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It’s always fun to look back at the things we took for granted, the things we thought were omnipresent and would never change.

It’s also fun to apply hindsight to hubris … to burst the bubbles of people or organizations that blew their own horns a little too loudly.

So this week we’ll do a little of both.

Specifically, we’ll sit down in the family room of 1107 Hope Street, where the TV was, and watch as a well-known American institution pats itself on the back for a quarter-century of success.

Probably no one involved — from the stars, to the producers, to the viewers in family rooms like my grandpa’s — had any inkling that the institution being celebrated had fewer than a dozen years of Life left.

No, that’s not a typo:

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March 2, 1961.

Strictly speaking, Life magazine wasn’t 25 years old in the spring of 1961; it was 78.

The original Life (I steal liberally over the next few paragraphs from Wiki) was founded in 1883 as a humor and general interest magazine. Apparently it influenced The New Yorker, which promptly ate its lunch.

Life had been struggling for years when Henry Luce bought the name in 1936, relaunching it as a weekly newsmagazine with a focus on photography. Sparing no expense on capital letters, Luce described the revamped magazine as “THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD” in the prospectus he prepared before its launch.

As we all know, Luce’s vision paid off. The magazine was selling a million copies a week just four months after launch. Its coverage of World War II, as well as copy contributions from well-known authors, further established Life as near-required American weekly reading.

As TV caught on in the 1950s, Life’s circulation began to drop. Americans could now see the kinds of images in which Life specialized every day in the comfort of their living rooms.

I cannot imagine, then, that Henry Luce was entirely happy about handing cash to a TV network — NBC, as it happened — to host a celebration of Life’s quarter-century as a photo magazine. (News articles from the time describe the 90-minute show as being “sponsored” by Life; NBC didn’t independently¬† decide that the subject was worth covering.)

But, TV is a visual medium; and Life was a predominantly visual magazine; plus there was a story the company wanted to tell. So in the end, Luce’s desire to celebrate his success won out over his reluctance to pay a competitor for America’s eyeballs.

Did they hire Bob Hope? Of course they hired Bob Hope. Heck, they even got President John F. Kennedy to record remarks for the occasion. Since I can’t find a video of the show online, Kennedy’s remarks appear to be the only scrap of “25 Years of Life” that is available on the Internet 55 years later.

I take that back: Another remnant of the show is available on eBay if you care to pay for it. Life commemorated the event by pressing a vinyl record with musical and comedic highlights of the show. I’d love to know how many they pressed, how many they sold, and how many were ever spun more than once. Something tells me handsome copies can still be found at your local flea market.

A flea market — rather than a newsstand — is also your best bet for copies of Life. The magazine ceased weekly publication at the end of 1972. Life changed, and left Life behind.

I can’t say whether my grandpa watched “25 Years of Life” because he was genuinely interested, or because Time Inc. company men were expected to. Some of both, most likely.

Either way, I wonder whether he questioned at any point in those 90 minutes why people would put up with still photographs when they could watch them move.

Last time around, I wrote about a Stamford institution that’s changed form a few times, and mentioned a bunch of others that are no longer around in any way.

It occurs to me I’ve never really written in depth about Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs, my grandfather’s place of employment from the 1940s through 1970.

I’ve mentioned it a whole bunch of times, of course. I’ve even run a picture of my grandpa at his drafting board, dressed stolidly in buttoned-down ’50s/’60s corporate fashion.

Nov. 13, 1970: Jobless.

He had dark hair once. Whaddya know.

But I’ve never really said much about the place except that my grandpa worked there.

So, as part of my bi-weekly barrel-scrape, I’m going to spend some time finding out (and sharing) whatever I can about the Labs, with Blumenau family content wherever I can find a chance to work it in.

Where was it?

Oh, look! Blumenau family content:

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No, not my thumb. The sketch. My grandpa drew it. (I’m not sure when, though the formatting of the phone number suggests a certain window of time.)

So, yes. 835 Hope St., in the Springdale neighborhood of Stamford, Connecticut. Easily accessible from the Connecticut Turnpike to the south and the Merritt Parkway to the north. Located on an 18-acre parcel of land acquired by Time in the fall of 1945, according to the New York Times.

The labs were six-tenths of a mile from the Blumenau family homestead at 1107 Hope, which was located between Weed Hill and Camp avenues. Had it been marked on this map, the house would have been somewhere around the top of the Camp Avenue stoplight illustration.

It never hit home to me until now just how close the Labs really were to the family home. My grandfather would scarcely have been able to travel south on Hope Street without passing it; I wonder if it depressed him, after he was let go in 1970, to pass the building in his daily rounds, knowing he could not go in and reclaim his old drafting table.

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What did they do there?

The duties of the Springdale Labs included research and development into printing and papermaking, aimed at helping Henry Luce’s publishing empire serve its millions of readers as efficiently and thriftily as possible.

My grandfather’s journal is studded with references to specific (and, to me, thoroughly obscure) machinery used in the printing process.

Also among his papers is an article from an internal publication in summer 1963 that mentions his role in the design of a “jogger-stacker” — a machine to improve the speed and productivity of magazine printing. I imagine that was pretty well representative of the sort of work that went on at the Springdale Labs.

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Click to view larger, if you want.

Apparently, as early as the ’50s, the Springdale Labs were also home to experiments in computerized subscription listing. The techies in the crowd — hi, Dad and Eric! — might get a kick out of this 1959 article about that research.

If nothing else, it’s fun for its use of cheesy IGY-era science-speak: “There exists today in Springdale a completed and working engineering prototype of a large direct-access memory.” Yes, my friends, future events such as this may affect you in the future!

How many people worked there?

I count about 90 in this industrial directory listing, which dates to about 1950. I’m not sure that’s a definitive measure, though.

What happened to it?

The Interwebs do not tell me exactly when the Springdale Labs closed, though online tidbits suggest the entire facility might not have outlasted my grandpa for very long.

A Connecticut state business record indicates a company called Transact International was doing business at 835 Hope St. in the summer of 1971. A somewhat jumbled classified ad from the Bridgeport, Conn., Post in May 1973 suggests a company called Peabody Engineering was also operating at the Labs’ old address.

Jumping ahead a few years, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission newsletter from April 1981 mentions a company called Gram Industries established at 835 Hope St. and selling shares of stock. Transact was still around at that time as well, judging from this May 1981 help-wanted ad in the Norwalk Hour newspaper. (Transact is described as “an air cargo handling equipment manufacturer.”)

Still other jumbled or secondhand Internet info suggests Xerox had operations there for a time.

And, while a bunch of links didn’t seem to want to work for me, it also seems the old Labs property required some environmental cleanup (not tremendously surprising for an industrial site of its era). It appears on a list of sites in Fairfield County, Conn., that are or were candidates for federal cleanup.

(I apologize for the descent into vagueness. A local newspaper with a good searchable online news archive is a godsend. The Stamford Advocate, bless it, is not that.)

While I haven’t found an article that says as much, it appears that the former site of the Springdale Labs is now part of a multi-use redevelopment called River Bend Center. Compare their map to my grandpa’s and see if I’ve got my directions straight.

It looks all bright and shiny and hard-wired in ways the Springdale Labs never dreamed of. And I tend to doubt the Springdale Labs ever served General Tso’s chicken, as was on last week’s menu at the River Bend Center cafeteria.

No doubt River Bend Center will pass too, given enough years, and some other bright shiny place will spring up there where people go to take on the challenges of American moneymaking.

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One more image just for the hell of it. My thumb again. And, some sort of scanning machine developed at the Springdale Labs. Was it full of tubes, d’ya think?

I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.

Last week it was banks. In previous installments we’ve hit stores (like Gimbels and E.J. Korvette), movie theaters, churches, and too many restaurants to list.

I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.

Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.

(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)

While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.

This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.

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February 6, 1971. The expansion Buffalo Sabres, in their first season, are outperforming the established Detroit Red Wings.

My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.

As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.

The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.

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These pix of Rippowam High’s football team (I think they’re in dark) were taken by my other (maternal) grandpa. My Uncle T.J. is almost certainly on the field somewhere. Rippowam’s most famous football player is not pictured, as he was 12 at the time; he did not take the field for Rip until later in the Sixties.

Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.

(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)

In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.

But that didn’t last.

This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.

A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.

(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)

Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.

Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.

Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.

The winter storm that professional weather-promoters nicknamed Jonas dropped 26 inches of snow onto my back deck in a 24-hour period last month.

I know this for a fact because my grandfather helped me measure it.

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The storm was still going when I took this. I didn’t get a shot of the snow all the way up to 26 inches, but I like to think you will believe me.

I imagine many families have small “heirlooms” — items that are not formally handed down, but that make their way from house to house, find their small niche in life and drift comfortably along for years.

Things like potholders. Or those holder-things you put casserole dishes on when they’re fresh out of the oven, so they don’t scorch the table (their proper name escapes me.) Or modest two-level bookshelves. Or bottle openers. Or folding card tables topped with sticky vinyl.

Or, in this case, a yardstick.

I couldn’t tell you how it ended up in my hands. But pretty much since I moved out of dorms and into homes of my own, I’ve had the same yardstick.

It doesn’t get a lot of use for anything but snowstorms, so it stands a pretty good chance of getting passed on again … unlike my other grandpa’s novelty New York Football Giants bottle opener, whose NY logo has been worn to nothing over the course of thousands of beers.

But that’s a story for some other time.

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There is no Stamford Savings Bank any more. The institution still exists, but has been renamed First County Bank.

It doesn’t appear that the phone number on the yardstick was retained by any of First County’s 15 current branches, either, so don’t call it if you’re in the market for mortgage rates or certificates of deposit.

The actual piece of wood is not antique in any way, shape or form. I believe it dates to a specific window between May 1983 and April 1985.

The first date — if the Interwebs are correct — is when Stamford Savings Bank opened a new branch at 1110 Hope Street, in the Springdale neighborhood of Stamford, across the street from my grandparents’ house at 1107. (My cousin John, who is in the building trade in Stamford and who has shown up on this blog before, was apparently involved in the building’s construction.)

And the second date was when my grandparents, having sold the old home for demolition, moved out to start a new life in western New York.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street. The former Springdale Methodist Church, which I’ve recently been told is closing, is to the right.

I have no concrete proof that my grandpa did his banking at Stamford Savings, as his financial records are long gone.

But I’m fairly certain the yardstick came from him. The bank was across the street, after all. And in my dad’s words:

My folks strongly felt a part of Springdale, and if there was a branch in Springdale, would likely have put their money there.  Although that being said, I think both of your grandfathers were of the type that started a new checking account at the bank du jour to get the free toaster.

(D’oh! I could have been handed down a toaster. Wouldn’t’a helped me measure the snow last month, though.)

My grandpa was so close to some of his co-workers at Time Inc., they were on a last-name basis.

Or so I gather from today’s calendar entry, which has me pondering the curious ways in which grown men interact.

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January 15, 1970. The New York Rangers have a slim lead over Boston in the NHL’s Eastern Division.

This entry marks the second-to-last day of my grandfather’s 23-year employment at Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs. The following day, he packed up his desk and left forever. (He landed one final short-term job, then worked the last rat-race day of his life in mid-September.)

I am intrigued by the short list of colleagues who accompanied my grandpa to the Darien Holiday Inn for his going-away lunch.

I don’t know anything about them as people. Instead, I’m interested in my grandpa’s differing methods of presentation.

Al. D. (I cannot help but think of him as Al D. Sure!) and Charlie S. get first names, but Engel, Simonson, Sutter and Rice get last names.

Perhaps the guys with the first names were the real close friends and running buddies, and the guys (ladies?) with the last names were the boss types who were there because they were obligated to attend.

Or maybe the guys with the first names just had last names that were too complex to fit on the calendar. Al. D. might really have been Albertus Dinatatropolis, or something like that.

Whatever the possible explanation, I’m intrigued by the variation.

In my own corporate (and non-corporate) work experience, it’s been rare for me or anyone I know to refer to people generally by last name. Mostly the more convivial first name is used, or sometimes first and last to differentiate one Dave or Paul from another.

My memory of my dad’s corporate career says that his dinner-table conversations were a mix of first-and-last and just last names. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how that was classified — whether superiors got last names and peers got both names, or any such taxonomy. I suspect there was rhyme or reason, even subconscious, but I don’t know what it was.

And it appears that, left to his own devices, my grandpa was most apt to use last names alone.

Does this reflect the ongoing casualization of the American workforce over the decades? Will my kids’ generation refer to their co-workers simply using tiny electronic portraits? Emoji, even?

(Or will they hold home-based jobs that prevent them from forming any relationships at all with co-workers? Perhaps my grandkids won’t even know what co-workers are. It’s hard to have going-away lunches when you’re in Omaha and your partner is in Poughkeepsie. But I digress.)

Or, maybe this reflects a declining number of veterans in the workforce. Maybe the people who were roughly of my grandpa’s generation got used to using other peoples’ last names (rank permitting) while they were in Europe fighting World War II, and it stuck with them when they came back home. But now that every able-bodied boy isn’t enlisting, the method of address has changed.

(This is just a wild guess; it may be that those in the military address each other using altogether more creative things than their last names.)

Of course, the quirks of nomenclature go both ways. It would be interesting to know what Al, Charlie, Engel, Rice, Simonson and Sutter wrote on their own calendars.

Was it Bill’s Going-Away Lunch? Blumenau’s Going-Away Lunch?

The answers, alas, are under 46 years of dirty diapers in whatever landfill Stamford employed to stash its trash. My research capabilities do not extend quite that far.

And it does not matter to my grandfather, who has, in more ways than one, gone away.