Friday, June 23, 2006

Save the 104th Street Automat! Designation Hearing on Tuesday, June 27

We have just learned that the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 27 to consider the designation of the former Horn and Hardart Automat at 2710-14 Broadway and West 104th Street.

Make your voice heard! This is a chance to make amends for the devastating loss of the fantastic Art Moderne H&H automat at 104 West 57th Street. Please plan to attend Tuesday’s hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission located at 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., but check the Commission’s website ( for the most up-to-date information. If you cannot attend the hearing, show your support by emailing Robert Tierney, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, at or write a letter of support addressed to: Hon. Robert Tierney, Chair, Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10007. Please carbon-copy LANDMARK WEST! on any correspondence you send.

Architectural Significance: This building, built in 1930 and designed by F.P. Flatt and Brothers, is an intact surviving example of automat architecture at its best and is most noticeable for its impressive polychrome terracotta Art Deco ornament. The façade features joyous Art Deco floral patterns and stylized versions of ancient Mayan motifs. As with many other automats, its iconic façade centers around a monumental, glassy portal that was designed to expose the shiny, mechanized interiors—a brilliant case of architecture as advertisement.

Automats were once a ubiquitous building type in Manhattan, but the 104th Street Automat is one of the few in Manhattan that survive. Among countless other losses is the former Horn and Hardart automat at 104 West 57th Street that is currently being demolished despite preservation advocacy efforts dating back to the early 1980s. The characteristic streamlined facades of automats offer variety to the streetscape as well as tell an important part of our city’s history, but their low scale threatens their survival and makes them vulnerable to redevelopment.

Cultural Significance: For over six decades the Horn & Hardart Automat chain was known for its inexpensive, consistent meals that could be dispensed in seconds. After opening their first lunchroom in 1888, Joseph V. Horn and Frank Hardart were inspired by a visit to Berlin’s famous waiterless restaurant and opened their first automat in Philadelphia in 1902. The opening of a large automat in Times Square in 1912 catapulted the business to national fame. At
its height, Horn and Hardart served as many as 800,000 meals a day, although it only operated automats in Philadelphia, New York and several cities in New Jersey. Horn & Hardart automats became so iconic that they were referred to in both plays and movies. Business began to slow down during the 1960s, resulting in the closure of numerous automats. A single automat managed to survive for another three decades but closed in 1991.

The automat remains vividly alive in today’s culture through nostalgic books, websites and recipes, but sadly only a tiny handful of original structures survive.