Friday, August 30, 2019

Then and Now: 29th Street at Park Avenue South, NYC

Park Avenue South, Manhattan

Park Avenue South, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue South at East 29th Street in 1970.
Street names can be very confusing in Manhattan because they remain the same for many decades, then suddenly change for little or no reason. Today, we're going to look at one of those streets which has had a more successful name transition than many of the others. Park Avenue South is like the Cinderella of New York Avenues. It gets no respect but always seems on the verge of stardom. When I saw the above picture of Park Avenue South from 1970 with the big Pan Am Building in the distance, I wondered if all that promise and hope over the years had made a big difference. So, I decided to do a comparison of Park Avenue South from 1970 to 2017
Times Square, January 2009
Times Square, January 2009
.

Fourth Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue South (then Fourth Avenue), looking north from East 31st Street in 1890. The importance of the area is indicated by those newfangled electric poles that were just coming into fashion. The large building is the 1876 Park Avenue Hotel, and the smaller building next to it is the older Brandes Hotel. Note the streetcars coming out of the Park Avenue Tunnel at 33rd Street (from "New York Then and Now," Dover Publications, via Ephemeral New York).
Park Avenue South runs between East 17th Street (at Union Square) up to East 32nd Street in Manhattan. Above 32nd Street, it is simply Park Avenue. If that seems kind of arbitrary to you, well, it is. There is nothing about East 32nd Street that makes it some kind of marker between north and south other than the fact that the avenue name changes. This brings up the history of the name itself, which is a bit unusual. It was put in the 1811 grid map of the city as Fourth Avenue, which is its natural name given its position directly to the east of Fifth Avenue (at least along some sections, Madison Avenue is between them north of East 23rd Street). It continued happily as Fourth Avenue until 1959, when it was decided to rename it as Park Avenue South. However, only the 15-block stretch between Union Square and East 32nd Street was renamed to Park Avenue South. Below Union Square, it was and remains Fourth Avenue.

Fourth Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Union Square, looking north toward the future Park Avenue South, 1893 (Halftone Print).
This is one of those New York oddities where the city decides to rename an avenue for apparently no reason. I don't think anyone will dispute me when I say that "Fourth Avenue" does not have quite the cachet in Manhattan as Fifth Avenue or Third Avenue or Second Avenue. "Fourth Avenue" conjures up images of drab warehouses and 1800s department stores. There is nothing wrong with Fourth Avenue, but obviously, someone with enough clout wanted to separate the area north of Union Square from that name and associate it with the glamorous stretch of avenue north of Grand Central Terminal. The Park Avenue South area was so unfashionable for many years that it didn't even really have a neighborhood name. Everyone knows Greenwich Village and Gramercy and Chelsea and so forth, but Park Avenue South was kind of left out. In the 19th Century, this area was called Rose Hill, and that is still used occasionally. Rose Hill is the area bounded by 23rd Street to the south, 32nd Street to the north, Madison Avenue to the west, and Third Avenue to the east. However, it's still an area without an identity, sandwiched in between Kips Bay and Midtown South and Gramercy.

Fourth Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The future Park Avenue South at 23rd Street in 1893, showing the National Academy of Design (Halftone Print).
Sometimes, these name changes don't really stick, such as renaming Sixth Avenue to "Avenue of the Americas" during World War II. However, the name "Park Avenue South" seems to have caught on enough for nobody to still call it Fourth Avenue. This is probably because Park Avenue sounds more prestigious than plain old Fourth Avenue, a name which is tarnished a bit due to its close association with the Bowery. Whatever the reason, it became Park Avenue South and that is how people think of it today.

Fourth Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Looking north from 21st Street on the future Park Avenue South in 1903. Already, the street's character is changing into a wall of buildings, with construction cranes visible putting up even more tall buildings (Halftone Print).
In the 1960s and 1970s, though, the new name was not immediately embraced. There were stories of mail being misdelivered and misaddressed and people refusing to call their beloved old Fourth Avenue "Park Avenue South," which made it sound like it was in somebody's basement. However, the name did catch on, though old habits die very hard in New York City and you may still find some old-timers who refuse to call it anything but Fourth Avenue. There also are engravings of "Fourth Avenue" here and there on the old buildings. Manhattan has a long memory.

Park Avenue South, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue South in the 1970s. This was one of the rare streets in Manhattan that had little trees lining its center median. Now, of course, there are trees everywhere in Manhattan (from "New York Then and Now," Dover Publications, via Ephemeral New York).
Whatever you want to call it, Park Avenue South was hot in the 1920s. That is when many of the buildings that line it were built. These have pretty much remained intact since then, with some additions near Grand Central Terminal. Originally built as office towers, many of these imposing buildings have been converted to coops and condos over the past 30 years. So, though the street may look the same, it actually has changed dramatically in terms of how these buildings are used in the 21st Century.

Park Avenue South, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Park Avenue South from 29th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
Now, Park Avenue South is an extremely hot area. Well, okay, at least tepidly hot. It is on the move, baby! It is full of new restaurants and businesses that cater to a completely new and up-and-coming clientele. However, it did not become hot due to the name change or the success of the businesses in those forbidding 1920s office buildings. Instead, all of those pre-war buildings with the big interior spaces turned out to be wonderful living spaces, something the original builders and the city officials who made the name change in 1959 never contemplated. So, instead of the insurance companies and ad agencies that had offices on Park Avenue South in the 1950s, now it is full of multi-million dollar apartments and trendy apartments for young lawyers and designers. That's real change in New York City, the kind you can believe in.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The streets may stay the same, even the buildings may stand for over a hundred years, but the lives of the people that inhabit them make deep and lasting changes in how they are used. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Then and Now: Astor Place, Greenwich Village, NYC

The Alamo in Astor Place, Greenwich Village

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The Alamo in Astor Place, 1978.
If you are looking for a variety of experiences in New York, Greenwich Village is your place. There are a lot of quirks in Greenwich Village. Not bad things necessarily. There are just some ... things that are just there and don't make a lot of sense unless you want them to make sense. One of these is a big black cube in Astor Place, Greenwich Village. Astor Place is both the name of a very short street and of a state of mind. Oh, and also the name for the entire neighborhood and its subway stop. Anyway, I saw the above 1978 photo of the big black cube, sometimes called the Astor Place Cube, and decided to update the photo with a more recent view of the same scene. So, I did a comparison of Astor Place, NYC, from 1978 to 2017.

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The Cube sometime in the 1980s, with the former Wanamaker's Store (now a K-Mart) serving as a backdrop (Courtesy Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation).
There is no way to talk about Astor Place without talking about the big black cube, so let's get right to it. The cube is called The Alamo and it was designed by sculptor Tony Rosenthal. He had it cast in a New Haven, Connecticut, foundry in 1967 before erecting it in what is now known as Alamo Square. It went up as part of the "Sculpture and the Environment" organized by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and was only intended to be temporary. However, locals liked it, so there the Alamo has resided ever since. It was restored in 1987 by the same New Haven foundry that originally cast it, and renovated again in 2005 to fix some broken parts, and then again in 2015-16 while Astor Place was being redeveloped. The Alamo is 1800 pounds (820 kg) of love, and people can twist it around on the metal pipe which rises up through its center. The Municipal Art Society placed it in the "Adopt-a-Monument" program, and its sponsor during the 1980s was Texan Dan Neale. The City takes very good care of the Alamo and repairs it regularly.

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Astor Place, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
From starting out as a temporary exhibit along with about 25 other such sculptures during the Summer of Love, the Alamo has become a fixture on the border between the Village and the East Village. It's not really clear what it symbolizes, why it's called the Alamo, or even how long it can last. However, unlike the grand subway entrances of the past which were torn down ostensibly because they interfered with driver vision (nice excuse), the Alamo with its impenetrable 8'x8' Cor-Ten steel dimensions somehow has endured. Personally, I think they should have kept some of those cows from that famous street art exhibit circa 2001 and ditched the Alamo, but I will admit that the Alamo certainly does have a presence about it. Even if it's not clear what that presence is. But who am I to say? The people have spoken and they want the Alamo!

The Alamo in Astor Place, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Astor Place, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
Well, enough about the big black cube. If you like it, visit Astor Place sometime and give it a whirl (literally). The massive building directly behind it in the photo directly above has a much longer history. John Wanamaker was a Philadelphia entrepreneur who was born in 1838 and basically invented the modern department store. He built 770 Broadway between 1903 and 1907 on an entire block between 8th and 9th Streets. Originally, this Wanamaker's was even bigger, with a sky bridge connecting it to the "main store" across 9th Street, but that part of the store closed down in 1954 and burned down in 1957 in a spectacular conflagration. It now serves as the headquarters for Verizon Media (which include Huff Post and AOL, among other ventures). K-Mart occupies the first two floors and the basement, where there is an entrance to the Astor Place subway stop. Incidentally, if you're shopping in New York, you should stop in K-mart, it has fairly reasonable prices on a wide assortment of typical grocery store goods as well as clothing and things like that.

Well, there is a lot more to Astor Place, but we'll get to the other stuff another time. Anyway, thanks for reading this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Astor Place has a lot of history, as do the buildings around it. The Alamo is a beloved Village treasure which basically does nothing but certainly does that in a unique way. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

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

Broadway at 72nd Street, Manhattan

West 72nd Street at Broadway, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
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, randommusings.filminspector.com
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, randommusings.filminspector.com
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, randommusings.filminspector.com
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, randommusings.filminspector.com
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, randommusings.filminspector.com
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!

2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Then and Now: Broadway and 23rd Street, NYC

East 23rd Street at Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, in 1974 randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, in 1974. To the extreme right is the Flatiron Building, and to the extreme left is the Metropolitan Life Home Office building.
Some changes over time are subtle, and some, well, are not. One new building can drastically change the character of a view. When I saw the above 1974 photo, I didn't immediately recognize the location despite the fact that I lived with ten blocks of it for a full decade and still retain roots there. I finally figured out where it was by noticing at the extreme right of the photo that little ridge - that, I recognized. What is it?

The Flatiron Building at Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
A better look at the building on the extreme right of the original 1974 photo. Yes, that is the Flatiron Building at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, NYC.
Well, you probably knew that if you know New York City pretty well. It took me a few minutes, though, and I'm a native to the area. So, we have the right location, but it sure looks unfamiliar. So, I decided to do a comparison of Fifth Avenue at Broadway and Fifth Avenue from 1974 to 2017.

Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
The reason for my confusion became clear once I saw the current view. What has changed? Well, not much, just the addition of one building. It is Madison Green, 5 East 22nd Street, New York, NY. Madison Green - obviously named after Madison Square Park, which is to our left - was built in 1985. That was the height of a Manhattan building boom due to the near-term expiration of some generous property tax abatements. A lot of newish buildings in Midtown South and surrounding areas such as the Flatiron District date from 1984-86, which was not a particularly outstanding era for architecture but featured a lot of very big buildings. I've walked by that building a hundred times and never really notice it, so, at least from perspective, it's not that intrusive. It's just kind of bland and... there.

Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
Incidentally, that building over on the left hasn't changed in a long time. In fact, that building is even older than the Flatiron Building. That is the Metropolitan Life Home Office building (officially 1 Madison Square), completed in 1893 and renovated in 1957. The distinctive tower right behind it was added in 1911 and renovated in 1964. That has been the solid backdrop for Madison Square since the days of the original 1879 Madison Garden was demolished in 1890 to make room for it (yes, this is where the name Madison Square Garden comes from, even though Madison Square Garden is no longer anywhere near Madison Square).

Broadway at 23rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The 1893 Metropolitan Life Home Office building, with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower behind it, September 2017 (Google Street View).
There's no question that Madison Green, a 29-story condo, has changed the character of the area. It dwarfs the Flatiron Building, though, of course, the Flatiron Building is iconic and can withstand the competition. How you feel about this kind of change probably depends on your own views about development. It's a fabulous location for residences, with many apartments looking out over Madison Square, others looking out over the East River toward Queens and Brooklyn, and others looking south toward the downtown and the World Trade Center. A lot of cities would try to frustrate this kind of development, but fortunately, New York City allowed it. All of those dwellings help to keep rents somewhat in check, though nobody will ever accuse the Flatiron District of having low rents relative to the rest of the country. And, if you must have a sense of that old-time view, you can still see that lonely water tower over on the right, reminding you of how things used to be before that big money rolled into the area.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. A massive new building like Madison Green may annoy some purists, but it rejuvenates a neighborhood and lets more people enjoy it. Please visit some of our other articles in this series!

2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Then and Now: 34th Street at 8th Avenue, NYC

The New Yorker Hotel at 8th Avenue and 34th Street, Manhattan

The New Yorker, 8th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The New Yorker, 8th Avenue at 34th Street, in 1979.
The skyscraper building boom of the late 1920s and early 1930s left an enduring mark on Manhattan. Some of it is very noticeable, such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, and some of it is a little more subtle. The New Yorker Hotel is one of those unique New York institutions which has survived while others have fallen by the wayside. Now officially called the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, it is located at 481 Eighth Avenue in New York City. It opened in 1930 during the height of the skyscraper building boom and, like the others that arose around the same time such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, it is designed in the art deco style. When I saw the above photo of the New Yorker from 1979, I decided to see what the same scene looks like now. So, I did a comparison of the New Yorker from 1979 to 2017.

The New Yorker, 8th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Undated photo of the New Yorker, ca. 1940 (courtesy New Yorker Hotel).
For over 30 years, the New Yorker retained its original coal-fired steam boilers and generators capable of producing more than 2,200 kilowatts of direct current electric power. This, of course, ran counter to the general use of alternating current developed by Nikolai Tesla. Thus, it was somewhat ironic that Tesla chose to live in the New Yorker for the last decade of his life, from 1934 to 1943. He liked to sit in Central Park and feed the pigeons. After he passed away, MIT Professor John Trump was asked by the government to review his papers for anything significant. John Trump was the uncle of Donald Trump.

The New Yorker, 8th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The New Yorker Hotel ca. 1948.
The New Yorker went through a  number of weird detours over the years. In 1975, the Unification Church of the United States led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon bought the then-vacant building for $5.6 million. Used for various religious purposes, the hotel acquired an almost mystical reputation. The Unification Church still owns the New Yorker Hotel and reopened it as a hotel in 1999 after spending five years upgrading it. The New Yorker Hotel joined the Wyndham Hotels chain in March 2014.

The most noticeable thing about the New Yorker from street level is probably the sign. The original sign stopped working in 1967 during the hotel's troubled times, and it was not replaced (with a new LED version) until 2005. Otherwise, except for some cosmetic improvements, the

The New Yorker, 8th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
34th Street looking east toward 8th Avenue, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
Getting the right street was a little tricky for the original view because the entrances of the New Yorker looks very similar on both the 8th Avenue and 34th Street sides. The original photo was taken on 34th Street looking east toward Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, and Macy's - all of which, of course, remain there. The Empire State Building was almost invisible in the original photo, which just goes to show how misty it can get in Manhattan when it rains. Otherwise, the scene hasn't changed very much, though the low building across the street at the northeast corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue has been pretty well hidden behind signage.

The New Yorker, 8th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
The New Yorker, looking up 8th Avenue from 34th Street, November 2017 (Google Street View).
If you peek around the corner to the left and look uptown on Eighth Avenue, the New Yorker looks very similar. While not as famous, the building just beyond the New Yorker on Eighth Avenue, 505 Eighth Avenue, also was built in 1930, and the one next to it, 519 Eighth Avenue, was built in 1927. They are perfectly functional buildings but don't have that distinctive art deco look, so nobody really pays them much mind as tourist attractions.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The massive piles in the center of Manhattan have had an enduring quality that retains the mystique of the 1930s while remaining very much in the here and now. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Monday, August 26, 2019

Then and Now: Explosion on West 11th Street, NYC

18 West 11th Street near Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
18 West 11th Street, NYC, on March 18, 1970.
Sometimes, events on a particular day leave a lasting mark on a neighborhood. Friday, March 6, 1970, was an ordinary day in Greenwich Village until an explosion blew the front off of an 1845 Greek Revival townhouse at 18 West 11th Street. Unlike some areas of Manhattan, some quite close by, this area of Greenwich Village never experienced a decline during the 1960s and 1970s. Ir remained prime real estate, the home to movie stars and other well-to-do folks, even as the East Village and the Bowery declined. You can verify this by noticing the (charred) tree in front of it, at a time when trees on Manhattan streets were extremely rare and a sure sign of wealth. Anyway, the incident received a lot of publicity because of the presence of some top film stars nearby. I came across an image of the explosion, so I thought I would check in on the location and see what it looked like today. So, this is a comparison of 18 West 11th Street, NYC, from 1970 to November 2017.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com

The explosion was caused when members of the underground Weathermen, a radical group opposed to the Vietnam War and The Man, accidentally detonated a bomb they were making in the basement of 18 West 11th Street. Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins, who were assembling the bombs, and Theodore "Ted" Gold were killed by the blast. Two other Weathermen, Cathlyn Wilkerson and Kathy Boudin, survived and escaped in the confusion. They remained on the FBI's Most Wanted List until their captures in 1980 and 1981, respectively. The townhouse was owned by Wilkerson's father, a radio-station executive who was in the Caribbean at the time. Apparently, he had no idea that radicals were using his pricey building.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com

The townhouse was completely wrecked and ultimately razed after a lengthy investigation. The bombs were so powerful that they basically vaporized the two Weathermen making them, but the structure of the house directed the blast in such a way that it barely scratched the two adjoining townhouses.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Pacific Stars and Stripes, 9 March 1970.
One of the houses next door was owned by the actor Dustin Hoffman, who immediately became the focus of every news story about the incident. The fact that Hoffman and his wife, Anne Byrne, were able to rescue "three modern paintings and a Tiffany glass lampshade" was almost as prominently reported in news accounts as the deaths and survivors.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com

The Weathermen were just one of many radical groups at the height of the Vietnam War. Like the others, it was composed of college students who had no real plans but simply wanted to bring attention to their pet causes. It's even unclear what target they intended to use the bombs against, they just wanted to blow something up. Well, they did, they sure did.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com

As the photos show, what the Weathermen didn't destroy, the bulldozers finished off. Since the townhouse is in the Greenwich Village Historic District, rebuilding the completely destroyed structure had to go through a lot of paperwork. Finally, in 1978-79, the site was rebuilt by architect Hugh Hardy.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
18 West 11th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The rebuilt house features an angular "rear facade" (for some reason that is the technical term for the front wall). At first glance, one might assume that the protusion was designed as a sort of memorial to the blast. However, according to the architect, Hugh Hardy, he designed it that way because the fad then was "diagonals." Well, it's certainly diagonal. Whatever the reasoning, the design sticks out like a sore thumb on the elegant block, as if desperate to call attention to itself.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
18 West 11th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
As one could surmise, despite not being a "renowned architect," that the new design hasn't aged well in terms of public acceptance. In fact, almost since the day it was built, people have wished it would be rebuilt more in keeping with its Greek Revival surroundings. Of course, once again, any changes have to go through the Landmark Preservation Committee (LPC) despite the fact that the building itself has virtually nothing left from its 1844-45 incarnation. So, in November 2013, a new owner submitted an application to eliminate the "diagonal" and restore a flat front, er, rear facade.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Renovation plan approved by LPC.
In what must be record time for the LPC, it approved the renovation within two months, on January 22, 2014. Apparently, they couldn't approve the change fast enough. Believe me, there are people who see that and wince as they reflect on how long it took them to get approval. It's undoubtedly an indication of how much of an eyesore the "diagonal" is. So, that ends our story, the building was renovated, and the dreaded diagonal is no more. Right? Well, not exactly.

18 West 11th Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
18 West 11th Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
As we've already seen, the dreaded diagonal is still there. But what happened with all that LPC activity and the approval of the renovation and, well, everything? Well, that is unclear (this is quite common in situations involving Manhattan real estate). Public records show that the property at 18 West 11th Street has been sold three different times since the LPC approval, most recently (as of this writing) on June 21, 2019. Naturally, the transactions involve LLCs, which means the owner remains anonymous unless he or she or it decides to reveal their identity. So, at last check, the property remains as it has been since 1979, a stark reminder of the events of March 1970.

I hope your enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The world will never forget the tragic explosion at 18 West 11th Street, and apparently will never be allowed to forget the modernist reconstruction. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Then and Now: Third Avenue at 29th Street, NYC

East 29th Street at Third Avenue, Manhattan

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, in 1980.
There is a great deal of subtlety to the changes in Manhattan over the decades that is difficult to convey. People who weren't in New York in the 1970s and 1980s might not realize how dramatically the overall feeling of the city has changed since then. While a lot of New York City has remained the same over the past forty years, there has been a general change in the overall ambiance. I may not be using the best word for what I mean, so by that, I mean that a lot of the city's rough edges have been scraped down and made into more normal-looking edges. I saw the above fairly random street scene from 1980 - I have no idea what the photographer was aiming to capture, which makes it perfect for my purposes - and wondered how it has changed over four decades. It turns out that this scene has changed a bit, and how it has changed makes my point about ambiance. Accordingly, I decided to do a comparison of East 29th Street at Third Avenue from 1980 to 2017.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
First, I had to find the right spot. This turned out to be a fairly mundane area in Kips Bay. Fortunately, the original photo had a street sign in it, so the scene had to be somewhere on 29th Street. We're looking up an avenue, so that only leaves a handful of choices. Finally, the Chrysler Building is sticking up like a sore thumb in the distance, so that narrowed the choices down to basically Third Avenue - which it turned out to be. Verification is shown on the right (east) side of Third Avenue, where the same streetscape greets us four decades later. However, it's the left (west) side of the street that makes my point about ambiance. So, let's focus on it first.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue (west side of Third Avenue), NYC, in September 2017 (Google Street View).
Walking around New York City was a different experience in 1980 than it is today. It was more... raw. There were many empty lots, lots with half-finished construction, sweeping vistas to midtown because of the absence of tall buildings. I may be exaggerating a bit, but the original 1980 picture reminded me of how common it was back then to see ... nothing. On seemingly every street there would be some lot that looked like nobody cared about it even though it was prime real estate within walking distance to midtown or downtown. You can see that on the western side of Third Avenue in the 1980 photo. Notice how distinctly the Chrysler Building shows up? There was nothing blocking it. Now, you can barely see it over the jumble of buildings.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Biltmore Plaza, 155 East 29th Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
That empty spot on the left in the original 1980 photo, the one where if you look closely there appears to be a construction fence and maybe even one of those mobile homes they use as offices, was about to change. The Biltmore Plaza at 155 East 29th Street was already in the process of being built and was completed the following year in 1981. Doesn't it look more impressive than some empty lot or decaying 1900 building that had been neglected since the 1950s? Well, maybe you don't agree and prefer less clutter, but nothing speaks to wealth and growing confidence than putting up a 35-floor rental building in a neglected area of the city. That kind of investment tends to raise surrounding property values, too.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Third Avenue, NYC, looking north from East 29th Street during July 2018 (Google Street View).
Looking further north, we see that there are a number of new buildings lining the western side of Third Avenue now. That darkish, tall one on the left is the Bentley at 159 East 30th Street, which opened in 1987. Beyond it, the lighter building is the Windsor Court, a 32-story building completed in 1988. Now, it becomes a little clearer why it's more difficult these days to see the Chrysler Building from East 29th Street at Third Avenue than it was in 1980. There is new construction (new as in post-1980) running all the way up along Third Avenue. The western side of Third Avenue has experienced a dramatic rebirth which has turned empty lots and neglected old commercial building into elegant housing.

East 29th Street at 3rd Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
East 29th Street at Third Avenue, NYC, east side of the street in September 2017.
The east side of the street, meanwhile, hasn't changed much at all. Although it looks similar, the tall white building in the distance has been replaced by a newer version, 200 East 32nd Street, finished in 1990. Nothing wrong with an upgrade. The rest of the buildings are the same. For instance, 413 Third Avenue (the one with the noodle shop) was built in 1930, 200 East 30th Street (the boxy one the corner) was built in 1967, and so on. This row was perfectly fine in 1980 and remains so today. The point is that the entire ambiance of this section of Manhattan has changed because there has been a great deal of construction since 1980 where it was needed most. And that is a subtle change that you only can appreciate by having walked the streets then, and now.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Some of the biggest changes in Manhattan over the decades are extremely subtle, and it is easy to overlook them if you don't recall how the city used to look. Also, New York City, unlike some other large cities, has been open to building new housing, and this has taken some of the pressure off of rents (which are still too high, but not as high as they would be without all this fairly recent construction). Please visit some of our other pages in this series!

2019

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Then and Now: Columbus Avenue at West 73rd Street, NYC

73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, Manhattan.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, 1979.
Sometimes I make these comparisons and they surprise me, but for different reasons. It always amazes me when an ordinary street scene remains unchanged over time as if forgotten by history. Manhattan's residential neighborhoods are extremely stable over time. The changes are usually very subtle, but there are changes even if they aren't very noticeable. However, sometimes the things that remain are as interesting as the things that have changed. In other words, the fact that things haven't changed is a feat in itself. I saw the above wintry picture of the Upper West Side and wondered what this quaint scene might look recently. So, I decided to do a comparison of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue from 1979 to 2019.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, May 2019 (Google Street View).
Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint an exact location and orientation, but not this time. It was easy to find the right location, which is (directly in front of us) the southeast corner of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC. First of all, the street signs are obvious in the 1979 photo, but even aside from that, the buildings are eerily unchanged. In fact, the entire scene is unchanged, as if encased in amber. I write that with a hint of wonder because, well, it's been forty years. You would expect something to change. A few things indeed have changed, and we'll get to those below. But realistically, a time traveler from 1979 plopped down at this same spot in 2019 would have a hard time feeling at all disoriented.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Southeast corner of 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, October 2017 (Google Street View).
The first thing that leaps out at me is that the streetcorner itself is magically preserved. In fact, I struggle to find anything that's different about it. The only thing that leaps out is that they have replaced the green parcel bin with a trash can. Hey, I guess that's progress. The "Don't Walk" signs were replaced with similar boxes with symbols in the early 21st Century. I'm a bit surprised that there's still a mailbox on the corner - the same one, most likely - because I thought they removed them during the various security scares of the 21st Century. However, there it sits, bothering nobody and just silently doing its job forty years later. The beautiful rental building on the corner, 101 West 73rd Street, was built in 1920. The owners decided to paint the stripes in grey rather than bright red somewhere along the way, I suppose that counts as a big change. There seems to be a lot of subtle toning down of bright colors all across the city for some reason, and why that might be I have no idea, but it seems to be "a thing." Anyway, it's a classic building with a lot of character, and those types of buildings are a pleasure to see survive.

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, north side of the street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
And, just when I make a blanket statement about colors across the city becoming more muted over time, I run into something to contradict me. The building on the northeast corner of West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, 100 West 73rd Street, has gone from a bland beige to a funky violet. Who knows, maybe it's owned by NYU grads. It also was built in 1920 and is another rental building. Incidentally, if you are wondering what rentals go for in a nice Upper West Side building like this, you might luck into one for around $1800/month in 2019, but you're more likely looking at over $2000/month for just about any studio (which is pretty much all the building has). Is that reasonable? Actually, it's pretty standard for Manhattan, though of course, you can find cheaper if you find a "deal."

West 73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
73rd Street at Columbus Avenue, NYC, north side of the street in October 2017 (Google Street View).
Otherwise, the scene is a pretty picture of gentrification. Now, that's a controversial word to use, and you could argue that nothing of the sort has taken place here because, well, it was nice back in 1979, too. And, to be truthful, it's hard to argue with that. However, the scene was much starker in 1979. They've since added trees, you have lots of cute little cafes and fancy restaurants instead of cleaners and other common businesses, and the buildings themselves appear better maintained (at least on the outside, but the outside is usually a good predictor of what the inside looks like, too). You no longer have splotchy paint jobs, the fire escapes are now tastefully painted, there now are elaborate awnings. It certainly looks more prosperous to me, though the old view with its rough edges had a certain charm to it, too.

126 West 73rd Street, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
126 West 73rd Street, NYC, October 2017 (Google Street View).
The tall white building in the background of the 1979 photo is still there, though a bit obscured by the trees. It was built in 1886 (some sources say 1914-1915) by Henry Struss and is located in a landmark district between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Just after the 1979 picture was taken, 126 West 73rd Street was converted to coop apartments in 1980. It is made of a singular steel frame with a glazed terra cotta facade that has been restored. So, there have been some changes going on, just not ones that are obvious to the naked eye. This neighborhood must have looked quite different back around 1915 with just this 13-floor building standing before all the lower buildings around it sprang up as the city expanded northward.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Sometimes the lack of change is a feat in itself, and I'm sure the residents of West 73rd Street like the very subtle changes that have taken place on their street over the past forty years. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!

2019

Then and Now: 7th Avenue and 23rd Street, NYC

Location of the "Y.M.C.A." video from 1978

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, in 1978 (Still from Village People "Y.M.C.A" video, courtesy Casablanca Records).
It is no great secret that the Greenwich Village/Chelsea area of Manhattan long has been favored by artists and musicians. If you're familiar with the area, you immediately notice it popping up in popular videos by Madonna, Alanis Morissette, and too many other artists to list. I was watching the Village People music video "Y.M.C.A." and noticed that it appeared to have been filmed in and around Greenwich Village in Manhattan. A little digging verified that it was, so I wondered what the main location looked like recently. That led me to do a comparison of 23rd Street at 7th Avenue from 1978 to 2017.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, February 2017 (Google Street View).
The Village People filmed the main scenes from "Y.M.C.A." on the middle of the 23rd Street block between 6th and 7th Avenues in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The street has changed only a little bit in the intervening four decades.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
Northwest corner of 7th Avenue at 23rd Street, NYC, August 2013 (Google Street View).
One building, in particular, verifies that we are in the right location and looking in the correct location, and that is the four-story building at the northwest corner of 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue. This is 224 West 23rd Street, which was built in 1900 and doesn't look like it has changed much since then (1900 or 1978, take your pick). It is completely retail, which is a bit unusual because these buildings often have some apartments above the street level. The building on the opposite, northeast, corner appears to be the same but has undergone an extensive remodel.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
215 West 23rd Street, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
The building with the prominent "Y.M.C.A." sign on it in the 1978 video is still there and hasn't changed very much, either. It housed the McBurney YMCA from 1904 to 2002, when the YMCA relocated to 125 West 14th Street, NYC. The building was built around 1900 and since 2002 features luxury condominiums. Note that the streetlamps haven't changed since 1978, but they've added a tree in front of it.

West 23rd Street at 7th Avenue, NYC, randommusings.filminspector.com
23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, NYC, September 2017 (Google Street View).
The location where the Village People were dancing is a nondescript part of the sidewalk. It appears to have been in front of what is now a Domino's Pizza. Just another stretch of sidewalk in Manhattan that made cultural history and which nobody notices today.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. This area of Manhattan is in a lot of music videos because it always has been a hotspot for artists and musicians. Please visit some of our other pages in this series!


2019