Automat

Horn & Hardart Entrance, 182 Broadway, c. 1940 - Wurts Brothers, Gelatin silver print, MCNY
Two weeks ago, I took myself on a field trip up to the Museum of the City of New York to see the Horn & Hardart’s Automat exhibit. Quite often, I am disappointed with exhibits and leave the gallery or museum feeling less than satisfied. However, this exhibit was definitely worth the long subway ride up to 103rd Street (and on the East Side, no less!) and the walk through a slightly unsavory neighborhood.
Once inside the museum, and immediately upon viewing the first few photographs in the exhibit, I confirmed yet again my long-held feeling that I was definitely born in the wrong era. When I saw the actual artifacts (china, menus, a table and two chairs from one of the older automats, among other things), I felt nostalgic for an experience I’d never even had. I even got chills when I saw the section of the facade pictured here. I don’t know how long I stood transfixed in front of it, seeing my properly gloved hand reaching to open one of the doors to secure a piece of pie for one token (5 cents).
I left the museum feeling completely out of sorts. I walked outside and wanted everything to be black and white and slightly grainy and blurred, the way it appears in old newsreels. I wanted people to be dressed up on the streets, elegant, wearing hats and gloves. I wanted to spend my lunch hour in an automat, sipping coffee from a heavy cup. I wanted to deserve a break from carbon paper and my manual typewriter.
I was so taken by the image of 182 Broadway (above) that I decided to take the subway down there to see what it looked like today. I thought surely there would be some vestiges of 1940 left in its facade. I can’t describe the magnitude of my disappointment. I can only show you, here.
Chills, indeed.