Tex Antoine: A Career on the Air

1956

Tex Antoine 1956

Tex Antoine combined a warm, friendly personality with talents as a cartoon artist to make himself the most popular weather forecaster in New York City for nearly 30 years. He won an Emmy for best local on-air personality in 1961, met his wife through his work in 1964, and eventually became an inspiration to the generation of weather forecasters who followed in his footsteps. In 1974, after 25 years doing TV weather, he was honored with a ten minute on-air video chronicling his work. Then in 1976, he made a shocking remark on the air and his career never recovered. The comment, a joke about rape, has not been forgotten by many. I wanted to try to understand the man who was so popular for so long, look at the remark that brought him down, and ultimately make sense of this man’s legacy.

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Tex Antoine and Uncle Weathbee

Growing Up
Herbert Jon Antoine, Jr. was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1923. His father was a traveling salesman who, according to Tex, tried to sell everything he could but had little success doing it. His mother was a teacher who could always be seen with school books by her side. Tex said he and his family were poor; they spent the depression living out of a Franklin Touring car on the side of the road. He went to high school near Houston, Texas. While he was at a summer theater internship in Plymouth, Massachusetts, he discovered a love for the stage and the theater that would drive him to want to work in show business. He also was a boxer in his youth. His ex-wife Suzannah Glidden said he was very proud of his time in the Golden Gloves program. She explained that one of the fighting competitions was what first brought Tex to New York.

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Tex’s Lynbrook House

New York
Antoine started in the Big Apple as a tour guide for NBC in 1941. Within a year, he auditioned for and landed a full-time position as an NBC station radio announcer. By 1945, he was taking part in a three person on-air news team in the morning, announcing for a soap opera during midday, and reading commercials and fill-in spots for the rest of the day. He continued on as an announcer for many years after he started doing the weather. Tex moved into a four bedroom house in Lynbrook, Long Island, and made many island area public appearances until the 1960’s when he got married. Many of those appearances were charity drives to fight diabetes, from which he suffered.

Television was in its infancy in the 1940’s as the industry had just begun migrating from radio to screen. On radio, a weather forecast could simply be read from paper, whereas TV required more visual presentation to work. Robert Henson, weather historian and author of Weather on the Air, writes, “The visual nature of television demands action in the form of weather maps and people who could explain them.” TV’s first weathermen were primarily military veterans and college professors because they were the only people who could provide any level of detail. As television audiences grew, stations looked for ways to make the weather more entertaining.

According to interviews, Antoine was approached in January 1949 by his bosses at NBC. They told him on a Thursday that he was going to be their new TV weatherman and to have a show ready for the next Monday. He was told to go to the weather bureau, learn as much as he could, and be ready to go when the cameras started rolling Monday. Luckily Tex had his talents as an illustrator. Ms. Glidden described him to me as a “magician with a pen.” He could draw anything and do it quickly; then with a few more seconds, morph what he had just drawn into something else.

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Tex on the air in 1949

In preparing, Tex also created a wooden shaped stick figure character to go on the air with him as a sidekick. He said the inspiration for the character came from his days as a child in the south. He recalled a toy which allowed for magnetic attachments like ears, a hat, and a mustache. Tex said the name Uncle Weathbee came while en route to the weather bureau. The idea was the character and the bureau would save Tex from blame if a forecast went wrong. Antoine could say Weathbee, in effect the Weather Bureau, was responsible for the incorrect forecast. He would affix a black eye to Weathbee when the forecast was embarrassingly bad. 

He put on a smock to merely protect his clothes while doing the weather. But the smock turned out to be a great finishing touch. It made him appear as much artist as weather forecaster. The introduction for his premiere show in the January 15, 1949 New York Times read, “WNBT will start a new daily series of weather reports with an artistic flavor featuring Tex Antoine, announcer, beginning Monday from 6:25 to 6:30. Mr. Antoine, an amateur cartoonist, will give a complete round-up of weather conditions in the metropolitan area and then sketch his impressions of this report.” (WNBC Channel 4 in 1949 went by the call letters WNBT).

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Gil Hodges, Andy Pafko, Peewee Reese protesting rain forecast in 1952

Tapping into his announcing skills, Tex came across as soft spoken and friendly, while his drawings made weather fun. Critics and viewers were impressed. New York Times writer Jack Gould wondered if Tex should be on the air more and said he liked his dry and witty humor. Sponsor Con Edison quickly capitalized on Antoine’s popularity with ads that looked like a column written by Uncle Weathbee which included often not so subtle suggestions to buy washing machines, refrigerators, and air conditioners throughout. Tex was especially popular with kids, and so coloring books and almanacs were published featuring Uncle Weathbee. Tex was given an additional five-minute slot at 11:10 PM. By the mid 1950’s, Antoine was firmly established as the most popular weatherman in New York City.

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Carol Reed

Competition
Hiring attractive women to do the weather was something other area stations had tried, but it seemed to become a requirement in the late 1950’s by stations aiming to compete with Tex in ratings. By 1960, every station had a lead woman forecaster (or “weather girl” as they were called at the time) except for WNBC and Antoine. Then Vice President at WABC Joseph Stamler explained the rationale of the weather girl:“We feel that women–or ladies–have greater acceptance than men, because with the combination of an attractive looking personality the men prefer to look at and the women are attracted, too, because of the fashions they wear, so we’ve really got a twofold program.” Tex’s manager at NBC Peter M. Affe contended by saying, “Our first concern in the presentation of our weather shows is the effectiveness and accuracy of the forecast.” Whether Tex’s forecasts were more accurate or not, he prevailed in the ratings and the other stations eventually moved away from women leads. When Carol Reed was let go by CBS TV in 1964, it marked the end of the “weather girl” era.

Marriage, Changing Channels
When it came time to renew his contract in 1966, Tex found channel 7 WABC expressing strong interest in his services. ABC always lagged behind both Channel 4 and Channel 2 in the ratings and was looking for a way to catch up. Tex turned back to NBC to see if they would counter with a better offer, but they chose not to. WNBC had a trained meteorologist on staff who was a familiar face with the public, science reporter Dr. Frank Field. Tex found the difference in salary too much to pass up, and so in March after 17 years with channel 4, Antoine became the new weatherman for WABC Channel 7 News. 

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Suzannah Glidden in 1966

There was another attraction for Tex at ABC: his wife worked there. Antoine had just married reporter and former weather girl Suzannah Glidden. They had met while both were researching their forecasts at the weather bureau and married in 1965. It was Tex’s second marriage. He had been married for a short time when he first came to New York and already had an adult daughter Nancy.

While working with his wife and getting more money was great, Tex was also leaving the one station he had called home for 17 years. Channel 7 was trying to catch up in ratings after having lagged behind for years. The station would soon hire news manager Al Primo and bring in a format later referred to as “happy news,” in which on-air staff were encouraged to be more jovial and edgy. Antoine’s lively personality seemed to make him the perfect fit, though it would one day also be blamed for his future incident. New York Magazine’s Paul Klein called Tex’s move to channel 7 a watershed event in local news.

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1967 Antoine drawing, courtesy of  Ted David

Signs of Trouble
Primo asked all on-air staff members to wear blazers, which meant the end of Tex’s signature smock. When Antoine protested, Primo said to Tex, “Either we all wear blazers or smocks,” and the smock was gone. Uncle Weathbee seems to have diminished from his routine at about the same time. It all meant Tex would have to rely more on conversation and less on his customary drawings and props.

Tex suffered from diabetes, and as Primo explained, it made Tex harder to understand, especially when combined with alcohol. Primo said Tex was a creature of habit, that he would go to the same German restaurant each night and have a glass of wine, sometimes two, between the 6:00 and 11:00 PM shows. Ms. Glidden explained that he needed two insulin injections daily to deal with his diabetes. The diabetes, the change in environment took a toll on Tex, and he and Glidden divorced in the early 70’s.

In 1972, Antoine made a comment on the air during the Munich Olympic hostage crisis stating that more attention should be paid to the many lives lost in U.S. traffic accidents rather than the hostages. It came off as insensitive and Tex had to apologize for it. In 1974, at his 25th anniversary party, he yelled at fellow reporter Ron Johnson to get the f-word out of the way because he couldn’t see his cake. A rookie sound producer working that night didn’t turn off a live microphone and so it was caught on the air. Tex was having trouble keeping up with the workload. He gave up the 11:00 PM slot to focus on just the 6:00 news show.

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Backed by Melba Tolliver, Roger Grimsby, Geraldo Rivera and Bill Buetel, 1973

Despite it all, Tex remained popular through the mid 70’s. The New York Times in 1973 described his audience as awestruck fans that had grown up following his forecast for years. Discover magazine observed that Antoine had a unique “almost jazzlike patter” which naturally drew listeners in to him. Craig Allen, now lead meteorologist on WCBS radio, remembered a visit from Tex to WSNL Long Island in 1974. Allen said he was “genuinely polite and friendly to fans, namely me.” Ted David, veteran CNBC broadcaster, knew Tex well when he was a page at WABC. Ted said Antoine was a gentleman, had a great voice, and was an all around good guy. There always seemed a bright side to Tex, but he was heading towards his darkest moment.

November 24, 1976
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving on the news at 6:52 PM, anchor Bill Beutel reported the attempted rape of an eight-year-old Yonkers girl, gave a stock market report, then handed off to Tex for weather. Antoine said, “With rape being so predominant in the news lately, Confucius once say if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it,” and continued to the weather. Once the words escaped his mouth, things would never be quite the same.

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Doing weather in 1973

TV critic and author Peter Conrad pondered in The Medium and Its Manners if Tex somehow thought it was his professional obligation to be “as comically resilient about the assault as he always was about the weather.” Weather historian Robert Henson pointed out that the “relentless emphasis on high jinks and humor” helped create the atmosphere in which Tex would try to tell such a joke. Newspaper columnist Jack Anderson wrote that the broadcast on the same day also included an edgy Liz Taylor joke, a double entendre about keeping fresh Thanksgiving items, and several other similarly objectionable quips. But the comment could not be ignored, particularly with women’s groups. Author Ron Stokes wrote in his 2010 book of remembrances, “I guess Old Tex didn’t get the women’s lib memo that was circulating at the time.” Rape and humor were not good topics to mix, and to make things worse for Antoine, the report was about an eight-year-old girl.

While WABC went to commercial, news and public affairs director Ron Tindiglia called the studio from home and insisted that Tex immediately make an on-air apology which he did. “If I offended you with the Confucius saying, I apologize,” Tex said and finished his weather report. In the next 25 minutes, according to the station about 650 irate people called to complain about the remark. At 11:00 Grimsby announced Tex had been suspended indefinitely. Storm Field was brought in to do the 6:00 weather the next Monday, and Grimsby introduced him with the now infamous, “Lie back and enjoy the weather with Storm Field.”

Station management never publicly said they were going to fire Tex; in fact they appeared to be taking up his defense. On Saturday November 27, station President Richard O’Leary said Antoine had demonstrated such impeccably good taste it would be hard to invalidate his whole career over the “breach.” Station General Manager Kenneth MacQueen said, “We don’t think we will use this as a thrust to end his career. We have no plans to fire or terminate Tex.” Letters to newspapers also defended Tex. One asked everyone, “Where is our mercy?” Another asked people to “chalk the incident up to human frailty and to forget it.”

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December 8, 1976 Protester

A group called the Women’s Anti-Rape Coalition was not so sympathetic. On December 9, the members organized a rally at ABC headquarters not only to demand that Tex be fired, but also to express outrage at Grimsby for his Storm Field remark. Spokeswoman Dorothy Glasse said, “We are concerned about a general insensitivity towards women at the station.” Ironically, as a result of the protest, WABC reported a further increase in support for Tex. The station said it received 140 calls, with most of them favoring Tex after seeing the story of the protest on the news.

On December 18MacQueen announced that while they had lifted Tex’s work suspension, he would not be going back on the air. MacQueen said he could help Storm Field prepare his report. Field was a trained meteorologist and Antoine was not, so it’s hard to say what Antoine could do to help Field. Maybe if Tex had stayed with WNBC, and this was his 27th year with the station instead of only his tenth, the management might have expressed more loyalty. Despite all the comments by Tindigla, MacQueen, and O’Leary, that they would spare Tex’s job, WABC let him go on March 13, 1977, the same day his contract ran out.

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1978 Channel 5 Announcement

Last Years
In January 1978, WNEW Channel 5 gave Tex another chance. He was hired by the station with what at the time seemed to be great enthusiasm. Station Vice President Mark Monksy said, “Tex was once the best weatherman in New York and hoped he would be again. The man has been out of work for a year and that should be punishment enough.” But in only 10 months, Tex was let go again, replaced by former Miss New Jersey Linda Gialanella. After fending off the competition of weather girls throughout the 1960’s, he was in effect ultimately replaced by one. When asked what he would do with no job he said, “I don’t know. After 29 years where else can I go? I have no forecast for my future.”

The truth was Tex was losing his health. His ex-wife Ms. Glidden told me the diabetes condition worsened progressively during these years. She said he didn’t want to admit it, but he was not the same. Despite being only in his 50’s, disease and lifestyle had taken their toll. Tex did not make another public appearance and died on January 12, 1983, in his Park Avenue apartment of what was officially deemed to be natural causes.

Praise and Reflection
Bill Beutel spoke fondly of Tex at his funeral in 1983 and Ms. Glidden, now an avid active environmentalist and living in Westchester New York, only had kind words to say to me about Tex. He lived and loved broadcasting. For thousands of hours he was great on the air; he gave people the weather and made them laugh.

Tex was an inspiration to many aspiring 1970mayb-e31160_tex-antoine_1weather people who followed in his footsteps, and he was especially popular with children. Al Roker said he grew up playing with Uncle Weathbee Colorforms®. Area weatherman Bob Harris said instead of Chuck Berry and Elvis his idol was Tex. Author Robert Henson said his first source of weather reports was Antoine. For generations of New Yorkers, from the 1940’s to the 70’s, Tex was synonymous with weather. It’s unrealistic to think that the stigma of Tex’s bad joke will ever be completely forgotten, and his legacy will always pay a price. But in talking to those who knew him and looking back at his life, the professional, friendly, enthusiastic, and talented man who he was should not be forgotten either. (There are two scripted YouTube videos of Tex, which show him drawing, a Gaines Burgers commercial and a Bufferin Commercial.)

SOURCES

Articles

“Oral Husbandry, The Gentleman Likes To Be Called Mert and He Takes To the Air at 6:30 AM” (Jan 28, 1945) The New York Times

“Alias Uncle Wethbee” (November 1951) Radio TV Mirror

Jane Gerard “Weather Rain on Island Texan” (August 12, 1953) Newsday

“Television Weatherman Finds the Big Storm Had Him Snowed” (March 20, 1956) Newsday

Nancy Seely, “This Week on TV: Tex Antoine vs the Elements” (June 2, 1963) New York Post

“WCBS TV Decides To Drop Carol Reed and Weather Show” (May 29, 1964) The New York Times, p57

“Rainy Days Are for Weathermen” (October 4, 1964) The New York Times, pX17

“Weather Couple Engaged” (December 30, 1964) The New York Times

“Fund Drive Will Aid Diabetes” (May 6, 1964) Long Island Star Journal

“Suzannah C Glidden to Wed Tex Antoine” (July 19, 1965) The New York Times

Audrey Clinton “For Two Weeks It’s Been Fair and Blonde”(August 19, 1966)  Newsday

Val Adams “Antoine to Quit WNBC for WABC after 17 Years” (February 8, 1966) p79

“Weatherbee Twists Dial Takes Sponsor” (Feb 8, 1966) Newsday p2c

Harry Waters, “The News With a Dash of Dirt” (January 25, 1970) The New York Times p93

Paul Klein, “Happy Talk Happy Profits” (June 28, 1971) New York Magazine p60

Dan Menaker, “Unfortunately Raindrops Keep Falling on Their Heads: TV Weatherman” (August 19, 1973) The New York Times, p 121

“TV Line” (November 11, 1973) Newsday

Marvin Kitman “Dirge for Obfuscation” (February 12, 1974)  Newsday

“Events Pedal for Diabetes Fight” (May 2, 1975) Yonkers Herald Statesman

Barbara C. Chadwick, Bayshore, “Letters” (December 14, 1976) Newsday p53

Phillip Gedaly, Westbury “Letters” (January 5, 1977) Newsday  p 61

“WABC Suspends Tex Antoine After a Flippant Remark on Rape” (November 25, 1976) The New York Times p45

“Tex Antoine to Return to ABC After Last Week’s Suspension” (November 29, 1976) The New York Times

Gerald Fraser, “Antoine Will Stay But Won’t Go On Air” (December 18, 1976) The New York Times

“Tex Antoine Returns to the Tube”, New York (December 12, 1977) 8

“Weatherman Tex Antoine Is Fired” (November 6, 1978) Newsday

“No Forecast for Antoine’s Future” (November 7,1978) Newsday  9QQ

Marvin Kitman, “Linda the Weatherperson” Newsday (August 13, 1979) A31

Glenn Garelick, “The Weather Peddlers” Discover (April 1985)p 24

Jerry Barmash, “Caching Up with Al Primo, the Man Behind Eyewitness News” (March 14, 2011) Adweek Magazine

Books

Robert Henson, 2010 Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Metereology
Ron Stokes, 2010 Mother Is Different and Other Family Secrets
Peter Conrad, 1982 The Medium and Its Manners

Photos

House Photo, Google Maps

Demonstration against Tex Antoine at ABC-TV, Bettye Lane, Harvard Univ Archive

1967 forecast, Ted David photo collection

1952 “Dodging The Dodgers” New York Post Photo By Con Edison p. 55

with barometer – celebritynetworths.org

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The Defunct Newspapers Of New York City

Front page of the New York World-Telegram dated August 7, 1945 featuring the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The World-Telegram was in circulation from 1867 to 1966. We all remember NYC based newspapers that are no longer in business. Many of our families had the paper delivered to our homes, daily. Some of us worked for the newspapers, and quite a few of us delivered newspapers!

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Here is a partial list of defunct newspapers of NYC.

Brooklyn Times-Union
Brooklyn Eagle
The City Sun (weekly)
Colored American (weekly)
Daily Graphic
East Village Other
Freedom’s Journal
The Freeman
Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Yiddish-language)
Der Groyser Kundes (Yiddish-language weekly)
Il Progresso Italo-Americano (Italian-language daily)
Long Island Press (original daily)
National Guardian (weekly)
New York Ace
New York Age / New York Age Defender
New York Avatar
The New York Blade (weekly)
New York Clipper
New York Daily Mirror
New York Dispatch
New York Enquirer (twice weekly)
New York Evening Mail
The New York Globe (two newspapers)
New York Graphic
New York Guardian (monthly)
New York Herald (daily)
New York Herald Tribune (daily)
New York Journal American (daily)
New York Mirror
New York Press (historical)
The New York Sporting Whip
New York Sports Express
The New York Sun (daily)
New York Tribune (daily)
New York World
New York World Journal Tribune
New York World-Telegram
New Yorker Staatszeitung (German-language weekly)
The Onion (free weekly)
Other Scenes
PM
Rat Subterranean News
Spirit of the Times
Staten Island Register
The Sun

Contributed to our group Old Images Of New York by longtime member Herb Shatz

Original post located here

Arcadia Book Giveaway

 

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Arcadia Publishing is running a contest! They are doing it in conjunction with my page Old Images of New York.  You will win three free books packed with historic pictures of New York. They’re published by Arcadia Publishing, home of the iconic Images of America series and the leading publisher of local and regional interest in the US. Here’s how to enter:

1. Like their page https://www.facebook.com/ArcadiaPublishing/
2. Like my page eToner.com (where we save you money on toner)
3. Comment below & tag a friend on this facebook post (comments welcome here as well)
THAT’S IT!! Free NYC History Books For You!!!
We’ll pick 10 winners on May 6th.

The books being given away are …
New York City Skyscrapers By Richard Panchyk
Greenwich Village By Anita Dickhuth
The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair By Bill Cotter and Bill Young

 

Penn Station Comes With Old Scars

A December 30th 2015 New York Times article asserted that Penn Station was already “ruined” long before it was destroyed. Author David W. Dunlap wrote that those who came into the station in the late 50’s would have been in a place that bore little resemblance to its once great former self.  Dunlap focused on a  1950’s renovation that he felt diminished the look of the station. The New Yorker magazine columnist Lewis Mumford at the time termed it an “indescribable botch.”

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“The Clamshell” in MTA Transit Museum 1958 Photo

The centerpiece of the 50’s remodel was a huge new lighting apparatus that came to be known as “the clamshell.” It was 164 feet wide, made of aluminum and steel, and was intended to brighten newly installed ticket booths and make getting a train ticket comparable to that of a plane.

Critics accused Penn of intentionally putting in a design so bad that demolition would seem to make more sense. What would they have said if Penn had done nothing in the 50’s? Dunlap may be right that the renovation was poor, but most of us would probably still choose the Penn of the 50’s over the one that replaced it in the next decade. Whenever the decline set in for rail travel, the date of no turning back in the eyes of New Yorkers will always be 1963 when the wrecking ball crumbled the station to the ground.

If you want to get New Yorkers riled up, you can just ask them about Penn Station. They still can’t believe the same company that had the creative genius to put a timeless transportation hall in the heart of their city would see fit to dismantle it just fifty years later. The current station has been unpopular with New Yorkers from the moment it opened. It is looked at with disdain not only because of its basement-like feel, with narrow halls and low ceilings, but because it is the impostor put in place of their once cherished Penn Station. New Yorkers are literally reminded every day of what was taken from them.

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New Yorkers are almost universally dissatisfied with the current station. They want something better put in its place. Something closer to what that original station was. To them, injustice has been done and it needs to be rectified.

And so the groundswell to improve it has grown year after year as commuters trudge through it. A plan inspired by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was developed in the early 2000’s to move some of it one block west to the Farley Post Office. The Farley between 8th and 9th was designed by the same architects as Penn. But the plan has been dreadfully slow in progressing.

The City Council voted 47-1 in 2013 to terminate Madison Square Garden’s lease so a better station could be constructed. (The one nay vote came from a former executive of the Garden.) Not much else came from the council in terms of definitive plans though. The vote without substantive plans is reflective of the great distance between the emotional desire to get something better in the station, and the struggle to deal with the practicality of actually getting it done.

Just this week, Governor Cuomo announced that he will try to speed up the stalled Moynihan plan and add new features like a glass wall on the 8th Avenue entrance.  Madison Square Garden apparently gets to stay, much to the dismay of the New York Times editorial board which likened it to a manhole cover, blocking light and air to the station below. If the garden were forced to move, where could it go? Cuomo’s plan also included renaming Penn, the Empire Station. Critics thought it sounded more like something out of Star Wars.

If we have learned anything about the station both past and present, it’s not an easy place to renovate, and even when you do, people often don’t like the changes. We can never get the old station back, and whatever is done to it, however bad or good, people will keep coming to it. What choice do they have, that’s where they have to go to get to their trains.

Get Your 2016 Old Images of NY Calendar

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Cover Photo

For 2016 we have created the Old Images of New York Calendar, a collection of New York classic images. It will make a stunning addition to your office or home decor, or the calendar could be a Christmas or holiday gift for that hard-to-buy-for friend.

The photos are great quality and high definition; they offer a unique perspective on the city’s most famous landmarks. We packed in as much New York City as we could into the calendar. You have come to expect excellent photo posts from our Facebook page, and we have strived to give you the same high standard for this print calendar.

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Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building is probably second to none when it comes to favorite New York City landmarks. It was completed in the frenzy of a race with rival Bank of Manhattan Trust Building to be the tallest building in the city. Near the very end of construction, the Chrysler’s builders hoisted  a high needle-thin spire to push the building over 1,000 feet and make it the taller of the two.

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Flatiron Building

The March photo may be many people’s favorite shot–a snow-lined look at the Flatiron Building. The Flatiron can be photographed from any angle, but its most popular view is from the north, with Broadway trailing off to the left, Fifth Avenue to the right. The man who designed the Flatiron, George A. Fuller, died in 1900 and so never saw the building completed in 1902. In 1905, a new twenty-first floor was added; you have to take a separate elevator from the 20th floor to get to it.

Included in the calendar are excellent shots of the Empire State and Woolworth Buildings, the Manhattan Bridge, the Washington Square Arch, Macy’s, and Times Square. You will also find a magnificent photo of the classic tile glass ceiling work of the now abandoned downtown City Hall subway station. The station still exists, but has not been used since 1945.

Thanks to the many of you who helped me grow the Facebook page, we have put together the calendar, and I think we have something special–our celebration of area history. This calendar is sure to please, with photos we know our audience responds to and likes to see, our most popular shots.

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I would like to dedicate the calendar to my father, who passed away in October after a battle with cancer. He was a great, but complicated man who tried to do his best. I hope he would be proud of my effort here.

If you want something that embodies our page, our city, and ourselves, this calendar  is a perfect choice. After all, who doesn’t love old New York photos?

Calendar Available  here

 

 

What Is New York City’s Most Popular Building?

You may think you know which building is most popular to New Yorkers, but do you know which one it is for sure? Nowhere could I find anyone being polled what their favorite New York building was. So I decided to ask the fans of both the Old Images of New York  Facebook Page and Old Images of New York Facebook Group to give me their first and second favorite New York City buildings. I counted two votes for their first choice, one vote for their second. I got more than 300 responses, I tabulated the answers, and comprised the results.

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# 1

Number 1 – The Chrysler Building, 34 percent. Whether it was for its art deco styling, its silver color, its ridged and pointed crown, angled gargoyles or whatever else, Chrysler Building is by far most popular. One woman mentioned that she would sneak up alone to the old Cloud Club, the restaurant that stood atop the building until 1977, and have the pleasure of being up there with just the East River and the Empire State Building to see. The Chrysler Building came up again and again in the voting. 74 percent of the people who voted for Chrysler made it was their first choice for favorite in the poll.

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#2

Number 2 – The Flatiron Building, 17 percent. Designed in the Beaux-Arts style, (which means classic Roman) and completed in 1902. The Flatiron is most often photographed at the distinctively sharp corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway, its narrow end where it makes a beautiful curve around the corner. Everything just seems to work for this building in terms of design. It has a classic look you never get tired of. It houses among its tenants the publishing houses of Macmillan and St. Matins’ Press. The Flatiron spawned the expression 23 skidoo, which is what policemen would shout at men who tried to get glimpses of women’s dresses being blown up by the winds swirling around the structure. The 21st floor was added in 1905, you have to take a separate elevator from the 20th floor to get to it. 58 percent of those who voted for Flatiron in my poll had it as their first choice.

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#3

Number 3 – The Empire State Building, 10 percent. Completed in 1931 during the depths of the depression. Like the World Trade Center decades later, The Empire State struggled for years to become popular before becoming very successful in the end. It was not profitable until the 1950’s. It has one of the cities most popular city tourist attractions, its observation deck and tower. The popular tradition of lighting the building at night started in 1976 for the bicentennial. 62 percent of those who voted for the ESB in my poll had it as their first choice.

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#4

Number 4 – The Woolworth Building, 8 percent. Completed in 1913, it was the tallest building in the world until surpassed by the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street in 1930. It has a beautiful, simple, elegant, gothic appearance. The basement has an abandoned pool and hot tub, with doors that once opened to a passageway to the now abandoned but also beautiful glass ceiling city hall subway station. Its top 30 floors are currently being converted into luxury condominiums. The roof was where the climax for the Disney movie Enchanted was set.

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#5

Number 5 – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, 4 Percent. Its construction took over twenty years, from 1858 to 1879, with a long break for the Civil War taken in between. The cathedral seats 2,400 people, has 2,800 stained glass panels has between 18 and 15 masses said every day. It has 150 weddings every year, and five million people visit it annually. The cathedral is in the process of an extensive restoration project. Although it was also restored in 1949 and 1973, this project is much more extensive. It is hoped the restoration will be completed by the end of 2015.

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#6

Honorable Mentions: The Twin Towers and Penn Station finished just out of the top five. Those two and The Singer Building, which was torn down in 1968 and got several votes, were the biggest vote getters for buildings no longer standing. The Metlife Tower, and PanAm building got several votes as well, despite the fact that many revile PanAM for blocking the view of the New York Central building, which itself did not get any votes in my poll. A lot of other buildings were mentioned, including Grand Central Station, Saint John The Divine Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall the New York Public Library, the United Nations, The Dakota, and even the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. The building I was most surprised to see not mentioned even once, unless it was because people did not to consider it a building, was The Statue of Liberty. With its pedastal, it stands t 305 feet tall, or roughly 28 stories high.Freiheitsstatue_NYC_full

John Pettibone School Closing

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Pettibone School Book Fair 2010 Photo

It has been announced that John Pettibone School in town is closing. The New Milford Board of Education has decided that due to decreasing enrollment and the school’s aging infrastructure, it is time to shut the doors in June. In the fall of 2015, the kids that would have attended JPS will go to one of the town’s other five remaining schools. Much attention has understandably been focused on the closing and the changes it brings. With third and sixth graders moving locations, it will be a difficult time for those families who have to adjust and sort things out.

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1961 Photo of Six Year Old John Pettibone School

Both of my kids went to Pettibone for six years, starting with the Excel program and all the way through third grade.  For those years the school was the focal point of our lives. They enjoyed each year and I did, too. We went to concerts, family fun days, chorus field trip days, book fairs, festivals, and all the rest, while getting to know and like the teachers and administrators. For a few of those years I dressed up as a really bad fortune teller for the Halloween party nights. My wife and I always tried to help with the  school events when we could find time to do so.

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Bad Fortune Teller at Pettbone for 2011 Halloween Fest

Even though I have lived in New Milford for over 13 years, I still consider myself new to the town. I think of my family’s time at Pettibone as a very small part of the school’s overall history. My children are just two of the thousands of kids who have attended the school. Some past students have probably had the pleasure of witnessing their own children or grandchildren return to the same school to which they went. I can only begin to imagine how much learning, growth, and creativity has taken place inside its walls. And so I wanted to take a moment to remember the school on just the merit of what it has meant to the community: to think of those who started in their paths towards success at the school. I wanted to reflect on the tireless efforts of the teachers and staff who helped these children along on their way.

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1944 photo of Mr. Pettibone

John Pettibone School first opened in the fall of 1955, at a time when New Milford and the rest of Connecticut was attempting to rebuild after the worst flood in state history. The school itself was constructed to address what was an exponentially growing town population. New Milford had grown to 5,800 in 1950 and would house 14,000 by 1970. In the 1955-56 school year, Pettibone handled third through eighth grades and educated more than half of the town’s school population. The school was expanded within its first eight years, adding twenty more classrooms and two wings.

John Pettibone School is the only town school named after a school administrator. Mr. Pettibone is but one of many who have given their lives to teaching the kids of New Milford. We should make sure we continue to honor him and the many educators who have spent their lives helping our children at John Pettibone School and all of New Milford’s schools. John Pettibone retired as superintendent of schools after 41 years of service in 1944.

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New Milford Spectrum Photo

It will be hard not to notice that John Pettibone School is closed; it sits on a huge section of land, just south from the center of town, on our busiest road. I don’t know how we will all feel when we pass by for the first time in the fall and realize there are no students attending it any longer. No doubt that the town will continue to thrive and grow without the school. Anyone who has spent time here knows we have too strong and vibrant of a community to let anything other than that happen. But let’s not forget a part of our town history—the red brick school that stood proudly for sixty years in the middle of it.

 

Tracing Out The LIRR Whitestone Branch

Trains began running on The LIRR Whitestone Branch in northern Queens in the late 1800’s. The line was in service until 1932 when the railroad shut it down. I traced out where it would lay on a current area map.  I like the line traced out on a map because you can see where the branch stands with regard to today’s landscape . It’s hard to imagine train tracks in most of these locations, and yet they were there less than 85 years ago.
fromportwashingtonThe line started out as it forked off the Port Washington branch just west of the Flushing River. This is just past where Citi Field now stands. The first station was Flushing Bridge Street, which stood on the north side of Northern Boulevard. The road was originally called Bridge Street, thus giving it the name of the station.

flushingtocollegepointThe line turned north as it made its way towards the College Point Station.

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After College Point it turned east towards the Malba and Whitestone stations.

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Whitestone Branch Laid Over Current Map – Whitestone Landing to Whitestone

The line ended at the Whitestone Landing station at the East River. The branch was initially built in the hopes that it would one day go north to The Bronx and to Westchester. The plans never fully materialized. It is amazing to think that Whitestone had its own LIRR branch for more than 50 years and it wasn’t that long ago.

The Hamburger Coach of Glen Oaks

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Union Turnpike at 255th Streeet

During the late 1960’s my family lived in Glen Oaks until I was three. One of the things I remember most of my short time there was this little burger joint that stood on the north side of Union Turnpike near the movie theater. It was dark inside, bluish purplish walls, counter on one side, tables on the other. Not the kind of place a kid would remember, except for the fact that it featured a model train set running on tracks delivering food to its patrons. In my memory the tracks ran all over the place. They went in and out of the walls, up and down, high and low, in and out. Memory exaggerates perhaps, but I’m sure but there was definitely a restaurant on Union Turnpike and it did use model trains to deliver orders to customers.

Once my family moved out of Glen Oaks I never set foot in the Hamburger Coach again. There were eateries based on the same concept but they too closed, and I never was able to walk into another burger joint that delivered food to my counter via train. You never know when your last chance to get to do something may have already come and gone, and for me, food by train ended before I reached Kindergarten.

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Hamburger Choo Choo Huntington

There were several train oriented restaurants operating in our area in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There was a Hamburger Train on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, a Hamburger Express in Garden City. Hewlett had a Hamburger Local, Bayside and the Bronx had a Hamburger Express. The most popular of these, and the one that seemed destined to outlive the others was the Hamburger Choo Choo on Main Street in Huntington. It was popular and had a reputation for having food that was quite good. It might still be open today if not for a grease fire which burned it down on March 20, 1982. It’s turn of the century wood frame building did little to help save it, and within just a few short minutes the treasured Hamburger Choo Choo had served its last burger.

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Choo Choo Des Plaines

New York has been without a model train counter since, but the Chicago area has a restaurant that has been open for decades. The Choo Choo, according to The Des Plaines Patch, was borne out of an idea that originated with World War Veteran Roy Ballowe. His brother James and wife Marilyn went with it and opened the Choo Choo. Their place has stood the test of time, and the concept is getting new life; The All Aboard Diner in nearby Downers Grove is now running a similar operation, with a train running all around its large double sided inner counter.

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Caboose at The Choo Choo

For me, Downers Grove is about the same distance from NYC as Des Plaines, so my nostalgic stop for local food via express train will still have to wait. Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame opened one of his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines. It is said that Kroc paid a visit to the Choo Choo and assured the owners his fast food restaurant would be no match for theirs.

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1966 Hamburger Coach Waitress Ad

 

I have not been able to find a photo of the Hamburger Coach in Glen Oaks. The only tangible documentation I found of the place was a help wanted ad for a waitress in March 1966. There are only a few photos of the other similar places that once existed in our region. Hopefully someday someone will open a train delivery restaurant again in our area so we can relive the memories, or at least track down a photo of the Hamburger Coach. Below is a collage of some photos of the New York hamburger train places I was able to find.

 

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Hamburger Express, 7th Street, Garden City

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1966 Ad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hamburger Choo Choo, Main Street, Huntington

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Courtesy of Richard Holtz

 

I’m Proud of My Brother, Scott Berkun

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New Book by my brother

My brother (and bestselling author) Scott Berkun and I grew up together in the New York City borough of Queens, an area that is part city, part suburb. You might think that would make it the best of both worlds. But for Scott and I, we felt more like we were characters in  “The Ice Storm” or “American Beauty,”  lost and alone. We were trapped within the facade of a happy American family and we were desperate to figure out why it all wasn’t as wonderful as it should be.

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Johnny Newman, Knicks star of the late 1980’s, one of our favorite players

Scott and I are six years apart, but almost from the beginning we knew we had an affinity for each other that transcended any age difference. As we have both agreed since, something was keeping us apart when we were young. We were friends, but we now believe that the lack of a settled household environment kept us from getting as close as we could have been, which Scott points out in his book. We could have looked out more for each other if there was someone looking out more for both of us. I should have told him at the time how great he was. Scott, you’re smart, you’re cheerful, you’re funny, but I never told him. I didn’t have the self-confidence.

If the question was what did the Berkun brothers do as young boys to gain confidence, the answer was to play basketball, and a lot of it. We could get recognition from teammates, coaches, and anyone else who might watch us play. We went to the garden to watch the Knicks. We played ball anywhere, anytime: in the backyard, in the playgrounds, but most frequently at the local Jewish Community Center, the Samuel Field Y. Our mother, to her credit, encouraged us to get involved there. I, in turn, encouraged Scott to try out for his first basketball team there, an event he discusses as having special importance in his new book.

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Scott and I at SFY Camp

Scott’s making the team was a moment of great pride, not only for him but for me. I had first made the Y basketball team in twelfth grade–way too late to really improve and develop my game. I knew that by getting on the team at an earlier age, Scott would have more time to work on his skills. It would give him the chance to become a really good player, a better player than me. Scott knew I was proud of him, but as a family we never seemed to support his basketball effort. Scott made it to starting point guard on the Bayside High School basketball team, a huge achievement by any standard, and I can only remember going to one game. I have no idea how many games the rest of our family attended, but whatever the amount it probably wasn’t enough to make him know we truly supported his effort.

Our father had an affair in the late 1970’s. For several years, our parents were separated. In his book, Scott describes his haunting encounter with our father at the front door and mine at a local pizza place during the era. Our father reunited with our mother and came back to live with us in the early 1980’s. The family had its good and bad times, and we assumed that our parents would from then on be committed to their marriage.

Sswensenscott always seemed to know deep down that he had to get far away from Long Island to find himself and what he was looking for in the world and in his life. No doubt he used his feelings of frustration with the family and our father to fuel his yearning to find himself. I realize that he had to get away, that it was best for him, but for me, I just missed him when he wasn’t around any longer. Occasionally we would spend time together, going to places like Swensen’s ice cream at the Miracle Mile togeher. But Scott was soon off to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, then out to Washington to work at Microsoft. Now he’s a successful writer and professional speaker. He has achieved an amazing set of accomplishments. I stayed closer to home, went to college at SUNY Stony Brook and met my wife, worked in Manhattan, moved to Connecticut and took over my family toner business.

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Scott Berkun

Scott describes how our family separated  into two factions. There was my sister who enjoyed having an insulated protective environment created for her by my parents who lived next door. If anything went wrong, they were there to pick up the pieces. Then there was me and my brother who thought the whole thing (living next door to each other) made no sense. My mother would remind my wife and I daily of how much of a model parent my sister was. It was seemingly as if she stated it to us enough, she could somehow make it true. Our sister had never done the work necessary to facilitate her own independence, and our parents not only failed to press the issue, they gave her the means to continue to avoid growing up.

It was Scott who never relented in pointing out how destructive my parents’ relationship with my sister and her family was to all involved. It was Scott who had always been the voice of reason, despite being criticized for it. He tried to talk to our sister about the situation, and she responded by refusing to speak with him. She eventually also cut ties with my parents, the ones who had been protecting her were now out in the cold. That set the stage for my father’s second affair and would be the impetus for my brother’s book.

ghostScott called me in the summer of 2012 to tell me we had entered into a family crisis. My father was having an affair; my mother had just found out. It was something I wasn’t ready for, who would be? This crisis would eventually motivate Scott to write The Ghost of My Father. It was 35 years earlier that Scott and I had survived our father’s first affair. That time we had to deal with it alone; this time we were together. Scott handled telling me about it so well, and I was proud of him. But I couldn’t tell him at the time, since there was too much going on.

Now Scott has written a book that details his experience in a troubled family and explains what it has been like to have had a strained lifelong relationship with our father. Writing the book is an important step for him; it’s something he felt he had to do, and I am glad he did it. On any level it is a great achievement.  He has always been the voice of reason in our family and for that I am forever grateful, and once again, I am proud of him, I will try to tell him this time. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have.

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