HISTORIC AUTOMAT FACADE FINALLY REVEALED AGAIN

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The facade of the Automat building on 104th street and Broadway was revealed this week after the Rite Aid sign that had blocked it was taken down. Shane sent us the photo above on Friday.

The Rite Aid has been at the spot since 1995, before the building was protected by historic designation (that happened in 2007). The gray Rite Aid sign covered over the large windows that once beckoned customers to one of the most innovative restaurants New Yorkers had ever seen.

The building, a beautiful three-story art deco structure with terra cotta details near the top, was constructed in 1930 specifically for Horn & Hardart (there had been buildings on the site previously but they were torn down). The architect for the new building was F.P. Platt & Brother.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 2.02.14 AMHorn & Hardart invented Automats, which were restaurants where food was placed behind glass doors that could be opened by putting coins in slots. They were a huge hit in New York from the 1910’s through the 50’s. A city report on the building gives more background about the appeal of Automats:

“Aside from their mechanical fascination, their appeal was based on: reasonable pricing; variety of choices; the uniformity of good food served; a customer did not have to wait for or order from a waiter; no tipping requirement; knowledge of English was not necessary; and they were open seven days a week, and were clean, modern, stylish, and standardized. Of particular appeal to patrons in a hurry, automats became more popular in New York than in Philadelphia, and emerged as one of the city’s cherished democratic institutions, catering equally to celebrities, working women, white-collar office workers, creative types, tourists, and homeless, unemployed, workingclass, rich, and unmarried New Yorkers.”

The first New York Automat opened in midtown in 1912 and was a huge hit. The one on 104th was also very popular, and stayed open until 1953. It’s been used for other purposes since, including as a branch of the New York Public Library. Unless we’re missing something, this is the best-preserved former Automat building in the city.

Check out a photo of what it looked like when Rite Aid and community organization El Taller Latino were there a couple of years ago, and a photo below that of what it was like when it was Horn & Hardart. And click here for our story of the building’s history and a mystery that occurred there in 1933.

Let’s hope the CityMD facility that’s expected to go there there keeps the old facade.

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FOOD, HISTORY, NEWS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. Elaine Felhandler says:

      What a fabulous facade. It’s always lovely to see a building where an architect would study and produce a balanced and nuanced composition. Too bad this seems to be a lost art!

    2. LoraF says:

      Back then a baby carriage could be left outside the automat with the confidence that it would still be there when you came out.

    3. Mary says:

      The Automat on 72 Street just east of Broadway also has a great façade, which can still be seen, although now it is a Citibank. More information is at http://landmarkwest.blogspot.com/2012/08/its-lunch-time-at-new-york-public.html

    4. Lucien Desar says:

      That is a great looking facade. I often wonder why Automats don’t exist today. They would be a more efficient way to sell food for a busy lunch crowd.

    5. mark says:

      I spoke with the Architect, who was on site a few days ago. They are doing a full restoration of the façade, including ordering custom matching stone and bronze. Apparently, some of the brown paneling is temporary and will be replaced. Should look really nice.

    6. David says:

      I remember going into the Automat regularly in the 1960s when i was at CCNY. Once I put my nickel in the slot for a kaiser roll and butter and the machine kept replacing the roll and the door remained ajar. Of course, as a hungry student I continued to take the free rolls but soon decided that this must be a “set-up” by Allan Funt for his show “Candid Camera.” I began stuffing rolls into my short, my brief case and pockets, thinking he was about to pop out from behind the counter — but, alas, it was only a broken machine and I was covered in crumbs for the rest of the day!

    7. Kathy j says:

      Anyone know of new plans for the now empty beauty ?

      • Tom D says:

        “Now empty beauty”?

        As noted at the end of the article, the location is going to be a City MD office. They installed furniture in the lobby the end of last week, so it may be opening pretty soon.

    8. webot says:

      Glorious restoration.

      Kudos to all involved.

    9. melissa says:

      This is a wonderful rediscovery. My mother and her brothers used to hang out at the automat. They grew up on the UWS. And their grand-father, my great-great-grand father did much of the signage for Horn and Hardart!

    10. Clifford says:

      First of all, these “docs in the box” are proliferating to the point where they are taking the place once occupied by the drug chains ( there is a walk-in doc store directly across the street). Secondly, if they ruin the facade, I will never do business with City MD again. Beware City MD; there are now OTHER choices.

    11. Carol says:

      When I was in junior high in the early 1950s, I ate at this Automat at least once a week. I remember having a bologna sandwich (for 15 cents) and a glass of milk (5 cents). I also remember the lady who gave us nickels in exchange for our dimes and quarters. It was amazing how she could give us the correct number of nickels without even having to count them.

    12. A great site for colored terra cotta. If you want to start your own, I have the original machines and the coffee spouts that were displayed at the NY Public Library show last year. Look at MeetMe@TheAutomat.com for more info. H and H was the city’s kitchen and made this a friendlier and more real place. Their commitments to value and quality, consistency and accessibility were rare even for that time. 1912-1991 is a pretty long run. In a largely cold and impersonal world, they provided a glimpse of a better one, where there was always an empty chair that was exactly your size. (OK. I confess. I have some of those for sale too.)

    13. Herbert Witzen says:

      Who is the photographer?
      Shane who?

    14. Grandma says:

      Note the baby carriage parked outside while Mommy was inside having lunch? We used to do that in those days and it was perfectly safe, believe it or not.

      • Independent says:

        While I don’t doubt that leaving a baby carriage on the sidewalk unattended back in the 1950’s or whenever was much (and even much, much…) safer than doing so today would be…

        I still would challenge anyone to actually claim that doing so even back then could be considered prudent or responsible.

    15. Independent says:

      There is contradictory information here regarding until when this Automat on 104th Street remained in operation.

      The post itself states that this location, “stayed open until 1953.” [emphasis mine] One of commenters, however, wrote of his recollections of frequenting the establishment in the 1960’s. This is consistent with the impression I had been under, which places the closing of this Automat on 104th street no earlier than some point well into the 1960’s. Surely, the 1953 date must have been an error, no?

      Steve Stollman wrote, “1912-1991 is a pretty long run.”. Perhaps 1991 is the date of the closing of the last Automat location that was still in operation at that time? Either that, or it must have been a typo, as I find it almost impossible to imagine the Automat on 104th street remaining open until anywhere near as late as 1991. (Growing-up, I lived nearby until just around that time and I have no recollection of a functioning Automat at that location at any time.)

      • West Sider says:

        The city landmarking report says: “The Horn & Hardart Co. remained a tenant on the ground story and mezzanine of No. 2710-2714 Broadway until 1953…Architects Wechsler & Schimenti performed an estimated $10,000 alteration on the building in 1955, which included removing the Horn & Hardart counters and the stairs to the mezzanine, closing the mezzanine opening, and installing a full floor on that level, now the second story. The second and third stories were converted for
        office use.”
        http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/pdf/govpub/2825horn&hard.final.pdf

        WSR

        • Independent says:

          Thank you for replying.

          Apparently, David in post #6 must have meant a location other than the 104th St. one when he wrote, “I remember going into the Automat regularly in the 1960s when i was at CCNY.” This actually did occur to me not long after posting, realizing that David did not specify anywhere in his post which Automat it was that he had frequented. Even more, assuming that there was no CCNY location near Broadway and 104th street in the 1960’s (something I am not certain of but highly suspect) but there was a CCNY location near at least one functioning Automat in the 1960’s, then David’s statement could even have been read as implicitly excluding the Broadway/104th St. location.

          I should have read and thought through more before posting. I certainly should not have begun my post with the sentence that I did. At the very least, I should have used the qualifier appears (as in “…appears to be contradictory information…”).

          I apologize.

    16. 102415 says:

      It’s funny some of you think there is a baby in that carriage out front. You know you can take the baby with you and leave the carriage.

    17. Ted K says:

      I was born (and still live) on 105th St, one block away from the store in 1955. I don’t remember the Automat there, but the corner location was a Horn & Hardart retail store when I was growing up. My Mom would by fishcakes and other pre-packed foods there. It would have been around 1961 when that store closed. Hope this helps!