The 1930’s were the setting of a notable paradox in American life. On the one hand, there was the Great Depression, which spanned the entire decade and left a tremendous amount of hardship and suffering in its wake. In extreme cases, people were forced to stand in soup lines or sell apples on street corners, scenes that were captured in a plethora of haunting film clips. Though the majority of folks may not have been affected to this extent, it was the rare American family that didn’t have to squeeze every dime – hard – to make ends meet.
Consider this alongside the popular trend in civic and commercial architecture at the time – the art deco/streamline moderne school of design, with its clean lines, soaring, grandiose themes and top quality materials – granite and marble, bronze and gold leaf – and you have an incredible contrast. To look at these buildings today, without context or knowledge of those times, one would think that the 1930’s were the most prosperous time in human history, when in fact the opposite was true. By the time things got better for a sustained period of time, after ten long years of depression and four more of a world war, the architectural trends were reflecting a much more toned down look. Perhaps the soaring inspiration was no longer needed.
Granted, even during its peak years, this special type of architecture was generally not applied to humble, relatively small-scaled grocery stores. On occasion it was, however, and even staid, cautious A&P (known affectionately as “Grandma” by that time to some) had their share of deco delights. The first two photos above, from Chain Store Age, depict A&P stores from 1937 (Atlanta, with a neon “red circle” logo!) and 1935 (unknown) respectively, with storefronts faced with structural glass, the most popular brand of which was called Vitrolite. According to this website, Vitrolite hasn’t even been manufactured since 1947. One of the attributes of Vitrolite was the fact that it reflected a perfect mirror image, with zero distortion. Most significantly, it provided architects a means of creating extremely bold patterns and shapes in colors that didn’t fade or age. It was vulnerable to impact damage/cracking, of course. My mind’s eye tells me that the “marbled” portions were Emerald Agate in color, but certainly it could have been just about any color.
The interiors are from different stores from the same time period. The first interior (from Progressive Grocer), very appealing in my book, is a nice example of a “pre-self service” era store, with counter men at the ready. The location is unknown to me. The last photo shows a Kansas City A&P interior, with a nifty tile floor (from an Armstrong flooring ad, natch), a store that looks to be a transitional unit, between the counter service and dawning self-service eras.