Saturday, November 10, 2018

Then and Now: Wienerwald at 48th and Broadway, Manhattan

Then and Now: Broadway at 48th Street, Manhattan

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
A 1970s postcard showing the old Ramada Inn location at 48th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

I came across the above hotel postcard from the 1970s and noticed something oddly familiar about it. I looked closer and then looked at the description on the back of the card and it hit me: Wienerwald!

Yes, that's a green Wienerwald sign on the front of this Ramada Inn card. Anyone who has been following this blog knows that in two previous posts I have identified two Wienerwald locations: at Broadway and 51st Street and in Times Square at 51st Street. It also turns out that there was a third Wienerwald location, and here it is shown in the postcard: at 790 Eighth Avenue at 48th Street.

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
This blurb from the 26 May 1980 New York magazine was my Rosetta Stone in unlocking the locations of the three New York City Wienerwald Restaurants.

What is Wienerwald? It is a chain of Austrian chicken restaurants. Yes, it says "Wiener" in the name, but the restaurant, as far as I know, did not, in fact, serve wieners. It was just an early chain franchise restaurant, founded in 1950, that was vaguely along the lines of KFC and served chicken. At its height in 1982, Wienerwald had 880 or so locations in the United States, but that is when it filed for bankruptcy protection and shuttered all of its United States restaurants. It was a cautionary tale in expanding too far and too fast and getting overstretched. Wienerwald still exists in its native Austria but is long gone from the United States. The word "Wienerwald," incidentally, has nothing at all to do with wieners and actually means "Vienna Woods."

Having identified the location of the last Wienerwald, I decided to do a comparison of Broadway at 48th Street from the 1970s to the present day. I am fascinated by the business strategy of placing three franchise locations in Manhattan within a few blocks of each other as if Time Square was the only suitable restaurant location in the entirety of New York City. The local Wienerwald subsidiary was formed using this address in 1970, and it went inactive in 1993.

The 48th Street Wienerwald was located in the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, which apparently was a Ramada Inn at that time. It was located at 790 Eighth Avenue, New York, New York. The building was erected in 1962, has 14 stories, and is still there. I have placed below a recent shot taken from Google Street View of the building from approximately the same orientation as the postcard.

Broadway at 48th Street in 2018
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

As can be seen from the comparison, very little has changed at the corner of 48th Street and 8th Avenue from the 1970s to 2018. The Wienerwald location has become a touristy gift store, while the hotel remains in use as a hotel. There now is a large tree out front of the old Wienerwald location, part of a long-term New York City project to inject some greenery into the city. The site is a testament to how little actually changes in New York decade after decade. The same building, properly maintained, will likely be there for another 50 years, and, while the Wienerwald Restaurants of the world will come and go, the ground-level stores will continue to cater to the needs of visitors.

Thank you for visiting this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series on the evolution of street scenes.

Broadway at 48th Street in 2018
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


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