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Vital Foods: 1937

Vital Foods: 1937

Washington, D.C., circa 1937. Exterior of the Happy News Cafe (described in a 1933 news item as "the new dietitian restaurant for the unemployed") at 1727 Seventh Street N.W. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Shelby Airflo

The bike is a mid to late 1930's Shelby Airflo. It's unusual to see this model sporting the chrome (or stainless steel) fenders but without the "tank." It is loaded with the lighting accessories. Delta "Silver-Ray" headlight on the front fender, a Delta "Horn-Lite" (horn and a headlight combined) on the handlebar, and the Delta "Defender" taillight. The aluminum tube held the batteries.

Final word

In these days, maybe it would be appropriate for some enterprising individual to reopen the Happy News Cafe in the original location. Great name for a coffee shoppe as well! And a tribute to the building's past glory. Why not?

No Lock!

Best thing about the bike is that I don't see a lock.....probably had no need for one in those days. Wow, A time full of honesty!

Stuck in the dining room with...

Dig the "Ladies Dining Room." Speaking as a man, I say let's bring this idea back.

Speaking as a lady, I couldn't agree more.

Throwing a history fit

I wonder if there is a plaque or any historical marker attached to that building? That cafe was a pretty cool and historically significant place, in my opinion. Is it on the historical preservation list? It appears that the buildings to either side have been replaced since 1937. What is the use of the building today? It looks pretty shabby and forgotten in time.

Bike is either a Colson or a Huffman

Best I can tell. Both of these bikes of this vintage had the radical curve in the twin bars near the seat.

Battery case.

I think the cylinder is the battery case for the headlight. I'm working on the bike brand.

Tire pump

The cylindrical object on the bike is a tire pump. I carry one on my bike in exactly the same place.

Still there! Happy News!

Just older and drabber, that's all.

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There appears to some discrepencies between this photo and the previous one of the same cafe. In this one there is a sign that says the ladies dining room is upstairs while the previous one shows everyone eating together.

There is also a sign on the window of this one that says everyone is "served at the table" while the previous one shows everyone going through a line cafeteria style.

[Lots of restaurants had "ladies dining rooms" for women who preferred them. That doesn't mean they couldn't eat downstairs in mixed company. - Dave]

9-Cent Banquet

Washington Post, Jul 1, 1933

Educators Attend 9-Cent "Banquet"

A Barnarr McFadden "banquet," at a cost of 9 cents a person, was attended yesterday at the new dietitian restaurant for unemployed, 1727 Seventh street northwest, by Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, president of Howard University, and Garnet C. Wilkinson, assistant superintendent of schools. They inspected the penny plant and expressed approval of its sanitary and scientific features.

Elder Michaux, who is giving all surplus foods each day for benefit of worthy colored families, was also in the party, as was Dr. Emmett J. Scott, Howard University secretary, and member of the parole board.

Arthur C. Newman, Guy D. Glassford and Eloise Skinner, completed the party.

Elder Solomon Michaux and Bernarr Macfadden

According to his obituary in the New York Times, Elder Solomon Michaux's Good Neighbor League fed "250,000 indigent people at its Happy News Cafe on Seventh Street in Washington" in 1933.

Bernarr Macfadden was the author of books like "Virile Powers of Superb Manhood" (1900) and "Strenuous Lover" (1904), as well as "Constipation: Its Cause, Effect, and Treatment" (1924) and the always-compelling "Predetermine Your Baby's Sex" (1926). In other words, he appears to have been into most of the fads -- many of them now viewed as hard science -- of the 20th century.

Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Dig the "Ladies Dining Room." Speaking as a man, I say let's bring this idea back.


That main sign is super! It really helps make the point about the establishment! But if the "Ladies Dining Room" was upstairs, why need that No Smoking sign downstairs? It would appear that there was really no bother about where the Ladies ate. Which would be logical.

[Because there were plenty of ladies who ate downstairs. - Dave]

The Foundation

I see the Happy News Cafe was sponsored by the Bernarr MacFadden Foundation. MacFadden was a physical-culture promoter and magazine publisher. Interesting, that in the next picture, the cafe customers are all African Americans. Was the restaurant segregated or perhaps, was it placed in a black neighborhood intentionally? Were there other places like this in DC at the time?

About Bernarr Macfadden

It's worth checking out the somewhat hilarious Wikipedia entry on him. Apparently a bit of a celebrity in his time, this was the first I've heard of him.

Tough Times

I note the "Ladies Dining Room" is upstairs... We wouldn't want any fraternizing with the enemy! And since they make a point that the food is actually served at a table, you know these were tough days in the Depression because that means that many places were more like soup lines.

The bike

Can someone identify that great bicycle parked out front? What is that cylindrical object between the frame members?

Day by day in every way

Day by day in every way,
I am getting well (Ha!)
I am filled with health and strength,
More than I can tell (Ho!)
Now I know, I can go
All along the way (Ha!)
Growing better all the time,
And singing every day! (Ho!)

-- Marching anthem by Bernarr Macfadden, to be sung with gusto

Don't know if I would want to eat there. Some interesting articles written about him and his Foundation. Makes Mr. Kellogg's health regime seem mild.

Bernarr McFadden connection

Note the name "Bernarr McFadden Foundation." McFadden was a famous proponent of exercise and nutrition. A search on Google for "Bernarr McFadden" "Happy News Cafe" turns up exactly one reference - on Google Books - which explains the connection nicely.

The font says, "It's circus time!"

There's nothing like Bozo The Clown-style lettering on the sign to put the patrons in a good mood... but I doubt that they got any Coney Island red hots, popcorn, or cotton candy inside. Am I wrong, or is this a charity soup kitchen that was "tricked out" to look like a real restaurant? Maybe in an attempt to spare people the embarrassment of taking a handout meal?

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