Sunday, June 9, 2019

Then and Now: 8th Street Near 6th Avenue, NYC

East 8th Street at MacDougal, New York City

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
8th Street at 6th Avenue, New York City, in 1983 (Robert Alan Clayton).
I stumbled upon the above photograph of East 8th Street, New York City, from 1983 and decided to try and track down the same spot using Google Street View and see what it looks like now. This is an area I am very familiar with and, in fact, walked this street in 1983. So, it is not as if I'm exploring unfamiliar territory and, in fact, the 1983 photo is pretty much how I think of the street today despite its changes. It only took a few minutes to pin down the precise location. So, this is a comparison of East 8th Street in New York City from 1983 to 2018.

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
The same spot on East 8th Street in 2018, using Google Street View.
There are a lot of old buildings from the late 1800s in Greenwich Village which are still there, and that usually helps you to fix the precise spot on a particular street. Such was the case here, as that red sandstone building on the left (I don't know it's exact age, but it has that late-19th Century air, at least to me) helpfully still stands. There's also a slightly taller building right beyond it (cut off in the original photo) which has distinctive windows that helps identify that one as the actual red building (there are several on the block). So, I was able to pinpoint almost the exact same spot using the Google Street View capture of July 2018.

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
Just a tad further to the east on 8th Street. You can just see MacDougal coming into view up ahead on the right.
A lot of Greenwich Village is protected for historical reasons, and that also helps to keep the same street views through time. In fact, it's almost like cheating, because they intentionally keep the same views. However, it's still a testament to the community that they have put in place ways to maintain some kind of continuity with the past. While the names change and life definitely goes on, the basic streetscapes change little over the decades.

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
East 8th Street looking over the original photographer's shoulder back toward the west. In case you were wondering, Gray's Papaya on the corner is no longer there. Neither is Brentano's on the south side (it's empty but at least the building looks the same). Maybe I'll get to those in a future entry in this series.
Just looking over the street as it is today, East 8th Street is not quite as funky as it used to be. I don't think that head shop on the southern side of the street is still there, for instance. However, as these photos should show, there are a lot more trees. This is very common throughout New York City, as there obviously was a very determined plan to reintroduce trees to reduce the sharp and almost angry vistas so apparent in old photos. They definitely soften the feel of the street and give it a more residential character. Another interesting change is that they've replaced those generic sodium streetlamps (and I know there are some real experts on those city streetlamps out there, I'm not pretending to be) that look more appropriate on highways with faux "old tyme" hooked types. The new ones look completely phony but also soften the landscape. I would say that seeing that sort of change sort of puts a great big stamp that says "Gentrification" across current photos of the street.

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
Looking back toward the west from MacDougal (on the left).
I also want to note a change apparent on 8th Street that is a little more subtle but quite common in comparison photos like these. There are a lot of people on the street in the 1983 photo, but very few in the more recent ones. In fact, the 2018 photos look almost barren and desolate. That may be unfair in this particular comparison and may have to do with the day and time when the more recent photos were snapped (it does seem to have been fairly early in the morning). However, the further back in time you go, the more people on the street you usually see in almost any city photos (except in the big tourist spots like Times Square). That is how I remember East 8th Street, btw, always packed with people. Some of the big traffic spots on 8th Street, such as Gray's Papaya on the corner, are gone, which may reflect this change. I don't quite know what the change might mean, but it probably says something about the broader culture at large rather than anything about a specific spot on East 8th Street. There also seem to be more vacant storefronts (in fact, a lot more). This jibes with some comments I've seen from people saying that "the rent is too damn high" and the cheap Internet operations are making it difficult for ordinary street front businesses of the past to survive. Note the US mail truck in the recent pictures, perhaps delivering packages from Amazon or eBay.

8th Street at MacDougal in NYC
Trees, trees, and more trees on East 8th Street, but where are the people?
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Feel feel to check some of my other comparisons of the past and present.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, Desolation Row 21st Century-style? I loved the old funky street. The 70s and 80s were a lively time to be in NYC.