I was invited to a celebration luncheon this weekend by a political victor who was just reelected at Davenport Press Restaurant, the famous Mineola landmark located at 70 Main St.
If you are asking yourself exactly where this restaurant is found, your confusion is understandable.
It sits quietly on the corner of Main Street and Front Street right next to the railroad tracks and in the shadow of an ever-growing number of giant buildings like the luxurious apartment complex Allure, the Lever Building, Nassau County Court House, a six-story parking garage and Winthrop Research and Academic Center. The blocks around this building are all at square angles and are the typical grid-like design you see in almost every American city.
We find ourselves living in the year 2018 amidst a building boom and downtown Mineola feels more and more like Manhattan but without Lincoln Center or Broadway to provide some solace.
The Davenport Press Restaurant is now a building designated as a historical landmark and according to architect Greg Spano it’s a Georgian/Federalist style structure. This classical style represented a newly founded America with clap board or shingle siding, rigid symmetry and a hip roof.
It was built 118 years ago to be Nassau County Trust but in 1924 it was converted into a printing press to handle all the legal documents being generated by the courthouse. For reasons that are unclear to me the printing press was converted into a high-end restaurant with continental cuisine owned and run by Dennis and Jeannie Liberatos.
Now one can argue that an old building is just an old building but as the architect Craig Whitaker wrote in his book “Architecture and the American Dream” a nation’s architecture reflects its collective conscience and all of its hidden values.
So let us take this statement seriously and ask what this historical landmark expresses about us as Americans.
If you gaze upon the photo I took of the structure you will see that its most outstanding characteristic is its symmetry or squareness. Its straightforward, honest looking and practical. Not many frills, no nonsense.
One could say this square building on this straight angled street is prototypical of Americana. It reminds me of the building in the Grant Wood masterpiece American Gothic, with the staid-looking couple standing upright, the man holding a pitchfork and the mother looking kind of worried and stressed. America at its honest best. No frills.
As Whitaker wrote to get a better understanding of American architecture one must compare it to other buildings in other countries. He looked at typical hillside towns in Italy. And I can attest to what he found. When you stroll along a street in Capri along the Amalfi coast you will not find a square angle anywhere.
The streets curve around the cliffs and all of them arrive at the town’s piazza where the town congregates each night and chat over wine or coffee. There is a free and easy quality to the Italian city design and an invitation to stay put, to remain where you are and never leave.
In fact W. Somerset Maugham wrote the famous short story “The Lotus Eater” about an Englishman who did just that. He went to Capri on vacation and decided to stay for 30 years.
And Whitaker would say that Main Street in Mineola, like all main streets in America is merely a passageway or an avenue to escape in order to go elsewhere. It leads away and that has always been the great American ethos.
An American street takes you elsewhere and away. The greatest of American novels include “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Moby Dick,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Call of the Wild” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” These are all books about leaving home and going elsewhere. They are stories of escape.
I suspect that this is the American character and it is expressed well by the look of Main Street in Mineola. This street like most streets in America are a passageway out. And
That is why we are lucky to have the New York Historical Society designate the Davenport Press building as a historic monument that must be cherished and never disturbed. America has a short history compared with other nations and Americans are a restless group of nomads, always on the move and always looking for freedom and an honest day’s work.
And so we watch as all these big buildings in Mineola grow and conjure up images of the kings and dukes of England surrounding this little American building called Davenport Press Restaurant.
This building is a part of our American history and I think it does reflect our soul. As Americans we are practical, down to earth, simple, honest, hardworking and straightforward and so is the Davenport Press.
So do yourself a favor, go get a good American meal there and absorb some American history while you’re at it.