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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Then and Now: Pussycat Theater, Times Square, NYC

Broadway at 49th Street, Manhattan

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Pussycat Theater in 1977. The parade route, which constantly changes, ran down Broadway right past the Pussycat in the late 1970s.
A lot of things that once seemed normal now would seem quite unusual and even odd. For instance, erotic entertainment was a "thing" back in the day that was present in some surprising places. Times Square has changed quite a bit throughout its history, as any old photographs will quickly show you. It had a very colorful interlude from about the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s which many current tourists probably would never guess. I found the above photo of the Pussycat Theater at 1607 Broadway (49th Street) and wondered how much the property had changed since then. So, I decided to do a comparison of the Pussycat Theater on Broadway at 49th Street from 1977 to 2019.

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Looking north on Broadway toward 49th Street ca. 1980. The Pussycat Theater is on the west side of Broadway in the middle of this photo.
The building at 1607 Broadway seen in the 1977 photo was designed by Eugene DeRosa in 1936 to show newsreels. During that time in the days before television networks, newsreels were how many people received their information. The newsreel theater was called Trans-Lux Broadway Theatre and only had one screen for 588 seats. Located on the west side of Broadway between 48th and 49th Streets, it did good business. However, television was on the way, and by the mid-1950s there was no longer a need for a newsreel theater.

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Pussycat Theater in 1981.
At some point during the 1950s, the Trans-Lux Broadway Theatre began showing motion pictures and other typical theater offerings rather than newsreels. Given its location in Times Square, it was sure to get a lot of "foot traffic," and this was enough to keep it in business.

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Pussycat Theater (just visible on the left) in 1984, with the Brill Building visible just beyond. Apparently, erotic offerings were quite popular at that time in Times Square (Ghislian Bonneau).
This change in focus proved moderately successful, but during the 1960s, independent theaters everywhere were under pressure. In December 1966, architect Drew Eberson renovated the Trans-Lux Broadway Theater. It reopened as the Trans-Lux West Theatre on April 24, 1967 (it had a sister theater on Third Avenue), and survived in this form for about another decade. However, the 1970s saw the rise of the multiplex and a one-screen theater in a prime location on Times Square just wasn't cutting it. In addition, Times Square was changing with an influx of risque attractions. The Trans-Lux West Theatre closed in the 1970s and reopened as the Grand Pussycat Cinema. It was notable for its neon frontage that shouted "Pussycat" in several different variations.

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Looking north on Broadway toward 49th Street in May 2019. The Pussycat theater would have been on the left (Google Street View).
The Grand Pussycat Cinema was successful and led to another theater right around the corner on 49th Street called the Kitty Kat Cinema that had been converted from a restaurant. Under this format, the theater survived for about another decade, but New York City building incentives of the mid-1980s proved too powerful for the old theater to survive. By 1987, the Pussycat (and Kitty Kat) had been demolished and replaced by the new Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan with a new address of 1605 Broadway. However, its successful struggle to adapt to changing tastes over the course of its existence was a case study in how to survive by giving your customers what they want. It's almost heroic when you think about it.

Pussycat Theater location at Broadway and 49th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 49th Street in May 2019 (Google Street View).
While the building on Broadway just to the north of the Pussycat are still there, including the Brill Building on the northwest corner of Broadway and 49th, there is no trace of the Pussycat. All of the gaudy "Topless" signs are gone, as are the classic old marquees and the zipper that ran above the entrance. However, the souvenir shop on the ground floor where the entrance to the Pussycat used to be at least carries on that age-old tradition of giving the customers of the day what they want. And, these days, those customers are much less likely to be locals looking for what the Pussycat had to offer and more interested in bringing back a miniature Empire State Building to Cologne or Tokyo as a keepsake.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. There are virtually no signs of the seedy period that Times Square went through from about 1965-1985, but who knows what the future will bring. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Then and Now: Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC

33rd Street at Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;filminspector.com
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, in 1974.
New York City is composed of a number of little neighborhoods with a variety of unique names that are very hard to keep straight. I've been a resident for decades and I still have to consult a map to know in which neighborhood a particular street lies. In this article, we are going to Murray Hill, which, as with some other venerable neighborhood names, honors an early resident from the Revolutionary War era. One of the themes of this series of pictures is how little New York City changes over the decades. The common view is that Manhattan is the City that Never Sleeps and that nothing stands still for more than five minutes. Anyone who has lived there for more than a cup of coffee, however, knows that there is an incredible amount of permanence to the Big Apple and the sands of time swirl around and through it without changing much. I found the above photo of midtown from 1974 and decided to do a little investigating on how much the scene has changed over 45 years. So, this is a comparison of Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan from 1974 to 2017.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;filminspector.com
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
It turned out to be very easy to find the same spot as the 1974 photo. We are looking north on Lexington Avenue from the Murray Hill area. The Chrysler building on the east (right) side of Lexington is an obvious marker, as is the old Lincoln Building (60 East 42nd Street, now One Grand Central Place since a 2010 name change) on the west (left). The Chrysler building was completed in 1928 and the Lincoln Building in 1930. The buildings on this stretch of Lexington Avenue haven't changed at all. Even the one-way signs on the northeast corner appear the same, although now the one pointing east is on the bottom instead of on top. That's a change for you. Obviously, the Chrysler Buildings hasn't changed, nor has the Lincoln Building, and they are always useful for orienting yourself if you are walking around Midtown South and areas nearby.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;filminspector.com
East 33rd Street, NYC, looking west toward the Empire State Building in November 2017 (Google Street View).
I don't know why they changed the name of the Lincoln Building to One Grand Central Place - apparently, it was just to emphasize its closeness to Grand Central Terminal, though that was not explicitly spelled out - but everyone who calls it anything just calls it the Lincoln Building. Incidentally, the Lincoln Building wasn't actually named directly after the nation's President, but instead after businesses named Lincoln including a bank that once were based there back in the day. However, since those businesses were named after the President, that seems like a distinction without much of a difference. I mean, they weren't named after Harry Lincoln or Sam Lincoln or Lincoln Logs or some other Lincoln. It was a clear reference to Abraham Lincoln, a link that the building's owners strongly reinforced for decades until new owners suddenly decided to make the switch. Don't be surprised if someday someone else buys the building and renames it the Lincoln Building, because that at least gave it an identity.

Lexington Avenue at East 33rd Street, NYC, randommusings.;filminspector.com
Lexington and 33rd Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The building to the right is 141 East 33rd Street, known as Stonehenge 33. It is a condo (not coop) finished in 1960. Without getting deeply into the distinctions between condos and coops in Manhattan, condos generally are more expensive because they are easier to rent out and there is no coop board to make your life miserable. Yes, that is a vast oversimplification, but to make it a bit more transparent, in a condo you actually own your apartment whereas in a coop you just lease it. Of course, you actually own it either way for all intents and purposes, but coops are considered slightly more residential since coop boards ostensibly act to make the building more suitable for people who live in the apartment that they own there. It is roughly the difference between owning a house with a Homeowner's Association (HOA) versus one without, but the monthly fees in each are similar. Condos are slightly more preferred by investors, while coops are somewhat more preferred by people who actually plan to live there. Some people prefer one, other people prefer the other, and a whole lot of people couldn't care less as long as they have somewhere to hang their hat. Anyway, someone is probably going to be offended by my description of the differences between coops and condos in NYC, so the bottom line is, just be aware that there is a difference if you ever want to move to New York City. My experience from talking to people in other parts of the country is that most people think that a coop is some kind of grocery store, not a place to live, but Manhattan is funny that way.

Lexington Avenue at East 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.;filminspector.com
Lexington Avenue at East 34th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The two closest buildings on the left in the 1974 photo are The Murray Park at 120 East 34th Street and, just beyond it, Murray Hill House at 132 East 35th Street (the one with the terraces). This is the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, and, obviously, nobody is looking to rock the boat with creative names for their buildings where a significant portion of their life savings are invested (though I have to admit that Stonehenge 33 does have a ring to it). The former was built in 1962, the latter in 1969. So, everything was settled along this street of Lexington Avenue five years before the original photo was taken in 1974, and probably will be for the next 50 years as well. A time traveler plopped down on the corner of Lexington and East 33rd instantly would know where he or she is, though they might wonder where all the grocery stores went. But, that is a rant for another day.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Residential areas in Manhattan tend to change very little over time, with many of them built solidly in the early part of the 20th Century and likely destined to stand into the 22nd. Please visit our other pages in this series if you liked this one!

2019