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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 5/28/20

Good morning!

Is that a Fotomat? Yes it is; albeit repurposed. Fotomat was one of the first of a series of business ventures capitalizing on photos, technology, and movies. As quickly as they boomed, they busted:

• Fotomat, 4,000 sites strong!

• Blockbuster Video, over 9,000 stores at its pek in 2004. Now only one, in Bend, Oregon…

• Tower Records. Who, growing up in Southern California doesn’t remember the famous Tower Records store on Sunset, right across from what would be the original Spago?

• Licorice Pizza (figure it out…)

For those who have watched Schitt’s Creek (which I recommend to everyone), the fortune that they lost in the first episode came from “Rose Video,” the second largest chain of videotape rental stores.



We all have our hobbies, upon which we tend to focus more these days (and I’m intrigued to learn of others). One that I found fascinating is Parke Skelton’s love affair with Fotomats. Those of us old enough to remember, Fotomats were drive up photo processing stores in parking lots of strip centers around the country. They were ubiquitous—popping up everywhere—the small little shops seemed to be everywhere. As quickly as they multiplied, they disappeared with one hour photo developing machines. But many of the small buildings, designed for easy drive-through, continue to exist, in altered use and design.

Here is Parke’s description of his fascination with Fotomats, and several examples:

For a number of years, I have taken note of the occasional repurposed Fotomat. I am not so interested in the story of the FM Corporation, although it is interesting, but mostly in the process of locating and authenticating these Fotomats. When I semi-retired after the November 2018 election cycle [note: Parke is a political consultant], I had a lot more time on my hands and decided to make this a project of sorts. Mostly it has given me something to aim for as I take bike rides around the County. My rule is that I have to bike to the Fotomat before I can count it. So far I have found about 25...

Although locksmiths and cigarette kiosks predominate, other uses have been uncovered (coffee drive throughs, sellers of car seat covers, florists, and, my favorite, a drive thru psychic in Covina). I post them up on my Facebook feed when I find them. And try to write something about the search, or the neighborhood where they were found. They are little masterpieces of mid-century design though, with the telescoping roofs and corner-less windows.



Here is a link to the Brooklyn College Conservancy Orchestra, performing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from home:



The Card, by Michael O’Keefe. The subtitle is “Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History's Most Desired Baseball Card. This is a fascinating look at the most valuable and sought after baseball card (Honus Wagner, one of the five original inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame) and the dark underbelly of the card collecting profession. Thanks, Jon Berger, for the kind gift…

The Billionaire’s Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace. A great story of wine, wine counterfeiting, and chasing the elusive bottles of Thomas Jefferson’s Haut-Brion.

I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger, by Frank Wynne. Don’t try to sell a forgery to Hermann Goering. Or anyone else.

The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding—The subtitle is “The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Selling Priceless Maps,” This is the story of a respected antiquarian map dealer, x-acto knife in hand, who cut maps from the leaves of atlases in the Yale University library and slipped them out in his coat. The story includes the history of the creation of these maps, their beauty, their provenance, their collectability and the map trade. Given our penchant for old maps, this one really hit home. A great story that reads like a novel.



In 1936 the Baseball Hall of Fame admitted its inaugural class of five players. Can you name at least three?

Have a great day,


And here’s the original incarnation…

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