Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Then and Now: Downing Street at Bedford Street, NYC

Bedford Street at Downing Street, NYC

Bedford Street at Downing Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bedford at Downing Street, looking west, during the 1970s.
We're going for an excursion on this entry, one that stretches from the lazy days of the 1970s to the Internet Age. While the neighborhood we're looking at may seem kind of sleepy, in fact, it has come cutting-edge businesses that matter to people across the country every day. Bedford Street is in the West Village of Manhattan. It connects Christopher Street in the north with Sixth Avenue and West Houston Street in the south. It predates the 1811 grid pattern of Manhattan and is oriented slightly more to the north than the grid-pattern streets as they approach the Hudson River. It is a classic West Village residential area that doesn't change much from decade to decade. I found the above picture identified only as "Bedford Street" and decided to see if I could find the exact corner. Having found the spot, here is a comparison of Bedford Street at Downing Street in the West Village from the 1970s to 2018.

Bedford Street at Downing Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Bedford at Downing Street, looking west, in November 2017 (Google Street View).
Fortunately, the area has barely changed at all in four decades, so it only took a few minutes to identify this side street as Downing Street. The original photograph shows a building with distinctive crosses etched into its side, and fortunately (for our purposes) they are still there. The other buildings on both sides of Downing Street still have their fire escapes, and the building all the way down the block still has its distinctive humps. Thus, it appears we have the same spot, and comparison of the two photos shows that

Bedford Street at Downing Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The northwest corner of Downing and Bedford Streets, November 2017 (Google Street View). 
While the pictures look pretty darn similar despite being separated by about 40 years, there are some subtle changes that may tell us something about the changes in the inhabitants over that time. One thing I noticed was that the supermarket visible on the corner in the 1970s shot has morphed into a restaurant, "Emily," located at 35 Downing Streets. Supposedly, she has the best burgers in town, though I've never been there. Replacing a supermarket with a restaurant is telling because it seems as though people don't cook for themselves as much as they used to. Why that is I will leave to the experts, but there seem to be far fewer of those little neighborhood markets these days and more fast-food type places. So, while it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from one small change, this one seems to be part of a broader societal pattern.

Bedford Street at Downing Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Downing Street, NYC (Google Street View).
Another thing that struck me was the trees. Unlike so many photos from New York City in the 1970s, there actually were some trees on Downing Street back then. I'm no tree expert, but they appear to me at least to be the same trees, with some more added. They certainly are taller now than they were four decades ago. This tells me that Downing Street already was nicely arranged back in the 1970s and someone has been taking care of things there. That's the sign of a well-maintained area populated by people who care about their neighborhood.

225 Varick Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
225 Varick Street, NYC, in November 2017 (Google Street View).
The large building in the distance of the 1970s photo (now partially obscured by trees) is 225 Varick Street. That building, built in 1926, now happens to be home to Squarespace, which signed its lease in 2014. It runs through 2029. This is another sign of the times, as the Lower Manhattan neighborhoods of Tribeca, the West Village, Soho, Chelsea, and the Flatiron District have become favored spots for big tech companies. Google has a major presence in Chelsea, and Amazon has been looking for a spot on the West Side. The times change, and while the buildings stay the same, the neighborhoods change with them.

Thanks for visiting this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. That simple photo taken forty years ago from Bedford Street unwittingly took us into the Internet age. Please visit some of the other pages in the series!


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