Beach Frolics, 1921

click for much larger images

Oh dear, first I got waylaid with work , then technical difficulties. Herewith a quick post of my latest purchase: a double-sided page of beach snapshots. One thing that never fails to send a shiver through me is the sight of all that wet and sandy wool knit on people. How was it possible that beach-goers slogged thru surf and sand in 90+ degree heat covered in dark leggings and tunics? Recently I was in a vintage store that had 2 pristine late 1920s tank suits: one men's, one women's. Both were charcoal gray and sweater weight. The distinguishing feature was that one had daring cut-outs on either side— that was the men's. I actually think some of the women's tunics, rolled knee socks and lace up bathing shoes are rather appealing— as autumn day wear...

A few men in these photographs are wearing tank suits that say "Ocean Tide Baths." With a little googling I find that this might have been out at Coney Island.
Evidently several bathhouses along the boardwalk with salt water pools, lockers, steam rooms, and even dance areas, were big teenage hangouts. I've found a few scattered reminiscences specifically of Ocean Tide, from the early 1950s.
Many times we went to Ocean Tide pool. I can still smell the steam bath my mom made me go into with her. The maze of grey wooden lockers we changed in. The steam room was a ritual we did at the end of the day before we went to the enclosed dance area with the wooden floor.

The Bay Ridge Lindy...was popular among the boys from Bay Ridge who danced at Ocean Tide. They’d swing their arm and then bring it up to the shoulder and that was basically the difference from the ordinary lindy that we knew!

I remember dancing at Ocean Tide….jukebox…6 plays for 25 cents!
Back with more substantive stuff next post.


Edwin is getting careless

I read this New York Times piece about an incredible book project my friend Paul is in the midst of (that I did not know about) and I'm jealous. Briefly, Paul acquired over 300 report cards-cum-tracking documents dating from the 1910s through the 1930s from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls. Each dossier records physical measurements, family and ethnic facts, observational commentary, and has a small passport photo-like portrait. Each is a palimpsest of notations, crossings-out, updates and tantalizing glimpses of social and cultural history. Paul is deploying his obsessional researching capabilities and is attempting to track down the life paths indicated on these cards. How did the girls turn out? Where did they go? 

The cards are poignantly forward-looking (this girl has these promising traits, she can become X) yet at the same time the modern viewer looks back on them as fossil records of a long ago time. The journeys they portend are already finished—whatever the girls were to have become either came to fruition or not. And surely in virtually all cases, the "girls" are already dead.

The article made me think of my own collection of report cards— all of one student—which I picked up at a flea market several years ago. My cards, far less interesting or informative, are the spotty school records, 1911—1921, for Edwin Lawrence. He attended P.S 164 and, later, Manual Training High School (now John Jay High School, just a few blocks from where I live) in Brooklyn. The cards are sad documentation of Edwin's slide from A's and B's in elementary school to his dismal showing in high school. Racking up 40's and 50's, failing hygiene, what on earth went wrong with this kid? His one shining moment appeared to be a strikingly incongruous 90 in music one semester. Perhaps if he had guidance, music might have led him out of his desultory adolescence.


au courant, 1938

cover by AM Cassandre
Mies van der Rohe, noir style. The "famous German architect" was making his first visit to America. "He says that we should no longer be slaves to hour furniture and trappings: they must serve us."
"modern French decorating fabrics" painted by Cassandre
"black crepe cocktail dress, full skirted for the rhumba" shown with "gold and diamond cactus leaves" and fishnet stockings. The Surrealist hi-jinx in this photo was created by George Platt Lynes

"The amazing penthouse terrace of Carlos de Beistegui" sits atop his apartment built by Le Corbusier
"Lelong's rampage of color." Brown velvet skirt, red sash, green top and yellow bolero—with b/w images how am I to know if this is an abomination or an ingenious expansion of the boundaries of taste?
above and below, some fashion images with a surprisingly modern edge. Those crazy Steampunk goggles the gal has on are called "Deauville blinkers" in the copy
I've found myself in possession of a February 1938 issue of Harper's Bazaar (this was a special fabric and decoration issue of the magazine) for a project I'm working on, and its quite an eye-opener. I've posted a couple times on my preference for the days when fashion magazines used more drawing and painting (and less celebrity-mongering)—and this particular issue has a fluid mix of art and photography. That's a Cassandre cover at top and another painting of his illustrating featured decorator's fabrics. Many photographs by George Platt Lynes add to the Surrealist sensibility that makes its way into the magazine. 

I like the editorial tone: there's a madcap, determined joie de vivre about it. I cant help hearing Myrna Loy as I'm reading. There's an edition of the famous Diana Vreeland column "Why Don't You..." where she tosses off suggestions like having "Vertes of Paris paint you the gayest possible fire-screen." And a feature article on the Surrealism-inflected Beistegui residence in Paris coos about the "modern Fantastic" and "glorious hodgepodge" in rapturous prose. This, of course as the Depression dragged into its 9th or so year.

Random observations:
• It is interesting to see images that are noticeably "fashion-forward." For instance, I can see the 1940s from that "rhumba dress" above. Then, mixed in are plenty of advertisements and lesser fashion features that have a flowing silhouette lingering from earlier in the decade.
• Its disconcerting for the modern viewer to look at b/w images of fashion and have to read about the riot of color these outfits are recommending (see Lelong dress above). How do I know if this is an abomination or an ingenious expansion of the boundaries of taste?  That said, its even more impossible for the modern eye to interpret the stylistic merits and purchase-worthiness of shoes from a drawing.


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