Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Finding Lost Houston

Last week I rented The Night They Raided Minsky's, which just came out on DVD. I don't recommend it, unless you're interested (as I was) in seeing the interior of the Village East prior to its renovation from a live theater to a cinema. The red curtain is there, along with the stage and the balconies.

film still

photo: tony marciante

The Village East did a stint as a burlesque theater around the 1950s and 60s (above and click for boobs here), but it was never a Minsky's. The original Minsky's, represented in the movie, was located farther south at 111-117 East Houston. That's where the Whole Foods/Avalon building stands today. Here it is in 1930:

NYPL image

My research in the NYPL's digital gallery took me away from Minsky's and in another direction, discovering this image of the Sunshine theater, also in 1930:

NYPL image

Zoom in to see Yonah Schimmel's knishery as it was in its early days:

Notice the major construction on Houston. They were digging it up to put in what later became the F train. In doing so, they also widened the street. Who knew that Houston used to be a narrow, two-lane road? Or that an entire world of buildings, homes, and businesses were wiped out in its widening.

Here's another shot of Houston in 1929, just a year prior to the demolition. There's the Sunshine on the left and on the right you can see an optometrist, a lamp store, and what looks like an umbrella shop. The low-rise buildings stretch all the way to Sixth:

photo: brooklynpix

5,000 residents were evicted and 1,795 apartments were demolished. Wrote the Times, ''Some workers have been living in the flats for a score or more of years and bow to the inevitable march of progress.''

New York has been changing since its inception. That's obvious. Blocks and buildings rise and fall. Seventy years ago, half of Houston Street vanished from the city--and the city survived. But today the rate of change has become excessive. Block after block after block, New York is devoured. We don't get one Avalon building, we get three. We don't get one Marc Jacobs store, we get half a dozen. Such is the inevitable march of progress today.


Anonymous said...

Instead of just a few dozen yunnies we end up with thousands and thousands of them.

Someone really should do a study to find out just how many new yunnie arrivals arrive on a daily-weekly-monthly basis.

Of course there are those yunnies who are somewhat normal when they arrive but then are heavily influenced (by the already more established yunnies they see everyday in the streets) on how they should act/behave while living in the city.

Its the invasion of the NEW URBAN people.

Ken Mac said...

Amazing, educational, historical pics. What grand architecture and how it has de-evolved! And your commentary is succint and perfect. I am going to run it with my blog today, titled Washington Square Park -- A Look Back. Hope that is okay, will credit and run link.

Anonymous said...

I believe they also had to relocate dead people. Can't recall where I heard that, but I think there were some cemeteries that had to move their deceased to other graveyards outside Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

J, thanks for the tutorial on Houston Street. I never imagined it as such. In the name of "progress" Bleecker could be widened, buildings razed, forcing tourists to loiter in other malls. Tippi Hedren's House of Cookies would be forced to find new space. Atlanta?

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks ken mac.
did they really relocate dead people?
i'd love to find out more about these demolitions and lost businesses--if anyone has info, please share.

Anonymous said...

This is a great website. Thanks for keeping it going. I left NYC a few months back, and I am afraid to return now.

Anonymous said...

Stay away, Cregan. Stay far away and be glad you left this moribund city. Nothing but misery and death resides in this town these days, and for some ridiculous reason I keep paying top dollar to live in the lifeless cemetery once known as New York. I think the sorry lot of us that are left are just hopeless optimists, deluded to the point where we hold out against all logic that a dead city can be revived. Either that or we're a remarkably morose sort who are gluttons for punishment.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm trying to rebuild a history of my mother's life. She went to PS 40 or PS 42 back in 1930-32. any idea how to find a photo?