Norwich City Hall (1936 / 2020)

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: Norwich, CT

In one of our concluding lecture-discussions of our Spring 2021 semester, my North America class and I talked about ways we can be tourists in our own backyards. Though most of us live in Mount Pleasant, there are several corners of the city which are completely foreign to us. Relatedly, most of my New Yorker friends, including those who’ve lived in the city for their whole lives, have only really seen about 25% of it with their bare eyes. To me, that reality isn’t discouraging at a time when Google Earth and Streetview make (virtual) flânerie unthinkably accessible. Either way, it’s reassuring to know that you don’t need to buy a three- or four-figure plane ticket, gouge yourself on a hotel room, and adorn yourself in the common “HEY! I’M A TOURIST” attire (typically a tie-dye shirt emblazoned with the city’s name) to participate in tourism.

I haven’t lived in Connecticut for almost twenty years, but every time I return, the place feels less familiar. Of course that’s understandable, though, since a lot has changed infrastructurally in two decades given the heightened cost of living, shifting demographics, and the Nutmeg State’s perpetual intermediary orientation between two of North America’s most expensive cities. I can barely remember a time when the Quinnipiac River Bridge (which I thought, for much of my childhood, was literally named “The Q”) wasn’t under construction. Driving over the (decently) completed iteration still feels odd. I can probably rest assured they’ll need to rebuild it again in less than ten years.

Truthfully, though, when you’re young, your local and regional landscapes are highly dependent on your engagement with the world outside your bubble. When my friends and I got our drivers’ licenses, the farthest we would go on a quotidian basis would be the Wendy’s across town lines or maybe, if I had a chunk of change to spend on CD’s, to a record shop two towns over. My high school girlfriend lived three towns east, and that twenty-minute drive to her house felt like the height of rebellion. On rare occasions, we would all venture to farther reaches of the state: perhaps going to support athletic friends in their road games or heading to New Haven or Hartford for a concert. Typically, when friends and I were home on breaks from college, we would venture into the cities, but I don’t remember, save for shows at Toad’s Place or the Tune Inn (RIP), having real directives other than killing time.

One of my best friends in Knoxville, coincidentally, also grew up near New Haven. He was seven years younger than me, and he left Connecticut over a decade after I did, but whenever we talked about “back home,” we always came to the same conclusion: where was all the cool stuff when we were growing up there? Very quickly, though, we also realized that most of the “cool stuff” either didn’t exist yet in the 1990’s/2000’s or it existed in various iterations which were restricted from us (or, we had our heads in the sand, a common conceit for suburban teenagers). That’s no more thoughtful than some rockist old-timer asking “where’s all the good new music?” (It’s all over the place and available to stream, Roy. Get your head out of 1974).

All that being said, one of my favorite perks of the Ben Irving Postcard Project has been how the cities Irving visited during the Depression Era have laid out a series of destinations that I may have entirely passed by without a thought in my childhood. For example, I always remember knowing that the town of Norwich existed. They had a Double-A baseball team called the Norwich Navigators, but they were Yankees affiliate, so we never ventured to one of their games. I imagine my father went there for meetings pretty often, but it was never a destination for us, and until this past Fall, I could never remember gazing upon the sheer majesty of their City Hall Building. I won’t say it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb among the modest, working-class downtown landscape, but unlike literal sore thumbs, it was worth preserving (which they made official in 1983, when the building was 110 years old).

Norwich City Hall depicted on a postcard mailed April 1936 vs. the Building November 25, 2020.

What is apparent, when juxtaposing the 1936 postcard image with the more recent photo, is that not all of the adjacent buildings enjoyed the same amount of preservationist love and affection. It appears that at least one of the multi-family homes on the Union Street side (left, on the image) has been torn down. The United Congregational Church (built in 1857 as the Broadway Congregational Church), whose steeple is visible at the right edge of the postcard picture, doesn’t stand so close in reality. This suggests that the postcard artist may have taken liberties with sliding the Church closer to the town hall, they widened Broadway sometime in the past 85 years, or my angle just wasn’t a good recreation. Even if I had been able to climb up high enough (or rent a cherry-picker, in a perfect world), I don’t imagine I could have nailed the angle of the original picture. 

One noteworthy and refreshing contrast between these ca. 1936 and 2020 images is the surprising abundance of green space in the latter. The parking lot in front of the main entrance in 1936 is now a park named after David Ruggles, a local abolitionist who was pivotal to the regional branch of the Underground Railroad. I had grown so accustomed to seeing pre-Interstate Highway Era green spaces disappear under a sea of asphalt, especially in post-Industrial cities. Imagine the placeless example of Hill Valley, CA which Bobs Zemeckis and Gale built out of the Universal backlot, where the 1955 town green had been supplanted with a crowded, loud, parking lot by 1985. The Back to the Future example is even more appropriate here, given how the UCC’s original spire was removed after being stuck by lightning in 1898.  

I hope this is the first of many posts about how something as mundane as old postcards led me to discover fascinating places that were, despite being less than 45 minutes’ drive, completely unfamiliar to me. I would encourage anybody to do the same; I promise that you’ll gain a newfound appreciation of wherever you live(d).

Norwich City Hall, November 2020

Ben Irving at the Carlouel Yacht Club (Clearwater Beach, FL)

In early 1938, Ben Irving took his third (documented) trip through Florida, stopping around the Tampa Bay region on the 16th-19th of January. It’s unclear what his specific business was in Clearwater, but he wrote on the reverse of this postcard (above) that he was on his way across to Tampa, likely around Safety Harbor on route 17.

Shortly after the Great 2020 “Lockdown” began, my partner and I took a drive across to check out Clearwater and seek out a pair of postcard sites from Irving’s collection. We spent half the day there without realizing that Clearwater is basically to Scientologists what Salt Lake is to the Latter-Day Saints. We should have noticed it when we saw the intense glow-up on the Hotel Fort Harrison, which Irving had visited previously in 1936 (and will likely earn its own entry sometime). If you want a harrowing gaze into the Scientologists’ relationship with Clearwater, check out these documents from the Seventies.

Anyway, this entry is about Clearwater Beach, which is a municipality of Clearwater on a long, skinny offshore archipelago across the causeway into the Gulf. It has a more distinct beach-tourism orientation with a major aquarium and, apparently, 100% more Hulk Hogans. On the northern isthmus of the island, right before it tapers off and becomes Caladesi Island State Park, lies the Carlouel Yacht Club, established in 1934.

The Carlouel Yacht Club (Clearwater Beach, FL), June 2020. [SonicGeography.com]

It would be interesting to see an analysis on the discourse of the term “yacht club” during the Depression versus now (whether the emphases on privatization and exclusivity were different at the time), but either way, Clearwater Beach used a photograph of a Cabana scene there to advertise itself in the pre-Disney era. There were enough families in the area by this point two decades past the city’s incorporation who could afford the $100 membership (roughly $1,950 in 2021), and the Cabanas, facing out into the Dunedin Channel (a smart move, given storm surges off the Gulf), were a good image to sell the area to snow-bound Northerners. It must have worked, since the club operated exclusively in the winter months prior to 1954, when I assume Clearwater’s permanent resident population ironed out. An official 1950 count put the population around 15,000; today it is well over 115,000.

On that initial visit to scope out the Yacht Club, for reasons of privacy and COVID, we were not able to talk our way in. However, I met the club’s General Manager Kelley Williams outside, and we exchanged info. A little over a month later, I was able to line up an appointment to wander the grounds with the above postcard. Kelley took great interest in my postcard, and it occurred to her that they had the original reference photograph somewhere. After some searching, she found it on the wall of a small bathroom upstairs from the central Palmer Room. I was dumbfounded:

Kelley was unaware of who framed the image and ascribed the “ca. 1940’s” caption on the plaque or when they did it, but the postmark on Irving’s postcard proved that the photo was taken sometime in the 1930’s. I have no way to prove my suspicion that the photo was completely staged, but that’s still my suspicion, along with how the picture was probably taken shortly after the cabana housing was completed. Why wouldn’t they have wanted to show it off, along with the mile-plus of sandy beach on their doorsteps?

As much as I hate photos of printed photos (especially those with frame glare), I couldn’t find a scanned version. Here’s the original with a special overlay of the postcard:

I also didn’t realize, even as I was searching for the original depicted site to re-photograph it, that the image captured a profoundly physically different era for the club. In the mid-1950’s, around when the club switched to year-round operation, a fire destroyed most of the original structure. From the history page on the Carlouel website:

During the reconstruction, the decor changed from casual to a more formal appearance. Later improvements included enclosing the bay front terrace, adding the Palmer Room, building a sea wall, roque court, swimming pool, tennis courts, and additional cabanas. The short-course Olympic pool was added in 1962.

I guessed that they would stage the photo right inside the club’s entrance, but I did not suspect how the original waterfront was basically extinct. Kelley did not have access to any old maps or other documentation about the reconstruction, and I suspect few, if any, members from that time are still around to recall it. All I could really do was take a guess based on how the main entrance and banquet hall sit on the club’s classic acreage. I am prepared to be told I am way off, but here are two of my guesses:

I’m partial to the latter, since it also worked with the current setup of the cabana housing, which is now formed of connected units, unlike the individual houses seen in the pre-1938 photo. The landscaping is so radically different from the original photo that I also took the horizon into consideration, as well as how much space the beachfront sand originally occupied.

I also looked up the satellite imagery of the Yacht Club (above), which only served to add to my confusion. If the Club has not acquired or last any land since the 1930’s (which is perfectly unlikely), then those Tennis courts are directly on top of what was once the voluminous beach. Interestingly enough, you can see on this satellite image where the public Mandalay Point Road ends and a private drive of mansions with boats (some appear to be yachts) docked across the street.

The Cabana Colony (site) at the Carlouel Yacht Club, Clearwater Beach, FL (1930’s vs. June 2020)

Per usual, cracking a little into the mystery behind a landscape depicted on one of Ben Irving’s postcards has generated a bevy of new questions. Maybe I’ll have to go back there sometime. Maybe someone who was there and then will see this and reach out to me. Either way, it was a privilege to do this. Special thanks to Kelley J. Williams and all the Carlouel members and staff on board that day. Until next time…

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: Belding, MI (1938)

In my half-decade of tracing Ben Irving’s path(s) through pre-War America through his postcards, I always look forward for opportunities to visit smaller towns left behind by post-War economic “progress.” Sometimes, that “progress” comes at a profound expense, usually as self-inflicted by local decision-makers as externally imposed by state and federal powers. Belding, a small city of roughly 5,000 in Ionia County, is a crystal-clear case study.

From what I can tell, Irving spent October 1938 in Michigan, bouncing around the lower peninsula while headquartered at the Detroiter Hotel. He spent much of the second week in the Southwestern corner of the Mitten, including stops in Benton Harbor, Muskegon, Ludington, Battle Creek (read about that here), and as one would imagine, the then-thriving metropolises of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. I’m actually well overdue for entries about his postcards from both Muskegon and Kalamazoo, but those will come in time.

Anyway, here is the original 1938 postcard image scan he mailed of downtown Belding (All Rights Reserved):

One of the first things I noticed driving into Belding was how sparse it felt. There were a few cool-looking blocks around the downtown area, and I saw plenty of cute neighborhoods on the periphery, but it just felt unspooled. I ate lunch at a café overlooking the river and went to get coffee and do some work at Third Wave Coffee, a great indie spot built into the street level of the 1913 Belding Brothers building at Main and Bridge. The owner and operator, Pete, told me a story (soon echoed by an equally helpful librarian) about an old woman who was struck and killed by a falling brick on Main St. sometime in the 1960’s. I found an article confirming that this happened in February 1966, as reported in the Petoskey News-Review (via UPI) on February 10th of that year:

Clipping from the Petoskey News-Review 2/10/66: KILLED BY BRICK. A Belding woman was killed and a 18-year-old girl critically injured Wednesday when a piece of decorative brick and mortar fell from a two-story building they were passing.

The article gave no other identifying information as to who the two women were, but it does confirm that the incident occurred on Wednesday February 9, 1966. The chances were fair that Belding’s powers-that-were had been looking for an excuse to move on some development contract. Stories like these were all too common in post-War, deindustrialized Michigan. As you can tell from the postcard (and if you’ve spent time in any Michigan city that was less aggressive with the wrecking ball), that crowning lip was a common adornment atop commercial buildings. They were too shallow to provide additional shade or shelter from the elements, but they did look nice.

Unfortunately, as these buildings crumbled, the slight jutting adornments became a severe liability. Detroit, for example, seriously cracked down on owners of derelict buildings that were raining bricks on passersby. Some of these owners decided it made more sense to just tear the buildings down than deal with other potential lawsuits and fines, especially since it felt like everyone they knew personally had vanished to the suburbs.

In Belding, the town’s elders decided that the best course of action was to just rip out the entire two blocks of Main Street depicted and turn it into a mall. Gaze upon its majesty.

Belding, MI. Main Street and Bridge, looking West.

I would bite my tongue if anybody I spoke to in Belding, given their half-century of hindsight, expressed any kind of enthusiasm for the mall. I’m sure that COVID had an influence on just how dead that whole area felt across the street, but it appeared that the Chemical Bank building on the right (on the site of what was once the Hotel Belding) had been vacant since well before the pandemic.

Keep in mind that my progress from that postcard image to the repeat-photo I took above was hardly a straight line. Pete identified Main Street, but because most of the pre-War buildings had been torn out before either of us were born, we had no visible reference points to confirm exactly where the photo was taken. I walked over to the Belding Library, named for, just like everything else Gilded-Age in that town, silk magnate Alvah Belding, who spent the last 56 years of his life in Connecticut until his death in late 1925.

I’ve written before how much I love librarians and how they’re some of the best public service workers in the world. The ones at the Belding library were case in point. I walked in and showed the postcard to one librarian behind the reference desk, and within two minutes, she reached into a nearby file cabinet and produced the following photograph, which we quickly realized was the reverse vantage point of the postcard image!

Image on the left property of SonicGeography.com / Image on the right property of the Belding Public Library.

As the caption on the sticker reads, “MAIN STREET LOOKING EAST,” and the postcard image was clearly taken around the same time period, and the orientation of the buildings helped me confirm that the picture was taken of the same block, looking West. She also produced what may be an original print of the earliest surviving photo of the Belding Hotel, possibly taken not too long after 1893, when the hotel was rebuilt following a fire.

Reproduced image courtesy of the Belding Library.

One detail to note is the Victorian-style house which stood to the right of the hotel on Bridge Street, also completed in 1893. Naturally, it was also flattened. As the chief history librarian (who returned from lunch and joined in our conversation) confirmed, the Belding Hotel once stood on the corner currently occupied by that Chemical Bank building, and nothing else but a grassy expanse and a sliver of the parking lot.

So, to review: If you’re ever in such a position to make the decision, don’t do to your downtown what Belding, MI did, kids. It doesn’t feel like it even paid off for them in the short run.

I genuinely hate WordPress’ new design interface, but this image-slide feature is changing my life.

A quick photographic lagniappe: the original chandelier from the Belding Hotel, now located and working within the foyer at the Belding Library at 302 E. Main Street.

Chandelier hanging in the Belding Library, Belding, MI (October 2020).

Thanks for reading, everybody. I hope your Octobers are going well so far, and are sufficiently spooky. Stay tuned for a bunch of inevitable “REDUX” posts of old Ben Irving Postcard Project images, now that I can overlay them with the slider.

The Hotel Quincy: A Panhandle Mystery (Part 3: Solved)

Read Part One (Before I Visited Quincy) HERE
Read Part Two (After I Visited Quincy, but still had a lot of questions) HERE

The Hotel Quincy (Quincy, FL) sometime in the 1950’s. Courtesy of David Gardner and the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.

You are currently reading part three, and I am elated. Last week, I got on the phone with David Gardner of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce, and after we hung up, we felt like we’d known one another for years. As it turned out, Gardner used to work for Visit Florida, and we shared a deep appreciation for American Jewish culture and these histories that reside on the fringes of the twenty-first century.

Perhaps as importantly, Gardner did have some material to share about the Hotel Quincy, including an April 1972 feature about Mrs. Frank W. Lloyd from the Tallahassee Democrat. Her family had owned the hotel from 1928 until 1951 (as I’d found in that 1951 Democrat blurb in Part 1), and she lamented how the development of the Interstate pulled traffic away from Quincy in the 1950’s. The article (which has no visible byline) also confirms it: the hotel was demolished circa 1962.

It also turns out that, yes, my guesstimate of where the lobby once stood in Part 2 was accurate. Here was my photo recreation:

Here is another photo postcard depicting the outside of the Hotel Quincy, published in 1940, two years after Irving mailed that postcard above:

Hotel Quincy (Quincy, FL) Postcard, 1940. Courtesy of David Gardner and the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce.

It’s apparent that the new owners, who bought the place in 1951, got rid of the Plantation-style stacked front porch (but not the rocking chairs) and repainted it to make it match the white-washed Modernist architecture that was in vogue down in Miami. It’s odd, since Quincy has always presented itself as quintessentially “Southern,” which tended to define itself against whatever happened below Gainesville.

Zherti Jasa, a former student and future star architect, put it into a helpful perspective.

“I don’t know if there’s a specific reason why people stopped designing the stacked porches like in the hotel,” she said, “but I would think that the facade is what became more prevalent. Simplicity was the name of the game. They were trying to get away from any decorative ornamentation that resembled any European classical or Roman styles and so on and so forth. The architectural styles typically represent a political and cultural movement of that time.”

So, there we have it. I’m hardly done thinking about or seeking new information about the Hotel Quincy, but as I said, I’m elated how much I was able to unlock using those twentieth-century methods of phone, email, and just stopping through. I still think it’s strange how there aren’t more publicly accessible resources about a building that formed such a heart of what was, in its time, a cosmopolitan town.

Thanks again to David and Zherti for their help in putting the mystery of the panhandle to bed. And thanks to you for reading this.

Appearance on ‘The Postcardist’ Podcast for The Ben Irving Project

After spending almost two years trying to make it a reality, I finally got together (separately) with Frank Roche, host of the wonderful podcast The Postcardist to talk about my research, my family, Florida, and the Ben Irving Postcard Project. I’ll include a handful of links to listen to the episode below, but I have borrowed and posted the episode file here. Enjoy!

The Postcardist Ep. 84 08/23/20, Hosted by Frank Roche, guest Tyler Sonnichsen.

If you’ve never heard of this podcast, make sure to subscribe to it on Stitcher, TuneIn, Apple Podcasts, or whichever conduit you prefer!

The Hotel Quincy: A Panhandle Mystery (Part 2)

If you would like to catch up first, read Part 1 of this 2-Part Entry in the Ben Irving Postcard Project here.

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Hotel Quincy (FL) Postcard, 1936.

Quincy, Florida is a small town not too far Northeast of the state capital Tallahassee (separate, dedicated entry on Tally coming in the future). A YouTube search, which I’ll admit I did not think to do when researching before my visit last week, turned up a few brief videos focusing on the newer hotels on the outskirts of downtown. One video was submitted to HGTV and included testimonials from a diverse set of local residents, including the owner of the Alison House Inn. Like the other functioning B&B’s in town, it was built as a private home, and I have no indication it was ever a hotel. Another video features barely-edited footage of walking and driving around the town set to what I assume is a royalty-free soundtrack. It’s pleasant, but not too informative.

Late last month, as promised, I took a diversion on a multi-state drive to go check Quincy out. I managed to sneak into town before 5pm, so there were still some people out and about. I parked near the intersection of Jefferson and Duval, but I saw no historical markers (at first) or buildings easily accessible to the public – only the police station and a pair of B&B’s. I decided to take a walk over to the town square’s Federal Courthouse Building, two blocks away.

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After encircling the building, I found the ground-level public entrance. The security guard on duty seemed like he had a good base of local knowledge, so I showed him the 1936 postcard. I told him that I read that the Hotel had been located on the corner of Jefferson and Duval. He replied, “Yes… that hardware store’s parking lot is where the hotel was located.” I left him my information and walked back over to where I’d parked my car next to the Bell & Bates Home Center.

Given my limited resources at the moment, nor immediate access to anybody old enough to clearly remember the hotel, I decided to take the security guard on his word. I stuck the postcard and my camera through the fencing and took this picture:

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Looking at it again, I wonder: Are those pillars and slats supposed to be an homage to the vanished hotel building’s lobby pillars? They don’t appear to serve any clear purpose for the garden center. Was the main entrance on Jefferson Street, or was it on Duval Street? If it was the former, then I had this repeat-photo staged (mostly) accurately. If not, then I still came close enough. I turned around and looked back across the street, and I took this picture:

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As I believe I mentioned in Quincy Part I, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Police Station was located in the building that had once been the Hotel Quincy. The historic placard (which you can see on the right side of this photo, standing on the grass) had another story about the building’s history, indicating that it used to be the Post Office where Ben Irving may have dropped his postcard off on January 29, 1936.

I will keep digging, but I still have not been able to find any clear references to the Hotel Quincy coming down. This very charming walking tour guide only mentions the Pat Munroe House (seen below) opposite that parking lot. I wonder if the building fell into such disrepair that it was a non-story when it did happen, a pile of rubble that needed to be cleared for that parking lot on the edge of downtown.

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The Pat Munroe House, Quincy, FL (July 2020)

So, per usual, ground-truthing brought net-positive results: I got to visit (however briefly) another charming small town, and I got a verbal testimonial that answered my original question. I believe a phone call to the local Chamber of Commerce may be in order, and I’ll post any updates to this entry below.

The greatest byproducts of my research on Quincy, however, have been the discovery of the “Quincy Five” and Marston C. “Bob” Leonard’s Florida History Internet Center website. The Q5 were five young Black men who were convicted of the 1970 murder of a regional deputy Sheriff but were later exonerated from death row (the first incident of such in US history). What an amazing story, and I’m disappointed (though not surprised) I’ve never been taught about it.  As for the Florida History website, Bob Leonard founded it in 1998. By the looks of it, it has not been updated since then, which is incredible. Crack open a bottle of Surge, throw on that scratched up New Radicals CD, and feast your eyes on this. You’re welcome.

fhic-poster1

Via FloridaHistory.org

 

The Hotel Quincy: A Panhandle Mystery (Part 1)

On some occasions, the Ben Irving Postcard Project leads me down a path into scouring the internet for information on hotels that no longer exist in any form (unless you consider a parking lot a form). On rare occasions, his postcards lead me into small towns and ghosts of buildings that don’t exist even in (digitally accessible) historical records. Most of the larger cities that Ben visited have been blanketed with Google Streetview imagery, making ground-truthing of the postcard images slightly redundant (though never unnecessary). However, some of the smaller towns, even where Streetview previewing is possible, don’t tell much of the story.

Take, for example, the Hotel Quincy in Quincy, FL, the lobby of which is detailed in this 1936 postcard:

1936_0129_Quincy_FL_HotelQuincy_Front

I’ve been through the Florida panhandle once or twice, mostly speeding through the stretch between Pensacola and Tallahassee save for a lunch stop in DeFuniak Springs (thanks for the tip, Bruce Hunt). I never heard of Quincy, a small town not far from the US-10 west of Tallahassee, until I saw this postcard. The city’s website, especially the history page, is bare-bones.

In 1956, Edward Gearhart wrote this history of the Episcopal Church in Quincy for the Florida Historical Quarterly, but that’s the only academic article I could find that focused on the town, other than a couple of hard-scientific studies on bees and/or soybeans. I searched for any references to the hotel on the Newspapers.com database, which turned up one promising blurb. I contacted the Florida State University library via the “Ask a Librarian” portal on their website and asked about the April 22, 1951 edition of the Tallahassee Democrat. Within a few minutes, I had that page in front of me. The article “Hotel Quincy Changes Hands” contained more information and history about the hotel than anything repeated Google searches could produce:

New owners have taken over the Hotel Quincy property and have plans for modernizing the building which has been closed for the past year. The property, at the corner of Jefferson and Duval streets, has been acquired by H E Corry, Sr., H E Corry, Jr, Miami, and associates from Mrs. Frank W Lloyd. Plans for altering and modernizing the building are in the tentative stage at present, according to Corry, though he was quite definite in stating that the new owners contemplate placing the hotel in an operable condition as quickly as possible. The hotel has been closed a year after being in operation for more than a third of a century. Corry stated it would require a minimum of from five to six months time to complete, the changes contemplated. He anticipated preliminary work would begin within the next three weeks. A modernized glass front for the hotel is prominent in tentative remodeling plans.

So, in one very short article which, in all likelihood, nobody has read in almost seventy years, I found the hotel’s location (at Jefferson and Duval Streets), rough date of opening and initial closing (ca. 1917 – 1950), and its owners in sequence (Mrs. Frank W. Lloyd until 1951, H.E. Corry and Son of Miami thereafter).

Searching for the hotel’s owners has also opened up a pair of windows into Florida’s aristocratic history. Looking up “Frank W. Lloyd,” even including a “-wright” search clause, was maddening for the same reasons that Googling “Ben Irving” is difficult (it keeps on pushing me toward Irving Berlin data). The search engines are fast, but they aren’t smart. The only publicly accessible record of a Frank W. Lloyd that lines up with this story is a mention of a Spanish-American war veteran. Of course, his name shows up all over digital back-issues of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The less common/searched name “Corry” was a bit easier, though once I put the “H.E.” in quotation marks, it got interesting. On September 9, 1949, the Tallahassee Democrat published a blurb announcing the birth of Henry Edmund III, which more or less confirms what the H.E. stood for. Also, it mentions that his grandparents were based in Quincy. His mother’s family were the Martorells of Tampa, whose name I don’t recall seeing anywhere in the Bay Area. According to a blurb published the previous April announcing the Corry-Martorell wedding, H.E. Jr. got into the family construction business and the couple was planning to reside in Miami.

I’ll spare you the other detritus I scraped up when searching that name, save for a Gadsden County Times society page mention from April 1934: “Mr. and Mrs. H. E. Corry, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Vrieze, Rev. and Mrs. E. M. Claytor and Mr. and Mrs. K. A. MacGowan of Quincy and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Harrison of Tallahassee, spent Wednesday on the Gulf on board Mr. Corry’s yacht.” Even living in age when most people obsessively curate their online personae through social media platforms, reading Society Pages from that era just feels invasive and unsettling.

I hopped over to Florida Memory to see if that name generated anything good buried in the growing digital archive out of Tallahassee. I did find a few items of interest, one of which was this photo of a judge’s birthday party from approximately 1919. Edmond Corry is labeled with #16, standing in the jacket and bowtie on the left side of the picture. He appears to be about 10 or 11 years old?

Reference Collection

I also found several references to Corry Field, which refers to both the Pensacola Air Force base as well as the former High School’s Athletic field in Quincy. I think the latter is more relevant.

Anyway, the long and short of this is that this will require some ground-truthing in the Florida Panhandle, and I hope to respond to this entry in a few weeks with the Part 2 that it deserves. Also, while I have your attention, librarians are heroes and you should fight to ensure they get all of the public and private funding coming to them. Food for thought. Thanks for reading!

By the way, there will be an August song challenge.

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: Lakeland, FL

I love Florida, but I also have no doubt in my mind that it is our weirdest state. It leans on its Spanish history in some corners, yet nothing is built to last. It came of age as an ostensible Garden of Eden (some still think the actual Garden of Eden was there*), yet it’s been meticulously plowing under its natural beauty in favor of strip malls, parking lots, and surface highways that necessitate signs warning motorists of the upcoming intersection. I spent a lot of time in the Miami area growing up, and I am just old enough to remember the Rascal House’s last burst of glory before it got swallowed by development. You can refer to David Sax’s Save the Deli (2010) if you’d like to learn more about just how bad things got before they finally cut the cord and closed the place. I’m also looking forward to checking out Andy Sweet’s photo book about the “golden era” of Jewish Miami, which was quickly fading by the time I was old enough to pay attention to my surroundings down there.

Anyway, I will leave Miami for what will ideally be a separate entry once I’m able to visit. Today’s post is about (depending on how you look at the map or believe what the University system dictates) Central or Southern Florida, a region I greatly increased my familiarity with as an adult. As a kid, the Central Region meant Disney World, Universal Studios, and Disney World. Never mind the five-plus major Universities that dotted the sprawling Orlando landscape (Or-landscape?) which have fostered one of the South’s most under-the-radar booming cities for the past two decades? These days, driving through Orlando feels like driving through Atlanta, in that the whole thing appears to be under construction and if you drive through it, you will be white-knuckling past jersey barriers for almost the entire thing. I’ve also written about Tampa here, since it was the setting of one of my favorite AAG meetings.

The focus of this week’s entry is one of Florida’s unheralded smaller cities, Lakeland. During the Florida land-boom that crashed in 1926, Lakeland was a major railway stop between Orlando and Tampa. Today, it’s conveniently located off of I-4, and had I not had a handful of postcards from Ben Irving, I probably would not have paid it much mind.

Let’s go to the tape:

The Hotel Lakeland Terrace, 1939

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“Hotel Lakeland Terrace” postcard (Mailed February 1939) with the Terrace Hotel in the background, taken May 2020.

Here, we have a look at the Terrace Hotel, overlooking Mirror Lake. As the postcard suggests, the lake is filled with all kinds of waterfowl. If you get there in the Springtime, you’ll get a chance to see plenty of mama ducks and mama geese with their offspring:

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According to their official pamphlet (which includes the image from the 1939 Postcard I’m holding up in the photo above), the Lakeland Terrace opened in 1924 under the aegis of Florida Collier Coast Hotels, who had opened nearly identical hotels in Miami, West Palm Beach, and Tampa.

In the days before air conditioning, most hotels opened for The Season and closed by summer. But, the early ‘twenties were boom times in the Sunshine State. Trainloads of tourists poured into cities like Lakeland, beckoned by the siren call of warm weather and the chance to make a quick fortune speculating on cheap land.

Mysteriously, their official literature jumps to when the Lakeland Terrace re-opened in 1998 under the ownership of FCA, Corp. and a Lakelander named Rob Scharar. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but details about the hotel’s inevitable downturn in the 1970s and 1980s are relatively hard to come by. Even the hotel’s Wikipedia page is, as of this writing, languishing as a skeletal draft – very odd for such a historic building.

According to Lonnie Brown’s column on the Opinion Page of the July 12, 1987 edition of the Lakeland Ledger, the city had just re-dedicated the wall around Mirror Lake. Apparently, it had been featured in the January 1930 edition of National Geographic, which I’m going to try to dig up after finishing this sentence. Thankfully, the National Geographic Society are great archivists, and the full run of their print editions are available publicly.

il_1588xn.1236213434_brv2-1The January 1930 edition featured “Twenty-Four Pages of Illustrations in Full Color” for their Florida – the Fountain of Youth feature by John Oliver la Gorce. Given my interest in Florida’s 20th century, this issue would be something of a grail for me. “Flipping” through the digital version online unveils a time capsule of the state, post-land-boom. A full-page ad announces that the Atlantic Coast Railway runs 17 trains per day (25 total in Lakeland by the turn of the century, according to the city’s website) into Florida, only “23 1/3 Hours from New York” (where I imagine the bulk of Nat Geo’s depression-era readers lived). La Gorce’s feature is full of pithy observations about the state, including a great statement about the “real Florida” and the “tourist Florida,” as well as a differentiation between the North and the South: “North Florida… is as different from south Florida as lower Alabama from Cuba.” As one would expect of a major publication from 1930, the writer gave a lot of credit to everyone from Ponce de León to Henry Flagler, the Standard Oil industrialist who he praised as a nearly-divine visionary. The photo of Mirror Lake finally appears on p. 41, comparing it to the entrance to a Venetian palace. It even suggests Lakeland feels like “a fairy city on an iridescent sea,” a statement that Lonnie Brown bore in mind while reflecting on how far things had fallen over the previous five decades:

During a 1987 walk through downtown, with empty stores and an old hotel that is in such disrepair it has been shut down by the city, it is hard to imagine Lakeland as a “fairy city on an iridescent sea” with Venetian overtones.

Brown goes on to praise the refurbishing of the sea wall around the lake, citing how it makes Lakeland appear to be a city invested in its downtown. He continued writing for the paper through the end of 2010, when he retired. LkldNow, an independent local news site, had a bit of history about the building that preceded the Lakeland Terrace on the site. According to the Lakeland Library,

“The Tremont House was built by Lakeland founder Abraham Munn in 1885 at the corner of East Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue, the present site of the Lakeland Terrace Hotel. It was considered to be one of the most elegant hotels in Central Florida at the time of its construction. So elegant was it that it was reputed to have the first bathtubs in all of Lakeland. The Tremont was moved from the corner of Main and Massachusetts to an adjacent lot in 1911 and enlarged. By the 1930’s, however, the Tremont had been eclipsed by the larger and more elegant Terrace, Thelma and New Florida Hotels. It was torn down in 1936.”

I will report back if I find any more details about the downfall of the Lakeland Terrace Hotel; it’s unclear whether the city was crafty with digital scrubbing or if Lakeland was just small enough to fly under the radar with archived news.

Munn Park

Speaking of Abraham Munn, his name remains on the city’s downtown park, which is the subject of my second postcard, which Irving mailed on January 23, 1936.

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Going to Munn Park today with this postcard image in mind is confusing, because the park has been redone numerous times over the years. Save for a thin layer of tall trees which line the park and a pair of patches of greenery, a lot of the vegetation advertised above is no longer there. In fact, as you’ll see a few photos down, most of Munn park is overlaid with bricks and fairly nondescript. The only evident fountain was clearly different from the one in the postcard; had it been the same one, the railroad tracks in the background might have been visible. Something about the fountain yelled “relocated,” but we only had a hunch.

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Thankfully, my partner and I bumped into Julie Townsend, who works for Downtown Lakeland. Julie quickly pointed out where the postcard image pointed, which was the Southwest corner, where Tennessee Avenue met Main Street.

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Again, notice how barren much of Munn Park is. According to Julie, the city wrapped a weird, post-modernist design into their 80’s-era refurbishment of the park, which proved (like a lot of risks city planners were taking back then) less than popular. I can’t recall when she said they took it apart and bricked it over with these cement hexagons, but it definitely had that “unfinished” feel to it. The fountain depicted in the back left corner had long since gone away, and the statue was no longer. I waged a guess that it was a removed Confederate monument, which turned out to be true.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I did some research and found out the statue of the unknown Confederate soldier, funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910, was just removed from Munn Park last year. Unfortunately, rather than grinding the statue into a fine powder and putting it to good use in one of Lakeland’s numerous construction projects, they’ve simply relocated it to a Memorial Park closeby. Of course, neo-Confederate groups and other people who sport those “I stand for the Flag / I kneel for the Cross” decals are trying to sue the city to put the statue back in Munn Park, and the battle is getting messy in the courts. Hopefully it gets thrown out so we can all go back to living in the 21st century.

The Hotel Thelma

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This was another interesting case study. This postcard was mailed in February of 1939, but stood for another few decades at least, based upon this 1950 photograph I found on Florida Memory (below), which reads: “Built in 1913 at a cost of $125,000 by twin brothers A.B. and D.B. Kibler (phosphate entrepeneurs). Six years later the hotel originally named “The Kibler” was bought by H.B. Carter and renamed. For many years it was a popular place for civic club meetings. It stood on the northeast corner of Kentucky Avenue and Lemon Street.”

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Standard Oil…phosphate entrepreneurs… it’s almost like the state’s lifeblood was underwritten by people whose wealth depended upon destroying its natural beauty. I know I just described almost every state, but especially this one.

Anyway, the Hotel Thelma was torn down in 1962, shortly after this photo (I imagine the final one in existence) was taken. Today, a restaurant called Fresco’s sits on the Northeast corner of Lemon and Kentucky Avenue, and Palace Pizza (visible in the background of both the postcard and the repeat photograph of the block) remains as the one anchor to the city’s past.

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For what it’s worth, Palace Pizza had some of the best pizza I’ve had in Florida, and they didn’t even pay me to post that. They had a big patio available with adequately spaced seating for COVID regulations, too. This meant a lot to my partner and I (in our masks) after one of the (mask-free) managers at Fresco’s stepped within 3 feet of me and practically breathed in my face to tell me that Hotel Thelma used to be there. Helpful, yes, but mindful, no, considering what a pandemic cesspool we’re in here.

According to the best website on the internet, Cinema Treasures, the Palace Theater was also opened in 1913:

Opened in 1913 as the Casino Theatre. Seating was located in orchestra and balcony levels. By 1926 it had been renamed Palace Theatre. By 1941 it was operated by Paramount Pictures Inc. through their subsidiary E.J. Sparks. The Palace Theatre was listed as (Closed) in 1943, but had reopened by 1950.

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The 100 Block of S. Kentucky Avenue, Lakeland, FL, guessing sometime in the 1940s. (Image from the Lakeland Public Library via CinemaTreasures.org).

Strangely, another account of a historic Lakeland Landmark that evaporates before talking about the building’s descent into under-use. One user actually found and linked this 1980 article from the Lakeland Ledger that mentioned how the Palace building had been stripped of its history and uniqueness. According to this listicle, the Palace Theater operated from 1925 – 1950, which contradicts the idea that it reopened after closing in 1950.

Based on my experiences seeking historical sites there, it feels like Lakeland, FL can work as both a cautionary tale about scrubbing your history and a reminder that reinvestment is not a quick fix. Julie Townsend told us that Lakeland was one of Florida’s early major cities because it was located on the rail line that connected Orlando and Tampa. Prior to Orlando’s reinvention as the theme park capital of the planet, old-timers talked about the three cities in the same breath. Today, it’s a fun smaller city with pretty decent pizza, a wonderful lake perimeter walk, a couple of fantastic little record shops, an antique mall on par with the greatest ones I know from Michigan, Frank Lloyd Wright contributions (by the way!) at Florida Southern College, and zero threat of the traffic and headache that one can find around every corner in Tampa or Orlando. When it comes to civic life and urban planning, there’s nothing to be ashamed of a few shameful decades if you’re willing to learn from them.


Liner Notes

* I’m serious. Consult Gloria Jahoda’s book The Other Florida (1967) if this piques your interest.

Sonic Sunday Clips 02.16.20

Happy Sunday. I don’t know why, but I almost missed it! It’s still technically Sunday here in Eastern Time. Here are a few things.


Ben Irving Updates
I haven’t been able to write much about any of these, but if you use Instagram, head on over to the Postcards From Irving page, give it a follow, and see the latest updates from Austin, Louisville, Tampa, Flint, and more.

Robert Forster and Peter Paphides on “G Stands for Go-Betweens Vol. 2”
I bookmarked this video ages ago, and just got around to watching it. I had the rare opportunity to see Forster play on his first US tour in 11 years, and I’ve gone on the record here (often) about how important the Go-Betweens are to me. Under most circumstances, the idea of two older men sitting at a table and talking for an hour would sound boring, but Robert Forster is someone I could listen to talk for hours on end. If you’re intrigued, check it out. Sadly, the box set is already sold out (of course).

Experimental Persian Music
The Unexplained Sounds Group is at it again! I don’t remember how this came across my desk, but it’s very cool.

Ben Irving Postcards in Chicago (Part One)

From what I understand, Chicago developed its nickname “The Windy City” from it’s reputation of spurious, silver-tongued politicians ‘blowing wind’ for their constituents, so to speak. Of course, people still largely take the nickname literally, because Chicago is windy, and if you’re there at the right time of year, so, so icey. It’s like sticking your face in a freezer that Frigidaire recalled for being TOO COLD.

For this reason, on top of dozens of others I could list at a moment’s notice, I absolutely love Chicago. Like most of the Midwest, the unforgiving cold keeps the dilettantes away, which is fine. More rare vinyl, delicious Polish food and deep-dish cheesy-tomato pie (they call it “pizza,” which isn’t accurate, but I’ll allow it) for me. Until late last year, I had never been to Chicago during the cold season; I’d visited a few times during the summer, and once for a typically memorable AAG meeting in April 2015.

Until last week, however, I hadn’t gone to Chicago with any of the Ben Irving Postcards. At least, I hadn’t made any excursions to find the places they depicted. Before my train left Union Station to head back to Lansing, I had time to make two stops, which I had planned meticulously to lead me back to the Loop. The first was a stop-off in Uptown and the second was located downtown, tucked right inside the loop track on Wabash Ave.


The Sheridan Plaza Hotel (1942) and Apartments (2019)

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In a few recent cases, I’ve lucked into staging repeat postcard photos miraculously close to the anniversary of the date which Irving mailed them. This was not one of those cases. He mailed this one (above) on the evening of July 13, 1942, commenting that he was “sweating like [he] were in a shower.” That’s rich, considering how my right hand went numb to get this photo. Don’t ever say I don’t make sacrifices for my art.

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Like many of the hotels featured in the Ben Irving archive, the Sheridan transformed into private residences. It shut down as a hotel in 1974 after over 50 years of operation and became private residences by 1983. A decade ago, the Horizon Realty group bought the building for $10 Million and started refurbishing it back to “its Jazz Age luster,” as Chicago Magazine wrote. The Terra Cotta sculptures were cracking and falling off the building over the course of the prior ten years. I can’t find any direct sources on what happened to the residents when the bank foreclosed on it, but it probably wasn’t pretty. Oddly, the Jazz Age Chicago WP site never got around to elegizing the building.

EDIT: I did find this site, which gives a bit more detail into the building’s history and situation as an anchor of sorts in the Uptown district.

Because there isn’t much detailed information on the Hotel (at least, which I’ve been able to find in the limited time I have to write this), I have no idea what those pillar-like objects are on top of the postcard illustration. They don’t look like Terra Cotta designs. Either way, they’re gone today, along with those two gigantic apocryphal flags that the artist probably added, along with their inventive perspective on the building. It does appear that, even in 1942, most of the street-level spaces were commercial enterprises, with an awning leading guests into the hotel on the Wilson Avenue side. The sidewalk is also noticeably bigger (much bigger) in the artistic rendering than in modern reality, though that could also just be artistic license, too. Gone are the light posts and moved are the sidewalk trees (which, granted, were frequently fudged by illustrators to gussy up a street scene for tourist postcards). The second-story window awnings have also gone from a lime green to a navy blue – likely a combination of Horizon Realty’s branding and how it’s just a better color. If you’re looking for a place and can afford about $1,500 per month, they’ve got plenty of openings!

Moving on…


The Empire Room of the Palmer House Hotel (1950/2019)

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Postcard mailed August 1950. Image property of SonicGeography.

Given how vocal I’ve been about the privatization of so many places and spaces featured on antique postcards, it was a welcome relief how open the staff at the Palmer House Hotel keep their crown jewel: the Empire Room.

The Palmer House, being situated right inside the Loop, claims to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in North America. Apparently, the original iteration of the hotel opened on September 26, 1871… and then burned down along with most of the city less than two weeks later. Wow.

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I walked into the hotel lobby. Maybe it was just poor eye-timing mixed with pessimistic paranoia, but I felt like I got suspicious stares from the hosts in the fancy lobby restaurant. However, after asking a few questions to a concierge around the corner, he told me “oh, the Empire room! Yeah, if there’s nothing going on in there, then you should just be able to walk in, up the stairs on the opposite side of the lobby.”

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I felt a bit of anxiety walking up the steps, almost as if everyone in the lobby momentarily turned to glance at me. I opened the doors, and there it was.

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What a beautiful room. For a brief moment, I felt as if I’d been transported back to 1950, or at least the ending of The Shining.

Here are the postcard image, and 2019 photo juxtaposed:

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The ceiling design, chandeliers, even adornment above the curtains were immaculately maintained. I highly doubt those are the same curtains behind the stage, but they kept the color scheme and general aesthetic the same, too. The obvious changes were as straightforward as they were understandable: the dance floor carpeted over, a higher stage, and the bandstand replaced with a conference table. Also, the 2019 chairs looked comfier than the wartime ones. I have no idea how they got that tuba to levitate back then; I guess WWII was just a strange time.

I realize that the Palmer House postdate (1950) falls outside the time span I advertised on the Instagram (1932-1944), but there are going to be a small handful of outliers. Also, if literally one person cares, I’ll be amazed. Either way, I don’t know why Irving was in Chicago in 1950; all he indicated was that he was going to be there until that Thursday, having mailed the postcard on a Sunday. I had also completely forgotten that the USPS postmarked and shipped stuff on Sundays back then. In fact, this was a few short months after the USPS reduced their deliveries to one per day:

On April 17, 1950, “in the interest of economy,” Postmaster General Jesse M. Donaldson ordered postmasters to limit the number of deliveries in residential sections to one each day. The only change made in business districts in 1950 was that the number of Saturday deliveries would be one fewer than the standard number of weekday deliveries (USPS.com).

Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody! Check back here soon for more high-quality content (by my standards).