Thursday, August 29, 2019

Then and Now: Astor Place, Greenwich Village, NYC

The Alamo in Astor Place, Greenwich Village

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC,
The Alamo in Astor Place, 1978.
If you are looking for a variety of experiences in New York, Greenwich Village is your place. There are a lot of quirks in Greenwich Village. Not bad things necessarily. There are just some ... things that are just there and don't make a lot of sense unless you want them to make sense. One of these is a big black cube in Astor Place, Greenwich Village. Astor Place is both the name of a very short street and of a state of mind. Oh, and also the name for the entire neighborhood and its subway stop. Anyway, I saw the above 1978 photo of the big black cube, sometimes called the Astor Place Cube, and decided to update the photo with a more recent view of the same scene. So, I did a comparison of Astor Place, NYC, from 1978 to 2017.

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC,
The Cube sometime in the 1980s, with the former Wanamaker's Store (now a K-Mart) serving as a backdrop (Courtesy Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation).
There is no way to talk about Astor Place without talking about the big black cube, so let's get right to it. The cube is called The Alamo and it was designed by sculptor Tony Rosenthal. He had it cast in a New Haven, Connecticut, foundry in 1967 before erecting it in what is now known as Alamo Square. It went up as part of the "Sculpture and the Environment" organized by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and was only intended to be temporary. However, locals liked it, so there the Alamo has resided ever since. It was restored in 1987 by the same New Haven foundry that originally cast it, and renovated again in 2005 to fix some broken parts, and then again in 2015-16 while Astor Place was being redeveloped. The Alamo is 1800 pounds (820 kg) of love, and people can twist it around on the metal pipe which rises up through its center. The Municipal Art Society placed it in the "Adopt-a-Monument" program, and its sponsor during the 1980s was Texan Dan Neale. The City takes very good care of the Alamo and repairs it regularly.

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC,
Astor Place, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
From starting out as a temporary exhibit along with about 25 other such sculptures during the Summer of Love, the Alamo has become a fixture on the border between the Village and the East Village. It's not really clear what it symbolizes, why it's called the Alamo, or even how long it can last. However, unlike the grand subway entrances of the past which were torn down ostensibly because they interfered with driver vision (nice excuse), the Alamo with its impenetrable 8'x8' Cor-Ten steel dimensions somehow has endured. Personally, I think they should have kept some of those cows from that famous street art exhibit circa 2001 and ditched the Alamo, but I will admit that the Alamo certainly does have a presence about it. Even if it's not clear what that presence is. But who am I to say? The people have spoken and they want the Alamo!

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC,
Astor Place, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
Well, enough about the big black cube. If you like it, visit Astor Place sometime and give it a whirl (literally). The massive building directly behind it in the photo directly above has a much longer history. John Wanamaker was a Philadelphia entrepreneur who was born in 1838 and basically invented the modern department store. He built 770 Broadway between 1903 and 1907 on an entire block between 8th and 9th Streets. Originally, this Wanamaker's was even bigger, with a sky bridge connecting it to the "main store" across 9th Street, but that part of the store closed down in 1954 and burned down in 1957 in a spectacular conflagration. It now serves as the headquarters for Verizon Media (which include Huff Post and AOL, among other ventures). K-Mart occupies the first two floors and the basement, where there is an entrance to the Astor Place subway stop. Incidentally, if you're shopping in New York, you should stop in K-mart, it has fairly reasonable prices on a wide assortment of typical grocery store goods as well as clothing and things like that.

Well, there is a lot more to Astor Place, but we'll get to the other stuff another time. Anyway, thanks for reading this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Astor Place has a lot of history, as do the buildings around it. The Alamo is a beloved Village treasure which basically does nothing but certainly does that in a unique way. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!


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