Sunday, January 10, 2021

Then and Now: Battery Park City

A New City Arises From the Sea

Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
The Lower West Side of Manhattan, future site of Battery Park City on the left, in 1975. 
While much of New York City hasn't changed much in the past 50 or even 100 years, there is one part of the city that has undergone dramatic changes since 1970. That is the Manhattan waterfront. Until the 1980s, the waterfront - which you might think would be a treasured resource - was neglected and barren. While the 1975 picture above shows a construction zone, that wasn't much different than other areas that tended to have abandoned piers and parking lots as their main "attractions."

The above photo caught my eye because it just seemed so familiar. That's what the Manhattan waterfront looks like! Or rather, that's what it did look like to people who grew up before the city and state poured massive resources into developing it. So, this is a then-and-now comparison of the Battery Park City site located on the southwest corner of Manhattan Island.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
The future Battery Park City site in 1960.
The first thing to realize is that the Manhattan waterfront originally cut to the east of Battery Park City. The above photo from 1960 shows the pre-development shoreline extending just beyond the West Side Elevated Highway. In fact, the "natural" shoreline is even further east and had been extended a block or two west ca. 1800. New York City was still the home of numerous docks in that area that accommodated the ships that had serviced the city since its founding. By 1960, shipping had declined in importance and the piers were beginning to deteriorate.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
The Lower West Side of Manhattan ca. 1977
The idea of building a World Trade Center began during World War II but took decades to turn from conception to construction. Demolition of the area began in March 1966 and the Twin Towers were completed in 1973. While it was being built, the New York State Legislature in 1968 created the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to prepare plans for future development to the west of the West Side Highway. Developments in Manhattan can take a long time, and it wasn't until 1972 that any funding appeared. Landfill excavated to build the World Trade Center was just trucked across the highway and dumped along the shoreline. This created the first landfill for the future Battery Park City.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
The future site of Battery Park City in 1975.
Title to the landfill was transferred from the city to the Battery Park City Authority in 1979. From that point, construction accelerated, but it still went fairly slowly as the ground needed to be improved for the construction of large apartment buildings. By the late 1980s, most of the essential points in Battery Park City were in place, though development continued throughout the 1990s. It became a great place to live for young lawyers and stockbrokers working in the financial district and other young up-and-comers even though it was still unfinished.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
The future site of Battery Park City in 1975, complete with homeless people. Naturally, befitting the times, there is trash everywhere. This shot clearly shows the deteriorating West Side Elevated Highway, finally demolished after much wrangling in the 1980s.
While neighborhoods in New York City are never "complete," Battery Park City was largely intact by 2000. The waterfront then looked completely different, with a long sidewalk, plenty of greenery, and a small port where millionaires' yachts were parked.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
Battery Park City under construction in September 1982.
Of course, the entire environment changed with the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 1911. Fortunately for Battery Park City, the Twin Towers largely collapsed in a pancake fashion and did not utterly destroy the new residential buildings in Battery Park City. However, some structures such as the Winter Garder were severely damaged by falling debris, and toxic dust clouds caused a lot of residents to develop health problems.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
Battery Park City ca. 2020.
While the World Trade Center had to go through a long reconstruction, Battery Park City basically shrugged off the attack. Goldman Sachs opened its world headquarters there in 2005 and you really have to look hard within Battery Park City for any remnants of the attack aside from memorials.
Battery Park City site randommusings.filminspector.com
Battery Park City in October 2019 (Google Street View).
Today, while having been literally on the edge of devastation and destruction, Battery Park City is in its prime. As the above photo shows, the east side of West Street below the new World Trade Center remains largely as it was before the construction of Battery Park City, though the elevated highway has long since been replaced by the greatly expanded West Street. It's a remarkable illustration of beating off adversity, but that's what New York and New Yorkers are all about.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit our other articles taking a quick look into the past!

2021

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Then and Now: Manhattan Skyline From Dumbo

The Evolving City

View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, 1978.
We're all familiar with the typical postcard view of the Manhattan skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground and Manhattan Island looming above it. The above photo from 1978 is a slight variation of this well-known scene, which is usually taken from the riverbank near the bridge. This is taken from a higher vantage point than usual and thereby showing the scene in some detail. I saw that grand view and wondered how it has changed over the years, and so here we examine then and now for the Manhattan skyline from the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
To be sure, it's hardly a unique vantage point and has been over and over throughout the years. But, anyway, let's define terms. "Dumbo" here is not the Disney elephant, but a Brooklyn neighborhood. The name literally stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass," but it spans the entire waterfront area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges (the Manhattan would be slightly to the right of this photo) along with another section of Brooklyn east to Vinegar Hill.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
The Manhattan skyline during World War I, proving that this particular view has been preferred for over a hundred years. Looks uncannily similar, doesn't it? Note the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913, serving as the center point that the World Trade Center later filled (Shorpy).
The fact that the photo at the top of this page was taken in 1978 is particularly appropriate because that was the year that the acronym "Dumbo" was coined. Local residents feared onrushing gentrification and figured giving the area an unattractive or even forbidding nickname - think "Hell's Kitchen" - would keep out the dreaded Yuppies.
This is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn showing part of the Manhattan skyline in 1939. Already, the Woolworth Building has been dwarfed by other buildings. Credit: Associated Press.
That didn't happen, and the Yuppies (who morphed into a new breed of invaders called tech workers) could not be held back. While the nickname somewhat ironically stuck anyway, Dumbo is now the most expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn and the fourth for the entire city. Perhaps giving the area any nickname at all helped to give the somewhat ramshackle area (at the time) an identity and actually brought attention to it. Now, it's home to tech firms like Etsy, and their employees have bid up rents so much that they eventually forced out many of the original residents. It's an old, old story, and the people of San Francisco and many other places can tell you all about it.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
I have a confession to make, and that is that I personally feel the photo at the top of the page is "the" Manhattan skyline as seen from Brooklyn. As we'll see, it has changed quite a bit in some respects, but the classic view of the Twin Towers serving as a solid background for this scene will always be my favorite. I actually prefer the new World Trade Center for several reasons, but in this one respect - the view along with the memory - I just don't think New York City looks complete without those two fateful projections into the sky. That's my hangup, I suppose, but judging from the many posters and prints of that view from the 1970s that are for sale, I doubt I'm the only one who feels that way.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
Standard recent postcard view from the same location.
Anyway, the Manhattan skyline was irrevocably changed in September 2001, leading to its present state. The basic scene remains unchanged - a bridge over a river leading into a grand city - but the Great Clock, as Tolstoy would call it, has done its work all around it. For better or for worse.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo randommusings.filminspector.com
Manhattan skyline from Dumbo recently ca. 2020 (Google Earth).
I hope you enjoyed this walk down through time from a specific point of view on planet earth. Changes in the world around us can be dramatic or they can be subtle, but they can't be stopped and they can't be avoided. All we can do is understand them, appreciate them, and hope for the best.
 
Please visit some of my other pages in my "then and now" series!

2021

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Then and Now: Bowery Street, Coney Island, NYC

A Coney Island Wonder

Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery Street at West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, in 1993 (Gregoire Alessandrini).
While most of the posts on this blog show places in Manhattan, that's only because it is the most recognizable part of New York City to a wide audience. New York City is much more than Manhattan, of course, so occasionally we venture outside the confines of that island to look at other neighborhoods. In this post, we look at a simple street scene in Brooklyn, specifically, at Coney Island.

The photo above was taken at the corner of Bowery Street and West 12th Street. The center point of the photo is the Wonder Wheel. This is located between West 12th Street and the famous Coney Island boardwalk, actually called the Riegelmann Boardwalk.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
The Wonder Wheel in 1941, taken from the same location as the photo at the top of this page (Alfred Palmer, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress).
The Wonder Wheel is an institution in Coney Island. Designed by Charles Hermann and constructed in 1920 by him, William J. Ward, and Herman Garms along with famous Coney Island impresario George C. Tilyou, the Wonder Wheel survived the decline of Coney Island as a resort after the 1940s. It changed hands in 1983 when the Vourderis family took over. The portion of West 12th Street adjacent to the Wonder Wheel is now named Denos D. Vourderis Place after the family patriarch. He renamed the area around his new property Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
Another photo of the Wonder Wheel from the same location in the 1940s (Image courtesy of the Coney Island History Project).
While it looks like many other Ferris wheels, the Wonder Wheel is actually a bit different than many of them. It is an "eccentric" wheel. This means that riders can choose cars that drop away from the wheel at various times, giving the impression of free-fall. Naturally, that is exactly what some guys are looking for on dates as their companions squeal out in sudden terror.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
The Wonder Wheel at its opening in 1920 (photo courtesy of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park).
There aren't a lot of the original attractions remaining in Coney Island, so the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission officially designated the Wonder Wheel as a landmark in 1989. It remains a family business as of 2020, its centennial.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery Street at West 12th Street, October 2019 (Google Street View).
As can be seen from a recent view, nothing much has changed through the years. The streets are the same, the Wonder Wheel is still there spinning around, and the usual touristy buildings surround it.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel randommusings.filminspector.com
Bowery Street sign at West 12th Street, Coney Island in October 2019 (Google Street View).
One interesting thing is that the "Bowery Street" sign is badly faded - it may actually be the same one seen in the 1993 photo. Or even earlier. It's curiously befitting a scene that extends virtually unchanged back well before almost all of us were born.

I hope you enjoyed this brief trip down memory lane in an obscure corner of Brooklyn. The spirit of Coney Island lives on even as the community has changed and grown. Please visit some of the other entries in this series!

2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Then and Now: West 88th Street and Broadway

Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 1960.
Some areas of Manhattan survive the strains and struggles that swirl around them decade after decade and wind up looking at worst about the same. This is the case with the street scene shown above. The residential areas of Manhattan tend to change very little over time. While office buildings in some sections of the city can come and go, apartment buildings tend to have very long lives. Let's take a look at Broadway and West 88th Street then and now, a classic Upper West Side area, and so how it has fared over the past sixty years.

The picture of the intersection from 1960, above, shows a typical Manhattan scene. There are the usual solid edifices on either side of the street, with small businesses such as a drug store that catered to the local residents. The scene looks barren, everything aside from the people and cars being composed of lifeless rock and asphalt.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Earth).
The first thing we notice from a recent picture of the same scene is that the buildings haven't changed much at all. The building on the far (southwest) corner, 2389-2395 Broadway, is a 7-story office building that was completed in 1920. The building across from it, at 255 West 88th Street, is a 14-floor residential building completed in 1924. So, 1960 was just a typical and random year for this corner over the past 100 years, just as 2020 is and likely 2050 will be as well. Nothing much changes when buildings serve their purpose, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Street View).
A ground-level view shows that some things never change. People need drug stores, so Zelnick's Drug Store has given way to a Duane Reade pharmacy (though apparently, it has closed). The 2007 MillionTreesNYC initiative certainly has softened street corners like this, which previously looked like industrial wastelands.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Street View).
One last change that can be seen is that the variety of stores has gone down drastically since 1960. In the 1960 photo, you can see a drug store, a cigar store, what looks like a haberdashery (Bilks), and several other businesses. In 2020, you have the massive Duane Reade, a bank, and an eatery. You literally can find these same businesses on practically every other street corner in NYC these days. The invasion of the chain stores and bank branches has reached epic proportions in Manhattan shows no signs of stopping.

I hope you liked this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. There's something to be said for permanency in residential areas like the Upper West Side, and if that's what you're looking for, you can do a lot worse than the corner of Broadway and West 88th Street. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2020

Then and Now: The Beacon Theater on Broadway

Faded Glory

Beacon Theater NYC ca. 1981 randommusings.filminspector.com
Beacon Theater on Broadway and West 74th Street, NYC, ca. December 1980.
There's no question that New York went through hard times in the 1970s. Bankruptcy loomed, crime exploded, and nobody respected much of anything, particularly bare walls that were just beckoning some young "street artist" with a spray can of paint. New York City used to be the home of many monumental movie palaces. Most of them are long since gone, but a few theaters from the grand age of vaudeville in the 1920s and 1930s remain. Let's take a look at one of these grand survivors, the Beacon Theater at 2124 Broadway, NYC.
Beacon Theater randommusings.filminspector.com
The Beacon Hotel and Theater not long after its completion in 1928.
The Beacon was a 2,894-seat, three-tiered palace designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, who had just designed the nearby Roxy in 1927. Trying to duplicate the Roxy's glamour, the Beacon's first name was the Roxy Midway. With the building completed November 1928, and the enclosed theater opened in 1929, the Beacon contained the usual theater kitsch of the era, complete with seated golden lions on each side of the stage and a Wurlitzer 4 manual 19 ranks theatre organ. Warner Bros operated the Beacon until 1932, when it sold it to the first of many subsequent operators.
Gold Diggers of Broadway showing at the Beacon randommusings.filminspector.com
The Beacon showing the technicolor "Gold Diggers of Broadway" (1929) during its glory days.
As the decades rolled along, the old theaters succumbed to age and urban renewal. In the mid-70s, Steven Singer and Stephen Metz bought the Beacon and hosted a series of concerts by the Grateful Dead in 1976. The new crowds weren't as respectful of the kitsch and the theater began to deteriorate quickly.  By 1986, the Beacon was the largest surviving picture palace in Manhattan. It was in sad shape by the 1980s, though, as the picture at the top of this page shows. New owners in 1986 converted the theater into a disco, a bit late to that fad but better late than never! Unfortunately, that meant gutting the interior, so if the golden lions were still there then, they weren't thereafter. On November 4, 1982, the entire 24-story Beacon Theater and Hotel was designated a national landmark and is now on the Register of Historic Places.
Beacon Theater featured in "Who's That Knocking At My Door?" randommusings.filminspector.com
Stars Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune in Martin Scorcese's "Who's That Knocking At My Door" (1969), with the Beacon Theater looming in the background.
Martin Scorcese is a big fan of the Beacon and has featured it in his movies. While a student at NYU in the 1960s, he filmed "Who’s That Knocking At My Door?" (1969), starring Harvey Keitel, and the Beacon makes its first appearance in a Scorcese film. It reappears in his 2006 documentary “Shine a Light” about the Rolling Stones shows that year at the theater.
Beacon Theater randommusings.filminspector.com
The same view as the one at the top of this page in May 2019 (Google Street View).
The Beacon obviously has been through a lot of incarnations through the years and no doubt has many more to come. Currently, Cablevision, which has been gobbling up New York City showplaces such as the Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, holds the lease to the Beacon Theater. It has restored the Beacon to a much more presentable appearance that hosts top acts in a variety of entertainment formats. The interior is still majestic, though nothing like the original glamor of the 1920s.
Beacon Theater randommusings.filminspector.com
Beacon Theater at 2124 Broadway in May 2019 (Google Street View).
I hope you enjoyed this trip through time with the Beacon Theater. Please visit some of our other pages if you liked this one!

2020

Friday, October 16, 2020

Then and Now: Big Top Theater and Circus Cinema, NYC

A Change of Habits

Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, in the 1970s randommusings.filminspector.com
Looking north on Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, during the 1970s. 
Times Square is one of the great tourist attractions in the world. Tourists come from around the world to walk through it and admire the lights and the architecture and the hustle-and-bustle. It may look very similar to the way it used to, but in truth, it has changed dramatically in the last 40 years.

The Times Square area has been cleaned up quite a bit during the last few decades. "Hustle" had a completely different meaning in the Times Square of the 1970s. During the city's dark days, the adult industry invaded the area in a big way. It wasn't hidden away, either, it was right there out in the open. You've heard of Broadway theaters, well, the Broadway theaters of the 1970s were not just showing "Man of La Mancha" and "Chicago."

The corner of 49th Street and Broadway is right on the fringes of Times Square. It's just a short walk from Madame Tussauds and the Disney store. Great place to bring the family these days.

Well, the area serviced a completely different clientele back in the day.
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
Located at 1604 Broadway were two theaters that easily could be mistaken for just one. The more obvious theater with the big marquee was Circus Cinema. It showed films for the heterosexual raincoat crowd throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Somewhat obscurely located to its side was a completely different experience, "Big Top Theater."
Big Top Theater randommusings.filminspector.com
The Big Top Theater, also sometimes just advertised as the "Top Theater" in perhaps risque multiple plays on words, was entered discreetly via a stairway just to the south of the other entrance. This stairway led to a completely separate theater above Circus Cinema. This catered to a same-sex clientele. So, the building catered to a broad spectrum of people looking for something a little different in the 1970s than "The Aristocats" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and "Star Wars." And it had a free buffet on Sunday evenings! What a deal!
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
The advertising for the Big Top, though, wasn't particularly discreet. Just looking at the advertisements that appeared in all of the normal newspapers of the day (such as the New York Times, the Daily News, Newsday, you name it) gives you some idea of the types of shows shown at the Big Top. These ads generally were located back near the sports section of the paper. "New! Live! Go-Go Boys!" reads one advertisement. This was all out in the open, anyone reading through the paper would see the ads. Yes, those were different times. Live and let live, I'm personally against censorship but opinions will differ.
The Big Top Theater at Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, around 1984 randommusings.filminspector.com
"Men Between Themselves" was not a World War II film - I think. Actually, I don't know when it was set, but I have a feeling the setting was likely Fire Island or Key West. But, who knows, maybe it was about sailors going through a Kierkegaardian existential crisis on their way to battle.
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 (Google Street View).
These days, the raunchy theaters are almost all gone (there may still be one or two over on Eighth Avenue, I'm not entirely sure, but I don't recall seeing any in quite a while). The scene above shows how the same corner looks recently. Just to verify that this is the same location, notice the medium-sized brown building in the background of the photo at the top of this page. I've zoomed in on that particular building below just to verify the location because it has changed so much over time that it's tough to see the comparison.
Broadway at 49th Street, NYC, ca. 2020 randommusings.filminspector.com
A close-up of the building in the background of the original 1970s photo. This is from ca. 2020 and it hasn't changed at all (Google Street View).
One of the themes of this blog is that despite the fact that NYC streets and buildings look the same as in the past, the world around them has changed. It now is a completely different world even though in some ways it looks the same. Times change, people change, but in New York City, many of the buildings stay the same.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of our other pages if you liked this one!

2020

Monday, October 12, 2020

Then and Now: Horses in Manhattan

A Subtle Change in the Heart of Manhattan

Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza, 59th Street in NYC, in 1979.
A casual comparison of old and new photos of midtown Manhattan might not show much change at all aside from vehicles, clothing fashions, and the like.  Many buildings there have lasted for 100 years and may last for 100 more years. However, subtlety does not bother us, we're going to uncover a very subtle change in this article that reflects changes around the seemingly permanent buildings and streets.

The above photograph is from 1979 and shows Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. This is one of the most well-traveled locations in the city, providing a rare midtown break from the grid pattern and providing a grand entrance to Central Park from the southeast. The photo shows a very peaceful and sedate scene, with horse carriages lined up ready to take lovers and tourists on a ride through the park. While it might not be apparent at first glance, though, something very noticeable about that scene has changed, and very recently.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Earth.
First, let's zoom in on Grand Army Plaza using Google Earth. We immediately see that the basic street pattern is the same, and the buildings look the same, too. That's the Plaza Hotel on the left, which was built in 1907, so it sure hasn't changed in the last 40 years. The Sherry-Netherland hotel (781 Fifth Avenue) barely visible on the right was completed in 1927, so that sure hasn't changed much. The same goes for the low Metropolitan Club building (One East 60th Street) just beyond it that was built in 1894. You get the picture: this is not an area of the city that has seen a lot of big changes recently. However, as noted above, something about it has changed, so let's get to that.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
A very careful look at the 1979 photo shows, as mentioned early, a scenic lineup of horse carriages primarily for the tourist trade. The more recent photos ca. 2020 do not. This is not an accident or anomaly, the carriages no longer are there. Why they are no longer there leads us into the big change that has taken place recently.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
While there are conflicting views and evidence as to how well horses fare in big cities, in recent years a movement has arisen to eliminate them for their own well-being. Montreal has banned carriages, and Chicago appears likely to do so shortly (if it already hasn't by the time you read this). New York City's current mayor, Bill de Blasio, tried to ban them outright in 2014 but failed. This may in part have been because carriage rides rank as one of the top three visitor attractions in NYC (Tripadvisor).
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
Grand Army Plaza recently, using Google Street View.
While the ban failed, New York City enacted a rule in 2018 forcing carriage pickups to take place only within Central Park itself. As noted above, the carriages shown in the 1979 photo are parked on 59th Street. That is no longer an allowed pickup spot, and the rule now requires those carriages to be parked further north within the park itself at the entrance on 60th Street. This, presumably, protects them from traffic and noise.
Grand Army Plaza, NYC randommusings.filminspector.com
This may not seem like the most earth-shaking change, and you would be right. However, as we have seen, changes in this area are few and far between. The buildings are the same, the streets are the same, but the horses are gone for good. The setting may look the same, but the world is changing around it.

Thanks for visiting! If you enjoyed this page, please consider visiting some of our other "then and now" articles.

2020