Drug Store Soda Fountain

James Van Der Zee (American, Lenox, Massachusetts 1886–1983 New York)
Gelatin silver print
Credit Line:
Gift of James Van DerZee Institute, 1970
Accession Number:
Not on view
Van Der Zee was a key artistic figure of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Here he depicted one of the most popular social gathering places of the time, as drug-store soda fountains filled the void caused by the closure of bars during Prohibition. In 1920s Harlem, they could be found in abundance along Lenox and Seventh Avenues. Van Der Zee’s photograph evokes the pleasant if slightly disorienting experience of entering this shop for the first time. It offers a wide view of the interior filled with customers casually standing and sitting; only the soda jerk addresses the viewer directly. A combination of signage, reflections, and views through windows activates the composition.
The James VanDerZee Institute

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Thomas Hart Benton’s 'America Today' Mural Rediscovered," September 30, 2014–April 19, 2015.

McGhee, Reginald. The World of James Van DerZee: A Visual Record of Black Americans. New York: Grove Press, 1973. p. 149.