Monday, August 30, 2010


Earlier in August I reported that the defunct Gordon Novelty Shop had been unsheathed. For a brief, shining moment, we were able to enjoy that gorgeous facade once more. A commenter then tipped us to the fact that Gordon's demolition has begun--and a trip to the site confirmed that the death shroud has indeed been lowered.

This area just north of Union Square was once filled with novelty shops. If you scroll through microfilm images of those streets at the Municipal Archives, in the grainy shots you will see the word NOVELTY everywhere, along with: Balloons, Bingo Games, Favors, Party Hats, Bridge Prizes, and Souvenirs.

I imagine that walking through those streets, at mid-century, must have been like walking into the world behind the mesmerizing novelty ads in old comic books. Just looking at those pages could fire the imagination for untold hours.

Like "Appetizing," which I wrote about here, the word "Novelty" (and its plural "Novelties") is a rare find on a New York sign. Many have vanished, some remain.

Here is the Gordon storefront before it was gone.

The plural appears today on a floral supply shop in the Flower District, and probably doesn't refer to hand buzzers and whoopie cushions.

When Anthropologie moved into B. Shackman's favors and novelties shop on 5th Avenue, they left the plaque on the wall. It's still there, but the heavy wooden revolving door was removed. Shackman's, as I remember it, was also not the fake-vomit breed of novelty shop, but sold mostly dollhouse furnishings and greeting cards.

photo from kiminnyc's flickr

1932 catalog selling on Amazon

And here is a shot of Jimson's Novelty shop, vanished from 18th and Broadway sometime in the mid-1990s, if I remember right. There's a noodle or dumpling place, or something similar, there now.

photo: Jack Szwergold's flickr

Keep your eyes open for "Novelty." If you come upon this rare word in New York City signage, please add your shots to the Vanishing NY Flickr pool.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Language Was Farcical

350 West Broadway has a lot to say. Words upon words wrap around its glass street-level exterior, the stuff of luxury condos. All that condo-porn verbiage.

There's more on the website, where the pages tell little stories starring a very superior couple having very superior conversations. There's even one where they poke fun at the inflated nature of other luxury condos' ad copy...

"The language was farcical. 'Here’s a good one!' she said excitedly, moving herself into an upright position in order to make the best delivery possible. 'Enwrap yourself in ultimate luxury.' She collapsed in a paroxysm of laughter. 'Enwrap! Who talks like that?'"

“I love the names. Luxitana, Titanium House, Elysium. Wake up in Heaven.”

“Here’s a new one. Zolofts. Leave Your Worries at the Door.”

“You know, they should ban the word exclusive from their ads. I mean, how exclusive can it be if there’s 75 units?”

“It’s like living on the QE2.”

“I’m glad we chose this place.”

Is this self-mockery? Hard to tell. They call the SoHo of the 1600s a "verdant swell."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Fedora's new owner: "I'm already bracing myself for the criticism that I'm going to get. People are going to say, 'It's not like Fedora, Fedora looked nothing like this.' ... I'm choosing to keep the name because it's a great name. I'm keeping the bar because it's brilliant, the original bar from 1917. Aside from that, it's now our restaurant." [Esquire]

The saga of Shepard Fairey's mural comes to a close. [EVG]

Evidence that sometimes people still use payphones--for what they were made for. [EVC]

Remembering Johnny Thunders. [COS]

A parting shot of the gorgeous Gordon Novelty. [GVDP]

If you haven't watched them yet, these mini-docs of city people are great. [13]

Williamsburg hipsters, MTV wants you: "Do you own skinny jeans, old school chucks, cabbie hat, the 70's vest, an ironic t shirt or hat, a fitted sweater, flannel shirt, or chunky lens-less glasses? Do you drink PBR, have an ironic mustache, have a blog that allows you to post pictures you took with your digital camera? ... Smoke Parliaments? Got any cool tattoos? Perhaps one of a star, maybe on your wrist or elbow? Own a vintage dress or have an awesome beard?" [Craigslist]

Union Square Theater

Following up the posts "Before the Vill 7" and "Lost Renwick Found," reader Mark Kane sent in this 1992 shot of the ruined and revealed Union Square Theater.

He writes, "When they were demolishing a row of dry goods stores on Union Square between Fourth & Broadway, I noticed that one of the buildings had a huge, ancient ventilation system on its roof and a odd fire-escape out back. Sure enough, when the building was peeled away, the last remnants of the Union Square Theatre were revealed, its finishes all brown with smoke, but still intact. There was a lovely painting in the round center medallion but scavengers beat me to it. This was in December of 1992. The hideous building that once held Virgin Records replaced this."

The folks at Cinema Treasures tell us this structure was "built in 1870 as a variety theater called the Union Square Theater. In 1893 Keith and Albee purchased the theater for use as a vaudeville theater. It became a movie house in 1908."

from Joseph Haworth

Cinema Treasures reader Lost Memory offers the following pair of vintage photos of the theater when it became a BF Keith's, reporting that the first moving pictures were shown here in 1896.

The theater's demolition was announced in 1989. Christopher Gray in the New York Times reported then, "With a combination of burlesque, ballet, comedy and pantomime, the Union Square Theater was advertised as 'the model temple of amusement.'"

Later, as B.F. Keith's, "in 1908 it was converted entirely to films, ultimately 'dabbling in the most dubious activities that a picture house can indulge in,' according to J. C. Furnas in The New York Herald Tribune of 1932, alluding to racy films and sex lectures."

In 1936, the theater was broken up and sealed off to make room for stores and office space. But somewhere in the new construction's recesses, theatrical glories lived on.

Wrote Christopher Gray, "The ceiling still has its old gold and ivory paint and two large cupolas, into which huge ventilation ducts have been inserted. The only part that is not visible is the proscenium arch, and it is conceivable that the arch and its Shakespeare medallion are still intact. Short of a serious documentation effort by the owner, only demolition promises a really complete view of what is left of the old Union Square Theater."

In New York Magazine's "Glass Stampede" round-up, Justin Davidson recalls the corner, saying, "Davis Brody Bond’s apartments are basically a support for Metronome, the ever-puzzling steam-breathing artwork that tells time but remains silent about history. The legendary Union Square Theater stood on this site and should never have been allowed to rot."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

In the next installment of the Potemkin Village saga, the Chelsea Hotel erects fake stores in their empty storefronts. [LWL]

Allen Ginsberg's apartment has been gut renovated and is now on the market. [EVG]

Wrangler follows in Diesel's footsteps, tells people to "Stop Thinking." [Racked]

Celebrate 50 years of Maple Lanes with some bowling. [Grub]

Greenpoint's 3 Decker reopens tomorrow. [NYS]

Queens picnickers acting piggy. [QC]

France's Beauty Salon

With the movement of Habib's Place from Avenue A and 6th, the removal of his sign revealed an under-sign: France's Beauty Salon.

I can't really tell you anything about France's Beauty Salon, only that I took a photo of it sometime around 1995--I did have one more shot in my East Village 90s collection. Here's what it looked like.

I love this serious, Slavic-looking woman standing there among the fabulous 80s-style beauties with their Aqua-Netted manes. Is she the eponymous France(s)?

If I recall correctly, France's was one of those places where older ladies would go to get their hair set. Maybe some mustache bleaching. Maybe a blue rinse. Makes me wonder: Where in the East Village can you get a good blue rinse these days?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

The travesty continues while City Hall watches. After 30 years at Coney Island, souvenir shop owner gets 7-day notice from Thor to get out. [ATZ]

New York subway photos from the 70s and 80s. [EVG]

Has Williamsburg become "New York's answer to San Diego"? [Restless]

Shadow puppets on the Houston Wall. [BB]

City gets ready to remove the Ghost Bikes. [LM]

Monday, August 23, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

iPad e-book lover says, "People approach me and ask to see it, to touch it, how much I like it... That rarely happens with dead-tree books." And all that pad prodding is desirable? [NYT]

Can you help identify a window into Coney's past? [ATZ]

Check out photos from Andy Levin's Coney Island. [NYT]

Why do people wait in long lines for Clinton St. Baking? [Eater]

St. Mark's/Crusty
style goes supermodel. [EVG]

Cigar aficionados come for Guss' former pickle shop. [BB]

Grand Street's Italian food store signs. [ENY]

East Village 90s

Digging back into my small archive of print photos from the early/middle 1990s, we did Times Square, and now here's the East Village collection scanned. It's only 7 photos, but it shows some of what was here 15 years ago.

All but one of the places in these images has vanished

Kurowycky Meats: A Halloween ghost hangs with the meat in the window, back before meat was outlawed and Kurowycky had to hang plastic sausages in its place--back before Kurowycky closed and became Kim's. They used to trim the fat off my chicken.

Stingy Lulu's: Where drag queens served you breakfast and cocktails, before it became one thing, then another thing, and now Hop Devil Grill.

Wolinnin Funeral Home: Before it became a pottery studio and now the Butter Lane cupcake shop.

Leshko's Coffee Shop: Of the buzzing flies and cakes under foggy plastic covers, of the late-night breakfasts, and the junkies slipping into the bathroom to shoot up. Before it became the hideous noise-fest it is today.

VFW: Where was this? 9th Street? Old men used to hang around outside.

Ray's Candy: This is the only photo I have in this collection of an East Village place that hasn't vanished, or changed much at all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

"The habits of urban scavengers in rescuing other persons’ discarded sofas and chairs has to stop. Too many people remain unaware how many bedbugs can hide out in an ordinary picture frame." [NYvBBs]

A summer day in Washington Square Park--the road to Hell looks like the lost New York--adult bookstores! X-rated videos! (Click here to see close-ups.)

"This morning at 5:30 am, Thor Equities work crew continued demo and asbestos abatement work on the doomed Henderson Building across from Nathan’s in good old Coney Island." [ATZ]

Marco's LES gateway mural is gone. [BB]

On Ave B, Billy Hurricane's looking to hire Hooter's and Coyote Ugly types--but less sketchy. [EVG]

Watching the changes on Great Jones. [TGL]

Remembering the 1990s in New York. [COS]

A gorey indie bookstore battle rages on Long Island. [NYT]

What's squawking above the Spingler Staples? [FP]

Little Bickle

As a follow-up to my interview with urban miniaturist Alan Wolfson, I found this Travis Bickle action figure.

Big Red Moon

You could get one like it via ebay for as little as $400 if you're a lucky bidder. It was made in very limited numbers by a Japanese company called CRM Toys.


Just think of all the fun you could have with this guy in Wolfson's miniature city.

You know, if you wanted to stay home and never go out there, pull down the shades, order lots of pizza. That sort of thing.

Alan Wolfson, St. George Hotel, 1994

Thursday, August 19, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Hallowed Ground: A few photos of stuff the same distance from the World Trade Center as the "Ground Zero Mosque." [DL]

"Between the pedestrian malls and fancy sandwich shops, the signs are unmistakable. New York City is going Euro." [NYO]

Fat Beats record stores to close. [Stupefaction]

"Back Rent Kills East Village Mom-and-Pop Shop Village Fabrics" and "the whole neighborhood is going to crap." [RS] via EVG

Spike Lee: "the Brooklyn I grew up in is not the Brooklyn today... I just think that when you move into a neighborhood, you can’t necessarily come in and just change all the culture at the same time. That’s my only problem with gentrification." [TONY]

Indie Press Night at Word. [Word]

Bed bugs helping to chase out rent-regulated tenants--and raise the rents. [BU] via Curbed

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

"Windsor Terrace parents are throwing a tantrum at the Oak & the Iris Café, claiming that they have no right to cancel their weekly sing-a-longs just because their precious kids were breaking property." [Gothamist]

Homeless shelter becomes "gay hotel," complete with undulating hallways. [Curbed]

Elle magazine offices besieged by bed bugs. [RS]

Fans of Max's Kansas City get a book and an exhibit. [Stupefaction]

An ode to the "truck bomb." [EVG]

Greenpoint's Manhattan 3-Decker lives. [NYS]


Yesterday, Grieve reminded us of the anniversary of the death of Merlin, the homeless man who made his spot for 8 years outside the Con Ed substation on Avenue A and 6th St., and who died there August 16, 1996.

I thought I'd post these two color photos I took of Merlin's memorial in the summer of '96, which I've recently scanned from prints.

A few years ago this week, Bob Arihood posted photos of Merlin on his blog, Neither More Nor Less.

Bob recalls: "A wake and vigil of considerable moment, lasting for the better part of 2 weeks, was held in the neighborhood at Merlin's corner. Some nights the sidewalk and street around the memorial were so densely packed with people that it seemed that everyone in the neighborhood and the surrounding communities was attending, crowded together, all kinds of folks, from all professions and callings, from high and low paying their respects to Merlin."

Merlin's birth name was Paul Hogan. I remember him as a friendly guy, always regally reclined in a pile of clothing and bedding, with books spilling all around him. Young people, girls mostly, sat beside him to talk. He had the bearing of a sage. You wanted to know him.

"To strangers," wrote the Times about him, "he is but another intrusion on the East Village's gritty streetscape, a reason to avert their eyes. But to many local residents, he is a cherished asset: a timekeeper, a message center, a town crier and a source of good, solid conversation."

New York Magazine, 9/96

New York Magazine wrote about the memorial, saying that when the news of Merlin's death was announced on Con-Ed's brick wall, "Shocked locals scurried to nearby bodegas for candles and flowers. Even rowdy Long Islanders and New Jerseyites stopped and stifled themselves for a moment of silence."

Could such a memorial happen for a homeless person in the East Village today?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Any advice for new New Yorkers? [CR]

Scary news for Coney's Henderson Building as Thor's hammer falls. [ATZ]

Ghost Stroller freaking out Park Slope parents. [NYT]

In the Hamptons, an "entitled diner" goes bananas with "restaurant rage." [Grub]

A proposal to turn empty luxury condos into middle-income housing. [NYO]

EV liquor license news. [EVG]

The Lonely Phone Booth

In Three Lives bookshop recently, I came across The Lonely Phone Booth. Technically, it's for children, but anyone nostalgic for the city, and especially its lost phone booths, will enjoy it. Publishers Weekly called it "Cultural history of the best sort."

The book was inspired by the venerable phone booth of West End Avenue and 100th Street. It is one of four remaining outdoor phone booths in the city, but it's the only one that's been called "an objet d'art...almost a religious edifice." That booth is beloved by many and has long been protected by a man named Alan Flacks, who told the Times, "people prefer actual booths where they can close the door, put their papers down on the shelf and enjoy the amenities, such as shelter, privacy, light, and even security.''

Author Peter Ackerman agrees. I asked Mr. Ackerman some questions about his book. He answered.

Q: What inspired you to write the tale of one of New York's last remaining phone booths?

A: I was walking past the phone booth with my sons, who were 6 and 3 at the time, and the 3 year old said "Why is that phone in a box?" It seemed so funny that he had no idea what it was. I've had some major life experiences in phone booths: calling my parents when I was cast in my first New York play, having endless discussions with my college girlfriend until I ran out of quarters, receiving collect calls from her while I was in a phone booth and she was in France (we got away with that a bunch of times until an operator broke through and said "I know what you're doing!" and cut us off.). And then I learned that there are only 4 proper phone booths left in Manhattan. So I found myself imagining what it must feel like to be one of those phone booths, once so central to people’s lives, but now on the verge of extinction.

illustration by Max Dalton

Q: What do you think we've lost as public pay phones have vanished, as people have come to rely on cell phones?

A: It’s funny: it used to be that you could see people in pay-phones, but not hear what they were saying. Now you can hear people on cellphones but not always see them. There’s something more invasive about hearing someone else talking than there is watching a dumb show. I mean, phone booths are essentially transparent rooms where you could see someone laughing, crying, yelling, but not know the actual details. It allowed your imagination to engage with the community.

Now your imagination is invaded by someone else’s reality. It’s much more literal. So I think there was a genteel sharing of life’s experiences. In a soft-focus kind of way, you could recognize that someone was going through something without having the gory details take over your life. You also had the power to decide whether you wanted to think about them or not. Now, if you’re on a bus reading a book and someone is yakking away behind you, you have no choice but to stop reading and listen to half a conversation.

So I guess cellphones contribute to the loss of distinction between public and private space: the rest of the city should not HAVE to listen to your conversation.

illustration by Max Dalton

Q: There's a certain love of the analog in this book, and books, of course, are "analog" objects under siege from the digital. As a screenwriter (Ice Age) and now a book author, which medium are you rooting for? Or do you believe screen and page can coexist in the 21st century?

A: I’m not really invested in one medium over another in an objective way. I love books because they’re one of the things I’m used to that gives me pleasure. But I love movies too and plays, music, art, etc... As for reading, itself, I would bet that by the end of the 21st century most people will read primarily digitally, because that's what those people will be used to.

A counter-argument is that I work on the computer all day, so at night, my eyes are too tired to watch TV or look at another screen. And I find reading actual books in the evening much more peaceful. But who knows what screens will look like in 50 years. Perhaps they’ll be equally peaceful to those readers.

I will say, though, that with kids, it’s wonderful to lie in bed with a book and turn the pages, see the pictures, put the bookmark in, look at the cover, see the books all lined up on the shelf. But again, it’s familiar to me.

Q: Do you see this book becoming a series starring other vanishing city objects? Will you do the story of the Lonely Parking Meter, the Lonely Old Newsstand, the Lonely [fill in the blank]?

A: At the moment, no. There was something particular about the phone booth that struck me - the way it stands there in all weather as we walk past, occasionally seeing someone in it, feeling like it’s part of the neighborhood, physically, a noble old soul whom time is passing by, though he still has something to offer. But I’m not interested in general nostalgia trips.

The book is published by Godine, with illustrations by Max Dalton.

Monday, August 16, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Finally! The drinking game to get you through those CB/SLA meetings: Chug if "The applicant promises to keep the spirit of the previous owner's establishment alive by having the now-deceased previous owner stuffed and mounted over the bar." [EVG]

"I have a feeling that if Andy Warhol were alive he would be spending the summer writing a novel that takes place in real time on Facebook." [NYT]

The for rent sign goes up on old Carmine's of South Street Seaport:

This Starbucks story would've been better if the lady was thrown out for refusing to say the idiotic "Venti." [Eater]

Enjoying Chinatown roof writing. [Restless]

42nd Street bedbugs bring scariness back to the Deuce. [Gothamist]

Visiting the new P&G--though the neon sign has yet to make it, the old bar and booths remain. [365]

Andrews' Remainders

Following up on my post about the closure of one of the last Andrews Coffee Shops in Manhattan, I set out to find the local chain's remainders. As we learned last week, Andrew Zamel's coffee shops, opened in 1963, once numbered 15. It took 30 years to halve that number to 8 in 1993. Today, there are 2 that I managed to find.

There's one at 35th Street and 7th Avenue and another nearby on 38th, between 7th and 8th. The rest, still listed online, were confirmed closed or didn't answer their phones.

The 35th Street Andrews occupies a large corner spot and was busy with lunchtime customers, most of whom looked like tourists or shoppers spilling over from Macy's.

It was too crowded for me, and too renovated, so I headed over to 38th where I found a smaller, quieter, shabbier Andrews tucked in between zipper shops and sewing machine supply stores on a block bustling with garment business. This was more my speed.

It was blissfully desolate. My BLT and fries came quickly and tasted fine. But I don't sit in restaurants, generally, for the taste of the food. I go for the place itself, for a feeling it gives me, and the feeling in the 38th Street Andrews was a good one.

It had a slightly desultory air about it. No one was pumping happiness into the place. There were no flatscreen TVs screaming and no bouncy music. The song on the radio when I walked in was singing from 1990, "If you don't love me, why don't you let me go?" Here, they let you eat in peace.

The customers did not seem like tourists or shoppers. They seemed like Garment District people. They were mostly single men. The sort of men who wear Hawaiian shirts, gold watches, and fragrant oils in their silver hair. The sort of men who carry their cash in a money clip and call the waitress "Sweetheart."

The customers here are known. The cashier recognizes them, calls the men "Padron." They joke around together at the register.

If I had to bet which Andrews will be next to vanish, I'd say it's 38th Street, for all of the above reasons. It's not loud enough, not obnoxious enough to survive. For some reason, people like to eat in crowds. They like noise with their food. Also, this location seems to depend on the old-school Garment District crowd, and they are vanishing.

So if you're looking for a coffee-shop experience, give Andrews of 38th Street a try. Before it's gone, too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Andrews Coffee Shop

One of the last Andrews Coffee Shops in the city has closed. A tipster writes in with photos:

"Andrew's Coffee Shop on Pearl and John in the Financial District closed after 31 years... I think they have other locations in NYC... but it was really homey and very 1979 -- don't know if they changed the decor since they opened. But that and the Pearl Diner are/were havens in the soulless corridor there.... A shame."

Are there any Andrews left--or was this the last?

And if you're wondering "Who's Andrew?" as I did, the Times answered in 1993: "Q. Who is Andrew and why does he have so many coffee shops? A. The coffee shops are named after Andrew Zamel, a Palestinian immigrant who came to New York in 1960 and began opening the shops in 1963. At one point there were 15 such coffee shops in Manhattan; now there are eight."

That number is much smaller now. Andrews Coffee Shops have been shuttering one by one for the past few years. Their location on W. 34th closed a year ago. Another on Broadway and 38th shuttered circa 2007 to become, said a Yelper, a Pret a Manger. And in 2005 the one I often frequented on 5th Ave and 19th closed, becoming a White House Black Market wedding boutique, though Apple purportedly holds the lease. (The Times has more on that story.)

5th and 19th, from everystreetinmanhattan

Of course, we've been watching the New York coffee shop vanish for awhile now. As The Observer noted in 2007, "the old-fashioned coffee shop, one of New York’s most quintessential and beloved establishments, has become an endangered species, so imperiled that many neo-New Yorkers now consider the phrase 'coffee shop' synonymous with—the horror!—'Starbucks.'"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Meet Larry Hagberg, New York City blacksmith. [13]

A Jesuit school for poor boys leaves the LES where there aren't enough poor: "It used to be you could see drug deals in the park and hookers with johns...Now it’s high-rises, hotels and more construction cranes." [NYT]

Clinton and E. Broadway bodega forced out--coffee fetishist shop to come? [TLD]

Looking at the making of Ragtime on E. 11th. Thanks to high-rise development, says one interviewee, it could not be done today. [Vimeo]

Isn't it time for lunch at Eisenberg's?

photo: Verplank, VNY flickr pool

In the East Village, don't cut your lips on a beer-can popsicle. [EVG]
The Windsor Terrace and Kensington areas of Brooklyn still have some great old signage. [FNY]

"Fresh Meat" in the Meatpacking District. [GVDP]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

*Everyday Chatter

Richard Price walks the Lower East Side with TravelGoat.

Darwin comes to E. 4th Street as New Bowery vs. New, New Bowery. Will Bowery Bar, where much of it all began, be fit enough to survive? [EVG]

More evictions served to Old Bowery. [BB]

Old Fulton Street buildings at risk. [BSr]

Check out Anthology's screenings of William Lustig's "dynamite but largely forgotten crime flicks, gangster films, and vigilante tales."

Rocking at C-Squat. [SG]

Thor sends opera clowns to Coney. [KC]