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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Then and Now: Malibu Colony Road, Malibu

Fun in the Sun!

Jane Fonda on Malibu Beach
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
While this may seem like a mundane shoreline view, it actually reveals a greater truth when compared to the same scene today.
Malibu Beach
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.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Then and Now: Broome Street, NYC

The More Things Change...

Broome Street, NYC, in 1935
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
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
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
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
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!


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Then and Now: La Caridad on Broadway

La Caridad
La Caridad Restaurant, Broadway and 78th, ca. 1970.
One of the themes of this blog is the details of life matter. Corner joints may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they serve a purpose and affect local residents in underappreciated ways. They give a neighborhood character, provide a place to meet people, and also often offer tasty treats for the discerning foodie.

One such neighborhood eatery was La Caridad (technically called "La Unica Caridad"). Caridad is a theological Virgin name that translates as Charity, representing Our Lady of Charity, a popular saint's name in Cuba. Located on the southwest corner of Broadway and 78th Street, it was a neighborhood fixture for 52 years. Opened in 1968, La Caridad offered Chino Latino food, which blends Mexican and Chinese food. Chinese-Spanish restaurants are an Upper West Side staple, though there are fewer of them now than there used to be. Here, we do a then-and-now comparison of La Caridad Restaurant on the Upper West Side.
La Caridad
La Caridad (then called "La Caridad 78 restaurant") in October 2007 (Michael Minn).
One of the things that endlessly fascinates me about New York City is that you can pick out a random photo from decades ago and it will have surprisingly recent echoes. Such is the case with the 1970s photo at the top of this page.
La Caridad
The La Caridad takeout menu in June 2009. Note that this is the Cuban menu, the Chinese food menu was on the other side.
You might think that some old black-and-white photo from before when most of the people reading this were born is just some historical artifact. Well, it is, but the restaurant itself lasted until very recently.
La Caridad
La Caridad apparently had different names through the years at its iconic location at the corner of 78th Street and Broadway. Just a random search of photographs shows it being called La Unica Caridad, La Caridad, and La Caridad 78 Restaurant. It was always known as La Caridad, though.
La Caridad
La Caridad changed over the years from the 1950s counter-seating diner setting shown in the top photograph to a more typical diner setting, with tables where you could eat and get in and out of quickly.
The delightful thing about neighborhood joints like La Caridad is that you could get good, cheap food that you'll never find at the big chains. Just pop in during a day of shopping and grab some quick vaca frita or sesame chicken, in and out within half an hour for under $10 per person. Try doing all that at the Golden Arches.
La Caridad
La Caridad, May 2009 (Google Street View).
La Caridad's founder, Raphael Lee, was a Chinese immigrant who had lived in Havana. He developed a love for both Chinese food and local Cuban delicacies from that city’s Chinatown. While the food is called "fusion," however, they never really and truly melded. You didn't get fried plantains and chicken with cashews on the same plate. 
La Caridad
Now, we're not talking about the Four Seasons here. These types of neighborhood joints are barely a step above the greasy pizza places that all began with the Original Ray's (I love Ray's pizza, btw). To be blunt, the Chinese food was standard Manhattan Chinese American (want some General Tso's Pork Chops?), while the Cuban dishes were on a separate part of the menu. If you were looking for something exotic and an "experience," you could turn the menu to the Cuban pages and order some sancocho soup. Your companion, meanwhile, could stay in the Chinese menu section and choose the nice and safe Crispy Spring Roll followed by Sesame Chicken. But it was still a melange of styles.
La Caridad
La Caridad, June 2019 (Google Street View).
La Caridad closed in July 2020. Even the New York Times took notice, that's how iconic La Caridad had become. Whether the closing was related to the pandemic is an open question, though that likely had something to do with it. Local residents noticed employees emptying out the store in the preceding weeks and the owner did not disclose why he was leaving. Who knows if it will ever be back, sometimes these restaurants pop up in other locations where the rents are low like they were when the restaurant was founded. But the memories remain of the glorious takeout and ambiance of a classic local joint.
La Caridad
La Caridad ca. 2020 (Robert K. Chin).

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Then and Now: Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island, NYC

Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island
Jack's Discount Center, 1970.
This series is all about the evolution of a city. We examine this by looking at details such as individual businesses and then seeing how changes in them reveal something larger about what is going on. The story of Jack's Discount Center in Coney Island is a good example of that.

Coney Island has gone through massive ups and downs over the years. The neighborhood we call Coney Island isn't actually on its own island (though it used to be kind of an island until Coney Island Creek was filled in during the 1920s/1930s) unless you count it being on Long Island. It is located on the western portion of the Coney Island peninsula west of Ocean Parkway.

Coney Island remained a sleepy little town far from the big city until 1878, when two major things happened. The huge Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion opened that year as well as the Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Coney Island Railway, which opened on 2 July as the predecessor to the New York City Subway's present-day Brighton Line aka Brighton Beach Line. The original two-track line was acquired by the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation BMT in 1923, which in turn was folded into the modern subway system in 1940. The subway was the defining feature of the area, resulting in businesses being constructed along its route.

Coney Island reached a peak of fame as a destination in the 1930s through the 1950s. It was the chosen way for city residents to "beat the heat" in a time before the widespread use of air conditioners. Even though the beaches were far away for most people and insanely crowded, they were still better than sitting in a sweltering apartment. The subways remained at a nickel a ride from October 27, 1904, when the first subway opened, until July 1, 1948, when the fare finally doubled to a dime. This made them accessible to everyone who was willing to suffer the long, rumbling ride. However, by the 1960s the area fell into a steep decline as people got air conditioning and more and more city residents got cars or moved to the suburbs.

Anyway, I spotted the photo above from 1970 of a typical "dollar store" before they were known as such and were still known as "discount centers." This one was called "Jack's Discount Center," and it was located at the current street address of 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island. So, I decided to do a comparison of Jack's Discount Center in Coney Island then and now.
Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island
A shot in 1978 taken from the subway platform gives a little more perspective. Note the top of the subway car in the foreground.
The property, located at coordinates 40.5772094,-73.9818174, was originally built in 1930. Located a few blocks from the beach, it already was starting to look run down by 1970, and things didn't get any better during the 1970s. These types of discount stores used to be much more common in New York City than they are now. While you may still some scattered in various places such as 14th Street in Manhattan and the South Bronx, they've largely been supplanted by gentrification, exorbitant rents, and smaller, more focused chain retailers.
Mermaid Horizon
Undated, but the same site perhaps ca. 2000. Note that this version was called "Mermaid Horizon Discounts" in honor of the street location. Now it became a "99 Cent" store.
These days, businesses have to be real money machines to survive. That's why you see so many of these quaint old businesses disappearing, to be replaced by bank branches, pharmacies, and Starbucks establishments. Nothing wrong with that, it's what the people who are voting with their dollars want.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
The new McDonald's in 2012, boarded up for Hurricane Sandy.
Around 2008-2009, the building, which was located on two parcels. Fiserv Mastermoney was drastically renovated and replaced with a McDonald's restaurant. While it certainly looks like the building was completely torn down, complete tear-downs don't happen too often in New York City for tax reasons. An owner needs to retain just enough original structural elements to be able to call it a "renovation." But, basically, the old 1930 two-story building disappeared around that time and was replaced by the current restaurant.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
A recent photo of the location. Note that this angle gives you a little perspective, showing a sliver of the massive elevated subway line that is just across the street.
That area of Brooklyn has become a rough area over the years, and there was a fatal stabbing at that McDonald's on Easter Sunday 2014. That's just a reflection of the neighborhood, which has never completely recovered from its steep decline during the 1960s and 1970s.

However, lest you be left with the wrong impression, this particular McDonald's gets an "A" grade from the NYC Health Inspectors, so it has that going for it. It even gets onto Coney Island's "Ten Best Eating Establishment" lists, which may tell you more about the current state of Coney Island than it does this particular burger joint. The world needs fast food, though, and this looks like a great location for one.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
This capture from Google Street View in November 2019 gives a little more context. The subway line is revealed right across the street. One can imagine that the original Jack got a lot of business from the subway trade, thus explaining all of his garish signs facing in that direction.
The story of this parcel of land really speaks volumes about the evolution of New York City. The small, independent businesses in their ramshackle buildings had their day, and now it is a time of chain restaurants and sleek architecture. There are some constants such as the subway lines, however, that maintain the structure of the city even as everything around them changes.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk through the past in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of our other entries!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Then and Now: Battery Park City

A New City Arises From the Sea

Battery Park City site
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Then and Now: Manhattan Skyline From Dumbo

The Evolving City

View of Manhattan from Dumbo
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
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
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
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
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
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!