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Grand Palace: 1921

Grand Palace: 1921

Washington circa 1921. "Grand Palace shoe shining parlor, 719½ 14th St. N.W." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
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First impressions

Like the other commenters, I saw this as a men only kind of place - then I noticed the sign offering Altering and Repairs for Ladies & Gents. So, who knows?

Image is everything

I find it amazing that in a time where access to personal hygiene was somewhat limited, men accorded so much importance to their exterior appearance.

Shoe shine, pressed suit, well formed hat ... even many of the boys working in Hine pictures tried their best to dress like "little men."

Dirty Sidewalk

Why do you suppose the sidewalk is dirty in front of this place, but clean in from of the Kase cigar store? Perhaps Kase's scrubbed their sidewalk often? Or maybe the shoeshiners were pretty messy and often got polish on the soles of shoes. Or it could be tobacco or cigar tips spit on the sidewalk. Still, these guys never cleaned their sidewalk like the neighbors did.

[There's an easy answer to that question if you look carefully. Or even not so carefully, as long as you look up. - Dave]

So, when it rains, it rains scum instead of water? It's hard to believe that the awning on the right would make a difference of that magnitude, unless the B&W film is deceiving and what looks like dark dirt/scum is really just wet sidewalk.

[Below, the sidewalk the same day before it rained. - Dave]


If you had the password or got an OK from somebody known as a customer, "Tijuana bibles" and other "literature" could probably be had under the counter. It certainly worked that way a few years later in most towns.

Grand Tile entrance

One symbol of permanence is the tile entrance, which looks like it's being guarded by Joe Pesci.

Too bad there aren't more of those places anymore; just a plain, simple building with one mission: keeping the men looking sharp. In my town, the only thing I can think of that comes close to the experience of this place would be a barbershop. Although he won't use the straight razor for shaving, he still uses a hand-held electric scalp massager from 1920.

Top 10 Grand Palace details

10. Spittoon
  9. One point perspective
  8. Baseball magazine
  7. Hat window illustration
  6. Lighting inside
  5. Light fixtures
  4. Shiny shiny shoes
  3. Mosaic threshold
  2. Uniform, hat on shoeshine
  1. Bob Dobbs lookalike upper right

Men's Mags

Among others The National Police Gazette, Field and Stream, The Ballplayers' Chronicle, Sporting Life were all being published during this time.

[I'm pretty sure those aren't quite the kind of men's mags Mattie was referring to. - Dave]

The booth in the back

So you took off your suit and sat in a "private booth" while it was pressed? I guess you whiled away the time by reading those magazines of particular interest to men.

[Which in 1921 would have been what, I wonder. National Geographic? - Dave]

We Clean Your Hat


Deep, dark mysteries

I can clearly remember storefronts in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, that were very similar to this as late as the early 1960's. They'd be deep, dark, somewhat run down -- and I'd often see men's faces, far inside, staring back at me when I looked in. Smoke, shoeshine and magazine stores like this were often combined and it was understood that they were for men only, not kids or "nice" women. I suspected that, much deeper, toward the rear, other sorts of magazines, of particular interest to men, were available upon request, but by the time that I became old enough (and courageous enough) to consider venturing inside, they'd all gone the way of the dinosaur.

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