AUTOMAT, Midtown

by Kevin Walsh

I have pointed out this particular painted ad for the long-lost Automat before, but it’s been awhile. While walking down 7th Avenue all these years ago, I happened to look up at at the parking structure at the corner of West 38th and 7th.  This structure was supposed to be used for all the people who enjoyed throwing their money away at the nearby OTB.  Since the OTB is now a thing of the past, it is now used for regular parking.  On the roof, the spots are reserved for all the monthly cars who like to keep their Mercedes and BMW’s away from the riffraff.  It is up there, where we see an ever interesting ad for a basically extinct thing of the past: the Automat. This sign advertised an Automat that could be found up the block at Broadway and West 38th.

The Automat was first brought to the US in 1902 by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, who opened up their first restaurant in Philadelphia.  New York City got their first Automat 10 years later in 1912.  Sadly, the Automat has been but a distant memory for over 30 years, with the last Horn & Hardart, at 3rd Avenue and East 42nd Street, closing in 1991.  There was a brief revival on St. Marks Place, but that only existed for a couple of years. At the Automat, you put your coins in a slot and doors would unlock, accessing you to your selection. Bugs Bunny demonstrated how it worked in “A Hare Grows in Manhattan.”

In 2022, filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz put together a reminiscence of the Automat featuring Mel Brooks and other personalities who remember the Automat.

Part of today’s text is by David Silver.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.

1/24/23

12 comments

Peter January 24, 2023 - 11:52 pm

And there’s a quick view of the Third Avenue El in Bugs Bunny!

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Ed greenberg January 26, 2023 - 12:10 am

The documentary about the automat is now available on YouTube at a rental price of a $1.99. there’s a purchase price too but I don’t recall it.

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Andy January 25, 2023 - 12:25 am

Bugs Bunny’s voice was Mel Blanc, known as the “Man of a Thousand Voices.” He voiced many cartoon characters besides Bugs – Porky Pig and Daffy Duck are two other memorable Mel Blanc characters. Blanc also was a regular on Jack Benny’s TV show where he played Sy the Mexican. The skits would now be politically incorrect, but were absolutely hilarious (“Sy”, “Si”, “Sue”). YouTube has preserved many of the skits.

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redstaterefugee January 25, 2023 - 12:37 pm

Andy: Mel Blanc owned a vacation property in Big Bear Lake, CA. While vacationing there in 2014 I was on a tour boat; as we passed along the shoreline the guide pointed it out. But wait, there’s more. The guide announced that Blanc’s son was in residence that day. In fact, he was in the backyard & on cue, he voiced his father’s entire catalog of characters (for no additional charge!). It was one of our better road trips.

BTW: Horn & Hardart also had neighborhood retail stores in the outer boroughs. For a while, they were a less costly alternative to all those ethnic delicatessens that were so common decades ago.

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Jeffery W Wright January 25, 2023 - 8:24 am

The Horn and Hardart Automat is part of the American psyche. Unfortunately, it is gone. Slideshow Director Alan G. Wasenius takes a look back to when it was king of the fast food restaurants. You will be taken from its beginnings in 1902 until that last Automat closed, and beyond.

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Peter Hatzioannides January 25, 2023 - 9:29 am

Yes we know all about Mel but what does it have to do with the page ?

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Kevin Walsh January 25, 2023 - 11:53 pm

You can talk about what you want here, within sane limits.

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Pete January 25, 2023 - 11:23 am

As a kid in NYC one of my favorite places to eat was the Automat. I would request to go there on my birthday. The other place me and my siblings liked was the Hamburger Train. My father called both concepts gimmicks.

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John January 25, 2023 - 3:10 pm

I saw the documentary on TCM a couple of months ago. The first showing according to TCM.

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christopher thomas brady January 25, 2023 - 4:35 pm

The first time I ever saw a security guard was at the Automat in Times Sq. when I was 11
(The same one my Dad worked in during the war) I couldnt figure out just what he was.
Was he cop wearing a new style of uniform?And if so what was he doing standing at the
entrance to the Automat?Whatever,his eyes never left us the moment we walked in the
place so we gave up and left.He knew we were up to some kind of delinquency..So now what?
How about we try that new place downtown?OK.lets go.

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Renée January 26, 2023 - 1:43 pm

Be sure to read the article linked in red above, titled “a reminiscence of the Automat”. I highly recommend that
documentary! It’s historically accurate and very funny, and the personal reminiscences of major celebrities are quite touching. The Automat was a fact of life for many New Yorkers, as iconic as the Brooklyn Bridge or the
Staten Island Ferry: a democratic and original, genius idea that appealed to everyone of all classes. Many
thanks for this one, Kevin!

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Allan Berlin January 26, 2023 - 2:16 pm

I, too, saw that documentary on TCM. I hope they show it again.

I have kind of fond memories of eating at the automat ever so often. I loved getting hot chocolate from the lion-head spout.

One thing always amazed me – you would give the woman in the change booth a quarter, half dollar coin, or dollar bill and she’d give you back the correct amount in nickels without skipping a beat.

Reply

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