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1880s

From Atlas Obscura:

The Twilight of the Analog Photo Booth

The effort to save a rare beast on the road to extinction.

On a recent Saturday morning in New York, the analog photo booth in the Ace Hotel on 29th Street was out of order. Inside the booth, which costs $5 plus tax for a strip of four black-and-white photographs (cards accepted), a piece of paper hung askew atop the mirror, level with the sign reading “EYE LEVEL.” “Sorry, I’m broken …” it read. “I’ll be better soon. XO, Ace.” Barely a dozen of these film-based photo booths remain in the city, a fact that would have been inconceivable as recently as the 1990s.

In September 1925, the crowds stretched around the block for the first ever Photomaton studio, 30 blocks north of the present site of the Ace Hotel, at 51st Street and Broadway. Each subject paid 25 cents, was bathed in flashes of light, and waited eight minutes for a strip of eight photographs. Eighteen months later, the New York Times reported, “Young Photomaton Inventor Will Celebrate His First Million.” In today’s money, this would be close to $14 million.

Anatol Josepho, the inventor of the "Photomaton" photo booth that debuted in September 1925 at 1659 Broadway in New York City.
Anatol Josepho, the inventor of the “Photomaton” photo booth that debuted in September 1925 at 1659 Broadway in New York City. Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ggbain-25079

The inventor, Anatol Josepho, was born in 1894, and came from nothing. Josepho, né Josephowitz, grew up a banished Jew in Siberia. At 15, he went off to explore the world, starting in Berlin, where he bought a Brownie camera and learned to take photographs. Later, he took it to Budapest, to Shanghai, and eventually to New York. In Harlem, in 1925, he raised the $11,000 required to build a prototype for the first curtain-enclosed photo booth—the cost of nearly six reasonably sized houses at that time. Josepho was charming, and obsessed with the project, writes photographer Näkki Goranin. Despite being a newcomer to the city, “[he] was able to talk people into loaning him the money, find the appropriate machinists and engineers to help him build his Photomaton machine, and be sought out by the leading industrialists in America.”

Josepho stood on the shoulders of decades of tinkerers who had been flirting with this technology since the 1880s, when a craze for vending machines of all kinds, including seltzer, chocolate, and postcards, seized Europe and America. Concurrently, photographic technology was developing at a galloping pace. Some early booths offered prints for a penny, others unreliable tintypes with near-unrecognizable subjects. Throughout the 1920s, the technology was becoming more and more refined—until, in 1925, Josepho patented the booth that set the standard for the next 90 years.

Two friends pose for a picture in a photo booth, date unknown.
Two friends pose for a picture in a photo booth, date unknown. simpleinsomnia/CC BY 2.0

Before long the photo booth was everywhere: malls, bars, airports, post offices, Fred Astaire films. In the United States, they were often owned by the company PhotoMe, says Tim Garrett, an artist who co-runs the site Photobooth.Net with friend and colleague Brian Meacham.

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from The New York Times: When Typewriters Were the Toast of (Lower) Broadway
F.Y.I.
By TAMMY La GORCE JAN. 12, 2017

“Typewriter Row was a New York destination from the 1880s until around 1930, said Michael A. Brown, a typewriter expert who self-published the book “Typewriter Row: A Walking Tour of Lower Broadway” in 2003….But Typewriter Row, which stretched for eight blocks, from Park Place past City Hall up to Leonard Street, was not known for actually making the machines. Models from companies like Hammond, Remington and L. C. Smith were just shown and sold there.

“These were mostly the sales and distribution offices,” said Mr. Brown, who lives in Philadelphia and is editor of the newsletter The Typewriter Exchange. “Customers would come in and see the new models and test them out, but the factories were in places like Pennsylvania or other parts of New York or Connecticut.”…Passages from the 1954 book “The Wonderful Writing Machine,” by Bruce Bliven Jr., look back on Typewriter Row’s glory days.

“At lunchtime on a sunny day the sidewalks were crowded with men and women talking about the latest sensation in the typewriter business,” one passage reads. And another: “How about the feats performed by Kittie Smith, who had learned to type better with her toes than many persons could with their fingers, and was getting big publicity in the newspapers and magazines?”

Other sections detail the buildings’ décor (“the prevailing style was expensive-solemn” with “potted palms galore”) and the salesmanship along the Row (“There were only a couple of L. C. Smiths in sight, on the theory that it was psychologically more sound to display two than 200, as if the product were a rare jewel”).…

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from DNA.info:

‘Little Syria’ Exhibit Brings New York’s Lost Arab Neighborhood to Life

By Irene Plagianos | June 6, 2016 6:30pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — At the turn of the century, decades before the World Trade Center, Lower Manhattan’s Washington Street was bustling with merchants and cafes, where puffs of hookah smoke intermingled with the spicy sweet aromas of Middle Eastern fare.

The long gone neighborhood, called Little Syria, was the thriving home to thousands of Arab immigrants who had made their first journey to the United States.

“Little Syria, N.Y.: An Immigrant Community’s Life and Legacy,” an exhibit dedicated to the neighborhood — one of the earliest Arab settlements in the U.S. — is now on display at the New York City Department of Records.

Through photos and artifacts, the exhibit — which is curated by the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb that’s home to one of the country’s largest Arab-American populations — creates a portrait of a community that many never even knew existed.

Despite its name, the neighborhood was actually made up of people from what was then Greater Syria — areas now including Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan — and the vast majority of the immigrants were Christian, according to historians.

A baker slices his baklava in Little Syria. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

For decades, starting in the 1880s, the enclave flourished, home to noted Arab writers Khalil Gibrani and Ameen Rihani, as well as the first Arab-language newspapers in the country.

But by the early 1940s the neighborhood had mostly disappeared — much of the community was displaced by the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

The vibrant neighborhood once lined with shops selling Arabic foods, and merchants on the street peddling wares like handmade rugs and brass lamps, is now barely marked in Lower Manhattan, said Todd Fine, president of the Washington Street Historical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving Little Syria’s history.

Children play in the Little Syria neighborhood. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

One former Syrian church, called St. George Chapel, a landmarked building now home to a restaurant, along with an old tenement building at 109 Washington St. and its neighboring Downtown Community House are the last remnants of the spaces once occupied by the large community, said Fine, who helped consult on the exhibit.

Fine and his group have recently had plaques placed in nearby Elizabeth Berger park to commemorate the lost neighborhood, and are hoping to do more to preserve the legacy of Little Syria.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the history of Arabs in America, and this neighborhood shows us a robust immigrant community, just like so many other immigrants who came to New York,” Fine said. “But that early story of Arab immigration is really missing, its a history that’s been lost in the collective memory.”

“Little Syria, N.Y.: An Immigrant Community’s Life and Legacy,” is on display through September at the New York City Department of Records, 31 Chambers St. An expanded version of the exhibit will move to Ellis Island in October, where it will remain through January.

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