A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 04, 2005
Checker Cab
The "Checker" cab is gone from the streets of New York. But it was New York. It was big, roomy, with checkered stripes on the sides. Go rent the movie Taxi Driver right now.

Or you could eat at Caliente Cab Company Mexican Cafe (http://www.calientecab.com), but it's not the same.

The Checker cab was created by an innovative entrepreneur by the name of Morris Markin. He was a Russian immigrant who came to the United States in 1913 with two dollars to his name.

The Checker Cab Manufacturing Company chose to move its headquarters from Chicago, Illinois to Kalamazoo in 1923. The Checker has since become an American Icon. It represents the great cities of America. New York. Boston. Chicago. L.A. And it all started in Kalamazoo.

Even though production ended more than 20 years ago the cars produced by Checker are an internationally recognized icon that still inspires fierce loyalty. Checker collectibles include salt and pepper shakers, Christmas ornaments, mini-Checkers and now, Hail Kalamazoo!.

During the period Hertz was developing Yellow Cab Company Russian-born Morris Markin was working as a tailor in Chicago. He brought his nine brothers and sisters to America on his earnings. Through years of hard work and labor Markin prospered in the financial arena and purchased a small auto maker, Commonwealth Motors, an auto body company that he later moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. With friends from Checker Taxi, an affiliation of taxi drivers founded February 6, 1919, Morris Markin was able to establish his Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, February 2, 1922. The famous Checker Marathons, used by the cab industry throughout the country for more than 60 years because of the roominess and reliability of the vehicles, finally ceased production in 1982. They remain as collectors' items in many private and public automobile collections.

Markin was involved in other businesses but his interest in the taxi industry grew, and he bought controlling interests in cab companies in New York City, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.
Eventually Markin and his partners owned much of the cab business in Chicago. In 1929 they bought 60 percent ownership in Yellow Cab, including all of John Hertz's holdings.

Within a few years Markin's group had control of both Checker and Yellow Cab in Chicago. By 1935, they had converted Checker Taxi from an affiliation to a corporation, and had taken Yellow Cab from a publicly-held to a privately held company. In 1989 Checker again became an independent association and was divested from Checker Motors, the parent company.

As the need for more durable and longer lasting cabs grew, Checker went shopping for a stronger chassis to fit their requirements. In 1920 Checker awarded the Commonwealth Motor Co. a contract to assemble taxicabs using bodies supplied by another Joliet based company called Markin Auto Body Corp. owned by Morris Markin. Morris Markin became involved with the company after lending $15,000 to a friend who ran a small taxicab body plant. Later, to protect his investment, Mr. Markin took over the Company, which became the Markin Auto Body Corp. He merged with the faltering Commonwea1th Motor Co. at the end of 1921, and by May of 1922 the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. was born.

In 1922 when the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. was founded and located in Joliet, IL, production was set for three taxicabs a day and held there for several months building the Model "C" By January of 1923 production was up to 112 cabs a month, working the staff seven days a week. By the end of March more than 600 Checker cabs were on the streets of New York. Checkers were beginning to be recognized. To help in sales and to provide service, the Mogul-Checker Cab Sales Co. was created in New York City.

With growing pains and lack of room, Checker moved to Kalamazoo at its present location in April of 1923 taking over the old Handley-Knight Co. and Dort Body Plant. On June 18, 1923 the first Checker rolled off the assembly line in Kalamazoo. It was a banner day for Checker, which now employed 700 people.

26 December 1922, New York Times, pg. 19 ad:
Corporation's fleet - there are hundreds of them now serving the
better class of cab patrons in Greater New York.

26 January 1956, New York Times, pg. 31:

Roomier New Checkers Aim
to Regain Some of Ground
Lost to Stock Model Cabs
With reduction of traffic congestion in mind, the new cab is 200 inches over-all, compared with 224 inches for the jumbos that were mandatory here until the summer of 1954.

9 July 1970, New York Times, pg. 37:

Company Founder, WHo Led
Fleet Here, Dies at 77

KALAMAZOO, Mich., July 8 - Morris Markin, founder and president of the CHecker Motors Corporation died yesterday at Bronson Hospital after having suffered a heart attack. He was 77 years old.

Mr. Markin, who once operated the dominant taxicab fleet in New York City, came to this country from Smolensk, Russia, in 1913 as a penniless immigrant.
Under Mr. Markin, the Checker was once the biggest fleet owner in New York City through its subsidiary, the National Transportation Company.

13 July 1982, New York Times, pg. A12:
Checker Taxi, 60, Dies
Of Bulk in Kalamazoo

KALAMAZOO, Mich. July 12 - The CHecker cab died here today of the automobile industry's lingering illness, and some of America's big-city legroom began to die with it.

The last of the big-slab-sided taxis rolled off the assembly line at the Checker Motors Corporation here this afternoon. Thousands of durable examples of the cab will still be pounding potholes in New York, CHicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other major cities for years to come.

But unless another oversized taxi comes along, the demise of the Checker signals the beginning of the end for hats-on in cabs, five-on-a-fare, infants riding in strollers in cabs and children fighting to sit on the jump seats.

27 July 1999, New York Times, pg. A1:
The Last New York Checker
Turns Off Its Meter for Good
(Pg. B4 - ed.)
History of a Comfortable if Ponderous Classic
1922 Checker Motors Company of Kalamazoo, Mich., makes the first Checker taxicabs
1970's About 5,000 Checkers make up almost half of New York City's taxi fleet.
1982 Production ceases for economic reasons. Too few companies are using the cabs, because they are more expensive than other sedans, and Checker Motors fears a proposed tax on the gas guzzlers.
1993 There are 10 Checker cabs left in New York.

19 December 1999, New York Times, pg. 62:
Dueling for Cab, Arms Up,
But This Time at Southeby's

Like riders trying to flag a taxi on a rainy day, bidders competed yesterday for the last Checker cab to roam the streets of New York - which was auctioned off for $134,500.

The cab, which has traveled 994,050 miles, about 40 times the circumference of the earth, belonged to the original owner and driver, Earl Johnson, who retired in July and moved to Montego Bay, Jamaica.

In a telephone interview after the sale, Mr. Johnson said he remembered paying $9,000 for the cab, a 1978 Marathon sedan.

Posted by Barry Popik
Transportation • Wednesday, May 04, 2005 • Permalink

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