Thursday, August 29, 2019

Then and Now: Gray's Papaya on West 72nd Street, NYC

Broadway at 72nd Street, Manhattan

West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC,
West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC, 1978. 
We're going to travel to a couple of different places in this article because the history involved takes us there. Making comparisons between then and now can be a little bit like time-traveling. You see a scene long ago and then see it again much later and, usually, the streets and buildings are the same for the most part but the street businesses and other signs of habitation have all changed. When that doesn't happen, it comes as a bit of surprise, and that's what we have here. The photo above caught my eye because it offered a great window into the past, so I decided to do a comparison of the intersection of Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, and 72nd Street, NYC, from 1978 to 2017.

West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC,
West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC, looking south in October 2017 (Google Street View). 
The scene has changed little in 40 years. The entrance on Verdi Square to the subway directly in front of us is an express station on the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line of the New York City Subway. It opened in 1904. Two years after the original photo was taken, in 1980, this structure was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is a heavily used subway stop that is a focal point of the Upper West Side.

West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC,
West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC, looking north in October 2017 (Google Street View). 
In 2002, the city completed a major renovation that added a new control house directly behind where the 1978 photographer was standing. It provides better access to the station but doesn't have the flair of the 1904 control house.

West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC,
West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC, southeast corner in October 2017 (Google Street View).
What caught my eye was the building on the southeast corner of 72nd Street and Broadway. Donohue’s Restaurant on the second floor has been replaced by a Sleepy's Mattress store. Jack Donohue, the proprietor, opened the restaurant in 1970 and passed away in 1995 at the age of 63. The two-story building is 2080-94 Broadway aka 176 West 72nd Street. It is a commercial building that dates from 1938. This is just within the Upper West Side/Central Park Historic District established on 24 April 1990, so it is protected. For reference, this is a couple of blocks from the Dakota on Central Park West. The street-level store, however, sticks out because it is the same in both the 1978 photo and recent Google Street View pictures. It was founded in 1973 at this location and has operated there continuously ever since. In fact, for a couple of years, this was the only remaining location of Gray's Papaya.

Gray's Papaya, 8th Street at Sixth Avenue, NYC,
The Gray's Papaya on 6th Avenue at 8th Street after it closed in April 2014.
People in the Village fondly remember the Gray's Papaya 402 Sixth Avenue at 8th Street, where you could get two hotdogs for a dollar back in the day. The papaya drinks weren't so hot, but at least they were cheap. Unfortunately, the Greenwich Village, a favorite of NYU students and residents of the area, closed in 2014. That left only the 72nd Street outlet as the last one until the chain opened a second location in 2016 at 612 Eighth Avenue, between West 39th and West 40th streets.

Gray's Papaya, 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC,
Gray's Papaya at its longtime location at 2090 Broadway at 72nd Street in November 2017 (Google Street View).
What really struck me about the 1978 photo was not the bust apparently in progress at the subway stop, nor the historic control house before it became, er, historic, nor the buildings beyond which also remain the same. It was Gray's Papaya on the corner because it somehow has survived intact when so many of its competitors like Nedick's have not. I think I may stop by and get a couple of dogs next time I'm in town.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. There's a lot more continuity in Manhattan than you might think. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!


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