(Kingfish’s comments on Ben Katchor over in Urbanbar got me fluff this old thread from over a year ago, which started out as a before-and-after/urban renewal thread, but then changed a bit as I saw the affinities between Dayton of the 1940s & 50s and some of what Katchor observes in his comic …..)
Nostalgia for a city I never knew....
Is anyone here familiar with the "underground" cartoonist Ben Katchor...I first read his stuff in California back in the '80s, in the old Raw comix magazine...then got that "Cheap Novelties" book....I think he sort of is glomming onto what I’m into about old parts of cities...though there is that NYC Jewish/Yiddish world he is riffing on that I don't know about...tho Chicago had that too a bit.....yet still his city is like the Chicago I remember as a kid....or maybe what Dayton was like a bit in the olden days...the little city, but more like a big city than it is now...
His focus is on environmental relationships rather than interpersonal ones. Katchor is adamant, however, that this is not a story of a lonely guy, just a solitary one. Knipl's solitude is necessary for the retrospection required to develop the subjects that Katchor has chosen. Retrospective moments, Katchor asserts, aren't group oriented. He also points out that Knipl is seldom alone and that even the deserted streets he sometimes wanders are filled with the emanations of others. Every street is filled with a comforting historical residue.
"In the beginning," said Katchor, "Knipl was based on actual things: things I would notice on the street or in my memory of the city. There were many things I had never tried to systematically make sense of before — like cellar doors or why cash registers in restaurants are left open at night. I discovered that there was a whole mythology about these things in my mind — either the actual logic or some poetic logic. It inadvertently became this encyclopedia of city life. It's about all these things that are there, but just below the attention of sociologists or anthropologists."
By now Katchor has fashioned a whole world, one that is invariably described by listing its delightful details. There is a Public Directory of the Alimentary Canal, featuring two-line summations of the gastrointestinal condition of every citizen. There are men who take work as licensed expectorators, or moving heavy objects short distances without the benefit of a hand-truck. There is the Siren Query Brigade, which will explain, by phone, the ambulance alarm that just passed your window. There are buildings, like the Verile-Hinge, that will provide your business with a fake prestigious address for a monthly fee. There is Hoyvel's Coconut, an all-night tropical drink stand in the cheap merchandise district. There are public mustard fountains. Finally, there is Knipl, a rumbled observer who remembers, watches, and speculates as he goes about his work-and who will go way uptown to find a place that still sells Grepz, a defunct soda brand.
Leaf through Beauty Supply District--distraction is the proper mood in which to approach Katchor--and you learn the significance of rubber garnish greens in little butcher shops or the golden age of street cleaning (ending a bit before the fiscal crisis), about the strange collective sense of loneliness experienced when apparently useless neighborhood storefront shops close and lots about the mental wanderings of those compelled to try to make sense of the patterns of small-scale commercial activity around them. The district, we learn later in the book, doesn't even exist anymore: Electronics wholesalers have taken over, relegating predecessors to those signs on vacant lots. Only a dreamer could become fixated on it all.
Yet, for as much as Knipl's world is funny, it is also strikingly sad and somber. The comic strip, often spare, is strangely lonely, haunting and endearing--the key strengths of Katchor's work. Katchor draws a world filled with schemers and dreamers who gather around café booths to plot their next ingenious, though inherently flawed, plan for the city. In this new collection, a visionary architect named Selladore plans on taking the rubble of unused sidewalks to build a pedestrian bridge to Hawaii. The Normalcy Parfum Company holds evening sales seminars for their prized product: the residue of everyday life, captured in small vials ("the smell of a library book"; "the tang of a brown paper bag"; "the aroma of door-hinge oil"). And a board member at the Museum of Immanent Art (featuring a touring museum of shower caps, an exhibit of an influential 19th century picture hanger, and an entrance with a turpentine fountain emitting the smell of latent creativity) defends his proposal to rent out certain galleries for use as motel rooms each night after museum hours. Reading of Knipl's seemingly uneventful exploits in the city, one longs to climb inside the simple six-panel strips and follow close on his heels. If only we could hold his camera or take his notes!
On a cold Wednesday evening in late January, Ben Katchor stood at a podium before a few dozen people in the Proshansky Auditorium of the City University of New York, and read aloud a few entries from a 1960 edition of the Chicago Yellow Pages. “Artificial Flowers and Plants,” he began, in a somewhat gravelly deadpan. “Ionian, Illinois Trading Corporation, Importers of Polyethylene: Completely Washable Flowers and Foliage; They Look Real, They Smell Real. Lee Schubert Floral Arrangements: Trees, Hedges, Any size, Any shape; Nature's Plant and Floral Beauty Reproduced; Free Estimates.
“Coin Changing Devices," he continued. "Meyer and Wenthe Incorporated: Official Money Changers; Multiple Tubes; Any Throw Arrangements; Slug Rejecters.” This only lasted a minute or two, and then it was back to what Katchor had already been doing for the last half hour or so: A slide presentation of episodes from his long-running comic strip, “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,”
In a way this world of Ben Katchors, of marginal retail and wholesale, short order counters, walk-up rooming houses, obscure clubs and associations, the obscure fringes of downtown, was found in Dayton, too at one time. This thread is a story of one such neighborhood....The Furniture District.
The Furniture District...but also the cheap jewelry district, burlesque and small movie theatres, wholesale produce, pawnshop row, bookie parlors, upstairs apartments and rooms, short order counters......the four square blocks around the intersection of 5th & Jefferson
(photo courtesy of WSU Dunbar Library special collections and archives)
(photo courtesy of WSU Dunbar Library special collections and archives)
Mostly built up still in 1950-55....
Using the criss-cross directory and a mosaic of Sanborn Maps...a reconstruction of the storefronts in the neighborhood....wholesalers (extension of the produce district) on St Clair, NE corner. Furniture stores and jewelry on 5th, shoe stores on Main, and a mix of stuff on Jefferson, including a rescue mission.
On the upper floors, listings in from the criss-cross directory that seems right out of Ben Katchor, obscure businesses, services, and social groups......things like the:
a) The Brotherhood of Envelope Makers
b) Robert Dawson baton twirling teacher
c) Theatrical agents
d) The Sunbeam Chapter, Daughters of the Nile
e) The Hop & Glide Dance Club
d) Order of Ormus Caldren # 51
e) Greek Club
f) True Kindred Club
g) The Acme Dental Laboratory
...and apartments and rooms to let.
Block by block....
This was the street that had the Mayfair Burlesque (with apartments above...must have been interesting living on top of a burlesque theatre...)..orginally the Gebhart Opera, and an early "Stage Door" bar (later became the "Howdy Club"....
The Pruden Block (on the corner) and Gebahard Opera (further down the street)....
William F. Gebhart’s Opera House opened to public acclaim on March 12, 1877. The elaborately domed and galvanized iron front opera house was heralded as the finest to have been built in Dayton at the time.
1889 the theater was leased to George A. Dickson and Larry Reist and renamed Park Theater. Well known for its live entertainment, Park Theater also introduced Dayton citizens to the magic of motion pictures.
In 1906 the building was leased to Hurtig-Seaman Shows, Inc., who wanted to open a high-class vaudeville house in the Dayton area. They were granted permission to raze the old hall section, without disturbing the front, and construct the auditorium at ground level. After doing so, the theater was renamed the Lyric.
In 1934 the theater again changed hands and became the Mayfair. The Mayfair went through several changes during the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s. In 1949 a lack of interest in burlesque led the management into changing the theater into a double-feature movie house. The first billing was Down to Earth with Rita Hayworth, and a B western starring Gene Autry. The movies didn’t pan out, however, and burlesque again filled the bill a year later. The theater almost closed for good in the late 1950’s, but the old lady got a reprieve at the last minute.
The Mayfair closed its doors for the final time in 1968. The last stripper to perform at the Mayfair was Morganna, (also known as Chesty Morganna) who made headlines for years as the "Kissing Bandit" who would run out onto the baseball fields and kiss the ballplayers. The opera house interior, strewn with debris and dirt, still held onto its tiered balconies to the very last. On January 19, 1969, the day before the theater was scheduled to be torn down, the building caught fire.
..and from "When Dayton Went to the Movies"...
"I remember, on a dare, I went to the Mayfair with some friends in 1961." Leon Bey recalled. "We all went down and had a good time. This was the old-time vaudeville, the old East Coast comics. If you look at some of the old comedians, a lot of them had their start in vaudeville. They were funny without being dirty. Dayton was a hot bed for comedians. But they’re all gone now."
Today, same corner
Heading north..block bounded by Main/5th/Jefferson/4th
the open space facing main used to be a church, which relocated to 1st or 2nd I think. That was built on with shops in the 1920s or 30s...(the pix is from the 20s or 30s)
Sanborn with pix of what used to be...two theatres, some old commercial buildings, and the Pony House restaurant (owned by the inventor of the cash register and one of the first places where it was used)
Commercial building at 4th & Main
The old (1887) State, formerly the Auditorium, formerly the YMCA...this one had a "hotel" (rooms to rent) in the upper floors....and a ghost....
"An unusual tale about the theater comes from the early days when it played both movies and vaudeville acts.
"There’s the story of the woman who was killed...in the sewing room." Marianna Hunt told a reporter in 1970. "And then there are the things that are supposed to go on at night when nobody’s here - like the lights going on and off by themselves."
Those in the know blamed it on the ghost of "Headless Hattie", who took her final curtain call in the sewing room at the Auditorium...
One of the first managers of the theater was Ben Wheeler, who offered ‘talking’ pictures many years they were actually available. Wheeler would have ‘talkers’ stationed behind the movie screen who would speak the lines of the actors in the movie. After he left in 1912 Wheeler continued to offer this unusual attraction at his next theater, the Jewel.
By 1915 the Auditorium was being managed by the flamboyant Gilbert Burrows. Previews of coming attractions were acted out on stage by Burrow’s son, Dickson, and a ticket taker, who would perform a synopsis of the next film.
Burrows sometimes took his promotions too far. In 1915 theaters were not allowed to be open on Sunday. This didn’t sit well with Burrows, who decided to open the Auditorium anyway. He was immediately arrested. He again opened the following Sunday and was again arrested. The same thing happened the third time.
By now the law enforcers had had enough and ordered Burrows to appear in court. Afraid of fines and a facing a possible jail sentence, Burrows hired a gospel-singing family to perform the following Sunday, followed by a movie with a religious theme. The judge was impressed and allowed Burrows to remain open on Sundays."
When Dayton Went to the Movies
...in later years, Beatles' "A Hard Days Night" opened here, and it briefly became a live theatre for a community theatre group before demolition...
Around the corner onto Jefferson...this street was lined with pawnshops, cheapers men’s clothing stores, a state store, little restaurants, and, yes cheap novelties store...and yet another theatre:
The song, "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" inspired the owner, Charles Gross, to name the new theater the "Columbia", the gem of the moving picture world in Dayton, the Gem City. And it was a "gem" of a theater. Erected at a cost of $30,000, the five hundred seat theater was thought to be the most beautifully decorated motion picture house in Dayton at the time. The panels on the beam ceiling were finished in a cream color with gold lines. The beams and all the ornamental plaster work were white and gold. The upper walls were of a golden tone with Renaissance decorations in the style of 15th century art. The lower walls were decorated with a beautiful Spanish leather effect which was brought out through overglazes of different colors.
The outside was constructed of ornamental imitation stone with a marble base. A large horseshoe shaped entrance, lit by a number of electric bulbs, helped protect patrons from the weather.
The grand opening picture was The Princess of Baghdad, an eight-reel film, starring Helen Gardner. Admission was five and ten cents, children five cents at all times. A Wurlitzer Automatic Orchestra provided music during the silent movies.....
.....Marcus Enterprises of Indianapolis purchased the theater in 1948. Several thousand dollars were spent on modernizing the theater, but it was too late. Children were warned by their parents to stay away from the ‘rat hole’ theaters on Jefferson Street. By the mid-1950’s it wasn’t unusual to see patrons buying tickets in order to have a place to sleep and keep warm in the winter. What was once one of the most beautiful theaters in the city was by then considered by many to be gaudy and outdated. The Columbia shut its doors in 1959.... (and was torn down shortly thereafter for a parking lot)
(there was even another theatre on Jefferson nearly across the street).
Very close by, across the alley, was Rittys "Pony House", which also included a shoeshine stand and a "cigar store" (which was possibly a front for a bookie parlor, according to Jim Nichols' discussion of "smokerys" in his memoir of downtown Dayton)..one of the first, if not the first, places where a cash register was used, as the owner was the inventor...
(bay window over the alley was a nice touch....)
Corner of 5th and Jefferson...the Central Block. This building had a drugstore on the corner, furniture stores, apartments, dance clubs, fraternal clubs, all sorts of things, often at the same time... Really sort of funky "mixed use" place (based on the criss cross directory)..., across the street on Jefferson from a movie theatre that became one of Daytons first "art movie" houses, and on 5th, across from the Mayfair Burlesque....
Fifth was really the furniture district...big furniture stores on this street. Especially on this block...Fifth/Stone/6th-Railroad/Jefferson. But also a rescue mission, yet another theatre, and a apartment building on the corner kitty-corner from the central block..The Jefferson....
The theatre on this block was The Majestic, later renamed the Rialto....purpose-built for movies....
One of the more elaborate picture houses was the Majestic on south Jefferson Street, just below Fifth. The grand opening took place on March 4, 1912. And what a grand opening it was. The first movie shown was Children Who Labor, an Edison picture based on incidents connected with the labor strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Patrons were entertained between the changing of reels by the "American Gypsy Girls’ Quartet", with music provided by Buell B. Reisinger’s Solo Orchestra , which was comprised of six of Dayton’s best musicians. Attention given to patrons included ushers and other employees dressed in tuxedos for the afternoon shows and appropriate evening dress for the evening performances.....
.”In 1919 the theater was bought by John Seifert who rechristened it the Rialto. The policy of the movie house slowly changed to second run movies after this. By the late 1920’s the theater was depending on sensationalism to bring in patrons. An advertising in 1927 tells that the Rialto was going to show the movie False Shame. Touted as "The Most Thrilling Sex Picture Ever Produced" it promised that it would tell and show "everything". The movie, about social diseases, was not what many of the patrons (mostly men, I’m sure) had gone to view, but it did draw a crowd during the week it was shown.
“H. L McClelland remembers the Rialto was "structured like an Egyptian temple, but radiating an aura of pure Hollywood. Colorful posters and colorless stills lined the lobby walls around the box-office. Unfortunately, the Rialto, as I remember it, was extremely trashy in the late 1940’s, and one reason that my mother and I usually avoided it".....
....Records are sketchy, but I believe the Rialto was closed for good by the end of 1967. The old building was razed in January 1969. Chins Oriental Cafe now sits on the site of the old movie house”
Some of the furniture store buildings on Fifth
The final block is the block with the only remaining building from the pre-urban renewal era: the DP&L power station.
This block had extensions of the produce/wholesale/light industry district on St Clair, and 4th, furniture stores and a nightclub on Fifth, and a very active little business area on Jefferson. including the early Price Brothers store, and Dayton’s first "art movie" theatre...the Ohio
"In 1962 the Ohio was sold to Harry Einhorn. On April 6 that year the theater opened under a new name and new billing policy. Renamed the Ohio Follies, the theater began featuring adult films of an ‘art’ nature. The opening attraction was titled Unashamed, and was billed as a panorama of life in a nature colony.
By the 1960’s real entertainment was also added to the bill On November 26, 1966 the theater showed the movie The Secrets of an Undercover Model. Afterwards, Lynne O’Neill, the star of the movie, went up on stage. Stories of what happened next vary, as they do sometimes.
Police claimed that at one point O’Neill overdid her number and took her G-string off. She was arrested on charges of nudity and released on $100 bond.
O’Neill, on the other hand, claimed that the charge was a made up, "a political job pulled by the other place there" she stated, meaning the Mayfair. "This kind of thing happens all the time in the business and I’ll bet that’s just what happened Saturday night. They can’t stand the competition."
Jefferson Street looking north from Fifth (the Jefferson Apts on the southeast corner..to the right)
4th Street looking north..you can see a apartment bldg or rooming house at the corner of 4th & Jefferson.....as an aside a good book on downtown living that you might have encountered in this area is this one....
So, by 1965, the neighborhood had declined.....
Buildings were starting to be demolished for parking lots (like the Columbia Theatre) and storefronts where becoming vacant...yet still a lot of business activity, and the apartments and residential hotels where still being occupied....
From an urban renewal study:
”The loss of economic vitality in the mid 50's has brought physical obsolescence and decay in the mid 60's. The empty storerooms, the gradual deterioration of structural conditions, lack of maintenance and economic obsolescence of buildings has been apparent and is becoming more evident each year. A survey of structure conditions by the City Plan Board indicate that most buildings in the subject area (south of Fourth Street between Main Street and St Clair Street) are seriously substandard both from an economic standpoint as well as a structural and physical decay standpoint. The most dramatic evidence of this decline is found in the adjustment of the tax value in this area. In 1963 tax value was reduced from it's original value of $3,300,000 to $2,500,00, a drop of more than 25%
Early in 1963 City Commissioner Dave Hall, recognizing the seriousness of the problem.....proposed a series of actions to resolve the problem. One of these was the recommendation that the City Commission give serious consideration to a redevelopment project involving the fourth blocks south of Fourth Street...”
This became the Mid Town Mart urban renewal area
The urban renewal plan called for a mixed used development, primarily retail...
a. 370,000 SF of retail (including a 225,000 SF department store)
b. 2,6000 parking spaces.
c. 70,000 to 100,000 of office space
d 100,000 to 140,000 of office space (including 200-500 parking spaces), developed as an office tower
e. 100 to 200 apartment units (as part of the office tower)
Based on this rendering the office tower would have been south of 5th, while the main shopping area between 4th and 5th, east of Main
"The Mid Town Mart plan contemplates a number of shops grouped around a series of arcades and malls all enclosed which would be heated in the winter and air-cooled in the summer. The arcades and malls would be developed with landscaped plazas and pedestrian ways with fountains, exhibits, landscaping, artwork, flower, and other objects which would create an attractive environment....such an environment will be an entirely new experience for the downtown shopper..."
Demolition began in the very late 1960s-69-70-71?
..but instead of "Mid Town Mart" Dayton got a parking garage, convention center, hotel, bus station, and a big park....