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