Friday, October 16, 2020

Then and Now: Big Top Theater, Broadway at 49th Street, NYC

Spice on the Fringes of Times Square

Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, in the 1970s randommusings.filminspector.com
Looking north on Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, during the 1970s. 
Times Square is one of the great tourist attractions in the world. Tourists come from around the world to walk through it and admire the lights and the architecture and the hustle-and-bustle. It may look very similar to the way it used to, but in truth, it has changed dramatically in the last 40 years.

The Times Square area has been cleaned up quite a bit during the last few decades. "Hustle" had a completely different meaning in the Times Square of the 1970s. During the city's dark days, the porn industry invaded the area in a big way. It wasn't hidden away, either, it was right there out in the open. You've heard of Broadway theaters, well, the Broadway theaters of the 1970s were not just showing "Man of La Mancha" and "Chicago."

The corner of 49th Street and Broadway is right on the fringes of Times Square. It's just a short walk from Madame Tussauds and the Disney store. Great place to bring the family these days.

Well, the area serviced a completely different clientele back in the day.
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
Located at 1604 Broadway were two theaters that easily could be mistaken for just one. The more obvious theater with the big marquee was Circus Cinema. It showed films for the heterosexual raincoat crowd throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Somewhat obscurely located to its side was a completely different experience, "Big Top Theater." This was entered via a stairway just to the south that led to a separate theater above Circus Cinema. This catered to a same-sex clientele. So, the building catered to a broad spectrum of people looking for something a little different than "The Aristocats" and "Star Wars."
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
Just looking at the advertisements that appeared in all of the normal newspapers of the day (such as the New York Times, Newsday, you name it) gives you some idea of the types of shows shown at the Big Top. "New! Live! Go-Go Boys!" reads one advertisement. This was all out in the open, with the ads in the theater section near the back of the newspaper. Yes, those were different times.
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
"Men Between Themselves" was not a World War II film - I think. Actually, I don't know when it was set, but I have a feeling the setting was likely Fire Island or Key West. But, who knows.
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 (Google Street View).
These days, the raunchy theaters are almost all gone (there may still be one or two over on Eighth Avenue, I'm not entirely sure). The scene above shows how the same corner looks recently. Just to verify that this is the same location, notice the medium-sized brown building in the background of the photo at the top of this page. I've zoomed in on it below just to verify the location.
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 randommusings.filminspector.com
A close-up of the building in the background of the original 1970s photo. This is from ca. 2020 and it hasn't changed at all (Google Street View).
One of the themes of this blog is that despite the fact that NYC streets and buildings look the same as in the past, the world around them has changed. It now is a completely different world even though in some ways it looks the same. Times change, people change, but in New York City, many of the buildings stay the same.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of our other pages if you liked this one!

2020

Monday, October 12, 2020

Then and Now: Grand Army Plaza, NYC

Something Has Changed, But What?

Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza, 59th Street in NYC, in 1979.
Changes in New York City can be very subtle, and that can go double for midtown Manhattan. A casual comparison of old and new photos might not show much change at all aside from vehicles, clothing fashions, and the like. However, subtlety does not bother us, we're going to uncover a very subtle change in this article that reflects changes around the seemingly permanent buildings and streets.

The above photograph is from 1979 and shows Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. This is one of the most well-traveled locations in the city, providing a rare midtown break from the grid pattern and providing a grand entrance to Central Park from the southeast. The photo shows a very peaceful and sedate scene, with horse carriages lined up ready to take lovers and tourists on a ride through the park. While it might not be apparent at first glance, though, something very noticeable about that scene has changed, and very recently.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Earth.
First, let's zoom in on Grand Army Plaza using Google Earth. We immediately see that the basic street pattern is the same, and the buildings look the same, too. That's the Plaza Hotel on the left, which was built in 1907, so it sure hasn't changed in the last 40 years. The Sherry-Netherland hotel (781 Fifth Avenue) barely visible on the right was completed in 1927, so that sure hasn't changed much. The same goes for the low Metropolitan Club building (One East 60th Street) just beyond it that was built in 1894. You get the picture: this is not an area of the city that has seen a lot of big changes recently. However, as noted above, something about it has changed, so let's get to that.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
A very careful look at the 1979 photo shows, as mentioned early, a scenic lineup of horse carriages primarily for the tourist trade. The more recent photos ca. 2020 do not. This is not an accident or anomaly, the carriages no longer are there. Why they are no longer there leads us into the big change that has taken place recently.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
While there are conflicting views and evidence as to how well horses fare in big cities, in recent years a movement has arisen to eliminate them for their own well-being. Montreal has banned carriages, and Chicago appears likely to do so shortly (if it already hasn't by the time you read this). New York City's current mayor, Bill de Blasio, tried to ban them outright in 2014 but failed. This may in part have been because carriage rides rank as one of the top three visitor attractions in NYC (Tripadvisor).
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
While the ban failed, New York City enacted a rule in 2018 forcing carriage pickups to take place only within Central Park itself. As noted above, the carriages shown in the 1979 photo are parked on 59th Street. That is no longer an allowed pickup spot, and the rule now requires those carriages to be parked further north within the park itself at the entrance on 60th Street. This, presumably, protects them from traffic and noise.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
This may not seem like the most earth-shaking change, and you would be right. However, as we have seen, changes in this area are few and far between. The buildings are the same, the streets are the same, but the horses are gone for good. The setting may look the same, but the world is changing around it.

Thanks for visiting! If you enjoyed this page, please consider visiting some of our other "then and now" articles.

2020

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Then and Now: The Port Authority Bus Terminal, NYC

Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Bus Terminal, viewed from the southeast in 1979.
My goal with this series of then-and-now articles is not to prove anything in particular. If things have changed, that's interesting, but if things are the same after 40 or more years, that's interesting, too. This is a review of how things compare to the past, not a polemic on changing cities or anything like that.

Above is a view of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan sometime during 1979 (from the looks of it, during the winter). It is taken from the southeast and shows the intersection of West 40th Street and Eighth Avenue. People familiar with the city know this is about a block west of Times Square, though most tourists probably never go over to see it. If you're not travelling by bus, there's really not much reason for a tourist to visit this area.

Incidentally, nobody actually calls it "The Port Authority Bus Terminal" unless theyr'e trying to sound formal. It's just the Port Authority to most New Yorkers. If you say you're heading to the Port Authority, everyone will understand where you're going.

I'm going to dissect part of this photo that you're likely not noticing and discuss how that reflects a changing truth about New York.
Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
Viewing the Port Authority Terminal from the same angle we can see that it looks pretty much the same. Let's get a little closer.
Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
We can see from this view that the Port Authority structure is the same as it was in 1979. There has been some superficial work on the exterior, but not a lot has changed. Basically there it was, and there it is, and that is that.
Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
One thing that has changed, though, is the parking lot on the southwest corner of the intersection. In 1979, it was just a parking lot. You may not know this unless you drive in the city, but parking has changed a lot in New York City in the last 40 years. And that uncovers a larger truth about NYC.
Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
Public surface parking lots are disappearing in Manhattan, victims of condo development and growing official disfavor of motor vehicles. Nowadays, getting a private parking spot is considered one of the pricey perks of buying a condo and is very hard to do otherwise. Since the condos themselves have been one of the prime causes of disappearing public lots, this has worked out well for the condo developers.
Port Authority in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
Things have changed drastically regarding parking since the 1979 photo was taken. It used to be that developers were required to provide parking because, you know, the United States was a car culture and people needed their cars. Private developers in much of the city were actually required to provide a parking space for four out of every 10 apartments in their buildings. This led to a lot of land set aside for lots.
Port Authority in randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
However, this changed completely in 1982, when the city effectively banned new parking lots south of 110th Street. Ever since, the number of parking spaces provided by developers cannot exceed 20 percent of the total number of apartments in buildings from Midtown down to Manhattan’s southern tip. In addition, a 35 percent cap applies to the Upper East and West Sides. So, instead of there being a requirement that a minimum number of parking spots be provided, now there is a limit on how many can be provided. You are not required to provide any at all. That's a big, but subtle, change.
Port Authority in randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
So, basically, everything has been conspiring against the parking lots that used to dot Manhattan. The city disfavors them, and the condo developers now can offer them as a "special perk" to their clientele - for a price. Believe it or not, some establishments now charge upwards of $200,000 for a parking spot. No more of this "$10 for 10 hours" stuff. You buy a parking spot just like you buy your apartment, and if you don't, you have nowhere to park except wherever you can find a space on the street. Good luck finding one nearby, and then you have to play the "alternate side parking" game and all that.
Port Authority in randommusings.filminspector.com
Port Authority Terminal recently (Google Earth).
Anyway, the former parking lot site is now home to the Beer Authority, considered one of the best beer gardens in the city. It's only a two-story building, probably because the property owner long ago sold the air rights to some nearby tower. This is the Garment District, and people like their beers and typical pub fare like chicken wings. There are over 100 beers on draft, in addition to a full bar. Now that's a nice selection! So, if you're a prospective tourist reading this, you may not be able to park your car, but you now can get your fill of beer!
Port Authority in randommusings.filminspector.com
View looking southeast from the Port Authority Terminal recently toward where the original picture was taken in 1979 (Google Earth).
Anyway, the point I'm making is that New York City is a very subtle place. A simple tourist snapshot from the 1970s compared with the current location uncovers some surprising truths about changing life in the city. A missing park lot may seem like small potatoes - but not when it uncovers a much larger and pervasive truth.

Many thanks for visiting! If you like this content, kindly consider visiting some of my other "Then and Now" pages.

2020

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Then and Now: Pell Street in Chinatown

Taking It Down to Chinatown

Pell Street, NYC, in the 1970s randommusings.filminspector.com
Pell Street, NYC, in the 1970s.
Some of the quainter streets in Manhattan are in the Lower East Side, and specifically in Chinatown. This area has never really been gentrified to the extent of points further north and south. Even Little Italy has become glitzier over time. However, you can walk down some streets in Chinatown and easily imagine yourself back in the 1970s.

Above we have a typical tourist snapshot of Pell Street, a two-block sidestreet off of the Bowery. Prominently shown is Temple Garden Restaurant. This was described at the time as:
a tourist-savvy spot, all red on red with “carved” Chinese intaglio, a long list of bartender tricks – from apricot sour to zombie – and a menu of current favorites from the Mandarin, Szechuan, Hunan, Shanghai, and Cantonese repertoires.
Never having tasted General Tso's Chicken at Temple Garden, it's impossible to comment on the cuisine. However, we can all appreciate a tourist trap catering to visitors wishing an "authentic" Chinese dining experience.
Pell Street, NYC, in June 2019 randommusings.filminspector.com
Pell Street, NYC, June 2019 (Google Street View).
Well, the street looks fairly similar. We know we're in the same spot from the red building on the far corner of that intersecting street up ahead on the left (Doyers Street). You'll notice all the fire escapes - another hint that this area hasn't changed much in the last fifty years. In fact, except for the signage, it appears very little has changed over the years since the original photo was taken. They have taken out the garish street lamps, but that's about it.
Pell Street, NYC, in June 2019 randommusings.filminspector.com
16 Pell Street, NYC, June 2019 (Google Street View).
But let's get back to the subject of the original photograph, Temple Garden. As you've no doubt noticed already, it is long gone. Pell Street is no longer a tourist destination, apparently. Its space now is occupied by a back rub place. And there we have today's lesson, the two truly enduring types of businesses in New York City are restaurants and... back rub joints. You can always do with a nice massage, right?
Pell Street, NYC, in June 2019 randommusings.filminspector.com
A vintage matchbook from Temple Garden, 16 Pell Street, NYC.
I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Ordinary street scenes from the past tell a lot about the people of the time and how those residents have changed over time. Please visit some of the other pages in this series!

2020

Sunday, October 4, 2020

1925 Dordrecht, Holland, In Color

Dordrecht, Holland, in 1925 in color randommusings.filminspector.cmo
Dordrecht, 1925.
I love videos that take you on a trip. Normally, we take a trip to see other countries, other cultures, other sights. Now, many of us have done that, I've done that, and that's fun.

But now, thanks to modern technology, I like to take trips through time. Welcome to Dordrecht, The Netherlands. It is 1925 and it is a very nice day out.
As with other films in this series, this video was an original Black and White film that has been worked on by a specialist (you can learn more about him by clicking through to his Youtube page above). The creaky original film has been motion-stabilized, speed-corrected, contrast and brightness corrected, image noise removed, and by means of powerful A.I. software restored, scaled up, and colored. In other words, a whole lot of work has been done to it to make it palatable to modern viewing tastes - but it shows reality as it was, not how Hollywood would like to present it.
Dordrecht, Holland, in 1925 in color randommusings.filminspector.cmo
One thing you learn watching these films is that people tended to be more social in the past. Groups of men would simply stand around downtown waiting for work or news or just to have someone to talk to. Statues played a big role in daily life in the days before television and radio, with imposing figures towering over passersby.

But, there's no need to get overly intellectual about these films. They're just fun to watch, a glimpse of people who made the world we live in today. Full of life and cheer, hurrying home from the ferry or playing in the schoolyard with their mates, now long gone. It's the way of the world.
Dordrecht, Holland, in 1925 in color randommusings.filminspector.cmo
Thanks for stopping by. Anyway, maybe you agree with me that it is a fascinating treat to travel back through time and see a world that no longer exists. You may be interested in other classic old films of yesteryear, most in color: