Tuesday, November 27, 2012

W. 18th Then & Now

A little "then and now" on West 18th Street. Here is 461-463 West 18th Street, photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1938 (via NYPL).


And here is the same address today. The bar and restaurant is still a restaurant, now the back end of La Lunchonette. The junk shop has been replaced with a luxury condo.


The crummy little house is now a townhouse that rents for $6,400 a month. "Harry Potter should live here!" crows the listing--but the "super needy need not apply." It appears, in photos, to be combined with the loft space next door.



It's hard to say that the people are different, but we know they are. In each photo, there is a couple, a man and a woman. Imagine that they live in the little house, then and now.


In 1938, the wife follows her husband to the street. He's going out to work on the docks and he forgot his lunch pail. She will spend the day in the crummy house, with the wooden boards nailed across the first-floor window, and the grimy curtains, and the babies crying, and the filthy floor waiting to be scoured. She thinks about the things she needs: an ice box, decent shoes she doesn't have to stuff with cardboard, a roof that doesn't leak every time it rains. But it could be worse. At least there's a roof.


In 2012, the husband and wife walk out together, heading to the lot where they keep their cars. They both work. They don't bring their lunch. The house sits quiet and empty during the day, its floors gleaming, its upholsteries quietly off-gassing volatile organic chemicals. The man and woman pride themselves on not being "super needy," just like the real-estate listing requested--even though, as the wife takes her husband's arm, she thinks for a nanosecond, "I am a bottomless well of needs." But the awful thought vanishes quickly, the High Line rises reassuringly up ahead, and she settles her mind on something simpler to worry about.

19 comments:

ivanova said...

This small building looks fairly airy and well-ventilated, and not a big fire trap. I picture the couple living in one of the apartments upstairs with the homey curtains, not in the boarded-up storefront. Who knows about the state of the roof? I'm not sure the building was ever "crummy" per se. A lot of New York's housing stock cycled through being totally decent housing for working class people, then outdated overcrowded "slum" dwellings, and then gentrified overpriced apartments for the rich. I picture this house at stage 1, but I don't know anything about it.
The contrast is stunning, though, I'm right there with you on that.

Goggla said...

The bricked-up arches in the old photo make me think the building was something else before it was a bar/restaurant. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog immensely for the glimpse it provides into the changes in this city but I never cease to be amazed at how bizarrely bitter and judgmental you can be. I'm truly sorry you don't get to live in the city in your mind because the reality of the city you live in seems to make you deeply miserable and no-one deserves that kind of misery.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:46
It's the other way around. Yunnies are the ones feeling deeply miserable cause Jeremiah constantly reminds them how boring they are.

Brendan said...

99% chance the people who live in that place now are really boring, yeah.

But what's with the weird emphasis on how the woman works now? Is that supposed to be bad?

Jeremiah Moss said...

i'm also intrigued when people assume judgment in my statements where there is none. i think there's quite a bit of projecting going on.

King Lear's Jester said...

Difference between then and now is that the crummy house was purchased/rented then out of need or necessity, to impress themselves. Now, it's for luxury and inhabited out of want, to impress the neighbors, friends, everyone but themselves; an affirmation, a mirror, and approval from others, before they can like themselves.

Anonymous said...

It was livery row. the small old two story buildings with arched windows were stables/ they line both 17th and 18th streets/ between 6th/7th aves

Anonymous said...

When you suggest the women has a fleeting thought that she is a bottomless well of need, it's hard not to read a little judgment in it, don't you think? And "boring" is its own kind of judgment as well - boring to you, in the same way that you are boring to them.

Jeremiah Moss said...

you can read judgment in it if you like, it's open to interpretation, but there is nothing inherently judgmental in that statement. many people, men and women, have that thought. and if you read the piece more closely, you will notice that i did not use the word "boring."

Brendan said...

You have this made-up person reassured by the High Line, which you have very often posited is a symbol and cause of everything wrong with the city, so I'd say the judgment is pretty explicit. Not that there's anything wrong with that, really--I judge people who pay $6,400 for a fashionable address, too.

Anonymous said...

I recently signed up for you blog because as a born and bred New Yorker, really enjoy seeing old images of the city. However, I, like others, find the judgmental commentary disturbing and off-putting.

Anonymous said...

A very nice photographer lived here with his wife and small child in the early 90's. He used one of the upstairs spaces as his studio. I believe he said he had bought the place in the late 70's - early 80's.

I worked for a gallery on the upper east side at the time and used to bring artworks down to him to get transparencies shot.

It was great funky, cramped space. The floors look shinier, the rooms emptier, and I'm sure all new appliances. But otherwise doesn't look so different...

editornyc said...

I just stumbled upon this blog, and I LOVE IT! Thank you for writing it. Having lived in New York for 12 years now, I definitely appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic, charming house- and yes the listing actually states the cringe-worthy "super needy need not apply" As if 6400 a month and super needy could possibly have any connection. Needy how? Like needing the landlord to fix things in the house? What a jerk.
And anyone who reads this blog should know that Jeremiah is musing on these images and what they conjure up in his mind. Don't get offended- it's not a personal affront.

historyglass said...

Vacant armies of Facebook Tweeters with designer handbags that signify luxury but mean nothing. How can your $5,000 bag be a luxury when every other woman on the street has one too, do you ever stop to think of the slaves in China who made it? The little piece of brass says made in France or Italy but international trade law says if you just sew the little brass label thing on in France then that will do. Vacant lady with your luxury bag and your frigid hedge fund husband, confident like vultures circling a slaughter house's left overs and ever hungry for more offal at the Spotted Pig!

DrBOP said...

So I was VERY impressed with the story you made-up to accompany these pics Jeremiah. Poet-ical, romantic, descriptive, evocative of NYC at both extremes and in-betweens. It was ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL, and I encourage you to do more posts in this manner.
Then I read the "judgemental" comments above......SHEESH! Can't a guy write what he sees anymore? I, and MANY others, trust your intuition, sensibility and ability. Simply put, keep on chooglin' buddy!
WE LOVE 'YA!

Alex in NYC said...

I'm super late to the table on this discussion, but for some reason, this really bugs me:

"Harry Potter should live here!" crows the listing"

Who wrote this? Is this really the best description they could come up with? Are they shooting for someone whose knowledge and insight is the depth of a soap dish? Instead of providing some practical context to the building and its rich history, we go for the slackjawed pop culture allusion?

Anonymous said...

RE: the critics up top:
When did "judgements" become bad on principle?

The judge risks looking like an ass by judging something poorly.
They judged risks looking like an ass for not being able to prove the judge wrong.

That's how things have always worked in this town.

How about this, I'll judge the sh*t out of anything outta line, and you too if I don't like you.