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The 1930s: Town & Country



The City
Suburbs & Small Towns
Places To Go
The Country

In The City

The city in the 1930s was a world of streetcars, department stores, art deco skyscrapers and street vendors. Apartment buildings had fire escapes, nightclubs had blinking neon signs and drugstores had soda fountains.

Streetcars were introduced in the 1880s and were powered by an overhead cable or electrified track. In the 1930s, thanks to competition from the auto, they were beginning to decline in popularity. Some cities were replacing their streetcar lines with bus routes.

Just like the big cross-country passenger trains, streetcars started to adopt a more modern, streamlined look in the 1930s.

Henry Hudson Parkway and
George Washington Bridge

The modern multi-lane highway was born in the late 1920s. Parkways and overpasses were built in crowded cities to ease traffic congestion and create safer intersections. These limited-access highways were the ancestors of today's expressways.

Officials had been trying to solve the traffic problem in New York City since the days of the horse and buggy. In the 1930s, multi-lane highways and bridges provided a solution. The Henry Hudson Parkway was proposed in 1927 and was constructed between 1933 and 1937. The George Washington Bridge was opened in 1931, and the Henry Hudson Bridge was opened in 1936.

Chrysler Building
New York City had the world's tallest buildings....the Chrysler Building with 77 stories, and the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931 and had 102 stories.

New York was the theater and nightlife capital of the United States. It was also the home of the radio and burgeoning television industry.

Constructing The Empire State Building
New York City Postcards
Times Square
Chrysler Building
Great Buildings Of The 30s
Henry Hudson Parkway

Chicago, 1930

Art deco splendor

Many skyscrapers had large lettered signs on top, shining like beacons in the night sky

Empire State Building

Suburbs & Small Towns

Small towns had corner drugstores, cafes and barbershops. Friendly telephone operators connected your phone calls, and most households were on party lines.

Many towns had World War I cannons on display in their town squares. Following the war, the federal government offered surplus cannons to any town that wanted one for display purposes. Benches, cobblestone walkways and statues were the perfect backdrop for Memorial Day ceremonies and 4th of July picnics.

Everyone did their shopping, banking, dining and socializing in the downtown business district. The parking meter was invented in 1935 to regulate downtown parking and put a little money in the town's coffers.

Parking Meters

Edina, Minnesota, 1939

Streetcars could be found in small towns as well as cities. In suburban areas, some towns were connected to each other by electric interurban trains.

A suburb is a community located on the outskirts of a city. They are divided into categories based on the method of transportation that connects them to the city. Before cars came along, railroad and streetcar suburbs grew up along rail and trolley lines. The new automobile suburbs were built in the open areas between the rail lines and were connected by highways. In the 1930s, 31 percent of American homes were located in the suburbs. At this point, streetcar suburbs were old news, while automobile suburbs were establishing themselves as the wave of the future.

Spring Lake, Michigan

Businesses & Places To Go

Movie theaters had brightly-lit marquees, ornate interiors and fancy names like the Rialto, the Strand, the Regent, the Apollo, the Grand and the Bijou. Unlike today, each theater only had one screen.

During the summer, many small towns had free movie nights. Chairs and benches were set up in a park or vacant lot, and at dusk the films were shown on a screen or on the side of a building. The movies that were shown were usually B-grade westerns and gangster films.

a typical Illinois town, 1938....
*There was one blacksmith, one chiropractor and three businesses that delivered coal.

*For your beauty needs, you could visit Clarence's Cut & Curl Shop, Cronin Style Shop, Lil-Mar Beauty Shop or the Powder Puff Beauty Shoppe. Visit my Fashion page to learn more about the services offered at the beauty shop!

*People didn't throw anything away. There were twice as many shoe repair shops as shoe stores.

*When you reached your golden years, you could retire at Crosby's Rest Home or the Old People's Home.

*The local greenhouse was a member of the Florists Telegraph Association.

*Dry cleaners provided cold storage for fur coats during the summer.

*The recreation parlor had billiard tables, a handful of bowling alleys and a bar. Bowling leagues were extremely popular.

*There were also ice manufacturers and dealers, poultry hatcheries, harness repair shops, radio repair shops and junk dealers.

What's showing?

Dry cleaners and tailors provided personal service

In The Country

Steam locomotives had to stop every 40 miles to take on water. Small settlements known as whistle stops and jerkwater towns grew up around railroad water tanks.

Despite their size, these towns usually managed to retain residents as long as the railroad came through. They contained a cluster of homes, a general store, and sometimes a boardinghouse or hotel. A town's fortunes improved dramatically if it became a full-fledged station with a depot and regular train service.

During the 1930s, however, many railroads were eliminating their less-prosperous lines, and many whistle stop towns were in decline. Their populations were reduced to tramps and the few local residents who hadn't moved to the big city. When the train stopped coming through, these areas became virtual ghost towns.

other pages in this section:
Shopping & Dining
Travel & Nightlife

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