Happy New Year from Your Pals at Cladrite Radio!

Cab Calloway and his orchestra at NYC’s Cotton Club on New Year’s Eve, 1937? That would make for a memorable New Year’s Eve, indeed! Where do we buy our time-machine tickets?

Happy New Year to Cladrite readers and listeners everywhere! If Cladrite Radio goes off the air tomorrow, as we fear it will (it’s out of our hands—see this post for more info), please keep your eyes on this space, where we’ll post any new developments.

Happy New Year -- Cab Calloway and his orchestra at the Cotton Club on New Year's Eve, 1937

A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios!

We recently came across this 1934 pamphlet/game board. It was a handout from WCCO, a Minnesota radio station that began operation in 1922 as WLAG (the call letters were changed to WCCO in 1924). But the pamphlet appears to have been issued by the CBS network, not an individual station. It’s our bet that this was distributed by CBS-affiliated stations across the country.

In 1934, CBS was headquartered in New York City (much of their programming originated from Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan), and we can only guess that it’s that facility that’s depicted here (but we encourage more astute radio historians than we are to chime in if we’ve got that wrong—Edit: A more astute radio historian did chime in; see the comments below).

Among the famous (and perhaps now not-so-famous) faces you’ll see on your stroll through the studios are crooner Dick Powell, theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Irving Kaufman (in his Lazy Dan, the Minstrel Man mode—really? Blackface on the radio?), Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Isham Jones, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, among others.

Click below to see a higher-res version of the image, or to view or download an even larger, higher-res version, click here.

A Trip Through Columbia Networks Studios

King Kong Returns!

Filmmaker Travis Threlkel and photographer Louie Psihoyos tonight teamed to project digital light images of endangered species on the Empire State Building in what the New York Times called “an art event meant to draw attention to the creatures’ plight and possibly provide footage for a coming documentary.”

For their part, Threlkel and Psihoyos termed the event a “weapon of mass instruction.”

We were there to experience the show with a couple of pals, and as soon we arrived at the corner of 30th and Fifth, we turned to them and remarked, “What we’d like to see is a giant ape climbing that building.”

Not five seconds after that crack, the show began again (it was running on a loop every few minutes), and our wish was granted.

The Fight to Save New York City

Three years ago, we told you about Louis Shoe Repair (see that post below), which has been open in the same spot since 1921. We fell in love with the place, and stopped by regularly to have our shoes shined when our workplace was nearby (sadly, our offices moved way downtown over a year ago).

That shop, now in operation for 94 years, will close later this month, and not because it’s not still a viable operation—they’re doing just fine. No, they’re closing because the corporation that owns the Empire State Building (that’s where LSR is located) is raising their rent to—wait for it—$25,000 a month. For a shoe-repair shop.

This is going on all over NYC. Thriving businesses of long standing are being forced to close by rent hikes at levels that no small business could handle. This unrelenting greed is changing the very nature of the city we—and perhaps you, too—love so dearly.

There is a group that is working to get some form of protection in place for small businesses; you’ll find them on Facebook here. (You’ll also find a SaveNYC ad in the lefthand column of this site; click that to visit the group’s website.)

Do what you can. Pitch in. Write to the mayor’s office. Write to your city councilman. Tweet when the SaveNYC folks ask you to. If you love NYC, even if you don’t live here, this is your fight, too.

*   *   *

This post originally appeared on May 18, 2012…

Long-time habitues of this space know that there’s no simple pleasure of which we’re more fond than the shoeshine. Few services yield as much satisfaction per dollar spent.

There are a handful of shoeshine parlors near our place of employ, but all but one, Louis Shoe Rebuilders, are dead to us now. This delightful shop, situated on the ground floor of the Empire State Building on the 33rd Street side (honestly, couldn’t we just stop right there? What more could anyone ask of a shine emporium than that it be located in the Empire State Building? But there’s much more to recommend LSR), has been in business since a decade before that storied favorite skyscraper was erected.

Heck, Louis Shoe Rebuilders predates talking pictures by six years. It opened in 1921, relocated while the ESB was erected, and then returned to 33rd Street when the construction was complete.

And yet, as with most neighborhood shine parlors, the prices remain improbably—almost impossibly—low. Had my grandfather ever made his way from Okemah, Oklahoma, to the Murray Hill section of Manhattan back in the 1920s, he would have been charged a quarter for a shoeshine. Today, the tariff is $3, which, allowing for inflation, is virtually the same price.

Consider, by contrast, the cost of a haircut and a shave. In the old days, a tonsorial two-fer ran you the same quarter one paid for a shine (remember that old jingle, “Shave and a haircut—two bits”?). Today, at the barber shop we patronize every two weeks, a shave and a haircut costs $32, tip not included—and that’s a bargain price in our neighborhood. What was the 1921 equivalent of thirty-two smackeroos? Just under three dollars. So while the price of a shave and a haircut, even allowing for inflation, has increased tenfold, while price of a shine has remained, in relative terms, level.

It’s downright miraculous.

What’s more, we very rarely find a shoe shine man (or woman) who isn’t friendly and engaging (and our experience at Louis lived up to that trend), which only heightens the pleasure taken from the experience.

As does the chance to be a relative sport, when it comes to the gratuity. Who wouldn’t pay six dollars, and happily so, for a quality shoe shine at a venerable shop the likes of Louis Shoe Rebuilders? No one but a mean-spirited cheapskate, that’s who, and that six dollars covers the price of the shine, plus a 100% percent tip.

When was the last time you tipped a bartender or a waiter 100%? Perhaps you never have. Well, you can enjoy that rarefied experience at your friendly neighborhood shoeshine stand.

The shine service at Louis is handled these days by Maria and Bolivar Gomez, a married couple in their forties who emigrated to the United States from Ecuador.

When we immediately snapped a couple of photos upon entering the shop, Bolivar shot us a glance that we weren’t quite certain wasn’t askance, so we paused and asked permission, fearing we’d made a misstep. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Take a picture if you like,” but he seemed none too happy about it. And when we stepped up and took a seat at one of the shine stations, he asked, “How many pictures did you take?”

“Just two,” we said.

“Ten dollars, please,” he said, totally deadpan.

However, Maria’s giggle gave him away immediately, and he quickly apologized for the prank.

As the pictures in the above slidshow confirm, entering Louis Shoe Rebuilders isn’t like stepping into a time machine. The shop’s got a classic look to it, but not an especially vintage one—except for one feature: Along the wall on the left as you enter is a line of small booths that each looks something like a witness stand in a courtroom.

These booths serve the purpose of affording customers—especially female patrons—and their stocking feet some privacy as they await the return of their shoes after as-you-wait repairs are performed.

Needless to say, we immediately fell in love with that row of small booths, and with this shop. And so will you, if you’ll make it a point to stop by the next time you’re in New York.

A picture of Louis Shoe Rebuilding's shine stations