Sunday, 31 May 2015

Postcard of the Day No. 74 – Street-running in Syracuse

The arresting spectacle of full size trains muscling their way through city streets is still to be seen in a number of American locations from Tampa to Oakland. For over 75 years it was a commonplace in the heart of the city of Syracuse until it came to an end in 1936 when an elevated railroad was constructed. Flagship New York Central trains such as the Empire State Express and the Twentieth Century Limited cruised slowly accompanied by a continuous warning bell chime along Washington Street across Salina Street offering passengers uninterrupted views through downtown first floor windows. We have three postcards recording this unusual sight plus a view of the New York Central Railroad Station. The last card shows the Erie Canal where it passes through Syracuse with its warehouses, swing-bridges and loading docks around the time the old song “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal” was written in 1905. A century later Bruce Springsteen thundered his way through and left it for dead on the album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Billboard Cliché

Admen love nothing more than the comfort of a cliché. The tried and tested, the familiar and time-honoured bring reassurance to the exhausted imagination. The more inventive may attempt a little subversion to enhance or even undermine the original intentions but for the most part what we get is recycling pure and simple. Chris Mullen has curated more than 10,000 platitudinous examples to delight the eye and intellect at the Visual Primer of Advertising Clichés. Today we look at the billboard cliché – imagine the conversation. We take the product off the shelf and on to the great American Highway. We pass a billboard that displays an oversize ad for our product and we get two ads for the price of one and an amplified message even more difficult to ignore. Whether any research has been done to prove this, I’ve no idea. There is something in the idea of an ad embedded in another – an act of quotation. But it’s very hard to see how that would translate into additional sales. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Great Railway Stations Number 9: Haarlem

The railway station at Haarlem is rather special – early Machine Age engineering and architectural ceramics combine to offer a richly anachronistic experience. Recently restored to its full glory with beautifully varnished timbers, painted steelwork and glowing ceramic pictorial panels. A tall unglazed curved canopy supported on slender tapering steelwork soars over unenclosed platforms. Daylight comes mainly from the side rather than from overhead creating some unusual effects of light and shade. A unique feature is the provision of an elevated signal box of hardwood construction over a ground floor plinth in glazed brickwork, embedded in the heart of the station. The station roof is the longest in the Netherlands and was designed by an engineer named H Werker. The rest of the building was the responsibility of the architect, Dirk Margadant and built in 1906-08. The largest ceramic panels decorate the Stationshal with images of farming and metal bashing designed by D J P de Ruiter at the Rozenburg studio in Den Haag. The smaller panels were also supplied by Rozenburg to designs by E Cuyper. The decorative scheme is completed with stained-glass windows and carved floral motifs. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Reservation Required

The postcard was an obvious choice for hotel owners to publicise their charms. Guests could be relied upon to make use of a supply of free postcards featuring the charms of the hotel and spread the word far and wide. While some hotels relied upon the more modern medium of photography, many chose to feature hand drawn and painted imagery to add prestige to their offer. Typically the scale and opulence of the hotel would be grossly exaggerated while luxury limousines would be lined up at the entrance – the standard of artwork was not notably high except for the Italian examples that display a certain panache. Some of the American hotels have a truly forbidding air – a night at the Sheraton in Pittsburgh could be an experience best forgotten if the austere and implacable appearance is anything to go by. A short break at the Hotel Petrograd in Nice looks a much better prospect especially if use of one of the splendid passing limos is part of the package. Despite the name it doesn’t look like the first choice for vacationing commissars on the Côte d’Azur.