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

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