Starting in 1992, a group called The New 42nd Street began redeveloping historic theaters along the Deuce, making them safe for the new suburbanized, tourist-centered Times Square.
Anyway, they recently hung a banner along a portion of the street showing how it looked in 1987.
The panoramic photo comes from Battman Studios and includes the marquees of the Victory, the Lyric, the Times Square, the Apollo, and the Selwyn, along with the little shops in between. The effect is staggering, thrilling, and slightly disorienting.
The people of 2016 walk past the old Deuce, hurrying along. They look like time travelers, bent over iPhones, unaware they've gone back.
The people of 1987 appear to be a different breed of New Yorkers. No tourists. They all look up, alert and aware. They stand around. They've come to this block for porn or hot dogs or martial arts weaponry, to hustle and get hustled. To be surprised. They are not here for Applebee's.
The past and present collide. If you're like me, you'll want to slip inside the old world with its crummy marquees, its porn-theater glow, its grimy sidewalk--and, oh, the Grand Luncheonette!
That one might make you cry. I almost did, standing there, gazing in through its greasy windows, remembering.
(Remember when the Selwyn collapsed? Remember its ghost sign? "Cooped up? Feelin' low? Enjoy a movie today!" Does the new Times Square even imagine that a person might be feeling low? No low feelings allowed here.)
I have a recurring dream in which I travel back to the city of the
past, most often to Times Square, with a digital camera. This banner is a
bit of a dream come true.
The "New 42nd" has some information printed on the banner's end. It says, "Gone is the blighted, hostile 42nd Street landscape of 1987. Today, this legendary street at the Crossroads of the World is once more a vibrant destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike."
"Vibrant" is in the eye of the beholder. And the only reason a New Yorker might have to venture to 42nd Street today is to see this banner, to stand alongside it, and pretend that the dead has come back to life.
But, really, don't miss this.