Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Then and Now: F.A.O. Schwartz at 58th and 5th

Times Haven't Changed That Much On Fifth Avenue

58th and 5th 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
58th and 5th Avenue in NYC, 1984.

I like city views that show how little time can mean to big cities. If you go to many places in Paris or London, they'll be exactly like they were in the 1800s. New York City has some of those spots, too, though they're a bit less common. But sometimes you come across a view that has changed very little in almost 40 years, and that's saying something.

Above we have a view of 58th and 5th Avenue in 1984. If you're a native New Yorker or a longtime resident, you'll recognize the scene instantly even though it isn't taken from a typical tourist vantage point. We're looking south toward the Empire State Building, which you can see pretty clearly in this shot silhouetted against the sky. Just for fun, let's do a comparison with how this scene looked recently.

58th and 5th June 2019 randommusings.filminspector.com
58th and 5th, looking south, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

While I couldn't get the same precise angle, the above is close enough. It shows a similar view south toward the Empire State Building. Let's pick out the things that are the same and a very few that have changed.

Southeast corner of 58th and 5th, July 2021 randommusings.filminspector.com
58th and 5th, looking east, in June 2019 (Google Street View).

The first thing you will have noticed if you have very sharp eyes is that the business at the extreme left of the 1984 photo (on the southeast corner of 58th Street) was F.A.O. Schwartz. It was an institution in 1984 and it likely seemed it would never close its flagship store on 5th Avenue. You may remember it from "Big" (1988) when Tom Hanks danced on the giant piano. New Yorkers fondly remember it for its annual Christmas displays, one of the highlights of the season.

F.A.O. Schwartz operated at 745 Fifth Avenue, the site shown in the 1984 picture and the one directly above, until 1986. Then, after some mergers and acquisitions that were all the rage in 1986, a new owner moved it across 58th Street to 767 Fifth Avenue, better known as the GM Building. That would be behind and to the left of where the 1984 photographer was standing.

Alas, after numerous ownership changes and a bankruptcy, F.A.O. Schwartz wound up being bought by Toys 'R Us in 2090. That corporation had a lot of problems. So, the flagship store in the GM Building closed down in 2015.

But not to fear! F.A.O. Schwartz reopened its store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in November 2018. So, we can all still get our holiday fix there.
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
The GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue on the left, with 745 Fifth Avenue at the center-right in August 2021 (Google Street View).

Just to give a little perspective, the above capture shows the two sites of F.A.O. Schwartz on Fifth Avenue. The old site from 1931-1986 is in the center-right, while the 1986-2015 location in the GM Buildings is at the left. Yes, they literally just moved across the street. I personally identify F.A.O. Schwartz as being in the GM Building on the ground floor. It was spacious and had good light. I saw Susan Sarandon, who lives nearby, give some kind of presentation there in 2001. It really was a great location.
Bergdorf Goodman, 58th and 5th Avenue NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
58th Street and 5th Avenue, looking southwest, June 2019.

Speaking of Bergdorf Goodman, you probably knew that it was that massive building on the far side of 5th Avenue in the 1984 photo. It has been there since 1928, so its centenary is coming up fast. Now, while it may have seemed like F.A.O. Schwartz was eternal, Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue actually is eternal. It seems that if there's ever, God forbid, a nuclear holocaust, the cockroaches will still go to Bergdorf Goodman to buy their $300 sweaters. Bergdorf opened a men's store across the street (on the east side of 5th Avenue) in 1990 and since has expanded to take over the F.A.O. Schwartz space. 

You may remember Bergdorf Goodman from the film "Arthur" (1981). It was already a long-established presence then. However, Neiman Marcus, which owns Bergdorf Goodman, recently filed for bankruptcy due to the 2020 pandemic, so who knows what the future holds in store for it. Strangely enough, due to numerous corporate transactions, F.A.O. Schwartz, which has recently opened stores in Beijing, London, And Dublin, now is probably more financially sound than Bergdorf Goodman. That's life in the big city.
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, and Sir John Gielgud in "Arthur" (1981) randommusings.filminspector.com
Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Avenue, in the background of a scene from "Arthur" (1981).

21 October 2021
Anyway, so the view of Fifth Avenue south from 58th Street hasn't changed much since 1984 aside from some that. If you go there today, you'll see basically the same view and probably will for decades to come. As I like to say in this series, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the view south from 58th Street down Fifth Avenue in NYC proves it.

Thanks for stopping by! Please visit some of my other pages as we look at how things looked then, and now.

2021