Forgotten Tourist Spots from the Earliest Frommer's Guidebooks
Though there are a number of perennial must-see tourist attractions across the globe—your Great Walls, Grand Canyons, and Big Bens—they are far outnumbered by the travel establishments that survive for a while, then fade away. Hotels close. Amusement parks are shuttered by the safety inspector. Some short-sighted real estate developer brings in bulldozers to replace landmarks with condos.
Cover the travel world as long as Frommer’s has—six decades and counting—and you’re bound to witness a parade of comings and goings. But what’s gone doesn’t have to be forgotten, thanks to all the hours our authors have logged at the planet’s various drag clubs, roadside curiosities, theme parks, and wax museums. We dipped into our archives to bring you these bygone tourist attractions and activities from some of our earliest guidebooks. They say the past is a foreign country. Well, we’ve always been enthusiastic about visiting foreign countries. Let’s go!
Photo: New York City's old Pennsylvania Station, which was demolished in 1963
THEN: “Don’t miss The Resi, a famous Berlin nightspot where telephones and pneumatic message tubes connect each of the 200 tables in its cavernous ballroom. You’ll no sooner sit down than the tubes will go pow! pow! pow! carrying messages from the scores of lonely Berlin femmes who spotted you the moment you entered. Entrance fee to Resi’s is 50 cents. You can stay the whole evening on a $2 bottle of wine.” —from 1957’s Europe on 5 Dollars a Day by Arthur Frommer (pictured above, in Berlin, a few years before the book was written)
NOW: The Resi was closed and demolished in 1978—though its system of flirting with strangers via phone feels strangely contemporary in our own age of dating and hookup apps like Tinder and Grindr. To get a feel for the Berlin prototype, listen to “Telephone Song” from the 1966 original Broadway cast recording of Cabaret.
THEN: “For a 50¢ contribution to the Seamen’s Welfare Fund, you can do the next best thing to taking an ocean trip to Europe, by visiting the majestic trans-Atlantic OCEAN LINERS in their berths at New York’s piers. The piers are located on the Hudson River, from 44th to 57th Streets. Ships are open to the public during the four-or-so hours before departure. It’s fun to inspect the lavish dining rooms with smorgasbord tables awaiting guests and the elegant ballrooms that will soon be scenes of hilarity on the high seas. One half hour before sailing time, the whistle blows for all visitors to go ashore. On the pier again, you’ll witness the mounting excitement on and around the ship: stubby tugs move up to push the ship to sea, as cheers rise and strands of confetti float down to the dock.” —from 1961’s New York on 5 Dollars a Day by Joan M. Feldman and Norma Ketay
NOW: Not a chance. For security reasons, cruise ships in port can only be boarded by ticketed passengers with government-issued IDs.
THEN: “Le Monocle, 2 rue Raphael, is fast gaining a reputation as one of the smartest night clubs in Tangier, in the best tradition of the little Paris cabaret. Female impersonators, for which Tangier is famous, often headline the show. When I last visited, the impersonator was ‘Big Bertha,’ who wowed her audience. It’s a swinging little club—great for an evening’s entertainment—and it’s marvelously cheap. Drinks range from 60¢ to 80¢. Drop in after 11 p.m.” —from 1966’s Spain on 5 Dollars a Day by Stanley Mills Haggart
NOW: Tangier’s era as a magnet for LGBT travelers is long gone. Before Morocco’s 1956 independence and for a few years afterward, the city gained a reputation as an anything-goes international zone popular with freedom-seeking expatriates. But today homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and can be punished with imprisonment—though that’s much more likely to happen to Moroccan citizens than international visitors. Tangier is still a fascinating place, but LGBT folks are advised to be cautious.
Photo: tourists with a camel in Morocco in 1965
THEN: “The National Historical Wax Museum, at 5th and K Streets NW. Inside the dark, cool halls of the museum, you can move through America’s history from the landing of Leif Ericson to the present Presidential family posed before the seal of the United States. Many of the dioramas move subtly—don’t miss the pounding chest of John Smith, waiting for the blow that will end his life, while Pocahontas pleads with her father to save him (pictured above). Others can be activated by a push of a button—you, yourself, can send the lightning to Ben Franklin’s kite. Several scenes are throat-catching in their authenticity, such as the Yalta Conference with its aging FDR, robust Churchill and stern Stalin.” —from 1965’s Washington, D.C. on 5 Dollars a Day by Beth Bryant
NOW: The site in D.C.’s Mount Vernon Triangle where historical mannequins once “subtly” moved (as if wax museums weren’t creepy enough) is now occupied by Busboys and Poets, part of a local chain of coffee shop/restaurants with performance venues and gathering spaces for artists and activists.
THEN: “You can rent a caravan for a minimum of a week. You get a colorful, barrel-shaped caravan and a gentle horse. The caravan is fitted out with beds or bunks, all bedding and kitchenware, a small gas stove and lamps. Oats for the horse are provided; insurance is included in the cost. You can’t make much more than 16 miles a day, usually less, and probably won’t cover more than 100 miles during the week. All the caravan companies promise to send you off well-versed in horse management, after drilling you in harnessing, unharnessing and other details. They all say you need no previous experience with horses. Once you’ve picked up your caravan and been tutored in its care, you’re on your own. You can drift around at will, parking at night on scenic lay-bys or requesting space on some farmer’s land.” —from 1967’s Ireland on $5 a Day by Beth Bryant
NOW: There are still companies that will let you see Ireland like this—at a slow clip-clop while dragging your possessions behind you in a colorful wagon (Clissmann Horse Caravans is a highly rated option). If you’re not in a rush, a caravan seems like a relaxing and unique way to immerse yourself in the timeless Irish countryside. And you’d certainly be keeping your carbon footprint small.
THEN: “If you feel that you have to trespass at least once into the land of elegance and Cadillacs, then about the best you can do is the Boom Boom Room in the fanciest of all hotels, the Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Avenue. This interesting club has the distinction of being decorated like an enlarged African hut and yet casually serving Cantonese food. The decor is realistic, with overhanging buffalo grass, chairs made of straw, and jungle artifacts decoratively placed around the room.” —from 1961’s Miami and the Caribbean on 10 Dollars a Day by Elliott Kanbar
NOW: The Fontainebleau—a midcentury marvel (pictured above) designed by Miami Modern architect Morris Lapidus—is still around and as splashy as ever (a $1 billion renovation was completed in 2008). But the Boom Boom went bye-bye some time ago. Nowadays you’ll have to settle for a dozen different restaurants and lounges at the hotel. For a throwback vibe, try the lobby-level Bleau Bar, where classic cocktails are served amid Mad Men-esque furnishings illuminated by blue and pink lights.
THEN: “The Japanese equivalent of Disneyland is Yokohama Dreamland, an extensive amusement park area with most of the standard attractions of this type of operation—but with a few distinctively Japanese touches. The most impressive landmark is the 21-story Hotel Empire in astonishingly Chinese Pagoda style. Fire engine replicas and double deck buses ply the amusement park grounds, as does a small railroad, and there are the usual spectacular views offered via overhead open air cars, a big ferris wheel, and helicopter rides. The main area is centered around a spectacularly illuminated fountain and ornamental gardens. Such surprises as a brass band and occasional passing camels add variety.” —from 1969’s Japan on 5 and 10 Dollars a Day by John Wilcock
NOW: Considered Japan’s first major amusement park, Dreamland closed in 2002 after running into financial trouble. Since 2005, the site has been occupied by the Yokohama College of Pharmacy. The former Hotel Empire, mentioned above, now serves as the school’s library.
And while we’re on the subject of theme parks . . .
THEN: “Situated on the coast about 25 miles southwest of Los Angeles near a small community called Palos Verdes, Marineland (admission $2.25) describes itself as ‘the world’s only three-ring sea circus.’ Porpoises play basketball, throw things out of the water, put out fires, pull dogs around in boats, and ‘sing’ while playing motor horns. Funniest act is that of the sea lions, which cavort beside the pool, applauding each other, balancing things on their noses, and generally hamming it up. One crowd-conditioned beast swims across the pool, climbs a set of steps, and gives an unintelligible speech into a microphone.” —from 1962’s Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas on $5 and $10 a Day by John Wilcock
NOW: Marineland was closed in 1987, after its two biggest stars, Corky and Orky the killer whales, were moved to SeaWorld San Diego—and a couple decades before such businesses would become subject to intense criticism over the treatment of marine animals in captivity. The peninsula where Marineland once stood is now home to the Terranea Resort, a luxurious Mediterranean-style property.
Photo: 1962 snapshot of the dolphin show at Marineland of the Pacific in Palos Verdes, California
THEN: “Many young people who come to Israel for the first time see the country by working two weeks at a kibbutz in the north, and then heading south, working a week in another neck of the woods, without spending a dime the entire trip. All you need is the willingness to do six hours of fruit-harvesting a day. In exchange for that work, you’re given your bed, clean sheets, and three big meals a day, the fuel for your inner fires. You labor alongside the kibbutzniks, dine with them, learn some Hebrew, and in all likelihood you’ll meet people like yourself from Sweden, South Africa, Holland, France, and England. You’ll gain an incomparable insight into kibbutz life this way, and you’ll also perspire a lot and get a few more muscles.” —from 1964’s Israel on $5 a Day by Joel Lieber
NOW: You can still stay at a kibbutz in Israel, but your experience these days will be a lot less arduous. With swimming pools, meals, and even massages, modern kibbutz packages are comparable to what you’ll find at midrange hotels or B&Bs. The deals remain enticing, and even if you don't work the land, overnighting at a kibbutz is a great way to see the countryside.
Photo: Ein Gedi kibbutz on the western shore of the Dead Sea
THEN: “The most popular of all National Zoo residents is the original Smokey the Bear, well-known as America’s symbol for prevention of forest fires. Back in May, 1950, when the big brown bear was a tiny cub, he was rescued by rangers from a raging New Mexico forest fire. The little fellow was the sole survivor and so badly singed that the forest rangers immediately tagged him ‘Smokey.’ He’s grown-up and grumpy now and spends most of his time sleeping in the caves of his bear pit. But the famed uniform of his job—the overalls, ranger hat and shovel—stand ready in a glass case beside his cage.” —from 1965’s Washington, D.C. on 5 Dollars a Day by Beth Bryant
NOW: The real-life Smokey died in 1976 and was buried back home in Capitan, New Mexico; you can pay your respects at Smokey Bear Historical Park. The bear has been a mascot in wildfire-prevention PSAs since 1944—the longest running campaign in Ad Council history (take a bite out of that, McGruff the Crime Dog). At the National Zoo, meanwhile, the Most Popular Critter title is now shared by a family of giant pandas on loan from China.
Photo: Smokey Bear at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo in 1950