Monday, July 5, 2010

Nighthawks Op-Ed

If you would like to relive the Nighthawks adventure--in a digestible, abridged format--take a look at my Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times. It comes with a lovely illustration by Victor Kerlow, who has collaborated with me here before.



Nighthawks State of Mind
By JEREMIAH MOSS

IN 1941, Edward Hopper began what would become his most recognizable work, one that has become an emblem of New York City. “‘Nighthawks,’” Hopper said in an interview later, “was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.” The location was pinpointed by a Hopper expert, Gail Levin, as the “empty triangular lot” where Greenwich meets 11th Street and Seventh Avenue, otherwise known as Mulry Square. This has become accepted city folklore. Greenwich Village tour guides point to the lot, now owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and tell visitors that Hopper’s diner stood there. But did it?

Not long ago, one of the readers of my blog, Vanishing New York, sent in an old photo of the lot. There was no diner, only an Esso gas station and a White Tower burger joint that looked nothing like the moody, curved, wedge-shaped lunch counter in “Nighthawks.” An urban mystery had just revealed itself: If the diner wasn’t in the empty lot, then where was it?

Being an obsessive type, prone to delve, I began searching for Hopper’s diner with the help of two of my readers [Teri Tynes and Don Everett Pearce]...

click here to read the rest at the Times online


39 comments:

Melanie said...

Nice piece.

BrooksNYC said...

Congrats on a wonderful piece for the Times!

Janine Dietz said...

Have you considered the possibility of Sheridan/W 4th Street and Barrow as the location of the view? Take a look here:http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&rlz=&=&q=nyc%20maps%20greenwich%20village&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

It has the same narrowness of streets (something your other location does not).

Regardless, as both a lover of Hopper and old NYC, I really enjoyed your article and the hunt for the Nighthawks diner. I don't know if a diner ever stood on the corner of Barrow and Sheridan Square, but I used to love the old bar that once did.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

The reality is that painting. NY never was what we think it was, just an image on some foggy night that quickly disappears...

Jill said...

This has been a great piece of reporting, and even if there is no final conclusion, the hunt is where the action is. Congrats.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really matter where it was or if it ever really existed. I think it was a composite image from the artist's mind.
You need to let this one go.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Moss,
I was as intrigued by the obsessiveness of your search as I was about the location of the Nighthawks' corner.
This is only a guess: Joseph Pollet, a painter, contemporary and upstairs neighbor of Hopper, introduced us one day. Hopper struck me as the kind of guy who would rather put off a questioner with a quick throwaway answer than give details about the location of a subject, whether or not it was a composite, and/or part studio invention.
It seems unlikely to me, other than the beautiful watercolors he did of his native Nyack, NY, that many of his paintings looked just like their locations or their subjects.
Walter Jamieson Jr.

John said...

Thoroughly enjoy anything that's well done about a vanishing New York.

Have been bitten by the excavation bug myself, but not over Hopper's scene.

You see, it will always be Pete's Grill to me.

http://www.onofframp.blogspot.com

John...
jdemet@aol.com

buyathread said...

Loved your piece in the Times. I'm reluctantly coming to a similar conclusion about one of my mysterious textiles, but I haven't done the fascinating research that you did. Kudos!

daisy said...

loved your suspense filled article in the times today. It occurred to me that your last line could apply to Sid Vicious! I really enjoy your blog. thanks for posting. xxx daisy

"Cat" will do said...

How lovely that I've found you! A kindred spirit in the "art of loving what is lost"! I just spent several months driving through the hollowed out towns of the American south and southwest, taking pictures and commenting on my fairly new blog (below). I too am "prone to delve", and spent days in southern archives this spring searching for a gggggrandfather's roots. just wanted to say that your writing is really lovely and I'm so glad to have found you. Who said recently we are a nation of cynics? Maybe it's because so many things we truly loved and didn't know we loved have disappeared. You don't miss your water....

gratefully, Cat at

http://roadblues-kitty.blogspot.com/

cathryn said...

Well done!! Congratulations !

Cathryn
WSP Blog.

Ivan said...

A valuable article, not only about Hopper and his painting (which I have enjoyed in the original and in reproductions many times), but also about our love for places which either no longer exist or only exist in our reveries as images created by artists, whether painters, photographers or cinematographers.

rick said...

As a composite image you and your readers suggest, Edward Hopper usually constructed a cardboard diorama of his interior scenes and subjects showing depth. This allowed him the chance to study and manipulate visual perspective during the time needed for his paintings.
"Nighthawks" is one of his most beautiful works, and I can't help but assume he made the mock-up for the painting. And, he created the mythology at the same time!
Rick, Illinois

gmoore8131@yahoo.com said...

There may be no spot in New York that matches the Hopper painting but there were a thousand such places around the county. As a young man in Chicago I used to get off my shift at midnight and have a cup of coffee in a place I thought was the model for the picture. I didn't even know that Hopper lived in NYC. Poor fellow.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't give up hope. Hopper may have simplified his subject -- inevitable, when painting from memory - but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a single seed from which Nighthawks grew.

What's notable to me about the painting is the large glass windows and the curved window on the corner. Such windows would have been expensive to install and difficult to replace -- I doubt that a single proprietor could afford such windows.

Which makes me think that the Nighthawks diner may not have been a diner at all, but the ground-floor café of a department store or hotel or similar large establishment that could afford such an impressive set-up.

And while your impressive research probably rules out Greenwich Avenue, it's quite possible that Hopper misremembered the location or the street name. Some research into Hopper's life and habits might provide probabilities about the streets where he would have walked.

gmoore8131@yahoo.com said...

Nice but wrong city

Jeremiah Moss said...

welcome new readers and thanks everyone for your comments. folks keep coming up with possibilities and maybe it's almost all possible.

mr. jamieson, thanks for your first-hand impression of hopper. if you're right, and he did deliberately throw people off the trail of his original diner, then it could be anywhere.

like jill says, the hunt is where the action is. that was the fun of this quest, in the end.

rick, i'd like to see the cardboard mock-up of this one--didn't know hopper did that.

Anonymous said...

The White Tower is an "all night coffee stand"/and was the "restaurant made bigger. You found it. Excellent.

Ed Stewart said...

As a recently ex-New Yorker and a lifelong lover of Hopper's work, I really enjoyed this article; thank you for writing it and answering a question that has been lingering in my mind since I first saw that work.

Well done.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever see the movie "Three Days of the Condor"? with Robert Redford as a renegade CIA guwy who is hiding out in a woman's apartment before he can go spill the beans to the NY Times??? While he's holed up there, the last night, he looks down from the window --- at the Nighthawks Diner scene... Total tribute to Hopper! Go rent the video.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Moss:

I was born at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the second half of the 1930s and lived, with my parents, briefly on Perry Street and, later, Charles Street before moving to the mid-block south side of West 11th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. My family owned two matching brownstones on West 11th Street and I lived there until the end of 1966 or the beginning of 1967.

I can confirm from personal memory that there was a diner on Lot 62 of Block 613. It was a “classic” diner and looked nothing like the restaurant in “Nighthawks.” “Classic” diners were disused railroad dining cars that were no longer usable as rolling stock and were sold off by the railroads to start new lives as roadside lunch wagons, stripped of their “trucks” and set down on rudimentary foundations, usually very near to a railroad line or station.

The windows of the diner on Lot 62 were nowhere near as large as the glass windows in “Nighthawks”. Rather, they began at the hip of the building and were horizontal in shape. Find a photograph of an old Pennsylvania Railroad dining car, circa 1935, to see what I’m trying to describe. As another of your readers has suggested, those tall, wide, windows in “Nighthawks” would likely have been beyond the financial reach of a luncheonette owner.

My recollections of the Lot 62 diner go back to the early part of World War II -- perhaps Summer, 1942, when my mother and I would walk down Seventh Avenue South to to shop for fresh produce from the pushcarts the lined Bleecker Street six days a week.

The Lot 62 diner was closed sometime in the very late 1940s, I think, and may have been used for a time as a storage space I vaguely recall peering into one of the painted-over windows of the disused diner and seeing cartons of what seemed to be paper goods [hand towels, toilet tissue, and the like] but I may be wrong about that.

Elsewhere in your OpEd piece you refer to the “vanished slice” behind the Loew’s Sheridan theater and suggest that Hopper may have taken liberties with the façade of that. Not likely. What occupied the “vanished slice” was a very nice neighborhood bar and grill called “McCoy’s,” owned by two charming Cuban partners -- men we knew only as Chico and Connie. McCoy’s windows were fairly wide but also began at roughly the hip of the building; the lower half of the wall was solid brickwork.

The only luncheonette windows I can recall in Greenwich Village that reesembled those in “Nighthawks” would have been much farther south on Greenwich Avenue, I believe on the northerly dogleg above the Sixth Avenue face of the block bounded by Gay Street, Waverly Place, Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, and Christopher Street. I think there was a Riker’s Coffee Shop there and the cookie-cutter Riker’s stores did have large display windows opening onto luncheonette counters lined with rotatable metal stools.

That part of The Village seems to have provided a few other details from Hopper’s works, too. I recall his using, in one painting, the oddly-hewn stone façade of the building that housed the artists’ supplies store, H. Behlen, which was on Christopher Street, at Gay Street, and also his using, in another painting, a storefront that fairly closely resembled the façade of C.O. Bigelow, the dispensing chemist still quartered on the east side of Sixth Avenue between Eighth and Ninth Streets.

R R P

Omababe said...

Great article! Congratulations. :)

Ed said...

For some reason, I always assumed that the diner was in Chicago, or maybe some other cities in the Midwest.

Midwestern cities used to have lots of places like that, and you can still find them here and there. Unfortunately many Midwestern cities were "vanished" themselves in the past decades, often by the same people now vanishing New York.

Ella said...

Hello. I read your article on "Nighthawks" in the International Herald Tribune today. I'm happy to have found your blog on vanishing New York. I lived briefly in Brooklyn and can appreciate what you are doing and why. I am similarly obsessed with "vanishing Tokyo" although maybe "obsessed" isn't quite the right word since I've got other interests taking up my attention at the same time, and come to think of it maybe "vanishing" isn't exactly the right term either since in Tokyo a lot of what didn't get "vanished" in the 1923 earthquake, got obliterated by our bombers in the 1945 air raids. Which doesn't leave much left to exit at a more leisurely pace. But what is left is dear to me and I am also trying to chronicle it, though it's hard keeping one step ahead of the bulldozers. I've just started a blog, and I do a lot of other things on it as well, but I'm going to read yours and maybe get some ideas from it for posting stuff about Tokyo.

Ella
tokyotree.wordpress.com

Jeremiah Moss said...

RRP, thanks so much for your memory of these places. you may have the best, most detailed, memory of the neighborhood of anyone yet.

the Rikers coffee shop idea is definitely intriguing!

paul said...

A possible location of the Nighthawks restaurant is in Nyack, New York at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street: Northwest corner. It's a Pizza Shop today in a building that's been there for a long time. It was most likely there when Hopper grew up in Nyack in ahouse on Broadway just a few blocks from the intersection.

Paul

shadeone said...

Jeremiah,

Congratulations on the NY Times article! Great writeup and an excellent summary of your adventure!

The Dixie Kitchen that you mentioned to me that was the basis of Hopper's coffee urn prep sketches, existed at 5th avenue and 48th street in the basement of an office building on the northeast corner. It may be worth trying to find some photos of that restaurant's interior because there is the possibility that more than just the coffee urns were based off of stuff there. The Dixie Kitchen existed up to January of 1970. Check out this "New Yorker" article from 1970:
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1970/01/03/1970_01_03_022_TNY_CARDS_000296834
Pretty cool that they had a signed reproduction of Nighthawks hanging there!

Another NY Times article about NY city dining from 1968 lists the hours of the Dixie Diner as "Lunch from 11am to 3pm and Dinner from 5:15 to 7:15pm" so this obviously wasnt the allnighter place were looking for but it would be interesting to see if any inspiration was pulled from it! I'll dig deeper...

I will still be conducting research on some other possible corners (ive got a few that may be possible contenders for "diner inspirations"), and I will do some checking on the numerous reader suggested corners from your blog comments here... As always, I will be posting results to my site and to here!

Jamie

http://www.shadeone.com/nighthawks

Goggla said...

Congratulations! Your Nighthawks piece deserves the attention.

Anonymous said...

The Riker's sounds like a good subject for further investigation. The Riker's Restaurant company owned a chain of 24-hour all-night lunch counters all across Manhattan -- which is certainly the kind of place that Hopper was trying to picture.

Jeremiah Moss said...

jamie, good to see you updated your page with the white tower images. and thanks for the Dixie Kitchen update, too.

paul, i think you're the second person to mention the pizza place in nyack. i wonder if that is local legend, or if Hopper did take part of his boyhood home into the painting.

i'm also checking into riker's and another possibility...the hunt goes on.

BobVDL said...

Thanks for writing this piece! I once drove my family around Cape Cod looking for the house in Hopper's "Rt. 6, Eastham" - I was reasonably certain that I found it. I've heard of other people doing this kind of thing - It was nice to read your story

Mark said...

That's a really beautiful piece! Well done!

paul said...

Jeremiah, it's more empirical than based on legend, the image one gets looking at that Nyack Pizza place. Even if you didn't know that Hopper had lived in Nyack through his high school years but were familiar with his Nighthawks picture you'd be able to make a connection between it and the Pizza place. Ofr course, it's not final proof...

Rob Hult said...

Enjoyed your article in the times today (and have long admired your blog), I have long been interested in that painting and the diner's locale in particular. Not sure if this helps, but as a young teenage artist living in Rockland county in the mid 1990's, NY, my mother used to drop me off at the Edward Hopper house at 82 north broadway in Nyack, where Hopper grew up. They had open figure drawing classes there that I used to attend, you could pay like $5 and go draw a nude model for a few hours. The crowd consisted of a bunch of old timers that you could tell had been drawing there for decades -- and I recall one of them telling me once that yep, the famous Nighthawks painting was based on a diner on the corner of main street and north Broadway in Nyack - now the site of Toriello's pizzeria.

Since then, I've always had it in the back of my mind that that was the basis for Nighthawks - until I was corrected recently by a Hopper curator who offered the Mulry Square theory - and i thought that it was historically settled and my Nyack lore was wrong. So i was very surprised by your article - maybe there is more to the story. And clearly I'm not the only one under this impression -- Maybe there is some truth to the Nyack theory. I wonder if Hopper made up a NYC locale to obscure the decidedly suburban roots of the painting (and himself). Anyway, might be worth taking a closer look.

shadeone said...

the most recent post from a facebook fan page of turiellos states that the place used to be on the opposite corner:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nyack-NY/Turiellos-Pizza/97318736556

so keep that in mind when researching this...

Jamie

Anonymous said...

The store opposite Turiello's in Nyack is now the Back to Earth Natural Foods Market. It has some modest-sized display windows, but otherwise the resemblance is not close. Turiello's looks even less like the Nighthawks café.

I suspect that after a while of straining one's eyes, pretty much every corner shop begins to look like Nighthawks.

Anonymous said...

It is a corner store-- but there is no door at the corner. Location, location-- but I can't even get in. Is this a message from Hopper-- that the night hawks are stuck in this twilight zone room?
How does this building hold up this part of the structure?

Anonymous said...

Funny how things unfold. I first read about Nighthawks in a Michael Connelly book (A darkness more than night, I think). I immediately took liking of the picture and it certainly fits with everything around detective H. Bosch. Art links to art.