Preserving Local History Through Postcards
by Michael Perlman
Jan 13, 2021 | 687 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Postcards date back to 1893, and a good percentage featuring handwritten messages and vintage stamps still exist and can be found at postcard shows, estate sales, or maybe in your dusty attic or basement.

They bring local and international history, art, culture, and architecture to life, and document nearly every subject.

Deltiology is the collection and study of postcards. The name is derived from the Greek word “deltion,” which means writing tablet or letter.

The term was coined in 1945 by Professor Randall Rhoades of Ashland, Ohio. The following year, the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City was founded, and it holds the distinction as the oldest continuously run postcard club in the United States.

Forest Hills was founded in 1906 and Rego Park was founded in 1923. Since the golden age of picture postcards is considered to fall between 1898 and 1913, the early days of Forest Hills are documented in much greater capacity than Rego Park.

Other Queens neighborhoods that were developed first include Flushing and Jamaica, and are therefore depicted in more postcards. The highest quantity of New York City’s postcards spotlight Manhattan, followed by Brooklyn.

In 1903, Eastman Kodak created a snapshot postcard camera. Amateur photographers would submit photos to a postcard company, where they would be adapted.

Alan Petrulis of the Metropolitan Postcard Club explained that lithography was considered the best way to reproduce gradated tones prior to the use of photo emulsions.

“This process was largely confined to artists until the mechanized lithography press was brought to the United States in 1868,” he said. “This method and its various incarnations have dominated the printing of postcards from the chromolithographs of the 19th century to offset printing today.”

The history and terminology associated with how a postcard is published is extensive, but it is important to note that a great quantity were hand colored. But as costs increased, hand-coloring was phased out after the 1930s.

Using printed images was a more economical method, and for postcards it was a common practice in 1902.

Forest Hills postcards highlight major intersections, such as Continental Avenue and Austin Street in the 1940s, as well as Queens Boulevard as a narrow dirt road with frame houses circa 1913, prior to its widening a decade later.

A few feature a bird’s-eye view from the LIRR, which capture the earliest signs of low-rise development in perspective with empty lots. A hand-colored white border postcard depicts Metropolitan Avenue’s long-forgotten trolley line.

Less common streets are also depicted on early 20th century hand-colored or real photo postcards and highlight their original names, such as Windsor Place (71st Road), DeKoven Street (72nd Road), Roman Avenue (72nd Avenue), and Colonial Avenue (110th Street).

DeKoven Street featured gas street lamps and freestanding Tudor homes near Austin Street, which were demolished in recent years.

Postcards have also assisted in the restoration of the facades of historic apartment buildings.

The Tudor style, a signature aspect of Forest Hills, is evident in postcards that depict buildings shortly after their completion. One example is the “New Harding Court Apartments, Forest Hills, LI, NY,” #279, a circa-1930 white border postcard published by the Miller Art Co. of Brooklyn.

A Holland House postcard with nearby empty lots and landscaped sidewalks was published by The Albertype Co. of Brooklyn, and typifies a postcard that features a descriptive caption: “Offers luxurious apartments in keeping with the charm and beauty of this exclusive suburb at surprisingly reasonable rentals. 2 to 7 rooms, 1 to 3 baths, with the latest in modern equipment. Maid, valet, and elevator service. Ten-story apartment 14 minutes from the Pennsylvania Station (the original) with all the advantages of a Park Avenue residence.”

Some pharmacies sold postcards for a few cents, which may now be sold to collectors for a few dollars to over $100 per card. The Chemist Shop in Forest Hills sold views of the Forest Hills Inn, one of the neighborhood’s most historic buildings.

Postcards can document how a street or building evolved over time, inspiring a collector to find all associated views published by varying companies.

The circa-1928 “Business Section” colorized white border postcard by Miller Art Co. features Continental Avenue and Austin Street towards Queens Boulevard, and the same view became the subject of a real photo postcard by the well-respected photographer Alfred Mainzer in 1949.

While the Tudor buildings remain intact, the major difference was a change in businesses. In one of the earliest Tudor commercial buildings on Austin Street, a collector spots Garcia Grande Sporting Goods & Cigars, which would later become Cushman’s Bakery, a chain that was founded by Arthur Cushman in 1855. Today it is Cohen’s Optical.

Neighborhood movie theaters are increasingly an endangered species, but in postcards they are thriving, such as in the colorized white border postcard by Miller Art Co. featuring the ornate Forest Hills Theatre façade with 1920s cars parked at an angle.

The enthusiast spots its marquee boasting “Through The Dark” starring Colleen Moore, a 1924 silent mystery and crime drama.

Small business facades and interiors often appeared very inviting in postcards to welcome patrons. Advertising postcards for some of the most popular Forest Hills restaurants included a linen era view of Topsy’s at 112-01 Queens Boulevard, which was famous for southern fried chicken.

Others include a chrome view of Mama Sorrento, a most distinguished Italian restaurant and pizzeria at 107-02 Queens Boulevard, and a linen-era view of The Ideal Spot on Burns Street and Yellowstone Boulevard, where patrons would “Dine and dance in comfort” near a bandshell with “Always a cool breeze” under the trees.

Rego Park postcards are a novelty within themselves, and document cultural establishments that were at the center of social life. One features a colorful sketch of Howard Johnson’s at 95-25 Queens Boulevard, which is advertised as “The largest roadside restaurant in the United States.”

A linen postcard of Lost Battalion Hall at 93-29 Queens Boulevard was designed by Harry Baumann as part of a series. A Rego Park Bowling Lanes linen postcard by Ace Calendar & Specialty Co. is a representation of how bowling alleys dotted the neighborhood, but now are largely a lost chapter of Americana.

A unique circa 1951 real photo postcard by Alfred Mainzer depicts Queens Boulevard looking toward the Art Deco storefronts of 63rd Drive and nearby six-story apartment buildings.

Several linen views exist of The Boulevard at 94-05 Queens Boulevard, one of the longest operating entertainment and dining establishments that attracted well-known singers and big bands.
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