Random Musings

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Then and Now: Christopher Street, West Village, NYC

A Tale of a Changing Neighborhood

David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
David's Pot Belly Stove, Christopher Street, New York, NY, in 1979.
Local joints are among my favorite topics to cover because they are at the same time completely insignificant to the world at large and yet loom large in our memories. They thus receive little attention despite the huge impact they had and have on local residents. 

A continuing theme of this blog is that tectonic social shifts in a big city can pass almost unnoticed if you aren't intimately involved. The buildings and streets remain the same, but everything around them and the way they are used can evolve in unexpected ways. Social changes form cross-currents around the more permanent parts of society that are made of steel and stone. They barely leave a trace unless you go looking for them.

Well, here we're looking at some of those changes. While going through old photos of Manhattan, I noticed the photo above and it caused me to reflect on how changing social patterns give a neighborhood its character. So, we'll take a then-and-now look at David's Pot Belly at 94 Christopher Street, NYC, from 1979 to the present.
David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
David's Pot Belly was not some earthshaking establishment that goes into the history books like a Lutece or a Four Seasons. It was just a burger joint that opened in 1971 near the corner of Christopher Street and Bleecker Street. The "David" in the name was David Levine. He quickly opened another David's Pot Belly (people now remember the name as David's Pot Belly Stove, but it's unclear if that was ever its official name) on Hope Street in Providence, Rhode Island, so perhaps his intent was to start a chain. If that was the plan, it failed, because both restaurants are long gone. However, the restaurants made an impact. Musicians David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth, for instance, worked at the Providence David's Pot Belly in the early 1970s and that led (very indirectly) to the founding of Talking Heads. Byrne and the others were attending the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, pronounced "riz-dee") at the time. RISD has always attracted an artistic crowd that contrasted nicely with the more staid Brown U. crowd nearby. Incidentally, and this is getting way off track, but Byrne, who was really only interested in music at the time, got the job at the Providence Pot Belly after being fired from a hot dog stand for having hairy arms (true story). But, let's get back on track...
David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
The David's Pot Belly location was located in a classic four-story 1910 residential building that is typical of Greenwich Village. 
The owner and names of David's Pot Belly, David Levine, was volatile and ran a tight ship. The waiters and waitresses (mostly waitresses, the guy generally were dishwashers) had to move fast and remain presentable (probably a new experience for kids in the early '70s). A lot of students worked at his restaurants and, despite having Levine yelling at them from time to time, were usually grateful for the work. I know I was grateful for any side job while I was in school. Pot Belly was open late, so, if you wanted a hamburger with bleu cheese and anchovies or French Onion Soup after the bars closed at 1 a.m., you could head there. It was cozy and rustic for NYC, but it had a hip party crowd befitting the neighborhood and the after-hours crowd. There weren't a whole lot of after-hours diners in the '70s and '80s, so people who enjoyed the nightlife at Limelight or Palladium fondly remember the joints that could satisfy that sudden french-fry craving at 3 a.m. These included David's Pot Belly and nearby Florent on Gansevoort Street. There was a Haagen Dazs right next door, which was convenient if your companion had different cravings.
David's Pot Belly T-shirt randommusings.filminspector.com
Gone but not forgotten: you may still buy David's Pot Belly T-shirts here.
Word is that Levine eventually soured of the restaurant business. Yelling at his employees probably didn't earn him a lot of friends, either. After a bitter divorce during which he lost custody of his child, David Levine became depressed and committed suicide, apparently in the 1990s. That likely led to the demise of David's Pot Belly, if they didn't close earlier. A sad story, but bad things happen in this world. Oh, and just to be clear about this, there apparently is no connection whatsoever between David's Pot Belly and the current Potbelly Sandwich Shop chain. Or, at least none that I could find.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
Havana Alma de Cuba occupied the site at 94 Christopher Street before it, too, closed.
After Pot Belly closed its doors, apparently in the 1990s or shortly thereafter, it was replaced by Havana Alma de Cuba restaurant. That lasted a long time but now apparently, that too has closed. In 2018, it became a victim of rising rental prices, a common story for New York City restaurants. Christopher Street in the '70s and '80s was a center for gay nightlife, but the area has gentrified like so many other formerly fringe Manhattan areas (such as the nearby Meatpacking District) and now gets a lot less foot traffic than it once did. There used to be crowds of leather-clad folks on the street, but that is no longer the case. Even the Haagen Dazs is gone.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
A photo of the location from September 2018.
The Christopher Street area has gone through a wrenching evolution in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, nearby Bleecker Street has lost a lot of its 1980s luster as a fashion center. There were dozens of designer stores nearby decades ago (Coach, Mulberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, etc.), but they've all gone as well-heeled residents have moved into the neighborhood because of its "vibe." Meanwhile, the artists (other than Hollywood celebrities who these days own many apartments nearby) have left. That, in turn, has brought a new vibe that is much different than what attracted all these new residents in the first place. At last look, the David's Pot Belly site was vacant and for lease, as are several retail locations nearby. Since upper-middle and upper-class residential neighborhoods are among the most stable of all Manhattan areas, the new status quo is likely to remain for a very long time.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
The old David's Pot Belly location as of October 2019 (Google Street View).
I hope you enjoyed this wandering walk down the winding streets of Greenwich Village. The world around them may change, but the streets of New York endure. Please visit some of our other pages in this "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Then and Now: Malibu, California

Fun at the Beach!

Jane Fonda in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Jane Fonda is making a dash for the beach, 9 May 1965.
Ever wonder what celebrities do while their movies are being released that make them stars? Well, we have the answer to that for some big names here. At the same time, we're going to get a view into the past and compare that with how things look now and see what kinds of changes the decades can bring.

While this blog usually focuses on New York City because I'm from there and the Big Apple is very familiar to just about everyone, at times we stray further afield. This is one of those times, and we go all the way to the West Coast. Hopefully, though, this will still entertain you because it makes an interesting comparison then and now of Malibu, California.
Roddy McDowall randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy McDowall on the set of "Planet of the Apes."
We get a rare insight into the life of celebrities because one of them took the time to record his activities for posterity. Actor Roddy McDowall knew almost everyone who was anyone in Hollywood during the 1960s through 1990s. He also was quite an amateur filmmaker of his own, though his works were done with a consumer-grade film camera and remained in his private collection until his 3 October 1998 passing. One of Roddy's films records a gathering at his Malibu Beach bungalow on 9 May 1965. That puts it squarely within the usual time frame we like to compare against. Let's see what has changed and what is different about the site of this epic gathering.
Julie and Emma Andrews in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Julie Andrews gets a chance to see a Mary Poppins doll at Roddy McDowall's beach house on 9 May 1965. "Mary Poppins" had been released to theaters the previous year, while "The Sound of Music" opened a couple of months before this scene.
Beach parties at Roddy's house were nothing unusual, but this one was special. While there were quite a few luminaries at Roddy's party that day, two of them will help show what Malibu was like that sunny day. The first is actress Julie Andrews, who had just finished filming "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" back-to-back and had just won the Academy Award for Best Actress a month earlier on 5 April 1965. In the clip below from Roddy's film, we see Julie and her two-year-old daughter Emma Walton leaving the party and driving down the road.
Julie and Emma Andrews in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
This clip shows Julie Andrews and her daughter walking southeast from Roddy McDowall's house to her car.
Our mission, as always, is to compare what was with what is. Let's set the scene by showing the road that Jule and her daughter walked down. It is Malibu Colony and it runs from northwest to southeast. In the above clip, Julie Andrews and her daughter are walking to the southeast (toward downtown Los Angeles).
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road, looking southeast from roughly the same spot, in 2021 (Google Earth).
A comparison shows that the scene hasn't really changed that much despite the passing of almost six decades. Just to verify that we have the exact location (which we know anyway because we know Roddy's old address there, 23560 Malibu Colony Road), the white garage that is visible to the left as the Andrews walk to their car is still there in 2021.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road in 2021, showing the distinctive white garage visible in the 1965 film (Google Earth).
The same white garage is there in the center-right of the above photograph. Julie Andrews parked her Ford Falcon station wagon where that white pickup truck is parked over to the right in front of the tennis court. Whereas there were trees there in 1965, they since have been replaced by that tennis court. To the left in the photo, the white picket fence visible in the 1965 film has been replaced by a brick wall.
Malibu Colony Road in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy's video concludes with Julie and her daughter driving away to the north. There's an intersection up ahead where another car is just turning as Andrews is leaving. This same scene appears quite similar today.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road looking northwest in 2021, with the intersection up ahead. The top of the white garage is visible center-right in this view (Google Earth).
As can be seen in the 2021 comparison, the house on the left with the angled roof is still there. The same brown house is in the background to the right (minus the TV antenna!), though it is now hidden by trees.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Another angle on Malibu Colony, showing the brown house that is in the background as Julie Andrews drives away (Google Earth).
Our second celebrity is actress Jane Fonda. Her new film, "Cat Ballou," had just opened two days earlier in Denver and was awaiting nationwide release. We see Jane running off of Roddy's deck down to the Pacific Ocean for a quick dip.
Jane Fonda on Malibu Beach randommusings.filminspector.com
While this may seem like a mundane shoreline view, it actually reveals a greater truth when compared to the same scene today.
Malibu Beach randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy McDowall's old Malibu bungalow, in the center with the curved third floor, in 2021 (Google Earth).
It's easy to see what has changed about the beach (the house actually hasn't changed, at least very much). The beach was much wider back in 1965. As a consequence, at some point in the intervening decades, they added large boulders to protect the houses. The drop from the deck to the beach also appears to have gotten much bigger. These changes give the setting a much different look than it used to have, though, of course, it is still lovely and exclusive. The old-timers who remember what the beach used to be like must be very worried about beach erosion. And that is the biggest change between then and now.

There's a lot to learn from old films, especially amateur clips, if you do a little comparing. I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please check out some of the other articles!

Below is Roddy McDowall's home movie from which the clips were taken.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

1935 Beverly Hills in Color

Tinseltown in the Thirties

Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
Beverly Hills in the 1930s. Do you recognize that vehicle? It's a Rolls Royce. My guess is that it was a 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom II Limousine Hooper Coach. At least one has survived until today in perfect condition, maybe that exact one. That was owned by somebody.
So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly... Hills, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars.

Let's take a cruise down Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 (film at bottom of the article).

In the year 1935, there was a global Depression that had begun with the stock market crash of 1929. It lasted until 1939 and wasn't truly through until after World War II. People lived in shacks in Central Park and sold apples on street corners to make a few pennies. However, the Great Depression's effects were not evenly felt everywhere. There was a pocket of wealth was in California, specifically, in a town called Hollywood. The 1930s were a great decade for the film industry. Money flowed from across the country and world to the West Coast as people crowded into movie palaces to escape their dismal plights. This created enduring stars like Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, and Carole Lombard. It also created this film.
Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
If you look over to the extreme left, you will see that gasoline was nine cents a gallon. Even with inflation, that would make it only about $1.80 in today's money.
All of that wealth is apparent in this beautifully restored footage of a drive down Wilshire Boulevard ca. June 1935. The usual restoration tricks have been applied to make the old black-and-white original footage more palatable to the modern eye. The sharp-eyed will spot many telling details throughout this footage which likely was considered exceedingly mundane and fit only for rear-projection purposes at the time it was filmed.
On the left is a tow truck pulling an unfortunate accident victim. Yes, they most definitely did have traffic accidents back in the day, perhaps aided by the fact that there were no traffic lanes.
Needless to say, Wilshire Boulevard looks nothing like this today. For one thing, then there were no lane markings on the roads. Drivers just went where they wanted and were expected to stay on their side of the road. You would be driving quite properly if you simply straddle the line running down the road. Not quite an honor system, but far from today's highly regimented traffic rules.
Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
If you wanted a cheap room on Wilshire Boulevard, you could get a "beautiful single apartment" for $30 per month. Even in today's money of about $600 that would be cheap.
There are many little vignettes in these types of films. You pass a car lot full of the latest Packard sedans, a woman dressed all in white including a bonnet, empty fields - all quite normal in 1935 Los Angeles.
Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
The Warner Bros. Beverly Hills Theater had ample parking right next to the entrance if you wanted to catch the matinee. Today it is "Oil for the Lamps of China," starring Pat O'Brien, which was released on 8 June 1935. Doesn't look too popular today, though. Well, times are tough, it's 1935, you know and money is tight.
Even people who are very familiar with Wilshire Boulevard will have a difficult time placing most of these locations. The entire area has changed radically over time, particularly during the years immediately after World War II. Jack Warner opened the Beverly Hills Theater in 1931. 
Beverly Hills Theater ca. 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
Jack Warner's Beverly Hills Theater ca. 1935, directly ahead at the end of the road.
The Beverly Hills Theater lasted until 1975, after which it was purchased by a bank and then demolished. Perhaps the most striking thing that you don't see in this 1935 film are homeless people, tents, or panhandlers. You would have seen them all across the country in 1935 and in 2020s Los Angeles, but not on this drive down 1935 Wilshire Boulevard.
Wilshire Boulevard in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
Just drive on the lines, it's okay in 1935!
Anyway, I hope you are like me and enjoy these old films and restorations. It's a window into another time and place that came and went and will never be repeated. Whether that's good or bad is your decision, but it's always fun to take a peek into the past and see where we came from.

If you like this excursion, please consider taking a few more from the following selection:

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Then and Now: Broome and Thompson Streets, NYC

The More Things Change...

Broome Street, NYC, in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
This 1935 photo by Berenice Abbott shows 512-514 Broome Street, Manhattan, New York. 
In this article, we're going to look at a scene that has been analyzed a number of times over the years. The above photo is fairly famous, as these things go. It captures a moment and a scene in such a brilliantly evocative and artistic way that the eye is drawn to its haunting, angular beauty even as it serves its original purpose of simply recording what was there.

While this blog usually looks at photos from the 1960s through the 1980s, occasionally an older photo intrigues me enough to do a little research on it. Such was the case with the above photo by pioneering photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). She began her career in Paris but moved to New York in 1929 - just in time for the Stock Market Crash. After scratching out an existence for the next five years, she happily was picked by the city to contribute to a project called “Changing New York.” Funding was allocated by the U.S. Government commissioned through the New Deal art projects WPA Collection. This was one of many similar efforts to employ artists of various types during the Great Depression, and Abbott rewarded the city by taking some of the most evocative shots of the city ever, both before and since.

Abbott took the photo above of some dwellings at 512-514 Broome Street in 1935. Her choice perhaps was influenced by a friend, Professor Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who asked her to focus on antebellum buildings. In any event, Abbott's photograph of the Broome Street buildings is stunning and shows a deep understanding of all aspects of photography.

In Nathan Silver's classic "Lost New York" (1967), he references the above photo and claims that the buildings "are now gone." Well, Nate, not exactly. We are going to do a then-and-now comparison of the corner of Broome Street and Thompson Street in NYC.
Broome Street, NYC, in the 1930s randommusings.filminspector.com
Another photo of the same scene in the 1930s, probably after the Berenice Abbott photo (Peter Sekaer).
While the photo doesn't show it, the buildings were made of red-painted brick. These were typical buildings from the pre-war - pre-Civil War - era and typically were twenty-five feet wide and two or three stories tall. They were two rooms deep - city tax laws favored narrow but long residence buildings - with pitched roofs and dormers. 
Broome Street, NYC, in 1998 ndommusings.filminspector.com
The same location in 1998. Note that the original buildings are all still there, though they have been radically altered. The two residential buildings have lost their classic roofs and, in the case of the one on the right, an entire floor. The warehouse in the background was converted to condos. Photo by Douglas Levere in his book New York Changing (2005).
As New Yorkers may know, Broome Street lies in the neighborhood of SoHo, which stands for South of Houston Street. It now is one of the more fashionable areas of the city, but it wasn't in the 1930s. The large warehouse in the background was a Grocers Warehouse Corporation building on Thompson Street. If you're wondering how all these old buildings survived, well, partly it is due to serendipity. They all, however, have just missed being included in either the Soho-Cast Iron District or the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, so it seems the city wasn't doing anything to save them.
Broome Street, NYC, ca. 2010 ndommusings.filminspector.com
512-514 Broome Street ca. 2010. Note that the buildings have been significantly spruced up and made presentable. The low building on the right, however, has one more major change in store...
However, the tax laws favor remodeling and renovating old structures rather than completely replacing them, so the city actually did have something to do with saving them, albeit indirectly. That's why a grungy old warehouse will be left standing and have windows cut into the walls for new apartments rather than just tearing it down.
Broome Street, NYC, ca. 2010 ndommusings.filminspector.com
512-514 Broome Street, with 52 Thompson Street in the background, July 2019. Note the complete remodel of the building on the right since 2010 (Google Street View).
The former warehouse in the background at 52-54 Thompson Street is said to have been built in 1900. That's just broker-speak, however. It actually means it was built at some uncertain point in the 1800s. It was converted to condominiums at some point, but not just ordinary cookie-cutter condos. There are six floors with condos in the building, and each condo takes up an entire floor. A current listing as of this writing in 2021 shows a 10-room unit for sale for $13 million. So, there's money in those old buildings if you know what to do with them.
Broome Street, NYC, ca. 2010 ndommusings.filminspector.com
A closer look at 512 Broome Street (the one at the right in the photo at the top of this page). It recently has served as the home of Pi Bakery.
As these photos show, New York City is an evolving place with its roots firmly anchored in the past. While needs change and styles come and go, buildings often are not simply disposed of as many people think. Instead, they are repurposed and reimagined. Those grungy old buildings from the past were not old soldiers destined to fade away, but instead survivors that withstood the destructive forces of time and outlived almost all of their former owners.

I hope you found this article interesting. If so, please visit some more of our entries in this "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Thanks for visiting!


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Then and Now: La Unica Caridad Restaurant, NYC

La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad Restaurant, Broadway and 78th, ca. 1970.
Life is not just epic events and huge buildings. One of the themes of this blog is the details of life matter. Corner joints may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they serve a purpose and affect local residents in underappreciated ways. They give a neighborhood character, provide a place to meet people, and also often offer tasty treats for the discerning foodie. You also might spot a celebrity, you never know when that will happen in New York.

One such neighborhood eatery was La Caridad (technically called "La Unica Caridad"). Located on the southwest corner of Broadway and 78th Street, it was a neighborhood fixture for 52 years. Opened in 1968, La Caridad offered Chino Latino food, which blends Mexican and Chinese food. Here, we do a then-and-now comparison of La Caridad on the Upper West Side.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad (then called "La Caridad 78 restaurant") in October 2007 (Michael Minn).
One of the things that endlessly fascinates me about New York City is that you can pick out a random photo from decades ago and it will have surprisingly recent echoes. Such is the case with the 1970s photo at the top of this page.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
The La Caridad takeout menu in June 2009. Note that this is the Cuban menu, the Chinese food menu was on the other side.
You might think that some old black-and-white photo from before when most of the people reading this were born is just some historical artifact. Well, it is, but the restaurant itself lasted until very recently.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
The name Caridad is a girl's name that is popular in Cuba. It means "Charity." La Caridad apparently had different names through the years at its iconic location at the corner of 78th Street and Broadway. Just a random search of photographs shows it being called La Unica Caridad, La Caridad, and La Caridad 78 Restaurant. It was always known as La Caridad, though.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad changed over the years from the 1950s counter-seating diner setting shown in the top photograph to a more typical diner setting, with tables where you could eat and get in and out of quickly.
The delightful thing about neighborhood joints like La Caridad is that you could get good, cheap food that you'll never find at the big chains. Just pop in during a day of shopping and grab some quick vaca frita or sesame chicken, in and out within half an hour for under $10 per person. Try doing all that at the Golden Arches.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad, May 2009 (Google Street View).
La Caridad's founder, Raphael Lee, was a Chinese immigrant who had lived in Havana. He developed a love for both Chinese food and local Cuban delicacies from that city’s Chinatown. While the food is called "fusion," however, they never really and truly melded. You didn't get fried plantains and chicken with cashews on the same plate. The restaurant had its ups and downs over the years - it was temporarily shut down by the Department of Health in 2016 when live roaches were found in the kitchen - but it lasted for five decades, and that ain't beanbag.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
Let's not get too rhapsodic about the quality of the food. To be blunt, the Chinese food was standard Manhattan Chinese American (want some General Tso's Pork Chops?), while the Cuban dishes were on a separate part of the menu. If you were looking for something exotic and an "experience," you could turn the menu to the Cuban pages and order some sancocho soup. Your companion, meanwhile, could stay in the comfortable Chinese menu section and choose the nice and safe Crispy Spring Roll followed by Sesame Chicken. But it was still a melange of styles, with large portions of interesting fare served without any fuss.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad, June 2019 (Google Street View).
La Caridad closed in July 2020. Even the New York Times took notice, that's how iconic La Caridad had become. Again, you may never have heard of this random restaurant in the middle of so many other restaurants, but many neighborhood people develop a bond with these local joints and are sad when they finally disappear. They mean something to someone and thus are important for that reason alone. Plus, there are workers there who develop relationships and a sense of identity from working there and it's sad for them, too, when the place finally shuts down.

Whether the closing was related to the pandemic is an open question, though that likely had something to do with it. Local residents noticed employees emptying out the store in the preceding weeks and the owner did not disclose why he was leaving. Taking a wild guess, the cause was probably a combination of the pandemic and rising rents. Who knows if La Caridad will ever be back, sometimes these restaurants pop up in other locations where the rents are low like they were when the restaurant was founded. But the memories remain of the glorious takeout and ambiance of a classic local joint.
La Caridad randommusings.filminspector.com
La Caridad ca. 2020 (Robert K. Chin).

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Then and Now: Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island NYC

Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island randommusings.filminspector.com
Jack's Discount Center, 1970.
Few New York City neighborhoods have gone through as many ups and downs over the years as Coney Island. The area we call Coney Island isn't actually on its own island (though it used to be kind of an island until Coney Island Creek was filled in during the 1920s/1930s) unless you count it being on Long Island. It is located on the western portion of the Coney Island peninsula west of Ocean Parkway.

Coney Island was a sleepy little town until 1878, when two major things happened to it. The huge Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion opened that year as well as the Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Coney Island Railway, which opened on 2 July as the predecessor to the New York City Subway's present-day Brighton Line aka Brighton Beach Line. The original two-track line was acquired by the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation BMT in 1923, which in turn was folded into the modern subway system in 1940. The subway was the defining feature of the area, resulting in businesses being constructed along its route.

Coney Island reached its peak in the 1930s through the 1950s. It was the preferred way for city residents to "beat the heat" in the days before the widespread use of air conditioners. Even though the beaches were far away for most people and insanely crowded, they were still better than sitting in a sweltering apartment. However, by the 1960s the area fell into a steep decline.

Anyway, I spotted the photo above from 1970 of a typical old-school "dollar store" before they were known as such. This one was called "Jack's Discount Center," and it was located at the current street address of 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island. So, I decided to do a comparison of Jack's Discount Store in Coney Island then and now.
Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island randommusings.filminspector.com
A shot in 1978 taken from the subway platform gives a little more perspective. Note the top of the subway car in the foreground.
The property, located at coordinates 40.5772094,-73.9818174, was originally built in 1930. Located a few blocks from the beach, it already was starting to look run down by 1970, and things didn't get any better during the 1970s. These types of discount stores used to be much more common in New York City than they are now. While you may still some scattered in various places such as Jackson Heights in Queens, the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and the South Bronx, they've largely been supplanted by gentrification, exorbitant rents, and smaller, more focused chain retailers.
Mermaid Horizon randommusings.filminspector.com
Undated, but the same site perhaps ca. 2000. Note that this version was called "Mermaid Horizon Discounts" in honor of the street location. Now it became a "99 Cent" store.
These days, businesses have to be real money machines to survive. That's why you see so many of these quaint old businesses disappearing, to be replaced by bank branches, pharmacies, and Starbucks establishments. Nothing wrong with that, it's what the people who are voting with their dollars want.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
The new McDonald's in 2012, boarded up for Hurricane Sandy.
Around 2008-2009, the building, which was located on two parcels. Fiserv Mastermoney was drastically renovated and replaced with a McDonald's restaurant. While it certainly looks like the building was completely torn down, complete tear-downs don't happen too often in New York City for tax reasons. You want to keep just enough original structural elements to be able to classify it as a "renovation." But, basically, the old 1930 building disappeared around that time.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
A recent photo of the location. Note that this angle gives you a little perspective, showing a sliver of the massive elevated subway line that is just across the street.
That area of Brooklyn has become a rough area over the years, and there was a fatal stabbing at that McDonald's on Easter Sunday 2014. That's just a reflection of the neighborhood, which has never completely recovered from its steep decline during the 1960s and 1970s.

However, lest you be left with the wrong impression, the McDonald's gets an "A" grade from the NYC Health Inspectors, though, so it has that going for it. It gets onto Coney Island's "Ten Best Eating Establishment" lists, which probably tells you as much about the current state of Coney Island as it does this particular burger joint. The world needs fast food, and this looks like a great location for one.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
This capture from Google Street View in November 2019 gives a little more context. The subway line is revealed right across the street. One can imagine that the original Jack got a lot of business from the subway trade, thus explaining all of his garish signs facing in that direction.
The story of this parcel of land really speaks volumes about the evolution of New York City. The small, independent businesses in their colorful but ramshackle buildings had their day, and now it is a time of chain restaurants and sleek architecture and everything served to you the same way it is served to people in Florida and Nebraska and Wyoming. The uniqueness, the individuality, the quirkiness is gradually but inexorably disappearing. That's what the people want, so that is what they are getting. There are some constants such as the subway lines, however, that maintain the structure of the city even as everything around them changes. Really, the story of this particular little plot of ordinary land in a remote corner of New York City speaks volumes about larger trends that are at work.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk through the past in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of our other entries!


Monday, February 8, 2021

1920s Paris Cafe Society in Color

Cafe Chic!

1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
A beautiful day in Paris during the sunny 1920s.
Let's go out today, love. It's the perfect time to visit the choice cafes in 1920s Paris. We can stop off at the Cafe de la Paix, the Cafe du Dome, and other fashionable places to be seen. That's the whole point of going, right?
1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
The streets are bustling.
Yes, I know it will be crowded. It's Sunday and the sun is shining, the streets will be packed. But don't you worry, love, I know all the maître d'hôtels and we'll get only the best tables.
1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
Say, isn't that Madame DuBarry? She's looking quite chic in that hat and fur, she's always so stylish. But that young swain with her, that's not her husband, is it? I think that's one of her violin students... We'd better not go and say hello, she looks like she doesn't want to be recognized. But you really should ask her tomorrow where she got that precious mink stole.
1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
What is that couple eating over there? Looks delicious, though she doesn't look too happy about something. Let's order the same thing. Love the hat, too, but she could use more jewels.
1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
Oh look, there's Jacques. He always did have an eye for you! I don't think his date notices that he's suddenly distracted. She should have worn a hat to keep his attention. And maybe some mink.
1920s Paris in color randommusings.filminspector.com
We'll wind things up with a dance at Robinson's in the park. Oh, what a delightful day!
I hope you enjoyed our little visit to the past. These restored films are becoming more and more common as algorithms improve. I understand they still require quite some time to render and finalize, though. If you liked this one, visit some of our other pages. And thanks for stopping by!