Saturday, November 10, 2018

Then and Now: Broadway at 48th Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Broadway at 48th Street, Manhattan

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
A 1970s postcard showing the old Ramada Inn location at 48th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

I came across the above hotel postcard from the 1970s and noticed something oddly familiar about it. I looked closer and then looked at the description on the back of the card and it hit me: Wienerwald!

Yes, that's a green Wienerwald sign on the front of this Ramada Inn card. Anyone who has been following this blog knows that in two previous posts I have identified two Wienerwald locations: at Broadway and 51st Street and in Times Square at 51st Street. It also turns out that there was a third Wienerwald location, and here it is shown in the postcard: at 790 Eighth Avenue at 48th Street.

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
This blurb from the 26 May 1980 New York magazine was my Rosetta Stone in unlocking the locations of the three New York City Wienerwald Restaurants.

What is Wienerwald? It is a chain of Austrian chicken restaurants. Yes, it says "Wiener" in the name, but the restaurant, as far as I know, did not, in fact, serve wieners. It was just an early chain franchise restaurant, founded in 1950, that was vaguely along the lines of KFC and served chicken. At its height in 1982, Wienerwald had 880 or so locations in the United States, but that is when it filed for bankruptcy protection and shuttered all of its United States restaurants. It was a cautionary tale in expanding too far and too fast and getting overstretched. Wienerwald still exists in its native Austria but is long gone from the United States. The word "Wienerwald," incidentally, has nothing at all to do with wieners and actually means "Vienna Woods."

Having identified the location of the last Wienerwald, I decided to do a comparison of Broadway at 48th Street from the 1970s to the present day. I am fascinated by the business strategy of placing three franchise locations in Manhattan within a few blocks of each other as if Time Square was the only suitable restaurant location in the entirety of New York City. The local Wienerwald subsidiary was formed using this address in 1970, and it went inactive in 1993.

The 48th Street Wienerwald was located in the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, which apparently was a Ramada Inn at that time. It was located at 790 Eighth Avenue, New York, New York. The building was erected in 1962, has 14 stories, and is still there. I have placed below a recent shot taken from Google Street View of the building from approximately the same orientation as the postcard.

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

As can be seen from the comparison, very little has changed at the corner of 48th Street and 8th Avenue from the 1970s to 2018. The Wienerwald location has become a touristy gift store, while the hotel remains in use as a hotel. There now is a large tree out front of the old Wienerwald location, part of a long-term New York City project to inject some greenery into the city. The site is a testament to how little actually changes in New York decade after decade. The same building, properly maintained, will likely be there for another 50 years, and, while the Wienerwald Restaurants of the world will come and go, the ground-level stores will continue to cater to the needs of visitors.

Thank you for visiting this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series on the evolution of street scenes.

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Friday, November 9, 2018

Then and Now: Wienerwald at Broadway and 51st Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Wienerwald at Broadway and 51st Street, Manhattan

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
Broadway at 51st Street circa. 1980.

I found the above photo of the corner of Broadway and 51st Street in Manhattan from the 1970s or early 1980s and decided to investigate to see how the corner looks now. So, I did a comparison of the corner of 51st Street and Broadway in Manhattan from around 1980 to 2018. I took a photo from Google Street View below for the current view of the corner.

I actually had all sorts of trouble pinpointing the location in this photo. The only thing that stands out in the photo is the Wienerwald location on the corner at 1650 Broadway. My sources said that there was a Wienerwald on 790 Eighth Avenue at 48th Street, but I could not get that intersection to line up with the above photo. Finally, I got frustrated and did a little more research, which is always a good idea in such situations. I finally pieced everything together when I found the following item in New York magazine from 26 May 1980.

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
New York Magazine, 26 May 1980, page 115.

So, as you can see from the New York magazine entry, there were not two Wienerwald restaurants in the Times Square area back in the 1970s and early 1980s - there were instead three Wienerwald restaurants. It had not occurred to me that a German company would place three locations literally within a few blocks of each other where they would cannibalize each other's business, but such was the case.

The below photo of the southeast corner of 51st Street at Broadway from Google Street View does line up, though a lot has changed in the intervening years. The best indication that this is the same street corner as in the above photo from ca. 1980 is the presence of the windows above where the Wienerwald restaurant. Some of the buildings in the background are the same, too, but they aren't distinctive enough to really draw any conclusions. The locations do match up.

Wienerwald was an Austrian restaurant chain, one of the earliest, that was formed in 1950 and accumulated 880 locations by the time of its bankruptcy in 1982. It did not serve wieners, but instead served chicken - the name actually means "Vienna Woods." Why you would name a chain of restaurants in the United States with such a misleading name is unclear, but the chain did have some success before McDonald's and other US fast food joints, er, ate its lunch. Wienerwald remains in existence in its home country, with about eight locations, but it was forced to shutter its US locations in 1982. The main location for the New York City restaurants was at the 48th Street location, where the corporation had its subsidiary based. That corporation has been "inactive" since 1993.

Now, the location serves as the home of Ellen's Stardust Diner. People have to eat, and this busy location still serves that basic need. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Thanks for visiting this entry in my review of historical street photos and how they look now. I hope you enjoy them!

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
A photo of the southeastern corner of 51st Street and Broadway ca. 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Then and Now: Wienerwald in Times Square, Manhattan

Then and Now: Wienerwald in Times Square

7th Avenue Times Square 1975
1560 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, New York in the spring of 1975 (Nick DeWolf).

Times Square in New York City is one of the busiest pieces of real estate in the world. It is known as the "Crossroads of the world," among other things. You might think that it is constantly changing from year to year to keep up with the cutting-edge of cultural shifts. Well, I found the above 1975 photo of 1560 Times Square, an address located on the east side of 7th Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets, and grew curious about what it looks like now. So, I did a comparison of 1560 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan from Spring 1975 to 2018. I used Google Street View for the most recent shot below.

We can pinpoint the exact location due to the Embassy Theater (aka Embassy 1 Theater) which is at the extreme left of the 1975 shot (it is showing Irwin Allen's "Earthquake"). The Embassy closed in 1997 and, after renovation, was reopened in 1998 as the Times Square Visitor Center (retaining its iconic marquee). One of the most noticeable parts of the 1975 photo is the big green Wienerwald sign. Wienerwald ("Vienna Woods" in German) was a large (860 restaurants) chain of Austrian chicken restaurants (no, not wieners as you might have thought, which may have contributed to some of its difficulties in the United States). Wienerwald continued at this location until roughly 1982, when the company filed for bankruptcy. As part of its reorganization, Wienerwald closed all of its American restaurants (some Wienerwald restaurants continue in Austria).

Well, people have to eat, so another restaurant moved into the old Wienerwald spot. It didn't serve chicken, except on sandwiches.

7th Avenue Times Square 2013
This shot of the old Wienerwald site was taken 28 December 2013 (Paul Rudoff).

Yes, McDonald's took over the Wienerwald location around 1984 and has been there ever since. There is a certain irony to this since the growth of the US fast food franchise industry is part of the reason why Wienerwald itself closed its store in the United States. This location at 1560 Seventh Avenue is a fairly famous spot. It was in Bobby Brown's music video for his song "On Our Town," for instance. Of course, any time a film shows someone traveling through Times Square it is likely to give a glimpse of the spot. As shown in the Google Street View shot below, the McDonalds itself has become somewhat of an institution in Times Square.

This just shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A good location for a food establishment is always going to be one so long as the area remains popular, and Times Square continues to attract visitors from around the world. It's would probably be a bit of a let-down for German tourists to wind up eating at a Wienerwald in Times Square, so maybe a more American-themed restaurant in that spot is for the best.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoyed this brief excursion back into the history of Times Square as much as I did.

7th Avenue Times Square 2018
1560 Seventh Avenue in Times Square, Manhattan ca. 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, South Bronx

Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1980.

The South Bronx is an interesting place for urban explorers because so much of it remains untouched for decade after decade. The reasons for this are multiple, but boil down to lack of investment in new buildings. This, in turn, derives from the lack of lack of popularity of the area to what we might call "outsiders." The above picture from the South Bronx in 1980 piqued my interest, so I decided to compare the Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue in the Bronx from 1980 to 2018. To do this, I took a current grab from Google Street View, which is below.

As the above photo from 1980 shows, the South Bronx in 1980 was a gritty place. It is a stark view, an endless expanse of concrete with some tenements and some strip mall-type buildings on the street. Citibank has a branch there, looking remarkably like a fortress with thick walls and a stark paint job. Overall, it is a forbidding landscape, which in all fairness may have something to do with when the photo was taken. However, it does not look like a very welcoming place, and, unless you have some banking to do, not the type of area that you would want to tarry in for any length of time.
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992.

A picture of the same corner at East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992 shows that little had changed other than the tenants of the buildings. In a sign of the times, the Citibank branch had become a video store. Everyone wanted to own a video store in the late '80s and early '90s, it was the "hot thing." It looks like pretty much everything else is unchanged from 1980. The buildings down the street to the right are still there, and the billboards are still in use. The billboards are evocative of the era but do give the neighborhood a somewhat junky feel. There is a small tree down the block which breaks the starkness a bit.

In the photo below from a recent Google Street View map, Most of the buildings appear to be the same. The tenements certainly are still there, and it appears that the Citibank building has simply been converted into a Popeye's restaurant. The street lights look pretty much the same, as do the street signs on the pole. There are no billboards anymore. The buildings behind the tenements are gone, but, otherwise, the photo shows how little has really changed at this particular corner. The replacement of the Citibank with a video store and then a fast food joint pretty much mirrors the transition of the city, as many now complain that the only stores you find anymore are fast food joints and similar high-traffic businesses that provide mundane conveniences.

There is one subtle change in the most recent photo, however, that makes a big difference. The small tree in the 1992 photo now makes a big impact in the photo below. In fact, there isn't any suggestion of any living thing at all in the 1980 photo, and the tree in the 1992 photo is almost inconsequential. Comparing the 1980 photo with the more recent one shows how much some greenery softens a landscape that otherwise looks harsh and forbidding. The city has made that change in many locations, and it greatly improves the quality of life of those that live there. The streets and buildings may be the same, but the little touches make all the difference.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this installment of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you enjoy history as much as I do!
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Then and Now: Carmine's at South Street Seaport, Manhattan

Then and Now: Carmine's

Beekman and Front Street, 1982.

The South Street Seaport is a historic old gent that became a theme park for the tourists long ago, but there is some real history there which is withering away. The above photograph that was taken in 1982 on Beekman and Front Streets captured some of that fleeting history. I decided to compare the change over the years at Beekman Street and Front Street from 1982 to 2018. I took a picture from Google Street View below to show the change.

The unidentified gentleman hauling the hand truck is engaged in hauling some fish from the Fulton Fish Market to one of the local establishments - perhaps Carmine's Bar and Grill in the background. The very authentic cobblestones under his feet appear rougher back in the day than they are now, undoubtedly smoothed over during the area's redevelopment because the tourists don't like a bumpy ride. You want it authentic - but not too authentic, if you know what I mean.

As shown, Carmine's was at the corner at 140 Beekman Street and Front Street. There are several "Carmine's" in New York City, all of them claiming with some legitimacy to be "the" Carmine's, but this Carmine's was the "real one." Founded in 1903, Carmine's was the oldest restaurant in the South Street Seaport until its closing after a grand 107 years on 30 June 2010. While you might think that the 2009 recession caused its closing, the recession actually had nothing to do with it. Instead, it was the same old story that closed Florent in the Meatpacking District countless other famous eateries. The landlord simply jacked up the rent too high and that's all she wrote. In New York City, not only do you have to provide a valuable service and establish a clientele, but you also have to withstand constantly rising rents and landlord "opportunity costs." It's a tough task that takes out some of the best old restaurants and replaces them with nail salons, dry cleaners, and chain coffee shops.


While you would think, being at the Seaport, that Carmine's was most famous for its seafood, that' not quite true. In fact, patrons loved Carmine's for its Italian food - which admittedly often involved fish of some kind. When you go to those old joints that have been there since before your grandpappy was born and order "authentic" seafood, be forewarned: it often isn't that tasty dish that you were expecting. I ordered "original" clam chowder once at the Seaport and it sure was authentic. It also sure was practically inedible for my untutored palate, which is a reflection on me and not the dish, but there you have it. I manfully ate it anyway, grimacing at the strange spices. Anyway, Carmine's was a classic old waterfront hole in the wall that anyone who ate at one in the Seaport back in the day would recognize. It had all the trimmings: the polished dark wooden bar, dark wooden booths, the inevitable seafood decor of nets and life preservers and so forth, mature waitresses who had been there since World War II - you get the drill.

The local cops and dockworkers would hang out there, so you know it had to be good. Really if you want to find the best places in town, good and cheap, ask around for where the firemen or the EMTs eat. You'll usually wind up with a great experience.


In 1982, the year the picture was taken, the Seaport's prospects improved - for tourists, anyway - when redevelopment began to turn South Street Seaport into the theme park that it is today. Prior to that, the Seaport was simply a working seaport, with the overpowering smell of fish from nearby Fulton Fish Market always in the air (Fulton finally left in 2005). There would usually be a big pile of fish or, well, something resembling fish in front of the Fish Market in the morning, and that was the time of day to close the car windows as you drove by. In the 1970s, it was a place where you didn't want to really spend much time, where you just assumed "deals" were taking place under the FDR and the cops liked to park. We drove through often, never stopped - as George Bush might have said, wouldn't be prudent.

These days, in my very humble opinion, the only reason to go to the Seaport is the mall, where you can grab a bite or a drink and then go out and sit for free on the terrace with fabulous views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. The Seaport's owner - yes, it's the Howard Hughes Corporation - recently replaced the mall with another mall And one mall begat another mall...

The owner of Carmine's made noises for a while about reopening the restaurant somewhere else, but that almost never happens, and it didn't this time, either. He finally admitted Carmine's was gone for good in 2011. Now occupied by Vbar Seaport, a generic Italian eatery perfect for the tourists, the building is the same (minus the classic old Carmine's signage). There's still an Italian restaurant there, but the locals miss their Carmine's.

I hope you enjoyed this little stroll into the past and back into the present.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that's the story of Carmine's at the South Street Seaport.

The old Carmine's location ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Then and Now: Florent on North Gansevoort Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Florent Diner, Meatpacking District, Manhattan

R&L Lunch ca. 1938, when it opened.

The above photo of the R&L Luncheonette at 69 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District stirred some memories for me. So, I decided to do a comparison of the R&L Luncheonette aka Florent's from 1938 to 2018. I grabbed an image from Google Street View below for the comparison.

Located at 69 Gansevoort Street, which is one of the more obscure streets in one of the more obscure sections of Manhattan, the R&L was a stalwart in a rapidly changing neighborhood. The High Line, now a park, was still operating when the R&L opened, bringing in frozen turkey and beef for the meatpacking operations around the corner. It wasn't much to look at - just a joint, in the middle of the block with a Formica counter running down the left side. There couldn't have been more than a dozen tables (the certificate of occupancy provided for 74), all squeezed together with those plastic chairs that you thought hadn't escaped the 1960s. It was hard to find and harder to find in the dark in an area that was not exactly the safest in the area. You were quite likely to pass more than one streetwalker on the way of indeterminate gender.

For all that, the R&L did great business. It stayed open 24 hours a day seven days a week and was a favorite spot of the nearby workers. It easily could have closed in the 1980s as the neighborhood changed into a center of the New York gay scene, but openly gay French cook Florent Morellet, who had failed at his previous restaurant, took it over in 1985. That began the last, and greatest, phase of the R&L, which Morellet renamed Florent. Morellet had given his father, conceptual artist François Morellet, a party at the Brooklyn Museum, and while in town spent some time in the meatpacking district. At that time, the area had clubs like Hellfire, Anvil, Mineshaft... you get the picture. The area was alive throughout the night because of the meatpackers, with trucks lined up at 2 a.m. to deliver their sausage and beef slabs. Everyone had money to spend with few nearby places to spend it, and they were hungry.

The sign in the front window which told you that you had finally found the right place in the darkness.

Florent signed a ten-year lease for $1350 a month with the family of the original owner and opened his restaurant in August 1985. He kept the original sign and furnishings and got his liquor license in 1969. Florent gave both the meatpackers and the club kids what they wanted. Roy Lichtenstein ate there all the time, but many other celebrities did, too, as there was a major recording studio nearby. If you wanted onion soup at 3:35 in the morning, you headed to Florent. It served the standard diner food mixed in with a French touch: mussels, pâté, steak frites, hamburgers, cheeseburgers. The eggs were a great choice for brunch with a side order of fries and some black coffee on a cold January morning. The payphone near the front door got a workout, as did the cigaret machine - $1 a pack for Marlboros back in the day. There were unusual events that you didn't expect anywhere north of Fire Island, such as the annual Bastille Day drag party. It was what it was, either that atmosphere was to your taste or it wasn't. If you frequented Tea Time at The Pines and lived in the Village with an occasional trip out to the Hamptons on the jitney, you felt right at home at Florent. Florent was good people, as we used to say.

Florent at the end.

Well, as you can see from the below picture, Florent is gone. A harbinger of doom was when Florent instituted a children's menu due to the influx of Yuppies. It closed 29 June 2008, a true victim of gentrification when the landlord raised the monthly rent to $30,000 (and who, it turned out, wanted to open their own restaurant). I was fortunate to patronize Florent before it closed - it seemed eternal, because it was always busy and who else would want to run a place in that dingy area? But the entire area has changed - Hogs & Heifers around the corner is long gone, too - and now the Meatpacking District is full of fancy boutiques and chic restaurants. Community Board 2 has been very picky about tenants there, and there have been several since Florent closed.

The "For Rent" sign after Florent closed.

But one thing - the facade of the R&L Diner - remains. Oh, and Florent Morellet? He moved to Bushwick. The rumor is that Showtime is developing a series about Morellet. Whether anything actually comes of that, who knows, but it shows that Florent is gone but not forgotten.

Anyway, thanks for visiting this page of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you find them interesting!

The R&L ca. 2018, now a clothing boutique. The owners have maintained the traditional facade and red neon light in the front window (Google Street View).


Then and Now: Canal Street at Broadway, Manhattan, NYC

Then and Now: Canal Street at Broadway, Manhattan

Canal Street and Broadway NYC in 1984
Canal Street at Broadway, Manhattan, 1984.

Late-night hangouts are one of the prime attractions of New York City. If you find one, you tend to keep going back because they tend to draw the same kind of crowd over and over. You don't get many tourist buses pulling at 4:15 a.m. One of the best was Dave's Corner Luncheonette at the southeast corner of Broadway and Canal Street. I decided to do this comparison of the above 1984 photo with its appearance in 2018. The recent shot below is from Google Street View.

One can see from the photos, the buildings, street lamp, and pretty much everything else are unchanged despite the passage of over three decades. The building on the corner has been prettied-up a bit, and Dave's has been replaced with an Asian restaurant. The buildings in the background are the same, and the entire area looks pretty similar. Dave's had one of the best locations in the city for a diner since it sat at the crossroads of Chinatown, SoHo, the East Village, and you could hop on the subway uptown and stop at Dave's on the way home to Brooklyn via the convenient subway stop right outside. on Canal.

Canal Street and Broadway NYC in 1984
The same corner at night. This is how a lot of patrons will remember it best.

Dave’s Corner Luncheonette was just outside the SoHo Broadway district. While there are plenty of great restaurants, they aren't all open 24 hours. While there are a lot of empty streets at that hour, places like Dave's are always busy. Patrons at the nearby Mudd Club would stop by for fries, while truck drivers would get a late dinner or early breakfast before heading back out of town. Everyone loved the three horseshoe-shaped lunch counters where little groups would congregate and get some espresso to keep on going through the night. "You Ring/We Bring" said the sign at the cash register. A lot of deals went down at Dave's in the middle of the night, as the clientele respected the entire spectrum of the area, which in those days was more blue-collar and artistic, but also included its share of young white-collar office dwellers. Cabbies would stop by during their shift for some quick coffee. Dave's had great egg creams, cherry cokes, cherry-lime rickeys, and other NYC specialties.

One of the assets of Dave's was the older waiters and waitresses. It was like having your mom bringing your coffee and indicating her opinion of your personal sugar-and-cream preferences with a toss of her head. Sure, you could go somewhere else and have an indifferent college student bring you your order, but it was considered a sign of class to have the older servers. And, Dave's had class. It closed around 1990 and is sorely missed.

Canal Street and Broadway NYC in the 1950s
A view of the same corner from the northeast, apparently in the 1950s. The National City Bank building in the center of the photo is still there.

There were only so many after-hours places in Manhattan. Coffee Shop on Union Square (that's the name, it was a trendy restaurant/bar and not actually a coffee shop) and Florent in the Meatpacking District were my personal favorites, but there were many scattered across the landscape. If you spent enough time in Manhattan, you eventually found out where they were and went back. And back. And back again. Because a good late-night place was one of the true delights of living in the city.

Canal Street and Broadway NYC
The view from the northast, as in the preceding photo (Google Street View).

Anyway, times change, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. People still have to eat, so there's another restaurant on that corner and a food truck out front. Back in the day, Dave's took care of all that by itself.

Canal Street and Broadway NYC in 2018
Canal Street at Broadway, Manhattan, ca. 2018 (Google Street View).