Dr. Patrick’s Postcard Roadside

TOFFENETTI’S BUSIEST RESTAURANT ON THE WORLD’S BUSIEST CORNER

This 1940s postcard suggests Toffenetti’s 1,000-seat “Cathedral of All Restaurants” was synonymous with New York and New York with Toffenetti’s, which was largely true to Times Square visitors of the Postwar era.

For the middle-class tourists used to Howard Johnson’s, Toffenetti’s was a fancy New York restaurant “where glamour sparkles forever” at Ho Jo’s prices: Hot Roast Sugar Cured Ham dinner, advertised as the “King of all Hams,” $1.60. Dario Toffenetti emigrated to the United States from Italy in 1910, working his way from Cincinnati through Wisconsin to Chicago where he opened the Triangle Restaurant in 1914. By 1937, he had six of them. Toffenetti was so successful feeding the masses at Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair that he took his restaurant to the New York World’s Fair in 1939, then outbid MGM Studios co-founder Louis B. Mayer for his Times Square building at 43rd & Broadway. A representative from the office of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was on hand for the restaurant’s ribbon cutting in 1940.

Dario Toffenetti employed the architectural firm of Walker & Gillette to convert his Times Square building into the Vitrolite and glass, Streamline Moderne palace that would come to serve 8,500 customers per day on two floors connected by an escalator. It seems too coincidental that Walker & Gillette, Beaux Arts architects who expanded into skyscrapers and other commercial buildings, designed the World’s Fair’s ultra-Moderne Electric Products Building in a style reminiscent of Toffenetti’s restaurant when Dario operated a restaurant at the same fair.

Toffenetti advertised his New York City location at 43rd & Broadway as “the Busiest Restaurant on the World’s Busiest Corner.” The clock-topped, stainless steel and glass entrance faced Times Square opposite the Paramount Theater. Restaurant impresario Dario Toffenetti died of a stroke in 1962. The family continued the restaurant until 1968 when they sold the building for $3 million.

Toffenetti’s dominated Times Square eateries for nearly 30 years. After the restaurant closed in 1968, a Nathan’s hot dog shop operated out of the 1940 Streamline Moderne building, which by 1990 had lost nearly all its luster. Toffenetti’s cathedral of all restaurants was demolished along with the rest of the block for 4 Times Square, formerly the Conde Nast Building, completed in 2000. Postcard ephemera is all that survives.

Main Street

Main Street

It was a challenge to affix Main Street signage to pre-Modern buildings because the architecture got in the way.

With all the columns, pediments, window hoods, textured siding and bracketed eves, there was no place for the sign, so it had to protrude perpendicularly from the front façade or be painted on the un-architectured side wall. As the Main Street commercial district got longer, taller and more complex, bigger, electrically-lit signs could only expand vertically. Several vertical signs competed for attention on Norfolk, Virginia’s Granby Street in the 1950s including two titanic neon metal box signs for the Loew’s and Norva theaters. The smooth, unornamented facades of Modernism lent themselves more readily to signage. In fact, the entire facade could present itself as one big sign as in the case of Adrian, the Butler Shoe store and Lerner Shops.

Ceder Hedges Cabins

Cedar Hedges Cabins

Cedar Hedges Cabins outside Searsport, Maine, was one of many cabin courts operating along US 1 in the 1930s.

Summer tourists bound for Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park followed Route 1 northbound along Maine’s rocky coast threading in and out of fishing villages and small ports…Bath, Waldoboro, Rockland, Camden, Belfast…before taking nightly shelter in knotty-pine cabins like Cedar Hedges to be lulled asleep by the whistle of wind through the pines.