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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.