Bickford’s New York City eatery of many famous authors and everyday New Yorkers
I had seen this great 1920’s looking building in New York when I was on walkabout the first day and took a photo of it. After looking it up on wikipedia from the name on the building – it turns out to be pretty interesting. Probably most New Yorkers know about Bickford’s.
Flipping over to wikipedia gained quite a few things, including the fact that Bickford’s was started in 1921 –
In 1921, the Bickford’s “lunchrooms,” as they were known, offered modestly priced fare and extended hours. Bickford’s architect was F. Russell Stuckert, who had been associated with Samuel Bickford since 1917. Stuckert’s father, J. Franklin Stuckert, had designed buildings for Horn & Hardart in the 1890s.
During the 1920s, the Bickford’s chain expanded rapidly with 24 lunchrooms in the New York area and others around Boston.
Jack Kerouac sometimes wrote while sitting in Bickford’s, and he mentioned the restaurant in Lonesome Traveler. Other famed members of the Beat Generation could be found at night in the New York Bickford’s as noted by The New York Times:
- The best minds of Allen Ginsberg‘s generation “sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s,” he wrote in Howl. The Beat Generation muse, Herbert Huncke, practically inhabited the Bickford’s on West 42nd Street. Walker Evans photographed Bickford’s customers, and Andy Warhol rhapsodized about Bickford’s waitresses. Bickford’s made its way into the work of writers as diverse as Woody Allen and William Styron.
Andy Warhol’s assistant was out getting a coffee-to-go at Bickford’s when Warhol was shot. The Mad cartoonist Wally Wood was 21 years old when he worked as a Bickford’s busboy shortly after his 1948 arrival in Manhattan.
On October 27, 2010, Bickford’s closed the last remaining Connecticut store and the last remaining Western Massachusetts store with no notice to the staff and management. The closings came just before the dinner hour and left 40 employees suddenly terminated.
(these elements immediately above – from wikipedia entry about Bickford’s)
From a site about the history of Bickford’s (with great photos) –
If you lived in New York anytime from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, chances are you knew Bickford’s. They were up and down Broadway, on Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn, Main Street and Jamaica Avenue in Queens.
“Breakfast at Bickford’s is an old New York custom,” a 1964 guidebook said. “In these centrally located, speedy-service, modestly-priced restaurants a torrent of traffic is sustained for a generous span of hours with patrons who live so many different lives on so many different shifts.”
Bickford’s sounds like it was host for just about everybody in New York at one time or another – apparently had a great breakfast.
. . . There were 48 Bickford’s in New York in 1960, 42 in 1970 and 2 in 1980. Then they vanished altogether.
Or so it seemed until five months ago, when a failing metal facade was removed from the Adult Entertainment Center at 488 Eighth Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets, to reveal: Bickford’s.
“It’s a gift back to the street of a beautiful facade,” said William K. Dobbs, a lawyer and amateur preservationist who has immersed himself in Bickfordiana ever since discovering the old facade. He determined that the branch at 488 Eighth Avenue, whose telephone number was once CHIckering-3339, went out of business in the mid-60’s.(etc.)
From the Bickford’s Grille site – it says “History of a New England based restaurant chain” – Hmmm……..
Bickford’s history dates back to the 1920’s, when Samuel Bickford opened his first Bickford’s cafeteria. Throughout the next 40 years, Sam, and eventually his son, Harold, worked to expand their cafeteria chain throughout the Northeast and into California. However, it was not until 1959 that Harold introduced a new concept to New England, the first Bickford’s Pancake House – the first such specialty restaurant in New England which opened in Peabody, Massachusetts in October, 1959. The concept was a huge success.
Sounds like the New York Bickford’s – but on the first site I visited it has a great black and white photo of it in New York – wonder where there are photos of what these restaurants in New York looked like inside and some of their decor from previous days?
This one has a photo of one of the Bickford’s Restaurants inside – wow . . .
There are photos of the magazine article written in 1956 with a great photo of a hub of 1265 Sixth Avenue, New York – with a beautiful wall mural and tables seem to be where everyone sits so much more like a boarding house or at a family reunion with everyone together rather than at individual party style dining as most restaurants and cafeterias are in my lifetime. Wow.
Very elegant surroundings too . . .
I bet people loved these places when they were making good food available. What was probably called “fast dining” before McDonalds and other fast food restaurants came into existence. Looks to me like it was a wonderful place for people to meet people, too and a nice fast place to get breakfast or lunch and go back to work. I can imagine those spaces filled with people and sounds, quite happy souls – it can almost be felt from the photographs of these spaces.
Which reminds me – that would not have done for me to be making a video blog when I was in New York, because 90% of my comments about anything wondrous – which were everywhere – was, “wow’. My daughter thought I had left my dictionary at home.
It is really hard not to say, “wow” in New York. I can’t imagine how people make some of these video blogs with their running commentary and look at things at the same time. The audience would not have heard anything much more than wow about five or six times every little bit and little else.
And, one thing this also reminded me of – was that when my daughter and grandbaby in her stroller wanted to sit down at McDonalds there in Manhattan, there were no tables without going upstairs, and no other way to get there except stairs. And people need to know that most of the Metro stations are not handicap accessible. In a wheelchair or with a stroller – it is a nightmare of trying to find places with elevators and the evidence of where those are located in the station. At one place, when I had the stroller with grandbaby in it – we found one elevator to and from the platform but there was not one to the street – just nothing but narrow stairs. So, anyone going to New York who needs those things may want to map it out at home first and have the map of those access points handy. But, many places are not necessarily user friendly for strollers or wheelchairs or for people with problems walking up stairs.
When I was just looking at the Bickford’s Restaurant pictures from the magazine article, I was noticing the wide spaces on a single level which would’ve been easy to get into and out of – then in another photo, the picture of the stairs to a second level reminded me of that durn McDonald’s where there was absolutely no way to sit down or get up to the level with the tables.
There’s some more about the man who built Bickford’s in the magazine article copy –
In 1895, when Mr. Bickford was 10 years old, the family moved to Mountainview, California, to spend the winter with their grandfather, Samuel Longley. The grandfather had gone to San Francisco from Boston in a sailing vessel around Cape Horn in the gold rush of 1849.
Not being too successful as a gold miner, he had opened a restaurant in a tent with sawdust flooring at Dupont and Clay streets. Later Dupont was changed to what is now known as Grant Avenue. The restaurant venture was moderately successful and enabled the grandfather to buy some land at Mountainview, about 40 miles from San Francisco. The grandfather later became one of the well known Vigilantes when conditions became so corrupt that it became necessary for the citizens to take the law into their own hands.
The Bickford family stayed in California about six months. However, they did not like the rainy season and so moved back east to South Newbane, Vermont, where Mr. Bickford’s father became a pastor.
(etc.) At the age of 13, Mr. Bickford prevailed on his father to let him go to work on a farm owned by Samuel Morse. This was against his father’s wishes, but he allowed him to do so, feeling that the job would be of short duration.
His father died when he was 15, and he went to sell milk – etc. – (and sometime, it would be worth reading about it – very amazing.)
“He relates how he used to arise at 1 o’clock in the morning, go the barn and feed the horse, then take the milk out of the cooler and load the wagon. He would then harness the horse and drive to Springfield and return to the farm between 1 and 2 o’clock in the afternoon.” (for $15 a month, seven days a week.)
His job peddling milk for George Reed started on Mr. Bickford’s 16th birthday.
The article goes on to share an incident that includes the note about how Mr. Bickford (as a 16 year old delivering milk) would sleep on the way to Springfield figuring that the horse knew how to get there.
Those quotes were from an article – (according to the page with the images of it from the family’s historical archives of Bickford’s)
The Bickford Story
(originally published in the August 1956 issue of American Restaurant Magazine)
by John O. Sabatos – President, National Restaurant Association
The New York Times has a great article about some of the buildings that have been being considered for landmark status – this seems like a good place to mention it –
Workaday Buildings That Aren’t
Published: April 15, 2010
THE Historic Districts Council, a preservation advocacy group, has surveyed the blocks from Madison Square to 34th Street for potential landmark designations.
Well, I finally found a little more about the building – but still working to find some about the architect – this is a blog post that has a number of nice photos of the design elements on the building –
I did find a scholarly article about materials which included a note about the architect in it, but never did find the exact passage.
This one is good, though.
The appeal of Bickford’s, as well as their rival Horn & Hardart, was good food served quickly in a pleasant environment at an affordable cost. The working class of the nearby 34th Street office buildings flocked in at lunchtime for lamb stew or chopped steak, followed by apple pie or rice pudding. The 24 lunchrooms in the 1920s doubled to 48 by 1960.
It has some great photos. And, it says the name of the architect was Stuckert, rather than Stucker. From the text –
Immediately below, rows of sharp zig-zagging Art Deco waves support the entire design. Bickford’s architect was F. Russell Stuckert, son of the architect who designed some of the 1890s Horn & Hardart buildings.
Which has a lot of photos –
That are very depressing but note the incredible changes that have resulted in the New York City that we see today. Amazing.
This is how it had looked at one time – to go to a Bickford’s Restaurant –
Bickford’s at 488 Eighth Avenue in 1940, above, and the building today, with Bickford’s sign on top. (Office for Metropolitan History); (Matt Moyer for The New York Times); (New-York Historical Society)
It doesn’t have the photo online but it says where it can be located which I included here. It also says that Mr. Bickford passed in 1959.
Samuel L. Bickford began his restaurant career in 1902 and established his quick-lunch restaurant chain in 1921. It expanded rapidly in the next 10 years, and he ultimately opened 85 branches. In 1930 the regular Bickford’s architect was F. Russell Stuckert, who had been associated with Samuel Bickford since 1917. Stuckert’s father, J. Franklin Stuckert, had designed buildings for Horn & Hardart in the 1890’s. Bickford died in 1959, and the chain survived in this location into the 1960’s.
(It was actually an answer to a readers’ question that appeared on this NY Times page.)
Bickford’s at 488 Eighth Avenue
New York City
(see the page link above for a photo of the automat sign for Horn & Hardart – past use of the word automat was for a food thing.)
The sign above belonged to an automat constructed by Horn & Hardart in 1915. The address at that time was 604 6th Ave. (All of 6th Ave. was re-numbered approx. 1929 when 6th Ave. was extended south from Carmine St. to Church St. at Franklin.) The architects were Stuckert & Sloan (F. Russell Stuckert and Maurice M. Sloan) of Philadelphia, and construction was completed Dec. 1915. This automat closed in the early 1970s.
A photograph by Percy Loomis Sperr (1890-1964) (available in the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery) shows the sign in place in 1932.
To the Burroughs who lived in New York in the early 1940s, the Automat must have been something like what Starbucks is to New Yorkers today. Locations were ubiquitous — in 1941, 157 Automats in Philadelphia and New York were serving half a million customers per day — and it was a good place to sit if you didn’t want to be hurried. The Automat was known not just for quality food (macaroni and cheese, baked beans, creamed spinach, fish cakes) but for the coin-operated vending machines that dispensed the stuff. You get a whiff of the place in Hippos, where Burroughs wrote, “We left the bar and went over to the Automat on 57th Street and each had a little pot of baked beans with a strip of bacon on top.”
(from a bit of discussion of Bickford’s, the Waldorf’s, and Automats from Burrough’s, The Naked Lunch)
I think I like the Bickford’s better –
Samuel Longley Bickford (1885-1959) founded Bickford’s Lunch System in New York in 1922. This consisted of a chain of lunchrooms (mostly cafeterias) that offered fast service and inexpensive food. The last Bickford’s in New York closed in 1982.
The Bickford’s on 8th Ave. between 34th and 35th Sts. opened in 1929. The building is a 3-story brick structure designed by Stuckert & Co. in Bickford’s typical art deco style.
In 1910 Bickford was the proprietor of a lunchroom in Washington D. C. (it has some interesting facts and a photo)
Another page of the NY Times Streetscapes column says –
The early 20th century saw new forces in the restaurant business as chains sought to establish themselves with an emphasis on efficiency, predictability and sanitation. Cafeterias and chains like Horn & Hardart’s Automat epitomized the new product — a “scientific” dining experience, quite distinct from the lunch wagons and saloon meals of the turn of the century. Samuel L. Bickford had worked with the Waldorf System restaurant chain in New England in the second decade of this century. In 1921 he moved to New York to establish a chain carrying his own name.
By this time Bickford’s architect was F. Russell Stuckert, whose father, J. Franklin Stuckert, had designed Horn & Hardarts as early as the 1890’s. The son expanded on this practice, continuing the Horn & Hardart work and designing for the Waldorf System in Boston and for Travelers’ Lunch when Harold Bickford opened it in 1917.
It says a little more about the architect also –
F. Russell Stuckert also began designing for Bickford’s in the 20’s and photographs show his earliest works, like a branch at 127 East 59th Street, to be rather plain terra-cotta designs of no great distinction. For the three-story building at 45th Street and Lexington Avenue, Stuckert developed something quite different. Its elegant Art Deco show windows occupied most of the ground floor, except for an optician’s with an incised sign panel of, simply, a pair of spectacles.
Pretty Nifty. I think it would be interesting to see if there are any photos around of the automats inside with their food vending machines inside their miniature windows and any other photos of the Bickford’s architect, Stuckert and his other work. I had found a residence in New Jersey that mentioned him and maybe some things in other states, of course. It looks like I had the name wrong to begin with but now that I’ve found the company name and his father’s name, it would certainly be easier.
Mostly, it seems to me that a time was lost somehow – a time when people met together and talked, discussing the things of the day and the world and great ideas. Why do places like that so yield themselves to such discussions, where great art, great design, great writings, great inventions and great innovations seem to blossom like wild roses in the wilderness? But, they do. And, they grow in the oddest of places and times, in harshly lit cafeterias and automats of another day, in late night cafes and coffee shops under the blue glow casting in the windows from street lights and wherever people can sit together and ramble about with their thoughts for long hours of melding ideas and modeling possibilities.
I’m sure these places weren’t wonderful places by the point at which they were removed or changed to become something else. And, the New York I found when I was there was certainly a wonderful places with magnificent new and wondrous spaces all old and new together in the same spaces, but maybe something was lost that needs to be added back again. Maybe there needs to be some ways where random thoughts can join in the meetings of disparate and great varieties of people talking together amongst themselves over the long night of never-ending coffee and dunking pound cake or sharing bites of some wondrous pie.
In nearly everywhere we have built today, when people go to a place, they each sit by themselves, or sit with those who came with them – virtually never speaking to the others nearby. It has become mostly socially inappropriate to start up a conversation with those at the table next over, although certainly it is done at times. And, most places it is hardly appropriate for sit much longer than it takes to consume whatever has been purchased – and immediately so.
Perhaps that is what had been so appealing about Starbucks when it first started. Its greatest uniqueness was in that sense of community and sitting together and just plain loitering to talk with one another awhile, whether the person spoken to had been known before coming in the place or not. Maybe that is what is, in many cases – missing. People still gather in clubs, men’s clubs, golf clubhouses, gyms and even in bars and restaurants, but it is different now somehow. Most do not sit for long hours speaking of the world’s events, or the work they are doing, or the great ideas of our day, or kick about ideas for solutions with one another.
I kind of hate that my children will probably never have the occasion to know much of what that is like. It just doesn’t happen in most places anymore. As adults, they would likely enjoy such a place very much.