Googling Bygone Beaneries, Tough Guys and Rich Gals

We love old movies on their own merits, but we watch them in a way that’s very different from the way we watch modern films. For us (and we’re confident we’re not alone in this), old movies are like time travel. We listen closely to the dialogue for slang we might not have heard before, we examine all the actors from head to toe to take in their vintage clothing, we watch for period billboards and advertisements to discover long-forgotten products and businesses, and when we do uncover something new, we quickly turn to our good friend Ms. Google to see what knowledge she has to share.

Recently, we were watching Undertow, a film noir from 1949. It stars Scott Brady (he was Lawrence Tierney‘s brother, you know) and an actress we weren’t sure we recognized named Peggy Dow.

We looked up Dow on and learned that, after just a handful of pictures, she gave up Hollywood to marry a guy named Walter Helmerich, who was just getting started in the family business, which just happened to be oil drilling. The Helmeriches resided in Tulsa, Oklahoma (our native state), raised five sons and must have done pretty well for themselves, because the theatre department at the University of Oklahoma is now named the Peggy Dow Helmerich School of Drama (we figure they must have kicked in with a pretty sizable donation to earn that honor).

We graduated from that very school (though it hadn’t yet been named after Ms. Helmerich at the time) with a BFA in Theatre, so we feel a certain connection to her now. If we hadn’t watched Undertow and been inspired to do a little digging, we’d have never known.

By the way, as of this writing, Ms. Helmerich is still with us. And not only is OU’s drama school named after her, so is the auditorium at Northwestern’s Annie May Swift Hall (her alma mater). And since 1985, the Tulsa Library Trust has annually presented the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award to a deserving writer.

Now, back to the movie: At one point in the picture, Brady returns to his hometown of Chicago and there are some nice shots of South Wabash Avenue as he tries to ditch a cop who’s tailing him. How do we know it’s Wabash Avenue? Well, a restaurant called Lander’s caught our eye as Brady strolled past it (In Chicago, It’s Lander’s was the eatery’s slogan).

It had an appealing vintage look to it, glass bricks and all, so we turned again to Ms. Google with fingers crossed to see if it had somehow managed to survive to the present day.Read More »

A Journey Back to Old New York

A couple of years back, The Museum of Modern Art performed a digital restoration on some travelogue footage of New York City that was shot in 1911. They did a great job with it, and the video was widely disseminated—you may have seen it at the time or in the months since.

Now, a Swedish company called Svenska Biografteatern has done even more work on the footage, giving it a higher frame rate and resolution (4K) and a subtle color tinting.

For anyone who loves New York (or dreams of time travel), it makes for a magical eight-minute journey into the past.

Step Back in Time

It’s rare to find footage from the silent era that really makes the viewer feel as if he could step into the scenes he’s viewing.

But this footage, from the turn of the last century, has been enhanced and restored and set to play at the proper speed, and as a result, it’s almost like a time machine. Enjoy.

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Time Travel: NYC, then and now

When you get down to it, most folks who are interested in things vintage—whether they’re movie buffs who thrill at the discovery of a film noir or pre-code picture they’ve never before seen, music buffs who have devoted their lives to hearing every note Bix ever recorded, or devotees of vintage fashion, ever on the watch for a belt-back suit from the 1930s or the perfect cloche hat from a decade before—are after a kind of time travel.

Most of us aren’t convinced (though others are certain of it) that life was better in whichever particular era it is that calls to us, it’s just that life was just different then, in small and particular ways that continue to fascinate us, to entice us to look over our shoulders at what is behind us, just barely out of peripheral view.

The estimable Rick Prelinger (if you’re not already familiar with the Prelinger Collection of ephemeral films, check them out at expressed it nicely in a 2002 SF Weekly profile:

“I’m fascinated with the look of the past. I have an urgent need to form images of what a place looked like in the ’40s or ’50s. What did it smell like? What were people wearing? What [was] people’s body language? Was it noisy or quiet? Was the air smoky?”

But opportunities to directly compare and contrast life as it was then (whenever your preferred “then” might be) with life as it is lived today are few and far between. Those opportunities are largely what this blog is about—what our interest in the (relatively) recent past is all about—and so we share them with the Cladrite Clan whenever we can.

The official New York City web site,, has, bless its heart, created an online city map that not only allows one to search for an aerial view of any address in the city (these are photos commissioned by the city, not satellite photos) and zoom in and out on the photo, but you can also zoom back and forward—in time!

The city commissioned aerial photos several times over the past 80 years, so it’s intriguing to see from above how things have changed over time. And it couldn’t be easier to do, thanks to the city’s efforts.

We looked up Cladrite World Headquarters on the map, and we were able to view our block as it appeared from above in 1924, in 1956, in 1996, and as recently as 2008.

Friends, that’s what we call time travel.

Deroy Peraza, Principal + Creative Director at Brooklyn-based design firm Hyperakt, made very impressive use of the map to create impressive then-and-now comparisons of familiar NYC sites and sights on a page he titled “NYC From Above: 1924 vs. 2008.”

We’ll share a couple of examples below, but you really must check out the site. It’s quite compelling. The pictures below come from the site; the words are Peraza’s.

Yankee Stadium (lower right) was only one year old in 1924. The stadium seen at the upper left is the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants (now in San Francisco). The Polo Grounds originally opened in 1890 and had just been renovated in 1923. It was demolished in 1964.
The waterfront around the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges was crowded with ships in 1924.

We were especially pleased to finally get a sense of where the Polo Grounds were in relation to Yankee Stadium. We knew they were supposed to be close—we’d read that you could see the House that Ruth Built from the Polo Grounds—but we had no idea they were in such close proximity.

We encourage you to check out Peraza’s site and, especially, to make use of the map—but we warn you, it’s addictive.