Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The 1930 Schrafft's Restaurant Building - 2131 Broadway

A flagpole originally sprouted from the center of the parapet.
James A. Frame purchased the vacant plot of land at No. 2131 Broadway, between 74th and 75th Streets from millionaire real estate operator Amos E. Eno in 1899.  He erected a seven-story apartment building on the site, the Avonmore.

At the time Frank G. Shattuck had been operating an ice cream and candy store on Broadway, opposite the New York Herald Building.  The candies were made by W. Schraftt & Sons of Boston.  In 1906 he opened a store in Syracuse, New York and another at Broadway and 34th Street.  The same year he formally joined forces with George and William Schrafft, sons of the candy firm's founder, and incorporated the Frank G. Shattuck Company.

The business expanded from ice cream and candy into the restaurant business.  The New York Times later said "Remembering the neatness and cleanliness of his mother's farm kitchen and also some of the bad meals he had eaten in restaurants while a traveling man, [Shattuck] insisted upon cleanliness and quality as cardinal virtues in his organization.  The Schraftt stores prospered and others were opened in rapid succession."

In 1929 the Shattuck and Schrafft firms merged, with Frank Shattuck becoming chairman.   That same year Shattuck purchased the Avondale apartment building as the site of the seventeenth Schrafft's restaurant in the New York City area.

The Avondale was demolished and architect Charles E. Birge filed plans for a two-story structure to house a "store and tea room."  Completed within the year, the ground floor was faced in polished black marble, typical of the Art Moderne storefronts of the period.   A department store type marquee (decidedly not Art Moderne) that stretched to the curb announced the restaurant's name in bronze lettering.  There was no shortage of entrances.  The main doorway below the marquee was flanked by two arcade style entrances (for the soda fountain and candy store) and at the far ends were two more doorways, presumably emergency exits for the upper level and the dining room.

photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The stone-faced second floor held three sets of grouped openings.  Bronze anchors held the marquee supports.  Each window was separated from its neighbor by a black marble-paneled pilaster and boasted a leaded glass transom, their style more expected in a World War I building than one of 1929.  Two equally anachronistic bas relief busts, which hearkened to the Vienna Succession movement of more than a decade earlier, sat above the end windows.  A bandcourse of stylized waves and palmettes ran below the scalloped parapet.

As opening day neared an advertisement boasted "Every new Schafft's marks a step ahead.  Each new store we try to make a little finer than the preceding one.  This one on Broadway near 74th Street is the newest--therefore it's just a bit more artistic, just a bit more inviting than anything we have done before."

On the first floor were the soda fountain, "candy department," bakery counter and tea room (which was decorated in "Empire style").  The second floor held the two separate dining rooms which the ad deemed "unusually distinctive."  One took the form of "a lovely Italian garden that combines the beauties of an outdoor setting with the quiet and comfort of indoors."  The other was Spanish in decor, with "gay Castilian colors and flashing mirrors."

The Italian room featured a frescoed ceiling, wall murals, and an overhanging trellis.  The leaded transoms are visible over the windows.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Patrons were offered "club breakfasts," luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner.  With their finances strapped by the Great Depression, many found the "special family dinner" in the Italian room affordable at $1.50--about $23 today.

The Schraff's advertisement advised, "But, to see the store at its best, you must drop in after the theater and mingle with the many knowing New Yorkers who find it very much the place to go for late suppers."  It was a bold pronouncement, considering that the restaurant had not yet opened.

The restaurant opened on May 27, 1930 with a benefit for the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York.  The New York Sun reported that the women's division of the group "helps today to inaugurate the latest addition to the chain of Schrafft's shops...Members of the junior league of the division act as hostesses at the new restaurant."  A quarter of the day's proceeds was donated to the charity.

In 1932 the price of the popular $1.50 dinner was reduced; this ad reminding husbands that it would "save the housewife hours or marketing, planning and preparation!"  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 23, 1932
The restaurant was a popular spot for group dinners and luncheons.  Newspapers routinely reported on events like the annual dinner of the Linnaean Society of New York, and the bridge tea of The Mothers' Association, Inc. of the West End Synagogue on May 17, 1934.

In 1931 the Shattuck concern sold the property to the Mine Realty Corp. while it continued to lease the space from the new owner.  It was a deal that caused problems four years later.   

In 1935 Schrafft's moved out, essentially leaving its landlord a vacant shell.  Mine Realty Corp. took the chain to court claiming significant damages after Schrafft's removed "all of the wall panelling, the electric fixtures, the cooling and ventilating system."  According to the suit the firm left "nothing but the walls and floor of the building," making it "or little or no value to the plaintiff." 

The Mines Realty attorneys argued that the bronze Schrafft's lettering was "integral with the building."  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of new York
Mine Realty Corporation found a new tenant for the stripped-out space in May 1936.  Ida Chinitz Arbuse signed a 21-year lease.   The wife of Dr. David Abruse, she owned another popular restaurant, the Tip Toe Inn, a Jewish eatery on the corner of Broadway and 86th Street founded by her father, Aaron Chinitz.  

The remodeled space became the C. & L. Restaurant which, as had been the case with Schrafft's, would be the scene of group dinners and luncheons for decades.  On October 1, 1942 the PM Daily advised "The C & L, 2131 Broadway at 75th St., has private dining rooms to accommodate parties numbering from 25 to 300.  Minimum price for well-prepared Jewish meals is 75c at noon, $1.25 at night.  A phonograph or Muzak is available for dancing."

Although Ida Arbuse died in June 1957, the C & L Restaurant continued to operate for years.  Then, in 1972, a renovation resulted in a D'Agostino's grocery store on the first floor and a meeting hall on the second.  

In his article in The New York Times on January 13, 1973 Frank J. Prial profiled three "hard-core bingo players," sisters-in-law Gertrude and Beatrice Bachrack, and Sarah Smith.  They were on hand, he said, "for the opening of the city's newest bingo hall at 2131 Broadway."  

"The place is known as Broadway Hall, Inc," said the article, "and it is where it is because there are so many elderly people in the neighborhood."  Offering air-conditioning and a snack bar, the space above the grocery store could accommodate 350 Bingo players.  When it opened at 12:30 on the afternoon of January 12 patrons had been waiting outside for two and a half hours.

Broadway Hall was replaced by a Jack LaLanne fitness club in 1982.  Its two-day grand opening on October 2nd and 3rd featured appearances by soap opera stars John Gabriel of "Ryan's Hope" and Kristen Meadows of "One Life to Live."  Also on hand were players from the New York Mets, Yankees, Rangers and Jets.  The highly-publicized open house "champagne cocktail party" offered refreshments, prizes and demonstrations of "aerobics, nautilus circuit training, body building and more!"

The fitness club remained for years above the grocery store.  In 2004 the ground floor was remodeled, now home to Fairway Market, and the second floor became a related restaurant.  Then on June 10, 2019 The Times's food columnist Florence Fabricant reported "Fairway Market has renovated the second floor of its Upper West Side flagship and added a well-equipped cooking school."

The once sleek restaurant building is rather beleaguered today.  The marble faced ground floor with its bronze marquee is long gone, and the stone of the second floor is heavily pitted and worn.  Only the carved busts and decorative bandcourse gives the passerby a hint of its former smart appearance.

photographs by the author

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