Friday, January 8, 2010

Metro 1997

While cleaning out my bookshelves, I came upon a yellowed copy of the New York Times Metro Section from December 31, 1997. It provides a perfectly condensed snapshot of what the city was going through at the time, when Giuliani was prepping Manhattan for its metamorphosis into today's luxury product, a city under a dome of affluence and shine.

I am sure that I saved these pages for the article about the Selwyn Theater's collapse. The 42nd Street end of the Selwyn was scheduled for destruction the following spring, but with so much demolition on the block, the old bricks could not hold out and they tumbled on the morning of December 30.

I loved the Selwyn mostly for the ghost sign on the side of the building--"Cooped up? Feelin' low? Enjoy a movie today!" This photo of it crumbling to pieces is beyond heartbreaking.

Click to enlarge for close-up

Also in this Metro Section is a story about how people on the Lower East Side were protesting against the destruction of their community gardens, while more protesters tried to fight Giuliani's implementation of pedestrian barriers in Midtown. "Pedestrians are not cattle," their signs argued, to no avail.

Today, the barriers still stand. The community gardens are mostly gone. And Times Square has been completely turned into a tourist-safe shopping mecca.

The cover story to this Metro Section is by Dan Barry, entitled "Times Square Grit Peeps Through Glitz." He wrote, "When the illuminated ball drops like a gigantic coin on Times Square at midnight tonight, it will land in the midst of an urban metamorphosis. Entertainment and media corporations continue to vie for choice locations in a once-seedy swath of New York City that the heartland now sees as a jazzy alternative to Busch Gardens and Disney World."

The Times Square captured in this Metro Section still had The Original Peepland and, in Barry's words, "the green neon lights of McHale's Bar" and "happy hour at Howard Johnson's." All of that, and much more, has vanished. In just a dozen years. When the illuminated ball dropped last week, it landed in a Times Square swept clean of all its guts and grit.

"Times Square has always changed every 20 years,'' said writer Nik Cohn in the article. ''But this time it's changed to a corporate, generic American city that doesn't particularly express the uniqueness of New York.''

It was only 1997. Today you could apply that quote to most of the city.

Also see:
Times Square 1990s
Grand Luncheonette
Show World


EV Grieve said...

''But this time it's changed to a corporate, generic American city that doesn't particularly express the uniqueness of New York.''


But you could argue that it's the people who make the city unique. However, as you and others have documented, the unique characters of the city are also becoming extinct.

Billy said...

Hey, perk up! If Times Square really does change every 20 years, maybe we can expect a return to squalor in, oh, another five or six!

NYC Free Concerts said...

The goal is to have responsible people living in NYC. People that can take care of themselves. So far, it has been getting better in NYC. Wouldn't you agree?

Karen Jones said...

I find this very interesting, particularly since I'm currently reading James Traub's book about Times Square, The Devil's Playground. His chapters on the different proposals for the Times Square redevelopment, and his explanations for why we finally wound up with what's there now, are fascinating.

henry said...

That HoJo's was the site of the worst Manhattan I have ever had. We ducked in in 94 or 95 because the bar at the Marriott wasn't rotating that night for some reason, and the logical solution for compensating for our missing 80's relic seemed to be a 60's relic. There was this strange (triangular?) bar at the back, and a guy with a pencil moustache and actual, non-clip black bowtie was tending. Really not a very nice guy, and a really terrible drink.

A dive in the true sense -- like, not fun, or good, or camp, or there to be appreciated. Just what it was. Oh well.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

NYCFC: Those qualities sound like those require to attend kindergarten.
The city is so far from better that I find it hard to address your comment. The city is mostly gone.

Anonymous said...

"The goal is to have responsible people living in NYC. People that can take care of themselves. So far, it has been getting better in NYC. Wouldn't you agree?"

Congratulations! You've managed to demonstrate the most incredible level of "cluelessness" that I've seen on this site ever! You gave new meaning to the phrase "missing the point".

Pat yourself on the back... a lot.

Jeremiah Moss said...

the Traub book is a good one. hearing about those proposals, you really understand just how planned, how calculated the changes to Times Square were and continue to be. it was not a "natural" evolution. it was constructed by a small body of people in power.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

I still have the "There Goes the Neighborhood" cover story about the LES that appeared in New York magazine in 1984. I found it frightening then; the changes to come would be unimaginable.

BabyDave said...

Stop with the sniping, already. This post and every link it leads to are wonderful reminders of a faraway world.

I am sorry, though, to hear about the inferior Manhattan, Henry.

Anonymous said...

"It was only 1997. Today you could apply that quote to most of the city."

As much as I tend to agree with your assessments about the demise of character within NYC, Jeremiah, I must say that your (excuse me for lack of a better term) "whiteness" is showing.

You can say that gentrification has overtaken "MOST" of the city only if you believe that what constitutes the "city" is Manhattan (below Harlem) and parts of Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

TO NYC Free Concerts:

"The goal is to have responsible people living in NYC. People that can take care of themselves. So far, it has been getting better in NYC. Wouldn't you agree?"

The goal isn't to ship in new people or displace the current residents, many of whom WERE responsible (such as those mentioned who maintained the community gardens). And the people of New York could take care of themselves before without having people barricades to control their movement.

As EV Grieve wrote earlier, it's the people that makes the city unique. Replace the people and you don't have the same city anymore.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Anon 3:01, unfortunately, gentrification is happening in much, if not most, of the city. maybe not Staten Island, but plenty of Brooklyn, Queens, the South Bronx. as for Harlem--"the influx of non-Hispanic whites has escalated." this graphic and article says it all:

if it continues at the past decade's pace, we will be saying ALL of NYC.

Ken Mac said...

EV, we have a unique character in our building named Mike. He's lived in the stairwell near the roof for 20 years. He's a village character, near mad, plays great guitar, talks to the skies. My building finally wants him out. In the cold. It never ends.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

Coda: Responsible people that can take care of themselves might exclude the following: the very old, the very young, the sick, the poor. Artists, musicians, writers. The rent controlled, the rent stabilized. The eccentric. Ray. I fall into two of these categories, and hope to live long enough to fall into three. Actually, as a freelancer, in the new NY, I probably qualify as poor, too.

Kevin Walsh said...

The Metro Section itself is gone, and the Times' City Room is pretty much being dismantled.

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Thanks for this post!

Vintage Richmond said...

While I love your blog and agree with most of what you say, I can't say I'm too sad about the changes in Times Square. I would imagine someone would have a lot less chance of getting mugged in broad daylight on a crowded street like I did in 1985 on that very stretch that this pic is from.

I'll take Chuck E Cheese and Disney over fat bald men in sticky XXX theaters any day. Not that I would know anything about those theaters as I was only in my teens then, and of course the fine owners of said theaters would NEVER have let a 15 year old in...or to see peep shows, or to buy an XXX mag. As a parent now, I don't mind the loss of these upstanding businesses.

chris flash said...

NYC Free Concerts said: "The goal is to have responsible people living in NYC. People that can take care of themselves. So far, it has been getting better in NYC. Wouldn't you agree?"

Getting better for WHOM? Not for the countless long-term residents who've been priced out and displaced by gentrification. And not for small businesses that have been pushed out in favor of banks on every corner and a Starbucks every 50 feet. And certainly not for the city itself, which is being morphed into a homogenized corporatocratic theme park designed by non-New Yorkers for non-New Yorkers with a lot of money.

By the way, I had to laugh when I saw the non-descript caption on the NY Times photo of the collapse of the Selwyn Theater -- I remember feeling then that this "accidental" collapse was intentional, and I STILL do!! That building was in the way of the larger parcel the Times Square real estate vermin sought to assemble, so they did what they do best.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's realistic to expect that most of Brooklyn or the Bronx will be gentrified anytime soon (within the next twenty years). This city has what, about four (five? six?) million people who can't remotely be described as gentrifiers? Do you think they will all leave? Why?

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feeling about 42nd Street.

In the early 90s, when I commuted to NYC, I walked down 42nd Street every day and evening. As a young woman still developing my NYC-spidey-senses, I was pick-pocketed numerous times, caught in the middle of a random fistfight, and propositioned by pimps and Johns more times than I could remember. The Subway transverse wasn't much safer in those days — just warmer than the street and with fewer cops.

The first week I moved into my Garment District office in 1999 there was a gun fight on the street and a few months after that Patrick Dorismond was shot by overzealous cops only steps from my office lobby.

Twenty years later, I live in the city and my offices are still located in the Garment District but I now have hotels as my neighbors. I work much later hours than I ever did commuting. The changes on 42 Street have made this area much safer and there's many more people on the streets at all hours. I still avoid 42nd Street, but only because it's so crowded that it's hard to get anywhere fast.

I don't miss the Giuliani days at all but net-net, the commercialization of 42 Street has made adjacent areas much safer and more vibrant.

There are still plenty of locally-owned small businesses in the area — maybe not all on the Avenues, but we're still here.