Wednesday, March 30, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

We lost the neat little art gallery of the Ansonia Pharmacy Windows and gained...another bank!

Realtor for 94 St. Mark's Place suggests you buy the place, raise the rents, and boot the Under St. Marks theater which has been there since the 1970s. [EVG]

Film footage of the Times Square subway station in 1986--when people really weren't in much a hurry and rode the K Train. [Animal]

Tomorrow: Reconsider Jane Jacobs. [MAS]

Saturday: Check out a discussion with street photographers Jake Dobkin, Clayton Patterson, and Matt Weber with curator Nathan Kensinger at Union Docs.

Life at Stuyvesant High School in the East Village of 1992. [LOM]

Lenny Waller

We learned yesterday that Lenny Waller has recently passed away. Lenny was a prominent member of New York's leather BDSM community, a grandaddy of the Daddies, an institution in his own right.

Lenny began working in the city's S/M clubs in 1968 and was perhaps best known for his longtime management of the Hellfire Club in the old Meatpacking District. In addition, he also operated The Vault, The Manhole, Cell Block 28, and others (he gave a tour of Cell Block 28 to New York magazine in 1990).

During the 1985 anti-sex club crackdown in the midst of the AIDS crisis, Lenny fought to keep places like the St. Marks Baths open. Wrote Jay Blotcher in the book Policing Public Sex, Lenny fought the sex club laws and was victorious when he convinced the city "to exempt anal penetration with a dildo from their laws because, aesthetic objections aside, the act does not transmit HIV."

An advocate for the LGBT and HIV communities, for 25 years, he ran the AIDS Candlelight Vigil in Greenwich Village.

A frequent commenter, here and on many other blogs, he regularly spoke out against the Bloomberg administration and its role in hyper-gentrification, as well as against the city's crackdown on public smoking and the installation of bike lanes.

He loved cigars and also collected teddy bears.

Whenever I had a question about New York's leather history, Lenny came through for me. I was honored to be able to interview him here once in 2008 and again this past December. An oral historian on fetishism, he was a font of knowledge about BDSM in New York City. In one of his emails, he told me he was at work on a book, tentatively titled Hellfire: The Club, The Culture, The People, and The Time.

Lenny, I hope you got to finish that book, and thank you for always taking the time to answer my many questions. You will be missed.

*To those who knew him well, any factual corrections or additions to this obit you may have, please send them in.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Bloomberg Way I

Welcome to the first guest post by Julian Brash:

Thanks to Jeremiah for allowing me to guest blog for a couple of weeks. In my first three posts, I thought I'd briefly summarize the analysis of the Bloomberg administration's approach to urban governance that I lay out at length in my book, Bloomberg's New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City.

What is this approach to urban governance, which I call "the Bloomberg Way," all about?

Well, it's not really about Michael Bloomberg. Or rather, it's not just about Michael Bloomberg. Often when Bloomberg's mayoralty is discussed, the focus is on the man himself: his experience, his personality, his foibles and eccentricities. But the political emergence of Michael Bloomberg and his approach to urban governance are products of a broad transformation of New York City's social structure over the past several decades: as media, financial, and business services have come to dominate the city's economy, there has emerged a "postindustrial elite," made up of high-level professionals as well as New York-based executives and owners of global businesses.

This postindustrial elite has absorbed the great part of the wealth generated in the city for the past several decades; however, until recently, it had remained largely disengaged from politics and governance. While there was the occasional financier deputy mayor, the postindustrial elite didn't offer up a coherent and sustained political project...until 2001.

As I detail in the book, Bloomberg's 2001 election drew a remarkable number and range of postindustrial elites--financiers, business consultants, academics, corporate managers, marketing executives, and so on--into City Hall. Most of them had never considered "public service" before, and many of the folks of this ilk that I spoke to said that it was the presence of Bloomberg, the CEO Mayor, that had drawn them into government. Moreover, they made it clear that they felt, as one of them put it to me, that "the city needed us." They interpreted the city's post-9/11 problems as problems of management and marketing, as technical problems looking for the "solutions" that their skills, experience, and expertise could solve. Thus, their leadership was key to the city's recovery and its long-term prosperity.

Michael Bloomberg was the most prominent of these postindustrial elites, and the one who provided the impetus for this movement into City Hall. But ultimately, this was a class mobilization, the first time the city’s postindustrial elite directly seized the reins of city government and sought to shape governance--and the city itself--in its own image.

Guest Blogger: Julian Brash

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be featuring posts by guest blogger Julian Brash. You might remember him from an interview here on The Bloomberg Way.

Assistant professor of Anthropology at Montclair State University, Julian is the author of a new book entitled Bloomberg's New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City. In the book, he describes in depth the Bloomberg Way: "a philosophy that holds up the mayor as CEO, government as a private corporation, desirable residents and businesses as customers and clients, and the city itself as a product to be branded and marketed as a luxury good."

As a guest blogger, he'll be tackling topics like bike lanes, High line(s), waterfront development, urban sustainability, and other aspects of life in Bloomberg's city.

Monday, March 28, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

A shiny monument to Andy Warhol comes to Union Square. [NYM]

Patti Smith Just Kids sequel in the works. [NBC]

Little Italy Unity rally comes off subdued, without "much chanting, heckling, or violence" directed at anti-feast boutique owners. [BB]

Still, Mulberry boutique owners fear retribution, says DNAInfo. Thanks to the reader who sent in this warning sign in the window of the boutique where the now infamous "greasy fingers" comment came from:

Photos from the march to remember the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. [JKM]

Atomic Passion's space reopens as a cat adoption center. [EVG]

Update from the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors: "Kudos to Rosie Mendez's office for getting the owner of 35 Cooper to agree to a meeting with us to discuss possibly saving 35 Cooper Square... However, the building's recently damaged rooftop is exposed to the elements. Write to the developer's rep, Jane Crotty (, and urge them to put the protective covering back on the rooftop!"

Poetry in Motion may be coming back to subways. [CR]

4/28: Check out Coney Island's Electric Eden for aerial acts, burlesque, and more. [KC]

Looking at old buckets--for Embassy's Lucky Boy. [OMFS]

Mr. Liberty cruising up 9th Avenue:

Single Fare

This weekend ended the Single Fare 2 show on the Lower East Side, an exhibit of some 1,300 artworks all presented on Metrocards.

The show started last year in a Brooklyn studio and has since expanded. Says the Single Fare blog, "Inspired by the notion that the city’s subways and buses allow for a kind of creative interchange unmatched in human history, 'Single Fare' sought to create a unique art event where art and artists could come together to form a monumental event made from a tiny, innocuous piece of plastic: The MetroCard!"

It's gimmicky, sure, but the sheer diversity of art here is impressive, and it's wonderful to be able to take in so much art in a single dose. If you don't like something, move over an inch or two. You're bound to find something.

And many of the works are incredibly painterly, in a time when we just don't see painterly paintings anymore.

It's also a startlingly democratic show--every entry they received was exhibited--and each tiny 2 x 3-inch work of art was priced at $100. Pretty affordable when it comes to art collecting.

If you missed the show, there will be another next year--hopefully. And if you're an artist and want to submit, click here and stay tuned.

Friday, March 25, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

March tomorrow for Little Italy and the Feast--while a letter to the Villager's editor calls the leader of the Save the Feast movement a bully and a clown. [Villager]

Supporters of pop-up gutter cafes "drowned out by boos and hisses." [Eater]

When Barney's was the "cut-rate clothing king"! [ENY]

The East Village--now the home of the Dockers demographic. [EVG]

A newsstand survives while its neighbors drop like flies. [Restless]

Walking Brooklyn's Columbia waterfront. [FNY]

3/29: Gary Indiana and Arthur Nersesian at St. Mark's Bookshop.

A strange story about a Park Slope cupcake shop and the Ricky's chain. [HPS]

KATSU on University Place:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

Spotted in Chelsea: "Welcome to Bloomburg...Owner and CEO Michael R. Bloomberg":

Even FAO Schwarz not permitted in glitzy Bloomburg. [Racked]

How does the world end? "Not with a bang, but an iPad." [NYS]

In Williamsburg: "poor people who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury condominium units are finding that their upscale paradise is turning into a ramshackle ghetto." [Gothamist]

Liz Taylor's New York. [CR]

The artisanalization (?) of 7th St. continues. [EVG]

March 29: Don't miss Brian Rose speaking on the LES before and after, complete with fantastic photos. [BR]

Don't forget, this Saturday: Rally in Little Italy. [FB]

Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes

One last little thing about that block of 7th Avenue between 47th and 48th.

Awhile back, people were excited to take pictures of this faded Souvenirs sign, revealed when a newer sign came down. They emailed it to me or added it to the Vanishing NY Flickr pool. It also turned up on other blogs. Though it didn't inspire quite as much blogospheric buzz as Dapper Dan, it got its fair share.

Matt Law, flickr

For what it's worth, this sign appears in a 1981 photo that I used in yesterday's post. By the 1990s, it was covered up.

bustalk, 1981

There it is, way off to the right, partially chopped, nestled in between the Embassy (formerly the Mayfair) and Tad's Steaks. It has since been covered up again.

I think my favorite thing about the sign is the word JOKES. It's like NOVELTIES or APPETIZING, words you used to see often on signs but don't anymore. The last time I recall seeing JOKES on a sign was also in Times Square, at the Funny Store, which was demolished to make room for a hotel. Their sign also included the word GAGS, which you're really never going to see.

How many billboards, signs, and marquees in Times Square are covering up the word GAGS? We will likely never know.

UPDATE: Here's another shot, proving the sign much older, from 1960:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Between 47 and 48

My investigation into the eastern block of 7th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets began with the secret porno theater of Playland Gifts and continued through a look at the artifacts of the Mayfair movie palace. These discoveries made me curious about the whole block.

It's a rarity because it's one of the few blocks in Times Square that has not been recently demolished for glass towers. Every building standing on it has been standing for a long time (except the Mayfair, they rose after 1910). You can actually imagine the past here.

I've put together pretty much every image of this block I could find from the past 40 years. Let's take a tour of what used to be, and what is still hidden behind the billboards and souvenir shops.


It's nighttime on Times Square. Standing on the northern end of the block, on the corner of 48th and 7th Ave., start off the night with an Orange Julius and a hot dog to charge your batteries. Next, duck into the Doll theater, where the "Sexsational School for Sex Arts" beckons you above a sign for "Live XXX Acts." Take a seat inside and enjoy the double features interspersed with live sex performances, both onstage and in the audience members' laps.

Russ Kick writes that The Doll "was basically a mellow, secure place. Less assault-prone than 8th Avenue's Venus, although Japanese tourists were frequent targets for toilet muggings." Dom Deluise cruises by--he gives you an autograph. "The projectionist sold Percodans," says Kick, "the live sex-show teams sold coke and pot." Choose your poison.

Head up the stairs to the Satin Ballroom for "dime-a-dance" Topless Dancing and more. "There were rumors that Rod Stewart and Robert De Niro" showed up here, says Sleazegrinder, "but that De Niro just wanted to engage in conversation with one of the girls." You watch the dancers and soon slip into a dark corner with one of them. The room smells of sweat and cheap perfume.

After your adventure at the Doll, you're hungry again. Where to eat? Wrote the Hungover Gourmet, "As with everywhere, you had a McDonald's, probably the worst one in the city. It was so rough you wouldn't be surprised to find a dead baby left in a shopping bag under a table. The other culinary offerings were slim pickins for such a tourist mecca: paper thin Boar's Head pastrami sandwiches from a deli, a thoroughly nauseating cheap Chinese lunch special from Peking Express, which thoughtfully offered a dollar off to the Doll Theater's patrons."

The dollar-off coupon will come in handy next time you visit the Doll, so you stop for egg rolls right next door at Peking Express before continuing on under the marquee for the Spanish-language Cine 1 & 2.

bustalk, 1981

Your Spanish is rusty, but the images onscreen speak a universal language. Time speeds up here, the 1970s roll into the 1980s, the Cine 1 & 2 becomes The Fantasy Twin. Upstairs, the old Aaron Banks Karate Academy has closed and porn has moved in--more movies, now showing man-on-man action. The upper-floor windows have been plastered over with a modern screen of concrete, casting you into a deeper darkness.

The egg rolls, hot dog, and Orange Julius turn in your stomach.

circa 1980s

Time speeds up again, a few more years, another decade, and the theater is taken over by its growing neighbor, becoming part of the sprawling Show Follies Center. The place boasts 4 theaters, 8 XXX movies, all for one low price. Table dancing! All nude revue!

With a pocketful of quarters and a fistful of dollars, you spend a long time in this place. Up and down the stairs, the mini theaters seem to multiply. It's a maze of smut. As you move through the throbbing gloom, you catch fragments of your reflection in the mirrored diamonds on the wall. You don't quite recognize yourself.

photobucket, 1993

It's been a long night. You stop next door for coffee and a bear claw at Old Fashion Donuts. As you lift the coffee cup to your face, you notice your hand smells like cheap perfume, but you can't recall which body it came from. You consider a legit movie at the Embassy to cleanse your palate. When you get outside, the sun is rising on the avenue. As your eyes adjust to daylight, you see it's all gone.

You turn around. The Donuts shop and the Embassy have been replaced with souvenir stores. You look up--all the buildings are covered with billboards, several stories high.

Show Follies, too, is a souvenir shop, with only a few mirrored pieces of glass remaining to mark what used to be. You rush inside to find more mirrored glass among the "New York Princess" t-shirts and snow globes. Downstairs you find a forgotten porno theater, a ripped screen, the seats piled with t-shirts, seats where you sat just last night. Two store clerks grab you by the arms and haul you up the stairs, tossing you out onto the sidewalk.

The Doll today

Next door, Peking Express has become another souvenir shop. And the Doll? The Doll is a Smiler's deli, its front piled with billboards. All you recognize are the crenelations at the top of the building, poking up from the heads of Guess models.

You step inside. The girls are gone. The live sex stage has been replaced with a salad bar. Up the stairs you find nothing but a room full of tables. No dancers. No stink of sweat. A couple is eating their breakfast beneath the fluorescent tubes. They look at you as if you'd just stumbled in from a netherworld. And then they look away. In your pocket, a dollar-off coupon from Peking Express tells you it wasn't a hallucination. It was real.

Inside The Doll today

Show Follies

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

*Everyday Chatter

A new sign outside McSorley's, on the Avenue of Puke:

Why save 35 Cooper Square? Because it's "all that stands between two angled, glass-and-steel buildings." [EVG]

The bike lane wars rage on. [NYM]

... and City Hall responds, saying Bike Lanes = good. [NYO]

The gentrification of Inwood, complete with noisy, boozy brunch. [CNY]

Inside the mysterious and very blue R&A Discount. [OMFS]

Phase 2 of the Washington Square Park redesign is ready for its unveiling. [WSP]

Beatniks in the Village of 1963. [FP]

Some residents fear that Chinatown "will soon be unrecognizable, transformed by the relentless forces of development." [REW]

Tomorrow: A talk at NYU on the Triangle Fire 100 years later. [P&W]

Loews Mayfair

It's not just the secret porno theater at Playland Gifts that makes the block of 7th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets a treasure trove of old Times Square for casual urban archaeologists. There's much more here. On my recent visit to the block I came upon some artifacts from the lost Loew's Mayfair theater.

NYPL, c. 1935

The marquee is gone, yet the terracotta remains, tucked up behind scaffolding and giant billboards above what is now the Phantom of Broadway souvenir shop.

But it's the interior that is most exciting. Like the nearby fossils of the lost Automat hidden in plain sight at another souvenir store, you can find bits and pieces of the Mayfair's lobby here. Right inside the door, look up through the cacophony of TV screens and glittery T-shirts--the ceiling is painted with stars and carved with scrollwork.

Each decorative spear comes down to a pointed church-like window, from which people must have looked out from the mezzanine years ago.

And each former window has a lavish grill, now used to house a ventilation system. Today the mezzanine is for storing stock and selling sports memorabilia. Mannequin heads in Yankees caps peer down on the tourists.

Upstairs, in the sports souvenirs section, the decorative scrolls of the mezzanine grills continue on a fragment of banister that might once have led to the balcony.

Here, the ceiling is painted black and obscured by hanging lights, making it hard to see the carvings.

At Gotham Lost & Found, author David Freeland discovered more parts of the Mayfair around the corner, inside Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que restaurant.

The Mayfair was originally a big theater, with a marquee that went from 7th Avenue and around along 47th Street. Writes Freeland, "Early in its life the theater was known as the Columbia [click for pic], a vaudeville house of 1910 vintage (you can still see some of the Columbia’s original decorations on the building’s exterior), but in 1930 famed architect Thomas Lamb revamped the interior with a striking Art Deco theme."

NYPL, c. 1935

At some point, the theater's massive marquee was cut down--the corner of 7th and 47th given over to a Fruit Drinks stand, a necktie store, and other businesses--so that the only piece of marquee remained at the entrance, where the Phantom of Broadway souvenir shop stands now.

c. 1954

Many photographs exist of the Mayfair's exterior corner where the impressive wraparound billboard announced the movie of the moment. Photographers must have loved it--especially when it featured a three-dimensional spectacular, like this one starring the buxom Jane Russell.

c. 1955

There aren't many images of the theater taken after the 1950s. When the Mayfair became the DeMille in the 1960s, photographers seemed to lose interest. But it does turn up, here and there, in general shots of the block.

In this rare photo of it as the DeMille it is squeezed between a karate school (formerly a billiards parlor) with Showtime topless go-go girls on the first floor and an electronics store. There's the original 1910 vaudevillian terracotta that remains hidden under billboards today.


Finally, the Mayfair was chopped up into a triplex and became the Embassy 2-3-4, where in 1979 you could see The In-Laws, Dawn of the Dead, and Love at First Bite. By that time, it also housed a little doughnut shop, and its neighbor (the former karate school formerly a billiards parlor) had become the XXX Show Follies Center.

c. 1979

The Embassy was one of the last of Times Square's long-running movie houses to remain open, finally closing in 1998.

Amazingly, through all these changes, through many renovations and guttings, those artifacts still remain--the scrollworked ceiling, the grills, the bit of banister--all leftovers from Thomas Lamb's 1930 design, ghosts from another city.

photobucket, 1993

Monday, March 21, 2011

Show Follies Center

Recently, I found myself back up on Times Square, loitering inside the Playland Gifts souvenir shop, hoping to scout more remnants of its XXX past and to get another glimpse of the forgotten porn theater in its basement.

It's been a few years since I sneaked down the stairs of the shop to stumble upon "Theatre 3 & 4." Once again, I lingered by the staircase. The clerks watched me closely. No way I could get down there, as much as I'd like better photos than my one hurried, blurry shot.


I've often wondered since then which porn theater this place used to be. Now, thanks to some Internet digging, I can say that this was once the Show Follies Center. Owned by Richard Basciano, it was a cousin of the great Show World over on 8th Avenue, a multi-tiered extravaganza of smut.

photobucket, 1993

This photo is from 1993--it doesn't seem that long ago, but that's a very different city. A close-up of the doorway shows the diamond-mirror pattern that can still be found, in remnants, on the souvenir shop today.

Photos by Richard Levine show the Show Follies spent some time partially as a Peep Land, perhaps in its final days. The one below (and another like it) are dated 1989, but they've got to be more recent--maybe from the late 1990s? Once again, there are those mirror diamonds framing the doorway.

Richard Levine

Show Follies survived well into the 1990s, though it eventually became more of a flophouse than a porn theater. In 1997, The New York Times reported, "inside the Show Follies Theater, on Seventh Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, around 25 men were leaning in their seats, bedded down until morning... the Show Follies Theater remains as one of the last artifacts from a time when there were many pornography theaters and many people spent the night in them."

In 1998, Guy Trebay wrote in the Village Voice, "They've put bathing suits on nudie dancers at Show Follies." It was the beginning of the end.


At some point, the Follies moved out and the Playland Gift Shop moved in. Curiously, they left a lot of the decor intact. Inside the shop, all along the ceiling, where T-shirts hang next to portraits of the Statue of Liberty, mirrored tiles arranged into diamonds shimmer with memory of their original purpose.

Another glass diamond reveals itself on the exterior beneath the cover of green paint, the red of the old nudie joint showing through.


And, of course, there's that theater downstairs, which makes me think there's probably much more hidden away, upstairs and down. Maybe a glittering stage or a wall of peep booths. If only some more intrepid urban archaeologist could do the digging.

Secret Peeps

Also read:
Show World
Show World 2

Friday, March 18, 2011

Julio of Jackson Heights

Since 1993, filmmaker and photographer Richard Shpuntoff has been documenting the LGBT Pride Parade in his home neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens. That work has evolved into a feature-length documentary about the 1990 gay-bashing murder of Julio Rivera and how it brought a whole community out of the closet.

Mr. Shpuntoff is raising funds for the film on Kickstarter--please click here to watch portions of the film, read more, and consider a donation.

I asked the filmmaker some questions, he answered.

Julio Rivera

Most people, when they think of the gay neighborhoods of New York City, don't automatically think of Jackson Heights. How did it come to be?

From my childhood in the '70s I remember knowing of at least three gay bars: The Betsy Ross, which later became The Magic Touch and was a few doors down from the Earle porno theater, The Love Boat, and the Billy the Kid. Though people didn't discuss it outside of LGBT circles, 37th Road was the cruising strip known as Vaseline Alley.

My real interest in the LGBT history of the neighborhood was sparked while talking with Tommy Grimaldi who used to co-own The Magic Touch. Tommy's older clients had told him that one of the reasons the neighborhood had such a large LGBT population was the 7 train which went to Times Square. It seems that a lot of the theater people, many of whom were LGBT, liked the neighborhood because it was a nice bedroom community and an easy commute from work in the theater district.

Erik, a Danish man I interviewed for the film moved to the neighborhood in '61 to be with his lover who worked for the airlines. He said that there were a lot of LGBT people who worked for the airlines and liked the neighborhood because it was a quick commute to LaGuardia.

Queens Pride, by Richard Shpuntoff

So Jackson Heights was long a haven for gay theater people and flight attendants. But you say in the film that the murder of Julio Rivera changed the LGBT community in Jackson Heights. How so?

In many ways the LGBT community there was more of a subculture. It existed in the bars or in the privacy of people's homes. “Queerness" in Jackson Heights existed in a kind of Don't Ask / Don't Tell limbo, and many people lived double lives. Julio's murder became the catalyst for the LGBT population making itself visible and claiming its place in the community as equals.

The first public march--organized because the police were not classifying this murder as a bias crime and had assigned it to a detective who was on vacation--was a vigil for Julio, held on August 18, 1990, and of the 500 or so people who marched, there were likely less than 20 from the neighborhood.

Over the next few years, while people like Alan Sack and the Rivera family were working on Julio's case, other people like Ed Sedarbaum and Danny Dromm were able to use this to build a political mobilization. Three years after Julio's murder, Queens had its own Pride Parade--marching 18 years strong now! Numerous LGBT organizations were formed: QGLU, the Pride Committee, Sage Queens, the Queens LGBT Democratic Club, Pride House, Colega, to name just a few.

Most notably, in 2009, Jackson Heights elected its first openly gay public official to office when Daniel Dromm, Queens Pride Parade founder, became the City Councilmember.

Queens Pride, by Richard Shpuntoff

What is your personal connection to this film?

Though I grew up in the neighborhood and my parents continued to live in Jackson Heights after I moved, I was not there during the period of 1990 - 92 when Julio was murdered and the LGBT community began to organize. I moved back in 1993, the year of the first parade.

At the time, I was a documentary still photographer, and I was walking along 37th Avenue on the way home when I saw a flyer in the window of a coffee shop announcing "Queens First Annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade and Multicultural Festival." It was like a lightning bolt for me. I knew I had to be there. I felt like I had just become aware of a civil rights movement being reborn where I grew up. I had to document it.

The decision to make a film that focused on Julio's murder was inevitable and the truth is that, for some time, it was something I was avoiding because I knew it would be an emotionally heavy task. For starters, it meant having to contact his family and friends and lovers and see if they would be willing to reopen an old wound. But in the end, after making various short films about the parade, it was clear that a portrait of the parade was really a portrait of Julio's murder and the changes that it sparked.

View film clips and donate at Kickstarter
Visit the film's
Facebook page

Queens Pride, by Richard Shpuntoff