Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Times Square 90s

I finally found a packet of photographs I'd long feared lost--a handful of black-and-white images of a vanished Times Square that I took one day in the early 1990s.



I used to love walking up and down 42nd Street between Broadway and 8th. The sidewalks were unclogged by tourists and there were no peddlers begging to sketch your caricature or write your name on a grain of rice. The only barkers barking called out, "Girls, girls, girls, one dolla, one dolla, one dolla."

Ancient marquees provided shade with their canopies of busted bulbs. Lunch was best at the Grand Luncheonette. I've written about it all here before.



The buildings back then were low and made of brick. They were human-sized, manageable. They contained hot-sheet hotels ("Couples Welcome"), cheap eateries ("Flame Steaks"), tobacco shops, arcades, adult bookstores, peepshows, and the like.



I took these photos with a chunky 1970 Nikon F that had spent some time, before my time, in the Vietnam War. It was a big, conspicuous camera with its long lens. On 8th Avenue, as I was taking this photo of The Eros gay porn theater (closed around 1996, today the Playwright Tavern), I noticed I was being shadowed by a shadowy figure with eyes for my camera.



I dodged him, but he kept following. I could not shake him. Before he could make a grab, I hopped on a bus to escape, camera still safely around my neck.

With that outing cut short, I only got about a dozen photos of the Deuce that day. Black-and-white film was expensive, so I didn't shoot much or often, and these are all I have. Now that they've been scanned into electronic format, you can see them all here on my flickr page.

34 comments:

Melanie said...

These photos are great-glad you found them--I always felt creepy walking around there back in the day.

EV Grieve said...

Wow, I love these shots. This will inspire me to find the packets of photos from 20-some years back that are hopelessly in random boxes here and there.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks guys. now that i have a scanner, i'll be able to feature a few more shots from the past.

c.o. moed said...

I was suddenly transported back to my childhood, holding my father's hand as we headed through Times Square to a Broadway show. In those days, people like my dad could afford to go to them.... thank you for such a wonderful memory...

John said...

Unfortunately, actual film is another thing that is vanishing. I generally use B&W Tri-X 35mm to take pictures of the city, but you're right, it's so expensive. Thanks for posting these.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

My memories of Times Square were filled with mobs and mobs of people in the 60s, 70s, even in the 80s. God, was that a time! Sure am glad I experienced it.

Mick

www.mykoladementiuk.com

Bowery Boogie said...

thanks for sharing. these are awesome. keep 'em coming!

gabriel said...

These are really, really fantastic. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Anonymous said...

You can't get a better time capsule than photos like these.

Ken Mac said...

if only we'd all taken more photos..

Jeremiah Moss said...

i kick myself that these are all i have.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Jeremiah has the answer: Black-and-white film was expensive, so I didn't shoot much or often, and these are all I have.

We all kick ourselves...

Anonymous said...

This blog post is about Times Square in the 1990's, but the way it's written and presented, you'd think it was the 1890's. the times square i remember from that decade, oh so long ago, was still a tourist mob scene, with tall buildings covered in huge and relatively modern advertisements. it was seedier for sure. that's about it. "The buildings back then were low and made of brick". They were? All of them?

Prophet Debunker said...

Times Square in the 1990's? Get over yourself Jeremiah!!! Did you see the gritty but very real Times Square of the 1960's, 1970's? Even the early 1980's? You newcomer wannabe New Yorkers who showed up in the early 1990's and think they know the real NYC just kill me! Stop with your NYC expert act already! It's tired! Arriving in NYC AFTER 1990 disqualifies you from EVER knowing the real New York! Ununker yourself and gentrify yourself back to Peoria, Oshkosh, or wherever your pretend NYC zeitgeist crawled out of!!! Leave our 'vanishing' city to those of us who lived through and stuck out the tough times...

Jeremiah Moss said...

hey, thanks debunker. it's good to know i can count on you to keep me on my toes. that's what i love about tough native new yorkers like yourself--always keeping things interesting.

Shaggy said...

Always looking for great pics of the Deuce. Thanks

Grand St. said...

Debunker, who the f%$# do you think you are, Travis Bickle? The guy does all of us a service, which must be why you post here regularly. What is it that you do to keep the torch aflame?

As JB said - "talkin' loud and sayin' nothin'."

Jen1012 said...

Thank you for taking a picture that includes the Flame Steaks sign! Didn't it burn down? My parents used to take me there during the 80's almost every month. Their steaks were better than Tad's, which was nearby. They thought I was too young to cut my own steak, but not to catch the double feature of The Fly II and The Black Widow down the street afterwards. Most of our fun was had in crappy neighborhoods.

Prophet Debunker said...

What a truly amusing little tirade aimed at me from 'Grand St.'!

Who do I think I am? A native life long New Yorker in my mid sixties who's stuck it out on the Lower East Side/East Village and seen them come and go, rant and rave, wax and wane.

What do I do to keep the torch aflame?? Well, let's see...a lifetime of political activism and community organizing, served on community boards, school board, historical preservation committees, written books & articles about NYC, teach courses on NYC, years of mentoring young people in reading, writing, communication skills,years of volunteering at various NYC Museums...
'I'm talkin' loud, and I'm sayin'plenty!'
That's who the f%$# I think I am!!!

Anonymous said...

The early '90's were already "Giuliani Time." Any interesting, gritty views of times square would really have to come from the '80's or earlier.
Playland, Fascination and the Pink Pussycat Theater all come to mind. By the '90's, the majority if the sex-businesses had already left Times' Square and moved to either 8th Avenue by the Port Authority or to 6th Avenue in Chelsea. Sorry to say, but I think the Prophet Debunker hit the bull's eye.

Jeremiah Moss said...

times square in the early 1990s was not as "gritty" as it had been in the prior two decades, that is certainly true. but to say it was already completely Disneyfied is just not historically accurate.

the early to mid 90s was 42nd St's last gasp of smut. all along the block and along 8th were peep shows, adult book shops, and places to see simulated sex acts. show world had "face shows"--for 10 bucks a girl would sit on your face. this was as late as 1996.

it still existed. and then, with one fell swoop, in a span of just a few years, it was gone. the brick buildings, which were indeed all quite low, and everything they contained, were gone.

Dayton Chrome said...

Little bit of trivia for ya: the words on the marquee of the theater in the background were installed by none other than Jenny Holzer.

These photos were taken right around the time that the city pretty much closed down all the porno theaters, sex shops, and grindhouses on the block. Holzer's installation pieces were just harbingers of what was to come in a way.

Not going to jump into the 'which era of Times Square was more *real*' fray, but yeah, by the time these photos were shot, the circus had already left town. Which some people say was for the better.

That's all.

Grand St. said...

Easy there, debunker.

You blew a gasket because Jeremiah's pictures of Times Square weren't the proper vintage, going so far as to suggest he leave town. Seemed ridiculous to me. Not everyone had the pleasure of living on Ave. B in the 70s. Doesn't mean they're all "disqualified" as New Yorkers.

Regarding your credentials, certain aspects of your c.v. are clearly laudable, but service on a community board-for one thing-is not ipso facto proof of one's status as ideal gatekeeper of New York (Too many liquor licenses and all that.) Seems to this LES native that we could use a few more Jeremiahs out there, alongside old cranks like yourself.

That said, I imagine there's a less heated, more nuanced approach to your writing. Care to share a link to an article?

...and lastly, what's the definition of "ununker?"

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks grand st. maybe debunker will accept your invitation to share his or her articles. it's important to have passionate natives contribute to writing on the city--and also to have them as avid readers of this blog, and others like it, as debunker has proven to be.

Jill said...

When you say "the early 90's" it sounds so recent, like just a few minutes ago, but things have changed so dramatically, and so quickly, that I think it's easy to forget that the early 90's were just on the other side of the big glass-fronted change and still had many, many vestiges of what is now truly gone. It takes looking back and photos like these to realize how very fast New York has changed.

helen of destroy said...

Anonymous--I remember coming into the city as a little kid on a bus full of little kids from Jersey & giggling ourselves to death @ the Playland sign as late as 1994. Some of those places were indeed still open into the mid-90s.
[I have to say I was pretty shocked when I came back in 2005, can only imagine what people who lived here in the 80s or 70s must feel if they're coming back for the first time now]

Dayton Chrome said...

You might enjoy this photo right here:
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_sU3b8Jackbc/SsGuzdVId3I/AAAAAAAAOCg/EIU08BUcigM/s1600-h/NYC+1978.jpg

Jeremiah Moss said...

nice photo--thanks!

Dane Vannatter said...

Hey Jeremiah, a couple of your pictures, the ones with the "cocktail bar" partially in the frame reminded me of a bar across from the 8th Ave entrance Port Authority. Wasn't there a bar there called the Port Authority Bar, something like that. It looked seedy and sooty and really fun. I never went in, we were spending too much time at the Savoy Bar on 41st which was scary but entertaining and sleazy.

Jeremiah Moss said...

maybe you're thinking of Port 41?

http://evgrieve.com/2008/11/giving-thanks-one-week-early-port-41.html

Dane Vannatter said...

I should have been patient, for about 2 posts later there it was: Terminal Bar. That's the place I always wanted to hang out. Port 41 is now where the old Savoy was, a bar I would never have gone to by myself but loved to go to with my friend Marle. We loved to drink heavily in lowdown bars where we could be left alone but entertained by the colorful clientele.

laura said...

yes it does seem like most posters here think life began in 1990. but "J" also has a great back-round of very old new york. he studies vintage pictures, & has a good sense. his personal photos are very good. some of the images are of older places. so some of them ARE from vintage new york. ok, contest? i know NYC from the 1950s. big deal. & the 1960s, big deal. know what? i have a very different perceptive from the 90s kids. alot of stuff they like really was an awful change, & WE who were born here, hated it. (4 generations, i know as i speak).

Gregoire Alessandrini said...

Dear Jamie,
You will find images of 42nd street, the meat market (and other NY locations in the nineties) on my personal blog...
http://galessandrini.blogspot.fr/

I believe you might find them interesting.
thank you for sharing the link on your site if possible.

best regards,
Greg

Gregoire Alessandrini said...

absolutly true !