Friday, November 23, 2018

Then and Now: Second Avenue and 51st Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Second Avenue and 51st Street, Manhattan

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan
Second Avenue at 51st Street circa 1980.

The above ordinary street scene from the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan piqued my interest regarding that particular street corner looks like now, in the 2010s. I tracked down the location as the southwest corner of Second Avenue at 51st Street. So, I decided to do a comparison of Second Avenue at 51st Street from around 1980 to the 2010s.

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan
Second Avenue at 51st Street in the 2010s (Google Street View).

The first thing that I noticed is that the A&P on the northwest corner is gone. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company already was in trouble in 1980, and it began a wave of store closings in 1981. The company stumbled on for another few decades, with moments where it seemed to be regaining strength. However, the 2009 recession hit A&P hard - why is unclear, since supermarkets should be relatively recession-proof, but the company was highly leveraged after various acquisitions - and it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. This seemed to save the chain, but then it filed for bankruptcy again in 2015 and closed all of its remaining stores by the end of that year. Considering that the location is closed in the more recent photo, this A&P may have lasted until the end of 2015. The new tenant is a CVS, which reflects an influx of pharmacies into old retail spaces. Prescriptions are a durable and growing business. People aren't cooking at home as much as they used to, either, so the switch is a sign of the times.

The buildings on the southwest corner and running down the block appear to be the same. However, they have had a lot of work done to them. The building on the corner has had windows added on the 51st Street side. The fire escape also is gone. The other buildings along the block nearest that corner also have removed their fire escape, and only a couple of those buildings down by 50th Street retain them. Personally, I like fire escapes, because they give a building character. However, I can certainly understand why you would remove them because they must be maintained and can provide entry for prowlers. The low buildings almost certainly still survive as they are by selling their lucrative air rights to those new skyscrapers behind them.

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan
At look to the northwest up Second Avenue from 50th Street (Google Street View).

When I first glanced at the most recent picture, I thought that the tall apartment building down Second Avenue was the same. However, a closer look showed that it was not the same building at all. Whatever building was there in 1980 was replaced in 1985 by Sterling Plaza, located at 255 East 49th Street by developers Fred Wilpon and Saul B. Katz. Why they felt the need to replace the building that was there in the oldest photo is unclear, but the 1980s were a period when tax incentives spurred a lot of building in Manhattan. This surge in construction peaked in the 1985-1986 period. The absence of Sterling Plaza dates the top photo to before 1985 for certain, and probably before 1984 or even 1983 considering the typical length of time of demolition and construction.

Overall, this particular block hasn't changed much at all. You still have the low-profile line of buildings and a sea of taller ones around them. Zoning laws have made this block a sea of stability, the eye of the hurricane of new construction all around it.

Thank you for visiting this entry in my "the more things change the more they stay the same" series. I enjoy putting these together because I'm as curious how these areas change as you are!

Second Avenue at 51st Street, Manhattan
Second Avenue at 51st Street in the 2010s.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Then and Now: Mulberry and Spring Streets, Manhattan

Then and Now: Corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan

Spring Street at Mulberry Street
Southeast corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan, in 1976.

One of my continuing themes in this series is how little New York changes from decade to decade despite the stereotype that it is constantly changing. I found the above picture of Mulberry and Springs streets in Manhattan from 1976 and grew curious how it looked now. So, I did a comparison of the corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets from 1976 to the 2010s.

As the below photo from Google Street View shows, the corner actually hasn't changed that much. The building on the southeast (left) corner hasn't changed, and you can verify that it is indeed the same building by noting the fire escape in both pictures (modern buildings don't have external fire escapes). The stanchion bearing the new (in 1976) "Walk" sign appears to be the same stanchion in the recent photo - they probably never have to replace those unless they're hit by a truck or something. The buildings across the street appear to be the same, too, though they are obscured in the 1976 photo by the flags for whatever celebration they were having. In 1976, they had the first "Tall Ships" celebration, so maybe it was for that.

Spring Street at Mulberry Street
The same street, looking back toward where the photograph was taken. Does this look like a neighborhood that would have a bar and liquor store on the corner? (Google Street View).

What interests more than the things that haven't changed, however, are the subtle differences between the two photographs. The business on the corner at 51 Spring Street used to be a working man's bar - a classic "pub," as they would call it in England. Behind it was a liquor store. Now, the address has a typical little restaurant and pizzeria. New York City used to be a hard-drinking city, with working-men bars all over. There are still bars, of course, but nowhere near to the same extent as in the 1970s. By and large, they tend to be "classy" joints now, not your old-style shuffle in, sit on the stool nearest the bartender, and order a double bourbon.

Another ubiquitous little sight in 1976 - not in this photo - was the little green sign for OTB Parlors. Off-track betting was legalized in 1970 and OTB sites began springing up in 1971. There were 100 such parlors throughout New York City at one point. However, betting on the horses became less and less popular with time, and the Internet offered other ways to bet (along with lotteries). After going bankrupt in 2009, the OTB establishments finally closed their doors in 2010. You won't see OTB Parlors in the city anymore, just as you won't see as many bars of the type shown in the above picture. Times change, and as people change, so do the businesses in their neighborhoods. This is gentrification at the microscopic level.

One other thing that I noticed is that they no longer allow parking on both sides of those little one-way streets. That is a very positive change, though, of course, it annoys car owners (about whom the city cares less and less). You used to have to thread your way down those tiny streets with poor visibility, fearing that someone would dart out from behind the parked cars to open their car door right in front of you, and hoping some pothole didn't you send you careening into a parked car. Now, at least you can see the people on the sidewalk on one side, leave yourself a little room between you and the parked cars, and you can drive down those streets without clenching the steering wheel in anxiety.

Thank you for stopping by to see this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. It's a lot of fun seeing how areas evolve, sometimes it is the subtle changes that take place to ordinary places over time that tells you more than anything else about the people who live there.

Spring Street at Mulberry Street
Southeast corner of Spring and Mulberry Streets, Manhattan, in the 2010s (Google Street View).

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Then and Now: Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street, Manhattan

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy
Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street in Manhattan during the 1970s.

It is common to think of New York City as a place where things are transient. People come and go, businesses come and go, buildings come and go. However, there is a lot more permanence to the Big Apple than perhaps some folks realize. This isn't due strictly to preservation laws, either, though they certainly contribute. Instead, there is an institutional orderliness in Manhattan which maintains places that serve a need. A business doesn't have to be particularly unique - it may just be another local diner or steakhouse or deli when it opens. However, some of them have that special ingredient that stands the test of time. This isn't a judgment call or a review or anything like that, it is simply fact: some joints last seemingly forever while most are gone within a few years. One of the lasting places is the Ferrara Bakery at 195 Grand Street between Mulberry & Mott Streets.

I came across the above old photo of the Ferrara Bakery from the 1970s and became curious about what the site looks like today. So, I went on Google Street View and did a comparison of Ferrara Bakery between the 1970s and the 2010s. The resulting recent photo is below.

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy
In some ways, the Ferrara sign is more iconic than the Ferrara Bakery itself. But you can't have one without the other - they're a package deal. "Leave the gun and take the cannoli" - you know what film that's from, right?

A little research soon showed me that Ferrara Bakery was established in 1892. That doesn't make it the oldest local business in Manhattan by far, as there are restaurants such as The Old Homestead Steakhouse and Kenn's Steakhouse that originated in the mid-1880s that I can think off the top of my head that are older (and I would place good odds on some other businesses being older than them, too). The old joints all play up their venerable status one way or another - if they can't claim to be the "oldest," then they are the "best known." Nothing wrong with that - as the Jack Nicholson character said in "Terms of Endearment," we all use what we can.

Ferrara's claim to fame, aside from being around since before anyone alive today was born, is that it remains in the same family after five generations. It claims to be the first Pasteria and Espresso bar in "America." I'm not even sure what a Pasteria is - I'm sure it sells pasta, but only pasta? - but I'll believe them. Who's going to check? In any event, they've been doing something right, that's for sure.

Antonio Ferrara and Enrico Scoppa opened Café A. Ferrara in 1892. That section of Grand Street is in the heart of Little Italy. So, location, location, location being the first rule of real estate, placing your Italian bakery right in the heart of what has become a venerable institution within New York City devoted to your restaurant's tradition was either serendipitous or extremely shrewd planning. Ferrara's now is surrounded by other Italian bakeries and similar joints, of course, but there's only one Ferrara Bakery. The area gets a lot of foot traffic from tourists and locals alike, and that's exactly what a bakery needs to survive. People who want to see Little Italy because everyone knows about Little Italy are going to stroll by, see something nice in Ferrara's window, and stop in Why not? It's an authentic piece of Little Italy and the immigrant experience.

A comparison of the 1970s photo with the more recent one shows that little has changed in 40+ years. The Ferrara sign appears to be the same, as does its building - although the facade has been drastically updated. Call me a traditionalist, but I preferred the original facade. It's probably a lot nicer inside now, though.

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy
Stepping back a bit, this photo shows Ferrara Bakery in perspective. I still don't like that new facade. Looks like they change the bushes out front with some regularity.

The other buildings on the block also are the same. Getting anything changed on that street probably requires multiple approves from people who have no interest in seeing a historic area change, so that is not too surprising. Ferrara's must have had some pull to get their renovation permits approved.

Overall, the area looks a bit classier than it did in the 1970s. Gone are the low-rent sandwich shops and so forth. Now there are perfectly manicured potted plants out front and everything looks nice and tidy. The fire escapes are still there to give the area that authentic look of the Lower East Side. There has been some change, but it has been subtle and tasteful - just like Ferrara's mini cannoli.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change the more they stay the same" series. Check out my other offerings, I love looking at how neighborhoods change - and don't change - over time.

Ferrara Bakery Little Italy
Ferrara Bakery on Grand Street in the 2010s (Google Street View).

Then and Now: Keen's Steakhouse, Manhattan

Then and Now: Keen's Chop House, Manhattan

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976
Keen's Chop House, 1976 (Chris Protopapas).

Keen's Steakhouse is an institution in New York City.  It is one of the grand old steakhouses in a city that always prized its beef. The Old Homestead Steakhouse at 56 Ninth Avenue, founded in 1884, beats Keen's by a year. However, Keen's also has a lot going for it, though being that close to being first but still falling short must rankle.

Chris Protopapas, a Greek immigrant, began taking photographs of ordinary street scenes in New York City in 1974. He took the above photo of Keen's Chop House at 72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018 in 1976. It's an interesting composition with the Empire State Building looming in the background - which was likely why he took the shot - so I became intrigued. I decided to do this comparison of Keen's Chop House from 1976 to the 2010s and see what the location looked like now.

Well, my research quickly showed that Keen's Chop House remains very much in business. In fact, the entire block looks the same, as you can see in the Google Street View photo of the same area in the 2010s. None of the buildings on the block has been replaced, though their facades have been subtly altered in places. This is one of the most unchanged blocks I've found in midtown, in fact.

You know, of course, that the Empire State Building is still there. Unfortunately for our comparison picture, a building on 35th Street now blocks the Empire State Building from our vantage point at the intersection of 36th Street and Sixth Avenue. However, if you look very carefully at the photo at the bottom, you still can barely see the very tip of the Empire State Building's television mast just above the intersection of the two buildings in the background. A building has to be tall to be able to have any part of it still be spotted from this extreme angle above those tall buildings. If you were unfamiliar with the area, however, you'd never even notice it until you walked down the block and saw its massive presence.

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976
Keen's Chop House (Google Street View).

Keen's (now called Keen's Steakhouse because the term "Chop House" has gone out of style) opened in 1885. That was the golden age of steak restaurants, places for the wealthy. Lüchow's on 14th Street was another well-known example. While Lüchow's closed in 1984 and its building was demolished in 1995, Keen's survives pretty much exactly as it was decades ago. It has become a tourist attraction in its own right, boasting 90,000 clay pipes which it calls the largest such collection in the world.

Other than Keen's, the entire block seems like it is caught in a time warp. The street lamps, one of which you can clearly see in the 1976 photo but which is obscured by the dark background in the photo below, are still the same. The fire escape on the 5 Boro Burger building at 80 West 36th Street is still there, none the worse for wear after more than 40 years, though they have removed the little ornamental cornice on that building probably because it deteriorated with time and became a hazard.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this installment of this series showing that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I hope you enjoy these little history excursions as much as I do putting them together!

Keen's Chop House on West 36th Street 1976
The same vantage point of Keen's Steakhouse on West 36th Street, Manhattan today (Google Street View).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Then and Now: City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, New York City

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street
City Diner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan around 1980.

When you live in the city, little joints that the world seems to pass by loom large. If you find a good local diner, for instance, you treasure it. You get to know the workers, they get to know your names, you learn what days they have certain specials, you discover little oddities like whether they sell cheap bagels at 8 a.m. on every other Thursday - that sort of thing. Then the joint moves, or you move, and one way or another you lose track. Well, let's make a comparison of City Dinner at 163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan from the 1980s to the 2010s and see what happened to that location.

I never know what happened to a particular location before I start researching it. It could be completely different, with no remaining reference points at all. However, although City Dinner is no longer at 163 West 23rd Street, the spot hasn't changed much at all in the intervening decades. While you may be wondering what is so special about some old diner, there's a hidden story to City Diner that you may find as interesting as I did.

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street
City Diner/Malibu Diner in New York today. (Photo by Malibu Diner Facebook page).

City diner opened around 1978 in a brick building that had once been home to the Traffic Cafeteria (the building still bears the name). It became the Malibu Diner in 1981, though ownership appears to have remained either unchanged or little disturbed. So, as of this writing, Malibu Diner has been there for four decades. That's enough time to build up a wealth of expertise in how to please your customers.

As shown in the photo below taken from Google Street View, 163 West 23rd Street is long gone. However, what has taken its place? Why, another diner, of course. This one is called Malibu Diner. It is open 24/7 and generally gets good reviews. Do you want water in a glass instead of a cup? The Malibu Diner is your place. People call it a "slice of old-time New York," and our comparison shows that isn't far off the mark. The Malibu Diner is one of those places where you go to get a classic tuna melt, or maybe a Bison Burger Deluxe. Nobody will make it exactly like one of those joints, which have been perfecting their craft literally for decades - as we can see. Oh, and it also delivers - you can't beat that!

Oh, the Malibu Diner is a Greek Diner, though many of the workers there now apparently are Spanish speakers. Why the owners decided to change the name to "Malibu Diner" back in the day is a bit of a mystery. In the recent photo below, you can see the entrance to 165 West 23rd Street to the left of the diner (this is on the north side of 23rd Street) remains unchanged. The City Diner building facade doesn't appear to have been touched in the 40-odd years since the above photo from around 1978-1980 was taken. They have added an awning - well, you do have to make some concessions to the passage of time. I think the awning gives the diner a classier look, but City Diner looked just fine without it, too.

One of the secrets to why City Diner/Malibu Diner has survived is that it has a devoted clientele at nearby Selis Manor, 135 West 23rd Street. Just down the block to the right from the perspective of the photos, Selis Manor is a 200-apartment building that offers special housing for the blind. Selis Manor, founded by a blind newspaperman, opened in 1980.

Selis Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street
The view from Selis Manor, at the right, to Malibu Diner at the left (marked by the red canopy). Google Street View.

You might notice the timing. This was right after City Diner opened, and the owners of City Diner recognized a community need that needed to be filled. Many of the visually impaired folks have difficulty chopping up their food, so they simply come down to the Malibu Diner or order delivery. Malibu Diner always plays music outside so its visually impaired patrons know that they've arrived. Malibu Diner features menus in Braille - how often are you going to find that? My friends, there's a secret to every successful business, and you just learned Malibu Diner's secret.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in "the more things change, the more they stay the same." There are lessons in the success of the Malibu Diner that wise readers will appreciate. Thanks for stopping by!

City Diner Malibu Diner 163 West 23rd Street
163 West 23rd Street, Manhattan in the 2010s (Google Steet View).


Then and Now: Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan

Then and Now: Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, New York City

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan
Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, the mid-1970s.

The photo above appears to be from the 1970s. The World Trade Center is completed, which puts us after roughly 4 April 1973. The West Side Elevated Highway is still intact, and we know that that was torn down between the spring and fall of 1981. So, we are somewhere between 1973 and 1981. The cars look as though they belong in the mid-1970s to me, so about 1975. I decided to do a comparison of Christopher Street at the West Side Highway between the mid-1970s and 2018.

The first thing to do is to make sure that we're located in the right place, the southern corner of Christopher Street as it exits toward the West Side Elevated Highway. Notice the building to the left of the young lady riding her bicycle. It has distinctive window cornices. Well, a close-up of the facade of that building, directly below, reveals that building to be 144-150 Barrow Street, which was being renovated when the Google vehicle rolled by. So, we have a positive match.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan
144-150 Barrow Street recently, which is the building to the left in the 1970s photo (Google Street View).

Just to orient anyone unfamiliar with the area, here is a photo of the same location looking due west - the direction that the lady on the bicycle is riding. In the 1970s, though, she would not have had this view. The view to the river would have been completely blocked by the elevated highway except between the girders. You can see Hoboken across the river in the below picture quite clearly.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan

It appears from the current site of the 1970s photo, below, that the other buildings are the same, too, though it's tough to verify that the building to the left of the one with the window cornices is the same - it probably is, but with a new facade. New York City preservation laws protect these run-down old buildings, else they would all be replaced by high-rises.

The most distinctive changes, of course, are the replacement of the World Trade Center with the One World Trade Center Freedom Tower and the removal of the elevated highway. I bet nobody in the 1970s would have thought that the brand-new World Trade Center would be long gone by 2018, but things happen. Of course, everyone gets sentimental about the horrific tragedy of 9/11 and all the deaths that occurred then. Purely from an aesthetics point of view, the Freedom Tower is an improvement over the bulky World Trade Center in my very humble opinion. I'm sure many prefer the look of the old WTC, and, obviously, the tragic cost of having to replace the original was a price nobody would ever want to pay willingly. But, you make the best of a bad situation and move on, that's the story of the Big Apple and this particular street corner.

This area has been the subject of fierce controversy over the years. The initial thought was to build Westway. The highway would have been placed well to the right of where it is now, with the entire waterfront filled in with concrete and new buildings. Given the huge preservation effort in the city which protects how things are, however, Westway never had a chance. So, what resulted was the rather inefficient highway shown below which effectively cuts the waterfront off from civilization. There really was no perfect solution, but at least there isn't a hulking steel mountain in place which blocks off access and the views of the Hudson and New Jersey.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan
The West Side Elevated Highway in 1978, after they had torn down the portion north of Jane Street. This is a bit further north of the other photo bur around the same time period and looking past the spot of the other photo some blocks to the south. The section of the highway that was removed first, incidentally, was where the accident occurred in 1973 which led to the highway being condemned. It is hard to tell, but it appears the street lamps have been removed from the elevated highway by this time. So, that places the top photo most likely before this 1978 photo.

The area is much nicer now. Notice the worn streets of the 1970s, which cars would rumble across and which tested their shocks. Those streets were a lot more common back in the day and gave the area a distinctive character. Now, everything is smoothly paved just like everywhere else in the city.

One other major change is the presence of trees in the photo below. Back in the 1970s, it was rare to find trees outside of the various parks, and the trees that were there were usually sad specimens. The trees give the area color and vitality that was completely absent in the stark concrete jungle of the 1970s. However, the basic idea is completely unchanged: using the city's edges to move traffic. That will probably never change, it's just too convenient even if it decapitates the shoreline and turns it into an afterthought to life in the city.

I appreciate your visiting this latest in my series of "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I hope you find it as interesting as I do in preparing it for you! Thanks for stopping by.

Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, Manhattan
Christopher Street at the West Side Highway, the mid-1970s (Google Street View).


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Then and Now: Wienerwald at 48th and Broadway, Manhattan

Then and Now: Broadway at 48th Street, Manhattan

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
A 1970s postcard showing the old Ramada Inn location at 48th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

I came across the above hotel postcard from the 1970s and noticed something oddly familiar about it. I looked closer and then looked at the description on the back of the card and it hit me: Wienerwald!

Yes, that's a green Wienerwald sign on the front of this Ramada Inn card. Anyone who has been following this blog knows that in two previous posts I have identified two Wienerwald locations: at Broadway and 51st Street and in Times Square at 51st Street. It also turns out that there was a third Wienerwald location, and here it is shown in the postcard: at 790 Eighth Avenue at 48th Street.

Broadway at 48th Street in the 1970s
This blurb from the 26 May 1980 New York magazine was my Rosetta Stone in unlocking the locations of the three New York City Wienerwald Restaurants.

What is Wienerwald? It is a chain of Austrian chicken restaurants. Yes, it says "Wiener" in the name, but the restaurant, as far as I know, did not, in fact, serve wieners. It was just an early chain franchise restaurant, founded in 1950, that was vaguely along the lines of KFC and served chicken. At its height in 1982, Wienerwald had 880 or so locations in the United States, but that is when it filed for bankruptcy protection and shuttered all of its United States restaurants. It was a cautionary tale in expanding too far and too fast and getting overstretched. Wienerwald still exists in its native Austria but is long gone from the United States. The word "Wienerwald," incidentally, has nothing at all to do with wieners and actually means "Vienna Woods."

Having identified the location of the last Wienerwald, I decided to do a comparison of Broadway at 48th Street from the 1970s to the present day. I am fascinated by the business strategy of placing three franchise locations in Manhattan within a few blocks of each other as if Time Square was the only suitable restaurant location in the entirety of New York City. The local Wienerwald subsidiary was formed using this address in 1970, and it went inactive in 1993.

The 48th Street Wienerwald was located in the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, which apparently was a Ramada Inn at that time. It was located at 790 Eighth Avenue, New York, New York. The building was erected in 1962, has 14 stories, and is still there. I have placed below a recent shot taken from Google Street View of the building from approximately the same orientation as the postcard.

Broadway at 48th Street in 2018
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

As can be seen from the comparison, very little has changed at the corner of 48th Street and 8th Avenue from the 1970s to 2018. The Wienerwald location has become a touristy gift store, while the hotel remains in use as a hotel. There now is a large tree out front of the old Wienerwald location, part of a long-term New York City project to inject some greenery into the city. The site is a testament to how little actually changes in New York decade after decade. The same building, properly maintained, will likely be there for another 50 years, and, while the Wienerwald Restaurants of the world will come and go, the ground-level stores will continue to cater to the needs of visitors.

Thank you for visiting this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series on the evolution of street scenes.

Broadway at 48th Street in 2018
A view of the Broadway at 48th Street location in Manhattan taken in 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Friday, November 9, 2018

Then and Now: Broadway at 51st Street, Manhattan

Then and Now: Wienerwald at Broadway and 51st Street, Manhattan

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
Broadway at 51st Street circa. 1980.

Old photos of distinctive street locations intrigue me. What do they look like now? Sometimes it is easy to identify the location in an old photo, and sometimes it isn't easy at all. This was one of the latter locations. However, ultimately there was a match.

I found the above photo of the corner of Broadway and 51st Street in Manhattan from the 1970s or early 1980s and decided to investigate to see how the corner looks now. So, I did a comparison of the corner of 51st Street and Broadway in Manhattan from around 1980 to 2018. I took a photo from Google Street View below for the current view of the corner.

I actually had all sorts of trouble pinpointing the location in this photo. The only thing that stands out in the photo is the Wienerwald location on the corner at 1650 Broadway. My sources said that there was a Wienerwald on 790 Eighth Avenue at 48th Street, but I could not get that intersection to line up with the above photo. Finally, I got frustrated and did a little more research, which is always a good idea in such situations. I finally pieced everything together when I found the following item in New York magazine from 26 May 1980.

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
New York Magazine, 26 May 1980, page 115.

So, as you can see from the New York magazine entry, there were not two Wienerwald restaurants in the Times Square area back in the 1970s and early 1980s - there were instead three Wienerwald restaurants. It had not occurred to me that a German company would place three locations literally within a few blocks of each other where they would cannibalize each other's business, but such was the case.

The below photo of the southeast corner of 51st Street at Broadway from Google Street View does line up, though a lot has changed in the intervening years. The best indication that this is the same street corner as in the above photo from ca. 1980 is the presence of the windows above where the Wienerwald restaurant. Some of the buildings in the background are the same, too, but they aren't distinctive enough to really draw any conclusions. The locations do match up.

Wienerwald was an Austrian restaurant chain, one of the earliest, that was formed in 1950 and accumulated 880 locations by the time of its bankruptcy in 1982. It did not serve wieners, but instead served chicken - the name "Wienerwald" actually means "Vienna Woods." You can see little pictures of chickens on the marquee, in fact.

Why you would name a chain of restaurants in the United States with such a misleading name is unclear, but the chain did have some success before McDonald's and other US fast food joints, er, ate its lunch. Wienerwald remains in existence in its home country, with about eight locations, but it was forced to shutter its US locations in 1982. The main location for the New York City restaurants was at the 48th Street location, where the corporation had its subsidiary based. That corporation has been "inactive" since 1993.

Now, the location serves as the home of Ellen's Stardust Diner. People have to eat, and this busy location still serves that basic need. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Thanks for visiting this entry in my review of historical street photos and how they look now. I hope you enjoy them!

Wienerwald Broadway 51st Street
The corner of 51st Street and Broadway ca. 2018, using Google Street View.

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Then and Now: 7th Avenue in Times Square, Manhattan

Then and Now: Wienerwald in Times Square

7th Avenue Times Square 1975
1560 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, New York in the spring of 1975 (Nick DeWolf).

Times Square in New York City is known as the "Crossroads of the world," among other things, because it is so busy. Some parts of Times Square, however, remain unchanging year after year and decade after decade. If something works, you stick with it, and that applies in Times Square as much as anywhere else. I stumbled across the above 1975 photo of 1560 Times Square, an address located on the east side of 7th Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets, and grew curious about what it looks like now. So, I did a comparison of 1560 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan from Spring 1975 to 2018. I used Google Street View for the most recent shot below.

It is easy to pinpoint the exact location due to the presence of the Embassy Theater (aka Embassy 1 Theater) which is at the extreme left of the 1975 shot (it is showing Irwin Allen's "Earthquake"). The Embassy closed in 1997 and, after renovation, was reopened in 1998 as the Times Square Visitor Center (retaining its iconic marquee). One of the most noticeable parts of the 1975 photo is the big green Wienerwald sign. Wienerwald ("Vienna Woods" in German) was a large (860 restaurants) chain of Austrian chicken restaurants (no, not wieners as you might have thought, which may have contributed to some of its difficulties in the United States). It was founded in the 1950s and was one of the first true franchises, going international long before its international counterparts. Wienerwald continued at this location until roughly 1982, when the company filed for bankruptcy. As part of its reorganization, Wienerwald closed all of its American restaurants (some Wienerwald restaurants continue in Austria).

Well, people have to eat, so another restaurant moved into the old Wienerwald spot. It didn't serve chicken, except on sandwiches.

7th Avenue Times Square 2013
This shot of the old Wienerwald site was taken 28 December 2013 (Paul Rudoff).

Yes, McDonald's took over the Wienerwald location around 1984 and has been there ever since. There is a certain irony to this since the growth of the US fast-food franchise industry is part of the reason why Wienerwald itself closed its store in the United States. This location at 1560 Seventh Avenue is a fairly famous spot. It was in Bobby Brown's music video for his song "On Our Town," for instance. Of course, any time a film shows someone traveling through Times Square it is likely to give a glimpse of the spot. As shown in the Google Street View shot below, the McDonalds itself has become somewhat of an institution in Times Square.

This just shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A good location for a food establishment is always going to be one so long as the area remains popular, and Times Square continues to attract visitors from around the world. It's would probably be a bit of a let-down for German tourists to wind up eating at a Wienerwald in Times Square, so maybe a more American-themed restaurant in that spot is for the best.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoyed this brief excursion back into the history of Times Square as much as I did.

7th Avenue Times Square 2018
1560 Seventh Avenue in Times Square, Manhattan ca. 2018 (Google Street View).

I also have pages for the other Wienerwald locations in New York City, there were three in all:
Why were they so closely bunched together? You'd have to ask them. But, there likely was enough foot traffic in the area to sustain them, so why not?


Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx

Then and Now: East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1980.

The South Bronx is an interesting place for urban explorers. So much of it remains untouched for decade after decade that it becomes a treasure trove of the past. There are several reasons why things tend to stay the same for longer periods of time than elsewhere in areas such as the South Bronx. The main reason is the lack of investment in new buildings and infrastructure. This, in turn, derives from things like location in relation to more popular areas, transportation, and crime. The above picture from the South Bronx in 1980 piqued my interest, so I decided to compare the Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue in the Bronx from 1980 to 2018. To do this, I took a current grab from Google Street View, which is below.

As the above photo from 1980 shows, the South Bronx in 1980 was a gritty place. It is a stark view, an endless expanse of concrete with some tenements and some strip mall-type buildings on the street. Citibank has a branch there, looking remarkably like a fortress with thick walls and a stark paint job. Overall, it is a forbidding landscape, which in all fairness may have something to do with when the photo was taken. However, it does not look like a very welcoming place, and, unless you have some banking to do, not the type of area that you would want to tarry in for any length of time.

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992.

A picture of the same corner at East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, in 1992 shows that little had changed other than the tenants of the buildings. In a sign of the times, the Citibank branch had become a video store. Everyone wanted to own a video store in the late '80s and early '90s, it was the "hot thing." It looks like pretty much everything else is unchanged from 1980. The buildings down the street to the right are still there, and the billboards are still in use. The billboards are evocative of the era but do give the neighborhood a somewhat junky feel. There is a small tree down the block which breaks the starkness a bit.

In the photo below from a recent Google Street View map, Most of the buildings appear to be the same. The tenements certainly are still there, and it appears that the Citibank building has simply been converted into a Popeye's restaurant. The street lights look pretty much the same, as do the street signs on the pole. There are no billboards anymore. The buildings behind the tenements are gone, but, otherwise, the photo shows how little has really changed at this particular corner. The replacement of the Citibank with a video store and then a fast food joint pretty much mirrors the transition of the city, as many now complain that the only stores you find anymore are fast food joints and similar high-traffic businesses that provide mundane conveniences.

There is one subtle change in the most recent photo, however, that makes a big difference. The small tree in the 1992 photo now makes a big impact in the photo below. In fact, there isn't any suggestion of any living thing at all in the 1980 photo, and the tree in the 1992 photo is almost inconsequential. Comparing the 1980 photo with the more recent one shows how much some greenery softens a landscape that otherwise looks harsh and forbidding. The city has made that change in many locations, and it greatly improves the quality of life of those that live there. The streets and buildings may be the same, but the little touches make all the difference.

Anyway, thank you for visiting this installment of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you enjoy history as much as I do!

East 149th Street Bronx
The Northwest corner of East 149th Street at Prospect Avenue, Bronx, ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Then and Now: Carmine's at the Seaport, Manhattan

Then and Now: Carmine's

Beekman and Front Street, 1982.

The South Street Seaport became a sort of theme park long ago, but there is some real history there. The above photograph that was taken in 1982 on Beekman and Front Streets captured some of that history. I decided to compare the change over the years at Beekman Street and Front Street from 1982 to 2018. I took a picture from Google Street View below to show the change.

The unidentified gentleman hauling the hand truck appears to be hauling some fish from the Fulton Fish Market to one of the restaurants - perhaps Carmine's Bar and Grill in the background. The cobblestones appear rougher back in the day than they are now, undoubtedly smoothed over because tourists don't like a bumpy ride. You want it authentic - but not too authentic, if you know what I mean.

Carmine's sat on the corner at 140 Beekman Street. There are several "Carmine's" in New York City, but this Carmine's was the "real one." Founded in 1903, Carmine's was the oldest restaurant in the South Street Seaport until its closing on 30 June 2010. While you might think that the 2009 recession was to blame, in fact, it was the same story that closed Florent and so many other famous eateries and had nothing to do with the recession: the landlord simply jacked up the rent and that's all she wrote. In New York City, not only do you have to provide a valuable service and establish a clientele, but you also have to withstand constantly rising rents. It's a tough task that takes out some of the best old restaurants and replaces them with nail salons, dry cleaners, and chain restaurants.


Carmine's was renowned for its Italian food, not necessarily for its seafood. In fact, when you go to those old joints and order "authentic" seafood, be prepared, because it often isn't that tasty dish that you were expecting. I ordered "original" clam chowder at one of them in the Seaport once and it sure was authentic, and it also sure was practically inedible for my untutored palate. Anyway, Carmine's was a classic old joint in the best sense of the word that anyone who ate at one in the Seaport back in the day would recognize. It had all the trimmings: the ancient dark wooden bar, dark wooden booths, the inevitable seafood decor of nets and so forth, mature waitresses who had been there since World War II - you get the drill. The local cops and dockworkers would hang out there, so you know it had to be good.


In 1982, the year the picture was taken, the Seaport took a turn for the better - for tourists, at least - when redevelopment began to turn it into the theme park that it is today. Prior to that, the South Street Seaport was simply a working seaport, with the overpowering smell of fish from nearby Fulton Fish Market always in the air (Fulton left in 2005). There would usually be a big pile of fish or, well, something in front of the Fish Market in the morning, and that was the time of day to close the car windows. It was the kind of place where you didn't want to really spend much time, the kind where you just assumed "deals" were taking place under the highway and the cops liked to park. We drove through often, never stopped. These days, in my very humble opinion, the only reason to go to the Seaport is the mall, where you can grab a bite or a drink and then go out and sit for free with fabulous views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. The Seaport's owner - yes, it's the Howard Hughes Corporation - recently replaced the mall with another mall. And so it goes...

The owner of Carmine's made noises for a while about reopening the restaurant somewhere else, but that almost never happens, and it didn't this time, either. Now occupied by Vbar Seaport, a generic Italian eatery perfect for the tourists, the building is the same (minus the classic old Carmine's signage). There's still an Italian restaurant there, but the locals miss their Carmine's.

I hope you enjoyed this little stroll into the past and back into the present.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that's the story of Carmine's at the South Street Seaport.

The old Carmine's location ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Then and Now: Florent Diner in Manhattan

Then and Now: Florent Diner, Meatpacking District, Manhattan

R&L Lunch ca. 1938, when it opened.

I stumbled across the above photo of the R&L Luncheonette at 69 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District stirred some memories for me. So, I decided to do a comparison of the R&L Luncheonette aka Florent's from 1938 to 2018. I grabbed an image from Google Street View below for the comparison.

The R&L opened its doors at 69 Gansevoort Street, which is one of the more obscure streets in one of the more obscure sections of Manhattan. One of the few food places in a grim area full of working men working late nights, the R&L was a stalwart in a rapidly changing neighborhood. The High Line, now a nearby park, was still operating when the R&L opened, bringing in frozen turkey and beef for the meatpacking operations around the corner on Washington Street.

It wasn't much to look at - just a joint, in the middle of the block with a Formica counter running down the left side - but the R&L filled a need. There couldn't have been more than a couple dozen tables (the certificate of occupancy provided for 74), all squeezed together with those plastic chairs that you thought hadn't escaped the 1960s. The restaurant was hard to find and even harder to find in the dark. It was in an area that was not exactly the safest in the city. You were quite likely to pass more than one streetwalker on the way of indeterminate gender. That's the way it was, and that's the way the locals liked it.

Gansevoort Street
Gansevoort back in the day in this undated photo. The R&L (if it was open yet) was located down the block to the left.

For all that, the R&L did good business for three decades. It stayed open 24 hours a day seven days a week and was a favorite spot of the nearby workers. It easily could have closed in the 1960s when the meatpacking operations began to wither, or in the 1980s when the club scene took off. However, just as the neighborhood changed into a center of the New York gay scene, openly gay French cook Florent Morellet, who had failed at his previous restaurant, took it over in 1985. That began the last, and famous, phase of the R&L, which Morellet renamed Florent.

Gansevoort Street
The same view of Gansevoort Street ca. 2018 (Google Street View).

Morellet had given his father, conceptual artist François Morellet, a party at the Brooklyn Museum, and while in town spent some time in the meatpacking district. At that time, the area had clubs like Hellfire, Anvil, Mineshaft... you get the picture. The area was alive throughout the night because of the meatpackers, with trucks lined up at 2 a.m. to deliver their sausage and beef slabs, and also the clubbers. Everyone had money to spend, there were very few nearby places to spend it, and they were hungry.

The sign in the front window which told you that you had finally found the right place in the darkness.

Florent signed a ten-year lease for $1350 a month with the family of the original owner and opened his restaurant in August 1985. He kept the original sign and furnishings and got his liquor license in 1969. Florent gave both the meatpackers and the club kids what they wanted. Roy Lichtenstein ate there all the time, but many other celebrities did, too, as there was a major recording studio nearby. If you wanted onion soup at 3:35 in the morning, you headed to Florent. It served the standard diner food mixed in with a French touch: mussels, pâté, steak frites, hamburgers, cheeseburgers. The eggs were a great choice for brunch with a side order of fries and some black coffee on a cold January morning. The payphone near the front door got a workout, as did the cigaret machine - $1 a pack for Marlboros back in the day. There were unusual events that you didn't expect anywhere north of Fire Island, such as the annual Bastille Day drag party. It was what it was, either that atmosphere was to your taste or it wasn't. If you frequented Tea Time at The Pines and lived in the Village with an occasional trip out to the Hamptons on the jitney, or you went down to Key West now and then... or you just liked great food at any hour, you felt right at home at Florent. Florent was good people, as we used to say.

Florent finally silent at the end.

Well, as you can see from the below picture, Florent has gone, just as Dave's Corner Luncheonette and so many classic New York fast food joints have gone. The first harbinger of doom was when Florent instituted a children's menu due to the influx of families to the neighborhood. Hey, absolutely nothing wrong with that, families are great, it just signaled another wrenching shift for the neighborhood that a lot of joints weren't going to survive. Florent was one of the casualties.

Florent closed 29 June 2008, a classic victim of gentrification. The landlord, the family of the man who ran the original diner, jacked up the monthly rent to $30,000. They opened their own restaurant, but it quickly failed. This was the first in a succession of tenants after Florent had held down the fort for 23 years.

I was fortunate to patronize Florent before it closed - it seemed eternal, because it was always busy and who else would want to run a place in that dingy area? But the entire area has changed - Hogs & Heifers around the corner is long gone, too - and now the Meatpacking District is full of fancy boutiques and chic restaurants. Community Board 2 has been very picky about tenants there, and there have been several since Florent closed.

The tongue-in-cheek "For Rent" sign after Florent closed.

The facade of the R&L Diner lives on, a true New York landmark. There remains a red neon sign in the same spot as always, it just doesn't say "Florent" anymore. People remember. Oh, and Florent Morellet? He chucked it in and moved to Bushwick.

Anyway, thanks for visiting this page of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you find them fun and interesting!

The R&L ca. 2018, now a clothing boutique. The owners have maintained the traditional facade and red neon light in the front window (Google Street View).