[Dayton Malleable Metal Factory]
I asked the blasé woman behind the counter about the local arts scene. "It's weird," she said. "But working. It's scattered, but a lot of artists are thriving. They keep trying to rejuvenate downtown," she went on. "They built a new baseball stadium, but it just gives suburbanites a new place to drive to and from. Dayton's the county seat, so it's the center for social services. A lot of people who need help end up walking around the streets of downtown Dayton. Nobody'll mug you, but you'll get a ton of people asking you for money."
[Dayton Malleable Metal Factory]Valerie told me to stop in at the gallery owned by the local metal sculptor who fashioned the railings in the art museum. Ironically, one of Dayton's best-known artists worked in malleable iron, and the man who donated the Hopper was president of Dayton Malleable Iron.
Sherry and others had told me artists might be found in the Oregon District. Founded about 1830 when the Miami-Erie Canal opened, the Oregon District was as sleepy as slow-moving canal water on the afternoon that I strolled its brick-paved streets. The lonely sound of a hammer slapping a board rang out.
Along with hip bars, this strip also featured an X-rated book store next door to the Dayton Church Supply Store. Hard times make for strange bedfellows. Behind the business strip lay a couple square blocks of quaint old homes appropriate as Hopper subjects.
A college-aged kid, smiling and red-eyed, stopped playing hackey-sack with his friend in the road and accosted me: "Hey man, they told me Oregon District was like New Orleans's French Quarter, Bourbon Street." We both laughed at the notion. Then we gawked as on the opposite sidewalk an Amish man plodded down the sidewalk carrying boxy old suitcases tied with rope. Two boys in black-and-white Amish attire trailed him.
I walked from Oregon District to the other "districts" advertised by Dayton's tourism board, but most were only a block and some just a building. The Cannery "District" turned out to be the Cannery Building—a largely derelict old warehouse whose rehabbed portions housed retail stores, restaurants, and loft apartments. The Motor Car District on Ludlow Street paid homage to the fact that several famous automobiles of the vintage that might be seen in Hopper's paintings were made in Dayton, such as the Stoddard and the Maxwell. The Neon District referred to the neon trim on the Transportation Center and a nearby movie theater.
Across the street skulked a tiny white-fronted diner with an art deco tile tower that was called a twenty-four hour restaurant, but it was only open seven a.m. to eleven p.m. Apparently, there were no nighthawks in Dayton. Nearby stood two Hopperesque 1930s diners. Yummy Burger had been modernized, but Wympee still had a white glazed tile façade with dark green accents. I chose Wympee.
In the far corner of the narrow room hummed a cooler filled with Wild Irish Rose bottles and Busch beer cans. The man next to me sported a cheesy toupee. Down from us sat a gray-haired African American guy, wearing a floppy black Kangol hat. The cook made it four single males in the diner. Written in white chalk on a green board was a sign advertising the "Tyrone Special:" a pork chop tenderloin with gravy, parsley potatoes, buttered corn, and bread for $3.89.