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.)