Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Then and Now: David's Pot Belly, NYC

A Tale of a Changing Neighborhood

David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
David's Pot Belly Stove, Christopher Street, New York, NY, in 1979.
One of the main themes of this blog is that seismic changes in a big city that affect entire neighborhoods can be subtle and almost unnoticeable if you aren't paying attention. Change happens slowly, creeping along as one store goes out of business, a building is replaced, certain groups of people move in or out. The buildings and streets may stay the same, but everything around them and the way they are used can evolve in ways you never expect.

One such neighborhood is the West Village, and specifically the area of Christopher Street around its intersection with Bleecker Street. I noticed the photo above and it caused me to reflect on how changing social patterns give a neighborhood its character. Let's take a then-and-now look at David's Pot Belly at 94 Christopher Street, NYC, from 1979 to the present.
David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
David's Pot Belly was a classic burger joint that opened in 1971 near the corner of Christopher Street and Bleecker Street. The "David" in the name was David Levine. He quickly opened another David's Pot Belly (people now remember the name as David's Pot Belly Stove, but it's unclear if that was ever its official name even though it seems to have had a stove as its logo) on Hope Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Perhaps Levine's intent was to start a chain or maybe he just liked to split his time between the two cities, who knows. If a chain was his plan, it failed, because both restaurants are long gone and no chain materialized. 

However, the two David's Pot Belly restaurants made an impact on the community. Musicians David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth, for instance, worked at the Providence David's Pot Belly in the early 1970s. That led (very indirectly) to the founding lineup of the new wave band Talking Heads. Byrne and the others were attending the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, pronounced by people in the know as "Rizz-dee") at the time. Incidentally, and this is getting way off track, but Byrne, who was really only interested in music at the time, got the job at the Providence Pot Belly after being fired from a hot dog stand for having hairy arms (true story). But, let's get back on track...
David's Pot Belly Stove on Christopher Street randommusings.filminspector.com
The David's Pot Belly location was in a classic four-story 1910 residential building that is typical of Greenwich Village. 
The owner and founder, David Levine, was volatile and ran a tight ship. The waiters and waitresses (mostly waitresses, the guy generally were dishwashers) had to move fast and remain presentable (probably a new experience for kids in the early '70s). A lot of students worked at his restaurants and, despite having Levine yelling at them from time to time, were usually grateful for the work. I know I was grateful for any side job while I was in school. Pot Belly was open late, so, if you wanted a hamburger with bleu cheese and anchovies or French Onion Soup after the bars closed at 1 a.m., you could head there. It was cozy and rustic for NYC, but it had a hip party crowd befitting the neighborhood and the after-hours crowd. There weren't a whole lot of after-hours diners in the '70s and '80s, so people who enjoyed the nightlife at Limelight or Palladium fondly remember the joints that could satisfy that sudden french-fry craving at 3 a.m. These included David's Pot Belly and nearby Florent on Gansevoort Street. There was a Haagen Dazs right next door, which was convenient if your companion had different cravings.
David's Pot Belly T-shirt randommusings.filminspector.com
Gone but not forgotten: you may still buy David's Pot Belly T-shirts here.
Word is that Levine eventually soured of the restaurant business. Yelling at his employees probably didn't earn him a lot of friends, either. After a bitter divorce during which he lost custody of his child, David Levine became depressed and committed suicide, apparently in the 1990s. That likely led to the demise of David's Pot Belly, if they didn't close earlier. A sad story, but bad things happen in this world. Oh, and just to be clear about this, there apparently is no connection whatsoever between David's Pot Belly and the current Potbelly Sandwich Shop chain. Or, at least none that I could find.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
Havana Alma de Cuba occupied the site at 94 Christopher Street before it, too, closed.
After Pot Belly closed its doors, it was replaced by Havana Alma de Cuba restaurant. That lasted a long time but now apparently, that too has closed. In 2018, it became a victim of rising rental prices, a common story for New York City restaurants. Christopher Street in the '70s and '80s was a center for gay nightlife, but the area has gentrified like so many other formerly fringe Manhattan areas (such as the nearby Meatpacking District) and now gets a lot less foot traffic than it once did. There used to be crowds of leather-clad folks on the street, but that is no longer the case. Even the Haagen Dazs is gone.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
A photo of the location from September 2018.
The Christopher Street area has gone through a wrenching evolution in the relatively short period of time (for New York) of a few decades. These changes aren't necessarily good or bad, but they are pretty obvious. Unfortunately, nearby Bleecker Street has lost a lot of its 1980s luster as a fashion center. There were dozens of designer stores nearby decades ago (Coach, Mulberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, etc.), but they've all gone as well-heeled residents have moved into the neighborhood because of its "vibe." Meanwhile, the artists (other than Hollywood celebrities who these days own many apartments nearby) have left. That, in turn, has brought a new vibe that is much different than what attracted all these new residents in the first place. At last look, the David's Pot Belly site was vacant and for lease, as are several retail locations nearby. Since upper-middle and upper-class residential neighborhoods are among the most stable of all Manhattan areas, the new status quo is likely to remain for a very long time.
Havana Alma de Cuba randommusings.filminspector.com
The old David's Pot Belly location as of October 2019 (Google Street View).
I hope you enjoyed this meandering walk down the winding streets of Greenwich Village. The world around them may change, but the streets of New York endure. Please visit some of our other pages in this "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series!

2021

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Then and Now: Malibu Colony Road, Malibu

Fun in the Sun!

Jane Fonda on Malibu Beach randommusings.filminspector.com
Days of fun in the sun: Jane Fonda makes a dash for the beach from Roddy McDowall's beach bungalow on 9 May 1965.
While this blog usually focuses on New York City because I'm from there and it is very familiar to me, at times it strays far afield. This is one of those times. Hopefully, though, it will entertain you because it shows an interesting comparison then and now of Malibu, California.
Roddy McDowall randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy McDowall on the set of "Planet of the Apes."
Actor Roddy McDowall knew almost everyone who was anyone in Hollywood during the 1960s through 1990s. He also was quite an amateur filmmaker of his own, though his works were done with a consumer-grade film camera and remained in his private collection until untimely passing on 3 October 1998. One of his films records a gathering at Roddy's Malibu beach bungalow on 9 May 1965. That puts it squarely within the usual time frame we like to compare against. Let's see what has changed and what is different about the site of this gathering.
Julie and Emma Andrews in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Julie Andrews is confronted with a Mary Poppins doll at Roddy McDowall's beach house on 9 May 1965.
While there were quite a few luminaries at Roddy's party that day, we'll refer to just two of them to show what Malibu was like that sunny day. The first is actress Julie Andrews, who had just finished filming "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" back-to-back and was just becoming a major star (she had just won the Best Actress Oscar a month earlier on 5 April 1965). In the clip below from Roddy's film, we see Julie and her young daughter Emma Walton leaving the party and driving down the road.
Julie and Emma Andrews in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
This clip shows Julie Andrews and her daughter walking southeast from Roddy McDowall's house to her car.
Our mission, as always, is to compare what was with what is. Let's set the scene by showing the road that Jule and her daughter walked down.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road, looking southeast from roughly the same spot, in 2021 (Google Earth).
The scene hasn't really changed that much. Just to verify that we have the exact location (which we know anyway because we have Roddy's old address there, 23560 Malibu Colony Road), the white garage that is visible to the left as the Andrews walk to their car is still there in 2021.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road in 2021, showing the distinctive white garage visible in the 1965 film (Google Earth).
The same white garage is there in the center-right of the above photograph. Julie Andrews parked her Ford Falcon station wagon where that white pickup truck is parked over to the right in front of the tennis court. Whereas there were trees there in 1965, they since have been replaced by that tennis court. To the left in the photo, the white picket fence visible in the 1965 film has been replaced by a brick wall.
Malibu Colony Road in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy's video concludes with Julie and her daughter driving away to the north. There's an intersection up ahead where another car is just turning as Andrews is leaving. This same scene appears quite similar today.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Malibu Colony Road looking northwest in 2021, with the intersection up ahead. The top of the white garage is visible center-right in this view (Google Earth).
As can be seen in the 2021 comparison, the house on the left with the angled roof is still there. The same brown house is in the background to the right (minus the TV antenna!), though it is now hidden by trees.
Malibu Colony Road randommusings.filminspector.com
Another angle on Malibu Colony, showing the brown house that is in the background as Julie Andrews drives away (Google Earth).
Our second celebrity is actress Jane Fonda. Her new film, "Cat Ballou," had just opened two days earlier in Denver and was awaiting nationwide release.
Jane Fonda in 1965 randommusings.filminspector.com
Jane Fonda is making a dash for the beach, 9 May 1965.
We see Jane running off of Roddy's deck down to the Pacific Ocean for a quick dip. However, lovely as she is, Jane isn't what we're interested in for these purposes.
Jane Fonda on Malibu Beach randommusings.filminspector.com
While this may seem like a mundane shoreline view, it actually reveals a greater truth when compared to the same scene today.
Malibu Beach randommusings.filminspector.com
Roddy McDowall's old Malibu bungalow, in the center, in 2021 (Google Earth).
It's easy to see what has changed (the house actually hasn't, at least very much). The beach was much wider back in 1965. At some point in the intervening decades, they added large boulders to protect the houses. The drop from the deck to the beach also appears to have gotten much bigger.

There's a lot to learn from old films, especially amateur clips, if you do a little comparing. I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please check out some of the other articles!

Below is the complete film from which the clips were taken.



2021

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Then and Now: Broome Street, NYC

The More Things Change...

Broome Street, NYC, in 1935 randommusings.filminspector.com
This 1935 photo by Berenice Abbott shows 512-514 Broome Street, Manhattan, New York. 
That lady knew how to take photographs!

While this blog usually looks at photos from the 1960s through the 1980s, occasionally an older photo intrigues me enough to do a little research on it. Such was the case with the above photo by pioneering photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). She began her career in Paris but moved to New York in 1929 - just in time for the Stock Market Crash. After scratching out an existence for the next five years, she happily was picked by the city to contribute to a project called “Changing New York.” Funding was allocated by the U.S. Government commissioned through the New Deal art projects WPA Collection. This was one of many similar efforts to employ artists of various types during the Great Depression, and Abbott rewarded the city by taking some of the most evocative shots of the city ever, both before and since.

Abbott took the photo above of some dwellings at 512-514 Broome Street in 1935. Her choice perhaps was influenced by a friend, Professor Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who asked her to focus on antebellum buildings. In any event, Abbott's photograph of the Broome Street buildings is stunning and shows a deep understanding of all aspects of photography.

In Nathan Silver's classic "Lost New York" (1967), he references the above photo and claims that the buildings "are now gone." Well, not exactly, Nate. We are going to do a then-and-now comparison of the corner of Broome Street and Thompson Street in NYC.
Broome Street, NYC, in the 1930s randommusings.filminspector.com
Another photo of the same scene in the 1930s, probably after the Berenice Abbott photo (Peter Sekaer).
While the photo doesn't show it, the buildings were made of red-painted brick. These were typical buildings from the pre-war - pre-Civil War - era and typically were twenty-five feet wide and two or three stories tall. They were two rooms deep - city tax laws favored narrow but long residence buildings - with pitched roofs and dormers. 
Broome Street, NYC, in 1998 ndommusings.filminspector.com
The same location in 1998. Note that the original buildings are all still there, though they have been radically altered. The two residential buildings have lost their classic roofs and, in the case of the one on the right, an entire floor. The warehouse in the background was converted to condos. Photo by Douglas Levere in his book New York Changing (2005).
As New Yorkers may know, Broome Street lies in the neighborhood of SoHo, which stands for South of Houston Street. It now is one of the more fashionable areas of the city, but it wasn't in the 1930s. The large warehouse in the background was a Grocers Warehouse Corporation building on Thompson Street. If you're wondering how all these old buildings survived, well, partly it is due to serendipity. They all, however, have just missed being included in either the Soho-Cast Iron District or the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, so it seems the city wasn't doing anything to save them.
Broome Street, NYC, ca. 2010 ndommusings.filminspector.com
512-514 Broome Street ca. 2010. Note that the buildings have been significantly spruced up and made presentable. The low building on the right, however, has one more major change in store...
However, the tax laws favor remodeling and renovating old structures rather than completely replacing them, so the city actually did have something to do with saving them, albeit indirectly. That's why a grungy old warehouse will be left standing and have windows cut into the walls for new apartments rather than just tearing it down.
Broome Street, NYC, ca. 2010 ndommusings.filminspector.com
512-514 Broome Street, with 52 Thompson Street in the background, July 2019. Note the complete remodel of the building on the right since 2010 (Google Street View).
The former warehouse in the background at 52-54 Thompson Street is said to have been built in 1900. That's just broker-speak, however. It actually means it was built at some uncertain point in the 1800s. It was converted to condominiums at some point, but not just ordinary cookie-cutter condos. There are six floors with condos in the building, and each condo takes up an entire floor. A current listing as of this writing in 2021 shows a 10-room unit for sale for $13 million. So, there's money in those old buildings if you know what to do with them.

As these photos show, New York City is an evolving place with its roots firmly anchored in the past. While needs change and styles come and go, buildings often are not simply disposed of as many people think. Instead, they are repurposed and reimagined. Those grungy old buildings from the past were not old soldiers destined to fade away, but instead survivors that withstood the destructive forces of time and outlived almost all of their former owners.

I hope you found this article interesting. If so, please visit some more of our entries in this "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Thanks for visiting!

2021
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