Brave New Year

The imposing of image of a fat, fearsome banker greeted readers of the Jan. 4, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, an apt symbol for the dawn of a new decade in a country whose fate seemed wholly in the hands of the old moneymen.

Jan. 4, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

However bleak the outlook, the show still had to go on, and automakers did their best to entice crowds to the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Trott wrote of a “tentative modernism” on display at the show as automobile styles continued to transition from “horseless carriages” to something that looked decidedly modern. Trott’s column, illustrated by Peter Arno

…made note of the modern angles of Art Deco that were creeping into the designs…

DAZZLING DASHES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1930 Essex sported an Art Deco instrument panel, as did the 1930 Hudson Great Eight Sedan. (hemmings.com/Free Library of Philadelphia)

…Trott also noted the increasing popularity of eight-cylinder cars (as evidenced in ads featured later in this blog post)…

TEMPLE OF TRANSPORTATION…Top left, postcard image of the Grand Central Palace exhibition building, circa 1916. At right and below, new automobiles on display at the Palace in the early 1930s. (Wikipedia/NY Daily News)

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Flappers Get Flappy

Automobile designs weren’t the only changes seen on the streets of New York. In “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the introduction of “ear flaps” on women’s hats…

THEY FLOP, JUST LIKE THE STOCK MARKET…A selection of women’s hats from a 1930 Chicago Mail Order Company catalog. (elfsacks.com)

…while on the other hand, in “The Talk of the Town” White welcomed the addition of a namesake hotel to the New York skyline…

NAMESAKE…The 43-story Hotel New Yorker at 481 Eighth Avenue, by architects Sugarman and Berger, opened on January 2, 1930, with more than 2,500 rooms starting at $3.50 a night. At left, the hotel following its completion; top right, construction on the hotel began just 22 months earlier; bottom right, the Terrace Room nightclub was a popular spot for dancing in the 1930s and 40s. (The New Yorker Hotel/americanfoodroots.com)

…White noted that the “New Yorker” name seemed to be popping up everywhere…

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE…The hotel as it appears today. With the decline of train travel (the hotel was near Penn Station), the Hotel New Yorker closed in 1972 and was purchased by the Unification Church in 1975. Subsequently much of the original Art Deco detailing was lost, and the hotel’s famed Louis Jambor murals were painted over. Beginning in the mid-1990s the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched a $100 million capital improvement project (top right). Fortunately, the Art Deco doors of the Manufacturers Trust Company offices (below) were preserved, as was company’s lobby. (Wikipedia/Daytonian in Manhattan)
…and White marveled at the building’s massive scale…
WHAT LIES BENEATH…Popular Science (April 1930) offered a view into the bowels of Hotel New Yorker, 78 feet below street level. (tparents.org)
According to Tom Miller’s excellent blog Daytonian in Manhattan, the New Yorker was the largest hotel in city: “it boasted 2,500 rooms, murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, the largest barber shop in the world (42 chairs and 20 manicurists), 155 chefs and cooks for the five restaurants. Employing 92 telephone operators, the hotel had one of the largest switchboards in the country…Its basement power plant was the largest private plant in the United States. The Great Depression apparently never heard of the New Yorker Hotel as satin-gowned movie stars and top-hatted politicians crossed its marble-floored lobby.” (Inventor Nikola Tesla spent the last ten years of his life in near-seclusion in Suite 3327).
The Unification Church purchased the building in 1975,  removing Art Deco details and painting over the Jambor murals. In 1994 the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched what would be a $100 million capital improvement project. Miller writes that during the renovation “the original marble floors were exposed from under yards of threadbare carpeting.” And happily, “when the doors to the old Manufacturer’s Trust Company were opened, the old 1929 lobby was intact…the Jambor murals (in the Trust’s lobby) survived. The Art Deco terrazzo floors remained. And the tiled corridor to Penn Station still stretches diagonally beneath 8th Avenue, now used as storage for security reasons.”
EPHEMERAL ART…Murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, seen in this photo of the ballroom in the 1940s. The murals were painted over in the 1970s after the hotel was acquired by the Unification Church. (The New Yorker Hotel)
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Ways of Seeing

Art critic Murdock Pemberton (1888-1982) continued to ponder the meaning of the new Museum of Modern Art, which was staging its second-ever exhibition in its galleries on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue:

ARE WE NOT MODERN? Charles Demuth’s My Egypt, (oil on composition board, 1927) was among works featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans. From left, cover of the exhibition catalog, a page from the catalog featuring Demuth’s painting, and as the work appears in color. (MoMA/WikiArt)

No doubt Pemberton, who came from humble Kansas roots, found it difficult to warm up to a gallery founded in November 1929 by three society women — Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller

…and wryly suggested that perhaps another museum could be founded, “The Modernest Modern Museum,” for those who lacked clout or patronage with MoMA’s well-heeled board of directors…

Pemberton’s grumblings caught the attention of Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, who sought a correction (printed in the back pages of the Jan. 4 issue) regarding some of Pemberton’s earlier observations of the museum. No doubt Barr was feeling some Rockefeller heat as well:

HERE’S MUD IN YOUR EYE…Murdock Pemberton, apparently endorsing Taylor’s Port in 1937. (observer.com)

For some insight into Pemberton’s populist views (the old meaning of the word, not the new one), the critic’s granddaughter, Sally Pemberton, had this to say in a 2012 New Yorker interview:

“Being from humble roots in Kansas and having worked to help support his family since he was a young boy, Murdock had a love-hate relationship with the upper echelon of society. He visited “plush hung galleries” and saw how museums treated art and artists in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, and he wanted art to be more accessible. He asked that the Met set aside a room for the work of living artists. He called for art to be displayed in libraries and universities, and in some cases to be sold in department stores. He wrote about what a wonderful thing it was when the W.P.A. put murals in post offices around the country and how that changed the American public’s perception of art.”

Ms. Pemberton is the author of Portrait of Murdock Pemberton: The New Yorker’s First Art Critic.

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From Our Advertisers

More ink for the newly opened Hotel New Yorker in this advertisement on page 47…

…and with the automobile show in town, the magazine was filled with numerous splashy car ads…Franklin with its air-cooled engine, Hupmobile with its powerful eight, and Pierce-Arrow—America’s answer to Rolls Royce—would all fall victim in the 1930s to the Great Depression…

…the magazine also featured numerous ads beckoning the well-heeled to warmer southern climes, including society snowbirds seeking respite at Palm Beach…

…this ad from Flit (drawn by Dr. Seuss) seemed to recall the old filler joke from the first issues of the New Yorker, a riddle told backwards:

POP: A man who thinks he can make it in par.
JOHNNY: What is an optimist, pop?

Peter Arno offered his talents in this illustration for the theater review section…

…and this cartoon peek into society night life…

…glimpses of domestic life were provided by Perry Barlow

Garrett Price

Alice Harvey

…and Leonard Dove

Next Time: A Backward Glance…

 

A Glimpse of the Future

Just nine days after the stock market crash, three women opened a new museum on Fifth Avenue that would play a major role in defining the type of city that would emerge from the other side of the Depression and World War II.

Nov. 23, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt.

These visionary women would borrow works from modernists of the past century — the post-impressionists —  to stage the first-ever exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, along with her friends Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan, had rented six rooms on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building, and on Nov. 7, 1929, they opened the doors to the museum’s first exhibition, simply titled Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh. The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton was on hand for the opening:

THE FOUNDERS…Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller, known socially as “the daring ladies,” founded the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. (virginiafitzgerald.blogspot.com/MoMA)
OLD AND NEW…The 12th floor of the Heckscher Building (now called the Crown Building) at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street served as the first location of the Museum of Modern Art. The 1921 building was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal. Note in the foreground the rooftop of the Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926 to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman department store; at right, a page from the new museum’s brochure. (Museum of the City of New York/MoMA)

The gallery rooms in the Heckscher were modest — although Abby’s husband was John D. Rockefeller Jr., she had to find funding on her own (he was opposed to the museum, and to modern art). In his review, Pemberton noted the “inferiority complex” that had already set in at the new museum, which took a preemptive swipe at the Met in its pamphlet (pictured above):

AMBITIOUS…Although the museum was small and had no curatorial departments, MoMA produced a 157-page exhibition catalogue for its first show. (Image and text courtesy MoMA)
MODEST BEGINNINGS…MoMA’s first gallery spaces on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building were indeed modest, as these photos of the first exhibition attest. (MoMA)
HOW THEY LOOKED IN COLOR…Works featured in MoMA’s first exhibition included The Bedroom (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh, and Pines and Rocks (c. 1897), by Paul Cézanne. (Art Institute of Chicago/MoMA)

Pemberton attempted to set MoMA straight regarding the Met’s reputation:

HOME AT LAST…After moving three times over the course of ten years, the Museum of Modern Art finally found a permanent home in Midtown in 1939. Although Abby Rockefeller’s husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was initially opposed to the museum, he eventually came around and donated the land for the 1939 museum (designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone) and became one of the museum’s biggest supporters. (MoMA)

Less than three years later, the museum would point to the world to come in 1932’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The exhibition showcased an emerging architectural style that would dominate the New York skyline in the postwar years.

Top, model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye from MoMA’s 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition; below, model and photographs of works by Walter Gropius. Both architects would have major influences on the postwar New York skyline. (MoMA)

A footnote: The Museum of Modern Art hosts a remarkable website that features photographs of 4,875 exhibitions (plus images of catalogs and other materials) from 1929 to the present.

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That’s Entertainment?

Theater critic Robert Benchley was looking for something to take his mind off the economic collapse, but he wasn’t finding it on Broadway. He found the drama Veneer to be depressing, and apparently so did a lot of other theatergoers; it closed the next month after just 31 performances at the Sam Harris Theatre:

NO LAUGHS HERE, EITHER…Joanna Roos and Osgood Perkins during a 1930 performance of the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya at the Cort Theatre. Roos was also in 1929’s Veneer, and she was singled out for praise by critic Robert Benchley, who otherwise found the play depressing. (New York Public Library)

Benchley also found little cheer in the play Cross Roads, which also closed the next month after just 28 performances at the Morosco Theatre:

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…Actress Sylvia Sidney bawled out her lines in Cross Roads. (Photoplay, 1932)

Benchley finally found something to laugh about at the Alvin Theatre, which featured the musical comedy Heads Up! Tellingly, it ran much longer than its more somber competition: 144 performances…

CLOWNS…Victor Moore, left, and Ray Bolger delivered comic relief in Heads Up! Both actors provided much-needed levity on the Broadway stage during the Depression. (movie-mine.com/Pinterest)

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Ideas for a Post-Crash Christmas

Creighton Peet (1899-1977) was best known as an author of books for young people with titles ranging from Mike the Cat (1934) to How Things Work (1941). A regular contributor to the New Yorker from 1925 to 1957, in the Nov. 23 issue Peet offered up some suggestions for a post-crash Christmas in a short piece titled “Helpful Hints for Marginaires.” An excerpt:

The recent market crash was also on the mind of Howard Brubaker. In his weekly column, “Of All Things,” he looked for divine guidance…

CAN YOU PUT IN A GOOD WORD? James Cannon Jr. was a bishop of the southern Methodist Church and a relentless advocate of Prohibition. (encyclopediavirginia.org)

…in the wake of recent elections, Brubaker also made this observation about voting rights in the South…

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Solace of the Silver Screen

Americans would turn to the movies for a much-needed distraction from their economic woes, and critic John Mosher found a couple of mild diversions starring Greta Garbo and Clara Bow

MUM’S THE WORD…Greta Garbo and Lew Ayres in The Kiss. The film was a rare silent in the new age of the talkies (although it did feature a Movietone orchestral score and sound effects). Audiences would have to wait until 1930’s Anna Christie to hear the voice of Garbo. (IMDB)
PLEASE PASS THE BITTERS, DEAR…Greta Garbo and Anders Randolf trapped in a loveless marriage in The Kiss. (IMDB)

For a few laughs, moviegoers could check out Clara Bow’s second talkie, The Saturday Night Kid. A sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties, Bow’s career began to wane with the advent of the talkies and the onset of the Depression. Her kind would be eclipsed by a new type of sex symbol — the platinum blonde — embodied by the likes of Jean Harlow, who also appeared in The Saturday Night Kid, her first credited role…

SIBLING RIVALRY…Sisters Mayme (Clara Bow) and Janie (Jean Arthur) vie for the affections of next door neighbor William (James Hall) in a scene from The Saturday Night Kid. (doctormacro.com)
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER…Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Leone Lane in a publicity photo for The Saturday Night Kid. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with a couple of ads featured on back-to-back pages of products that no longer exist — the first promotes the use of Ethyl gasoline to increase performance and eliminate engine knock. Ethyl (tetraethyl lead) — a big contributor to soil, air and water lead pollution — was removed from gasoline beginning in the 1970s…the Marmon Motor Car Company introduced a more affordable (under $1,000) car to New Yorker readers in 1929, but it was too late for the struggling company, which due to the Depression folded in 1933…

…this seems an unusual ad for the New Yorker, but then again perhaps the White Company hoped to reach well-heeled readers who were also owners of companies in need of such things, although it is doubtful a lot of truck-buying was taking place after the crash…

…the 1920s are considered a golden age for American road-building, but if you wanted to travel across country, the national highway system was limited to just a few, mostly two-lane routes…

…with their frayed nerves, folks were doubtless smoking like chimneys…the makers of Fatima cigarettes acknowledged the pain felt by the market crash, while nevertheless justifying the higher cost of their brand…

…the holiday season was fast-approaching, and Bergdorf Goodman was ready to set the mood…

…on the lower end of the scale, the California Fruit Growers offered up this dandy “juice extractor” as the gift to delight a loved one (with illustration by Don Herold)…

…I suppose given its quasi-medicinal (digestif) qualities, Cointreau was able to sell their product at 6% alcohol content to dry Americans (although the full- strength Cointreau, not legally available to Americans, was rated at 40%)…at right, another back page ad from Reuben’s restaurant, with more handwritten endorsements from stars including singer Helen Kane (Boop-Boop-a-Doop), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and Paramount Studio co-founder Jesse Lasky

Helen Hokinson’s society women were featured in two separate ads in the Nov. 23 issue…

…and the folks at Frigidare got an extra plug thanks to Leonard Dove

Lois Long’s “On and Off the Avenue” column began to grow in length as the holiday season approached, peppered with spot drawings including these two by Julian De Miskey and Barbara Shermund

…and I. Klein offered his own take on the holiday shopping scene…

Rea Irvin reprised his folk-satirical approach to life at the Coolidge house…

John Reynolds found more humor in the clash of cultures…

Helen Hokinson contributed this very modern rendering of writer’s block…

…and Peter Arno looked in on the challenges of commuting…

…and a quick note regarding a recent issue of the New Yorker (Dec. 3, 2018)…the cover featured a reprint of a Matias Santoyo cover from April 2, 1927…very cool…

Next Time: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Writer…