When Muffins Met Modernism & A Jewish Bakery Detour

June 13th, 2012 § 0 comments

In 1930s New York, many apartment buildings, shops (and restaurants) were designed in a streamlined, modernist style — a kind of Art Deco for the masses. While true Art Deco (which reached its height in Paris of the 20s and 30s) was very elegant and seriously luxurious, the young American designers who piggy backed on the Art Deco style were a bit more egalitarian. Their best efforts, in terms of major structures, can be seen in the apartment houses that line the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and the glorious hotels of Miami’s South Beach. Smaller design gems were the chain bakeries that flourished in all of New York’s neighborhoods. The aim of all the “streamlining” was to give shoppers an optimistic lift in the gloom of the Great Depression. The “streamlined” bakeries were Cushman’s and Hanscom’s. The famed industrial designer Raymond M. Loewy designed Cushman’s and Horace Ginsbern designed Hanscom’s. (Ginsbern, then fairly young, later became one of New York’s most prominent apartment house architects. Ginsbern was born in 1893 and died in 1969. Scores of his buildings exist in Manhattan’s Upper East Side).

The architect Robert A.M. Stern has commented on the Loewy and Ginsbern bakery designs: “They brought a relatively high level of International Style Modernism into virtually every New York neighborhood.”

Cushman’s had white porcelain facades; nautical, oval windows and the name was spelled out in a curving, gold script. Hanscom’s had apple green porcelain facades and the name was formed with blocky, super- modern letters. Stern described the entire architectual composition as “Constructivist.”

In the Bronx you had Jewish Bakeries and Italian bakeries. The Jewish bakeries had elaborate butter cream cakes and, of course, bagels, bialys, rye and pumpernickel bread, etc. These were jammed on Sunday mornings with Dads buying bread-stuffs for brunch (The casual tweed and camel hair jackets many of them wore were known as “bagel coats”). The Italian bakeries, in neighborhoods like Belmont, had, of course, sublime bread, delicious cannolis, pignoli cookies and other Italian specialties. There was plenty of cross pollination. Jews liked the corn muffins and cookies at Cushman’s and Hanscom’s (which were generalized as goyish bakeries) and there were plenty of bagel and rye bread fanciers among the non-Jewish population. And, of course, everyone loved their Italian baked goods. Some Jewish bakery survivors in Manhattan are Moishe’s Bakery on 2nd Ave, Streit’s, which bakes and sells matzos, macaroons, kichel and other stuff from a 47,000 foot factory on Rivington Street and Kossar’s which bakes and sells bialys and other traditional good stuff from a location near the Essex Street Market. SJ sent HG a batch of Kossar’s products a few months ago producing moans of delight. The eminent food writer, Mimi Sheraton, a woman who knows Jewish food, says a Kossar’s bialy is the only true bialy baked in the United States. HG agrees.

Interestingly, HG’s Mom never called a bialy by that shortened name. She paid appropriate homage by calling it a Bialyosteker Kuchen.

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