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Moving forward and looking back at The Odeon

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THE A IS FOR ODEON
The A in the cafeteria sign on the Thomas Street side of the Odeon got a new transformer yesterday; the old one looks like it’s from Year One. (It may indeed be the one from the original Towers Cafeteria — as in it had not been replaced in 86 years? Is that possible?) And in watching this take place, I was reminded that the owner of the Towers, Joan Pantzer, had sent me the photo below, and subsequently John Willenbecher sent me the photo of Joan and her husband, Arty, who sold to the Odeon in 1980, and a shot of the interior.

John also sent along the obit he contributed to The Trib when Arty Pantzer died in 2012. I reprint it here since it’s a wonderful tribute to the man as well a look back on the neighborhood 40+ years ago.

Arthur Pantzer — Arty to all who knew him — was a Tribeca fixture before Tribeca was Tribeca. He died last month at 87 in Bondville Vermont, where he had moved with his wife Joan, who survives him, in 1980. That was the year he sold the two joined buildings — one of them important in the history of cast iron architecture — that stand at the south east corner of West Broadway and Thomas street and that had been in Arty’s family since the 1930s. Yes, that corner, the one now home to one of New York’s legendary restaurants, the Odeon.

But how many Tribecans remember that for many years Arty and Joan presided there over a very different kind of restaurant? Known as the Towers Cafeteria, it was founded by Arty’s father Louis in 1933 and it catered to local workers (residents were virtually unheard of in those days). Arty managed the kitchen and the staff and Joan was the cashier behind a desk at the door. Dark on weekends, it served breakfast and lunch and was closed by four o’clock in the afternoon. The word CAFETERIA, a piece of neon urban archeology, can still be seen in the original neon signage on the Thomas St. façade.

About fifteen years before the Odeon arrived, Arty and Joan, ever supportive of the creative types who were then beginning to settle into neighborhood lofts, decided to invite artists into the building to live and work. In 1970 I was one such lucky artist, moving into a floor previously occupied by a manufacturer of flocked wallpaper. Downstairs in the cafeteria on any given day I might say hi to Richard Serra or Susan Rothenberg, just starting out in their careers and pushing their trays along the hot table line. Over there might be John Chamberlain — and isn’t that Chuck Close having a tuna sandwich with Philip Glass at a corner table? They were all proto-celebrities before art glamour became the stock-in-trade of the restaurant which would inhabit the same space some years later. Arty and Joan — and Mini the restaurant cat — were friends to all of us.

Arty was a true Tribeca pioneer in the best sense of the word. He will be missed. –John Willenbecher 



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