Friday, February 29, 2008

Columbus Circle Bloodbath

Columbus Circle is poised for a major demolition. Let's begin at Columbus Circle Wine & Liquor.

Recently closed and moved a block north to 1802 Broadway, they've been forced to move a lot in the past 74 years. Owned by the Villani family since 1934, they began at 1 Columbus Circle, then got pushed out by the Huntington (now American Heritage) Museum. Their new building was then sold in 1964 (currently Trump Tower). From there, they moved to 1780 Broadway, distinguished by a big red neon LIQUOR sign. But #1780 has been bought by Extell and will soon be replaced by "a fucking 60-story high-rise," as I was told by Steven Villani, the store's current owner.

Steven Villani with 1970s sign: the number is still the same

Third-generation, Steven is the son of Frank, nephew of Tony, and grandson of Charlie, the founder of the shop, who also happened to be the first Bronx guy to get a liquor license after Prohibition. With it, he opened a tavern and from there came the liquor store. Steve's new shop looks fancy with fresh shelves and fixtures, and while some customers wish he'd kept the old look of the place, the service is the same. The neon sign, which dates to 1964, was not permitted at the new location, and Steve promises to rescue it before the demolition and put it away in the basement for safekeeping.

closeup of sign in 2006

Loyal to his family's legacy, Steve hasn't raised his prices one dime. "I'm still trying to be the local guy I've always been," he told me, "like the guy my grandfather was...I might be the only stand left in this neighborhood."

1780 Broadway

He might be right about that. 1780 Broadway isn't the only building coming down between 57th and 58th Streets. I talked with a mover at Beethoven Pianos who was good enough to give me a quick tour. We stood on the sidewalk and he pointed down 58th, "That was a parking garage: toast. That was a hotel: toast. That was a recording studio: toast. The supermarket? Toast. That townhouse at #226? Toast. The school next to it: toast."

"That's a lot of toast," I said.

The piano mover laughed, "You ain't kidding."

Who knows if we can trust the accuracy of the piano mover's information. The townhouse, built in 1901, has a market listing. It also has a port-a-potty in its courtyard. But if he is right, that makes seven buildings--and maybe more--falling at Columbus Circle. What replaces them will surely be made of glass. Like the glass that will soon sheath the pre-war brick of 3 Columbus Circle (see renderings here). We are becoming a city of glass, of cold, shiny surfaces and not much else.


Mark said...

The ground floor that now contains the Morton Williams supermarket was once a movie house that had been known under various incarnations as the Lincoln Art Theater, the Bombay Cinema, the New Carnegie, the Biograph and, finally, the Angelika 57.

Trish said...

Wow I walked past the liquor store just under an hour ago and sadly noticed the closure (but gladly saw the sign noting the new location). I immediately thought "I hope they save the sign!"

Anonymous said...

glass is quick and cheap. everything of real value is getting slaughtered on the alter of the bottom line.