The undated above photo, from the Hempstead Public Library collection, is an early view looking east into Hempstead Village at the corner of Fulton Ave. and Front St. A couple features of this photo are noteworthy:
1) The 20MPH speed limit signs on both sides of the intersection. When the automobile came of age in the early 1900s, villages like Hempstead had a real problem with motorists speeding right on through its streets, frightening horses and endangering pedestrians and bicyclists. As noted in a previous post, Hempstead cracked down on speeders every now and then by setting up speed traps and issuing hefty tickets. Newspaper reports show that residents of West Hempstead were none too pleased that no such speed restrictions existed in their neighborhood so that once motorists left Hempstead Village's speed zone, it was all petal-to-the-metal from that point. (One can only wonder how big of an impact enactments such as these had on the decision of so many municipalities on Long Island to incorporate during this period).
2) At the center of the photo is the front steps of a home that is mostly obscured by the trees. This home would later become the landmark West End Tavern, a popular local eatery in the first half of the 20th century. At first the tavern also operated as a hotel, whose proprietor, Frank Wettstein, was a WWI vet and prominent citizen of Hempstead. The innkeeper was John Pfortsch, a German immigrant who, like so many other Bavarians, hailed from Ridgewood, Queens. On New Year's eve 1935, a terrible fire damaged much of the building, but it was soon remodeled to appear as it looks in the terrific 1943 photo below, taken at roughly the same angle as above.
In this pic below, the tavern is decked out in patriotic bunting to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Hempstead Village, as the sign on the traffic island indicates. What can also be made out are two gas stations on the right; a Texaco, the site of which is still a gas station today; and an Esso in the foreground.
The 1943 photo shows the tavern in its heyday, before the proliferation of fast food restaurants that would replace the West End as the preferred venues for eating out. The West End would soon become crowded out by the stiff competition of nearby chains that provided waitresses with drive up service popularized in the '50s, the first of which was White Castle which opened up where the Esso is located in the picture. The Tavern survived at least until 1960, but how much longer after that is unclear. As if to accentuate the void left by the Tavern, the '60s brought to that area of WH an explosion of food options including Wetson's in 1963, a burger joint located across Hempstead Ave. from White Castle, now currently a KFC; Steak & Brew, a restaurant located inside the Hempstead Motor Inn (currently the infamous Courtesy Hotel), built in 1963; and the IHOP on Hempstead Tpke in 1964 (still there after all these years).
Comparing the two 'then' shots to the 'now' shot below, one is struck by the comparative lack of trees left in the area. The magnificent trees that once gracefully lined the streets and made our town beautiful and rural have been felled and sadly not replaced.