03 November 2014

Car Stuff: Back to the '70s

I love street scenes, especially ones with lots of vintage cars on view. I grew up in Rhode Island and used to go on shopping trips "downcity" with my grandmother; by 1979 or so I was venturing into downtown Providence by myself on the bus to shop for clothes and records.

Conveniently, several images from the city of Providence's online photo gallery showed up on the Hemmings blog on Friday. I went to the city's website to see what else they had. It seems like these are all from no later than 1977 or so; it's hard to say exactly, but I don't think I see any cars newer than that year.
This shot is looking south on Dorrance Street (possibly from the old train station), with the western edge of Kennedy Plaza at the left and City Hall at the right. The white Mercedes S-class coming into the bottom of the frame is a bit of a surprise, but they were starting to make inroads into the market by the mid-'70s.
Looking at more or less the same spot but from down at street level, there's the Haven Brothers diner truck about to pull into its regular spot adjacent to City Hall. Food truck, old-school style. The blue car at the left is around a '73 Oldsmobile Delta 88; the black one is a Mercury Monarch, one of the newest cars I can spot in any of these pics.
From the same spot, a pivot to the right gives us this view looking west down Washington Street. The edge of City Hall is at the left, and just beyond the right edge of the frame is the Biltmore Hotel, which is still around. A Pinto! A Checker cab! Look at all those VW Beetles!
Back to the first photo, but the photographer moved a block south and turned back around looking north across the intersection of Dorrance and Westminster Streets. You can see that the building at the left in the top photo is the same one the camera is facing here. Check out that granny's pedestrian move. That old Plymouth is a bit unusual, even for this point in time. Behind it, going the other way, the black car looks to be a Chevy Monza, which came out in '75. And there's an old green RIPTA bus on the right.
Here the photographer has crossed Dorrance and turned around to look west down Westminster, which at the time was a pedestrian street closed to vehicle traffic for several blocks (and I'm pretty sure they stole the idea for that from Washington Street in Downtown Crossing). It makes sense that Old Stone Bank would have had a branch across the street from its competitor Hospital Trust. (Trivia: I spent the summer between high school and college working for Old Stone as a mail clerk in their operations center. They licensed Fred Flintstone to use as their mascot in commercials, and their ATM card was called Ready Freddy.)

Those two station wagons cruising past are basically the same car: the silver one is a 1972 or '73 Ford Gran Torino. The red one is a 1977 Mercury Cougar, which had previously been called the Montego and was made as a Cougar for one year only.
This photo is from a couple of blocks further south, along Pine Street looking across a parking lot (since replaced by a parking garage) at the Weybosset Street entrance to The Arcade, a National Historic Landmark building built in 1828. Behind it, and looming over downtown, is the old Industrial National Bank building, which many Rhode Islanders refer to as "the Superman building" because of its resemblance to the building used for the Daily Planet in the old Superman TV show. (Sadly, it now sits vacant and unused.) The green car is a first-generation VW Scirocco, extremely scarce now.
I realize there are no cars in this photo, which is at a point further west on the Westminster Street pedestrian mall. I included it because of the stores. Shepard's department store went bankrupt in 1974, but the building still stands (as does the clock) and today it houses the University of Rhode Island's continuing education department. Chess King! It's embarrassing to think about it now, but I did shop there for a while. And further back, with the red facade, is B. Dalton Bookseller, which eventually became part of Waldenbooks.

No comments: