Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finding Nighthawks, Part 2

In Finding Nighthawks Part 1, we determined that the diner that inspired Edward Hopper to paint Nighthawks was never located in the empty lot on the northern corner of Mulry Square. So where was it?

In the vicinity of 11th Street, 7th Avenue South, and Greenwich, there are several corners where two streets come together to make the "wedge form of the restaurant, thrusting from right to left like the prow of a ship," as art historian Lloyd Goodrich described it. In this crossroads of triangles and tightly wedged corners, I count six (possibly eight) potential locations.



Today, West Village Florist (#2 on the map; #1 is the Mulry Square lot) points sharply between 11th and Greenwich. A good possibility. However, throughout the 1930s it was a corner store with an awning that sold "soda, cigars, fruit." The point of it was glassed, but flattened at the end, not like the curved Nighthawks diner window.


NYPL, 1930

Gail Levin also states in Hopper's Places that the "candy store" across the street from the Mulry Square empty lot could not have been the diner. Of course, the diner wasn't in the empty lot, where Levin says it was. Still, the florist shop is not a match, and I put it in the rule-out column.


NYPL, 1938

Moving counterclockwise to the corner that is now a garden (#3), we find the former location of the Loew’s Sheridan theater. No diner there. But the spot behind the Sheridan (#4) looks like a possibility.

An aerial photo from 1933 shows a pie-shaped slice where 12th Street heads east on the left and Greenwich goes south on the right. In between is a triangular one-story building that, from a bird’s eye view, could be Hopper’s diner.


NYPL, 1933

This corner, demolished with the Sheridan, is now occupied by the Materials Handling Center for St. Vincent's Hospital. It still resembles the prow of a ship; however, it's a little farther north than expected--not the meeting place of 11th and 7th that Gail Levin cited.



Also, when we zoom in close (with this shot and the one below), we can see that, while it is a luncheonette, the structure lacked the curved glass window that so enthralled the artist--the facade has a flattened front with double doors. I decide to rule this one out, too.


NYPL, 1932

That leaves just two more good possibilities: the current homes of Two Boots Pizza (#5) and the Fantasy World adult emporium (#6).

Looking at it, you can see that the Two Boots corner is not nearly as prow-like as the Fantasy World corner. I’m rooting for Fantasy World, imagining that its yellow brick building was constructed after 1942, after the painting and the demolition of the Nighthawks diner.



To check my hunches, I make a trip to the city’s Municipal Archives’ cache of tax photographs. The diner, I am certain, will be found in those scratchy spools of microfilm.

Instead, the microfilm yields nothing but roadblocks and disappointments. All taken between 1939 and 1941, the tax photos show that Fantasy World’s yellow bricks held a liquor store and looked exactly the same as they do today. Two Boots, I discover, was the Hanscom Bakery, complete with all its lovely, rounded chrome. But again, no diner.



On the microfilm, I look at every corner where Hopper’s diner might have stood. In addition to those noted above, I check the wedge where Waverly meets 7th, but it was a grocery store. I double-check the West Village Florist spot (Block 606, Lot 30M), but the photo is too dark to see if it was still a newsstand in 1941. Let's throw the Day-O corner in to be totally thorough, but that looks like a miss, too.

I begin to wonder if the Nighthawks diner ever existed, if Hopper dreamed it up out of the ether. And then I see it. In small print, in a 1950s Land Book, a new clue.

Stay tuned...

Go to Finding Nighthawks, Part 3


*Thanks again to blogger Teri Tynes and singer/songwriter Don Everett Pearce, who emailed me with links to photos, quotes, and inquiries, all of which helped put this whole thing together.

15 comments:

EV Grieve said...

Impressive research, Jeremiah. I don't think that the location really exists, though. I mean, I never believed for a moment that James Dean, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis were all in the same diner....

NYC taxi photo said...

this is very interesting! my favorite painting, which has inspired all of my urban feelings and photographs, and all this time i had noidea, or made no connection that it was in nyc, or even better, in the west village!!

what about the corner of Jane street and Greenwich Avenue? but perhaps I haven't paid enough attention to all the details you lay out here, I s'pose i'll look at all the links, before I have any more ill informed suggestions. I tried the tax photo link, I don't know how to use it, can't find pictures there, all they say is how to buy pictures.

Bowery Boogie said...

this is awesome work.

Alex in NYC said...

EV's a wiseacre, but he raises a good point: Perhaps E.H. just painted the scene from a sort of downtown composite of all these places in his mind.

Andrew Fine said...

Hmmm, interesting. The building in the background of Hopper's diner look like the building that now houses West Village Flowers (a great florist btw). You have me intrigued by the mystery.
Keep up the great work!

Goggla said...

Ooo, you leave us hanging!

It's amazing how researching something like this can be so complicated and puzzling. I've tried my hand at the archives and other resources, always coming up empty-handed. How can our collective memory fail? You'd think something as famous as that diner would be known to all, not mysteriously forgotten.

Don said...

Fascinating research but I agree that it's likely a composite. If not, perhaps you should be looking at the building in the background and focusing on locating it.

Andrew Fine said...

It would seem that the only building in the background of that painting on Greenwich is 70 Greenwich. There is a building at 32 Greenwich that looks similar, but only 3 windows (but the storefront looks identical). How long do we have to wait for part 3?
I think the painting might just have been "inspired" by and not an actual diner.

Anonymous said...

You need to look at the sandborne maps for the locations.

Jeremiah Moss said...

all will be revealed tomorrow. sort of.

Andrew Fine said...

With that final hint Jeremiah, my final guess is that it was simply "inspired by a diner" that did not exist and that the best guess is that he used the largely cited location at Mulry Square as his hypothetical location. In other words, it is where everyone said it is, but only in Hopper's mind.
Meanwhile, I think I am ready to take a walk over to Greenwich Ave, and I have put a call in to a older guy who owns the building next to the MTA lot.

Jeremiah Moss said...

don't be surprised if there's a twist at the end, which will come in a Part 4!

Jeremiah Moss said...

NYC Taxi, you actually have to go in person to the Archives and search through microfilm spools. very old-school, which makes it fun.

unfortunately, a lot of the microfilm images look like mud.

esquared said...

such a cliffhanger.

my guess would be that diner existed, but not in new york, but in philadelphia or anywhere else but the grenwich village, which hopper then depicted and placed in his painting as being at the southeast corner of 7th and greenwich avenues.

as long as there won't be an o'henry ending...

Anonymous said...

It's the one that's now part of the hospital...