While cleaning out my bookshelves, I came upon a yellowed copy of the New York Times Metro Section from December 31, 1997. It provides a perfectly condensed snapshot of what the city was going through at the time, when Giuliani was prepping Manhattan for its metamorphosis into today's luxury product, a city under a dome of affluence and shine.
I am sure that I saved these pages for the article about the Selwyn Theater's collapse. The 42nd Street end of the Selwyn was scheduled for destruction the following spring, but with so much demolition on the block, the old bricks could not hold out and they tumbled on the morning of December 30.
I loved the Selwyn mostly for the ghost sign on the side of the building--"Cooped up? Feelin' low? Enjoy a movie today!" This photo of it crumbling to pieces is beyond heartbreaking.
Click to enlarge for close-up
Also in this Metro Section is a story about how people on the Lower East Side were protesting against the destruction of their community gardens, while more protesters tried to fight Giuliani's implementation of pedestrian barriers in Midtown. "Pedestrians are not cattle," their signs argued, to no avail.
Today, the barriers still stand. The community gardens are mostly gone. And Times Square has been completely turned into a tourist-safe shopping mecca.
The cover story to this Metro Section is by Dan Barry, entitled "Times Square Grit Peeps Through Glitz." He wrote, "When the illuminated ball drops like a gigantic coin on Times Square at midnight tonight, it will land in the midst of an urban metamorphosis. Entertainment and media corporations continue to vie for choice locations in a once-seedy swath of New York City that the heartland now sees as a jazzy alternative to Busch Gardens and Disney World."
The Times Square captured in this Metro Section still had The Original Peepland and, in Barry's words, "the green neon lights of McHale's bar" and "happy hour at Howard Johnson's." All of that, and much more, has vanished. In just a dozen years. When the illuminated ball dropped last week, it landed in a Times Square swept clean of all its guts and grit.
"Times Square has always changed every 20 years,'' said writer Nik Cohn in the article. ''But this time it's changed to a corporate, generic American city that doesn't particularly express the uniqueness of New York.''
It was only 1997. Today you could apply that quote to most of the city.
Times Square 1990s