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.