Saturday, October 10, 2020

Then and Now: The Port Authority Bus Terminal, NYC

Port Authority in 1979
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Then and Now: Pell Street in Chinatown

Taking It Down to Chinatown

Pell Street, NYC, in the 1970s
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
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
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
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!


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:

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Paris in the 1890s - Restored Film

Travel Back in Time to Colorful 1890s Paris

Eiffel Tower in Paris 1890s
The Eiffel Tower when it was about ten years old. The plan when this was taken was to disassemble it in another ten years - the decision had not yet been made to keep it permanently.
France was a center of filmmaking in the 1890s, and here we have some film from 1896-1900 that has been revived with modern software to meet our present-day standards. Cameras were bulky then, so they would be positioned in one spot and the cameraman would crank a handle to make them work. So, you don't get many action sequences unless the camera was mounted on a boat or vehicle. Fortunately, we do get some interesting shots in this batch of clips because Paris was quite a lively town.

The film is spectacular as restored, really bringing the past to life.
Out for a stroll in 1890s Paris
The restoration really brings out the high couture worn by everyday women on the streets of Paris. It is easy to understand why women overseas waited anxiously for the "latest fashions from Paris." Women in New York City during this era generally wore formless and severe black dresses, quite unlike the fancy and colorful attire of  Belle Époque-era Paris.
Avenue des Champ-Elysées Paris 1890s
Traffic was brisk in the 1890s.
As you can see, the Avenue des Champ-Elysées was a wild affair in the 1890s. Huge carriages pulled by half a dozen horses carried ten or more people on top, while bicyclists darted around them and hoped they didn't fall off under the horses' hooves.
Street of the Future in Paris 1890s
Rue de l'Avenir.
You will notice a two-speed moving sidewalk. That was the Rue de l'Avenir ('Street of the Future'), a 3.5 km long moving walkway designed as an attraction for the Exposition Universelle of 1900. It was designed in 1893 by American engineers Schmidt and Silsbee and installed on a seven-meter-high viaduct made up of three platforms, two of which were movable. The slower one was going at a speed of 4 km/h and the second at 8 km/h, both rather brisk paces for 1900. In 1888, futurist Edward Bellamy published his novel "Looking Backward: 2000–1887" in which he prophesied that these types of sidewalks would be the highways of the future. Apparently, the Parisians took him seriously and set up this demonstration project. 
Firefighters in Paris 1890s
Firefighters apparently out on a drill, their wagons all pulled by stately teams of white horses. Everybody is very respectful, anyone's home could burn down at any time in those days.
Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris 1890s
The boys playing with boats are at the Jardin du Luxembourg. The boat-rental concession there began about 1881 and remains in existence to this day.

Anyway, 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:


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The 1902 Flying Train in Wuppertal, Germany

A Trip Back To 1902

The flying train of Wuppertal, Germany in 1902
Wuppertal, Germany in 1902.
I'm betting that you didn't know they had flying trains in 1902. Well, I didn't know that. But then, I don't live in Wuppertal, Germany. It was and still is called the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn.
It turns out that the people running Wuppertal at the end of the 19th Century decided they needed a modern subway system. However, they had nowhere to put it, because their city was crowded between two mountains and a river ran down the center. So, they got creative and put their subway above the river - handing down from steampunk-style supports. Fortunately, a film of this ride was taken in 1902 by someone who knew what he was doing, and now you, too, can take a ride on the Wuppertal flying train in 1902.
The flying train of Wuppertal, Germany in 1902
It all looks very anachronistic and steampunk to me, like a video game rendition of what 1902 Germany might have looked like with Vincent Price flying around in a giant battleship powered by huge propellers.

Oh, maybe you are wondering as I was, "What does it look like now? Let's make a couple of comparisons. The stanchions were upgraded somewhere along the way so they are wider and sturdier and there isn't a need for as many of them. Perhaps this was done right after World War II when the flying train was partially destroyed by bombing.

Below is a fairly recent capture of Sonnborner Strasse in Wuppertal. I'm not 100% sure, but I think it is at the same bend in the road as the 1902 shot above. Compare them and see if I'm right.
Sonnborner Strasse, Wuppertal, Germany, August 2008
Sonnborner Strasse, Wuppertal, Germany, August 2008 (Google Maps).
Next up is 85 Kaiserstraße, Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, as seen in 1902.
The flying train of Wuppertal, Germany in 1902
And the 21st Century version of 85 Kaiserstraße, coming up on your left.
The flying train of Wuppertal, Germany in 1902
Wuppertal in 2008 (Courtesy of Google Street View).
Remember, this is an actual film, though the color has been added. Oh, and the flying train is still in operation in Wuppertal to this day and in daily use.
The flying train of Wuppertal, Germany in 1902
If you like history as I do, you'll appreciate this film and how it transports you into another, long-gone world.

Other classic old films of yesteryear, most in color:

Dordrecht, Holland, in 1925


New York City in 1911 in Color

Flatiron Building in 1911
The Flatiron Building in 1911.
Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern visited New York City in 1911 and took some footage that has survived. While it was not color film, modern technology can supply that well enough. What you see on this page are original images from 1911 that have been processed to bring them up as close as possible to modern standards.
In 1911, the film industry was just beginning to transition from the neighborhoods shown in this film to Hollywood, California. A good cross-section of Manhattan is shown, including the Williamsburgh and Brooklyn Bridges, the Flatiron Building, the docks down near the South Street Seaport, cars, and horse-drawn wagons jostling for position on crowded city streets, Greenwich Village, Herald Square, elevated subways (which were just about to be sent underground), Times Square, paddlewheel steamer Rosedale (sunk on 16 July 1912 off Rockaway Beach), and many other sites.
Elevated trains in 1911
If you love history as I do, you may find this film quite evocative of a time long gone.
Steamer Rosedale, sunk on 16 July 1912
The paddle-wheel steamer Rosedale, which appears briefly in the film, was a regular passage between Manhattan and Rockaway. It sank about a year after this film was taken in a collision with a larger ship.
Steamer Rosedale, sunk on 16 July 1912
Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume XLI, Number 231, 16 July 1912.
If you enjoy history as much as I do, you may find this film to be quite evocative of an age long gone by. I also have some classic footage of:


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Then And Now: Glenn Frey's You Belong to the City Video

The City as it Was and Is

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
A scene from Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" music video (all screen captures courtesy of MCA Records).
Glenn Frey of the Eagles had a big hit in 1985 with "You Belong to the City" off of the Miami Vice soundtrack album. The song peaked at number 2, held out of the top stop only by Starship's "We Built This City." It's a great song and I highly recommend it. However, for our purposes, I am going to zoom in on some of the evocative scenes from the video. To set the stage, the music video features Glenn Frey and a mysterious lady in blue who are both out on the town one night and find each other.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 42nd Street looking east from Eighth Avenue in 1985.
In the video, there are several shots of West 42nd Street near Times Square. This imbues a "gritty" feel to the video. One of these shots shows the classic lineup of theater marquees on the north side of the street. It's a very artsy shot, you had to be at just the right angle to show all of the theaters in one shot like that. It probably took some time to compose that shot. Most of the theaters were, shall we say, somewhat seedy in the mid-80s. It was a very distinctive block and there was nothing like it anywhere else.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 42nd Street looking east from 8th Avenue (Google Street View, August 2013).
Today, 42nd Street has been transformed. That happened during the 1990s and was pretty much completed by the early 2000s. Gone are the adult films! Everything is Disneyfied! Isn't that wonderful?

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The lady in blue finds a place to have a drink or two. Mysteriously, she has switched cabs, from one without a placard to one with a big blue one on the roof. Maybe she stopped somewhere else while Glenn was hoofing it downtown.
A key spot in the video is an unnamed bar where the Frey character meets a lady friend. However, the street address, 478, is shown.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The Glenn Frey character walks by the same bar that the lady went in. Incidentally, to walk from 42nd Street where he first spies the lady in blue down to West Broadway would have taken him the better part of an hour. I've done it, a nice walk, actually. It's a logical destination if you're just wandering downtown aimlessly taking in the sights.
Later, we find out what street that 478 is on when Frey walks by a sign that says "Central Falls" and spots the lady in the blue dress inside. Turns out to be 478 West Broadway and the bar's name indeed is "Central Falls." It was just south of Houston Street on the right as you are walking south. A February 8, 1985, dining guide article in the New York Times notes that Central Falls was "A cheerful and trendy restaurant with a generous bar and changing exhibitions by contemporary artists." It was open to 2 a.m. on the weekends, so a good place to go after the shows. These places with the big glass fronts and dinner and dining were a dime a dozen in the 1980s, but there's something to be said for going down to Soho for a drink.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
478 West Broadway (Google Street View June 2019).
Alas, Central Falls has vanished into history, a victim of rising rents after ten years in business. It closed sometime in the late 1980s. Now, that space has become another gallery along with all the other chic galleries on West Broadway. Maybe still a good place to pick up the ladies, though, who knows. If you're wondering "Why was it named Central Falls, anyway, that doesn't sound very New York City-ish?" like I was, well, I'm your hero because I have the answer! Central Falls was its name because it was run by a guy named Goldstein from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which just so happens to be next to a city called Central Falls. Why exactly he called it Central Falls and not Pawtucket I cannot say, maybe he actually lived in Central Falls even though he is said to be from Pawtucket. Anyway, everyone automatically knows that Pawtucket is in Rhode Island, but Central Falls could be, you know... anywhere. There's actually a book about Goldstein and his restaurants, "Flash in the Pan: Life and Death of an American Restaurant," by David Blum.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
"Tin Pan Alley" was an edgy bar on West 49th Street 
There is a brief shot of a canopy that says "Tin Pan Alley." At first, I thought it would be on the real Tin Pan Alley on 28th Street, but was mistaken. Tin Pan Alley Bar was located at 220 West 49th Street in what then was an SRO hotel. The bar was a popular hangout with people in the animators' union and the various seedy businesses in the Times Square area. Let's call a cat a cat, it was patronized by a lot of hookers, strippers (oh, excuse me, "dancers"), and transvestites. The bar was run by a woman named Maggie Smith who was a self-described "social activist." She ran it from 1978-1988 and supposedly had a gangster boyfriend who actually owned the bar and let his ne’er-do-well twin brother "run" it. The bar was staffed by a lot of people who later became famous, such as artist Nan Goldin. It was considered a cool hangout, and customers such as Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth were happy to be seen drinking at the bar. It has been described as an anarchist lesbian punk rock dive bar. It might be somewhere someone artsy would go after having drinks at, well, Central Falls.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The site of "Tin Pan Ally" on West 49th Street (Google Street View June 2019).
Tin Pan Alley Bar is long gone. The SRO has become a "luxury boutique hotel" and you may book a room there if you like. However, Tin Pan Alley is gone but not forgotten - it was the inspiration for the fictional Hi-Hat bar in "The Deuce," an HBO show that comprised 25 episodes and ran from September 10, 2017, to October 28, 2019. Whoever picked the locations for the Glenn Frey video certainly knew the edgy places of the time.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The lady's abode is pretty easy to identify, as the street number is on the sidewalk now just as it was in 1985.
The number "200" is seen multiple times in the video associated with the lady's address. The distinctive entranceway is a dead giveaway as to the location, too. I mean, you don't get much more unique in Manhattan than having your street number built into the sidewalk. I'd love to know how they pulled that off, someone definitely had... pull.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
200 West 57th Street, NYC (Google Street View May 2019).
While the entranceway has been modified slightly, 200 West 57th Street looks virtually identical to the way it looked in 1985. I think it looks better with the flags and sconces.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
200 West 57th Street is on the right (Google Earth).
Anyone who knows New York City knows that West 57th Street is one of the most exclusive areas to live. This is the home of billionaires and celebrities. In some ways, it is posher than either the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side and certainly more exclusive than anything (sniff) downtown. In the 1980s, though, it was not quite as fancy as it has become.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue in 1985.
The distinctive closing shot looks down 57th Street to the east. The tall building in the center is the iconic Solow Building. Constructed in 1974, it was one of the first non-rectangular skyscrapers in New York City.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
Looking east from West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue (Google Street View May 2019).
 The Solow building is still there, though it no longer stands out for its height as it did in the 1980s. It has a very recognizable curved side facing the street and remains one of the most attractive buildings in the city.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The Solow Building (Google Street View June 2019).
So, that wraps up our tour of street scenes from the Glenn Frey music video for "You Belong to the City." I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did making it!