Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Camera Mart

I started this post back in March, the day before I moved, I suppose.  I'm not sure why, but it was an interesting thread for me to follow, so here it is:

why did I search it?  I was thinking about films and credits...watched Rude Awakening...because I wanted to see the part...because I wanted to see...what?

 Rude Awakening - 1989. Hilarious movie about two hippies (Fred and Jesus) who flee to 'Managuador' to escape being jailed by the CIA. They return to 'civilization' to thwart an American war plot.
In this scene, ex-girlfriend Petra - stoned out of her mind - tries to open a tub of frozen yogurt while telling Fred all the things he's missed over the last twenty years.

...something to prove that what I remember was real, that my experiences were shared by others, and therefore somehow valid.  so I watched the movie all the way through the credits, and right there at the very end, before the screen fades to black, I see it:  Stages...The Camera Mart, N.Y..  Camera Mart was the name of the sales, rental, and service company my family ran while I was growing up, that shut down many years ago, after I had moved away.  so I did a search, to see if the internet could help me validate my life to myself, and puzzle out if I actually exist.  here's what I found:

Camera Mart—10th Ave & 456 W55th St.- August 1999. Ad circa 1960s.

Videography Magazine - November 1980

these were posted on Fading Ad Blog, photographed by Frank H. Jump.  the big orange ad really hit me with a punch of nostalgia to the gut...we all used to have orange t-shirts with those same words and graphics on them.  see that 'CMTV' logo in the bottom right corner?  in high school, I redesigned it in my advertising design class for my father's business cards.  growing up, I knew some of the history of the company and the buildings - mostly I knew that the brothers Sam and Irving Browning, along with Irving's wife, Hester, had started a film company, and that my grandfather went to work for them at the 'old place', somewhere near Columbus Circle, in Manhattan.  * my uncle wrote an article about Mr. Browning in American Heritage, Vol. 43, No.7, in November 1992, titled "The Lost City", and put up a show of his collection of Mr. Browning's photographs of New York City, dating from 1918-1938.  the Camera Mart I came to know and love stood between 9th and 10th Avenues, on 55th Street.  with a parking lot for our cars across 9th (we drove in from the suburbs), and an Italian diner for fettuccine alfredo on 11th, my tiny slice of Hell's Kitchen looked a bit more like heaven, surrounded as it was in the miasma of movie magic, Society of Motion Picture Engineers conventions, and celebrity-attended cocktail parties.

my grandfather and his partner took the place over from the Brownings, and they ran the company when I was kid, with my uncle and father working as technicians alongside a core group of people, including my brother and I who would work during the summers, learning the ropes.  after several years, my dad took over a management position in his department, and ended up as executive vice-president of the company.  when the film industry began to abandon NYC for North Carolina in the 80's, due to the prohibitive rise in the cost of locations, it hit us hard, and we went down.  our mostly family-run business didn't have the business savvy, or educational edge, to compete with the rapid-paced, technological advances in the industry.  my dad handed the keys to the complex over to Sony Music in 1993:  From Newsreels to Records:  A New Home for Sony Music.

during the many years of my happily entitled childhood, many wonderful scenes unfolded before me on and around the stages and studios, including the knowledge that somewhere beneath our feet lay the fabled pool built there by the previous occupants of the space, Fox Movietone, for filming underwater scenes, some of which reportedly starred the recently deceased queen of synchronized swimming, Esther Williams.

there are even two brief IMDb listings (internet movie database) of a few of the many films/shows in which we were credited, including the famous 1969 Woodstock concert, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Big:  #1 & #2.  I remember the conversations around the dinner table during several of these various projects - how the police were called when some of the guys playing SS officers in Sophie's Choice took a smoke break outside in costume and terrified half the neighborhood, what the Rolling Stone guy 'with the lips' was like to work with, Bill Cosby's strict requirements from his crew, and how the guys used to cover everything that was going to be used for Saturday Night Live skits with 'CMTV' stickers, and then laughing my ass off when we'd see it on-screen at home in our living room.

there are several reference to Camera Mart in the book Chronicle of a Camera:  The Arriflex 35 in North America, 1945-1972 that discusses the company's role in that camera's cinematic history. I found an article titled "Arriflex Technical Presentation Spurs Turnout of New York Cinematographers" from American Cinematographer magazine, in July of 1974, which took place our stages.  the Mel Wong Dance Company also performed their piece "Peaks" there in 1979.  my search also brought up the name of prolific camera operator and cinematographer Daniel L. Turrett, who seems to have been interviewed about his career path by some career guide website that wrote, "...he landed a job at The Camera Mart, one of the largest motion picture camera and equipment rental companies in New York at that time.  Working as a technician, Turrett learned about the equipment while preparing it for production companies to rent."

perhaps most surprisingly, there was a setlist from a Ramones concert, on September 3, 1977 that took place on the stages - which led me to two videos of the performance!  the recordings taken from this show were included in the DVD It's Alive 1974-1996, released by Rhino Records in 2007 (hey, they're not even plugged in...).

and this little tidbit was just too random to leave out - in 1985, they filmed on the stages what appears to have been a martial arts 'musical' (sounds perfectly dreadful to me), called The Last Dragon, which "was a critical disappointment but a financial success, and is now considered a cult classic" according to the wiki entry.  the part I found interesting about it is that the entry states "Peter Larkin's spectacular Seventh heaven club video set was built on Camera Mart stages at 54th and 10th Avenue, a set so impressive that Diana Ross, visiting one day, promptly asked if she could buy it for her next tour."  cool...look, I found the video for that, too:

in 2007, it seems Sony hit on hard times, too, and sold the buildings once more, as told in the article 'Sony to Shutter Historic Studios', which talks a little about some of the great films that had been shot there, as well as some of the folks who recorded in the studios under the Sony label.  no one seemed to know what was going to happen to this small piece of New York City's movie-making history, but only a handful of people seemed to care.  then finally, I ran across the fantastic blog post Saying Goodbye to a Mythical Pool from the building's neighbors, Avatar Studios, where someone (bless them) had enough sense to recognize that it was a "building with a long and interesting history", relating in 2008 that, "The studio closed at the end of August 2007 and was just recently demolished to make way for another condominium."  having heard tell of the buried pool, they were present on the day of the demolition when "the pool reappeared again for one brief moment in the sun" to witness it, and to take a few pictures before it was gone forever.

so that's it.  the building was there, for a brief time we occupied it and became a part of its history, and now it's gone.  but I'm not the only one to have seen it or appreciated it, and somehow, knowing that perfect strangers cared about it too makes me feel like it wasn't all a dream, and that I really did live all those great experiences with some wonderfully talented and creative people.  thanks for taking the journey to visit my past with me - I hope you found something interesting along the way.


  1. I remember when it was Camera Mart and I'd hangout in Cafe Dada Directly across the street, Meryl Streep would come in to buy a sandwich or maybe a croissant and she gave her Hollywood smile to Robert the owner of the cafe while she was filming Sophies Choice. Another time I stood on my stoop and there's this guy sitting in his winebago playing cards. I'm thinking I know this guy, but then it hit me of course I don't "know him" I know "Of" him- it was Jack Nicholson. And then ther was the time a photographer was taking pictures next to our building stoop because many years prior when he worked at FoxMovietone he had photographed Marilyn Monroe there which he eventually published in a photo book. Amazing how many well known people walked through those doors and there's no plaque to commemorate it.
    Yet the Hit Factory up the block capitalized on it, which I think Camera Mart use to operate out of as well, if I'm not mistaken.
    Thanks for posting this Camera Mart article, it was like finding a jewel (needle) in a haystack.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous! It's nice to know you remember some of the history as well! I wish I knew who you were, or how you came to find this blog entry - maybe you're my uncle, or one of his exes? lol! thanks for stopping by, come visit anytime ~ m

  2. Thanks for the article. I worked for CMTV in Burbank CA back in the late 80s. It was my first job in the biz. I had just rolled in from the Mid-West. I am pretty sure I meet your dad and uncle. They would come in from time to time. They were very courteous to me. I leaned more details about contracts and such from them. I was a rental tech. I talked to the NY people all the time because we would send equipment back and forth or to other locals. I remember SBD but I can’t remember his brother’s name. It was a heck of a time in my life. I went through a bad break up, moved 3 times in 7 months. I went on from there to work in a small cable TV studio who was one of my rental clients. Thanks for the ad. That logo was on the side of the building in Burbank.

    1. hi DJ - thanks so much for reading, connecting, and commenting! SBD was my dad, and it's nice to hear that you remember him in a positive light. : )

  3. Wow. The memories. I worked in the sales department from 1986 up until the auctions. A great place and great people.

    1. hey Anthony! thanks for stopping in, it's nice to hear from you!

  4. Hi - I worked for some time at CM back in the 1980's in the lighting department for Bernie G. and Steve G. I coiled at least 500 miles of 1/0 cable! Heavy stuff! It was a fun place to work because of the stars that were coming on and off of the set. Cafe Dada was a good place to grab lunch and the leftovers from the craft service. We also did some PA site work for The Cotton Club and the Last Dragon too to pick up a few extra bucks over at Kaufman Astoria.

    1. right on - thanks for stopping in and sharing the experience! I wonder if we knew each other in passing? it's possible!

  5. I was lucky to work at CMTV from 1988 untill Barbizon took over 53'rd Street. I can't believe that we haven't learned to save our landmarks.
    I started my career at Sigma Sound in Philly and that has also been turned into condos. What great memories of life on 10'th Ave. Such great people to work for and with. I love to search out all of those names in the credits of movies and TV shows still now in production. I'm proud to have known and worked with such talented people.


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