Recently, a reader discovered a calendar of vintage East Village photos by local photographer Ann Sanfedele. Viewable on the photographer's website, the images are wonderful, everyday glimpses of the neighborhood when it was still quiet and Old World, punk rock and ragged.
In a 1970s shot of 7th Street between 1st and 2nd, a Kosher poultry market and an egg store ("open Thursday only"!) stand where an artisanal coffee shop and clothing boutiques are today. (See an egg shop film here.)
At 8th and 1st, Jo & Ray Pizza soon became Stromboli, as it still is today, and C&F Fabrics (with its Viletones graffiti) is now a shoe store. Theatre 80 looks exactly the same.
On East 14th, the Jefferson Theatre crumbles next to Smoke & More, where a roll-down gate bears the message, "You have messed up your life with crack. Why ours?"
A cat looks out a window from behind leopard-print curtains above Manic Panic, Tish and Snooky's original shop on St. Mark's.
And there's more--the St. Mark's cinema, the Grassroots Tavern, Astor Place before Starbucks, lost restaurants, vanished funeral parlors, people. I got in touch with Ann Sanfedele and asked her a few questions.
Q: How long have you lived in the East Village?
A: Steadily since 1963. Alphabet City back then, and 7th St since 1968. Earlier, I had lived for a few months on 6th St., off 2nd ave.
Q: When did you start photographing the neighborhood?
A: Since around 1966, which is about when I started doing photography. But I don't approach photography in a thematic way. I haven't been "photographing the neighborhood" so much as taking photos in the neighborhood, when something interesting has caught my eye. Living here for 50 years, and more often than not going about with a camera, it just happens that a lot of photos would be of things where I've spent the most time. Things get gathered into themes much later, sometimes by me, sometimes by others. The "Back in the Day" calendar was that sort of thing, a friend saying, "Why don't you do a calendar of...?" Much as my book "Sign Language" got put together, as well.
Q: How do you think the neighborhood compares today to back then?
A: It's radically different, across the board. Don't get me started.
Q: Please, get started.
A: One thing's for sure, NYU had not yet taken over the neighborhood, there were no Starbucks stores every five feet, there were no banks every two feet, and there were wonderful "mom and pop" meat and fish markets of several ethnicities. And the 60's were better than the 70's on the whole.
Q: So, is it safe to say you're not inspired to photograph any Starbucks or banks?
A: That would be correct. On the other hand, I have been photographing the demise--er, um--"changes" in the 'hood as they strike me. A few examples are in this gallery, which is a miscellany of stuff shot recently, some having to do with the progress of 51 Astor Place.
Q: Visually, does the East Village still inspire your photography in the same way?
A: No more or less than anywhere else I might be. The quality of light, the geometry of forms, capturing a decisive moment, ironic juxtaposition, sometimes just something that strikes my funny bone, are things that make me lift the camera to my eye.