Sunday, June 9, 2019

Then and Now: Spring Street at West Broadway, NYC

West Broadway During a Blizzard

West Broadway at Spring Street, NYC
West Broadway at Spring Street, 1983.
The photo above was taken in 1983 following the Blizzard of 1983. While there's no particular reason to remember the Blizzard of 1983 unless you lived through it, those who did may recall that it was the largest single snowfall in New York in many years at over 21". Large snowfalls aren't that rare in New York City, but over 20 inches is usually pretty memorable. Anyway, I pinpointed the location of this photo on Google Street View, so this is a comparison of West Broadway at Spring Street from 1983 to 2017.

West Broadway at Spring Street, NYC
West Broadway at Spring Street in November 2017 (Google Street View).
As is usually the case, the reasons why the original photographer decided to snap a picture at a particular location has nothing to do with why I'm interested in the photograph. The Blizzard of 1983 certainly was quite scenic, but I'm more interested in the buildings and the overall atmosphere of the scene rather than the particular events being shown. The original photograph was a well-framed shot, with the Twin Towers leading the eye down to the snowy street scene that apparently was the point of the photo. Comparing the 1983 and 2017 scene, one can see that the shot wouldn't really work as well today now that the Twin Towers are not there to put such a vivid exclamation point on the scene.

West Broadway at Spring Street, NYC
Stepping back a bit, about 20 yards further north but looking in the same direction at West Broadway and Spring Street (Google Street View).
As with many historic areas of downtown Manhattan, the buildings haven't changed much in the past few decades. In fact, they probably won't change much in the next few decades, either, considering all the hoops that building owners have to jump through in order to make alterations to buildings in historic zones. However, the ambiance of the scene has changed. The buildings look a bit better maintained and, most importantly, there are trees where previously there was bare concrete. This is something that we see time after time in comparisons of New York street scenes from the 1980s and earlier to the present day. While there aren't a large number of trees along West Broadway, the ones there now definitely soften the hard edges of the buildings. It also is evident that some of the buildings have removed their fire escapes or at least painted them to minimize their distinctiveness, which somewhat reduces the quaintness of the scene and makes it look a touch more modern.

West Broadway at Spring Street, NYC
West Broadway at Spring Street, looking north (Google Street View).
Turning around and looking north, we can see that the original shot wouldn't have worked as well facing in this direction. There aren't any buildings such as the World Trade Center to provide a way to direct your eye down to the street scene. The ubiquitous trees, however, show that the entire area has been transformed from a harsh sea of concrete and bricks into a more mellow where people are a bit less removed from nature and the entire scene looks more residential.

West Broadway at Spring Street, NYC
At first I thought that the fire escapes on the buildings on the west side of West Broadway had been removed. On closer inspection, however, I see that they simply have been camouflaged.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you look at some of my other entries which show how things have changed, but also how much has not.


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