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.