ALERT: Automat-Mania!

The Automat Returns to Manhattan

In case you didn’t catch the news in the New York Times, the Post and the Sun, Automats are back in vogue. A new one opened in the East Village this week. Bamn!, a familiar theme with a modern spin, is capitalizing on the wave of Automat nostalgia.

What better time to urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to move forward with landmark designation for the former Horn & Hardart Automat at West 104th Street and Broadway. Send your letters to Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney ([email protected] ). The 1930 Art-Deco structure received a tremendous show of public support at a hearing in June 2006, but it still needs your help. We understand that the Landmarks Commission is likely to hold a second public hearing in October. Stay tuned…

Let us know if you’re interested in attending…

A talk by Marianne Hardart and Lorraine Diehl, co-authors of The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart’s Masterpiece. Date and venue to be announced. In the meantime, go to www.theautomat.net to learn more about this cultural phenomenon, now making its comeback.

More Details on the Automat:

Show your support for landmark designation by emailing Robert Tierney, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, at [email protected] or write a letter of support addressed to: Hon. Robert Tierney, Chair, Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10007. Please email or fax LANDMARK WEST! a copy of any correspondence you send.

About the Automat

Architectural Significance: This building, built in 1930 and designed by F.P. Platt and Brothers, is an intact surviving example of automat architecture at its best and is most noticeable for its impressive polychrome terracotta Art Deco ornament. The façade features joyous Art Deco floral patterns and stylized versions of ancient Mayan motifs. As with many other automats, its iconic façade centers around a monumental, glassy portal that was designed to expose the shiny, mechanized interiors—a brilliant case of architecture as advertisement.

Automats were once a ubiquitous building type in Manhattan, but the 104th Street Automat is one of the few in Manhattan that survive. Among countless other losses is the former Horn and Hardart automat at 104 West 57th Street that is currently being demolished despite preservation advocacy efforts dating back to the early 1980s. The characteristic streamlined facades of automats offer variety to the streetscape as well as tell an important part of our city’s history, but their low scale threatens their survival and makes them vulnerable to redevelopment.

Cultural Significance: For over six decades the Horn & Hardart Automat chain was known for its inexpensive, consistent meals that could be dispensed in seconds. After opening their first lunchroom in 1888, Joseph V. Horn and Frank Hardart were inspired by a visit to Berlin’s famous waiterless restaurant and opened their first automat in Philadelphia in 1902. The opening of a large automat in Times Square in 1912 catapulted the business to national fame. At its height, Horn and Hardart served as many as 800,000 meals a day, although it only operated automats in Philadelphia, New York and several cities in New Jersey. Horn & Hardart automats became so iconic that they were referred to in both plays and movies. Business began to slow down during the 1960s, resulting in the closure of numerous automats. A single automat managed to survive for another three decades but closed in 1991.

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