‘Birth of a Nation’ souvenir book
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    Old nightclub souvenir party photos

    Once, when I joined some friends on one of those two-hour ship excursions in the middle of the bay in Tampa, FL, the tour company had each party to stop and pose for those silly photos.

    I didn’t like the idea, but I went along with it, knowing that after the trip they’d try to sell photos to us for $20 or $25 each. No way.

    I didn’t realize that those types of souvenir photos were still being offered. It seemed to have been done a lot during the first half of the 20th century, especially in nightclubs where party-goers could be snookered into posing for them and then paying to take them home.

    It was all in good fun, I’m sure, and after a few or more drinks, who wouldn’t want to have a way to remember the party and good times and that night when …

    I came across two such nightclub souvenir folders at auction recently, and I have three at home that were part of a box lot that I had bought earlier. They were all from the 1940s: one was photographed at the Circus Room in the Bradford Hotel in Boston, October 1946.

    It’s not clear where the other two were taken. One was stamped Dec. 13, 1946, with a couple holding hands and celebrating Friday the 13th. It has this inscription:

    “A happy Friday the 13th. May it always be as pleasant. ‘Stan.'”

    The other had no inscription, but four people were wearing party hats and staring into the camera with drinks in their hands. The date was Dec. 31, 1947. They were celebrating the passing of another year.  

    These two folders have a price on the back of $1 each. There was also an address for ordering more prints.

    At auction a few weeks ago, two folders were on a tray ready for sale. These were from two famous New York nightclubs: the Onyx Club on 52nd Street and the Latin Quarter in Times Square. I didn’t check the dates on the back of the photos but they, too, looked to be from the 1940s. The same couple appeared to be in both photos.

    The folks in the Onyx Club had to jazz or swing or bebop enthusiasts, because that’s what they’d be listening to there. The club opened in 1927 as a speakeasy, according to the book “A History of Jazz Music (2007),” and once speakeasies became a little more reputable after Prohibition the Onyx Club blossomed. There on 52nd Street, it was in the hub of jazz, bebop and swing, and attracted such musicians as violinist Stuff Smith, who with his sextet set up shop from 1935 to 1940.

    The street became famous for its cluster of nightclubs during the 1930s and 1940s, and jazz from some of the greatest musicians in the world could be heard. Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet – with Oscar Pettiford on bass, Max Roach on drums and later Charlie Parker – held court there starting in 1944. One site noted that this was the first time a band was promoted as bebop. By the 1950s, though, the street had lost its luster.

    The Onyx would’ve been my kind of place.

    At the Latin Quarter nightclub, the clientele would hear a smoother sound. The club hosted such people as Frank Sinatra, Mae West, Milton Berle and Diahann Carroll. The entertainment also included chorus girls, and the show always ended with can-can dancers. It was opened in 1942 by Lou Walters, the father of broadcaster Barbara Walters. It was located in the wedge of a building in Times Square at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Broadway. (Photo below on the left was taken at the Onyx and the one on the right at Latin Quarter.)

    In Boston at the Bradford Hotel, guests could go downstairs to the Circus Room for smooth music by such entertainers as Harding & Moss and the Milt Herth Trio. The man in the souvenir photo (below) probably saw pianist Bill Moss and organist Dick Harding there, because, according to a Billboard magazine ad from September 1946, they were playing at the club. As part of their act, Moss would sketch the patrons as Harding played and a soloist sang.

    By the 1950s, Dolly Baker, one half of the Baker sisters, was singing there, along with Rudy Vallee and the Andrew Sisters, recalled Baker in a 2002 interview.

    In 1959, the club was no longer called the Circus Room. Pianist George Wein – who had backed up many jazz artists and produced others – moved his Storyville jazz club into the Bradford for a year, featuring such people as Billie Holiday, Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan.

    That’s one reason to keep those old souvenir photos. Time tends to wash away all but the memories. (Photo below is from the Circus Room at the Bradford.)

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