Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dive into this

In one fell swoop I went from having my work cut out for me to having the work done for me. Enjoy this terrific site on the Cheepskates and that hotbed of '80s garage action, The Dive (257 W. 29th Street). See also the East Coast Mod Scene Archive yahoogroup for more stories and photos.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Diplomacy

Further pieces of the Hotel Diplomat puzzle were found in a cheapo book I picked up recently at the Strand--Times Square and 42nd Street in Vintage Postcards, by Randall Gabrielan (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000). Beside a ca. 1911 postcard of the building is the following caption:

New York Lodge No. 1 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks opened its 43rd Street clubhouse in 1911, a time when fraternal organizations were enjoying rising membership and growing financial capabilities. The architect of this 14-story, Neo-Classical structure was James Riley Gordon, who had earlier designed the Elks' Bronx lodge. The facility, with 240 rooms and a main ballroom with a 32-foot-high ceiling, was, in effect, a city hotel for visiting Elks. The Depression hit fraternal organizations hard. Their business diminished while they retained major operating expenses, the likely cause for its 1932 opening to public guests and a 1934 foreclosure. The place was later a modest-priced hotel, first the Delano, then the Diplomat, and in time, a single-room occupancy hotel for long-term residents. The hotel was acquired by real estate interests and demolished c. 1990 for inclusion in a prime development assemblage.

The Diplomat also gets a brief mention in another recent read--James Traub's The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square (New York: Random House, 2004). Anita Durst, a theater artist with the extraordinary good fortune to have been born into the Durst real estate family, once put on a play there:

Like many shy people, Anita fell in love with acting. Unlike most of the others, she had a father who owned Broadway theaters...He [Douglas Durst] allowed her to use the semi-defunct Diplomat Hotel, on West 43rd Street, for a play called The Law of Remains, in which, Anita says, "Andy Warhol and Jeffrey Dahmer meet in Heaven." They play was apparently based on The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The hotel had a series of splendid, haunted-looking ballrooms. "The big ballroom was Heaven," Anita says, "and God was a Puerto Rican drag queen with an erection."

Her grandfather Seymour, a man after my own heart, was a passionately voracious collector of books about New York City. Upon his death his collection was bequeathed to the CUNY Graduate Center to form their Seymour B. Durst Old York Library. Would that I were a CUNY student again and could peruse those riches.

The Devil's Playground also offers some further info on the International Casino, precursor to Bond's:

The International Casino was the last word in refinement, luxe, and swank. Here is how a reporter described the opening, in September 1937: "Hollywood on Broadway...a glittering gallimaufry of chromium and glass, crystal fountains, sliding doors, revolving stages, staircases which descend from heaven (when they work), a stainless steel escalator and a three story spiral bar, where you can drink your way up and fall your way down, or vice versa, as befits your mood." Life magazine did one of its "Life Goes to a Party" series about the International soon after it opened, and the author noted, with what seems admirable candor for a family magazine, that "most people go to the International Casino to see a hundred odd youngish girls in various states of undress." The article's opening photo spread shows a glistening chrome escalator with a tuxedoed headwaiter standing at the top, and then half a dozen beauties in two-piece bathing suits balancing spinning plates on long rods. Inside, Life offered pictures of bathing beauties descending from the ceiling in an elaborate trapezelike contraption and another riding bareback on a revolving stuffed horse.

The book also contains an extremely poignant chapter on the last Howard Johnson's, entitled "A la Recherche des Fried Clams Perdus," which I'd urge all clam-diggers to read.

Lastly for today...is this the work of thee Steve Paul?