Friday, November 23, 2018

Then and Now: Second Avenue and 51st Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Second Avenue and 51st Street, Manhattan

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
Second Avenue at 51st Street circa 1980.

The above ordinary street scene from the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan piqued my interest regarding that particular street corner looks like now, in the 2010s. I tracked down the location as the southwest corner of Second Avenue at 51st Street. So, I decided to do a comparison of Second Avenue at 51st Street from around 1980 to the 2010s.

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
Second Avenue at 51st Street in the 2010s (Google Street View).

The first thing that I noticed is that the A&P on the northwest corner is gone. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company already was in trouble in 1980, and it began a wave of store closings in 1981. The company stumbled on for another few decades, with moments where it seemed to be regaining strength. However, the 2009 recession hit A&P hard - why is unclear, since supermarkets should be relatively recession-proof, but the company was highly leveraged after various acquisitions - and it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. This seemed to save the chain, but then it filed for bankruptcy again in 2015 and closed all of its remaining stores by the end of that year. Considering that the location is closed in the more recent photo, this A&P may have lasted until the end of 2015. The new tenant is a CVS, which reflects an influx of pharmacies into old retail spaces. Prescriptions are a durable and growing business. People aren't cooking at home as much as they used to, either, so the switch is a sign of the times.

The buildings on the southwest corner and running down the block appear to be the same. However, they have had a lot of work done to them. The building on the corner has had windows added on the 51st Street side. The fire escape also is gone. The other buildings along the block nearest that corner also have removed their fire escape, and only a couple of those buildings down by 50th Street retain them. Personally, I like fire escapes, because they give a building character. However, I can certainly understand why you would remove them because they must be maintained and can provide entry for prowlers. The low buildings almost certainly still survive as they are by selling their lucrative air rights to those new skyscrapers behind them.

When I first glanced at the most recent picture, I thought that the tall apartment building down Second Avenue was the same. However, a closer look showed that it was not the same building at all. Whatever building was there in 1980 was replaced in 1985 by Sterling Plaza, located at 255 East 49th Street by developers Fred Wilpon and Saul B. Katz. Why they felt the need to replace the building that was there in the oldest photo is unclear, but the 1980s were a period when tax incentives spurred a lot of building in Manhattan. This surge in construction peaked in the 1985-1986 period. The absence of Sterling Plaza dates the top photo to before 1985 for certain, and probably before 1984 or even 1983 considering the typical length of time of demolition and construction. Sterling Plaza, incidentally, now is one of the top areas to live in the area.

Overall, this particular block hasn't changed much at all. You still have the low-profile line of buildings and a sea of taller ones around them. Zoning laws have made this block a sea of stability, the eye of the hurricane of new construction all around it.

Thank you for visiting this entry in my "the more things change the more they stay the same" series. I enjoy putting these together because I'm as curious how these areas change as you are!

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
Second Avenue at 51st Street in the 2010s.
2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Then and Now: Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan

Then and Now: Corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan

Spring Street at Mulberry Street randommusings.filminspector.com
Southeast corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan, in 1976.

One of my continuing themes in this series is how little New York changes from decade to decade despite the stereotype that it is constantly changing. I found the above picture of Mulberry and Springs streets in Manhattan from 1976 and grew curious how it looked now. So, I did a comparison of the corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets from 1976 to the 2010s.

As the below photo from Google Street View shows, the corner actually hasn't changed that much. The building on the southeast (left) corner hasn't changed, and you can verify that it is indeed the same building by noting the fire escape in both pictures (modern buildings don't have external fire escapes). The stanchion bearing the new (in 1976) "Walk" sign appears to be the same stanchion in the recent photo - they probably never have to replace those unless they're hit by a truck or something. The buildings across the street appear to be the same, too, though they are obscured in the 1976 photo by the flags for whatever celebration they were having. In 1976, they had the first "Tall Ships" celebration, so maybe it was for that.

What interests more than the things that haven't changed, however, are the subtle differences between the two photographs. The business on the corner at 51 Spring Street used to be a working man's bar - a classic "pub," as they would call it in England. Behind it was a liquor store. Now, the address has a typical little restaurant and pizzeria. New York City used to be a hard-drinking city, with working-men bars all over. There are still bars, of course, but nowhere near to the same extent as in the 1970s. By and large, they tend to be "classy" joints now, not your old-style shuffle in, sit on the stool nearest the bartender, and order a double bourbon.

Another ubiquitous little sight in 1976 - not in this photo - was the little green sign for OTB Parlors. Off-track betting was legalized in 1970 and OTB sites began springing up in 1971. There were 100 such parlors throughout New York City at one point. However, betting on the horses became less and less popular with time, and the Internet offered other ways to bet (along with lotteries). After going bankrupt in 2009, the OTB establishments finally closed their doors in 2010. You won't see OTB Parlors in the city anymore, just as you won't see as many bars of the type shown in the above picture. Times change, and as people change, so do the businesses in their neighborhoods. This is gentrification at the microscopic level.

One other thing that I noticed is that they no longer allow parking on both sides of those little one-way streets. That is a very positive change, though, of course, it annoys car owners (about whom the city cares less and less). You used to have to thread your way down those tiny streets with poor visibility, fearing that someone would dart out from behind the parked cars to open their car door right in front of you, and hoping some pothole didn't you send you careening into a parked car. Now, at least you can see the people on the sidewalk on one side, leave yourself a little room between you and the parked cars, and you can drive down those streets without clenching the steering wheel in anxiety.

Thank you for stopping by to see this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. It's a lot of fun seeing how areas evolve, sometimes it is the subtle changes that take place to ordinary places over time that tells you more than anything else about the people who live there.

Spring Street at Mulberry Street randommusings.filminspector.com
Southeast corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan, in the 2010s (Google Street View).
2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Then and Now: Ferrara Bakery, Manhattan

Then and Now: Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street, Manhattan

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy randommusings.filminspector.com
Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street in Manhattan during the 1970s.

It is common to think of New York City as a place where things are transient. People come and go, businesses come and go, buildings come and go. However, there is a lot more permanence to the Big Apple than perhaps some folks realize. This isn't due strictly to preservation laws, either, though they certainly contribute. Instead, there is an institutional orderliness in Manhattan which maintains places that serve a need. A business doesn't have to be particularly unique - it may just be another local diner or steakhouse or deli when it opens. However, some of them have that special ingredient that stands the test of time. This isn't a judgment call or a review or anything like that, it is simply fact: some joints last seemingly forever while most are gone within a few years. One of the lasting places is the Ferrara Bakery at 195 Grand Street between Mulberry & Mott Streets.

I came across the above old photo of the Ferrara Bakery from the 1970s and became curious about what the site looks like today. So, I went on Google Street View and did a comparison of Ferrara Bakery between the 1970s and the 2010s. The resulting recent photo is below.

A little research soon showed me that Ferrara Bakery was established in 1892. That doesn't make it the oldest local business in Manhattan by far, as there are restaurants such as The Old Homestead Steakhouse and Kenn's Steakhouse that originated in the mid-1880s that I can think off the top of my head that are older (and I would place good odds on some other businesses being older than them, too). The old joints all play up their venerable status one way or another - if they can't claim to be the "oldest," then they are the "best known." Nothing wrong with that - as the Jack Nicholson character said in "Terms of Endearment," we all use what we can.

Ferrara's claim to fame, aside from being around since before anyone alive today was born, is that it remains in the same family after five generations. It claims to be the first Pasteria and Espresso bar in "America." I'm not even sure what a Pasteria is - I'm sure it sells pasta, but only pasta? - but I'll believe them. Who's going to check? In any event, they've been doing something right, that's for sure.

Antonio Ferrara and Enrico Scoppa opened Café A. Ferrara in 1892. That section of Grand Street is in the heart of Little Italy. So, location, location, location being the first rule of real estate, placing your Italian bakery right in the heart of what has become a venerable institution within New York City devoted to your restaurant's tradition was either serendipitous or extremely shrewd planning. Ferrara's now is surrounded by other Italian bakeries and similar joints, of course, but there's only one Ferrara Bakery. The area gets a lot of foot traffic from tourists and locals alike, and that's exactly what a bakery needs to survive. People who want to see Little Italy because everyone knows about Little Italy are going to stroll by, see something nice in Ferrara's window, and stop in Why not? It's an authentic piece of Little Italy and the immigrant experience.

A comparison of the 1970s photo with the more recent one shows that little has changed in 40+ years. The Ferrara sign appears to be the same, as does its building - although the facade has been drastically updated. Call me a traditionalist, but I preferred the original facade. It's probably a lot nicer inside now, though.

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy randommusings.filminspector.com
Stepping back a bit, this photo shows Ferrara Bakery in perspective. I still don't like that new facade. Looks like they change the bushes out front with some regularity.

The other buildings on the block also are the same. Getting anything changed on that street probably requires multiple approves from people who have no interest in seeing a historic area change, so that is not too surprising. Ferrara's must have had some pull to get their renovation permits approved.

Overall, the area looks a bit classier than it did in the 1970s. Gone are the low-rent sandwich shops and so forth. Now there are perfectly manicured potted plants out front and everything looks nice and tidy. The fire escapes are still there to give the area that authentic look of the Lower East Side. There has been some change, but it has been subtle and tasteful - just like Ferrara's mini cannoli.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change the more they stay the same" series. Check out my other offerings, I love looking at how neighborhoods change - and don't change - over time.

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy randommusings.filminspector.com
Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street in the 2010s (Google Street View).
2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Then and Now: Keen's Chop House, Manhattan

Then and Now: Keen's Chop House, Manhattan

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976 randommusings.filminspector.com
Keen's Chop House, 1976 (Chris Protopapas).

Chris Protopapas, a Greek immigrant, began taking photographs of ordinary street scenes in New York City in 1974. He took the above photo of Keen's Chop House at 72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018 in 1976. It's an interesting composition with the Empire State Building looming in the background - which was likely why he took the shot - so I became intrigued. I decided to do this comparison of Keen's Chop House from 1976 to the 2010s and see what the location looked like now.

Well, my research quickly showed that Keen's Chop House remains very much in business. In fact, the entire block looks the same, as you can see in the Google Street View photo of the same area in the 2010s. None of the buildings on the block has been replaced, though their facades have been subtly altered in places. This is one of the most unchanged blocks I've found in midtown, in fact.

You know, of course, that the Empire State Building is still there. Unfortunately for our comparison picture, a building on 35th Street now blocks it from our vantage point at the intersection of 36th Street and Sixth Avenue. However, if you look very carefully at the photo at the bottom, you can just see the very tip of the Empire State Building's television mast just above the intersection of the two buildings in the background. A building has to be tall to be able to have any part of it still be spotted from this extreme angle above those tall buildings. If you were unfamiliar with the area, however, you'd never even notice it until you walked down the block and saw its massive presence.

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976 randommusings.filminspector.com
Keen's Chop House (Google Street View).

Keen's (now called Keen's Steakhouse because the term "Chop House" has gone out of style) opened in 1885. That was the golden age of steak restaurants, places for the wealthy. Lüchow's on 14th Street was another well-known example. While Lüchow's closed in 1984 and its building was demolished in 1995, Keen's survives pretty much exactly as it was decades ago. It has become a tourist attraction in its own right, boasting 90,000 clay pipes which it calls the largest such collection in the world.

Other than Keen's, the entire block seems like it is caught in a time warp. The street lamps, one of which you can clearly see in the 1976 photo but which is obscured by the dark background in the photo below, are still the same. The fire escape on the 5 Boro Burger building at 80 West 36th Street is still there, none the worse for wear after more than 40 years, though they have removed the little ornamental cornice on that building probably because it deteriorated with time and became a hazard.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this installment of this series showing that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I hope you enjoy these little history excursions as much as I do putting them together!

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976 randommusings.filminspector.com
The same vantage point of Keen's Steakhouse on West 36th Street, Manhattan today (Google Street View).

2018

Then and Now: City Diner on West 23rd Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, New York City

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street randommusings.filminspector.com
City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan around 1980.

When you live in the city, little joints that the world seems not to notice loom large. If you find a good local diner, for instance, you treasure it. You get to know the workers, they get to know your name, you learn what days they have certain specials, little oddities like whether they sell cheap bagels at 8 a.m. on every other Thursday - that sort of thing. Then they move, or you move or you lose track. Well, let's make a comparison of City Dinner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan from the 1980s to the 2010s and see what happened to that location.

I never know what happened to a particular location before I start researching it. It could be completely different, with no remaining reference points at all. However, although City Dinner is no longer at 163 West 23rd Street, the spot hasn't changed much at all in the intervening decades. While you may be wondering what is so special about some old diner, there's a hidden story to City Diner that you may find as interesting as I did.

City diner opened around 1978 in a brick building that had once been home to the Traffic Cafeteria (the building still bears the name). It became the Malibu Diner in 1981, though ownership appears to have remained either unchanged or little disturbed. So, as of this writing, Malibu Diner has been there for four decades. That's enough time to build up a wealth of expertise in how to please your customers.

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Diner in New York. (Photo by Malibu Diner Facebook page).

As shown in the photo below taken from Google Street View, City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street is long gone. However, what has taken its place? Why, another diner, of course. This one is called Malibu Diner. Or is it another diner, or the same City Diner with a new name? We shall soon find out.

Malibu Diner is open 24/7 and generally gets good reviews. Do you want water in a glass instead of a cup? The Malibu Diner is your place. People call it a "slice of old-time New York," and our comparison shows that isn't far off the mark. The Malibu Diner is one of those places where you go to get a classic tuna melt, or maybe a Bison Burger Deluxe. Nobody will make it exactly like one of those joints, which have been perfecting their craft literally for decades - as we can see. Oh, and it also delivers - you can't beat that!

Oh, the Malibu Diner is a Greek Diner, though many of the workers there now apparently are Spanish speakers. Why the owners decided to change the name to "Malibu Diner" is a bit of a mystery. In the recent photo below, you can see the entrance to 165 West 23rd Street to the left of the diner (this is on the north side of 23rd Street). The City Diner building facade doesn't appear to have been touched in the 40-odd years since the above photo from around 1978-1980 was taken. They have added an awning - well, you do have to make some concessions to the passage of time. I think the awning gives the diner a classier look, but City Diner looked just fine without it, too.

Selis Manor and Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street randommusings.filminspector.com
The view from Selis Manor, at the right, to Malibu Diner at the left (marked by the red canopy). Google Street View.

One of the secrets to why City Diner/Malibu Diner has survived is that it has a devoted clientele at nearby Selis Manor. Selis Manor is a 200-apartment building that offers special housing for the blind. Selis Manor, founded by a blind newspaperman, opened in 1980. You might notice the timing. This was right after City Diner opened, and the owners of City Diner recognized a community need that needed to be filled. Many of the visually impaired folks have difficulty chopping up their food, so they simply come down to the Malibu Diner or order delivery. Malibu Diner always plays music outside so its visually impaired patrons know that they've arrived. Malibu Diner features menus in Braille - how often are you going to find that? My friends, there's a secret to every successful business, and you just learned Malibu Diner's secret.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in "the more things change, the more they stay the same." There are lessons in the success of the Malibu Diner that wise readers will appreciate. Thanks for stopping by!

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street randommusings.filminspector.com
163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan in the 2010s (Google Steet View).

2018

Then and Now: Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan

Then and Now: Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, New York City

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, the mid-1970s.

I stumbled across this photo that appears to be from the 1970s. The World Trade Center appears to be completed, which puts us after roughly 4 April 1973. The West Side Elevated Highway is still intact, and that was torn down between the spring and fall of 1981. So, we are somewhere between 1973 and 1981, and the cars look as though they belong in the mid-1970s to me. I decided to do a comparison of Christopher Street at the West Side Highway between the mid-1970s and 2018.

The first thing to do is to make sure that we're located in the right place, the southern corner of Christopher Street as it exits toward the West Side Elevated Highway. Notice the building to the left of the young lady riding her bicycle. It has distinctive window cornices. Well, a close-up of the facade of that building, directly below, reveals that building to be 144-150 Barrow Street, which was being renovated when the Google vehicle rolled by. So, we have a positive match.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
144-150 Barrow Street recently (Google Street View).

Just to orient anyone unfamiliar with the area, here is a photo of the same location looking due west - the direction that the lady on the bicycle is riding. In the 1970s, though, she would not have had this view. The view to the river would have been completely blocked by the elevated highway except between the girders. You can see Hoboken across the river in the below picture quite clearly.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com


It appears from the current site of the 1970s photo, below, that the other buildings are the same, too, though it's tough to verify that the building to the left of the one with the window cornices is the same - it probably is, but with a new facade. New York City preservation laws protect these run-down old buildings, else they would all be replaced by high-rises.

The most distinctive changes, of course, are the replacement of the World Trade Center with the One World Trade Center Freedom Tower and the removal of the elevated highway. I bet nobody in the 1970s would have thought that the brand-new World Trade Center would be long gone by 2018, but things happen. Of course, everyone gets sentimental about the horrific tragedy of 9/11 and all the deaths that occurred then. Purely from an aesthetics point of view, the Freedom Tower is an improvement over the bulky World Trade Center in my very humble opinion. I'm sure many prefer the look of the old WTC, and, obviously, the tragic cost of having to replace the original was a price nobody would ever want to pay willingly. But, you make the best of a bad situation and move on, that's the story of the Big Apple and this particular street corner.

This area has been the subject of fierce controversy over the years. The initial thought was to build Westway. The highway would have been placed well to the right of where it is now, with the entire waterfront filled in with concrete and new buildings. Given the huge preservation effort in the city which protects how things are, however, Westway never had a chance. So, what resulted was the rather inefficient highway shown below which effectively cuts the waterfront off from civilization. There really was no perfect solution, but at least there isn't a hulking steel mountain in place which blocks off access and the views of the Hudson and New Jersey.

The area is much nicer now. Notice the worn streets of the 1970s, which cars would rumble across and which tested their shocks. Those streets were a lot more common back in the day and gave the area a distinctive character. Now, everything is smoothly paved just like everywhere else in the city.

One other major change is the presence of trees in the photo below. Back in the 1970s, it was rare to find trees outside of the various parks, and the trees that were there were usually sad specimens. The trees give the area color and vitality that was completely absent in the stark concrete jungle of the 1970s. However, the basic idea is completely unchanged: using the city's edges to move traffic. That will probably never change, it's just too convenient even if it decapitates the shoreline and turns it into an afterthought to life in the city.

Thanks for stopping by for this latest in my series of "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I hope you find it as interesting as I do in preparing it!

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan randommusings.filminspector.com
Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, the mid-1970s (Google Street View).

2018

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 randommusings.filminspector.com
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 randommusings.filminspector.com
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 randommusings.filminspector.com
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 randommusings.filminspector.com
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?

2018