Wednesday, October 21, 2009

West End Tavern


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.



The WH Community Support Association is currently is spearheading the Hempstead Avenue Revitalization Project (HARP), an effort to beautify West Hempstead's main thoroughfare by planting trees and placing banners (among other things). If there was ever a visual argument for the success of HARP, this would be it.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember the West End tavern as a place to eat in the early 1970's. I know as I ate there by the late 70's it had become a bar with band and dance floor and then finally closed.

Anonymous said...

Great to see the middle photo. When my parents and I lived in West Hempstead(1946-52), we'd often have special dinners at the West End Tavern.I remember being treated like a little princess by the waiters. Brings back nice memories!

Rich said...

I remember eating at the WET in the early '60s w/my family. A classy night out for us (as opposed to Chinese food). West Hempstead, like much of suburbia, lost a number of decent restaurants throughout that period

JR said...

My family owned the West End Tavern (not the land)from the mid-50's til its closing in 1978. Anonymous is correct, in mid-78 it was finally closed as a restaurant and turned into The Fulton Steamhouse, a live venue rock music niteclub. Hempstead would not grant a cabaret license to the club and it had to close sometime in early 1979. Thank you to all who remembered her glorious past. As a child I bounced on the knees of many famous horse trainers and jockeys who frequented the Tavern.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother worked there for many years, i guess until it closed in the 70s; i remember hiding in the coat check room as a kid

Anonymous said...

I love reading all the posts and looking at all the pictures of yester year here in WH. I love history, thanks so much for this!

Theavery said...

I love reading these posts and I am still a Hempstead resident. My family took me to the West End Tavern/Steakhouse in 1969 when I got a straight "A" on my fifth grade report card. Those were such good old days and I get a little misty eyed when I think about them.

Anonymous said...

As a kid in the late 50's to early 60's, I remember how special it was to dance with my father at the West End Tavern on their dance floor! A waiter there could pour milk from at least a foot above the table into my glass and he never missed it! My parents were very impressed that the parking valet remembered the type and color of every car we had brought there for years. What a lovely place it was back in the day!

Sandy said...

My mother worked the coat room and register. Everyone loved her, Mary

Annie said...

JT, Who were your parents?

Anonymous said...

I remember walking past the WET going back to Epiphany Lutheran Church from getting a 12 cent burger from White Castle seeing broken chairs and tables piled up at the curb thinking " wow , that must have been some party." Later I became upset working as a Hempstead firefighter when the fire that destroyed it. All that beautiful woodwork, what a shame.