Thursday, October 4, 2007

42nd Street and 12th Avenue

November 1987

August 2007

I have no explanation for the insanity that seems to have occurred here, at what was once a desolate corner across from the Circle Line piers. When the first picture was taken there were parking lots stretching from 11th to 12th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street, today one immense luxury high-rise is filling up, while another fills in the hole created for it a block away.

Further east along 42nd I can count at least seven buildings that weren't here in '87, as well as the obvious street improvements. 12th Avenue today is nothing like it was twenty years ago, today there are jogging and bike paths along the river, thousands of tourists coming and going to the boats, a far cry from the days when the biggest crowds were lining up for visas at the Chinese Consulate to the UN, visible in the 2007 picture on the left side of the intersection. This neighborhood was about as exciting as it looked in 1987, so I can't understand the lure of the apartments here, but it seems that the new human instinct is to inhabit every square foot of Manhattan.

Oh, and regardless of how long the visa lines got in the 1980's, the greatest number of people I ever saw on this corner was in June of 1989, when hundreds of Chinese filled the sidewalk in front of the parking lot on 42nd across from the consulate in silent protest and solidarity during the Tianamen Square demonstrations.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Mayfair Hotel

February 1989

September 2007

This first shot shows the beginnings of the rehab of the Mayfair Hotel on west 49th Street, next to the Eugene ONeill Theater, a scene I happened to catch while walking by that day. I'd never passed the place before, and never did again until this summer, when I went looking for it. I don't know what kind of hotel it was in the eighties, but it looks grungy enough to have been an SRO.

What makes the first picture for me is having caught the workers just as they were peeling off the sign; a second shot a moment later, after the lettered strip of metal has been tossed into the Dumpster, hasn't got the same impact. The sign is also the only clue I had for the location of this scene. I suppose I'm fortunate that the name of the place never changed, which made Googling it more fruitful.

But here it is, a small Times Square hotel, eighteen years later, its facade cleaned but starting to get a bit dingy again. The first floor has lost the horrible 1960's style storefront and barbershop, and the neon sign perpendicular to the building is also gone, which, no doubt, also removed whatever ambiance it lent to the room it was outside of. I personally think the landmarks preservation people should have insisted that at least a few Times Square hotels maintain rooms with blinking neon signs outside the windows. And ledges. Not enough hotel rooms or office buildings have ledges anymore in New York. There's a halfway-decent ledge outside the third-floor windows here at the Mayfair, but being a skinny, mid-block building, there's really no place to go on it. But it's the thought that counts.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Cupcake Cafe

June 1988

September 2007

Leaving the shop on west 44th Street, a building that now serves as a storage warehouse, I was faced with two ways of reaching Penn Station: I could take the 'scenic route' of 42nd Street to Seventh Avenue, or I might choose to follow Ninth Avenue down to 33rd Street. Late afternoon was a good time to shoot the buildings and storefronts in 1988, since there was really no high-rise development around Hell's Kitchen then, and the late afternoon light fell nicely on the aged buildings.

Even with all the sparkling residential high-rises that have erupted from its worn gray asphalt, these streets today, around the west side of the Port Authority, still maintain their air of insouciant grime.

Ninth Avenue, in the blocks below and south of the bus ramps, was an array of meat stores, bakeries and delis in the 1980's, most notable were the Manganaro's stores: two delicatessens next to each other, owned by feuding members of the family that first made a six-foot-hero. I assume that neighborhood allegiances are still strong, as well as equally divided: both stores prosper after decades side-by-side.

But my favorite storefront was the Cupcake Cafe, mainly for the sign. You just didn't see lettering like that anywhere. It was hand-painted, and each letter was a different size, to create an undulation across the words. The cupcakes and muffins were pretty well made, too.

And in a happy ending, though the Cafe is no longer at this corner, a close look at the roll-down gate reveals a crudely painted arrow and the partial phrase, "We h-". Blocked by the parked car and phone booth (phone booth?!) is the rest: "-ave moved". Across the street and one block north. Still good pastries.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Moondance Diner - Late Update!

September 2007

It never occurred to me, as I re-took my pictures for these pages last June, that I'd have to be doing an update anytime soon. So many of those old scenes had been altered beyond recognition that finding an unchanged neighborhood made me feel as if it were safe and protected, perhaps for the next few decades.

Now I wonder if instead I'll be the kiss of death, much the way the US Mint's State Quarter project seemed to be targeting its depicted icons for destruction. (Connecticut lost the Charter Oak, Maryland had the State House cupola struck by lightening, and the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire fell apart, all of these happening not long after their quarters began circulating.)

But the Moondance had been on Sixth Avenue for years, it was on TV shows and in the movies, it had a steady clientele and a great big sign made out of silver spangles, with a huge revolving yellow crescent moon. They had great pancakes, and they put cinnamon in the ground coffee before brewing it. It had an obligation to be there!

Alas, land values in Manhattan being what they are, and what with the urgent, war-time need for overpriced luxury apartments, the lot was sold for residential development. Yet the diner, or at least the original railcar-style building, was sold separately to a couple who put it on a flatbed truck and drove it to LaBarge, Wyoming. Once there, they'll add kitchen and storage extensions, and open it as the only restaurant in town.

Sixth and Grand will be served with, I assume, another oddly shaped glass tower.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Two Towers

June 1994

September 2007

It doesn't always take decades for a scene to be altered forever. Sometimes it only takes a day or two, and sometimes just a single morning, to punch a hole in the sky.

Today we remember those we lost, and those we never found.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Liberty and The Empire

July 1988

(Original Location)


September 2007
(Original location)

(shot from the new location)

Meanwhile, back on 42nd Street...

While it looks like nothing remains today from the scene in 1988, both of the buildings sporting marquees in the first picture are still a part of today's 42nd Street. They've just become a part of something else.

On the left, we have the Liberty Theater, which was built and operated by the production team of A. L. Erlanger and Marcus Klaw. It opened on October 10th, 1904, with a revue called The Rogers Brothers in Paris. A few weeks later, November 7th saw the premiere of George Cohan's first musical, Little Johnnie Jones, featuring the song 'Give My Regards to Broadway'.

Described as a smaller version of the New Amsterdam, which was also built by Erlanger and Klaw and opened the previous year, The Liberty was converted to a movie theater in 1933. Like the New Amsterdam, which also showed movies until the early eighties, the Liberty’s auditorium was actually located on 43rd Street; its connection to the Deuce was through a 100-foot long lobby. Unlike the New Amsterdam, though, the Liberty would never reopen as a legitimate theater. The only part still extant is the facade (the narrow arch on the left), now part of Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum, which occupies the remaining space today, and is responsible for the silver protuberance in place of a marquee.
The Empire Theater opened as The Eltinge, named for Julian Eltinge, then a popular female impersonator, on September 11, 1912. It featured straight plays and comedies until about 1931, when vaudeville and burlesque filled the house. In 1935 Bud Abbot and Lou Costello performed together for the first time on the Eltinge's stage. By then though, vaudeville was dying, and Fiorello LaGuardia, the Gulianni of his day, banned the smut of burlesque, and the Eltinge became the Empire. Movies ran here until the early 1980's.

In March of 1998, as part of the New 42nd Street project, the Empire was jacked up and rolled 170 feet to the west along a specially built track. All of the adjacent buildings had been razed, and their basements filled in for the track to be constructed. The trip took about three days, and the landmarked building now serves as the lobby for a 25 unit movie complex.

(If you click on the first 2007 picture for the larger version you'll be able to see the current sign for the Empire at the extreme right just above the cabs. The second picture gives a clearer view from the new location, and if you look for the large, vertical Madam Tussaud's sign, you can understand just how far this building traveled.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Shubert Theater

February 1988

June 2007

Not much really changes in the theater district over the years. Since the destruction of the original Helen Hayes theater in 1982 (where I saw my first Broadway show in the summer of 1977, a matinee of Equus, with Leonard Nimoy) most Broadway houses now enjoy New York City landmark status. This will (in theory) keep them from becoming skyscraper hotels, like the Hayes.

Landmark status usually means the building owners can't make alterations to the exterior of the structure without prior approval of the Landmarks Commission. This stricture would normally include any signage on the buildings, though I think because of changing productions, the theaters get a pass as long as the style remains the same. Like a lot of theaters, the Shubert uses the distinctive open-faced 'bare-bulb' type lettering for its shows.

The Shubert Theater opened in September of 1913.
It was named for Sam S. Shubert, who was killed in a train crash in 1905 at the age of 26. According to the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB) the theater opened with eight productions in repertory. These eight shows, including three Shakespeare plays, ran a total of three months. (Repertory was not unusual for this theater, as October of 1919 saw three more of the bard's plays in rep, and March of 1930 saw nine plays in rep.)

Interestingly, those first eight shows opened on March 24th and ran for exactly three weeks. (Hmmmm...eight shows a week for three weeks makes 24 performances of nine shows for a total of 2.6 performances each. The IBDB doesn't go into much detail on this, and after 77 years I doubt anything new will turn up.) The Shubert then hosted its first musical, Three Little Girls; it ran for 109 performances.

But while Shakespeare never had a long run here, A Chorus Line ran for 6,137 performances, a record for the time, and still had more than two years to go when our first picture was taken in February of 1988. As you can see, even the cabs in New York were in sorry shape back then. Shubert Alley, the ‘heart of the theater district’ is to the right, leading to 46 Street and the adjacent Booth Theater, built at the same time as the Shubert.

Advertising posters now cover both outer walls of the theater, and the zipper display above the door is mercifully gone. I'll assume the wall posters are there with the blessing of the Landmarks Commission, and probably the encouragement of the Times Square BID.

I was always amused by the awning. It's at a ninety degree angle to the building, and a forty-five degree angle to the door. I also think it's the only canvas awning over the sidewalk of a legitimate Broadway theater.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Moondance Diner

August 1985

June 2007

If you're on Sixth Avenue near Canal Street, and you have a hankering for pancakes, I suggest you head up to Grand Street and stop in at the Moondance Diner. I'm not sure when it opened, (the NYC building department shows a structure here since 1972) but it was the Moondance when I first saw it, and remains so to this day. They had good food back then, and, though I didn't stop in this time, I remember fabulous pancakes, and coffee with a touch of cinnamon.

The brick wall of the building behind the diner still shows the outline of whatever stood on Sixth Avenue's corner in the years before the Moondance took occupancy here. The earlier photo shows the bottom of a mural which has been supplanted by what looks to be a conventional billboard in the current image

I also figure if the cops are eating there it must still be good. Although, as we'll see very soon, and very surprisingly, change often occurs quite rapidly.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

42 The River/The new New Amsterdam

July 1988

June 2007

It all comes back to 42nd Street, it seems. No matter which neighborhood we talk of in this changing city, the poster child of New York transformation remains one of the thoroughfares that make up the fabled crossroads of America.

We have two views this week, the first ones show us the Deuce at just about its nadir early on an overcast summer morning. David Dinkins was mayor, crack was king, and New York was on its way to a then-record 2,244 murders. (The record of 2,605 was set two years later.)

The New Amsterdam theater figures prominently in both pictures; by 1988 this original home of the Ziegfeld Follies had been abandoned for six years, and would fester for another five before being taken over by the city and state, then restored, at a cost of over $34 million, by Disney. Next to it, the building housing the Roxy theater would be replaced twice: in 1997 by a Disney store that served as an exit from the New Amsterdam (typical Disney marketing: leave the theater through the retail store) and finally by the Ernst and Young skyscraper in 2000. And while Kung Fu movies are hard to come by in Times Square these days, somewhere there's a steak vulcanizing at Tad’s.

People lament the 'Disneyfication' of 42nd street, but that term is misleading. Disney works its magic at 4/5th of life size: that's the scale that every single Main Street USA structure is built to. Disney does its best stuff working from the ground up. Times Square is more of a Potemkin village: fresh facades on century-old office blocks alongside the brand-new and easily-altered structures of steel and glass.

Of course, the street itself is another giveaway: Main Street USA never has to deal with any kind of real vehicular traffic upon its surface, nor does it act as part of the roof of one of the worlds largest subway stations, either. Times Square has not been Disneyfied. Especially not with all that litter in the street.

So all of the billions of dollars sunk into these blocks, private and public money alike, seem to have produced little more than overdone cosmetics. A recent Sunday morning finds as forlorn a scene as witnessed two decades before, now the gaudy neon pierces the softness of the early light like a lipstick smear on a chorus girl, the street litter scattered like mascara flakes on her cheeks.

I love the vanishing point perspective of the pictures on the left, and I especially like the shirt hanging from the lamp post in the top one. Note the lamp posts as they march in a line down the vanishing point in both pictures, broken in the newer shot with a new mid-block traffic signal. Prominent in the hazy black-and-white background you can see the McGraw-Hill building and the east tower of the Manhattan Plaza apartments. New apartment towers have joined the Plaza today, and the Madam Tussard's sign obscures the green deco tower.

And because I love vanishing point pictures, here's another relevant one, from October of 1988:

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Grand and Greene

June 1986

June 2007

I think of this scene as one where nothing has really changed, but actually everything has, and for the better. At least, for the better as long as you're not the one who has to pay the rents in this now-chic area.

Grand Street was a retail neighborhood in '88; a good place for home goods and furnishings at decent prices. Narrow sidewalks, with displays and wares spilling out of the storefronts, it, while not quite the mess that Canal Street has always been, has still never had the overall variety of goods that were to be found on Canal. (Rule of thumb: If you can't find it on Canal Street, it either doesn't exist, or, you probably didn't need it anyway.)

Grand is still a retail mecca, although the merchandise is a lot more upscale these days. It was good to see this corner in better shape now than the way it was 21 years ago, when the city couldn't seem to be bothered to even paint crosswalks on the pavement.

Today the streets have been repaved, and the sidewalks redone, the building's been painted, obliterating
the graffiti, and the dumpster is gone. The trash bin has a liner now, but the streetlamp has only been repainted; and its street signs replaced with the NYC standard for historic districts, white on brown.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


June 1988

June 2007

Ah, Forty-Second Street. Specifically, West 42nd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, long known to the denizens there as 'the deuce' or 'forty-deuce'. Boulevard of porn theaters, sex shops, cheap food stands and abandoned and decaying buildings. This was not the sort of place to be caught wearing colorful shirts and shorts, or sandals with socks. Even I wasn't always comfortable strolling along here with a camera in hand. There was a time, once, when I shot a picture of the theater marquees, only to have a wasting drunk run up to me after I'd turned away, and take a feeble kick at my ass. I turned around, with my right arm upraised as he ran back across the street. (A good thing he did, too. I have no idea what I would have done had he held his ground.)

Seen here in the summer of 1988, looking west toward the river, it's easy to see the major changes that have taken place. Both of the Seventh Avenue corners have had their buildings replaced: the southwest corner (on the left) had everything razed right up to the east wall of the New Amsterdam theater (see the article below - 41 Street Subway Entrance), while the northwest corner lost everything up to the New Victory theater. In '88 the New Victory was the marquee with 'Box Office on Broadway' on it; the marquee was removed in favor of a large double stairway during the renovations. Click on the picture to see the enlarged version; the stairway is the dark area below the 'Subway' sign. The northwest corner is now home to the 32 story Reuters building, aka 3 Times Square.

Further down the block on the south side, the Chandler building remains, rehabbed, with its red neon marquee sheltering the entrance to a huge McDonalds at street level. Madam Tussaud's occupies part of the old Liberty theater next to that. (The rest of this block will be covered in more detail in a future article.)

Off in the distance you can clearly make out the Port Authority bus terminal on Eighth Avenue, with its 'X' girders, so appropriate for this neighborhood, and beyond that the 1932 art deco McGraw-Hill building, once the tallest in the area. These landmarks are less distinct in the 2007 scene; the PA's steelwork is covered with neon, and the 33 floor McGraw-Hill was surpassed in '04 by the 60-story Orion building, a residential tower.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Desbrosses Street

February 1987

June 2007

This part of Greenwich Street south of Canal was still pretty much a manufacturing district back in 1987, although a few loft buildings did have tenants with appliances other than high-speed printing presses.

465 Greenwich Street stretches between Desbrosses and Watts Streets, and has undergone a complete rehab in the last twenty years, though I think there were already people living there back in '87. The entire neighborhood has moved as well, from manufacturing to (legal) residential and commercial zoning. When last here I could get a cup of coffee (in one of those 'Greek' cups) for sixty-five cents. On this Sunday morning a cappuccino cost me $3.50.

Come 2007 we find the facades replaced and the stonework cleaned. Of course, while sprucing up the building it was stripped of some of its old New York charm with the loss of the street names painted on the corner column. And of course, all the graffiti is gone. a shame, as that 'Missing 1908' really intrigued me for years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Skyline: Central Park South (East)

August 1988

June 2007

August of 1988 finds us looking over Wollman Rink in Central Park. This was a couple of years after Donald Trump did the only thing that I ever admired him for: He took over the rebuilding of the 1950's-era ice-skating rink from the city. New York had already spent several of the prior years attempting this, in fact, they took since the end of the 1970's to tear down and try to rebuild the place. Trump was looking at the project, and in essence said, 'It's a goddammed ice-skating rink. Give it to me, I'll open it in six months.' That was the summer of 1986. That winter, Wollman Rink was open for skaters, and has been every season since.

Many of you will remember Wollman Rink for the Schaeffer Concert series that ran here for some twelve summers beginning in 1967. I was here for a few shows in 1979, the last year before the shows moved to the pier. I know I saw Eddie Money here, as well as the Kinks. This place was better than the pier, though, because if you didn't have a ticket you could just sit in the park and listen; there were even some rock outcroppings that you could sit on and look down into the rink as well.

During the summers these days a carnival called Victorian Gardens operates, which explains all the striped tents. In the past, summers saw a miniature golf course and roller-skating rink. The skyline only shows minor changes: trees have grown, of course, and only a single new building has gone up a few blocks beyond and to the left of the tower at 800 Fifth Avenue.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

100 Avenue of the Americas

August 1985

June 2007

This is a detail shot of the facade of the otherwise nondescript building at 100 Avenue of the Americas. In fact, that full address was also the name of the building, and was painted on the blank south side of it, facing toward Canal Street and the uptown traffic going by.

My first job in New York City was in this building. It was the summer of 1978, and my former trade school teacher had told me about the place. I spent a week there, coming into the city after leaving my then-current job, and working a part-time night shift. It lasted a week before I realized I didn't want the job; it would be six years before I saw the building again, when I started at a job on Hudson Street in 1984.

I shot the first picture with a zoom lens from across 6 Avenue. I'd noticed the guy in the window, and was waiting for him to face in a good direction. Having him on the phone added a nice touch as well. And after all these years I still look at this picture and wonder if he isn't someone I eventually wound up working with.

The bas relief had been painted over, I knew, sometime in the mid 1990's, and rather nicely I think. I don't know why the relief facing Watt Street was left alone though. Or why, in a building filled with printers, there were trades like chemists and, well, I'm not too sure what the other fellow is doing, but apparently the tenancy of the building was more varied when it was completed in 1930. Is he weighing something, or is he a cobbler? Hard to say, but if you've got any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

Other building upgrades from around the same time include new windows, which obviously don't include any unwitting posers early on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Along West 21st Street

February 1988

June 2007

If not for the internet and Google, I would never have guessed that 'particle flow' has to do with fluid mechanics. Of course it makes perfect sense, in hindsight at least, that the Particle Flow Company would be located in an industrial loft in lower midtown. I just liked the juxtaposition of the signs.

It also took me a while to figure out where this scene is. Even though the company name and building number were on the sign, these places had been closed for the past nineteen years. I still had no clue as to what street this is, just somewhere in midtown. Then I took a closer look at the left side of the picture.


There aren't many cemeteries in Manhattan, and only two or three that I can think of in midtown. Fortunately there's a great website for just this sort of research: Forgotten New York. A quick look through the archives there led me to West 21 Street, and the Third Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel.

This burial ground took its first patrons in 1829, when the Second Cemetery
of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel in the Village was forced to re-inter many of its residents here. This was the result of 11th Street, which had only been a gleam in a city planner's eye up until that time, becoming a reality. A large portion of the Second Cemetery stood in the way of the street grid that 11th would cover. The 21st Street graveyard closed in 1851, a year before New York City banned burials within Manhattan.

A residential building called
Chelsea opened on the site of these lofts in 2000.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Times Square North (Duffy Square)

March, 1989


The more things change, the more they stay the same. A tired old saying, but more than applicable when speaking of Times Square.

The City of New York spent much of the 1980's alternating between creating grandiose master plans for Time Square and then dithering with developers over the disposition of properties taken over by eminent domain. More often than not these negotiations ended in stalemate, while the buildings in question continued to quietly fester.

Meanwhile, the parts of Times Square not on the city's radar were being bought up by other developers who had little patience for the city's vision. Optimistic builders were assembling properties on side streets and areas outside the official development zone. One such is Two Times Square which, despite its name, is just north of Duffy Square.

The Sony, Suntory, and Coca-Cola signs were such familiar fixtures that they were left standing while the buildings behind them were razed, then they were attached to the scaffolding of the construction site while the glass tower rose behind them. They were eventually replaced with the current screens and LED monitors we see today. Suntory has disappeared, both from Times Square and, it seems, the American market. (Japanese single-malt whisky?) Samsung replaces Sony, but Coca-Cola still holds the center spot.

I'll leave the rest of the changes for you to point out, just click on the 'comments' link at the end of this article. (This is a good place too, to leave your memories of New York, and to let me know what you think of this blog.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Scribner's Fifth Avenue Bookstore

February 1989

June 2007

Charles Scribner's Sons moved into their twelve-story Fifth Avenue headquarters in May of 1913, with a three-level bookstore facing the street. The building was designed by Ernest Flagg, Chas. Scribner II's brother-in-law, who was also the architect responsible for the (then) recently completed Singer Building.

This was a beautiful space, with balconies running along both sides of the main floor with a grand staircase in the rear. Three stories of glass frontage brought light in from the street.

597 5 Avenue was
landmarked on March 23, 1982. The eighties were a turbulent time for Scribner's; the company merged with Macmillan in May of 1984 and the Scribner family sold the Fifth Avenue building in September of the same year. In December Rizzoli International bought the Scribners' Book Stores.

The black and white image was made in February of 1989, a few weeks after the store closed for good. By this time the Scribner's chain had been sold once again, now to a company located just across the street (at the time) from this store. An ominous reflection of their sign can be seen in the glass of the doors. (No, not Roy Rogers...)

The space later was the main Manhattan location for the Benetton company, and currently holds a
Sephora skin care store. The doors have been replaced with brass fixtures, these also have a glass section where the originals had an opaque kickplate. The gilding has been kept up very well; the Scribner's logo above the door is like the shiny spot on the tip of a woman's nose. Which makes this the perfect location for finding the cosmetics to take care of something like that, no?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

41 Street Subway Entrance

June 1988

June 2007

After the minimal differences between the last two pictures, I figured I should find one where there's only one thing unchanged, so I bring you the Times Square subway entrance near the northwest corner of West 41 Street and 7 Avenue.

This is a corner that's undergone massive change in the past nineteen years. The original photo shows the closed storefronts of buildings that once stood on the north side of 41 Street, with the stairs to the subway in the center. During the 42 Street redevelopment of the 1990's, the entire western block of 7 Avenue between 41 and 42 Streets, was razed as far west as the walls of the New Amsterdam theater.

But they didn't do it just to build a Red Lobster; the restaurant is just one of many ground floor tenants of the 37 story Ernst and Young building at 582 7 Avenue. Who would have thought in 1988 that one day Times Square would have a neon-bedecked building for an...accounting firm?

At any rate, the one thing I mentioned that's remained unchanged? The fire hydrant.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

1912 - 1931 - 1912

November 1985

June 2007

The difference between these two images is so slight that I think I'll ramble on about the first picture for a bit while you puzzle it out.

This is a shot of the Empire State Building, framed by the McAlpin House on the left, and the Wilson Building on the right. West 33 Street runs through the space in the middle. This is one of those pictures I vividly remember taking; even 22 years later I can recall stopping on the west side of 6 Avenue and staring upward while I got the camera from my bag.

What drew my eye to it was the timelessness of the scene. This is a view that hasn't changed since 1931, when the Empire State opened. (At that time, both the McAlpin and the Wilson had been on their corners of Broadway since 1912.) It gave me an idea for a series of pictures of New York scenes of the past, images that could be from the 30's, 40's, or 50's, but were contemporary photographs. In the mid-1980's there were still a lot of storefronts, buildings, even some intersections and neighborhoods could be shot in ways that, if the photographer were careful, would never give the viewer a clue as to the decade, let alone the year.

Like a lot of things from that time, the idea remained merely an idea, and a few dozen pictures on a contact sheet. Little did I know that twenty years later I'd be dredging up this stuff with the opposite intent: showing the changes of the decades.

This was one of my favorites of my early black and white work, but when I began printing a year later, I discovered scuffs on the negative in the sky that I would never be able to retouch out on a print. It wasn't until this year that I finally began digging through my archives and scanning negatives that I'd never printed, as well as some that I had, just to see the difference. Needless to say, I always remembered this image, and it was one of the first that I worked on. (Retouching the scuffs out of the sky, by the way, took all of about fifteen seconds. I
love the digital world.)

So, have you figured out the changes yet? Well, like I said, they're very subtle. There's a new antenna on the Empire State, left side, on the penultimate setback. (I know, it looks like a bug climbing up, or something I forgot to clone out.) And there's a new building next to the McAlpin on 33 Street, a 34-story apartment tower which went up in 2002. Otherwise, not much has changed in the past seventy-six years.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dial Joe 1234 - Overseas Shipping

April 1990

April 2007

Now, I don't think Joe was in business back at the time of the first photo, seeing as how the ground floor of this building was taken up by the Octagon nightclub. The sign wasn't even that fresh in 1990, though on something that seems to date from the 1950's, the custom phone number was distinctive, at least.

This warehouse is on west 33 Street near 11 Avenue, facing the West Side yards of the LIRR. Looking at it on Google Earth, it's an interesting building for the area, and probably the only holdout from the days of Hell's Kitchen being a busy waterfront business area. I say interesting, because hidden behind the six-story facade is a smaller, peaked roof. The windows on the far left side of each floor are for the elevator; the white bar across each is stenciled 'Shaftway'. The phone number (JOE 1234, barely visible today) is painted on the elevator's rooftop machinery room.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reflections on a Lost City

July 1989

April 2007

While much has been added and removed from New York City in the last nineteen years, if you were to judge from this picture it would seem as if even the trees were frozen in time. Almost.

This is the south face of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and here it reflects West 34 Street between 11 and 12 Avenues. The black and white image was taken in July of 1989, probably on a Saturday afternoon. I spent a lot of Saturdays at work back then, I spent a lot of late nights weekdays, too. I was practically living like a vampire back then; a basement apartment, working 12-14 hour days in a sealed computer room. The only time I got any sunlight, it seems, my only shot for some Vitamin D, was walking the two block long concrete wall of the Javits Center fronting 12 Avenue/West Street.

As for our second image, if certain politicians and football team owners had their way, the shot from 2007 could have been a very different and certainly much more interesting picture, with the window panes revealing a busy construction site, cranes and dump trucks and cement mixers, all contributing to the birth of a stadium of Olympic proportions.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the city that can't figure out what to do with sixteen acres of land downtown also won't be tasked with constructing myriad venues for sports that only the Daily News writers even pretend to be interested in every four years.

Now if someone could get around to replacing that tree.....

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Lyric Theater Facade

October 1988

April 2007

The Lyric Theater's main entry was on 42 Street, but the theater itself fronted West 43 Street, directly opposite the New York Times building. Built in 1903, it ran legitmate shows until 1934, when it began showing movies.

The first photo was taken on October 21, 1988, early in the morning. I was working on West 44 Street by now, and my routine was to walk up 7 Avenue to Times Square, then decide which squalid side street to use for my journey west. I liked West 43 better than West 44, since 44 Street meant dodging the paper rolls and ink trucks spilling out of the
Times' loading dock. (Yes, ink trucks: stainless steel tractor-trailer tankers. If it's not smart to argue with someone who buys ink by the pound, woe to he who argues with the Ochs family.)

Even covered with 85 years of grime it's an impressive sight. Notice the three iron struts sticking out on the left side, between the single window and the three main ones? They held the original electric sign. Though this theater had a 42 Street address, 43 Street was the true front of the building. In truth, the 42 Street side was little more than a 25-foot wide facade with an arcade leading to the theater itself; The New Amsterdam, across 42 Street, follows a similar layout.

The Lyric had been empty for years and was festering when the first image was made; it would soon be taken over by the City and State of New York, then was finally condemmned. With the revival of Times Square in the mid 1990's it, along with the adjacent Apollo, was gutted. The developers combined the two spaces, and elements of both theaters, notably the Lyric's domed ceiling and the Apollo's proscenium arch, were preserved and today make up the Hilton Theater. The now cleaned-up facade of the Lyric serves as the 43 Street entrance to the building