Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Then and Now: Burbank, California

Burbank, California, in the late 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
A P-38 Lightning fighter left over from World War II takes off in the distance from the Hollywood Burbank Airport aka Bob Hope Airport (then Lockheed Air Terminal) as we drive down Maple Street. The P-38 fighter was retired from the US Air Force right around the time this film was made, in 1949.

Beautiful Suburban Burbank

One of late-night entertainer Johnny Carson's catchphrases was "somewhere in beautiful downtown Burbank," said in gest to convey the humble location of the studio where he filmed "The Tonight Show." Well, Johnny said that a lot closer in time to the late-1940s film that is the subject of our quick trip back in time than he was to us.

The past always seems a bit odd because it isn't familiar. But it was very familiar to the people seen in this brief drive through 1940s suburbia. Time marches on, Tempus fugit, and I am quite sure that our current gas-burners and McMansions will seem equally quaint to viewers in the year 2100. Here we take some scenes from Burbank ca. 1949 and compare them to the same locations recently.

Below is a beautifully restored version of some old footage that most likely was captured for background shots in motion pictures of the day.


Just for comparison, here is the original footage.

Original footage courtesy of Internet Archive.

To orient you, this is the location of our drive, marked by the red pointer on the map of Los Angeles.

Today's drive is in Los Angeles randommusings.filminspector.com
Location of the drive through Los Angeles (Google Street View).

Today's drive is done once and then repeated. The drive is split up into two parts, and then these two parts are repeated. That may sound confusing, but it's really not when watching the film. We are doing the same drive, which is interrupted once, over again starting about halfway through the film.

We cover mostly the same ground in each section of the drive, though the beginning and endpoints are slightly different.

Map of Los Angeles
Our first drive follows the blue/orange route from the lower right to the upper left (Source: Google Maps).

The first part of our drive is from Pepper Street down Victory Street and thence to Maple Street. It isn't a very long journey, only about half a mile according to Google Maps.

Map of Los Angeles
After the interruption, we turn around and begin from where we left off in the first drive and head south and then west If you combine these two route maps together, that is the drive - which is repeated in the second half of the film (Source: Google Maps).

The second part of the trip begins at our original endpoint at Maple and Pacific. We go down Maple down to Jeffries and stop between Ross and Valley Streets. This portion of the trip is only a bit longer than the first part. All told, in both parts of the drive, we cover barely over a mile. However, we get to see a nice slice of mid-century Americana along the way.

In a roundabout way, we are going from Pepper Street to Jeffries, with a detour up to West Pacific.

The second half of the film is the same trip again. It's not a very exciting film! But it is very interesting if you like seeing the past up close and personal.

Okay, let's compare some scenes.

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Our starting point at Victory Boulevard and Pepper Street in the late 1940s.

21 October 2021
The area was still being built up in the 1940s, but you'll really have to hunt down empty lots now.

Burbank recently randommusings.filminspector.com
Victory Boulevard and Pepper Street in February 2021 (Google Street View).

While, obviously, the scene is different in 2021, I look for similarities. It isn't difficult to see some. For instance, the street corner is still rounded. You can see the mountains in the background in the most recent photo if you look closely enough. It's the same intersection, just in different worlds. However, we can add a little bit here to prove it a little better.

I'm going to show that house in the 1940s and you'll see how stepping back a bit gives an even better resemblance. 

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Our starting point at Victory Boulevard and Pepper Street, late 1940s.

Once we see the house, it all comes together. That chimney hasn't changed anything except its exterior coating. The house may have had some work done on it, but it certainly looks like the same structure. Yup, it's the same corner all right.

Let's move on to another comparison.

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Victory Boulevard and Screenland Street, late 1940s.

Okay, here we have a nice house at Victory and Screenland. Notice how the garage is off on the side street, allowing a nice presentable front appearance which was considered very important back in the day. No sidewalk in the 1940s, but you know that's going to change.

Burbank recently randommusings.filminspector.com
Victory Boulevard and Screenland Street, February 2018 (Google Street View).

Checking in recently, we see that the scene hasn't changed much. Same house, same driveway off on the side street (though it appears to have been expanded)... you think they ever painted that house anything other than white? I highly doubt it. I liked the original darker roof though, tbh, made a starker contrast.

On to another view.

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Pacific Avenue, late 1940s.

At the beginning of the second part of our journey, we notice a very distinctive structure on the left in the distance. It certainly dominates the landscape in that 1940s film. Hmmm, I wonder if that survived?

Burbank recently randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Pacific Avenue, April 2019 (Google Street View).

You betcha! Now that there are so many trees and everything has been landscaped it no longer dominates the landscape quite as much, but that's just context. There it is in the distance at the left-center. In the 1940s, it was simply the entrance to Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery. However, in 1953, only a few years after the film was shot, it was rededicated as The Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation. And that is how it is known now and you can visit it if you like.

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Jeffries, late 1940s.

We turn right from Maple at Jeffries Street. In the late 1940s, that was a pretty desolate area, awaiting some houses and love. I bet it doesn't look like that now!

Burbank recently randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Jeffries, April 2019.

That corner actually doesn't look all that different now. That empty area on the far corner has become the Maple Street Playground, and beyond it is the Luther Burbank Middle School. It was nice to have all that open land to build the school on!

Burbank in the 1940s randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Victory Boulevard, late 1940s.

Driving south on Maple, we have just crossed Victory Boulevard and notice that large church on the left. That entrance to the cemetery sure looms in the distance, doesn't it? Let's see if the church is still there.

Burbank recently randommusings.filminspector.com
Maple Street at Victory Boulevard, April 2014 (Google Street View).

Well, the church is still there, over there on the far left corner. It is the Victory Celebration Center (they were celebrating a big victory in the 1940s, too). However, at some point, it looks like they downsized from that big white barn-like building to something more tasteful. They certainly widened the boulevard, too. Can't really see the Shrine to Aviation in the distance anymore, too many trees - but it's definitely still there, as we have seen. Just a different look for a different time.

I hope you enjoyed this short drive into the past. As I always say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Check out some of our other glimpses into the then and now! Thanks for visiting.

2021


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Then and Now: John's Pizza, Greenwich Village

Warm Memories

John's Pizza 1976
John's Pizza 1976.

I stumbled across the above photo of John's Pizza taken in 1976 and it intrigued me. For those who aren't familiar with John's Pizza located at 278 Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th, New York City, it is a Greenwich Village institution. Let's do a then-and-now look at John's Pizza on Bleecker Street.

Founded by Naples, Italy, immigrant John Sasso in 1929 (as the canopy loudly proclaims, though it may be even older), John's was an offshoot of Lombardi's Pizza. This is the granddaddy of all pizza joints, a traditional restaurant opened in 1905 on Spring Street down in Little Italy. Lombardi's brought coal-fired ovens to the U.S. world of pizza. They run hot, and anyone who is an aficionado of pizza will tell you that the secret to a good pie is a hot oven. Sasso apparently learned his trade at Lombardi's. That restaurant also began the tradition of classy pizza places not selling by the slice.

John's first location was on Sullivan Street, but in 1934 Sasso moved over to Bleecker Street across from Jones Street.  The Vesce brothers purchased it in 1954, and in 1993, Bob Vittoria, one of their nephews or similarly related, became the majority partner.

Bleecker Street ca. 1950s.
Bleecker Street ca. 1950s.

Whether or not the restaurant actually opened in 1929 is a bit hazy. It may have opened to sell "pies" by Filippo Milone at 175 Sullivan Street in 1915, with Sasso taking over due to a marriage ca. 1925. But that's for historians to debate and is irrelevant to the mythology. Until they change the date on the canopy, I'm going with 1929. No matter, we can all agree that John's has been there for a long, long time.

John's Pizza owners 1920s-30s.
John Sasso, Augustine Vesce, Joe Vesce, and Lucille Vesce. This is undated, but probably in the 1950s.

John's is well known for its 800-degree brick oven, its cash-only policy, and the fact that it doesn't take reservations. Unless there's a line outside, you can generally just walk in and grab a spot at one of the tables. If you haven't been there, form a picture of that high school or college joint with unpretentious tables and booths you may have frequented where they served big beers and you could throw darts or do something similar. That's the atmosphere. You know, an unpretentious but fun joint. That's John's Pizza.

However, it's not some corner dollar-a-slice pizza joint. They don't even sell slices. Pizza, calzone, and a few pasta dishes and sides, washed down with wine or beer. You sit down, order beer or the beverage of your choice, and partake of a pie with your friends. That's the deal, and it's a good deal for a Manhattan restaurant because prices are quite reasonable given the location.

Location that eventually became part of John's Pizza.
276 Bleecker, which is now part of Johns’s of Bleecker, February 2, 1937. The neighborhood at one time was full of Italian delis and the like, but now only John's remains. Photo by Bernice Abbott.

"John's Pizza" has become a signature name. It was never as ubiquitous as "Ray's," which as any longtime New Yorker will tell you became practically the obligatory name for corner pizza joints. However, there have been "John's Pizzas" up and down Manhattan at one point or another. But this is the original one (and no, not the "original" as in "Original Ray's Pizzas," but the real deal).

John's Pizza 2009.
John's in May 2009 (Google Street View).

John's also differs from many other pizza joints in not staying open late into the night. Closing time traditionally has been 10:00 p.m. Monday - Thursday and 11:00 otherwise, be there by then or come back some other day. If you waltz in right at closing time, you'll have to take your pie to go. It's a classy joint, appearances can be deceiving.

John's Pizza 2009.
John's in June 2019. While the restaurant hasn't changed much in the ten years since the previous photo, the vans outside have gotten sleeker. (Google Street View).

John's has some practical advantages from being around so long. It is grandfathered in to use coal-fired ovens, which otherwise are not permitted. That's a nice barrier to entry for any business, not that John's needs any help. It also has become a selling point for the restaurant online. The pies have a  distinctive look as a result. The crust can be toasted black and crisp, and they slop on a lot of olive oil. Yes, it's quite tasty. New York City's clean and clear tap water from upstate no doubt helps the quality.

Among other authentic touches, the walls have photos of celebrities who have stopped by over the years. The worn wooden booths have etchings from patrons of long ago. The place has real atmosphere.

I had some great meals at those tables in my otherwise misspent youth. Great place to take a date who is down-to-earth. Or old schoolmates. Or visiting out-of-town relatives. Everyone should be able to afford the meal without taking out a second mortgage and be nice and full when they walk out. I can't say that about other well-known NYC restaurants.

John's Pizza 2019
June 2019 (Google Street View).

John's had to shut down its indoor dining in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, it reopened for indoor dining at 25% capacity on 12 February 2021. It also has or had outdoor dining. You can't deprive New Yorkers of their classic pizza!

2021