A comment on this post reminded me of the prostitutes that used to roam the upper, western edge of the East Village. There's a reason Taxi Driver's whorehouse SRO is on 13th and 3rd--but the stroll didn't stop after the 1970s. Prostitutes continued to walk these blocks as late as the mid-1990s. I did a little digging and found a relevant entry from my journals.
Journal excerpt from May 1996:
I walked up Second Avenue and turned onto 11th Street. Under the gingko trees, dark-green in the night, a woman came up to me.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, coming very close. I could smell the perfume on her skin. Her blouse was open, her chest dusted with some kind of glitter. I stopped. “Do you have a match?”
I fished in my jacket pockets and pulled out a half-used book of matches. The woman put a cigarette between her lips and I struck the match, cupped it in my hands, and held it out to her. She moved into it, all the while looking into my eyes. In the flickering light, I could see she was younger than I’d first thought. A teenager. Maybe 20. She had a tired, ravaged look, dark shadows on her pale skin. She thanked me and I stepped back, about to walk away, when she reached out and touched my sleeve.
“Would you like a date?” she asked.
It took me a few seconds to realize what she was asking me. “A date? Oh, no. No, thank you,” I said, flattered to be propositioned, even by a prostitute, and I wanted to be polite.
“We’ll have a nice time,” she said as I walked away.
I wandered up to Third Avenue where another woman approached me.
“Psst! Psst!” she hissed. “Hey, pretty boy!” Then she hissed again. I turned around. She was tall, with large breasts and a tremendous ass that made her wobble on her platform heels. She smiled at me, missing a few teeth.
“How about a date tonight? You’re looking lonely.”
“No, thank you,” I said, hurrying along. I didn't want her to hiss at me again.
“Don’t be scared,” she shouted. “You don’t know what you’re missing!”
I kept walking, hearing her footsteps behind me, until I got to 14th Street. On the corner, under a dilapidated scaffolding, glowed the neon lights of “VIDEO PEEPS, XXX, 25-CENTS.” Before going inside, I looked behind me and the tall prostitute was standing there, leaning on the scaffold, smirking like she could see right through me.
a rare photo--New York Magazine, 1990
That peep joint on the northeast corner of 14th and 3rd was located in what was then the Sahara Hotel. The Sahara was like a slice of Times Square's grittiest, an SRO known for danger and shady dealings.
NYU & Duane Reade, today
In August 1973, the Times reported: "police charged the manager of the Sahara Hotel, at 201 East 14th Street, with homicide after finding his wife's body on the roof. They said Umberto Rivera, 34, the manager, said he shot Pedra, his wife, in their apartment Friday night when she threatened him with a knife. A hotel night clerk, Alfredo Medina, 32, was accused of aiding in the homicide by helping carry the body to the roof."
Sahara (left), 1972, nycsubway
Not much changed over the years. A 1990 New York article cites suspicious fires, professional thugs driving out tenants, and crack dealers climbing through the windows where prostitutes did their business. The Sahara soon emptied of its occupants and stayed empty.
In 1996, when I ran in there, the tide was turning. Three businessmen involved in the Sahara's demise expressed their opinions to the Times: "The Sahara has been nothing but misery for this community" and "We're all praying that the Sahara will be sold so we can turn the page on an ugly chapter" and "this is the domino that could turn around what has been a laggard section of 14th Street."
201 E. 14th in 1936, NYPL
That last prediction turned out to be correct. After The Sahara was sold in 1999, the prostitutes seemed to vanish from the East Village, as if the abandoned old hotel had been their energy source.
The porno shop shuttered in July of that year--wrote the Times, "The last remnant of 14th Street's seedy past, an adult video store near Third Avenue, closed last week." The owners were given $100,000 to get out. Neighbors were hopeful that the closure would mean "the neighborhood will finally become what we would like it to become.''
If what they wanted was a bunch of NYU dorms, condo towers, and chain stores, then they got their wish.
today: looks like Houston, Texas
The dominos kept falling. After the hookers and the Sahara vanished, we lost much more from this part of town: Around the same time, the Palladium came down for an NYU dorm and Trader Joe's, St. Ann's Church was decapitated for another NYU dorm, the "should have been landmarked" Variety Photoplays fell for a beastly Toll Brothers glass tower (with bank branch), the Grace & Hope Mission shut down, several businesses on the southeast corner of 14th and 3rd were demolished for another condo tower (with bank branch), IHOP moved in, and yet another massive condo is going up at 3rd and 12th.
And now we hear chatter that the long-empty Mystery Lot of 13th St. will be developed by Hollywood hotelier Andre Balasz, who we guess will be bringing big, loud Meatpacking District glitz and glamor to Easy Iris' old block.
background: Mystery Lot before it was a lot, via SNY
14th and 3rd
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