fifth avenue 1959 or 60

This series–celebrating the coming weekend by showing you what it’s like to spend a weekend night out in Manhattan at various times in the past–is kinda-sorta nearing its end, but we still have a few more evenings out. Tonight we return to the 1950s, one of those decades where things were quite different at its beginning than at its end (we were last there in October 1951). For the record, our other jaunts out on the town were in November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967, December 1916, June 1997, July 1905 and February 1930. I haven’t been terribly thrilled with what we found the last two times, but the 1950s are pretty happening, so I’m confident tonight. As with all articles in this series, everything is accurate down to the exact day, such as show times, prices, addresses etc.

It’s Friday, January 16, 1959. The weather today will be mostly clear and chilly, with clouds moving off in the evening, no rain. The high today is 49 degrees, low 28 overnight. The news is dominated by two C’s: civil rights, and Cuba. Yesterday a state circuit court judge in Alabama by the name of George Wallace, who is passionately in favor of segregation and racism, was cited for contempt for refusing the Federal Civil Rights Commission access to voter registration records in his state. What is he afraid they’ll find–that maybe African-Americans are disenfranchised in great numbers? Meanwhile, in Cuba, the revolution of Dr. Fidel Castro (yes, he’s a doctor) against the U.S.-backed regime of Batista is only three weeks old. In a speech yesterday Castro said he wants good relations with the U.S., but he was also quoted as saying, “If Americans don’t like what’s happening in Cuba, they can land the Marines and then there will be 200,000 gringos dead.” Something tells me we’re going to have a problem with this guy.

But at least there’s no embargo on Cuba! In fact you can get Cuban cigars, “Havana Palmas,” for $5.75 per box at John Surrey Ltd., a tobacconist shop at 1152 Sixth Avenue.

1394 Third Avenue NYC

The location of Luke’s, 1394 Third Avenue, was in 1959 a seafood restaurant called the Fin ‘N Claw. I bet they gave away commemorative lobster bibs.

So what shall we do tonight? The big event in town tonight is–are you sitting down?–a boat show. Yes, the famed Motor Boat Show opens tonight at 6PM at New York Coliseum. Admission is $1.50 (75 cents for kids). The Times was raving about it with a special section of no less than six pages of boat ads and articles, calling it the “famous midwinter fixture that makes January bearable.” Well, that and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch, which can be had for $6.50 a fifth. Evidently everybody’s going to the boat show. Color me decidedly un-enthused.

If we’re talking about dinner, though, I can dip a toe in the water–seafood, that is. A famous place called The Lobster serves its namesake dish and a lot of other fresh seafood daily. It’s at 145 West 45th Street. It’s been open since 1919, so why didn’t we go there last week? Or, we could go to the Fin ‘N Claw. Yes, that is really its name. It’s at 1394 Third Avenue, basically at 79th Street. Seafood and cocktails can be had, dinner starting from $2.25. If you’re in the mood for French food, we could try Chateaubriand, 131 East 54th Street. Full bar and wine cellar–dinners start at $5. There is also the Rosemarie de Paris, 697 Fifth Avenue, which has a piano bar lounge. Their ad touts “unusual decor.” I’m quite curious exactly what that means. If French isn’t your style, El Chico is a famous Spanish restaurant. They have a dance floor and live entertainment as well as $4-$5 dinners. That’s at 30 Grove Street, which is in the West Village.

South Seas Adventure was a film made specifically to show off the possibilities of the widescreen film format Cinerama, which required special theaters to show it. It was very popular in 1959.

How about some live music or a show? Tosca, Verdi’s grand opera, is being performed at the Met tonight at 8:00 PM. I think I’d need to rent a tuxedo for that, though. West Side Story, the hottest musical for two years running, is at the Winter Garden Theater, starting at 8:30. I suppose it’s ground-breaking, but some of the songs are really annoying. The Music Man is another huge hit. It’s at the Majestic, Broadway and West 44th Street, and tickets are $8.05 for orchestra seats. There’s a smaller-scale musical called Jamaica, which stars Lena Horne and a Mexican actor, Ricardo Montalban, who is supposedly very good. That’s at the Imperial Theater, Broadway and West 45th at 8:30. Really the only way we can get away from musicals is to see Shakespeare’s Ages of Man, which stars British actor John Gielgud. Curtain goes up at the 46th Street Theater at 8:40. Maybe we’ll see Gielgud at Sardi’s after the show.

We could always see a movie. A big French movie called Inspector Maigret opens tonight at the Bryant Theater, 42nd Street east of Broadway. They’re certainly pushing it in the newspapers. A British film, The Horse’s Mouth, written by Sir Alec Guinness and starring him, shows at the Paris Theater, 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, at 8:25 and 10:15. Gigi, a sprawling musical that’s favored for the Academy Awards, shows at the Sutton Theater on East 57th Street at 7:30 and 9:30. There’s this great new movie process called Cinerama that is supposedly very spectacular. South Seas Adventure, a movie made specifically to show off the Cinerama wide-screen process, is at the Warner Theater, Broadway & 47th. Or if you’re into something a little more fantastic, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is at the Roxy, 50th Street & Seventh Avenue. I hear the swordfighting skeleton sequence is really amazing!

This episode of Rawhide, featuring a young Clint Eastwood, was actually broadcast on January 16, 1959.

This is, of course, the golden age of television, so if you want to stay home we can catch something on TV. There’s a Bob Hope special, The Bob Hope Holiday Tour, on Channel 4 at 9PM. It’s clips of Hope’s shows entertaining the troops in Africa, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Azores, with guest stars Hedda Hopper and Gina Lolobrigida. Just an hour before that is a brand-new episode of the Western program Rawhide, an episode called “Incident at Alabaster Plain.” There’s a great young actor starring in it by the name of Clint Eastwood. Seems like he’s going places. At 10:30 PM on CBS is Person to Person with legendary reporter Edward R. Murrow, tonight interviewing Huntington Hartford, millionaire and publisher. Then at 11:15 is a late night comedy show, The Jack Paar Show, where Jack will have as his guest Jonathan Winters. I think that show may be going places too.

Well, that’s it for our night out in the late 1950s. There will be only two more episodes in this series after this one. Then we must be free to see other people. And maybe stay in on a Friday night for a change!

The header photo of Fifth Avenue in 1959 or 1960 was taken by Charles W. Cushman and is owned by the IMLS Digital Collections & Content (Flickr account), used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license.