Much ado has been made recently of the triangular plot of land that juts like a shark fin between 7th Avenue South, Perry Street, and Greenwich. The MTA owns the property and recently proposed to build a faux-townhouse there to conceal their planned ventilation plant, a controversial development.
Also known as Mulry Square, the triangle is famous for being the supposed location of the inspiration for Edward Hopper's most well-known painting, Nighthawks.
But was it?
A couple of JVNY readers, blogger Teri Tynes and singer/songwriter Don Everett Pearce, recently contacted me with questions and suggestions about the location of the Hopper diner. With their help, and research of my own, I set off onto a trail of clues, possibilities, and dead ends. I started at Mulry Square.
In Hopper expert Gail Levin's book Hopper's Places and her Hopper biography, she writes that the painter himself claimed that Nighthawks "was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." Those streets, adds Levin, were "Eleventh Street and Seventh Avenue." She goes on to say that the diner "was surely on the empty triangular lot" in that spot.
Tour guides, news stories, and blogs all refer to the MTA’s lot as the singular birthplace of Nighthawks. It is accepted Village folklore. But there is ample evidence to the contrary. Nighthawks Forever points to a cities data file that has no record of a diner ever being on the spot. And the New York Public Library’s digital archives supplies the photo evidence.
In a shot from 1933, a Kesbec Esso gas station stands in that location. There is no diner.
The gas station turns up in photos as late as 1940. Nighthawks is dated 1942. So perhaps the gas station was demolished and replaced with a diner in 1941. The city's taxmen photographed the corner again in 1980. In that photo, there is still no diner and no remnants of it, though the Esso station buildings were still standing there, graffitied and abandoned beneath a painted advertisement for London’s Hard Rock Cafe.
The supposed diner tiles that reporters from Wikipedia to The Villager say you can see in the MTA’s lot most likely belonged to the gas station. In fact, there's a scruffy white-brick chunk that looks like the old Esso still standing there today.
From the evidence, we can only conclude that the empty lot at Mulry Square is not the birthplace of Nighthawks.
So where was Hopper’s famous diner?
Read: Finding Nighthawks Part 2