Thursday, June 13, 2019

Then and Now: Madison Avenue at 97th Street, NYC

Madison Avenue at East 97th Street in Manhattan

Madison at 97th Street, NYC,
Madison Avenue at 97th Street, NYC, following a snowstorm in 1972.
In general, the further you get from midtown Manhattan, the more likely you are to find your surroundings relatively unchanged from previous decades. Downtown has a lot of symbolic buildings which nobody can touch, while uptown usually hasn't been considered productive enough to merit large capital outlays. Of course, there may be other factors at work (and that's a very deep subject we won't get into), but there are many buildings in Harlem and nearby neighborhoods that have survived intact simply because the areas never got gentrified. When I stumbled across the 1972 picture above from an uptown neighborhood, I thought that might be the case here, too. So, this is a comparison of Madison Avenue at East 97th Street in Manhattan from 1972 to 2017.

Madison at 97th Street, NYC,
Madison Avenue at 97th Street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
We are looking toward the southwest corner of 97th Street with the uptown traffic on Madison Avenue passing by. The easiest way to verify that we're in the right spot is by comparing the distinctive trim on the building across the street in the two pictures. On close inspection, it turns out that the other buildings also match up.

Madison at 97th Street, NYC,
Madison Avenue at 97th Street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
While the original photo doesn't show the buildings to the left (west side of the street), they look unchanged as well. East Harlem really hasn't changed that much over the years except around its southern fringes. Otherwise, it is in many places a time capsule from decades ago.

Madison at 97th Street, NYC,
Madison Avenue at 97th Street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
This close-up shows the area on the east side of the street in the original 1972 photograph in a little better detail. As with so much of Manhattan, the addition of trees softens the area tremendously and gives it a more residential and almost suburban feel. It looks like the storefront businesses have stepped up a level in class, with fancy delis and restaurants replacing the generic shops of 1972.

Madison at 96th Street, NYC,
Southeast corner of Madison at 96th Street (Google Street View).
There's a six-story building with a cornice clearly visible to the south in the 1972 photo. It turns out that the building is still there, complete with cornice, on the southeast corner of 96th Street. It appears to be having some routine maintenance done in the 2017 photo. Otherwise, though, it probably looks exactly like it did 45 years earlier.

Madison at 97th Street, NYC,
Southeast corner of 97th Street, Manhattan (Google Street View).
One of the finer points of these types of comparisons is the seemingly eternal presence of some things you generally wouldn't notice. In this neighborhood, the same streetlamps seem to have survived. In some other more genteel sections of town (for instance, 8th Street in Greenwich Village), these old sodium lamps that look like they belong in a parking lot or along a highway still light the way after almost five decades. They serve as a reminder that Yogi Berra was right - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And those old street lamps may last five more decades.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. People come and go, but Manhattan neighborhoods are eternal. Please feel free to visit my other pages in my series which compare the past with the present and give some hints as to what the future may have in store.


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