A magazine writer emailed me yesterday in a search for the lost buildings of 2007. Many buildings come to mind. The smaller ones seem to fall away from memory -- they go so quickly and without warning. It's hard sometimes to remember what was where. But the one that stands out in my mind, perhaps more than any other, is 1551 Broadway, the former home of Times Square's last Howard Johnson's and the Gaiety Burlesk.
photo: my flickr
The 112-year-old building was not a beauty, but it held a lot of New York history -- right down to the bricks, which came from the Shultz Brick Company and probably traveled down the Hudson River to get here from a once-thriving industry now vanished.
The Childs Company bought the property from the Martel family of France in 1920 for $400,000. In this photo from the same year, it held Park Taylor clothing and, upstairs, Wilson's Dancing Studio, where Henry Miller fell in love with June Edith Smith in 1923.
photo source: NYPL
Wilson's later became the Orpheum Dance Palace, a taxi-dance hall that closed in 1964, soon after journalist Liz Trotta went undercover there, posing as a dancer to write an expose (which I would love to read, if anyone can find it). It then became the New Paris, which went from the "All-Live Whirly-Girly Revue Big-Time Vaudeville" house to a 1970s swinging place where live sex acts were performed on mattresses fragrant with bodily fluids. The Gaiety also most likely opened during that same sticky decade.
Thanks to owner Morris Rubinstein, Howard Johnson's came to the corner in 1959, around about the time this photo was taken:
photo source: hojoland
In the New York Times in 1988, Morris Rubinstein (then 79) said of 1551, "As long as the Lord will spare me in this world, it's not for sale...What am I going to do with the money? I already give to charity. What else do I need? What would I do with $20 million? Would I have a better cup of coffee? Would I get a better sandwich?" But the Lord could not spare Morris forever and in 2005 the building was sold by the Rubinsteins, along with two other properties, for over $100 million. The Gaiety closed and was soon followed by Howard Johnson's.
For two years, 1551 stood partly fallen, the demolition halted by the intrusion of a refreshment bar belonging to the Lunt-Fontanne, formerly the Globe Theater, whose Broadway lobby stood next to 1551.
photo source: NY Times
Globe in 1930s with Orpheum sign on 1551
It wasn't until sometime late this summer that the demolition continued to its completion and 1551 fell back into a pile of bricks, each of them holding untold secrets and sensations, each one stamped over a century ago with the name Shultz.