Sunday, August 25, 2019

Then and Now: East 29th Street at Third Avenue, NYC

East 29th Street at Third Avenue, Manhattan

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, in 1980.
Let's take a walk in one of the overlooked neighborhoods of Manhattan, Kips Bay. There's nothing at all wrong with Kips Bay, and it has a lot of great features. It's not, though, on the usual tourist itinerary. While a lot of New York City has remained the same over the past forty years, there has been a general change in the overall ambiance. I may not be using the best word for what I mean, so by that, I mean that a lot of the city's rough edges have been scraped down and made into more normal-looking edges. I saw the above fairly random street scene from 1980 - I have no idea what the photographer was aiming to capture, which makes it perfect for my purposes - and wondered how it has changed over four decades. It turns out that this scene has changed a bit, and how it has changed makes my point about ambiance. Accordingly, I decided to do a comparison of East 29th Street at Third Avenue from 1980 to 2017.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
First, I had to find the right spot. This turned out to be a fairly mundane area in Kips Bay. Fortunately, the original photo had a street sign in it, so the scene had to be somewhere on 29th Street. We're looking up an avenue, so that only leaves a handful of choices. Finally, the Chrysler Building is sticking up like a sore thumb in the distance, so that narrowed the choices down to basically Third Avenue - which it turned out to be. Verification is shown on the right (east) side of Third Avenue, where the same streetscape greets us four decades later. However, it's the left (west) side of the street that makes my point about ambiance.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue (west side of Third Avenue), NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
Walking around New York City was a different experience in 1980 than it is today. It was more... raw. There were many empty lots, lots with half-finished construction, sweeping vistas to midtown because of the absence of tall buildings. I may be exaggerating a bit, but the original 1980 picture reminded me of how common it was back then to see ... nothing. On seemingly every street there would be some lot that looked like nobody cared about it even though it was prime real estate within walking distance to midtown or downtown. You can see that on the western side of Third Avenue in the 1980 photo. Notice how distinctly the Chrysler Building shows up? There was nothing blocking it. Now, you can barely see it over the jumble of buildings.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Biltmore Plaza, 155 East 29th Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
That empty spot on the left in the original 1980 photo, the one where if you look closely there appears to be a construction fence and maybe even one of those mobile homes they use as offices, was about to change. The Biltmore Plaza at 155 East 29th Street was already in the process of being built and was completed the following year in 1981. Doesn't it look more impressive than some empty lot or decaying 1900 building that had been neglected since the 1950s? Well, maybe you don't agree and prefer less clutter, but nothing speaks to wealth and growing confidence than putting up a 35-floor rental building in a neglected area of the city. That kind of investment tends to raise surrounding property values, too.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Third Avenue, NYC, looking north from East 29th Street during July 2018 (Google Street View).
Looking further north, we see that there are a number of new buildings lining the western side of Third Avenue now. That darkish, tall one on the left is the Bentley at 159 East 30th Street, which opened in 1987. Beyond it, the lighter building is the Windsor Court, a 32-story building completed in 1988. Now, it becomes a little clearer why it's more difficult these days to see the Chrysler Building from East 29th Street at Third Avenue than it was in 1980. There is new construction (new as in post-1980) running all the way up along Third Avenue. The western side of Third Avenue has experienced a dramatic rebirth which has turned empty lots and neglected old commercial building into elegant housing.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at Third Avenue, NYC, east side of the street in September 2017.
The east side of the street, meanwhile, hasn't changed much at all. Although it looks similar, the tall white building in the distance has been replaced by a newer version, 200 East 32nd Street, finished in 1990. Nothing wrong with an upgrade. The rest of the buildings are the same. For instance, 413 Third Avenue (the one with the noodle shop) was built in 1930, 200 East 30th Street (the boxy one the corner) was built in 1967, and so on. This row was perfectly fine in 1980 and remains so today. The point is that the entire ambiance of this section of Manhattan has changed because there has been a great deal of construction since 1980 where it was needed most. And that is a subtle change that you only can appreciate by having walked the streets then, and now.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Some of the biggest changes in Manhattan over the decades are extremely subtle, and it is easy to overlook them if you don't recall how the city used to look. Also, New York City, unlike some other large cities, has been open to building new housing, and this has taken some of the pressure off of rents (which are still too high, but not as high as they would be without all this fairly recent construction). Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Then and Now: West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC

73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, Manhattan.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, 1979.
Certain general trends are easy to pinpoint in New York City. It's easy to think of it as constantly changing, but New York only changes in certain areas and in certain ways. Much of Manhattan remains surprisingly (at least to me) the same over vast lengths of time. Manhattan's residential neighborhoods are extremely stable over time. The changes are usually very subtle, but there are changes even if they aren't very noticeable. However, sometimes the things that remain are as interesting as the things that have changed. In other words, the fact that things haven't changed is a feat in itself. I saw the above wintry picture of the Upper West Side and wondered what this quaint scene might look recently. So, I decided to do a comparison of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue from 1979 to 2019.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View).
It was easy to find the right location, which is (directly in front of us) the southeast corner of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC. First of all, the street signs are obvious in the 1979 photo, but even aside from that, the buildings are eerily unchanged. In fact, the entire scene is unchanged, as if encased in amber. I write that with a hint of wonder because, well, it's been forty years. You would expect something to change. A few things indeed have changed, and we'll get to those below. But realistically, a time traveler from 1979 plopped down at this same spot in 2019 would have a hard time feeling at all disoriented.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Southeast corner of 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, October 2017 (Google Street View).
The first thing that leaps out at me is that the streetcorner itself is magically preserved. In fact, I struggle to find anything that's different about it. The only thing that leaps out is that they have replaced the green parcel bin with a trash can. Hey, I guess that's progress. The "Don't Walk" signs were replaced with similar boxes with symbols in the early 21st Century. I'm a bit surprised that there's still a mailbox on the corner - the same one, most likely - because I thought they removed them during the various security scares of the 21st Century. However, there it sits, bothering nobody and just silently doing its job forty years later. The beautiful rental building on the corner, 101 West 73rd Street, was built in 1920. The owners decided to paint the stripes in grey rather than bright red somewhere along the way, I suppose that counts as a big change. There seems to be a lot of subtle toning down of bright colors all across the city for some reason, and why that might be I have no idea, but it seems to be "a thing." Anyway, it's a classic building with a lot of character, and those types of buildings are a pleasure to see survive.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, north side of the street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
And, just when I make a blanket statement about colors across the city becoming more muted over time, I run into something to contradict me. The building on the northeast corner of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, 100 West 73rd Street, has gone from a bland beige to a funky violet. Who knows, maybe it's owned by NYU grads. It also was built in 1920 and is another rental building. Incidentally, if you are wondering what rentals go for in a nice Upper West Side building like this, you might luck into one for around $1800/month in 2019, but you're more likely looking at over $2000/month for just about any studio (which is pretty much all the building has). Is that reasonable? Actually, it's pretty standard for Manhattan, though of course, you can find cheaper if you find a "deal."

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, north side of the street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
Otherwise, the scene is a pretty picture of gentrification. Now, that's a controversial word to use, and you could argue that nothing of the sort has taken place here because, well, it was nice back in 1979, too. And, to be truthful, it's hard to argue with that. However, the scene was much starker in 1979. They've since added trees, you have lots of cute little cafes and fancy restaurants instead of cleaners and other common businesses, and the buildings themselves appear better maintained (at least on the outside, but the outside is usually a good predictor of what the inside looks like, too). You no longer have splotchy paint jobs, the fire escapes are now tastefully painted, there now are elaborate awnings. It certainly looks more prosperous to me, though the old view with its rough edges had a certain charm to it, too.

126 West 73rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
126 West 73rd Street, NYC, October 2017 (Google Street View).
The tall white building in the background of the 1979 photo is still there, though a bit obscured by the trees. It was built in 1886 by Henry Struss and is located in a landmark district between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Just after the 1979 picture was taken, 126 West 73rd Street was converted to coop apartments in 1980. It is made of a singular steel frame with a glazed terra cotta facade that has been restored. So, there have been some changes going on, just not ones that are obvious to the naked eye. This neighborhood must have looked quite different back around 1900 with just this 13-floor building standing before all the lower buildings around it sprang up as the city expanded northward.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Sometimes the lack of change is a feat in itself, and I'm sure the residents of West 73rd Street like the very subtle changes that have taken place on their street over the past forty years. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Then and Now: 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC

Location of the "Y.M.C.A." video from 1978

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, in 1978 (Still from Village People "Y.M.C.A" video, courtesy Casablanca Records).
Movies and music videos are great sources of old street views. The creators of videos didn't intend to create a record for posterity of what places looked like, but that is how it turned out. I was watching the Village People music video "Y.M.C.A." and noticed that it appeared to have been filmed in and around Greenwich Village in Manhattan. A little digging verified that it was, so I wondered what the main location looked like recently. That led me to do a comparison of 23rd Street at 7th Avenue from 1978 to 2017.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, February 2017 (Google Street View).
The Village People filmed the main scenes from "Y.M.C.A." on the middle of the 23rd Street block between 6th and 7th Avenues in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The street has changed only a little bit in the intervening four decades.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Northwest corner of 7th Avenue at 23rd Street, NYC, August 2013 (Google Street View).
One building, in particular, verifies that we are in the right location and looking in the correct location, and that is the four-story building at the northwest corner of 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue. This is 224 West 23rd Street, which was built in 1900 and doesn't look like it has changed much since then (1900 or 1978, take your pick). It is completely retail, which is a bit unusual because these buildings often have some apartments above the street level. The building on the opposite, northeast, corner appears to be the same but has undergone an extensive remodel.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
215 West 23rd Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
The building with the prominent "Y.M.C.A." sign on it in the 1978 video is still there and hasn't changed very much, either. It housed the McBurney YMCA from 1904 to 2002, when the YMCA relocated to 125 West 14th Street, NYC. The building was built around 1900 and since 2002 features luxury condominiums. Note that the streetlamps haven't changed since 1978, but they've added a tree in front of it.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
The location where the Village People were dancing is a nondescript part of the sidewalk. It appears to have been in front of what is now a Domino's Pizza. Just another sidewalk in Manhattan that made cultural history.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. This area of Manhattan is in a lot of music videos because it always has been a hotspot for artists and musicians. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!



2019

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Then and Now: Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC

155th Street at Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Manhattan

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south in 1970.
If you are a native New Yorker, some of what I'm going to write about below is probably painfully obvious. However, New York City has a language all of its own when it comes to its streets, and sometimes its useful to explain some fo the nuances. As we've seen in some other posts, Manhattan is fairly unique in having multiple names for the same streets. A good example is Eighth Avenue, which has been called that since it was projected in the 1811 grid pattern but since has acquired other names along certain stretches. From West 59th Street to West 110th Street, Eighth Avenue is better known as Central Park West (or CPW). North of West 110th Street, Eighth Avenue is also known as Frederick Douglass Boulevard. This is due to a peculiar New York City custom of honoring leaders of the past by renaming portions of streets after them. However, it should be emphasized that if you give an address as being on Eighth Avenue but it's really on CPW or Frederick Douglass, everyone is still going to know where you mean (and they might scratch their heads for a moment if you don't say Eighth Avenue above 110th Street, that's how ingrained the grid pattern has become). When I saw the above photo from 1970, I decided to hunt down the exact location and see what it looks like now. So, I did a comparison of Eighth Avenue at West 155th Street, NYC, from 1970 to 2017.

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south in October 2017 (Google Street View).
It was easy to find the same location in the Upper Manhattan/Sugar Hill section because, as is often the case in Manhattan residential areas, the view hasn't changed very much. This exact location is a bit tricky because there are actually two West 155th Streets here. One is at ground level, as shown in the original 1970 photograph. The other West 155th Street is elevated directly above it and leads onto the Macombs Dam Bridge, which crosses the Harlem River from Manhattan to the South Bronx. One of the stanchions can be seen in the 1970 photo, and the same stanchion remains in 2017. I know, stanchions are not that exciting, but its almost 60 years and the exact same item is there, and that's kind of cool. Many of the street lights look the same, too (they added one in the same style on the corner). We can tell that we are in the right spot and facing in the proper (southerly) direction from the stanchion and the distinctive buildings in the background.

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 155th Street, NYC, looking south in October 2017. For some reason, the street signs sometimes spell it "Douglas" rather than the proper "Douglass" (Google Street View).
Incidentally, the way Manhattan streets are named can be confusing in a variety of ways, and one of those is that West 155th Street is actually on the east side of Manhattan at this point. The "East" streets disappear because of the configuration of the island and how it narrows to the northwest, not any deviation in the grid pattern.

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
And, just to show we are not being harsh on whoever orders the street signs, here is Frederick Douglass Boulevard spelled correctly (Google Street View).
This predominance of "West" streets is one of those things that is obvious to New Yorkers but may not be to others, so I just thought I'd mention it. Whether a street is "West" or "East" depends solely on its relation to Fifth Avenue, which ends at the East River around 143rd Street. So, everything north of 143rd Street is "West" regardless of its actual placement on the island.

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south in October 2017 (Google Street View).
Frederick Douglass Boulevard has experienced a revival in the 21st Century. After decades of neglect, has experienced an influx of new residents and some new construction. While we will call this "improvement," others will call it "gentrification." How you feel about that is, well, how you feel about it. Some people like it, others don't, and there are a lot of reasons why people don't like gentrification. For our purposes, the gentrification hasn't really changed the look of the neighborhood that much. The low-rise buildings on the left (east) side of the street are 2920 and 2922 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. They were built in 1920 and have that quaint early-20th Century look complete with fire escapes. The distinctive building in the distance with the large water tank structure is 2850 Frederick Douglass Boulevard at West 152nd Street. That apartment building was built in 1968, so it was fairly recent when the original photo was taken.

Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking south, randommusings.filminspector.com
Eighth Avenue at 155th Street, NYC, looking at the southwest corner in October 2017 (Google Street View).
There is a certain grimness to the 1970 photo (that it was taken during a rainstorm helps add that air of gloom). While it doesn't show the west side of the street very well, the 1970 photo does suggest that there's not much going on there. Part of the gentrification process has stimulated businesses along this street. In fact, Frederick Douglass Boulevard has acquired the nickname "Restaurant Row." As can be seen in the above photos, the solid wall of buildings visible in the 1970 photo (with lots of roll-down security shutters) now is broken up with a variety of fast food and restaurant awnings (and still a few roll-down security shutters). Hey, that's progress, folks, like it or not.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Upper Frederick Douglass Boulevard is like a lot of Manhattan in that it has prospered over the decades, though not everyone will necessarily love everything that change brings. That's life! Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Then and Now: Bickford's at 14th Street and Seventh Avenue, NYC

14th Street and Seventh Avenue, NYC

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Southwest corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue, NYC, in 1972.
I love the above photo from 1972 for a couple of reasons. First, it reminds me of the famous 1942 Nighthawks oil painting by Edward Hopper which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper, 1942 Art Institute of Chicago.
That happens to be a personal favorite of mine, and a print hangs in my dining room. At the time, Hopper had his studio at Washington Square and he mentioned in passing that the painting "was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." That could have been Greenwich Avenue at West 11th Street, a mere three blocks south of the location of the 1972 photo. Now, I'm not trying to make some outlandish claim that this photo reveals the true source of Hopper's inspiration, which is unknown and remains the subject of speculation.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The opposite, southeast, corner of 7th Avenue at 14th Street. This would have been in the background of Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting. Notice the second-floor windows and compare them to those in Hopper's painting. See any similarities?
However, Bickford's Coffee Shop would have been in there in 1942, so I also cannot rule it out. If you want to point out some difference, note that Hopper admitted that he "simplified" the scene. Now, if I were to simplify the scene, I would do things like removing the subway entrance and make it all one window instead of several windows. That would make it more general and not confined to just Manhattan. Perhaps you will agree with me that the scenes are uncannily similar and this type of scene is what Hopper saw in Greenwich Village which inspired "Nighthawks."

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
14th Street looking east toward 7th Avenue, NYC, in 1916. The Pentecostal Nazarene Mission Church, aka Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, shown in this photo was located at 210 West 14th Street. That would place this photo on the south side of 14th Street just to the right of the location shown in the 1972 photo. The pastor then was the Reverend Mrs. I.M. Jump. In the distance can be seen the IRT 6th Avenue elevated line, which already was 35 years old in 2016. The 7th Avenue line which resulted in the construction of the subway station seen in the 1972 photo took place shortly after this photo was taken.
Second, I love old photos of 14th Street. That is the least appreciated major cross street in Manhattan. The runner-up would be 23rd Street, but at least that has the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park to give it an identity. All that 14th Street has is Union Square Park, also an underappreciated fixture that locals value more than visitors. Anyway, when I found the above 1972 photo taken on 14th Street, I decided to do a comparison of 14th Street at 7th Avenue from 1972 to 2017.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Southwest corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue, NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View). Beyond, you can see the red building.
The scene hasn't really changed much over the years. The subway stop which has been there since around 1916 and the architecture shows that we have the proper spot. The location across 7th Avenue that in 1972 was a pizza joint is now a bar and grill or computer repair shop, depending on exactly which storefront it inhabited. The red building across the street at 200 West 14th Street which forms the background of "Nighthawks" was built in 1901, so it already would have been weathered by the time Hopper saw it.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bickford's ca. 1950. Bickford's was a large chain, and while this location looks quite similar to 7th Avenue at 14th Street, it likely was elsewhere. I think the lettering used by Bickford's back in the day was kind of reminiscent of that used by Hopper in Nighthawks, but you be the judge.
The location of the Bickford's Coffee Shop is now the Regal Gourmet Deli. Bickford's was a chain of eateries founded by Samuel Longley Bickford (1885 - 1959) in 1922. It went public in 1929, which was a good time to go public for the business's owners, though not so much for people who bought the stock. Bickford's was one of the first great fast-food chains, with locations primarily in New York but also across the country, including Florida and California. A favored haunt of artists and writers, and it is not impossible that Hopper himself stopped in at this particular Bickford's on 7th Avenue and 14th Street, considering that his studio was nearby. Bickford's reached its peak in the 1950s, but it closed its last New York restaurant in 1982. While it is now down to only three locations in Massachusetts, Bickford's remains in business as of 2019.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Southwest corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue, NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
Anyway, the 1972 photographer had a keen eye for atmosphere and most likely also recognized the similarities of that scene with Hopper's famous painting. It's a nondescript part of Greenwich Village now, but the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 14th Street has a lot of history to it and a story to tell if you're willing to listen to it. Just to hammer this home: any resident of Greenwich Village can tell you that someone walking from Washington Square, where Hopper had his studio, to 14th Street and 7th Avenue, the site of our proposed location for "Nighthawks," would likely have used Greenwich Avenue - the very street that Hopper mentioned.

7th Avenue at 14th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
200 West 14th Street, as seen on the east side of 7th Avenue, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
It seems obvious that Hopper did not wish to reveal the precise location from which he took his inspiration in order to retain the mystique, the timeless and abstract quality, of "Nighthawks." So, he just tossed off that it was somewhere over there by Greenwich Avenue and left it at that. To me, the smoking gun is the red exterior with evenly spaced windows across the street from Bickford's which is reproduced so faithfully in the background of "Nighthawks." You could show me a thousand little bistros on corners that have some similarities, but I doubt you'll be able to find me another one in Greenwich Village with that exact background of a red building with windows identical to those in "Nighthawks" - and in 1942.

Thanks for visiting this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The history of 14th Street is rarely noticed, but it is rich and evocative. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Then and Now: Broadway at 18th Street, NYC

Broadway Between 17th and 18th Street, Manhattan

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, 1982.
The above 1982 photo of Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets in the Flatiron District of Manhattan shows a slice of New York City history that many people walk by without giving it a second thought. This block is just north of Union Square Park and marks the continuation of Broadway along its historic route north toward Times Square and points further north. I wondered what change might have taken place on this block since 1982, so I decided to do a comparison of Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets in Manhattan from 1982 to August 2017.

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, August 2017 (Google Street View).
A quick glance shows that the buildings, for the most part, haven't changed very much. The building at the extreme right is 860 Broadway, which we have talked about elsewhere. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that it once housed Andy Warhol's famous Factory on the third floor. 860 Broadway was erected in 1926 and renovated in 1979, just a few years before the photo at the top of this page was taken, and now houses a Petco store. The commercial building at 862 Broadway to its left (north) was built in 1910 and houses Innisfree, which sells Korean beauty products. The building to its left at 864 Broadway was built in 1900 and now houses a Chipotle. The building just to its left at 866 Broadway was built in 1910 and now houses Scotch and Soda, which is not a bar as you might think but rather a pricey women's clothing store. To its left is 868 Broadway, built in 2007 and home to a Dr. Martens store. Just to its north is 870 Broadway, which dates from 1910. Until recently, it housed Roast Kitchen salad bar, but that is now permanently closed. Next to it on the corner of 18th Street is 872 Broadway, built in 1915 and home to Fresh, a cosmetics shop. Finally, the tall but slim building across 18th Street is 874 Broadway, which is known as the MacIntyre Building. The MacIntyre Building is a neo-Gothic, 12-story cooperative apartment building which dates from 1892 and lends the entire area a certain charm.

Ladies Mile Historic District, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Ladies Mile Historic District, NYC. The block between 17th and 18th Street on Broadway is just on the southeast edge of the historic district.
The entire block between 17th and 18th Street is historic except for 868 Broadway, which somehow snuck in there in 2007 but obviously was designed to fit in with its neighbors. In fact, that's not just a word, but a designation. Every building in the 1982 photo was placed within the Ladies Mile Historic District on May 2, 1989. It's easy to say they would have been torn down without the designation, but they did last almost a hundred years without the historic protection. Incidentally, as the above map shows, Broadway in this area runs almost true north even though it runs at a diagonal to the usual grid pattern (which is tilted slightly north of true west).

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The McIntire Building in 1895 - from "King's Photographic Views of New York" via Daytonian in Manhattan. This area of Manhattan was still partly open land at that time, as can be seen just beyond that block.
This section of Broadway was made a historic district because many of the famous names of retailing had locations there in the late 19th Century. These included B. Altman, Best & Co., Arnold Constable, Bergdorf Goodman, Gorham Silver, W. & J. Sloane, Lord & Taylor, and Tiffany & Co. Only a few of those companies are still with us and most achieved their greatest fame at other locations, but circa 1900, this area was the place to shop.

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway on the west side of Union Square Park, looking north, in 1904. The McIntyre Building is clearly visible on the right. You also can see some of the other buildings that were built in 1900 below it.
The McIntyre Building has anchored this stretch of Broadway for well over a hundred years. Old photographs often feature it as a looming presence in the background.

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway on the west side of Union Square Park, looking north, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
As this comparison makes clear, there are stretches of Manhattan that haven't really changed much in over 100 years. Well, if you can disregard the skyscrapers in the background. And all the trees that have been added. And the pedestrian malls. And some other things. But, the streets and buildings, they're pretty much the same decade after decade after decade.

Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 17th Street, NYC, looking north in August 2017 (Google Street View). 
Thanks for visiting this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The buildings in areas of Manhattan like Broadway at 17th Street stay the same, but it's important to remember that the people do not. There is change, it just isn't reflected in the bricks and mortar. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Then and Now: 125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC

Malcolm X Boulevard at 125th Street, Manhattan

125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, 1977.
The above photograph was taken on Lenox Avenue. If you look at a lot of maps, you won't find Lenox Avenue (such as Google maps, though Google will take you there if you type in "Lenox Avenue"). If you aren't familiar with New York City practices, you may be left scratching your head. However, Lenox Avenue does exist and it is still called that. In 1987, Lenox Avenue was given the alternate name of Malcolm X Boulevard in honor of the slain civil rights figure. In addition, 125th Street is also known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (shortened by locals as MLK Jr. Boulevard).

125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View).
So, that makes Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard at 125th Street/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard a very rare intersection with two different sets of official names. That may seem confusing at first, but you soon get used to it because everyone in the area knows both sets of names. I saw the above photograph taken on Lenox Avenue (as it was solely called then) from 1977 and wondered if I could find the location and see how much, if at all, that particular streetcorner has changed over the past four decades. So, I did a comparison of Lenox Avenue at 125th Street in New York City from 1977 to 2019.

125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
125th Street at Malcolm X Boulevard, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View). 
The corner of Lenox Avenue and 125th Street hasn't changed that much over four decades. The brown three-story building on the northeast corner remains the same, though some of its changed details are telling. The changes on this one little corner, in fact, reveal a lot about seismic cultural changes that have taken place since the 1970s.

125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
125th Street at Malcolm X Boulevard, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View). 
For instance, the billboard on the roof has morphed from the Marlboro Man into a Whole Foods sign. Cigaret smoking was very acceptable and common in 1977, but forty years later it is strongly disfavored by local governments like New York City. Whole Foods, meanwhile, is owned by Amazon.com, which did not exist in 1977 but has grown in the interim into one of the largest businesses in the world using the Internet, which also did not exist as we now know it in the 1970s (except for a few government networks). The two most prominent businesses at street level are Starbucks Coffee and an AT&T shop. Starbucks did exist in 1977 (founded in 1971), but did not become profitable until the early 1980s and certainly did not have any outlets in Manhattan. AT&T was broken up in 1982 but since has made a strong comeback due in large part to the Internet. So, the Internet and changing social mores have led to a street corner that outwardly looks very similar, but whose inhabitants now are much different.

125th Street at Lenox Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
125th Street at Malcolm X Boulevard, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View).
One thing that stands out which is easy to overlook is that the street infrastructure is virtually unchanged from the 1970s. The street lights and signs and everything else would be completely familiar to anyone from the 1970s. While 125th Street has been said to be in the midst of gentrification, it still has a ways to go before that "hits the street." That is one of the charms of Harlem, that it retains its character through the years and walking its streets can be like a trip back in time.

Thank you for visiting this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Even when things outwardly look the same in Manhattan, as at the corner of 125th Street at Lenox Avenue, you realize the underlying changes when you take a little closer look at the intersection of Malcolm X Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Please visit some of the other pages in our series as we examine the evolution of a city over time.

2019

Monday, August 5, 2019

Then and Now: East 17th Street at Broadway, NYC

The North Side of Union Square, NYC

Union Square North, NYC,  in the 1970s randommusings.filminspector.com
Union Square in the 1970s, at East 16th Street looking north.
As a longtime resident of the Flatiron District, the richness of its history fascinates me. This was a thriving area well back in the 1800s. In fact, this area was the original birthplace of Hollywood and Delmonico's Steakhouse. Macy's was founded just down 14th Street, and Boss Tweed had his headquarters in the other direction on 14th Street. Union Square in lower Manhattan, at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Street, doesn't often get a lot of attention these days. It's just another neighborhood park, along with Washington Square Park and Tompkins Square Park and, well, too many glorious parks to list. I love all these parks. These are all great parks and each of the Manhattan parks has its own rich story, but Union Square's history is particularly rich. Anyway, regardless of the relative richness of its history, Union Square is the one we're looking at today. When I came upon the above photo of Union Square snapped sometime in the 1970s, I wondered what that view looks like recently. So, I did a comparison of Union Square at 16th Street from the 1970s to 2017.

Union Square North, NYC, in 1934 randommusings.filminspector.com
A public protest (a "mass rally of the jobless," held on November 24, 1934) at East 17th St near Broadway, NYC. Parks Photo Archive / Alajos L. Schuszler, Neg#4476.
While this particular photo is from some unknown time in the 1970s, it could have been pretty much anytime in the past century and it would have looked roughly the same. All of the buildings on the north side of Union Square have been there for about that long, though some have been altered in minimal ways through the years. Union Square Park itself dates back to 1815 when the New York State Legislature became a public commons. This location was given that honor because the Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) crossed through it in such a way that the land was felt to be fairly useless for other purposes. Broadway still continues to the north but is diverted to go around the park. So, Union Square is another of the many grand squares in New York City formed by Broadway such as Times Square and Herald Square and Columbus Square, but it just sort of hangs on in relative obscurity except to the locals who treasure it.

Union Square North, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Union Square in November 2017, from East 16th Street looking north (Google Street View).
You may be thinking to yourself, "Well, of course, they haven't changed, they're all protected by legislation." Well, you would be right in part, though the landmark designations did not happen until fairly recently. Let's dive into this just a bit to give you the historic flavor of this block.

Union Square North, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Union Square in November 2017, from East 16th Street looking north (Google Street View).
The large 16-story structure on the right is The Everett Building, 200 Park Avenue South (Park Avenue is the street that goes off to the north to its right). The Everett Building was built in 1925. It now is a commercial building and was designated a New York City landmark in 1988. The red building to its left is the Century Building at 33 East 17th Street. It was built in 1880-1881, designated a New York City landmark in 1993 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Barnes & Noble has occupied it since 1994. The small building to its left is 31 East 17th Street. It was built in 1938 and is a retail building that now houses an AT&T store. To its left, on the corner with Broadway, is 860 Broadway. It was built in 1926 and renovated in 1979 and now houses a Petco store. So, the entire block was in place by 1938.

Union Square North, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
View of East 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue (Google Street View August 2017).
Once you dive into the history a little bit, you realize that the photo from the 1970s just as easily could have been taken in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, or 1990s and looked pretty much same. This is one of those Manhattan blocks that never deteriorated, never needed to be "gentrified" (though there is some of that going on, too), and just plugs along through the decades without being noticed.

Union Square North, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The entrance of 33 East 17th Street, NYC (Google Street View September 2017).
I do want to point out one change that even those most interested in this block may not be aware of. The entrance to 33 East 17th Street - the one that entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 - looks historic and original, but it's not. Compare it to the 1934 photo above, where it rises a majestic three stories. Then, look at the 1970s photo, and you will see that by then it was down to its current one story. Sometime between the mid-1930s and the 1970s they cut that entrance down by two entire stories. However, they did it so artfully that you might not even notice unless you make a comparison such as this. Most likely they made that change to create more leasable space within the building. I wonder if the National Park Service, which runs the National Register of Historic Places, knew that there had been such a recent change? It's easy to say, "Sure, they know everything!" and I'm not questioning their decision. But, if they did, they decided to preserve someone's mid-20th Century radical renovation of an otherwise historic building. I suppose that's no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is interesting to ponder that these "preserved and historic" buildings aren't always completely preserved and historic at all.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The area around Union Square has had an uptick in its fortunes in recent decades as in many other parts of Manhattan. Despite that, many parts of the Union Square neighborhood have been preserved, and, hopefully, we'll review some of them in the future. Thanks for stopping by and please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Friday, August 2, 2019

Then and Now: The Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC

Stanton at Bowery

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery near Stanton Street, NYC, looking north in 1977.
I love reviewing changes in the Lower East Side because they can be quite dramatic but still tell a story. Such is the case here. The Bowery on the Lower East Side in New York City has been undergoing a dramatic transformation from being run-down to matching some of the more prosperous areas nearby. That process is well along but ongoing. This is commonly known as gentrification, and in this article, we are going to see an example of that. I saw the above photo from 1977 and was curious what that stretch of the Bowery looks like now. One can easily see the attraction of the area - a nice view of the Empire State Building off in the distance and within walking distance of prime attractions such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Wall Street - but that doesn't always result in positive change. So, I decided to do a comparison of the Bowery near Stanton Street from 1977 to 2017.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery near Stanton Street, NYC, November 2017, looking north (Google Street View).
Forty years later, the scene has changed. Oh, the Empire State Building is still visible in the distance, but most of the buildings shown in the 1977 photograph are gone. The exact location was easy to pinpoint given the street numbers (255 and 257 Bowery) visible on the 1977 photo. It appears that only two of the buildings on this stretch of the Bowery remain, original three-story buildings at 259 and 261 Bowery. They give an idea of what the buildings at 255 and 257 Bowery probably looked like before they were torn down for modern replacements. Incidentally, the buildings at 259 and 261 both were built in the 1910s, with the former currently a condo and the latter a multi-family house that apparently has rentals. Those kinds of properties, which have ground-floor businesses to provide income, are supremely valuable when, as here, they are in such a prime location. So, the real question is not why they have been so well-preserved, but why they were so neglected for so long during the middle years of the 20th Century.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The Bowery between Stanton and Houston Streets, NYC, November 2017. The restaurant equipment store at 261 Bowery is visible on the left, and the art gallery at 259 Bowery on the right (Google Street View).
Homing in on those two buildings gave me a bit of a tingle, almost like seeing a ghost. If you look carefully at the 1977 photo, you will notice that the badly faded business sign at 255 Bowery was for the Cannon Restaurant Equipment Company. Now, I don't have any information on the Cannon Restaurant Equipment Company, and it probably was run by a Mr. Cannon. However, what strikes me as fascinating is that there still is a restaurant equipment company on the block. This one is called the Worldwide Restaurant Equipment Company and is located in the preserved 1910s building at 261 Bowery. My theory is that Mr. Cannon or whoever owned that company just picked up and moved a few doors down the block to a similar building. I suppose that is what I would do if I had to move, as you could just walk everything over and all your fittings would fit in the similar-sized building. It may all just be a coincidence, but how many restaurant equipment businesses do you think there are in that part of town? It gave me a jolt because that sort of connection is fairly rare in these comparisons, and anyone casually looking at the 1977 photo might think that those businesses couldn't possibly have survived for much longer in the state that they were in. Heck, they almost look derelict. But sometimes appearances are deceiving and things don't go as you might expect...

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The Bowery between Stanton and Houston Streets, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
A close look at 259 Bowery shows that it now houses an art gallery, as does 255 Bowery (the one closest to the photographer where the restaurant supply business used to reside). If this isn't a classic sign of gentrification, I don't know what is. The art gallery at 255 Bowery is an outpost of an Italian gallery located in Sacile, Italy, the Studio d’Arte GR. That Italian art gallery, incidentally, was established in Italy right around the time the 1977 photo was taken.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The building that gave me the most trouble identifying was the one on the corner of Bowery and Stanton. It's not a stealth building or anything, but the street address was difficult to pin down because it wasn't clearly visible. If you look closely at the 1977 photo, you notice that the building at 255 Bowery seems to end and a chain-link fence begins, unlike today, when there is another building that abuts 255 Bowery. I figured that meant there was an empty lot there, which would be in keeping with the dilapidated appearance of the area. However, to my surprise, there was a building there even though it must have been set back a bit from 255 Bowery. That is now an apartment building located at 10 Stanton Street. The building officially was built in 1900, but there was an extensive modification in 1985. In New York City, it often pays for developers to completely gut an old building without demolishing it completely. They obviously did not follow the original building's footprint and built right up to the lot at 255 Bowery shown in the 1977 photo. Incidentally, Lady Gaga used to live nearby at 176 Stanton Street when she was known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
So, the story of the 1977 photograph of some run-down businesses has led us to a textbook illustration of gentrification. That often gets a bad rap and many people view gentrification with contempt, but it is undeniable that this section of the Bowery is much more attractive these days. It also retains some of its historic features, though they appear to be fading away. People who live there almost certainly wouldn't want its dilapidated state to be preserved for some abstract desire to leave things unchanged. New York City always has to strike a balance between moving forward while protecting its past, and that seems to have been done on the Bowery. The local residents just have to adapt to change, as the owners of the restaurant supply business apparently did.

Thanks for visiting this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The Bowery has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations in Manhattan over the past 50 years, along with Times Square and the East Village, and that is just the natural order of things. If you enjoyed this page, please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019