I purchased an old wooden file cabinet over the weekend — the Lauderdale Library always needs storage space, you know — and thought it was empty until I noticed a pile of old 35mm slides shuffling around in a bottom drawer. To my dismay, most of them were faded and fuzzy views of the previous owner's vacation to Mexico.
But one of them — and just one — was a black-and-white slide of what you see here: the old Britling's Cafeteria located at 75 Union Avenue.
It's odd that, mixed in with all the color snapshots of Mexican beaches and resorts, was this single black-and-white image. And it's irritating that it's cropped so tightly that it doesn't give me (or you) a better view of the entire block. Good grief, you can barely see the tops of the cars parked along the street.
I've written before about Britling's, and I won't bore you with all the details except to remind you that it was a regional chain founded by a fellow named Johnson, who thought his name wasn't quite snazzy enough for a restaurant, so he remembered an H.G. Wells short story called "Mr. Britling Sees It Through" and named his eateries after the hero of that story.
The first Britling's opened here way back in 1921 at 155 Madison. I bet you never imagined the chain was that old, did you? In 1938, the second location (the one you see here) opened, right next to the Loew's Palace theatre. It's interesting that the Madison location adopted a distinctive art deco facade, all gleaming black glass and stainless steel, while the Union location went with more of an "Old South" theme.
And that's what gives this photo something of a mystery. To the north side of the cafeteria (on the right in this view) you can clearly see the neon sign for Worsley Piano Company, offering (as you might expect) "Music, Pianos, and Organs." But to the left (or east) of Britlings, where the main entrance to Loew's is just barely cropped out of the image, is part of a sign reading "...G CENTER."
Now the only thing my feeble brain can make of that is the sign (which, to me, doesn't seem to be a permanent one), might have read "RECRUITING CENTER" but as I keep telling you (and the old city directories confirm), the next address over was Loew's Theatre. Britling's was 75 Union, and Loew's was 79-81 Union. Judging from what little I can see of the cars, and from little I know of the business history of Worsley Piano, this photo was taken sometime in the 1950s. I guess it's possible that an Armed Forces Recruiting Center was set up inside Loew's Theatre, perhaps in their spacious lobby.
Or maybe the sign reads something else entirely. At any rate, I'm done here.