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.
Horn & 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.