Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seedy West 40th

Reader DK writes in about the death of one of the Times Square area's last seedy blocks, West 40th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, across from the Port Authority bus terminal.

He says: "what used to be such a proud block:
$1 pizza • dive bar • secret afterhours • parole bldg • alley • porn • tranny bar • dance studio • rehearsal space • porn • chinese • liquor • porn

is transforming into this:
7/11 • hotel • hotel • hotel • parking • condos • condos • sports bar • gym • bank"

after: with another new building behind it

DK was living in 306 West 40th when the building next to his, 308 West 40th, was demolished.

There's not a lot of history to find on this building, but there is a bit. In the 1990s, New York artist Bill Sullivan ran a small press from #308, publishing many gay and lesbian writers. The first floor was home to A&S Magazines, where (said New York magazine) "owner Kurt Westphal sits strumming his guitar among some 925,000 magazines, some of which date back to the 1920s."

The building was sold in 2007 to Sam Chang, the prolific hotelier, and the spot is to become a 14-story, 53-room hotel. It's hard to imagine another hotel being necessary on a block recently loaded with hotels.

the hotel encroachment on the block

DK says #306 is probably next for the wreckers. I went in to check out the XXX business on the first and second floors. Upstairs, a crowd of hustlers wait around the buddy booths, all men of color. "Wassup," they say, sizing up every potential trick. "Wassup."

Downstairs are rubber toys and the nastiest DVDs you can imagine--I won't go into the details--along with a trio of booths containing LIVE GIRLS. This is a true rarity. Sadly, when I was there, the Live Girl was out to lunch. But the sign over the booths is priceless.

It reads: "This form of entertainment is purely a fantasy and should not be taken in any other way. Everything said and performed in the booth is just a pretend fantasy and should not be taken with any seriousness or reality. Enjoy your fantasy. May it be a good one."

DK wrote up the following description of the block, the buildings, and the working girls who've made it their place of business:

to the ladies on my block, it was their workspace. my building is next. they use the porn store below as a home base of sorts and the hallways up by me as a "break room." when my building is gone, they'll have no space left. so they're all planning on converting from outdoor to indoor ho's. there aren't a lotta their type left. most of the streetwalkers went online in the mid 2000s. they're the last of a dying breed.

Nietzche the ho is the oldest. i don't know her age. i'd guess late 40s but she looks older. she's got a really dry blond perm. kinda looks like a dolly wig that was left in the desert. she has a funny superstition. she doesn't verbalize anything negative. if she has anything bad or negative to say, she either simply doesn't say it or if she has to say it she'll write it down. so it's kinda funny, cause she looks, frankly, very tired and grouchy all the time. but the words that come out of her mouth are anything but.

she doesn't like the "change," she doesn't want to go online for work. she prefers the streets. i know this because she asked me to show her how craigslist and other online adspace worked and she grew uncharacteristically silent to the point where she wasn't even paying attention. she was kind of staring into space and muttering under her breath. so i stopped my lessons and said "OK. i know you aren't trash-talking my lesson under your breath, so what is it? i know this is upsetting having to change your way of life, but..." she interrupted, "no, that's not it." well, what is it? but of course she wouldn't verbalize it. so finally i made her type it and she typed this: "2 cops i didn't know wanted me to suck for free. i said no. one pushed me down. so i bit him. but then he choked me and i passed out."

i asked her where she woke up and she went back to speaking: "in the container next door."

"in the container next door? you mean the dumpster, they left you in the dumpster?"

she nodded.


Laura Goggin Photography said...

Wow, no block goes untouched.

I lived on 9th Ave btwn 38th & 39th in 2002. My experience at that location was pretty hellish. It was dangerous and unpleasant. This particular block lives in my memory as the block I dreaded walking through on my way home at night. I'd often go out of my way from the PA down 8th Ave, all the way south to 37th and west to 9th just to avoid it. On any given night, the sidewalk was dark and littered with bodies - sleeping or dead? I don't know. There were needles sticking out of arms, necks, and it was treacherous walking among the glass and garbage.

I asked a cop once why he didn't patrol that block and he said, "Because it's too scary."

Now it's just scary in a different way.

laura said...

i used to stay w/a friend late 80s thru 90s on w.43rd & ninth, walked to bus station, really creepy. dont think that street is worth preserving. the 7/11s are creepy too, you cant win.

Anonymous said...

I moved out to Brooklyn 3 years ago after living in Manhattan (UWS, Village and Chelsea) for 18 years. I have to say I have not regretted my move one time. I have no reason to go back into Manhattan except for work. In Brooklyn we still have our seedy places, our small coffee shops, various small stores and YES, only 1 Starbucks and only 1 7-11.

esquared™ said...

"This form of entertainment is purely a fantasy and should not be taken in any other way. Everything said and performed in the booth is just a pretend fantasy and should not be taken with any seriousness or reality. Enjoy your fantasy. May it be a good one."

Replace 'booth' with 'episode' and/or 'city' and this should have been a disclosure to every SATC episode and movies, and a cautionary to the Scary Sadshaws.

Anonymous said...

the anecdote about her typing out what the cops did to her is horrifying and a reminder that just because they scrub the surface clean, the city's dirty side still exists out of view. i live in astoria now and recently a hispanic cabbie was telling me that there is a thriving underground drug and prostitution industry -- involving very young girls -- at work 24/7 inside the apartments and halls of some of the dumpier buildings closer to the waterfront.

Anonymous said...

I worked at that Parole Office from 97 till 01 and now we are back since 2011. There used to be 2 Clans of homeless people who lived on that block. Being on it, I felt as if I was in their living room. It would have been a fascinating study in anthropology had they not suffered so much. Another Clan has emerged in the last year that is centered around the mid block entrance to the Port Authority. Its amusing to watch to tourist from the Hotels attempt to reconcile the guys entering our building, the Correction Officer at the door, and the security cameras, with the icicle lights on our building in a superficial attempt to deflect what really goes on there. The Hotel bought the lights.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see my old building gone. I lived in 308 W 40th in 1999 with the painter you mentioned - Bill Sullivan. I actually got my first job as a graphic designers at Painted Leaf Press run out of that apartment. What a great apartment with those huge windows! It was and will always be very memorable.

Unknown said...

OMG I lived on the 2nd floor of building 306 W 40th with an elderly Asian couple back in 2009-2011. It wasn't the cleanest nor nicest place but the gritty place was charming and the location right in Times Square was something I couldn't complain. I can't believe this building, my first apartment in Nyc is about to be demolished