Curbside Classic-ing in the 1980s: My First Published Automotive Article, 34 Years Ago Today


Imagine a world where there was no Internet–no Google search, no street views;  no Amazon, no eBay, no Craigslist, no YouTube;  no blogs, no social media, no email, no smartphones.  In the 1980s, none of those things existed.  How did we not die of boredom?  Yet despite lacking the technology that we all take for granted today, the spirit of Curbside Classic–although not named as such–was still there.  And I was getting the message out . . .

I was attending college at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark, and I was on the staff of The Vector (“With Magnitude and Direction”), the college newspaper.  College newspapers are generally starved for things to write about, and I had some creative ideas that I thought were worth sharing.

Vector newspaper staff members relaxing on the scenic shores of the Passaic River between Newark and Harrison. That’s me, up front holding a flashlight I just found;  Bob Zotti, Editor-in-Chief, far right, reading newspaper.


One of my fascinations was cars of the ’50s, so I wrote about them in this feature article, published October 14th, 1988:

Complete text.


If you’ve seen my previous CC posts, you’ll recognize some familiar “themes”.  At this time, most surviving 1950s cars were either junkers with one foot in graveyard, or occasional well-preserved examples typically driven by older people who for some reason didn’t want to give them up.  To me, their styling and charisma were utterly fascinating, and I hoped to possess a ’50s car of my own some day.

Photographs I would have liked to add to help bring the article to life:

1958 Buick for sale, 1986. Engine runs;  will go forward but won’t back up. Price $200.


1959 Dodge for sale, 1986. The car I actually test drove.


Professor Golden’s 1961 Imperial looked something like this.


I also wrote an article about how the 1939 World’s Fair predicted many trends in architecture and transportation:

Futurama 1939: Patrons entering a fair exhibit, or is it the Great White Throne Judgement?


Welcome to 1960!  All traces of Victorianism have been vanquished.


Since The Vector was a recognized media outlet, we received a press kit from GM describing the new Sunraycer experimental car that ran on solar power.


One of my major projects for The Vector was a series entitled “Newark Then & Now”.  I had become fascinated by Newark and its architecture when my family and I had the occasion to drive through the city several years before.   Driving into Newark at that time was like a descent into Hell.  Scary and shocking for little 12-year-old me who was raised in the suburbs . . .


Springfield Avenue & 18th Street. (Source: Library of Congress)


Block after block of bombed-out storefronts, everything looking shabby–but there was an artistic quality in the architecture that I found inspiring.

Franz J. Kastner Mansion, 176 Clinton Avenue, built 1892.


South Orange Avenue at 10th Street (Photo from Flickr by Tom Adams)


Many of the streets were still paved with Belgium blocks or brick . . .

Clifton Street–one of the last remaining brick-paved streets in the “Brick City”.


I later discovered older photographs of other landmarks of great architectural beauty that had long since been demolished.  I presented these photos side-by-side with modern views of the same locations:

The series was very popular, and many people were surprised by seeing how different things used to be.  Even the mayor of Newark at that time (Sharpe James) sent me a letter commending me on my work.

The Student Senate had purchased a van.  It was a 1987 Dodge Sportsman with every available option including an accent stripe (which they paid extra for), that Bob Zotti said make the van look like a skunk.  Occasionally we Vector staff members would climb into the skunk van and drive around, looking for things to photograph and write about.  We drove around Newark, taking pictures and writing articles based on what we saw.  All I can tell you is that the newspaper staffs at Princeton or Harvard were not going to kind of places we were and coming up with the material we were getting:

Illegal dump next to campus, off Lock Street.


No, this is not Berlin after 1945 but the abandoned and heavily vandalized 13th Avenue Presbyterian Church.


Homeless man sitting outside with abandoned and bombed-out housing projects looming in the background.  I thought this photo should win an award for its poignancy and composition.  (Photo by Stephen Blythe)


Billboard near campus.


Only in Newark would someone open up a go-go bar and call it BUNS . . . AIN’T NO BAKERY!


One of our most memorable trips was to see the giant replica of Noah’s Ark being built in the center of the urban wasteland by a woman named Kea Tawana.

Photo by Michael DalCerro (not affiliated with The Vector)



The Ark conceived and built by Kea Tawana. (Photo courtesy of The Star Ledger/Newark Public Library.)


(Photo from Gallery Aferro)


Eventually the city did force Kea to dismantle the Ark, which was very unfortunate in my opinion because this was a true work of “outsider art” on a par with Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles.  It would have made a great tourist attraction, and it was sad that Kea had to undo all the work she put into building it.

Occasionally I would strike out on my own and take photos of streetscapes that I knew were doomed by upcoming urban renewal projects.  The parked cars (which I wasn’t paying much attention to) would be considered genuine Curbside Classics if you saw them on the street now.  Things like this have a way of showing you how much time has passed . . .


Academy and Wilsey Streets


J. M. Quimby Building, Division Street from Spring Street. Quimby built both carriages and automobiles in the early 20th century before Detroit became predominant. (Try to find a hot wire-bent window Chevy coupe and an AMC Renault Alliance on the street today!)


I had a black Pontiac Grand Prix like that once. Thirteenth Avenue Presbyterian in the background.


FIT-RITE, last surviving store on this older section of Springfield Avenue.


Newark Street just south of Warren Street.


Warren Street from Summit Street.


Richmond Street.


Phillips Metropolitan Church, 49 Beacon Street. Both the church and Beacon Street itself have disappeared.


Westinghouse factory, Orange Street. The first AM radio broadcasts in the New York area originated from here. (WJZ;  October 1, 1921)


House on Newark and Academy Streets was in fine condition with almost all of its original decorative wooden trim still intact. However, it had to be demolished because it was in the urban renewal zone.


When the new townhouses went up, they actually looked pretty good, especially when the street trees started to mature. Better than much of what was there before. I would have preferred to have certain landmarks restored and incorporated into the new development (such as the old church which provided a nice focal point), but nobody asked for my opinion.


The following pictures I took show buildings which, to my knowledge, are still standing (but the cars have moved on to destinations and fates unknown):

301-295 High Street (MLK Boulevard)








James Street


St. Michael’s Hospital


Central Avenue, north side between Morris Avenue & 1st Street.


Hotel Riviera.


Parking at NJIT was always a problem.  So the staff come up with this little ditty to vent their frustration trying to find a place to park every day.  A multi-level parking deck was eventually constructed, but it was completed long after we had graduated and moved on.


151 Broadway = Remote parking lot a mile from campus, created by the school in an attempt to relieve the parking problem. You had to take a shuttle bus to get back and forth from the remote lot. Not an ideal solution. T.A.’s = Teaching Assistants; like professors. C.J. Towing = Company contracted by the city to tow illegally parked cars. Eberhardt = The college administration building.


Gottfried Krueger Mansion, 601 High Street (MLK Boulevard) and Court Street, built 1888, now being restored by the city after being empty and abandoned for over 30 years. (Photo from Flickr, by Diane Deaton Street)


Looking back on it all;  the articles, the photography, the cars, the houses, the experiences, the things I was trying to express–what was I really trying to say?

In 1960, Jean Shepherd, the great radio storyteller and raconteur read the following on the air, which was quoted in his biography.  When I first read it, it didn’t make much sense.  But after reflecting on it I now understand what he means (at least as much as I can).  Maybe you can too.

“How can I say it?  How can I say it?  You know, when you’ve said it all.  You still haven’t said any of it.  You really haven’t, you know.  You try to get it out–you try . . .

“I’m looking out, and I see a white ship way off in the distance, trailing a long black streamer of smoke.  And I saw a white cloud and gray gulls.  I could hear that wind beating down from the north . . .

“There was a kind of coolness in the air.  There’s a coolness in the air in summer that says one day it’s going to be winter.  It’s going to be winter.  And in winter, there’s always a softness you can find that says it’s going to be summer.  And so it shall be.

“I’m standing there, and I’m trying to figure out how to say it to you.  I can’t.  Never can.  I guess that’s the final frustration.  That nobody can ever say all of it to somebody else.  No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want.  In fact, I think the more you want to say it, the least likely and the least able you are to do it.

“I’m standing there, and that ship just finally disappears.  Hear it?  Did you get?–listen.  Listen–you hear it?  I’ve been trying to say it.  What I’ve been trying to say all along.  Yeah.  There’s not much time left.  But you’ve got to be able to hear it.  I guess you can’t.  I guess everybody hears what he is hearing.  Nobody else can hear it.

“Did you hear that?  Oh yeah.

“You know, it’s going to be winter soon.  Yes. Yes.”

-Quoted in Excelsior, You Fathead:  The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, by Eugene B. Bergmann (2005)