Thursday, October 29, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

On W Magazine's cover, a sad, rich, beautiful lady (Linda Evangelista) poses near NYU with a cardboard sign: "It must be somebody's fault." What do you think she's referring to?

Wall Streeters (any left?) will be reading about Slum Goddess and Crumb today as they commute. [WSJ]

Brooklynites demand vacant condos to be turned into affordable housing. [BE]

Bloomberg just made clove cigarettes illegal in NYC. [Gothamist]

Looking back at Burger Klein. [BBB]

Find answers about NY's uniqueness. Says one reader, "The city has been one large shopping mall with a false edifice of culture to trick those moving here into thinking they are part of the old New York City aura that is actually long long gone." [CR]

Now you can own next summer's obnoxious party destination. [EVG]

Celeb-obsessed teens used Internet to rob the celebs they loved...Hilton, Lohan, et al. [yahoo]

Backside Post Script

With summer thoroughly over and the clocks falling back, as the loudmouth weather goes south, we return for a look back at the Backside of the Cooper Square Hotel.

The douchebags are gone from the fire escapes, the shit-stained panties have been unhoisted, and the orgasm sound effects have been silenced. The Backsiders enjoy their quiet.

But they leave up a few subtle reminders, final notes to what had been a symphony of resentment. In the windows facing the hotel's patio, signs remain taped to the glass, a tone of weary resignation, to anyone who might bother to read.

You can find the complete Notes from the Backside here:
Note 1
Note 2
Note 3
Note 4
Note 5
Note 6

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

The floor-to-ceiling window debate continues. [Curbed]

Washington Square Park tombstone revealed [Gothamist] ...and it comes with a press release. [WSP]

Is that the trace of a New York accent in a corner market's flower display?

East Village eulogy: RIP Valentina. [BBB]

Talking about gentrification & homelessness at the laundromat. [LM]

Carmine Survivors

After taking a quick look yesterday at what's been lost from Carmine Street, I am happy to say there are still a few worthy survivors that have yet to vanish.

The House of Oldies survives--since 1968.

As the sign in the window says: "No CD's, No Tapes, Just Records."

You will also find the Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bargain Books store, where you can dig into an amazing cache of comic book reprint collections, as well as many books about The Beatles and Jack Kerouac.

There's also a little shoe and watch repair shop with a fascinating window display, along with various other survivors.

In some ways, even with the many boutiques and new cafes opened, Carmine Street feels surprisingly overlooked by the waves of change that have swept much of the city. I should walk there more often.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

And the dream of a glass city crumbles evermore, as thousands of new condos show their shoddiness: "the wave of development in New York City that started in 2004 and crested in mid-2007 has resulted in a wave of accusations about defective construction and building design." [NYT]

Good news--films are returning to Theater 80. [EVG]

Slum Goddess plays a gig with R. Crumb. [SG]

This week, Chris Ware offers one of the best New Yorker covers ever--exposing the ghoulishness of iPhone addiction:

On Orchard: "Welcome home nouveau riche." [BB]

Remembering Miss Rheingold. [ENY]

Urban Archives in the Bronx. [Gothamist]

Is the Ekonomakis private mansion, formerly a multi-unit tenement, already being flipped? [EVG]

Lost on Carmine

Back to my collection of 1990s non-digital photos, I found two scenes lost from Carmine Street. One was the Village Flute and Sax repair shop. Run by Rick Rajca since 1977 and closed in 2001, the shop now exists online only.

In its place today stands a Thai restaurant. One of thousands of other Thai restaurants in the city.

I also found this photo of Joe's Pizza, on the corner of Carmine and Bleecker.

One of my favorite things about these two old photos are the people in them--the brass repairman in his apron, the old Villager in his trench coat and red necktie, possibly wearing a wig.

Joe's Pizza initially gave way--along with its Vegetable Garden neighbor--to Abatino's pizza and pasta. Today, Joe's lives on further along the block, but the Vegetable Garden wasn't so lucky.

photo: West Village Bob

Where Joe's and Vegetable Garden once were, there is now Grom--one in a chain of many from an Italian gelato company.

Monday, October 26, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Artists vs. advertisers. [NYT] & [Gothamist]

As New York's uniqueness evaporates, ask an expert about what still makes the city extraordinary. [CR]

Enjoy a new Walker in the City: "Yeah, he’s lookin’ at ME! This whole train fulla sex perverts and homosexuals and he’s gonna look at ME? Yeah, he’s the one. Are you a sex pervert, sir?" [WIC]

Will the Empire Diner be the city's next exported diner? [Eater]

Has a tombstone been uncovered in Washington Square? [WSP]

Sometimes it's fun to play "count the cell phones" coming out of a movie at Union Square. Bonus: As the credits roll, how many seconds before every iPhone in the joint springs to life?

Visit the "Far East Williamsburg" industrial zone. [FNY]

Union and Confederate soldiers invade Tompkins Square. [EVG]

Halloween shenanigans in TSP. [NMNL]

StuyTowners react to last week's verdict. [NYT]

La Bonbonniere

One of the last places you can get a cheap and greasy meal in Greenwich Village, La Bonbonniere is a loveable dump that's been there for years (how many?)--and it's still going strong.

A regular describes it aptly on Yelp: "Blue linoleum flooring, ripped bar stools, wobbly tables, tin walls (knock on 'em), newspaper & magazine clippings taped up, a griddle that appears to have outlasted the energizer bunny, dripping a/c units perched above the entrance (bring your umbrella in the summer), and the most precarious staircase leading to the dungeon bathroom (with sign that reads 'Not responsible if you fall down')."

Tucked onto a quiet stretch of 8th Ave., at Jane St., Bonbonniere feels like a well-kept secret. But that's far from the truth. The walls are covered with photographs of the diner's famous fans: Ethan Hawke, Molly Shannon, James Gandolfini.

Serious Eats likes their unpretentious double-cheese burger. And they've even made it onto Vogue's radar.

Still, any time I've gone for lunch, I've never waited in line. The people I've seen in there are reading the paper or a magazine or just staring out the window, not feverishly texting or shouting into cell phones. It's still a Village place--in a time when Village places are fast disappearing. And any fame La Bonbonniere has received has not gone to its head.

Recently Vanished:
Galaxy Diner
Joe Jr's
Chez Brigitte

Friday, October 23, 2009

David's Redux

If you've walked on 7th Street lately, you may have noticed that David's Shoe Repair is being gutted.

Last October, we had a scare that the beloved business was closing, which I wrote about here. One year later, it looks truly bleak. The walls have been stripped, the old machines hauled out, and boxes filled with rubber heels sit waiting to be tossed.

But fear not.

I spoke to the new owner. He is David's grandson and he promises that, after a renovation, the business will remain the same. In fact, it will even have the same name, since the grandson is also David. As for the old cobbler, he is doing well, but has decided it's simply time to retire.

It's rare these days to see a grandchild taking over and maintaining a long-term small business. And it's cause for relief--the city's legacy lives on, and that's one less vanishing for a street that has been changing rapidly and almost completely.

Further Reading:
David's Shoe Repair
A. Fontana Shoe Repair
Howdy Do

Thursday, October 22, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Congratulations to Miss Heather at NY Shitty for winning Best Neighborhood Blog from the Village Voice. After tireless poop scooping and neighborhood reporting, along with almost weekly fights with the Post, it's an honor well-deserved. [Voice]

For a quick buck ($10,000 in 5 weeks), you could be a Times Square toilet flusher--but you have to audition first. [1010] via [Animal]

Court rules against Tishman Speyer in a major blow against landlord greed. [STLL]

Will Avenue D finally turn into Avenue C? [EVG]

The shopping mall that once was the Limelight already has a cupcake shop. [CR]

East Villagers, brace yourselves--yet another cupcake shop is looking for a space in the hood. [Eater]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

The Swiss are listening to the death rattle of New York--Lost City and Vanishing NY are interviewed for Switzerland's daily paper. Anyone read French? [Le Temps]

Slum Goddess on Page 6! Says the newly crowned celeb, "Can't wait to stumble out of a limo with no underwear on so the paparrazi can catch it on film..Then i'll go to Mars Bar for my photo spread." [SG]

At the East Harlem mall, after much delay, developers bring "suburban-style big-box shopping" to Manhattan. [NYT]

Next to vanish: The city post offices. [CR]

The pitchforks came out this week for Le Souk. [EVG]

10/24: Check out open art spaces in Bushwick. [BBK]

Another demolition for Hester Street. [BB]

St. Marks has signed copies of Lethem's "Chronic City." [SMB]

Le Temps

Interviewed for a story in Switzerland's newspaper Le Temps.

The web page is not longer available--click to enlarge:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

"The Rent is Too Damn High" guy is now driving around in a car decorated to rival his website:

Mars Bar
, after many recent visits from yuppies and celebs, declares the East Village dead. [EVG]

...So has Mars Bar jumped the shark and become totally yunnified? As City Room puts it, has this dive become a diva? [GoG]

Ray's Candy is now serving Belgian waffles. [NMNL]

10/23: Celebrate the opening of two new rooms at the art-filled Carlton Arms Hotel, presented by Artbreak.

11/11: The Independent Booksellers of NYC are kicking off their Indie Bookstore Week with a party in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Museum is about to debut "Who Shot Rock & Roll?" [Stupefaction]

Review: What the Dog Saw, collected New Yorker essays by Malcolm Gladwell. [NYT]

Will any High Line graffiti survive? [Gothamist]

Minetta's Gould


As a fan of the old Minetta Tavern, it was only a matter of time before I forced myself to go to the new Minetta. When I finally got there, I discovered a major piece of the place has gone missing. But it took a couple of painful tries just to go in.

One night, I stood around outside watching well-heeled, flinty patrons climb out of monstrous Escalades on the helping hands of chauffeurs, to be passed like precious eggs into the hands of the Minetta's doorman/bouncer, a large, shaven-headed man in a black suit, with hands, by the way, the size of catcher's mitts. Deterred, I walked away muttering.

I guess I'm one of what Thrillist called, "the joint's wizened, soon-to-be-muttering-outside-angrily ex-patrons."

But I went back, this time getting close enough to hear the big bouncer, with surprise tenderness, warn away a number of poor schlubs who knew nothing of McNally's renovation. He gently told them, "It's changed since you were here last. An hour and a half wait if you don't have a reservation. Come back tomorrow at 5:30 and you might get a seat at the bar."

I took his advice. I arrived at 5:28. The place was empty, with only three people at the bar. I took a stool. A pearl-chokered woman two stools over quickly grabbed the seat between us, glaring at me as if to say, "Mine!" Her friend arrived, took the stool, and they commenced a gruelingly detailed conversation about the properly made Pimm's Cup.

Literally, within 5 minutes, the place was mobbed. I quickly finished and left, but not before noting a glaring omission in the supposedly faithful preservation of the wall decor.

2008: The missing portrait

The portrait of Joe Gould is gone. I searched the walls, but could not find it anywhere.

Joe Gould was probably the most famous, or infamous, habitue in the history of the Minetta Tavern. We know him thanks to Joseph Mitchell, who wrote about the Village eccentric in Joe Gould's Secret, later a film starring Stanley Tucci. Gould, a marginally domiciled, psychiatrically challenged bohemian, ran with famous artists and writers, like EE Cummings and William Saroyan. He was drawn by Al Hirschfeld and painted (sporting three penises) by Alice Neel. He exemplified the Village spirit.

So why did McNally choose to remove Gould's portrait, once prominently and proudly displayed in the center of Minetta's front dining room?

2008: Gould's portrait is in the center of this photo

Maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe it was moved to another spot and I missed it. But a commenter on Greenwich Village Daily Photo noticed the erasure, too, and stated that he asked the restaurant's host about the missing painting, saying, "it's now collecting dust in the owner's 'private collection.'"

Same view, 2009, photo: Daily News

Back in March, Keith McNally told Zagat, "No one familiar with the Tavern from the past will know exactly what's changed." But the truth is, the place has changed quite a bit. It's a lot like the new High Line--the old, rag-tag contents were taken out, cleaned up, and rearranged in a careful design not at all organic but pleasing to the eye. Not every item made the cut.

It would take a real Minetta expert (and I am not one) to go picture by picture to know exactly what didn't make the cut, but the deletion of Joe Gould cannot be overlooked. It's a telling omission. Today, Gould would never get through the door.

See Also:
Last Night at Minetta's
Minetta May Day

Monday, October 19, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Yet another fratboy bar--complete with beer pong--makes itself comfortable on the new LES. [Grub]

For those of you who, like myself, enjoy complaining about idiot cell-phone behavior, here's one from the Times' Complaint Box. [CR] ...and here's the best of readers' comments to the complaint.

Etherea Records lives on--out of an office space in DUMBO. [Stupefaction]

The East Village on weekends is like "Dante's 8th Circle of Hell," but not for stars of Gossip Girl, who make themselves right at home at Mars Bar. [EVG] & [EVG]

At the wake for the old ABC No Rio building. [FIB]

Here's a scene that stirs my brand of real-estate envy--someone is sitting in that bank of windows, writing, on a quiet Village street:

The Art Cars are making the rounds around town--Slum Goddess snapped a bunch and so did Boogie.

More scenes of big change from Taxi Driver to today. [SNY]

Giuliani uses fear to support Bloomberg: "I worry daily that the city might be turned back to the way it was, to the way it was before 1993." [Gothamist]

Madonna's neighbor is suing her noisy ass: "The building's board says it has already threatened to evict." [yahoo]

Nuisance Tax

After many, many fans of Sex & the City continued to climb aboard and pose for photos on the stoop of the Perry Street townhouse where, I guess, the fictional Carrie Bradshaw lived in the show, the owners of the townhouse mounted a defense.

The chain and the sign have been up for over a year now and I'm not sure how the deterrent has been working out. Maybe not so well. SATC fans are an irrepressible bunch. But now the Perry Street townhousers have added a new twist.

To all those SATC picture-snappers they say, "Took a picture??? Now Please Help," and donate a dollar to orphaned kitties and puppies. That's making the most of a deeply annoying, invasive, uncontrollable situation. I like it.

In fact, I think it could start a trend. Call it a Tourist & Yunnie Nuisance Tax.

Beleaguered neighbors of noisy hotels like the Cooper Square and the Jane could put out boxes saying, "Puked on my sidewalk? Woke me up with your drunken screams? Donate a dollar to [your favorite charity here]."

Just think, if every yunnie or tourist in the city donated just one dollar for every time they did something annoying, we might have the means to cure HIV, eradicate world hunger, and save all the orphaned kitties of New York.

More on SATC:

Friday, October 16, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Enjoy a payphone tour of Third Avenue with Anna Jane Grossman. [Obsolete]

Brilliant: Get your souvenir miniature of the recession's failed glass towers. Boym also makes "Buildings of Disaster." [Curbed]

Revisiting the Times' "Rooms" of the city. [NYT]

St. Marks' newest burger joint goes up for beer license Monday--but they're already selling beer. [EVG]

"Downtown is dead," says Alex... [FP]

...but it lives on in the new film Downtown Calling, a look at NYC from 1977-1985. [Stupefaction]

Looking forward to the Cambridge Companion to the literature of NYC. [P&W]

A particularly icky NYC Rhymology. [NYCR]

More Jane, Less Marc

After spotting his bright yellow "More Jane Jacobs, Less Marc Jacobs" postcard in the Soy Luck Club cafe on Greenwich Avenue yesterday, I contacted graphic designer Mike Joyce of Stereotype Design and asked some questions about his recently launched, pitch-perfect "guerrilla campaign."

Stereotype Design

The Village has been turning into a luxury shopping mall for years now. What was the last straw for you, the impetus that drove you to launch this campaign?

I moved here in '94 (I know, I missed the Village heyday by about 30-40 years) and loved just walking around desolate areas like the Meatpacking District (a crazy time when they actually packaged meats) or finding an old garage on Washington being used as a makeshift bookstore.

I guess what finally did it for me was watching about twenty of my favorite restaurants going out of business or being driven out by rents doubling and tripling. This is a sad and direct effect of the franchises like Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, and Marc Jacobs moving in. The management companies like Gottlieb and Ripco have a new client to cater to and it definitely doesn't include the independent small business owners. Biography Bookshop on Bleecker is leaving to make way for another Marc Jacobs store.

You say on your website that Greenwich Village is your “client” for this campaign. What kind of client is the Village and what are its needs?

That was just a way to be consistent on my site and fit it in with all the rest of my projects that truly are created for clients. But if the West Village was a client of mine, first of all they'd have no money, and secondly I think they would really be into this message. The perfect pro-bono client.

from Businessweek

I’ve written before on the proliferation of Marc Jacobs stores along and around Bleecker and their effect on the neighborhood. Sometimes, I get comments like this one in his defense: “the guy is a local NYer who started out working in a consignment shop in the east village during the 80's.” How do you respond to the argument that, because Marc Jacobs started out small and local (he’s also a native New Yorker), his saturation business model should not be critiqued?

Ya know it's funny, when I started this I thought I would get a ton of comments like that but it's really been completely the opposite. Everyone seems to really enjoy the sentiment of the card and I've seen them propped up in store windows and counters and even pinned on an old lady sitting on a bench on Hudson Street.

Probably the biggest question I am asked is "Who's Jane Jacobs?"

But I definitely understand that counterpoint and to those people I have two things to say. One, it is absolutely not meant to be a personal statement against Marc Jacobs. I actually like some of the store's window displays and think he and his team are really talented designers. And two, don't be so literal! It's a play on words to reflect the Village being taken over by franchises and chains of all kinds--not just the six Marc Jacobs stores. Oh, that would be my third point, there is of course a place for Marc Jacobs in the Village but six stores on two blocks?! Come on, the person that argues for that has no individuality.
What’s the next step in your guerrilla campaign? Will there be t-shirts, baseball caps, posters, performance art pieces?

I like the idea of performance art. Maybe we can reenact the last scene in Do the Right Thing? I was originally going to do stickers but I hated the idea of people plastering them on store windows and street signs, so I went with the less obtrusive postcard. But I'm definitely doing t-shirts! I think I'm going to do a reverse of the card--yellow type on black tees. And pins too--the kids love pins these days. I'll let ya know when they're out.

Where can people get their hands on some of these postcards if they want to help in the distribution?

A few people have contacted me for this and I'm more than happy to give a handful of cards out free of charge--just e-mail me at Stereotype. I'll definitely be reprinting more!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Spotted at Soy cafe on Greenwich, a perfect postcard designed by Mike Joyce. So how can we get this on t-shirts?

Can Bloomberg's Luxury City survive? WSJ says, "The hollowed out city as 'luxury product'—as Mr. Bloomberg once described his vision for a New York in which the wealthy subsidize the city's work force—is unsustainable..." [WSJ]

Affordable housing lost under Bloomberg. [NYT]

Time Out asks: "Are you one of the most essential New Yorkers? Nominate yourself" as the "best new arrival, the most creative...most datable...hottest...and biggest life of the party." Oh dear.

Visiting Greenlight Books. [BP]

East Village newcomers hate Tompkins Square Park and it's really just as well. [EVG]

Here's your chance to visit the catacombs (?) of the Abrons Arts Center’s historic Playhouse: It's the Steampunk Haunted House.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Captain Lou Albano has passed on, but Cyndi Lauper is alive and well, blue-haired and filming in Meatpacking:

Brendan Patrick Hughes writes about this blog in Next American City--and the cover story is about Bloomberg's doomed third term. You can get a copy at St. Marks Bookshop.

"Lease me now, love me forever" begs the desperate retail space that used to be the gorgeous Gordon Novelty Shop. A senseless loss. [Restless]

The Disneyfication of the Deuce continues--as plans for a car-free mall with monorail emerge. [NYT]

The Bowery really is getting a flea market. For trendy, buzzy, hip people. [EVG]

Who doesn't love accordions? Take a visit to Main Squeeze. [BB]

Soapbox readers take Washington Square Park. [WSP]

StuyTown "in danger of imminent default...signaling the beginning of what is expected to be a wave of commercial-property failures." [STLL]

Navy Yard Art

Clustered together in hulking buildings alongside the dry docks and ruins of the Brooklyn Navy Yard are dozens of artists. This past weekend, they opened their studios to the public. Brooklyn Navy Yard Arts has the full line-up and more information on the event.

paintings by Susan Steinbrock

The Navy Yard artists are a different crowd than the ones I encountered at the Bushwick Open Studios--it's an older bunch, with kids. And grandkids. I wondered about the demographic shift: if the Navy Yard studios are more expensive than those in Bushwick, or if the artists have been here longer, or manage to be more successful.

The visitors were older, too--mostly middle-aged and up. The studios were clean and uncluttered. The art generally didn't do anything too loopy or overstimulating. It was very, well, adult--things you might want to hang on your wall--like Michael Sherman's lovely, monochromatic watercolors of urban scenes.

paintings by Colin Thompson

An artist whose work I found particularly interesting is Thomas Witte. He takes his grandparents' old photographs, stencils them into painstaking paper cut-outs, then transfers them onto glass with layers of spray paint.

painting and stencil by Thomas Witte

His collection features parking lots full of 1970s cars, and old people in drab clothing and chunky eyeglasses. He also paints Brooklyn storefronts, which you can see here.

paintings by Thomas Witte

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Something Sweet bakery has been closed for weeks due to a "personal matter" and "hungry, sweet-toothed" East Villagers are getting antsy:

A night inside SuperDive's champagne and little-person pirate party. [EVG]

Enjoy Romy's latest Walker in the City--with e.e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, and more. [WIC]

Owls and lions mingle on the old Mount Morris theater. [GLF]

10/17: Go to the Greenlight Bookshop launch party. [BIB]

11/4: Context/Contrast--discussing the appropriateness of glass towers on brick tenement blocks.

Listen to Jonathan Lethem talk about the narcissistic city--skip to minute mark 19:50. [WFMU]

Brooklyn Navy Yard

Continuing on the tour of New York ruins, this weekend, as part of OHNY, I walked through the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the first time.

I caught a glimpse of the Admirals Row ruins through the trees. I had no idea they were right on the street. The demolition of these buildings was approved earlier this year, though many--like B.O.M.B. and MAS--are fighting to save them from becoming a parking lot and supermarket (no doubt a Whole Foods).

For an amazing tour of the crumbling interiors, check out Bluejake.

Inside the Yard, the first most impressive sight you come upon is Building 128, a machine shop dating back to 1899. It looks like an airplane hangar, with a vast interior surrounded by walls of windows, many of them broken. The building is wrapped in yellow Caution tape and the guards wave you away if you get too close, calling, "falling glass, falling glass." The building is slated for demolition.

Building 128 is endlessly fascinating. Its long flanks reveal its stripped anatomy--the pipes, fans, girders, and wheels that make up the guts of this rusted, metal giant. As the autumn sun sets, the whole place glows, mossy green and russet golden, like a barn in a wheatfield somewhere.

For a look inside, see Nathan Kensinger's excellent photos.

Though filled with many historic ruins, the Navy Yard is far from dead. It is home to office supply distributors, plumbing suppliers, printers, furniture designers, cabinet makers, and many more businesses. One of the oldest businesses still running here is Cumberland Packing, the makers of Sweet 'N Low--a fact proudly announced on a stained mural across from the Navy Yard entrance.

The factory was founded by Benjamin Eisenstadt in 1947 and remains in operation just outside the Yard. Inside the Yard, a familiar pink logo marks Cumberland's receiving annex. For an in-depth exploration of the Sweet 'N Low story, read the book Sweet and Low, by disinherited saccharine heir Rich Cohen.

Like many of the city's industrial areas, the Navy Yard also houses several artist studios. Tune in next time for a tour of those studios.

See all my Navy Yard photos here

Monday, October 12, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

The term "bitter renter" no longer applies. [NYT]

Kicking it in Riverdale. [FNY]

A look at how the recession is affecting Arthur Avenue. [CR]

On Elizabeth Street, in luxury shop Vince, someone's being robbed:

Oh boy, digester eggs. [NYS]

Highlights from Open House New York. [Gothamist]

The Bowery is getting a bazaar. Is that like a church bazaar with tea-cozies, raffles, and white elephant tables? [EVG]

If you're laidback, wholesome, and effortlessly cool, Hollister has a job for you. [BB]

Ellis Island Ruins

On Sunday, thanks to OHNY, I took a tour of the ruins on the south side of Ellis Island. It was a popular event, with five tours running on both days of the weekend--plenty of chances for New Yorkers to experience this important piece of history, and enjoy the thrill of accessing a rarely seen aspect of the hidden city.

Art-Deco eagles

That's the best part--stepping through private doors into a place few people go, into a no-man's land of contagious disease wards and psychiatric lock-ups.

the face of misery on a hospital building

There is something deeply satisfying about a modern ruin. The smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island, the High Line before it was reclaimed, Admirals Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Maybe they bring to mind the oddly peaceful, unpeopled pleasures of the post-apocalypse.

Maybe it's their familiarity that attracts us to them. In the Staff House at Ellis Island, a building recently reclaimed from wild vines, we can imagine ourselves sitting by the fireplace...

...looking out at the view of the harbor and Statue of Liberty, listening to the ocean as it laps against the sea wall just feet from the back door. This isn't an ancient Roman ruin, far removed from our own experience. This is a room we might know.

It is not hard to imagine our nearest ancestors shuffling through the Isolation Ward, walking on a nurse's arm along the curving, U-shaped corridor. Today, vegetation pokes through the busted windows. Nature is ever-pressing, waiting for the humans to depart, waiting to take over again, creeping in through the cracks, tearing down the walls.

In haunted rooms, nature has eaten away the floors and sunk the ceilings. There used to be beds here, white sheets, vases filled with flowers. The air smelled of Listerine. This is not some distant Pompeii. In these ruins, we hover between possibilities--the known past, photographed and documented, and the foreseen future, easily imagined because it's already here.

Down a long corridor through the measles wards, we pass broken glass and twining vines, a pile of dead leaves sweeping in on the wind, and silence. No people to be seen. Only their rusted remains, their confused detritus.

A porcelain urinal leans against a tree. A mortuary seethes with bats. Oxygen and moisture devour the doors on cabinets that once held cadavers.

We know what life after the apocalypse will look like.

See all my photos of the Ellis Island hospital here

For more modern ruins, see: