Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 vintage postcards from the central United States

Happy Saturday! Here are five 20th century postcards from the central United States, most of which feature buildings or streetscapes.

1. World's Only Corn Palace

Ever hear of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota? Here it is, in its blazing evening glory, in this undated postcard.1

The caption on the back of the postcard states:
"One of the most unusual buildings in the world. Redecorated annually at a cost of over $10,000.00 with natural Colored Corn and Grasses. Open free to visitors."
Some more history, from Wikipedia:
  • The original Mitchell Corn Palace (known as "The Corn Belt Exposition") was a wooden "castle" structure built in 1892. The Corn Palace was rebuilt in 1905 and again in 1921. The modern Moorish domes and minarets were added in 1937.
  • The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme, and it costs $130,000 annually to decorate the Corn Palace (substantially higher than the figure of $10,000 cited on the postcard).
  • The palace hosts basketball games, the local high school prom, trade shows, staged entertainment, a rodeo, a polka festival, and the Shriner's Circus. It is home to the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers and the Mitchell High School Kernels basketball teams.2

Here's a link to a neat photo of the Corn Palace in 1907. The prominent swastika featured did not, of course, yet have a stigma associated with it.

If you can't get enough of the Corn Palace, it has a live webcam that you can watch all day long.

2. The Stevens Hotel and Michigan Avenue

This postcard itself was mailed and postmarked in 1951, but the black-and-white photograph of Chicago is obviously much older than that, given the look of the vehicles on busy Michigan Avenue.

The Stevens Hotel is now the Hilton Chicago and has a long history filled with numerous ownership changes. According to this 2008 article, the hotel has housed every president of the United States since its opening in 1927.

Some interesting historical tidbits about the hotel:
  • Ernest James Stevens, who served as a developer of the hotel, is the father of former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens.
  • When the hotel opened in 1927, it had its own bowling alley, barber shop, rooftop miniature golf course, movie theater, ice cream shop, and drug store.
  • The Great Depression ruined the Stevens family, and the hotel went bankrupt.
  • In 1942 the U.S. Army purchased the Stevens Hotel for use as barracks and classrooms for the Army Air Force during World War II.
  • In Bernard Malamud's novel "The Natural," Harriet Bird shoots Roy Hobbs in a room at the Stevens Hotel.

3. South Burdick Street in Kalamazoo

Here's one you need to magnify on your screen, because there's so much cool stuff to look at in this vintage snapshot of Kalamazoo, Michigan.3

I see signs for Nobil Shoes, Florsheim Shoes, Woolworth's and W.T. Grant.

This postcard was mailed in July 1960 with a 3¢ stamp. It was published by the Water Wonderland Card Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a Mirro-Krome card by H.S. Crocker Co. of Chicago.

4. Amarillo Texas Pioneers

This unused postcard is a bit of a mystery. The front features the black-and-white photo shown above.

The text on the back simply states: "Amarillo Texas Pioneers - to New York Worlds Fair."

My educated guess is that it refers to 1964 New York World's Fair, and not the 1939 New York World's Fair. The look of the partial vehicle that can be seen on the left clinches it for me.4

Here's a closer look at the four people in the center of the photograph...

5. Maple Hill Motel in Cadillac, Michigan

This postcard, which was mailed and postmarked in 1967, has an AAA logo on the back and the following text:
Cadillac, Michigan
U.S. 131 South
Next door to State Police Post.5 Within one block of two restaurants and only two blocks from Cadillac Square Shopping Center. 20 ultra modern units - carpeted - ceramic tile showers. T.V. and phone in every room. Individually controlled hot water heat. 250 ft. from highway. Beautifully illuminated fountain. For reservation write or call Area 616 - 775-5267.

Your hosts - Eugene and Marion Schermerhorn6

I cannot find any evidence that the Maple Hill Motel or its illuminated fountain still exist. Can anyone in the Cadillac area confirm this or provide more information?

1. The Corn Palace postcard features a photograph by Dorothy Prather, was published by Dan Grigg Enterprises and was printed by Dexter Press of West Nyack, New York.
2. The Kernels is one of the best high school nicknames I've ever heard. And we have some good ones here in southcentral Pennsylvania, including Canners, Steamrollers (Rollers), Polar Bears, Thunderbolts and Shamrocks.
3. Fun fact: The family of New York Yankees all-star Derek Jeter moved to Kalamazoo when he was 4 years old and he is a graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School.
4. Also, there are a number of eBay listings for postcards similar to this one, and those listings all refer to the item as being connected to the 1964 New York World's Fair.
5. It's interesting that you would tout your proximity to State Police in your postcard advertisement.
6. I doubt this photo pictures the same Marion Schermerhorn, but it would be really cool if it was indeed the same woman mentioned on the postcard.

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