Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

Posts tagged “Woodhaven Blvd.

Mondays on Memory Lane: THE STORY OF THE MIRACULOUS TRAVELING CHAIRS !

1961, my 6th Birthday party

1961, my 6th Birthday party

Mondays on Memory Lane: THE STORY OF THE MIRACULOUS TRAVELING CHAIRS
How we found our missing chairs after 20 years!
New Years Eve 1992 with grandmother aka "Oma"

New Years Eve 1992 with grandmother aka “Oma”

In the summer of 1960 my family, consisting of my mother Ursula, her mother Amalie and me, had moved across the street from a furnished walk up apartment to a brand new sprawling modern apartment building on Woodhaven Blvd named The Imperial. The lobby of the building looked like George Jetson’s living room, furnished in very high 1960’s modern style, it was wonderful, but there was more furniture in the lobby than there was in our apartment! Having come from a furnished apartment, we didn’t have much to move in with. Mom was a single parent secretary with impeccable skills who supported her family all by herself. Coming from a proper German family she had been taught you only buy what you can afford. Now that mom had arrived in America, her co-workers convinced Ursula that buying things “on time” was the all American way!
Bloomingdales 1959 American Design Foundation furniture ad

Bloomingdales 1959 American Design Foundation furniture ad

With that in mind, since we needed a dining room set first, mom would look in the stores after work. Ursula’s finer taste led her to Bloomingdale’s, which in those days had an elaborate furniture department. There on the upper floor were the latest of modern designs, and this being 1960, the style was of course Danish Modern. Mom tells me it was “love at first sight” when she was instantly drawn to a display island in the middle of the floor, roped off by velvet ropes, showing a complete dining set designed in 1959 by Kipp Stewart and Stewart MacDougal for the American Design Foundation for the Winchendon Furniture Company.
Six chairs, dinning table with extender leaves, end table and china cabinet. Solid cherry wood with black leather upholstery. “It was exactly my taste!” mom tells me. Although she does not recall the price, she does recall it was “terribly expensive” but fate had intervened – it was on sale! Even with this good fortune, it was still out of her budget range. “Why not buy it on time?” familiarly chimed the sales clerk. Sold! It was delivered soon afterwards.
 QUEENS CHAIR collage
For 53 years our family history has revolved around that set. It has been photographed for every special occasion, every birthday, every holiday, it has truly been the center of our lives. But, lives change. Situations change. So, in 1993 we left New York for Tucson, Arizona believing in the theory that ’the grass is always greener on the other side.’ We hired Mayflower movers who specializes in cross-country moves. We were one of about four families on board the huge, huge truck having their things moved out west. Ursula supervised the movers with an eagle eye, especially her beloved dining room chairs. Since the chairs are so light, it was decided they would be placed at the very, very top of our piled section so as not to dent or crush them. Once we got to Arizona we stayed in a furnished motel first, till we could find the house of our dreams. When the Mayflower movers finally arrived a week after our arrival, our furniture was placed in storage. We first settled on a rental house with option to buy (which we didn’t) and had our furniture packed up again and delivered to our new ‘temporary’ home. As the truck arrived, we watched as the doors opened. There perched at the top were their  treasured chairs. One, two, three, four came off the truck. “Where are the other two?” mom asked with great concern. “Don’t worry lady, they’re there,” the movers assured her. They were not.
Tucson Thanksgiving 1994

Tucson Thanksgiving 1994

We filed claims with Mayflower movers, they gave us the run around with excuses as to where they could be. The stop before us in the mid west, the stop after us in California, somewhere. Surely we thought, surely someone would be decent enough to say, ‘hey, we have two chairs that don’t belong to us.’ No one ever did. We believe that since the partition dividing each families furniture was not completely from floor to ceiling on the truck, the chairs must have toppled over into another families things and were never reported, too much of an inconvenience to some one else.
 FLORIDA DINING SET collage
In time, Ursula finally found the house of her dreams on East Hawk Place at the foot of Mount Lemon. Once again the movers were called. By the year 1999 I realized I was the quintessential New Yorker, miserable in Tucson, and in January 2000 moved back to NYC. One year later my mother to move ‘closer’ to me decided to move to Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida. So the movers (not Mayflower!) were called yet again. Mom’s first  house kept getting flooded by the hurricanes so she  moved yet again to one final house in Ft. Meyers Beach, until three hurricanes descended onto the Florida Gulf within three months. The one thing mom was determined to save each time was her beloved dining room set and she perched it up onto other furniture, thereby saving it from all the floods. Three hurricanes being too much, mom finally moved back to NYC!  For each and every one of the seven moves Ursula’s beloved dining room set has survived – except for the two chairs. Now in 2013 she is firmly ensconced around the corner from me in Sunnyside, Queens. But in all the years since 1993, whenever we have a special occasion at the dinner table, it is only a matter of time till mom will say, “you know, we had six of these chairs!”
On July 18 this year, in the midst of New York’s scorching 100F degree heat wave, I volunteered to go to mom’s holistic pet shop, located on 9th Street in the east village section of Manhattan. Now fate begins to intervene. I have gone to this shop many times before. The subway stop is 8th Street. Oddly enough, I automatically got off at 14th Street. So by foot I headed south. Instead of turning onto East 9th Street, for some unknown reason I turned onto East 12th Street. As I headed down the street, I was drawn into the wonderful The Cure Thrift Shop where proceeds go to the diabetes foundation. The lure of cool air and wonderful things pulled me in. I kept walking as if pulled to the back of the store. Then, when just about 6 feet from the back, my eyes saw – our dining room chairs, exactly two of them! !  It was an absolute surreal moment. Was I seeing right? This couldn’t be. In my days, I have been to every last thrift shop, antique store, garage sale, estate sale, street fair and flea market in New York, upstate, New England, Arizona and Florida – I have never ever seen any part of our dining room set – and here they were…the two of them, as if hey were waiting for me. I was almost afraid to touch them to only then discover the mirage wasn’t real – they were real, priced at $500 for the pair. “Do you know anything about these chairs” I carefully asked?
Stewart-MacDougal Chair in CURE Thrift Shop

Stewart-MacDougal Chair in CURE Thrift Shop

CURE Thrift Shop 111 East 12th Street

CURE Thrift Shop 111 East 12th Street

Chair in the #4 subway

Chair in the #4 subway

Hans' private seating

Hans’ private seating

I was told by a very delightful girl named Ali that they were donated by a woman who had had them for “many years.” My hand started going for my cell phone as I tried to walk calmly out of the store. I rushed across the street and speed dialed mom, “You’re not going to believe this, but I found your chairs!” Mom insisted I was clouded with romantic notions and that it just could not be. Maybe the back is different, different legs, different wood or seat, it just couldn’t be, not after 20 years!  “No mom…it’s them!“ We agreed that fate had intervened and that despite the fact this was certainly not planned for in our budget, if these were truly, truly the chairs, I had to buy them! I recognized the nicks and dents we had accidentally put in them over the years – these were undeniably OUR chairs! Unbelievable! I offered Ali $400 which she warmly accepted. I told Ali the entire story as we both got the Twilight Zone chills and teared up and hugged. I rushed home to show mom the photos I had taken of ‘her’ chairs. “It’s them” she exclaimed, as she just kept staring at the photo in the camera.

The very next day I planned to take the chairs to mom’s apartment, one by one on the subway. Liz the manager greeted me only to reveal that she herself had been the past owner of the infamous chairs for just a few years, before that they had been found in a second hand furniture store. Liz herself reupholstered the seats in white vinyl and insisted the original seats are still underneath, which they are. I thanked her profusely and gingerly carried the first chair to go home to mom.
Ursula and her chairs - 20 years later!

Ursula and her chairs – 20 years later!

Now in New York City, you see all characters carry all sorts of odd things on the subway. The subway doors opened, I placed my chair in the corner and sat down. I got all the required bemused looks. “You Won’t believe the story behind this chair!” I exclaimed, I just couldn’t hold my excitement back as I told a young surprised design student the story. My stop arrived, I rushed to her apartment building and got into the elevator as quickly as possible. Ursula was waiting at the door, “Oh my god, it really IS the chair”, mom just looked at me and then the chair and then me, then the chair…We went into the living room and I placed the first of the missing two chairs, next to it’s mates. After twenty long years they were together again! But wait – I had to go back to the city and do the whole trip over again with chair number two! I headed out the door, heady with excitement and rushed to get missing chair #2. After several hours on July 19, twenty years later, I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but our historic beloved chairs were together again, the dining room set was just as it was on that day in Bloomingdales when that sales person said to Ursula: “Why don’t you just buy them on time?” !
AMERICAN FURNITURE FOUNDATION MEDALLION

AMERICAN FURNITURE FOUNDATION MEDALLION

AMERICAN DESIGN FOUNDATION 1959 STEWART-MacDOUGAL DINING SET TODAY

AMERICAN DESIGN FOUNDATION 1959 STEWART-MacDOUGAL DINING SET TODAY

WINCHENDON FURNITURE COMPANY CHINA CABINET

WINCHENDON FURNITURE COMPANY CHINA CABINET

STEWART-MacDOUGAL WINCHENDON DINING CHAIRS

STEWART-MacDOUGAL WINCHENDON DINING CHAIRS

THE CURE THRIFT SHOP benefiting The Diabetes Foundation
111 East 12th Street, open daily 11:00 – 8:00
212-505-SHOP
PS: Bizarrely enough, a few days later, TCM (Ted Turner Movie) channel showed the 1970 Mel Brooks comedy film “The Twelve Chairs” for the very first time on their channel.
Sunday July 28th, I actually found the original Bloomingdale’s ad for the chairs on the internet. Life is surreal.

Photo of the day: ROCKAWAY BEACH, NEW YORK MEMORIES

ROCKAWAY BEACH MEMORIES:

I grew up on Rockaway Beach. My first time seeing the ocean was from this stretch of sand. My first sense memories of sand between your toes and then in your shoes comes from Rockaway. The smells were wonderful: the salt air, the wooden boardwalk had a certain indefinable smell, the sun tan lotion (usually Coppertone) wafting through the air and the hot dogs grilling at the beach stand.

For the first ten years of my life, 1955 to 1965, we were too poor to vacation ‘out of town’. Rockaway was the working man’s Riviera. The longest stretch of urban beach in the United States on a peninsula stretching out into the Atlantic. You took the bus or the  subway to get to the beach. We lived in Rego Park, Queens. We boarded the Q11 bus on Woodhaven Blvd. and then transferred to the ‘beach bus’ further down the blvd. It was a long arduous trek that took patience and stamina, but the rewards were well worth the two hour ride. If the buses were too crowded with teeny boppers and their transistor radios, you transferred to the scenic ’A’ train which took you over the bay with it’s little inlets and fisherman’s houses on stilts. It was a scenic journey in those old rattling subway cars with rattan seats, that now seems so much more romantic than it did at that time. I would give anything to relive that journey in one of those old subway cars again, they were different times. People had patience then, it wasn’t the era of hurry and rush, you accepted the fact that you would travel two hours by public transportation to get there.

The goal was 116th street. A wonderful honky tonk of old 2-story shops from the 1930’s hawking beach wear, surf boards, Italian ices, pizza and straw hats. Depending on how long it took to get there you quickly decided how much further up the beach you would walk to find a quieter spot away from the teenagers. (That meant of course, a longer walk back too). Right at the corner of 116th was an old wooden hotel that looked exactly like the Del Coronado hotel in the Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like It Hot”. The main floor was open with a huge open air old fashioned bar where you ordered your hot dogs and beer. Right across on the beach was the main life guard station which usually had the bikini girls right nearby. Planted strategically was the umbrella rental man. I remember the umbrellas distinctly, they were yellow and green horizontal striped. It was all on the honor system, you paid him, hauled the heavy wooden umbrella to your spot and were expected to return the umbrella yourself.

As it got hotter and your supplies ran low you would walk back to the old wooden hotel for more refreshments. It was sort of a badge of honor to have splinters in your feet to show you were tough enough to walk the splintery boardwalk back and forth without your flip-flops. Old biplanes would fly over head heralding the latest soft drink, radio station or local stores. Then there was the ice cream man. No – not in a truck, but a boy who carried a metal box with dry ice laden with Good Humor bars and orange drinks. “Ice cream and orange drinks heah!” We were in heaven. Portions of the beach to the left had stone jetties which created tidal pools, a place of fascination for a little boy. To the right were old wooden jetties with fisherman trying for their days catch. If you walked far enough to the right you would wind up at Riis Park. By 1965 it was the era of ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’, the Beach Boys, and surfer girls – tanning was a must. A good way to get an even tan was to take long walks. Those walks were wonderful, hunting for seashells, sea glass, and other little treasures of the sea. If you wanted to take a walk, you would ask your beach towel neighbor, “mind watching my stuff?” and off you went, sometimes for hours and your things would still be there upon your return. Incomprehensible in today’s times!

You timed your return home by whether or not you were going to stop at Playland, an old wooden amusement park that you would see in the old time black and white movies today. A rickety wooden rollercoaster called ‘The Atom Smasher‘, tunnel of love, games of chance, the smell of cotton candy was heady and the Nathan’s hot dogs were the best! It was a tough choice – sunset on the beach and a not so crowded long ride home, or, screaming thrills and a more crowded bus stop near Playland. Either way, you were lulled by the rocking of the old bus on your way home. Shoes filled with sand, sea shells clinking in your tin pail, sunburned arms and your beach towel smelling of sea air. Treasured memories.

My great-grandfather and grandfather were sea captains from Hamburg, Germany, they traveled the seven seas, the ocean is in our blood. So in the fall and in the winter, when the buses were empty and the beaches were quiet and desolate, we went to the beach for winter picnics and long introspective walks on the beach as the wind whirled the sea air through you hair. Searching for seashells was the best – no competition, that is when this picture was taken. The sound of the wind was like music, the ocean waves and the cries of the seagulls were so soothing. The old wooden boardwalk seemed ghostly without the sunbathers but it was as if it was our own private beach, just us and a few locals.  The silhouettes of the old wooden cottages looked like and Edward Hopper painting. Their colors blue, white and green with a little yellow here and there. The beach and boardwalk without the throngs seemed to go on forever and ever. Around 3pm we would head back to 116th  street where we would sip some hot cocoa and wait for the few buses to take us back.

In my teen years 116th street and the beach was the cool place to hang out with your friends and bring the latest 45’s to dance to on the beach as they played on your portable record player. We would have tanning contests to see who would come back the darkest from summer vacation, I won 3 out of 4 years in high school. In my junior year Susan Kopp won – she had used iodine and lemon juice mixed with her Coppertone (considered a death sentence today).

In my college years we traveled to the Caribbean for our vacations and the Rockaways became a thing of the  past. Now sadly it truly is with the destruction of hurricane Sandy. You never realize how much you  miss something until it is gone. What I wouldn’t give to have that one last hot dog or orangeade on the boardwalk “hot dogs and orange drinks, heah!”

Rockaway Beach is a part of me, it always will be.