Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"One Track Mind" Screening

On October 7, at 6:30 p.m., the Transit Museum will be screening Jeremy Workman's award-winning documentary "One Track Mind," the story of Philip Ashforth Coppola's 30-year devotion to and obsession with "meticulously cataloging every subway station--and corresponding mosaic--in the New York City subway system."

Phil Copp

You might remember Jeremy and Phil from an interview I did with them on this blog back in 2011. An excerpt:

Q: One of the people in the film says you are "possessed" by your study of the subway, that you have a "certain kind of mind." How would you characterize that kind of "one track" mind?

PC: What kind of "possessed" mind do I have? There's two of me, after a fashion. The everyday me goes to work, goes to church, does all the special occasion and holiday stuff, does the house chores, et al. Just like any of you. Then there's the me who has filled 36 notebooks with sketches & transcriptions, journeyed on field trips, drawn the illustrations, wrote the texts, and got it all published, and so on. Sometimes I don't know how I've done it. This endeavor has been my abiding passion for about half of my years lived so far. I'm possessed in that I know I must finish this.

JW: People are often blown away by Phil's level of commitment even before they've seen his book. Then, when people see the multiple volumes of Silver Connections (which can pile waist-high), their jaws invariably drop to the floor. I've never met a person with this level of commitment to one particular subject. He's been working on this study for over 30 years and is totally undeterred by anyone's else interest (or lack of interest) in his study. It's incredible.

At the screening, both men will be on hand to answer questions about "preservation, documentation, and the artistic idiosyncrasies of the City." In addition, Phil's original drawings will be on view. Don't miss this rare opportunity. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Photographer Miron Zownir has just published NYC RIP, a collection of photographs capturing the "day-to-day lunacy" of New York City in the 1980s--mostly images of sex workers and drug addicts--with an introduction by Lydia Lunch.

In talking to Dazed, Zownir recalled of his time in New York, “Rents were still cheap, crime was high, most of the Lower East Side, Harlem and the Bronx were dangerous slums, the establishment was uncomfortable and scared, and the police corrupt or helpless to guarantee any protection. But NYC was bursting with a sexual and creative energy that was overwhelming.”

His beat was Times Square, the Bowery, the piers along the Hudson River. All places that have been sterilized since. As Lydia Lunch writes in the intro, the city has been "white washed of all its kaleidoscopic perversions in order to make it safe for anyone who could afford the ridiculous rents charged for shoe box size apartments."

see full NSFW image here

Recently in the Times, Edmund White asked why so many of us are nostalgic for the gritty New York of the 1970s/80s. He explained that there's "a craving for the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you."

In New York magazine this week, Mark Jacobson writes about the 1970s New York nostalgia trend. He says, "Change is the genius of the city, what has always made New York what it is. But the whiplash rezoning of more than 40 percent of the five boroughs during Bloomberg’s tenure has produced a generational-based moral crisis. Longtime residents no longer feel the joy of the ever-altering landscape, the rapid clip of cosmopolitan turnover that creates continuity. They walk about gaslighted, as if suddenly set down in a drug dealer’s apartment, with everything new and shiny, bought at the same time."

Read more at Dazed. Get NYC RIP. And see Miron's work here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Greenwich Village Ghost Town

Last week, blogger Travelerette posted a cornucopia of photos showing the ghost town that Greenwich Village has become, thanks to greedy landlords who kick out commercial tenants, and then warehouse the empty spaces while they wait for high-paying national chain stores to move in.

What happens? The spaces sit vacant for months and years.

all photos by Travelerette

This past spring, Tim Wu in The New Yorker online called this phenomenon "high-rent blight." It's a plague across hyper-gentrified parts of the city.

This summer, Tribeca Citizen found 100 empty spaces in their neighborhood and posted the photos.

Travelerette writes:

"I had gotten the general impression, while wandering around the Village, that there seemed to be an unseemly amount of hideous and depressing burned out storefronts where once there had been vintage clothing stores, Chinese restaurants that serve cold sesame noodles, and tea shops frequented by local drag queens. But was this just a vague impression, or could I back it up by careful research?

I decided to spend today roaming around the Village from Broadway to the east, Hudson to the west, Houston to the south, and 14th Street to the north. photographing all of the pathetically empty ghost buildings I could find. I was going to stop at 100, but at last count I had 103." And there's more.

There is no dis-incentive for creating high-rent blight. Leaving storefronts vacant is a big part of the hyper-gentrification process that is killing New York. Landlords hike the rents--doubling, tripling, quintupling--to essentially evict good commercial tenants. So we lose our beloved, long-standing mom and pops, and for what? Nothing, and then more nothing, followed by a Starbucks or Marc Jacobs. And the city isn't the city anymore.

It's time to fine landlords for leaving spaces vacant for extended periods of time. In San Francisco, landlords get fined. In London, it's done through taxes. Tell our City Hall to take action. Join #SaveNYC and fight for the life of this city.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Adam Purple Burial & Memorial

Earlier this month, Adam Purple, Lower East Side artist, activist, and creator of the Garden of Eden, died of a heart attack while riding his bike across the Williamburg Bridge. Since then, friends have been working hard to get him buried according to his wishes. Finances, however, are an issue.

The Adam Purple Burial and Memorial Fund is collecting donations to cover Purple's burial at the Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve in New York's Finger Lakes region, along with a memorial on the Lower East Side.

From the page: "He spent his life as an activist for sustainability, living sustainably himself. As such, he did not spend his life accumulating assets. It is up to us, his friends and those whose lives he enriched, to ensure that he has the final resting place that he wanted and believed in. We would also like to erect a permanent memorial on the Lower East Side where people can meditate, congregate, and remember Adam and what he stood for. On behalf of Adam, thank you for your generosity."

Please visit Give Forward to donate.

Adam Purple, by Harvey Wang

In addition, tomorrow from 4:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the LaPlaza Cultural Community Garden at Avenue C and East 9th Street, a memorial service will be held for Purple. It is open to the public.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pizza Rat Plushie

By this point, you are all familiar with Pizza Rat, the little rodent that could, made world famous for his or her New York-style moxie in dragging a whole slice of pizza down a flight of subway stairs.

Now Tina Trachtenburg, a.k.a. "Mother Pigeon," creator of soft sculpture pigeons and other urban vermin that she sells in the parks, has revealed her Pizza Rat plushie. (In addition to the following photo, there is also an inspirational video on Tina's Facebook page, complete with dramatic accordion music.)

Rats, pizza, and the subway. It doesn't get more authentic New York than that. And in a time when authentic New York is vanishing fast, we need Pizza Rat more than ever.

Has Pizza Rat become a symbol of all that is being lost in the sanitized city? The filth and grit, the moxie, the unpredictability that is meant to be inherent in urban life?

On her Twitter page, Tina says you can see Pizza Rat in person in Union Square Park this Friday. She can often be found selling her critters on the west side of the park. (P.S. You might also know Tina from the wonderful Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players.)

I asked Tina how Pizza Rat came to be. She answered:

"I make urban soft sculptures. I already had a pizza and rats. My art collaborator Lippe saw the video of pizza rat. We made the video the next day since we had my props. You can buy/adopt them at my street exhibits. My rats are $80. My pizza is $20."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rudy's For Rent

A reader sent in this shot of Rudy's Music Stop, now officially with a For Rent sign.

I first reported on the shop's closure in July, a penultimate nail in the coffin of West 48th Street as Music Row.

This little building and its neighbor are likely to be demolished, so why the "for rent" sign? And why only the upper floors? Is there a chance Rudy's will stay in some diminished form?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Little Lebowski


The Little Lebowski Shop on Thompson Street in the Village is closing, probably at the end of the month.

While I like the Coen Brothers' movies, I wasn't a big fan of The Big Lebowski, so I can't say I've done any shopping at the Little Lebowski Shop. Still, odd independent stores like this--especially those fueled by one eccentric individual's singular obsession--give the city streetscape a certain flavor. And when they close they're usually replaced by something flavorless, like a purveyor of acai bowls or dog sweaters--or acai bowls for dogs.

However, the For Rent sign does say "no food uses," so perhaps it'll just be the sweaters.

photo tip by Jessie Walsh-Rosenstock

I emailed owner Roy Preston, who mans the shop in his bathrobe, and asked for the scoop. He responded:

"The brick and mortar section of our business is closing. The website will remain active. Customers can shop at the new Little Lebowski Shop - - where we'll have a wider selection of merchandise and lower prices. So we're not vanishing but rather moving forward."

No comment about the rent, but Roy did add, "Running a business in New York City has become too expensive."

Visit the shop before it's gone--you might run into Jeff Bridges. You can also follow them on their Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Palm For Rent

Back in June, I first shared the news that The Palm Restaurant, after 90 years, would likely be closing. Last month, The Real Deal confirmed and Eater posted photos of the ruined interior, its priceless murals destroyed.

Now reader Dave J. sends in a photo of the recently raised "For Rent" banner:

It's very large and rather self-satisfied. It proudly crows: "1st Time Available in 90 Years."

That's not actually a good thing. That's a bad thing. That's a thing that means a 90-year-old treasure has been a cupcake shop or fro-yo chain can move in.

Also, the windows have been papered over. So no more bloggers taking pictures of the destruction inside.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Elizabeth St. Garden

An affordable housing project may be getting built on uber-luxurified Elizabeth Street. However, its construction could mean the demolition of the Elizabeth Street Garden. Neighbors have been fighting to protect this space--with a Friends of the Elizabeth Street Garden website that provides all the details and info on action you can take.

Now actor Gabriel Byrne offers his support in a new video by Simon J. Heath.

Byrne has a place on Elizabeth--he bought a $3 million condo at the newly constructed 211 Elizabeth in 2010.

The garden has been here since 1991. It's the place where the Elizabeth Street Gallery keeps its sculptures--antique angels, lions, gargoyles. Locked for many years, it opened to the public some time ago, after the gallery took over the space long occupied by La Rosa & Sons Bakery, back when "Nolita" was still considered Little Italy.

Watch the video here, in which Byrne quotes W.B. Yeats:

You can weigh in on the issue at the LMDC Hearing this Thursday, Sept. 17, 4:30 – 7 p.m., at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Fiterman Hall, 245 Greenwich St., 13th Floor.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New Mini New Yorks

You first heard of Randy Hage's incredible New York City miniatures on this blog back in 2010 when I introduced him with an interview on his work. Since then, Randy has kept up the pace, shrinking Yonah Schimmel, Mars Bar, and many other vanished, vanishing, and hopefully never vanishing icons of the New York City streetscape.

Now he's giving us an exclusive first look at his latest creations.

In meticulous three-dimensional miniature, the shuttered Pearl Paint appears in sunlight on Canal Street. Closed in 2014, it still sits empty, covered in graffiti, another example of the city's ever-growing high-rent blight.

Randy opted to re-create the Lenox Lounge after it had been forced to close in 2012, but before it was stripped of all its gorgeous neon and exterior design elements. Here it stands, still intact, only a lot smaller -- 1/12th the size of the original.

From the grave rises CBGB's, before it was evicted and replaced by the John Varvatos boutique. Look closely--those windows are full of Lilliputian merchandise and nearly microscopic concert flyers.

Here's the Stage Restaurant, sadly shuttered as it remains today, in the East Village. We're hopeful that this local favorite will one day reopen. As far as we know, they're still fighting the eviction from their new landlord, Icon Realty.

Randy has also recreated two long-time survivors, McSorley's and Katz's. The level of close detail, as usual, is stunning.

All of these artworks will be in Randy's upcoming show, "Facade," at the Flower Pepper Gallery in Pasadena, California. The show runs from October 10 through November 18.

To see more of Randy's storefront sculptures, visit his website and his Flickr page.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Drop Dead Perfect

From Park Slope to Key West: Everett Quinton’s Incredible Journey
guest post by Tim Cusack

Everett Quinton, former lead actor and artistic director of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, is famous for his cross-dressing performances, and he’s currently starring in one of the juiciest of his career with Drop Dead Perfect at the Theatre of St. Clements in Hell’s Kitchen. As Idris Seabright, a 1950s Key West housewife with artistic aspirations, Quinton’s assured hand at the wheel drives this vehicle like a classic Ford Thunderbird hurtling down the Eisenhower interstate system.

So it comes as something of a surprise to learn that he never had a “drag mother” to teach him the skills of gender illusionism. “That’s why my makeup is so lousy. I don’t paint up pretty,” he wisecracks. We’re having lunch at Krolewskie Jadlo, which is Polish for “The King’s Feast” and the kind of place that fits so perfectly into its Manhattan Avenue block in Greenpoint. But then he grows serious: “I was such a fucking mess when I was kid that even if I knew such a thing as a drag mother existed, I would not have been able to access it.”

visit Flickr for more photos of the show

Quinton is not only a powerhouse of New York theatre, he’s also a native New Yorker, born and raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn (Garfield and Seventh Avenue to be exact). And the story of how that “fucking mess” became one of the legends of the American theatre is worthy of a biopic. He’s been on quite the streak in 2015, after nearly 40 years as an actor, including appearing with my company Theatre Askew in its production of Horseplay at La MaMa ETC. One of his myriad characters in that show was the King of Poland, so interviewing him underneath one of the royal portraits that adorn the restaurant walls feels appropriately meta.

After settling in and ordering some borscht and meat-stuffed potato dumplings, we start by talking about his Brooklyn childhood and some of the changes he’s witnessed over the decades. First up is the line that services Greenpoint. “When I was a kid, we used to sneak on the subway. That was our pastime, but the G train was always a mystery train to us because we never knew where it went.” We both marvel over its unforeseeable transformation into the “hip train” serving many of the trendiest Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods.

Everett Quinton and Tim Cusack

I ask him about some other changes from the old days, and he mentions the recent addition to the Brooklyn Museum and how much he dislikes it. Then he shares a childhood story: “I used to play hooky in the Brooklyn Museum.” I ask him if there was a particular exhibit that he gravitated to. “It used to be on the fourth floor, and they would have these furnished rooms. I grew up in a shit house. There were too many of us. And I would go there and look at these rooms and imagine I lived in them. They were furnished with period stuff. That was my favorite thing. The museum was free in those days, otherwise I would never have been able to get in.”

When I bring up the gentrification of Park Slope, he points out that, even when he was a kid, that area had a significant bougie element: “I grew up on the poor side of Seventh Avenue. Working-class Brooklyn poor. But on the other side of Seventh Avenue you had middle class, and on Prospect Park West, all the ritzy people lived up there. Montgomery Place, about a block from where we were, had all these gorgeous row mansions. So in that sense it hasn’t changed. But what I have noticed about Park Slope is that there are more trees. There were no trees on my block when I was a kid except for the two across the street from my house.”

After leaving Brooklyn, Quinton served a stint in the military and then, like many LGBT people at the time, ended up in Greenwich Village, where he would eventually meet his partner Charles Ludlam and become a member of Ludlam’s theatre company. Queer people of my generation are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as being part of a community, but Quinton reminds me that this idea simply didn’t exist when he was a young man.

Ironically, among the few spaces that did offer a sense of that were the sexual cruising areas in the old piers along the Westside Highway. Quinton himself rarely visited them because, as he points out, they were very dangerous due to their state of disrepair. However, they also provided a moment of epiphany for him: “The Tenth Street Pier (aka Dick Dock) was so decrepit that there were big holes in the ground. But it was there that for the first time I ever had a sense of gay community. One day I saw these men bringing in giant planks of plywood to cover up the holes to keep each other safe. It still moves me to this day.”

He also was a bit of loner in those days but adds “Although late, late nights, after the bars closed, I would hang out with this bunch of people on the steps of St. Veronica’s, before they put the fence up. We’d sit there and often watch the sun come up. And then I met Charles Ludlam, and he would always talk about the theatre folk and Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis. So one day, we were walking down Christopher Street, me and Charles, and he says ‘There’s Jackie Curtis. Let me introduce you to her.’ And it turns out he was one of the guys I used to hang out with.”

We finish our meal, and Quinton insists I take home the huge potato dumpling he wasn’t able to eat, because that’s the kind of person he is. His journey from hard-scrabble Brooklynite to solitary Christopher Street kid to revered theatre eminence has been a remarkable one. But it’s those qualities of generosity and kindness that’s created a community of people around him who love him. One of the things I’m personally most grateful to New York City for is having him in my life. Long may (s)he reign.

Tim Cusack is the artistic director of Theatre Askew. You can find him at the Clyde Fitch Report.

Buy tickets for "Drop Dead Perfect" here. The show is playing now through October 11 at Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Douchebag Storage Locker

Last week, we looked at the destruction of the historic Blatt Billiards building and the opinionated graffiti on its "Work in Progress" poster.

On the image of the glassy luxury tower to come, people had written: "Ugly Work in Progress," "YUCK," and more.

The poster was quickly replaced with a fresh one and covered in plastic, presumably to deter the detractors. They have not been deterred.

This week they added "UGLY" and the colorful descriptor "Douchebag Storage Locker," with an arrow pointing straight at 809 Broadway, so there could be no mistake.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Think Less

Barnes & Noble is removing its stores from Queens, including a location in Forest Hills that preservationists tried to save. It's ironic to fight for a chain, but the neighborhood is otherwise a bookstore desert. And what's coming to replace it? A Target.

Meanwhile, on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street, the flagship Barnes & Noble bookstore (since 1932 and closed in 2014) has been completely transformed into a Banana Republic.

The plaque on the outside wall ("Founded 1873") has been pried off, leaving a shadowy scar on the masonry.

Inside, a message for all who might still think books have value: THINK LESS.

(I took this picture awhile ago, so it may not be there anymore. It was there when they opened.)