Old-Tech Ambiance - Obsolete Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Tanya Silverman

By Tanya Silverman

Old radios on the wall of New York City’s Tekserve.

“I love the history of technology,” Dick Demenus, co-founder of New York City’s Tekserve, tells BTR. “I find it very grounding.”

Amidst the innovative retail experience that Tekserve fosters, Chelsea’s landmark Apple retail, resale, and repair store is replete with retro gadgets arranged all throughout. An antique Model T air compressor (that works), a rotary-dial phone booth (that also works), plenty of old Macintosh monitors, and even a McIntosh muscle stimulator are some of the many.

A Tekserve light fixture assembled out of Apple hardware.

Hanging from the ceiling above the retail space are two light fixtures that Demenus assembled himself using different parts from bygone Macs. He also keeps an articulated-arm iMac computer in his office, being one of his favorite products, even if most consider it past its prime.

While the Tekserve inventory consists of all the latest iPads, iPhones, Mac computers, cords, and accessories–plus some A/V equipment and a home 3-D printing machine–the staff certainly keeps the store’s early roots alive. Founded in 1987, they display a double-decker shelf lined with boxy, late 80s Macintosh Plus machines as a “historical bookmark” by the front door.

Mac Plus screens display customers’ numbers in line.

In the back, their customer-service line system is organized by a numbered ticket-dispensing system that’s conceptually similar to the Take-A-Number format.

“One of our partners designed this system from scratch. It actually uses the working original Mac Pluses to display the status from the [ticket] machines,” Demenus explains, also telling the story about how he himself assembled the chairs in the customers’ waiting area out of racecar seats connected with rail-erector sets.

Tekserve’s history is exhibited even further back using electronics besides Macs.

“Radios are responsible for our business,” says Demenus, adding how he and his partner, David Lerner, met in the 1970s while working at WBAI, a New York City listener-supported station.

Such explains the plethora of antique radios that stand throughout Tekserve’s premises.

A decades-old IBM computer program.

All that encompasses only the first-floor retail space. Descending downstairs, you’ll find primitive pre-PC artifacts mounted around the staircase wall: a mid-20th century IBM computer program, which the user would have to move little pins to manipulate, then one of the first IBM hard discs, which has a storage capacity of 96 KB. Both are immense in size.

Tekserve’s lower level also has a seminar room, two walls of which form a “Mac Museum” where viewers can experience a chronological presentation of the clunky archaic Macintoshes, some NeXT computers from Steve Jobs’ brief away-from-Apple stint, versions from when he returned, along with a series of laptops that predate the company’s “book” series.

Antique devices in Tekserve’s basement.

An adjacent wall harbors an all-encompassing exhibit of gadgetry, full of cameras, typewriters, phones, and other devices. To check out what life was like eons before the iPhone revolutionized our communications practices, there’s a model of the first answering machine, produced by Bell Labs, and a primitive call-on-hold apparatus–which is just a little plastic box that plays a jingle when the receiver is rested on top of it.

Computers by the Tekserve entrance.

Tekserve surely offers a unique environment of machinery both past and present. However, the curatorial practice of integrating old technological objects is not at all a techie phenomenon.

For instance, Black Cat Coffee on Manhattan’s Lower East Side arranges an old clock, radio, gramophone, and typewriters throughout the space as decorations. Such items complement the old-time look that the cafe goes for with its exposed brick walls, dim lights, and velvety chairs, although their actual utilization is lacking: the baristas play French accordion selections via Pandora through a digital sound system while customers type away on their laptops.

A non-functioning payphone at the Hudson Hotel.

Up by Columbus Circle sits the Hudson Hotel, a polished place where they’ve installed what appear to be payphones outside their hallway bathrooms. Pick up the receiver, though, and you’ll hear nothing.

Kishani Perera, an interior designer based in Los Angeles, shares her thoughts with BTR behind the appeal of old electronics.

“In the past few years, even clients who are into modern design are suddenly finding these old relics–or, having me find them for them–to put around the house. They realize it adds a warmth and interest to their space, even if it’s very, very modern,” she says.

Perera, who authored Vintage Remix, tells BTR that mixing new and old was always an element of her style. Adding aged objects to a space, she explains, provides a more “homey,” “lived-in” touch, and it’s a technique that’s growing popular around the country.

When asked if her clients ever make use of outdated items like tube televisions or typewriters, she responds that the people definitely just like the aesthetic, not the function. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone from giving their obsolete electronic decorations a try.

“I have an old radio from the early 1900s that I plugged in to see if it would work and it actually did,” she says.

Old-fashioned cameras at Tekserve.

Besides, even if people do use old film cameras or record players for their intended purposes, they may still display such objects around their interior settings in a tasteful manner. Old-fashioned electronics emit a certain historical radiance that may cause observers to ponder the stories behind them. What year was the record player built? What was it like to load black-and-white film back in the day? Who was the first person that owned the typewriter? Were these objects revolutionary for their time?

“We didn’t get here from nowhere,” claims Dick Demenus of our ever-changing times in technology. “It’s collective.”

All photos by Tanya Silverman.

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