Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Posts Tagged ‘Cities

What Was Lost: Part III

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In Lockland, there was a Welling’s Jewelers (still there today, in fact) on the bottom floor of a three-story building on the corner of Benson and Market Streets. The middle floor was apartments, and the top floor was a burlesque theater. It closed in the 40s or 50s, but my dad’s been up there to do electrical work, and he said it’s quite opulent, all red velvet seats and the like.

Down the street, now, is a strip club in the basement of a bar. There is no stage, but a roped-off section of linoleum in the back corner. People stand around the ropes and throw crumpled up dolar bills at haggard-looking girls in Wal-Mart bra-and-booty-short sets.


Written by ENB

August 16, 2009 at 9:46 pm

What Was Lost: Part II

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Other things that have been lost: We used to not only have a movie theater, but every other damn thing a town could need, too. So did Lockland, next door, and really all the neighboring towns, my dad says. You did your shopping, banking—everything—in your own city. My dad grew up in Lockland. His dad worked at the paper factory in town, and he worked there himself, in high school, and again after he dropped out of college. A lot of people worked there that he knew, but not as many as worked at the other two factories in town, which were both slightly bigger. Almost nobody, though, went without working in one of those three factories at some point. If you lived in a town, you pretty much worked in that town, he says. Reading had a match factory, and indeed, every one of my grandparents and great aunts and uncles worked there.

I can immediately see 1,500 downsides to all this, but I can’t help thinking it would be nice.

Written by ENB

August 16, 2009 at 8:10 pm

What Was Lost: Netflix vs. Rubber Snakes & Dress Slacks

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RKO Albee, Downtown Cincinnati, from vintage postcardMorning coffee with my dad, we’re discussing all the lost businesses, factories and other establishments in our hometown of Reading, Ohio (the conversation is prompted by the fact that my great aunt just gave me the key to the city’s historical society building, and, boy!, am I psyched). He starts talking about the movie theater on the main street of our town that he used to frequent as a kid. All the little cities and towns surrounding Reading (itself one of the nearer suburbs of Cincinnati) had their own movie theaters, he said, and you only went to the neighboring town’s theater if you’d already seen what was playing at yours—a rare occurrence, because even though they only showed one or two pictures each, they switched frequently. He remembered all these great and silly special effects and theatricality, the kind of old-matinee lore—rubber snakes on the ground, or plastic spiders dropping from the ceiling, during horror flix; one movie with a “shocking twist” ending, for which kids were made to sign a waver upon entering that they wouldn’t tell anyone the surprise. There was another theater they sometime went to, and it was a little bit in decline already—the owners had closed down the concession stand and replaced it with vending machines. This was perfectly all right by my dad and his friends, however, who thought the soda machine—which dispensed not cans but little styrofoam cups that soda was then leaked into, like the automatic coffee machines you sometimes see today—was a marvel in and of itself, a sign of the future.

Later, when he started dating my mom (he was 17, she was 15, which would make this 1972), they would sometimes go to the big, old movie palaces in downtown Cincinnati—this was where you took a date, instead of one of the neighborhood theaters, if you wanted to impress her, he explained. In just a year or so, cultural norms would start to change, but that year, you would still put on a dress shirt, a tie, some slacks, to see an evening show.

I listen to these stories jealously. For movie going to be an event! For the awe, the clothes, the red velvet, the smoke! For the community nature of theaters, before they all became National Amusements, or Showcase Cinemas, or Loew’s. For the names—the Emory, the 20th Century, the Gaiety the RKO Albee, the Vogue—of the theaters themselves.

And then I think about Netflix. And how I can get 3 movies at a time, unlimited times, for under $20 per month. How I can find almost any movie I want—foreign films, indie films, those made 20, 40, 60 years ago. That I can have these movies delivered directly to my house, that I can watch them in my own home, or really anywhere, from my laptop, that I can send one back and a new one will arrive in a day or so. Would I trade all this for plastic spiders falling from the ceiling?

It’s easy to romanticize some things. “Oh, it was corny,” my dad says of those matinee theaters of his youth, but he gets kind of animated when he talks about them, nonetheless.

I’m sure, given the choice, most people would take the choice and convenience of services like Netflix (or of online movies, or of DVDs) over the spectacle of movie-viewing past. I think I would, too. But it’s still hard not to feel a little regret about what’s been lost. If I could somehow collectively erase our knowledge of how we watch films now while simultaneously bringing those days back: I would.

Written by ENB

August 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm

City Journal on Jane Jacobs’ Legacy

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Treating Jane Jacobs as a folk hero … risks misinterpreting her work as uniformly favoring the preservation of charming older neighborhoods populated by David Brooks’s “bourgeois bohemians.” But it also risks overstating the extent to which her vision has prevailed. It’s difficult to imagine her having a kind word to say, for instance, about the proposed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, where eminent-domain power is to be used for massive clearance and the construction of subsidized high-rises and a sports arena. It’s classic old-style urban renewal, dressed up with plans to use a big-name architect. Sports stadia—the only significant public works to be built in New York recently—are particularly out of keeping with Jacobs’s view that major public facilities should attract people throughout the day and night, not just intermittently.

Also not fully appreciated is Jacobs’s celebration of neighborhoods like Boston’s North End, which, when she wrote about it, was a collection of brick walk-ups from which residents of modest means could watch the streets. In other words, poor neighborhoods could be good neighborhoods. Today, elaborately subsidized apartments for the poor continue to be supported at all levels of government, in the process creating utterly nonorganic communities, in which income groups are mixed for ideological reasons.—Howard Husock, City Journal

Written by ENB

August 6, 2009 at 12:58 pm

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