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Our Little Town

NOTICE:  In June 2003, a special, print version of this page, as it then was,  beautifully framed, was presented by your webmaster on behalf of our class and the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce to Nathan's Oceanside, and is now hanging permanently at that location.   Click here for details and photos.

__________________
This song's cooler than that Perry Como hot dog song, isn't it?
    
(To hear a possible alternative song selection, click here.)
      

A Tribute to and Brief History of our own

     

Nathan's Famous

Roadside Rest

(You can't get this stuff anywhere else, folks! )
     

      

    

As most visitors to this site will surely agree, the de facto center of our little town in the late 1950s and before, at least socially, was not the town triangle, but most certainly it was a little further south on Long Beach Road — at Weidner Avenue. For many, many people, whether they were local residents or not, the famous Roadside Rest (which became Roadside Rest in 1959) provided them with some of the fondest memories they have of Oceanside

     

The beginning

   

Since the 1920s, the Roadside Rest was a huge part of our little town's history and culture, its most famous business and its most recognized landmark.  More than anything else (except maybe the Shrine of St. Anthony, the world famous underground Catholic church built in 1928 and destroyed by fire in 1960), the Roadside Rest put our little town "on the map." And for the many of us who came to Oceanside in the early to mid-1950s from Brooklyn, going to Famous was like taking a nostalgic trip back home.

The Roadside Rest was originally founded in 1921 as a fruit and vegetable stand with a $300 investment by Leon Shor (who later operated four popular Long Island restaurants under the name, "Shor's") and his brother-in-law, Murray Hadfield. Nassau County was mostly farms then. According to a 1976 article by popular columnist, Jack Altschul, Long Beach Road was "a dusty, two-lane thoroughfare that connected Long Beach and Rockville Centre," and "Oceanside was a clamdigger's hamlet in between and hardly a location one would project as the site of a bonanza." 
     

But the Roadside Rest soon became primarily a hot dog stand and one of the countless imitators (mentioned in  the Denver Post article, below) of Famous, a Coney Island landmark since 1916.   

Leon Shor     Murray Hadfield         Circa 1922-'24

       

Of course, we know that the original Famous, in Coney Island practically invented, and virtually single-handedly popularized, the American hot dog on a bun — with mustard and sauerkraut — and for only a nickel!! 

Click here for more on the history of  Nathan's Famous in Coney Island and the company, Nathan's Famous, Inc.

   

 

The Handwerkers:  

 

Nathan    Murray 

(a toddler)

Coney Island, New York, circa 1923

                 

As Jack Altschul also wrote in that 1976 article about the Roadside Rest, "A year or two after they located on Long Beach Road, the partners decided to install a small grill for frankfurters and a spigot or two to dispense drinks.  They had noticed a marked increase in automobile traffic to Long Beach and counted on a few of the beach-bound travelers to stop at their stand for refreshments.  The demand for the all-beef frankfurters was to so far surpass their expectations that they spent much of the decade enlarging their premises ... [to] a one block-square piece of property, with a counter exceeding 100 feet in length and an 80-foot bar in a wood-paneled dining room off the street."  

   

The Original

The Roadside Rest building that we knew was constructed circa 1929, and it was a rather beautiful example of stucco-covered Spanish architecture that was highly unusual for our part of the country in its time — or ever. It was of a style more likely to have been found in Florida or California, but not New York. In fact, it clearly was one of the two most beautiful structures ever built in our little town.  (The other was our high school, as it was originally in 1955-'63, before the first expansion construction destroyed its stately front entrance. 


The west and south sides, 
circa early 1930s    

 


   
These three clustered photos seem to be the oldest ones available of the Roadside Rest building that we knew when we were kids. Notice at left that the famous sign above the northwest and southwest corners of the building (as shown above in the photo from the early 1930s) had not yet been erected.

  

     

Click here for a photo of, and information about, the smaller, copycat competition right across the street during the mid-1930s.
   

The "heyday"

   

In the mid-late '30s and early '40s, the Roadside Rest, which called itself "Long Island's famous family rendezvous," was very popular for its frankfurters and seafood (seafood was not introduced by in Coney Island until 1946) and its outdoor entertainment (live band music and dancing) featured all year 'round on its "garden terrace" or "open-air pavilion."  It claimed capacity to seat 3,000 people, and it occupied a full city block. 

According to an  account written in 1974 by another reporter, Dennis Weintraub, "The small place grew from hot dogs and hamburgers to the heights of a well-known supper club and peaked, says Morton Shor, around 1940. ... It featured the legendary big bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Eddy Duchin, and Lionel Hampton.  There were nightly [radio] broadcasts of the bands' concerts and dancing under the stars.

As told directly to this reporter in 2004 by Morton (Morty) Shor, son of Roadside Rest co-founder, Leon Shor, "It was a grand and glorious era, a wondrous time that gave me many, many fond memories.  In fact, not a week goes by today when I don't meet someone who speaks fondly of his or her memories of that place."

Click here for Morty Shor's unique perspective on the early history of the Roadside Rest, obtained in a couple of exclusive interviews of Shor conducted for this website on January 4, 2004, and again on December 12, 2010, when he was 81 and almost 88 years old, respectively. Also featured on the same page are images of various items of early Roadside Rest memorabilia.

The Roadside Rest garden terrace featured Harry James' orchestra, Gene Krupa and many Dixieland bands, too. In the summer, it attracted many people who drove there from Brooklyn and Queens (probably in their very first cars) to escape the hot and crowded city, or stopped on their way home from a day at Long Beach or Jones Beach.

Promotional picture postcards (one above and three below) of Roadside Rest in its prime, circa 1930s 

   
The decline

However, beginning in early 1942, World War II brought gasoline rations with highly curtailed pleasure driving and the demise of the big swing bands (all the young musicians were drafted, as were half of most young dancing

   
couples), and by the mid-'40s and early '50s, there were no longer any big bands, nor was there other live music or dancing offered any more at the
Roadside Rest.

Next door, however, there was an area with amusement rides for little kids called "Kiddieland Park."



The "Kiddieland Park" carousel at Murray Handwerker's Roadside Rest, 1957.             
                             Oceanside Beacon
photo
  

    
Text printed on the back of the above card: 
 LONG ISLAND'S FAMOUS RENDEZVOUS
   
THE ROADSIDE REST'S gay, romantic atmosphere, fascinating dance music, and delicious food, well  served, constitute it as one of the outstanding places for pleasure-lovers.  Here you may dine and dance in  The Garden Terrace, a veritable paradise under the stars or in the splendor of the Old English Tavern.    Parking for over 2,500 cars.  Open all year.  This bright spot caters to the millions.
  

But with the introduction of air conditioning (in movie theatres and later in homes) and TV, and the growing traffic congestion between NY and LI, the old Roadside Rest had lost its popularity, it had become run down, and it actually closed briefly.  

Enter Murray Handwerker 
     

"Dad, people are moving out of Brooklyn to the suburbs, and our customers, too."

      
—
Murray Handwerker, 
from a
Newsday interview, 
 June 11, 1976 

The transformation

    
Murray tried to convince his father, Nathan (the Nathan of Famous), to risk taking his hot dog emporium beyond the close boundaries of his comfort zone of over 40 years — Coney Island, New York. Nathan, however, was unwilling to do it.  So, through a corporation he controlled, Murray acquired title to the famous Roadside Rest property in late 1956, refurbished it and then took over its management by himself probably in January 1957. 
    
But as Murray told a New York Times reporter in 1979, when Nathan saw how well his son's new venture was doing, and he said, "my father was a little concerned that I might be going away from the Nathan's store," so he had his company buy it from Murray in late 1958.
1 On Thursday, June 4, 1959, it opened as Roadside Rest and became what it had originally imitated. A number of years later, the old name was quietly dropped forever. 

Ad from the Oceanside Beacon, April 4, 1957 

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A different version is independently told by two of our classmates who worked at the Roadside Rest at the time of its transformation to Nathan's. According to George Kinney and Bill Livert, under Murray's private ownership, it was generally known by the employees that the Roadside Rest was not making money, "nearing bankruptcy," in George's words, and Murray's dad had Nathan's Famous, Inc. bail him out with the takeover. But in our 2004 interview, Murray Handwerker pretty much stuck to his 1979 version, emphasizing that his father came to him primarily to keep Murray in the corporate family. So who knows? (Click here for Murray Handwerker's personal account of the early history of Nathan's Famous in our little town, as given in an exclusive interview to 1960 Sailors Association Inc. February 1, 2004.)

The 1959 grand opening of Famous Roadside Rest must have been one the grandest events ever in our little town.  

Our classmate, Bill Liebman, remembers: 

"I believe I went with Joel [Pravda].  They were giving free franks, but only two at a time.  I think I was happy with two, but I can't swear for Joel.  It was a mob scene!" 

  

     
A more detailed account by classmate, Dave Schwarz, follows:

"I recall the day that Nathan’s took over the Roadside Rest; they gave away free hot dogs without limit. They imported some guys from the Brooklyn establishment who had incredibly fast hands.  I remember marveling at how fast they filled buns with hot dogs, (and wondered how cooked the dogs they served were).

"I was taking driver’s ed. at the time, and one of the coaches was the driver’s ed. teacher.  The whole carload of students voted unanimously for a student drive which would take us past Nathan's, though it was a morning class. The teacher didn’t protest too much when we pulled up and parked.  We went in and ate our fill. 

 "At lunch. a bunch of people, me included, went again and I had another three, or four, who can remember? After school, we went again, but I think I could only get down two. 

"Where do you think we went for supper when my dad got home from work? 

"It was a few weeks before I could look again at another hot dog." 

At right, ad from Newsday, June 4, 1959 (You can see at right that the telephone no.
of  our hometown
Nathan's Famous but for the adoption of a modern numerical 
exchange, is the same today as it was on opening day in 1959, 766-2345.) 

  

  

In 1961, the "Kiddieland Park" area was taken over by Jazzbo, a professional clown who operated it until 1965, and it was renamed "JazzboLand." Jazzbo appeared there regularly.

For years before that (1947-1960), we saw him in our annual Memorial Day parades and other local events usually with his colorful clown car, a 1930 Model A Ford known as the "Jazzmobile." Do you remember?

   
  Edmund A. Tester, Sr. as Jazzbo in the JAZZMOBILE
 
Click here for lots more about Jazzbo.

The fare

     

In addition to hot dogs, our Oceanside (the second one on the planet) served up a wide variety of foods that was virtually unheard of (except in Coney Island)The choices offered included pizza, corn-on-the-cob and stuff that you could not buy standing up almost anywhere else, such as lobster and shrimp rolls, clams-on-the-half-shell, "Ipswich" fried clams, chow mein on a bun and frog's legs (yes, frog's legs). It was just like the original in Coney Island — only better — at our , you could always sit down to eat — and drink!

  

                            Nathan's Famous

      
Of course, our also sold hamburgers, in competition with the then blossoming, brand new, fast food industry led nationally by , and on LI, by local hamburger vendors familiar to us, such as Joseph's Hamburgers, Wetson's (which acquired in 1975) and the original fast food hamburger chain (started in 1921), (which was in Lynbrook).

     
At , you had to wait on a different line for each item you bought, including the drinks (so in that respect, it certainly was NOT fast food). Every member of your party was assigned a different line to wait on.  

Our favorite memories of youth (outside of our beloved Oceanside High School) were of Famous Roadside Rest. Here's one from our classmate, Ed Chilton:
   

"I spent many hours of my youth in this old building, which had an outdoor dance floor and once hosted big bands. The wisdom of the location can be seen on a map of Long Island, east of Idlewild Airport, now known as JFK. Nathan's was located on Long Beach Road — the major thoroughfare to and from Long Beach2 — the summer resort of literary renown with a miles-long, elevated boardwalk full of beachfront hotels, kiddie rides, game arcades, and knish vendors; a credible rival to Atlantic City, NJ."
______________

2

Click here for Long Beach photos

And as told by another classmate and former employee, Rick Von Brook:
   

"Frog's legs, pizza, clams, oysters (in season), burgers, franks, shrimp rolls, chow mein on a bun, deli sandwiches, pea soup, clam chowder, shrimp, soft and hard ice cream and, of course, their famous fries. Did I leave anything out?3  I cooked and served most of the above as a part-timer in my HS/college days. What a great place for a hyper-hormonal teenage guy to work at. Every gorgeous gal in town passed through going or coming back from the beach.4  In cooperation with the Oceanside Recreation Department, they had puppet shows and concerts on the stage in back."
 ______________  

3

Well, Rick, some remember knishes, too.  (But who would eat a knish at Nathan's when they had such great fries, and the best knishes were at Izzy's on the Long Beach boardwalk?)  And our classmate, Ed Chilton, adds, "Yep.  There was a  4-foot by 3-foot tray of ice, and on top of the ice were slices of watermelon and cantaloupe, and fresh fruit, e.g., grapefruit, pineapple slices, etc."
        

4

Click here for Long Beach photos

 

Like Rick, for so many of us, as kids, it was also a great source of part-time jobs.

was open late at night after almost everything else had closed (except the 24-hour diners, of course), and it quickly became our little town's most popular teenage social hangout. (You could hang out all night at and never be asked to buy anything or leave.)   

Although, as kids tend to do, we took it for granted at the time (like our school, our little town and even our music), we now realize that our was really special — and that it was really ours!  

According to a remarkably accurate statement by that appears on its expansive historical website, LI HISTORY.COM

                
Ad from the Oceanside Beacon, June 4,                            
and
Newsday, June 5, 1959                            

"The huge building with picnic-style tables became a destination: to go after high-school football games, after a day at the beach, to celebrate when you first got your drivers' license, or just to people-watch and meet kids from other towns."

       

   

The north and west sides, as our Nathan's Famous, looked when we were kids.                                 
This photo courtesy of Nathan's Famous Inc.  
                                

Interestingly, the photo above was dug out of the archives by Nathan's Famous, Inc.'s corporate office after
a year-long search made for this site at our request and is now the only photo (
not Coney Island) that
(in its original full color form) is featured on the company's own website's very brief history page
(which, incidentally, does not even mention
Oceanside).
   
  

   

The west side, taken in the daytime around the same time (early '60s) as the photo above

In the early 1960s, a roof (photo below) was added over the garden terrace to get more use out of it during the cold months, and for a few years entertainment was offered there again, but then the bandstand went silent.  There were children's puppet shows, though, and bikers' nights.  

    Source: nathansfamous.com (date unknown)

In 1966 (after opening its third location in Yonkers, New York, celebrated its golden anniversary.

In 1971, another attempt at a rebirth of the Roadside Rest as an entertainment facility was made.  

    

    
This time, the bandstand featured banjos, sing-alongs and  jazz music, square dancing was introduced, and the puppet shows and the kiddie park continued.  But, alas, nothing Handwerker could do could bring back the glory days of the big bands.

The destruction

        Nathan's Famous

By 1976, the 47-year old structure was deteriorating and no longer well suited to modern service of fast food, and the competition was growing.  And so, sadly for us, on June 10th-11th, 1976, our beloved Famous Roadside Rest, which we all took for granted as kids, was demolished.

At left  is how our Oceanside Nathan's looked (the north and west sides), without awnings,  just days before it was torn down in 1976.

         
A few days later, under the headline, "Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot," Jack Altschul wrote in :

"It was like reading the obit of an old friend, the story about the demolition of Nathan's Famous in Oceanside to make room for a parking lot."

    

 

The north side. Newsday photo, 1976   

       
(Notice how the "
FRANKFURTERS & SEA FOOD" part
 of the sign remained unchanged from the 1930s
until the end.)

It should have been protected as a historic site.

As forecasted in Jack Altschul'scolumn, our was soon replaced with a strip shopping center2 and a smaller, more modern, corporate, "cookie cutter" (with far less character and beauty) a block away to the north at the corner of Long Beach Road and Windsor Parkway, where it stands today — still serving those famous hot dogs , with all the sauerkraut you can stand — and the very best french fries in all the world! 

Nathan's Famous for Health Food?

In an article dated February 14, 2003, Newsday reported the death of a woman who was believed quite likely to have been the oldest woman in the world at age 119 and who lived most of her life right down the street in Long Beach and then Island Park.  In the article, her 60 year-old grandson was quoted as saying "... her favorite place to eat was Nathan's," where she had lunch every Sunday.

Could hot dogs and fries be the secret to long life? (Apparently, 82-year old Murray Handwerker thinks so. See his 2004 interview for www.1960sailors.net.)

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Substantially all of the contents of our page, in a beautifully framed, printed edition is now hanging permanently in the Oceanside, immortalizing the old Roadside Rest along with the Class of 1960. It was presented June 28, 2003, on our behalf  our class with the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, who then declared June to be " Month in Oceanside, New York." Click here for details and photos.

Links to Other Nathan's Famous Roadside Rest-Related Pages on 1960sailors.net:

  • Click here for our exclusive interview with Morty Shor, son of Roadside Rest co-founder, Leon Shor.

  • Click here for our exclusive interview with the man who brought to Oceanside, Murray Handwerker, son of founder, Nathan Handwerker.

  • Click here for details and photos of the Class of 1960's tribute presentation to, June 2003, and links to related pages, including an article from the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce Newsletter about our class' tribute presentation and a letter of thanks to our class from .

  • Click here for photos of your classmates at the "new" Oceanside taken the day before our 40-year reunion in July 2000.

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Below is a photograph taken circa 1959 of the original, but expanded, Coney Island (not nearly as pretty as ours but nevertheless, quite a place). Notice the sign containing the large clock just to the right of center, and the one just to the right of that (also see close-ups, below); they are both promoting its then brand new second location — in our little town — Oceanside.


        

    
    

Graphic artistry for above close-ups by our classmate, Ed Chilton 

   

 
Other Links:

  • Click here for more on the history of  Nathan's Famous in Coney Island and the company, Nathan's Famous, Inc.
     

  • Click here for more information on the history of our little town.
     

  • Click on the Beacon masthead below for more historical material from the 
    1957-1960 pages of
    .

  

The ash tray and tumbler illustrated below were acquired in eBay auctions in 2003.  Both are from sometime between 1959 and 1965, when there were still only two Nathan's locations, Coney Island and Oceanside.  (The familiar green waxed paper drink cups shown above are also from the early days of Oceanside when there were only two Nathan's.) Most likely, the ash tray was used at the Oceanside location since there was only a very small dining room with limited seating at Coney Island, and probably for a short time only.  According to Murray Handwerker, the tumbler was  given away to as a souvenir to promote the 1959 grand opening of Oceanside but never actually used at the restaurants. 


       

The following was excerpted from an article by J. Sebastian Sinisi              
in the Denver Post, November 15,1999.
        
Nathan's Famous        

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"Nathan's is entwined in the folklore of New York City and, more specifically, Coney Island.  So much so that the video version of Roger Kahn's 'Boys of Summer' — about the fabled baseball Brooklyn Dodgers in the '50s — begins with narrator and comedian Sid Caeser [sic] standing in front of the Nathan's at Coney Island, eating a hot dog.

"The hot dog didn't appear in America until the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.  A dozen years later, entrepreneur Nathan Handwerker opened the first Nathan's hot dog stand on Coney Island's Surf Avenue, a block from the beach.

"Handwerker was a potato-peeler at Feltman's, a white-tablecloth eatery a few blocks away.  Feltman's sold hot dogs for 10 cents; a stiff price at the time.

"As explained by Nathan's President and Chief Executive Officer Wayne Norbitz - a 25-year company veteran who himself started work behind a Nathan's counter —  Handwerker borrowed $300 from a Feltman's piano player and a singing waiter.  Their names were Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante.  Both went on to bigger things in vaudeville, radio and TV.

"Using a 'secret-spice' formula developed by his wife, Ida, Handwerker sold an all-beef hot dog whose unique taste depended on just the right amount of garlic.

"Selling hot dogs for a nickel, Handwerker 'got worried,' said Norbitz.  'He thought people might think they were an inferior product.  So he hired actors to pose as doctors — walking around in white coats and stethoscopes — eating his hot dogs.  So they had to be good.'

"Nathan Handwerker's hot dogs were a hit and spawned many imitators.  Four years later, when New York subway lines reached Coney Island in 1920 with a large station across Surf Avenue from Nathan's, success was assured.

"The subway links launched Coney Island's golden age that peaked just after World War II before decline set in the 1950s and early '60s.   The original Nathan's grew until it took up an entire block, but a second location didn't open until 1955 — at Oceanside, Long Island.  By the mid-'60s, winds of change — New York's middle classes now avoided Coney Island — dictated branch locations elsewhere:  in Manhattan, Brooklyn and on Long Island.‡

"Nathan Handwerker's two grandsons sold their interest in the company in 1987 and, 'In 1993, Nathan's really started growing from a strictly local operation with about a dozen restaurants,' said Norbitz."  ... more
    

_________________
‡  

Editor's note: There are certain inaccuracies in the foregoing account by Sinisi.  As documented conclusively above (with the Newsday ad from opening day), Nathan's took over the Oceanside Roadside Rest on June 4, 1959,  and not in 1955.  In fact, 1960sailors.net  is the only place on the worldwide web (including Nathan's Famous' own website) that mentions the event and does not place it incorrectly in 1955, as did placemats once used in the restaurants. The article also states incorrectly that Nathan's Famous' current CEO, Wayne Norbitz, started his career behind a Nathan's counter. In fact, he started with Wetson's, acquired by Nathan's in 1975. And Norbitz is quoted above as having said that Nathan's two grandsons sold out in 1987 when, in fact, it was Nathan's two sons, Murray and Sol, who sold out the last significant Handwerker interests. Thanks to Lloyd Handwerker, Nathan's grandson (Sol's son), for straightening that out.

    
We also know that  there were no other Brooklyn or Manhattan branch locations in the mid-'60s, as claimed in the article above.  Here's proof: 

Nathan's Famous, Inc. says it obtained its third location in 1965 when it  took over the well-known Adventurers' Inn in Yonkers, NY.  In 1966, when it celebrated its 60th anniversary, it still had only three locations (Brooklyn, Oceanside and Yonkers), as shown on the commemorative drinking glass pictured above on the right.  Further, Murray Handwerker's book, Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Cookbook (right), which was published in 1968, refers to only these three locations as follows: "From its main base in Coney Island or from its units in Oceanside, L.I., and Yonkers, N.Y., Nathan's air-expresses its products to hot dog and salami lovers the world over."  In fact, according to Nathan's Famous, Inc., its only branch units continued to be Oceanside and Yonkers until it opened its fourth location in Times Square with the proceeds of its first public securities offering in 1970. 

,

Some folks incorrectly think Nathan's Famous had a Manhattan location then. However, according to Bob Levine (OHS '63) (who worked at our Nathan's for five years beginning in the early '60s), this may likely be because Murray's brother, Sol Handwerker, opened "Snacktime – Featuring Nathan's Frankfurters" in the mid-'60s on 34th Street across from Penn Station. Nathan's franks, burgers, and fries were available there, and accordingly, the Nathan's name appeared all over Snacktime. 

 

 

Copyright © 2000-2013 by Howard B. Levy and 1960 Sailors Association Inc.  All rights reserved.