The city changes, and has often changed in mainly stable ways. Sometimes, a single address tells the story. When we look at the northeast corner of 10th Street and Greenwich Avenue, we can see over a century of simple shifts, ending with an explosion, not just of fire.
NYPL, 1933, the Cushman Bakery
A Cushman Bakery stood here once. It was the original bakery in a local chain started in 1854 by Mr. Horatio Benzil Cushman. He died in 1918, but this shop stayed awhile longer.
So was said, "there is not a customer who can move to any part of New York proper and not see a Cushman bakery wagon pass his door." About those wagons, a commenter at Serious Eats recalls "putting a card in the window on days when we could actually afford to buy dessert from Cushman's Bakery--which went door-to-door."
NYPL, 1941, Antiques Shop
By 1941, the bakery was gone and an antiques shop had taken its place.
In the background, on 6th Avenue, we can see a brick wall had been painted with a sign for real estate broker Emil Talamini. The paint is new. The broker's telephone number is Algonguin 4-1817.
Robert Otter, 1964, Sutter's Bakery
Then the three-story building came down. A tower did not take its place, but rather a little one-story brick box. In 1948, it became the home of another neighborhood bakery--Sutter's--which had moved here from Bleecker. That beloved place shuttered in 1976 when the rent took a major jump. (Read more here.)
The paint on the Emil Talamini's 6th Avenue sign began to fade. The broker himself passed away in 1970.
I don't know what stood here in the 1980s. Sometime around 1990, the Village Paper stationery store moved in to the spot. It also became a beloved small business. Then, in February 2010, the store exploded into a two-alarm fire. The owner, Sun Wong, could not rebuild and the place has sat vacant since.
Immediately, bar and restaurant owners began fighting over the corpse. For awhile, the top contender was Bobo, an upscale restaurant that hosts parties with glittery masks and inspires Yelpers to say: "Prices are a little high, if i made as much money as my friends with financial and consulting salaries I feel like this would be a normal brunch place and a great bar to hang out at later in the night."
But Bobo has dropped out of the race and Keith McNally now holds the lease. He recently presented his plans to turn this spot into a Pulino's Cafe--but a group of locals opposed him with concerns about crowding, noise from open windows, and too many liquor licenses.
The New York Times called the Bowery Pulino's "insanely crowded" and talked a bit about how McNally's many restaurants "have introduced or enhanced neighborhoods all over downtown: Pravda and Balthazar in SoHo, Pastis in the then-quiet meatpacking district, Schiller’s on the Lower East Side, Morandi and Minetta Tavern in the West Village."
For over a century, the corner of 10th and Greenwich has been a quiet spot. Locals bought their bread here. They browsed for antiques. Saved their pennies for a cookie. They shopped for greeting cards and Halloween masks. How might Pulino's Cafe enhance it now? Some neighbors are saying "No McNally" in graffiti on the site.
Meanwhile, in the background, that crusty overseer of change for 70 years, Mr. Talamini's advertisement continues to vanish into a ghost sign. I keep waiting for it to be painted over with a billboard for Coach or Juicy Couture. Because that's the way it goes. Today, when the city changes, it makes big, luxurious leaps, not small, restrained ones.