Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving – Hastings Style

Cover of Hastings House Restaurant's Thanksgiving menu, ca. 1974

With money as tight as it is these days, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to step into a time machine that would take you back to an era when you could have a full Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant for $6.25? Well, that’s what you would have gotten at the Hastings House Restaurant in the mid 1970s. Not so long ago, was it?

Hastings House, a true Hastings institution, spent many prosperous years patronized by employees of the waterfront industries who would come in for a quick drink after work. When Anaconda Wire & Cable Company was still in operation, the bar opened at 8AM to accommodate the workers coming off the third shift. Anaconda left in the mid 1970s, but though at least one Hastings resident likened the patrons at the bar to waxworks, Hastings House remained a local favorite until it closed in September of 2006.

The building on the corner of Spring Street and Warburton Avenue has a long and interesting history. It was commissioned in 1915 by two brothers, Samuel and Morris Kaufman. Thanks to Morris’s son, we know something of their early history. As young men, Samuel and Morris had travelled up from Yonkers to work at their uncle’s saloon on Spring Street. (This building became Dunn’s Bar in the 1920s.) The boys’ parents spoke Hungarian, Yiddish, and Polish, and they got along well with the Eastern European workers at Zinsser Chemical and the National Wire & Cable Company. The brothers eventually bought out their uncle, and then decided to build themselves a larger building, which they referred to as a hotel.

Postcard printed ca. 1920, showing the Farragut Inn on the left

The building was designed by Hastings architect Foster L. Hastings (who also designed the Hastings movie theater building that now houses the Moviehouse Mews), and the construction was supervised by William Schmidt, a builder who lived on Farragut Avenue. The “Kaufman Bros. Farragut Inn,” named after Admiral Farragut, one of the most famous of Hastings’ residents, opened for business in 1916 or 1917.

As with many local “hotels,” the Farragut Inn also served food and drink. One source in our files includes it in a list of the most popular speakeasys in Westchester during prohibition, and Morris Kaufman himself was jailed after a raid where a large amount of liquor was discovered on his premises. Morris’ son remembers meeting many famous actors and politicians at the Farragut Inn, as well as Babe Ruth, who was a regular customer. When the Babe visited, the news passed quickly around the neighborhood. By the time he had finished his steak, young fans would be lined up around the block, waiting to get a glimpse and an autograph of the famous man. The Farragut Inn's banquet room on the second floor was a popular place for all sorts of celebrations – testimonial dinners for local VIPs, like Fire Chief Melville Haines and Col. Frederick G. Zinsser, and banquets for the fire department and the Southside Social & Athletic Club.

The banquet room, from a photocopy in our files of a ca. 1920 postcard. Does anyone have one of these postcards that we could borrow to make a better copy?

Fashionable as the “speaks” may have been, prohibition was hard on places like the Farragut Inn and, to make matters worse, Sam Kaufman died in 1932. Around 1935, the business passed into the hands of Joe Falcaro, who changed the name to Falcaro’s Restaurant. Joe described himself in a 1937 advertisement as an “undefeated match game bowler,” and it may have been Joe who installed the “new up-to-date bowling alleys” in the basement.

Farragut Inn returned under new management in the early 1940s and did not close until 1960. (Can anyone help us fill in the ownership during this period? Historical Society Sleuth Bob Russell thinks it might have belonged to the Leith family for a time in the late 1950s.) Bernie Hoffman reopened the business two years later as the Hastings House Restaurant. Hastings House continued the tradition of hosting large groups, including class reunions and wedding receptions, and also served special Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, like this one. If you aren’t hungry yet, just read through the menu.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Hastings Historical Society!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mystery Photo: Anaconda's Weatherproofing Department

One of the departments at Anaconda Wire & Cable Company that employed women was the weatherproofing department. There, the women operated the machines that covered copper cable with cotton braid impregnated with a weather-proofing substance.

In these photographs, however, the ladies are having some kind of party -- complete with spaghetti and meatballs! From looking at the background of the photographs and matching them with other photographs in our collection, we know they are still at work, in the Anaconda caffeteria. And we know the names of two of diners: Sophie Karschmidt Hoss is in the plaid shirt and cap and Louise Capuano is wearing the checked shirt and vest. Who are the others? What is the celebration? We'd love to know!

Click on the photographs to look at them in Flickr (use the All Sizes link to enlarge the photograph). If you have any ideas, pass them along to us! If you don’t know, but are curious about the answers, come back to the blog and check this post. We’ll attach comments with any information we receive.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Honor of Veteran’s Day

Parade on Main Street during or just after World War I, possibly on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918

Parades matter. And Joseph Semberger reminds veterans why in the “Commander’s Message” from a booklet produced in 1969 for the 50th anniversary of the James Daley Post No. 200 of the V.F.W.:

“Each of us has an important role in this celebration. As you march up Warburton Avenue with your visiting delegations and military units, remember one important fact – your presence will help to rekindle that spark of patriotism which has been slowly vanishing in our modern society. We hope it will leave a lasting impression in the minds of the spectators, young and old, who will line the route of the parade. If by our actions we can generate the feeling of pride in being Americans, then our efforts will not have been in vain.

Certainly you must remember when you, as a child, stood in the sidelines and watched similar parades, that vibrant feeling of pride running up and down your spine as each band went by. How proudly you stood at attention to salute the Flag borne by the color guards of each contingent… Remember?”

World War II veterans in the Memorial Day parade on Warburton Avenue in 1949

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Between the Chrystie Estate and the A&P: Bob Russell’s Brook

Editor’s Note: Bob Russell, a regular contributor to this blog and to the Hastings Historian, left a fascinating comment on Judy Chamberlain’s post last week about the history of the local A&P. I asked him to tell me more about what he remembered of the former Chrystie property, and he reminded me that he had sent a letter on just that subject to the Historical Society in 1999, which was printed in the Hastings Historian. We present an edited version of his letter here, illustrated with color slides from our collection taken of the Chrystie Estate in the 1940s.

Looking north from Five Corners up Broadway, toward the old Chrystie house on the site now occupied by the Hastings Terraces at 555 and 556 Broadway.

During the late 1950s and very early 1960s, just before the A&P excavations began, my friends and I would regularly play soldiers, or just plain explore the area, on the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway known to us as “The Brook.” This land was originally part of the Chrystie Estate. The house I grew up in was on Whitman Street. So as the crow flies, I could, with a good head of steam, be at “The Brook” within five minutes by crossing through St. Matthew’s School playground.

I spent a lot of time there as a kid and knew the area pretty well. At the base of the slope, down from the top of the hill, just after the land leveled out, there was a circular pool. It appeared to me to be some kind of fountain or man-made pond, perhaps for growing watercress. It was somewhat overgrown but not stagnant, and I suspected it to be spring-fed and self-effluating, eventually meandering its way to the brook. Although it was fenced in, there was an opening just wide enough to squeeze through. But once inside, you had little room along the edge to stand on and had to be careful not to fall in.

The gardens of the Chrystie Estate, looking west toward Whitman Street.

Not far from the circular pond, there was a curious and relatively deep hole. It was roughly four feet square and six to eight feet deep. It was lined with stones so it was constructed as a square dry well. At the bottom were some rotted boards covered with weeds and brush. Perhaps this had been an old cover that had rotted over time and ultimately caved in. Nevertheless, I always stayed away from this pit as it was scary looking.

Then one day a friend came to us and said he and another lad had been down there and that it was O.K. to explore. One kid couldn’t go down without someone to help him get in and out. With the help of my friend Eric Likhonine, I got down to the bottom and began to snoop around.

The gardens, looking north from Main Street.

Underneath the boards and brush I saw iron balls, perhaps a half dozen or so, stuck in the dirt at the bottom. With a stick I pried one loose. I scraped it off, and it looked like an iron softball. For an 11 or 12 year-old, it was somewhat heavy and must have weighed between 10 and 20 pounds.

At that moment I just wanted to get out with my find. I passed it up to my friend, who then helped me get back out. We started off for my house, taking turns carrying the ball as we walked. My mother became upset when she saw it and asked where we had gotten it. She he told us to take it back. Eric laughed because he knew we’d have to haul it back—that all our hard work had been in vain. Eric, whose parents owned the Denise Gift Shop across from the Hastings Theater, now lives in Ashville, North Carolina, and remembers the incident very well.

So what happened to the cannonball? We went back to the brook and dropped it back into the dry well. We often talked about going back in again, just to get one or two to hide somewhere, but we never did.

Bob Russell’s next Hastings Historian article will be on the Cup ‘N’ Saucer restaurant that once occupied the spot that is now Comfort Lounge. “We’re sure that many of you have fond memories of the Cup ‘N’ Saucer that was previously Lang’s,” says Bob. “Does anyone have photos of the Langs, or of the Carusos, or any shots taken in or outside the store? Kindly e-mail them to us at hhsblog[at]hastingshistorical[dot]org.”
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