can be heard on YouTube:   (I suppose you could play it in the background while you read the rest of this post).  He was the organist and choirmaster of St. Anne's Episcopal Church and the Brooklyn, NY Institute of Arts and Sciences, and he was the organist of New York Radio Station WNYC, for whom he gave organ recitals from the Brooklyn Museum.  He wrote pieces for full orchestra, string orchestra, piano, varied instrumental combinations, and vocal numbers including anthems, sacred and secular solos. 

Mrs. Redic was a little more difficult to track down, but through the intertubes, and the clue on the postcard address of Winfield, Kansas, I found her -- she came to Winfield in 1917 to teach organ at the Winfield College of Music.  She taught there through the absorption of the school by Southwestern College and remained there for 20 years, continuing afterwards at St. Johns College where she taught through 1956.  Over the years her students numbered into the hundreds, and she made two trips to Paris to study at the Paris Conservatory with the famous organist Marcel Dupre.   

Mrs. Redic was also the "organ"-izer of the Southwestern Organ Club, documented in the 1944 Moundbuilder Yearbook (really, that was the name of their yearbook), and there's a picture of the club, as well as a picture of her in the faculty section:

(click for larger versions)

At this point, the trail of her organ work "Grand Choeur" is lost.  I can't find a record of it ever actually being published, or anything else by her, for that matter.  Maybe it only exists on that edited proof copy, corrected by Dr. Bedell...

Friday, September 26, 2014

We Want You On Our Team

But we are not really talking about our football team, even though the big game is on Sunday.

This  card is a reminder to come to church, sent to boys of Sunday School age in the 1960's.  To generate excitement about the starting day of Sunday School, churches used "Rally Day" cards and many other cards like the ones above as subtle reminders to show up, if you know what's good for you.

Here's one of the older variety, a gem from the early 1900's:

I've posted a few others in the past, quickly accessed here:

So, let's raise our hands to Rally Day, lest they get rapped on the knuckles by a Sister!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jay's Motel and Magic Wand

Here's a 1960's chrome card of Jay's Motel and Benny's Coffee Shop, in Elko, Nevada.  I especially like the Googie architecture sign out front, with the ovals framing the names of the establishments and the big "magic wand" with the starburst at the end.

Elko is called the "Heart of Northeastern Nevada," basically because there is nothing else there for miles around.  It's on the highway, though, so there were a number of motels like this one for the folks traveling between Salt Lake City and Reno.

Jay's is now a Budget Inn, and they went and lopped off the top of the top of the sign, halfway up.  Here's the proof:

I kind of like the older version better!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Here's the Church, Here's The Steeple

Some postcards have great messages on them, and the messages contain great mysteries.  The subject of this mystery is this card of Lewiston, Maine.  It's postmarked 1909, and it's mailed to Miss Helen Libby of Biddeford.  The message on the front is written by a man who worked on the steeple of the church in the picture.  The text reads: "I help build this steeple over last fall, way to the top of it.  Where the x is is the shop where I work."   You can see an "x" on a low brick building a few streets behind the church.   Additionally, the church steeple is marked with an "x" and labelled "180 ft." 

The mystery?  What church is this, is it still there, and does it have an interesting history?  That's what I set out to discover.

The first order of business is to locate the church.  There's no church that looks exactly like it using Google Earth, so maybe it no longer exists?  A clue to its location is the light colored building in the foreground.  I have other postcards of Lewiston, so I took a look and found several of a building with suspiciously similar porticos, and the same number of windows per floor between the cards.  This is the newest one, postmarked in 1960:

Although the chimneys seem to be gone, and there's a new cornice, these cards are of the same building.  And the building according to these cards is the DeWitt Hotel.  The chrome version above gives the address as 40 Pine Street.  Great, now all I have to do is go back to Google Earth and take a look at that address today.  And the answer is:  no DeWitt Hotel building and no Church on Pine Street:

There's a flat-roofed office building where the DeWitt was, and there's a parking lot and a nondescript building where the church was.  

So, what church was it, and what happened to it?  More internet research turned up interesting additional clues, and now that I had the street, I quickly discovered that it was the Pine St. Congregational Church.  It was built in 1866.  I also found this photograph below, which was captioned  "Maintenance on the Pine St Church Steeple," but I think this is earlier than 1909, because the building closer to us in this photograph looks older than the one with the mansard roof in the postcard above.  Another mystery for another day (or else I'll never complete this post)!

OK, when did the Pine St. Congregational Church disappear, and why?  After a lot more searching, I found the following one sentence in the "City Locals" section of the Lewiston Evening Journal, July 11, 1940.  Between an item about a city clerk testifying in a court case and an item about Mrs. Gauvin recuperating from an illness and now "out of danger," is our clue: "The Hub Wrecking Co. of Boston began yesterday the razing of the 75 year old Pine Street Congregational Church.  A First National Stores super market will be erected on the site."

The following day, the newspaper had this picture, but no other explanation.  The workmen were demolishing the very structure that our postcard sender helped to maintain over 30 years earlier.

In the Fall of 1940, the other shoe dropped with a full page ad in the newspaper announcing the opening of the new store:

More research uncovered several other facts about this address and the demise of the church.  A good source for church history, believe it or not, is information about the organs in churches, many of which are documented in several databases.  I learned the reason for the abandonment of the Pine St. Church building from one such database, here:  It turns out that the reason for the demolition of the church was due to the merger of the church with the Universalist Church in town, becoming the Federated Church of Lewiston in a different location.

As for the organ, it was an E. & G. G. Hook, model Opus 326, installed in the church in 1866 and then electrified in 1923.  The website notes that the organ was saved and sold for $850 to a church in Biddeford, ME.  Now, it's in Quincy, Illinois. There will be a quiz.

 The story of this location does not end with the First National Super Market.  In 1958, they built a new one a half mile away, knocking down additional buildings to have parking for 200 cars.  And the old location?  Now, it's a very banal brick building, used by a youth social services agency, but with a "for lease" sign in the window.

Progress?  You be the judge!  Here's my attempt, through the magic of photoshop, to re-insert the old church over the current landscape, with the steeple proudly worked on by an anonymous postcard sender of 1909:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ancient Equipment

Let's look in on the Statistical Department at the National Grange Mutual Liability and Fire Insurance Company.  Their office was in Keene, New Hampshire, and this card is from the 1930's or 40's.  These ladies are doing a fine job of data processing, with the assistance of a state of the art card sorting machine, which is probably an IBM Type 80 card sorter.  The purpose of this machine was to take a stack of what were once called "Hollerith cards," then called "IBM cards," and now called "antique bookmarks" and sort them into alphabetical or numerical order based on the holes punched in them.  The photograph above  is from the actual operator's manual from IBM.

In retrospect, the amazing thing about this machine is that it was entirely mechanical, but still could run through 450 cards per minute.  There were no transistors, no tubes, no circuit boards, no silicon -- just good old wheels, gears, brushes, levers, and a big 'ol motor that is visible on the bottom left side of the machine.  If you wanted to sort a stack of cards into order, and they had, let's say, a 5 digit number punched on them, you had to run the whole thing through the machine 5 times, once for each digit.  If you dropped some cards or messed up half way through, you had to start all over again.  That's all the machine did. It didn't punch the holes in the cards, it didn't add them up k-- it just sorted them.

Well into the 1980's stand alone card sorters (later models, of course) were still in use in computer centers everywhere, sorting checks, cards, deposit slips and more.  I got to run one while working in a computer center during the summer of 1979.  It was noisy, generated lots of dust, and every once in a while it sprayed the cards all over the place.  Old school computing at its best!