By GARY FONVILLE
Forgotten NY correspondent
As I often do, I come across material for FNY by happenstance. I had just exited the Manhattan Bridge, upper level, made a right on Canal Street to get a picture for an upcoming entry that you’ll be seeing soon.. The Zenith sign caught my eye initially as I was crossing Canal Street, about to make a left turn onto Essex Street. It wasn’t until I got home when I noticed how ornately the building where the sign was had been designed. Upon research, I discovered the building was formerly the Loew’s Canal Street Theater. According to cinematreasures.org, the theater opened in September, 1927 and seated 2279 theatergoers. It operated as a theater until the 1960s or 1970s.
ABC was a store that apparently exclusively sold Zenith electronic products. During its heyday, Zenith was a revered name in the electronics industry, especially its televisions. How many of you older FNY fans remember its logo?
Zenith was started in Chicago by Ralph Matthews and Karl Hassel. The company’s most notable innovations were FM Stereo and the wireless TV remote control. Can you even imagine watching television without a remote? You mean you gotta get out of your chair to change a channel? In fact, before the ubiquitous remote control, network television programmers would introduce a new show by putting it after an established hit show because they knew people were too lazy to get up and change the channel.
The company did reasonably well until the onslaught of electronic products from Asia in the 1970s. Eventually, by 1990, the company was taken over by LG Electronics of Korea.
The sign really dates itself. I grew up, and many of you readers also did, during a time when black & white reigned supreme in the television landscape. Color television came around in the early 1950s and was prohibitively expensive. RCA was among the first to come out with color televisions and hit the market with a then astonishing price of close to $1000. In addition the televisions’ high price, there was a scarcity of color programs on television because not every program on television was broadcast in color, including the shows on the major networks — NBC, ABC or CBS.
However, bit by bit, color TV supplanted black & white as the standard mode of television broadcasting. By 1968 or so, everything on network television was in color. It also helped that prices of color TV slowly decreased to more affordable levels.
Also Zenith was known for manufacturing stereo hi-fi units. Some of you might remember those wooden console sets with the rich sound that included a phonograph and a AM/FM radio. And if you really had the bucks, you could get a unit that also included a color television. Back in the 1960s, those units could set you back about $800-$900.
Who woulda thunk back in the 1950s that we would eventually be carrying around phones that can be used as a television one day? Truly amazing.