A Classy Hot Dog Joint - John Vassos's Modern Design for Nedick's Hot Dot Stands
John Vassos knew Nedick's, a popular chain of open air hot dog stands, needed to step up its game - in 1931 he proposed to the company that it needed to stand out among the "million dollar lobbies to which the public of New York has free access." Public taste has been improved, he argued, and Nedick's needed to appeal to the "stenographers, clerks and shop girls familiar with the Empire State Building, the Chanin Tower and the Chrysler Buildings" where Nedicks were located. The company was convinced and soon hired Vassos, a prominent modern illustrator who had made his name illustrating books for E.P. Dutton, to redesign their restaurant from top to bottom.
He transformed the entire environment, including menus, logos and staff uniforms and left a lasting imprint on the restaurant event into the 2000s when the last remaining Nedick's was left in the shadow of Penn Station. In the 1930s, designers like Vassos were asked by restaurant owners to update their restaurants. Vassos brought his interior design skills and attention to the psychology of the customer. He framed the restaurant's redesign in terms of making a commitment to the public sphere. He wrote "a few years ago, the typical open-air stand was a decided eyesore to the community." What he suggested was nothing short of an "architectural gallery" which would draw customers and allow them to eat their hot dogs in style.
Among his lasting contributions to the restaurant, which became somewhat of a cult among New Yorkers who loved the orange drink it served, were the serif cursive logo of the underlined Nedick's name, the lighting as the restaurant was very popular at night, the Formica counters, and the color palette. His counter was a tribute to the new wonders of Bakelite - a curved combination of semi-circles and straight lines with chrome accents in the streamlined fashion of the day. Not only could the counter be quickly wiped and its clean-lines attractive but the shape also accommodated the maximum number of customers in a limited space. The counters also allowed each customer to have a bit of privacy as they ate - "no one likes to eat looking into the face of a stranger four feet across from him munching his food," as Vassos wrote in his proposal. In terms of lighting, Vassos was aware of the effect of light on the customer - especially in midtown Manhattan at night - the luminous boxes of light mirrored the curving counter and were diffused downwards to avoid giving an annoying glare for those who preferred eating their hot dogs in an attractive setting. A classy hot dog joint indeed - the restaurant Vassos designed matched the machine age beauty of the skyscrapers that surrounded it. High taste for a low brow meal - Vassos also designed the Chrysler building penthouse for his friend photographer Margaret Bourke-White across the street. Indeed, this was class for the masses, to paraphrase Roland Marchand's characterization of advertising in the era. The image above is from the midtown stand at the busy corner of 7th Avenue and 47th Street.
Image credit: Broadcast News, February 1934, p. 18, Courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library.
Leave a Reply.
Danielle Shapiro, is a writer and author of the first biography of John Vassos, modernist Greek-American industrial designer - John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life.