Thursday, July 18, 2019

Then and Now: "The House On 92nd Street" in NYC

Madison Avenue at 92nd Street

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
A scene capture from "The House on 92nd Street" (1945) of the Third Reich flag waving over the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 1941.
I love old Hollywood black-and-white films. They give a different perspective on life, one unaffected by modern issues such as the Internet or even in many cases television. Of course, they had their own issues to deal with and we can see how people confronted them. Hollywood motion pictures have been excellent at preserving ordinary street scenes from the past. However, often this resource is overlooked for a variety of reasons, such as the plot of the film being unpopular or the film stock being of poor quality. "The House on 92nd Street" (1945) incorporated some location shooting of areas of Manhattan that now are interesting to those who enjoy looking into the past of New York City. Here, we have a comparison of scenes from "The House on 92nd Street" from its filming in 1945 to 2017.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
"Bowling Green" in "The House on 92nd Street."
Some establishing shots in "The House on 92nd Street" have little to do with the plot. For example, there is a nice view of Bowling Green in lower Manhattan. That building now is the location of many offices, including the Museum of the American Indian.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowling Green recently (Google Street View).
The small park at Bowling Green has been greatly expanded since World War II. This is a change that has taken place throughout the city. For instance, traffic during World War II used to run under the Washington Square Park arch. Now, the park is purely for pedestrians.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com

"The House on 92nd Street" was (in the film) the location of a German spy ring in the months before the United States entered World War II. The location (in the film) was just off Madison Avenue on East 92nd Street.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
92nd Street at Madison Avenue recently (Google Street View).
The corner hasn't changed much over the years. However, the evocative fire escapes are gone.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
Upper floors of the five-story house on 92nd Street shown in the film, which in reality was at 53 East 92nd Street in Manhattan.
The film pans down slowly across the entire building when it is first "introduced." I guess you have to actually show the entire house if you are going to call your film "The House on 92nd Street."

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
This is the five-story house on 92nd Street shown in the film, which in reality was at 53 East 92nd Street in Manhattan.
The location of the spy ring, disguised as a women's clothing store, was shown in "The House on 92nd Street" only once (aside from incidental views of people entering and leaving the building and so forth).

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
Here is the hero of the film, William Eythe, standing outside the eponymous house when he first sees it. Note the beautifully wrought iron fence out front. He is emphasizing how tall the building was, though, in fact, it was only of moderate height at five stories.
The building used wasn't actually on 92nd Street at all, but it was close by. In fact, the building shown in the film was exactly one block north at 53 East 92nd Street.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
 The spot where the house shown in the film stood is now a pathway to a large building (Google Street View).
Why they changed the location isn't clear. However, a look on Google Street View now shows that the infamous (because of the film) house on 93rd Street where much of the spy action takes place is long gone. Its spot now serves as a back entrance to Carnegie Hill Tower at 40 East 94th Street. Carnegie Hill Tower was built in 1984, so the five-story house shown in "The House on 92nd Street" has been gone for at least that long.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
"The House on 92nd Street shows Columbus Circle, with the Adams Building behind it.
The protagonist of "The House on 92nd Street" has his office just off Columbus Circle in the Adams Building at 59th and Columbus Circle. So, there is a nice establishing shot of Columbus Circle in "The House on 92nd Street."

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
Columbus Circle recently (Google Street View).
In the 1950s, the large white building that was seen behind the memorial to Christopher Columbus in"The House on 92nd Street" was torn down and replaced by a hideous convention center. That lasted less than 50 years and since has been replaced by a somewhat more attractive complex of buildings. The park around the memorial has been expanded, but traffic still flows around it.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com

The houses on either side of the eponymous "The House on 92nd Street" are still there and look pretty much exactly as they did then. The same railing that was in front of them remains, though the railing in front of the house for which the film was named was removed whenever that house itself was torn down. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? And those are beautiful, upscale homes which have benefited from the growing desirability of the Upper East Side for the wealthy.

The House on 92nd Street scenes then and now randommusings.filminspector.com
The view from in front of the house shown in the film toward Madison Avenue, looking west. That is No. 51 East 92nd Street. The same windows and stairway are visible, along with the railing (Google Street View).
So, while the house that "starred" in "The House on 92nd Street is long gone, the area itself on 93rd Street otherwise is little changed. I hope you enjoyed this entry in this entry of our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. If you enjoyed it, please visit other entries in the series!

Below is a copy of "The House on 92nd Street" (1945).


2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Then and Now: White Street at West Broadway, NYC

West Broadway at White Street, Manhattan

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south in 1979.
There is a lot more history on display in Manhattan than is apparent at first glance. Everyone notices the big things - the replacement of the Twin Towers, for instance - but there is a lot of unchanging subtlety that you can notice as you walk the streets. This review of a 1979 photo from lower Manhattan concerns some of my personal favorite reminders of the past that usually don't get much attention and which we will get to below. This is a comparison of White Street at West Broadway in TriBeCa in lower Manhattan from 1979 to 2018.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
It took a little hunting around to find the exact spot where the 1979 photo was taken, but this looks like it. This is a T-intersection on West Broadway, with White Street running off to the left. The spot was probably chosen for the 1979 concert for that reason, as it would disrupt the least amount of traffic while still providing an open backdrop with gorgeous views in the background. Several of the buildings are the same. Of course, the World Trade Center looming in the background is gone, but you can still just barely see the top of its replacement peeking over another building (which also was there in 1979). This comparison really gives a good idea of how much less space the current World Trade Center takes on the horizon for people looking south than the original World Trade Center did. There is another, more obvious, proof that we have the same location, but it is obscured by the (new) trees. Let's move a little further down the street and you'll see what I mean.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
It's still a little obscured, but this view shows the "Goodall Rubber Co." sign that was so prominent in the 1979 photo. Old advertisements painted on the sides of buildings are one of my personal favorite reminders of the past in Manhattan.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south, in 2000.
Above is a photo of the same corner from an unknown date. Beginning in 1911, Goodall's original New York City location was at 12 Gold Street. It was located in that building on the corner, 5 White Street/217 West Broadway. Since Goodall moved into this building a few years before World War II, the sign likely was painted in the late 1930s. Sometimes these signs are painted and then another building is constructed in front of them and they remain unseen for decades, only to be rediscovered when the newer building is demolished.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south, on 6 January 2007 (Wally Gobetz, Flickr).
Here we have proof that the Goodall Rubber Co. sign did not suffer that fate, having survived in the light of day at least since 1979 and undoubtedly for many decades before then. It's an unusual sign, occupying both walls of this corner, made possible by the low building occupied by Goodall on the corner.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
The sign says that Goodall Rubber Co. made "Industrial Rubber Products." This is a reminder that once upon a time, lower Manhattan had a thriving manufacturing base. That is mostly gone in the 21st Century, and so is the Goodall Rubber Co. - at least from lower Manhattan. The usual story is that Howard W. Goodall, William S. Feeny, and Frederick D. Stovell, who worked together for another firm in Philadelphia, apparently founded Goodall in 1906. However, other sources say the company was founded in 1870. The company is listed under that name in Hendricks' Commercial Register of the United States, Part 3, of 1891, so the earlier date appears to be correct. Goodall and Feeny had been employed at Latta & Mulconroy Co. of Philadelphia (a distributor of rubber goods) from around 1890, while Stovell had been in the paint and valves business, also in Philadelphia. Apparently, they were just a bunch of friends who one day got together and decided to take their show on the road. Perhaps Goodall's father founded the firm and the younger Goodall simply took over in 1906. Anyway, the origins of the company are a bit murky, but it's definitely been around for well more than a hundred years.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
A 1945 ad for Goodall Rubber Co., Inc.
The Goodall company moved its Manhattan office to Rutherford, New Jersey, in the late 1970s (like the Giants). So, at the time of the 1979 photo, Goodall had only recently vacated the spot. As of this writing, Goodall is a subsidiary of Lewis-Goetz and Co Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh PA. It has gotten its money's worth from the cost of those signs.

West Broadway at White Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
West Broadway at White Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
If you look very closely at the Goodall signs, you can see that they were painted over other signs. You can just make out "Manufacturer of Handkerchiefs" on the left sign. Now, unless people were using industrial rubber for their handkerchiefs in the early 20th Century, some other company had their signs there long before Goodall came along.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Remnants of the past abound in New York City, you see them everywhere, and which survive and which do not often is a matter of sheer chance. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Then and Now: Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC

Bleecker Street at 7th Avenue, Manhattan

Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, randommusings.filminspector.com
Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC, in 1979.
This is an interesting picture because of what it shows, but also because of what it doesn't show. History in New York City is in plain sight and yet hidden by lack of memory. The above picture shows Bleecker Street at Seventh Avenue. It is a fairly typical row of houses on Bleecker Street, apparently from the mid-19th Century. You can always tell those apart from more recent buildings due to the cornices - and the fact that they often have the year of construction up near the roofs. Since this photo interested me and shows a slice of Greenwich Village that usually doesn't get a lot of attention, I did this comparison of Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street from 1979 to 2017.

Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, randommusings.filminspector.com
Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC, in November 2017 (Google Street View).
Our first order of business is always to make sure that we have the right location and compare the structures. Here, it is fairly obvious that we are looking at the same row of buildings, as virtually nothing about them has changed. Well, one thing has changed - the three on the right are painted in noticeably darker colors. That's probably just due to modern tastes, pastels and whites were more fashionable in Manhattan decades ago, whereas now darker is seen as classier or something. One thing that darker colors are better at than pastels is that they tend to show their age less noticeably. So, it's not really a surprise that the pink building in 1979 turned into a dark red, and the tan building to its left turned became an even darker red. Dark red seems to be almost a code for "historic," and one is more likely to consider a 1850s row house as historic in 2017 than in 1979. So, paint it to match the plot.

Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, randommusings.filminspector.com
Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC, in November 2017 (Google Street View).
Let's make a larger point about this scene, however. We're in Greenwich Village, so we know the normal grid rules applied to Manhattan in 1811 don't apply. However, notice the nice view we have of this block of houses (284-289 Bleecker Street). Does that strike you like a little unusual? Usually, in Manhattan, you can't just back up indefinitely to get a better view. However, here we can get a nice long view of these buildings on a side street. What gives? Well, there is a very good reason for this.

Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, randommusings.filminspector.com
Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC, in November 2017 (Google Street View). Bleecker Street is on the right, Barrow Street on the left.
This photo may make the situation a little plainer. Notice the little pizza joint next to the red tenement? Kind of an odd triangular shape. Well, the answer to why this is unusual (and, for Manhattan, it is unusual) is that there used to be quite a different scene here. Back in the early 20th Century, there was no Seventh Avenue at this spot. It ended several blocks north, at 11th Street. However, in 1914, the powers that be decided to extend 7th Avenue south to Varick Street. This enabled the construction of both the new road through the neighborhood and also a subway line underneath it (the New York City Subway IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line, known more familiarly now as the 1,2, and 3 train, opened in 1918). All they had to do was blow up a bunch of buildings just like those four colorful tenements. Oh, and a church or two as well. At that point, those buildings were only about 50 or 60 years old, so who cares, right? Plus, it was kind of a grimy area with a reputation for crimes at the time and the city planners probably saw it as a chance to clean things up a bit. Now, of course, the entire neighborhood would be full of historic buildings if they hadn't made that decision. But, you wouldn't have that nice view of those buildings.

Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, randommusings.filminspector.com
Seventh Avenue at Bleecker Street, NYC, in November 2017 (Google Street View).
A look down Bleecker Street gives a better view of the impact of the Seventh Avenue Cut (as it was called) of 1914. Notice that building on the right? Barely visible on the right in the 1979 photo, it is somewhat oddly shaped. It wasn't originally built that way. Its end was lopped off in 1914 for the construction of 7th Avenue and the subway. So, after over 100 years, the effects of that decision remain on display. The only reason that the photographer in 1979 was able to get that angle for his or her photograph was because of the 1914 Seventh Avenue Cut. Without it, that building on the right would have been intact and blocked the line of sight. They just sliced off half of the building and built a new exterior wall, and there it remains after over 100 years. Sometimes, the history of Manhattan is revealed more by what you don't see rather than by what you do.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Manhattan is constantly changing, and sometimes what remains acts as a map to what has been lost. Please visit some of our other pages in this continuing series!

2019

Monday, July 8, 2019

Then and Now: 14th Street at 9th Avenue, NYC

Meatpacking District

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, NYC, in 1976. 
There are few neighborhoods in Manhattan which have changed more than the Meatpacking district. This is an area on the west side of Manhattan that is located on and to the south of 14th Street. Back in the day, it was a rough area, full of rough streets, rough buildings, and some pretty rough customers. When I saw the above picture of 14th Street from 1976, I grew curious as to how much that block has changed in the last 40+ years. So, I decided to do a comparison of West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues from 1976 to 2018.

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
Our first goal is to make sure that we have the right spot. The north side of 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues has changed more than the south side. Many of the buildings on the south side of the street are still recognizable from the 1970s. We can tell that the above photo matches the same location from 1976 because of the distinctive low-slung building in the center of the scene and the larger building at the end of the block which retains the same ornamentation on the roof. Let's take a little closer view.

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
This photo shows a little more clearly the distinctive roof of the building at the end of the block (on 9th Avenue) and the three-story building a little nearer to us. We have the same spot, all right.

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street at 9th Avenue, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
Moving a little further to the east, we can see that the red building on the far side of 9th Avenue - the one under the massive water tower - is still there. However, at some point, the owners added a few floors on top. One must admit, they did a pretty good job trying to match the earlier style, but comparing the 1976 photo with the current view shows pretty clearly what was done.

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
Turning around and looking back toward where the original photographer stood in 1976 shows how much the north side of the street (where he or she was standing) has changed. Until around the last 20 years, there was a low overhang that ran over the street to help shield the workers. The streets were cobblestone, though at some point the city made some attempt to pave them over. The High Line railway, visible in the distance, was still in operation in 1976. Now, of course, it is a park and a "destination." The entire block has gone from being grimy warehouses and a Spanish supermarket (great prices!) to little boutiques and such. I knew a photographer who had his studio in the top floor of one of those buildings on the right, we took a freight elevator to get to his studio (if you see the Robert Redford film "The Hot Rock" - one like that). A great bar, Hogs n' Heifers, was around the corner to the left, and there were gay clubs down by the river. All of that is gone now, it is now a chic little spot where you can get a nice gown for the party at the gallery next week.

Meatpacking District, randommusing.filminspector.com
West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
A lot the buildings along this stretch of 14th Street remain the same. There haven't been any skyscrapers put in or anything, just some renovations of perhaps questionable taste. Someone suddenly transported from 1976 to 2019 would recognize where they were - though they would be shocked at how clean and neat and tidy it was, especially the north side of the block. However, the spirit and essence of the neighborhood have changed. It is not quite the Upper East Side yet, but it definitely is trendy and being reworked. Money obviously is pouring into the area and gentrification is in full swing. Whether all that change is positive or negative is up to you to decide.

Thanks for stopping by this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The Meatpacking District no longer has much meatpacking, so it's nice that it has been repurposed at the cost of its grimy, squalid splendor. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Then and Now: Park at 56th Street, NYC

Park Avenue at 56th Street, Manhattan

Park Avenue at 56th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue at 56th Street, Manhattan, 1982.
Park Avenue has changed a lot over the years even though it sometimes doesn't seem like it. When I saw the photo above from 1982, it looked pretty standard, as if it could have been taken last week. However, some key features of this photo have changed and are in the process of changing, so I decided to see what the same scene looks like now. Fortunately, the street number on the building at the left is very prominent, so this was an easy location to pinpoint. This is a comparison of Park Avenue at 56th Street from 1982 to 2018.

Park Avenue at 56th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue at 56th Street in August 2018 (Google Street View).
Well, some things are changing on Park Avenue. The large building on the left, 425 Park Avenue, is in the midst of a major reconstruction as of mid-2019. The building seen in the 1982 photo was built in the 1950s and reflected all of the worst design aesthetics of that era: monotony, uniformity, and drabness. It was a generic office building which in 1982 housed, among other large professional businesses, the Finley, Kumble law firm. It had its litigation department on the second floor and real estate and other departments on the 7th floor and some other high floors. It was a favored law firm of Donald Trump and was the firm that won/lost him the USFL case in the 1980s (the USFL "won" $1, but that meant the NFL had to pay it $10 million in the USFL's legal fees). The law firm was one of the first massive, multi-state law firms which later became standard, but Finley, Kumble dissolved in bitter acrimony about five years after that photo.

Park Avenue at 56th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
425 Park Avenue in August 2018 (Google Street View).
The "new" 425 Park Avenue looks like a completely new building. It certainly has little in common with the old one. However, appearances can be deceiving. The core of the old building remains. The quirks of New York City zoning laws have impacted the design, requiring the new building to have the same square footage as the old building. The new building will have two restaurants, which is somewhat curious since the venerable Four Seasons and some other nearby top restaurants have found the current environment difficult and recently have gone out of business. Rather than the drab box of the former 425 Park Avenue, this one will have some originality in its exterior that harkens back to the great structures of the early 20th Century which continue to give the city character and individuality. The wheel turns, and sometimes it turns back in its original direction.

Park Avenue at 56th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
430 Park Avenue, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
Also just barely visible in the 1982 photo is the building on the right. It is 430 Park Avenue, notable for its unusual green exterior. Its appearance and even its very existence have a lot to do with how zoning laws work in Manhattan. It was drastically reconstructed from a 1920s apartment building around the same time that 425 went up in the 1950s. It was renovated in 2001/2002. It is very boxy because it was grandfathered in under old zoning laws that did not require setbacks. That's why these reconstructions usually retain the inner core of old buildings when it might be cheaper and more efficient to just raze the whole thing and start over. Because the original building was built in the 1920s, the current building can tower over Park Avenue in a way that new construction cannot. It also has high ceilings due to its history as a pre-war apartment building, 12'-16'. One of the building's oddities due to its history is that it is only 60 feet deep, so it is tall and thin. We should all have that appearance after 100 years! It would be easy to predict that 430 Park Avenue will soon share the fate of 425 Park, but its fairly recent remodel and maximal usage of its footprint suggests that it isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Park Avenue at 55th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
417 Park Avenue, NYC, in August 2018 (Google Street View).
There are other buildings visible in the 1982 photo that are pretty much unchanged over the past 35 years. The Pan Am Building at the end of the Street is now the Met Life Building. However, it really hasn't changed much otherwise (they had only recently shut down the heliport on top of it due to a tragic accident). The white building just past 425 Park Avenue, 417 Park, was built in 1917 when Park Avenue was still almost exclusively a high-class residential area. It just toodles along, decade after decade, while these transient office buildings come and go around it. The most enduring buildings in Manhattan tend to be high-class residential ones because emptying them for reconstruction or demolition is a herculean task. It is now the last luxury residence that remains along Park Avenue from Grand Central Terminal North to 57th Street and gives the street a little character that the big boxes of the 1950s tried (and ultimately failed) to destroy. It also led the way in converting from an apartment building to a coop way back in 1946, long before that became popular. It is buildings like 417 Park that give the avenue its signature look and show that, once you do something right, there's no reason to change it.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Park Avenue is a prime example that the facade of New York's grand avenues may change with passing fads, but the anchors persevere. Please visit some of our other entries in this series to see how cities evolve over time!

2019

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Then and Now: Bleecker at Thompson, Greenwich Village

Kenny's Castaways and Back Fence

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
Bleecker and Thompson Streets, 1983.
Some streets are the same, but they are different. The structures endure, but the people who use them also change. Thus, their needs change, and as their needs change, the businesses that service them change. Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village is an excellent example. It has gone through many iterations, from home to immigrants just off the boat to Beatnick Paradise to rock n' roll haven to Yuppie theme park. After spotting the above picture from 1983, I decided to check in and see how this iconic Village crossroads is doing these days. So, I decided to do a comparison of the northwest corner of Bleecker Street at Thompson Street in Greenwich Village from 1983 to 2018.

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
Bleecker and Thompson Streets, August 2018 (Google Street View).
A quick glance at the Bleecker/Thompson corner suggests that not much has changed. The same red building from the 1890s (yes, it was red back then, too) still houses some storefront businesses. In the 1983 photo, you can see The Back Fence on the far corner, Kenny’s Castaways next to it, and Surf Maid on the northeast corner. All of those businesses are gone. The street lamp on the corner is similar, though it now seems smaller. The city added a go/no go pedestrian sign on the northeast corner with a trashcan, but overall, it looks very similar. Or is it?

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
The northwest corner of Bleecker and Thompson (Google Street View).
Focusing on the businesses themselves gives a little deeper insight into what has changed over 35 years. In 1983, both of the businesses on that part of Bleecker Street were related to music. Kenny's Castaways closed in 2012, and its closing marked a sort of changing of the guard. Opened in 1976, Kenny's basically was a music club. There was a large wooden bar along the left as you walked in. You'd plunk down your $2, get a beer, and proceed to the small seating area in the back to enjoy the band playing in the corner. Kenny was Mike Kenny, an Irishman (he immigrated in the mid-1960s) closed his supper club uptown and opened Kenny's Castaways on Bleecker. His focus was on undiscovered talent, hence "Castaways." While I personally never saw anyone famous perform there, reportedly acts like Patti Smith and the New York Dolls took their turn in the back. Kenny's finally closed for a couple of reasons that really reflect what is going on in the neighborhood.

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
The northwest corner of Bleecker and Thompson (Google Street View).
Kenny's closed because rents got too high. That is hardly unique to Bleecker Street, that phenomenon has been going on in New York City forever. However, Sergio Riva, who bought the lease, told The New York Times at the time:
They’re trying to turn Bleecker Street into a quiet block. The way we feel we’re going to be able to succeed is to be busier earlier in the day.
Now, who "they" are is a little unclear. However, a glance at this entire stretch of Bleecker Street east of 6th Avenue bears out that someone wants a less raucous atmosphere. My guess is all the gentry now inhabiting the apartments on the street. The loud music clubs are gone along with the loud Parisian-style cafes like like Caffe Borgia and the peculiar little video store on the corner. In their place are quiet little restaurants, banks, and even drugstores (gasp). The party atmosphere has disappeared completely. In its place is a staid, gentrified, quiet atmosphere. Oh, and Pig Bleecker, the barbecue chain joint on the corner, closed in February 2019. The culprit? The rising rents.

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
A look at the southern side of the Bleecker/Thompson intersection shows what is really "happening" on Bleecker Street these days: a bank and a drugstore (Google Street View).
So, the funky loud places are gone. The lively crowds have been replaced by people occasionally disappearing into dark restaurants. In their place are bland, dependable, profitable businesses that could be literally anywhere. Personally, I think the banks' turn is coming next. As everything gradually goes paperless, who needs brick-and-mortar bank branches anymore? However, for now, they can absorb the rent better than a guitar supper club can. Now, I don't want to leave the impression that this is a rant about losing your childhood or anything like that because it isn't. Were Kenny's still there, I wouldn't be going there. Entertainment is too easy and too much cheaper to find elsewhere in the age of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. The best bands in history are only a click away on Youtube. Hopefully, Mr. Kenny retired to the Hamptons or wherever he went and bought his own drum kit to keep downstairs to bang on occasionally. Maybe that reminded him of the good old days before he passed away in 2002. However, those days indeed are gone, and nobody knows when the current days are going to be gone, too.

Greenwich Street at Thompson Street, Greenwich Village randommusings.filminspector.com
Thompson and Bleecker Streets by George Benjamin Luks, c. 1905, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.; 50.8 x 76.2 cm, Palmer Museum of Art.
Incidentally, the name that Mr. Riva chose for his sedate restaurant that replaced Kenny's Castaways, Carroll Place, harkens back to the 1930s, when developer Thomas E. Davis tried to restructure and rename this section of Bleecker Street in order to make it more dignified and exclusive. Well, Mr. Davis, your dream finally has come true, 80 years later. In other words, Bleecker Street has become just like all the other homogenized blocks in the Big Apple. Isn't that special.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. It's only a matter of time before Bleecker Street enters a new phase, and hopefully one a little more lively than what it is going through now. Please visit some of our other pages in this continuing series!

2019

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Then and Now: St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church, NYC

The World Trade Center and St. Paul's Chapel in Downtown Manhattan

St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church and the World Trade Center randommusings.filminspector.com
The World Trade Center right after its completion in 1973. That is St. Paul's Chapel in front of them.
This is the story of a building. Buildings are defined as much by their surroundings as they are by their actual appearance. The Washington Monument, to take one example, is a fine obelisk, but it wouldn't have the same impact anywhere but as the centerpiece of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan is a fine building in its own right, but its impact is more a result of its history and the changing cityscape around it than any unique aspects of its construction. I spotted the above photo of St. Paul's Chapel from 1973 and decided to follow up to see how the same view looks now. So, this is a comparison of St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church from 1973 to 2018.

St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church in 1831 randommusings.filminspector.com
The same angle view of St. Paul's Chapel from Park Row in 1831.
St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church has stood in the same location for since 1766 near the intersection of Park Row and Broadway in lower Manhattan. The address is 209 Broadway. The spot was north of Wall Street, which was considered the northern boundary of the "built-up" section of New York City. St. Paul's Chapel is so old that its deed is based on land granted by Anne, Queen of Great Britain. It was the tallest building in New York City in 1766 and is considered New York's "last colonial structure." It almost burned down on September 21, 1776, during the Great Fire of New York. However, a bucket brigade of parishioners brought water over from the Hudson River (which was much nearer to the chapel than it is now) to keep St. Paul's Chapel from burning. George Washington attended services at St. Paul's Chapel regularly, including on the day of his inauguration. Nearby Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street burned down in the 1776 fire and has been replaced twice, but St. Paul's has stood on a lucky spot.

St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church in 1907 randommusings.filminspector.com
St. Paul's Chapel in 1907 from a slightly different angle. As can be seen, there wasn't much of note behind it to the west.
After a few decades beginning around 1890 when the city's tallest buildings were built in midtown and downtown was somewhat overlooked, they finally returned to downtown with the construction of the World Trade Center. The 1973 picture at the top of this page marks that major turning point for the city. It also almost led to the destruction of St. Paul's Chapel.

St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church after the collapse of the World Trade Center randommusings.filminspector.com
Working in St. Paul’s churchyard following Sept 11, 2001 (FEMA).
St. Paul's Chapel survived 9/11 even though it easily could have been destroyed. The Twin Towers were only a block away, and if the physics of the 9/11 attack been a little different, they could have fallen on it. Building No. 5 was right across the street.

St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church and the World Trade Center randommusings.filminspector.com
An aerial view shows how close the destroyed buildings were to St. Paul's Chapel (New York City Cemetery Project).
A lot of debris fell on and around St. Paul's Chapel, but not enough to destroy it. It was a virtually miraculous escape. The chapel served as a relief station well into 2002. As we all know, the World Trade Center was rebuilt in a new form - but it has some eerie similarities to how it had been before.

Trinity Church 2018 randommusings.filminspector.com
View of Trinity Church in July 2018 (Google Street View).
Following 9/11, the area behind St. Paul's Chapel was vacant once again, just as it had been in the 19th Century. However, nature abhors a vacuum, and the background to this view now once again is filled by the new World Trade Center building. Though a lot has changed, the background looks eerily similar once again to the one in the 1973 photograph. However, as in that photo, Trinity Church still retains its majesty despite its much larger neighbors.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church is the true center of gravity of lower Manhattan and the other buildings come and go around it. Please visit some of the other entries in this series to see other examples of how the city has evolved over time!

2019