Tag Archives: 42nd Street

Midnight in Times Square: The history of New Year’s Eve in New York City

PODCAST The tale of New York City’s biggest annual party from its inception on New Years Eve 1904 to the magnificent spectacle of the 21st century. 

In this episode, we look back on the one day of the year that New Yorkers look forward.  New Years Eve is the one night that millions of people around the world focus their attentions on New York City — or more specifically, on the wedge shaped building in Times Square wearing a bright, illuminated ball on its rooftop.

1In the 19th century, the ringing-in of the New Year was celebrated with gatherings near Trinity Church and a pleasant New Years Day custom of visiting young women in their parlors.  But when the New York Times decided to celebrate the opening of their new offices — in the plaza that would take the name Times Square — a new tradition was born.

Tens of millions have visited Times Square over the years, gazing up to watch the electric ball drop, a time-telling mechanism taken from the maritime tradition. The event has been affected by world events — from Prohibition to World War II — and changed by the introduction of radio and television broadcasts.

ALSO: What happened to the celebration which it reached the gritty 1970s and a Times Square with a surly reputation?

PLUS: A few tips for those of you heading to the New Years Eve celebration this year!

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The Bowery Boys #195: MIDNIGHT IN TIMES SQUARE: NEW YEARS EVE IN NEW YORK CITY

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New Years Day celebrations have evolved since the days of New Amsterdam when visitations symbolized a ‘fresh start’ to the year.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

A decorative cigar box from the 1890s, ringing in the new year with a winsome damsel and wholesome scenes of winter beckoning you to smoke a cigar.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The crowds outside Trinity Church on 1906 gathered to usher in the new year. The church was traditionally the place people gathered before the Times Square celebration took off.

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Fated to be the centerpiece of New Years Eve, One Times Square once wore some beautiful architecture until much of it was ripped off to accommodate a frenzy of electronic signs.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

Times Square in 1905 for the very first New Years Eve celebration albeit one with fireworks, not a ball drop.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

The party offerings at the Hotel Astor in Times Square in 1926.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The view of Times Square from the Empire State Building.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

New Years Eve 1938

AP photo
AP photo

The throngs in 1940 with the Gone With The Wind marquee in the background (not to mention Tallulah Bankhead in the play The Little Foxes!)

Courtesy New York Daily News
Courtesy New York Daily News

Ushering in 1953:

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Celebrations were also held for a time in Central Park, like this festive group from 1969:

Courtesy New York Parks Department
Courtesy New York Parks Department

An electrician from the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation tests out the lighting effects that will greet the new year in 1992.

MARTY LEDERHANDLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARTY LEDERHANDLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

And here’s some videos of New Years Eve countdown past!

Mr New Years Eve himself — Guy Lombardo — here at the Roosevelt Hotel, ringing in 1958

From 1965-66:

A clip from Dick Clark’s first appearance in Times Square. It cuts away to Three Dog Night in California!

CBS’s New Years Eve program featuring Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazzard.

The absolutely bonkers ball drop for the new millennium.

Last year’s commentary by those wacky cards Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.

The Crystal Palace, America’s first World’s Fair and bizarre treasury of the 19th century

PODCAST  New York’s Crystal Palace seems like something out of a dream, a shimmering and spectacular glass-and-steel structure — a gigantic greenhouse — which sat in the area of today’s Bryant Park. In 1853 this was the home to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a dizzying presentation of items, great and small, meant to exemplify mankind’s industrial might.

We take you on a breathtaking tour of the Palce and its legendary exhibition, including the Latting Observatory (the tallest building in New York!)

Whatever happened to the Crystal Palace? And what inventions contained within do we still benefit from today?

FEATURING: PT Barnum, Henry Ward Beecher, Elisha Otis and literally millions of items!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #178: The Crystal Palace

EDITOR’S NOTE – I mis-pronounced the name of the Fresnel light (actually pronounced fre-nell). Its modern ancestor is used in theatrical lighting today.

 

This is one of the earliest photographs of New York City ever taken. As the Crystal Palace hosted examples from the early days of photography, it’s no surprise that one of these early pictures is of the Crystal Palace itself.

A rare photograph of the New York Crystal Palace by Victor Prevost. Courtesy Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
A rare photograph of the New York Crystal Palace by Victor Prevost. Courtesy of the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

 

A look into the pit surrounding the Crystal Palace during construction. There were many delays, somewhat sullying the lofty ambitions of the project at the very start. Courtesy New York Public Library
A look into the pit surrounding the Crystal Palace during construction. There were many delays, somewhat sullying the lofty ambitions of the project at the very start. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A very church-like plan of the Crystal Palace building by Petermann and Guildemeister. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
A very church-like plan of the Crystal Palace building by Petermann and Guildemeister. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Theodore Sedgwick, who spearheaded the New York Crystal Palace -- and bore some of the criticisms of the Exhibition's rocky opening.
Theodore Sedgwick, who spearheaded the New York Crystal Palace — and bore some of the criticisms of the Exhibition’s rocky opening.

 

Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs by John Bachmann. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs by John Bachmann. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

Illustration of the center of the Crystal Palace by J Wells. Courtesy New York Public Library
Illustration of the center of the Crystal Palace by J Wells. Courtesy New York Public Library
The view from one of the naves, looking towards the George Washington statue. Courtesy New York Public Library
The view from one of the naves, looking towards the George Washington statue. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Another view of the inside, this time during the inauguration of the New York Crystal Palace in July 1853 -- looking at a platform in the north nave. Courtesy New York Public Library
Another view of the inside, this time during the inauguration of the New York Crystal Palace in July 1853 — looking at a platform in the north nave. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A hand-colored stereoscope of a selection of Crystal Palace statuary. There seems to be some kind of Egyptian thing going on in the background! Courtesy Museum of City of New York
A hand-colored stereoscope of a selection of Crystal Palace statuary. There seems to be some kind of Egyptian thing going on in the background! Courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

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Busts, tapestries, machinery, weapons and various finery! A couple illustrations of the different divisions. Just rooms and rooms of items! Courtesy New York Public Library
Busts, tapestries, machinery, weapons and various finery! A couple illustrations of the different divisions. Just rooms and rooms of items! Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy NYPL
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy NYPL

 

Genin's Bazaar, containing items for the infant. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Genin’s Bazaar, containing items for the infant. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

This photo of Commodore Matthew C. Perry was taken by Matthew Brady and displayed at the Crystal Palace, one of the first photographs many people may have seen!
This photo of Commodore Matthew C. Perry was taken by Matthew Brady and displayed at the Crystal Palace, one of the first photographs many people may have seen!
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

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This engraving shows the Latting Observatory in relation to the Crystal Palace, separated by 42nd Street.

 

A reprinted advertisement from Valentine's Manual of old New York, outlining some of the charms of Latting Observatory
A reprinted advertisement from Valentine’s Manual of old New York, outlining some of the charms of Latting Observatory

 

One of several illustrations of the Crystal Palace fire, a dramatic blaze that destroyed the building in under an hour.
One of several illustrations of the Crystal Palace fire, a dramatic blaze that destroyed the building in under an hour.

 

An illustration from an 1887 book "Our firemen. A history of the New York fire department" Courtesy Internet Image Book Archives
An illustration from an 1887 book “Our firemen. A history of the New York fire department” Courtesy Internet Image Book Archives

 

Another view of the blaze, in perspective to the rest of New York to the south. Couirtesy New-York Historical Society
Another view of the blaze, in perspective to the rest of New York to the south. Couirtesy New-York Historical Society

 

An illustration made in 1858, depicting the aftermath of the horrible fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. NYPL
An illustration made in 1858, depicting the aftermath of the horrible fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. NYPL

 

Some original documents that you may enjoy reading:

How To See the New York Crystal Palace: Being a Concise Guide to the Principal Objects in the Exhibiton

A Day in the New  York Crystal Palace and how to Make the Most of It

And for some comparison, a guide to the London Crystal Palace can be found here.

Supreme City: The ascent of Midtown Manhattan in the 1920s


A view of Midtown Manhattan, looking southeast, by the Wurts Brothers (NYPL)

Supreme City
How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America
by Donald L. Miller
Simon & Schuster

Supreme City, by Donald L. Miller, certainly one of the most entertaining books on New York City history I’ve read in the past couple years, is also one of the strangest.  Almost as an obligation, New York’s Prohibition-fueled nightlife and the rowdy administration of Jimmy Walker are conjured up front, and colorfully so, only to then be placed aside.

This is not a book about the standard subjects of the 1920s.  This is indeed an epic about New York City in the Jazz Age, but it’s a wildly different tune than the one in which you’re familiar.

This is a tale of architecture and invention, of a boldness and proportion that New Yorkers take for granted today.  Supreme City recounts the invention of Midtown Manhattan, but it’s also about a spiritual shift in urban life.  This is the story of how New York City became not only a supreme city, but a supersized one.

Miller, a professor of history at Lafayette College perhaps better known for his works on World War II, approaches the sprawl of New York’s most ambitious decade almost like a mathematician. He ties this epic — a swirl of large personalities and impossible ideas — into a specific intersection of time and place.

It’s as though a slew of particles (comprised of ambitions and personalities) just slammed into each other one day, creating a new form of urban environment.

Industrial visions and personal journeys alike culminate in the year 1927, a watershed date for New York history, and arrive within the Manhattan grid system, mostly along 42nd Street between Eighth Avenue and Lexington Avenue, the nucleus of a new urban vision.  The story ventures out through the entire city of course but always to the beat of this new Midtown.

From here, Miller brings in the components of growth, the great innovators and personalities, plotted in relation to each other and to the great city blossoming under their feet.

These aren’t just the standard innovators, the expected cast — David Sarnoff, Duke Ellington, Charles Lindburgh. Sure, you get a bit Texas Guinan‘s drunken swagger, a little of Jack Dempsey‘s scrappiness.  But Miller gives equal prominence to perhaps less colorful real estate gurus and planners whose contributions created the playing field of modern New York. While it’s always nice to relive the 1920s through a lens of champagne and The Great Gatsby, Miller’s concern is with the players who actually built the city.

The engineer William Wilgus receives deserved placement in Supreme City for his innovations of covering the unpleasant tracks of Grand Central to create acres of new land, “taking wealth from the air” and inventing New York’s ultimate canyon of wealth — Park Avenue.

Architect Emery Roth brought the apartment skyscraper to Midtown and practically invented the allure of the penthouse.  The almost faceless Fred French — his section is actually called “Who on Earth was Fred French?” — turned the apartment complex into a swanky, thematic thrill with such Midtown projects as Tudor City (a 1928 illustration pictured at left).

Of course, it took the wealthiest New Yorkers to fuel these changes. New money sparked the new playing field.  The old families hastened their migration up Fifth Avenue, their mansions abandoned, torn down and replaced with the high-end shops in which they would later shop.

While department store masters like Edwin Goodman swept out the socialites to build his Fifth Avenue temple of commerce Bergdorf-Goodman, the pleasant rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden helped generate the avenue’s reputation of social perfection and high glamour.

Sensing the upward surge of Midtown — its almost-amoral infinite rise — impresarios like Samuel “Roxy” Rothefeld, Florenz Ziegfeld and George “Tex” Rickard rose to create venues to corral the masses.  Midtown became home in the 1920s to the industries of entertainment — publishing, radio, television.  Even Seventh Avenue below Times Square found purpose in the swell as America’s Garment District.

As Midtown grew in the 1920s, the instruments of getting there also rose to the challenge, finally conquering the Hudson River, from the Holland Tunnel to the George Washington Bridge.

The story is so big that Miller can’t contain all of it. Supreme City captures that place before the Great Depression, perhaps New York’s single most decadent moment. He does not venture out into the other boroughs and rarely even ventures below 42nd Street. From the vantage of the Chrysler Building — the treasure most indicative of the age — those places are hazy and distant.  By the last page of this heavy tome, Midtown Manhattan creates everything, drives everything, almost entirely is everything.  That energy is certainly infectious, making Supreme City is an rich, propelling read.

Midnight Cowboy: 25 fascinating, sleazy New York details, a celebration of 42nd Street from an X-rated Oscar winner

In 1970, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to an X-rated film set within the world of gritty, vice-riddled Times Square.

The central figures in that film — ‘Midnight Cowboy’ directed by John Schlesinger— were a clueless cowboy named Joe Buck (Jon Voight), clomping into New York with dreams of becoming a successful hustler, and the wheezing Enrico Rizzo or ‘Ratso’ (Dustin Hoffman), a con man with even bigger dreams of Florida sunshine.

There are few time capsules of New York’s darker days quite as pleasurable as ‘Midnight Cowboy’.  It’s hardly as provocative as when it was released in May 1969, but its ragged edges have only become more remarkable to view as a piece of history, paying tribute to an era often romanticized today.

We know now that this is not as low as New York City would sink. The 1970s would bring further financial ruin and physical deterioration.

But ‘Midnight Cowboy’ is in no way sugar-coated, and for those who think they would prefer this New York over the overpriced, condo-centric Manhattan we live, work and play in today might do well to give this film a very close inspection.

Here are 25 fascinating facts and details from the film itself, some of them specific to individual shots in the film.  There are no major spoilers here, but you’ll appreciate this more if you’ve at least seen the film once.

And ‘Mad Men’ fans, take note!  This season, which starts in April, is most likely set in 1968, around the time when this movie was filmed in New York City.  It would not be a stretch to see Don Draper or Peggy Olson somewhere in the background of certain scenes.

At the bottom is a Google map of some of the places mentioned in this article:

1. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ was shot in New York City during the spring and summer of 1968.  Inspired by the making of Schlesinger‘s film, Andy Warhol protege Joe Dallesandro starred in his own cowboy hustler movie called ‘Flesh‘. Given its micro-budget and cheap production values, the Dallesandro variant made it into theaters many months before ‘Cowboy’ did. (More on Warhol in a bit.)

2. As Buck heads into New York on a Luxury Liner bus, New Jersey is epitomized with a montage of tangled highways, roadside hotels and congestive industry.  Featured in this quick-cut of unpleasantness is the Seville Motel (in North Bergen), the Pitt-Consol Chemical Company in Newark, and of course Newark Airport.

 3. On the bus, Buck holds a radio to his ear and listens to the sunny voice of Ron Lundy from WABC, 770 on the AM dial.  ‘Midnight Cowboy’ features many iconic images and names which would disappear in the 1970s, but Lundy’s career was just taking off, soothing the anxieties of New York commuters well into the 1990s.   If you stuck around listening to 770 that particular day, you’d also be likely to hear another famous broadcaster — Howard Cosell.

 4. For the first third of the film, Joe Buck resides at the Hotel Claridge at Broadway and 44th Street.  Back in the 1910s, this might have been considered the heart of New York culture, as Rector’s Restaurant, the ultimate lobster palace, resided on the first floor.  The Claridge was demolished in the early 1970s.  Today, ABC broadcasts Good Morning America and other programming from this site.

 Joe buys a copy of the postcard (at left) to send back home, indicating with an arrow what floor he’s on. He eventually rips it up. (Pic courtesy Postcard Attic)

5. The cowboy strolls through the streets of Midtown, stunned and confused by the rhythms of city life.  His Texan gait and cowboy flair stands apart from the life of Fifth Avenue.  Along the way you can spot some places that are still around (like the Swiss National Tourist Office at W. 49th Street) and some long gone, such as the children’s clothing retail Best & Company at W. 51st Street, torn down in the 1970s and replaced with the Olympic Tower.

Joe finishes his tour of Fifth Avenue with a stop at Tiffany’s & Co., ogling a lady as she ogles a piece of jewelry behind the window.  The 1960s began with the site used in the film ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s.  You could spend an hour comparing and contrasting the characters of Joe Buck and Holly Golightly.  Both characters maneuver through New York nightlife using their sexual wiles.

Below: Buck stands flummoxed in front of a man lying on the sidewalk, more confused perhaps of the reactions of others walking by. (Courtesy On The Set of New York)

6. The naive Buck looks for prospective clients along Park Avenue, stopping older women with his silly line, “I’m looking for the Statue of Liberty.”  (He clearly saw it on his way into Manhattan.)  One lady suggests taking the “7th Avenue Subway” (today’s 1-2-3 train) before catching on and escaping to her home at 117 East 70th Street.

The exterior of this luxurious townhouse in Lenox Hill sends Joe into one of his many gauzy fantasies.  This house, built in 1931, is situated along Millionaire’s Row and was built by Frederick Rhinelander King, who worked at the firm McKim, Mead & White.  Today the building holds the headquarters of the Harambee USA Foundation, an African relief organization.

7. Joe finally gets lucky (relatively speaking) when he meets a socialite played by Sylvia Miles, who invites him up to her apartment at 114 East 72nd Street.  He’s rebuffed when he eventually gets around to asking for money.  “Who do you think you’re dealing with, some old slut on 42nd Street?!”  Unlike the previous townhouse, this apartment building was only a few years old when it was notoriously used as the location of Buck’s first New York hookup.  A few years after ‘Midnight Cowboy’ was released, this building became a co-op.

8. The Mutual of New York building at 1740 Broadway makes regular appearances throughout the film, as much for its glowing MONY sign as for the Weather Star atop the building, alerting midtown Manhattan of the time and temperature.  The ubiquitous timepiece — in 7,344-point Futura, for you font buffs — first made its appearance in the 1950s.  The sign comes up in a gag later in the film involving a drug-induced Scribbage game.

(Courtesy the New York Times, via Official Guide New York World’s Fair, 1964/1965)

9. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ is rather ambivalent on the subject of gay people.  While out and confident gay people are seen along the fringes, the film mostly focuses on those who troll 42nd Street and are generally ashamed or guilt-ridden by their actions.  It does make for an intriguing time capsule, as literally one month after the film’s release came the riots and gatherings outside Stonewall bar in the West Village.

10. Buck meets Rizzo (aka Ratzo) at a midtown bar, and the nervous, chronically ill grifter takes on the cowboy as a client.  The movie’s most famous line was delivered as Hoffman and Voight are crossing 58th Street at Sixth Avenue.

 

11. Rizzo and Buck continue their stroll back over to Fifth Avenue and the Plaza Hotel.  Rizzo briefly commiserates with a carriage horse before heading over to a spectacular row of green phone booths, similar to design as the one at right (courtesy Forgotten New York).   These green phone booths must have been quickly replaced in the 1970s with the more familiar silver booths.

‘Midnight Cowboy’ is a celebration of old New York phone booths, which sadly dwindled in number starting in the 1980s.  For that loss, we’re sorry, Clark Kent.

12. After Rizzo abandons Buck with a crazed preacher, the cowboy lapses into a black-and-white fantasy sequence, chasing Rizzo down into the subway.  Rizzo is seen riding away on an F train, specifically the R40 style subway car.  These would become very popular with graffiti artists and most associated with New York’s rundown transportation system.  What you’re seeing in the film, however, is a new car, as they entered service in 1968.

13. One of two memorable Times Square signs in the movie is the one hanging outside Buck’s hotel window for Haig’s Whiskey.  While the sign proclaims ‘Haig’s for Today’s Taste’, its  more popular slogan was ‘Don’t Be Vague’.  A picture of the Times Square sign, below, is from 1970, astride one of Times Square’s most famous signs for Bond Clothing Stores. (Courtesy Skyscraper City)

14. Ah, 42nd Street!  The bright illuminated marquees, the all-night shops, the weird and dangerous street scenes, the alternative world that it offers in ‘Midnight Cowboy’.  Among the many prurient delights seen in the background is the great old Hubert’s Museum, a classic old dime museum that held on even as the culture around it became debauched and seedy.

The museum closed the year after it was featured in the film, becoming, like so many places along 42nd Street, a peepshow.  You can find some incredible pictures of Hubert’s here.

It’s around this spot that Buck is picked up by his first male client, played by a young Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Best In Show).  While portrayed as a skiddish, quiet boy, today his character looks more like the hipster lead singer of a Brooklyn rock band. (Below, in an official press image)

15. Buck emerges from an all-night movie theater and wanders down 42nd Street early the next morning.  Among the many films advertised on the row of marquees is one with a most arresting title — The Twisted Sex.  The sexploitation flick was made in 1966 by Chancellor Films, famous for all sorts of naughty pictures, including ‘Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico’, ‘The Diary of Knockers McCalla’, ‘Animal Love’ and ‘Sex Cures The Crazy’.

16. Buck chases down Rizzo at a diner on the Upper East Side.  They argue and turn the corner to reveal the Hotel Kimberly for ‘transients’.  This is NOT the Kimberly Hotel in Times Square, a far classier joint.  This Kimberly was located at Broadway and 74th Street, which becomes obvious when you see the exterior of the Apple Bank Building in a cross shot.

The Hotel Kimberly had once been a rather fabulous hotel in the 1930s-40s. In fact, a young Lucille Ball lived here in 1931! (Image courtesy Pay Phone News)

17. Rizzo takes Buck back to his place, not the “Sherry Netherlands” [sic] that he claims earlier in the film, but in a rundown East Village tenement, presumably on its way toward demolition.  Although I do not know the specific address, these scenes are memorable for perhaps being the first time Lower East Side squatting is featured in a Hollywood film!

18. Rizzo decides Buck needs to score clients the old-fashioned way — by stealing them from other men. They visit The Perfect Gentleman Escort Service  — “endorsed by leading travel agencies and credit clubs” and probably in no way disreputable — and snag an address where a potential client awaits at the Hotel Berkley.

The Berkley is a women’s hotel, “a whole goddamn hotel with nothin’ but lonely ladies,” as Rizzo indelicately describes.  That is one of the few places in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ that does not exist.  The Gotham Hotel, at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, stood in for this fictional haven.  Today, you may know it better as The Peninsula.  


Above: 42nd Street in 1975, a strip of movie palaces for exploitation films (Courtesy Temple of Schlock)

19. The second notable Times Square signage gets a few seconds of glory at this point — the Gillette Right Guard sign, dispensing a steam of aerosol into the street.  The steam effect was another iteration of creativity began in 1933 with the A&P 8 O’Clock Coffee cup.

20. Desperate for money, Buck resorts to selling plasma at a midtown blood bank.  I can only recoil in horror at the sorts who frequented this place in the late 1960s, looking for extra money.  I’m not sure of the exact address of the neon-advertised blood bank featured in the film, but it’s possibly the one featured in this picture, located over on Eighth Avenue. (Courtesy Christian Montone/Flickr)

21. In a refreshing break from Manhattan, the duo are seen walking all the way to Queens to visit the grave of Rizzo’s father at Calvary Cemetery.  Rising in the distance you can see the Kosciuszko Bridge.  A few years later this same cemetery would be used in ‘The Godfather’.  (Below the scene from Calvary, courtesy DVD Beaver)

22.  Rizzo and Buck are talking in a diner when a strange duo enter, snap Buck’s picture and hand him a flyer to a mysterious party, located “at Broadway and Harmony Lane,” another false address designed for the film.  Rizzo is incredulous and possibly jealous.  “Where does it tell you to go? Klein’s bargain basement?”  This is a reference the famous discount clothier S. Klein, and in particular to their location off Union Square.

The store typified the square’s general fall from grace as a place of high-end retail.  S. Klein would remain open until 1976. (Below: Klein’s being being demolished in 1978, pic courtesy Forgotten NY)

23. They eventually go to the strange party — or should I say ‘happening’ — of Hansel and Gretel Mac Albertson.  “Flesh and blood and smoke will be served after midnight,” according to the flyer.  The party style and decor is heavily influenced by Andy Warhol’s own psychedelic events, and there’s a glimmer of The Electric Circus in the set design. If that wasn’t enough, Warhol acolytes Viva, Ondine and Ultra Violet make brief appearances.

Warhol was asked to participate in the film, but declined.  In June 1968, as ‘Midnight Cowboy’ was wrapping up filming, Warhol was shot by Valerie Solonas.

24. Buck’s last desperate trick involves an out-of-towner he picks up at a midtown arcade. (This might even be the arcade in question.)  Later, we see the pair up on 49th Street, turning the corner to be greeted with the facade — of Colony Records!  The classic music store was located in the Brill Building and had remained a surviving relic of midtown’s popular music glory days, right up until its closure last year.

25. Finally, that omnipresent song!  Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin” is probably one of the most famous pop songs to ever be featured in a motion picture, its ease and flowing charms compatible with Joe Buck’s carefree attitude.  But if the artist had had his way, another song would have been used — “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City.”  You can give it a listen here. Which do you prefer?

Here’s a map of some of the places from ‘Midnight Cowboy’ mentioned in the article above. I’m absolutely positive a couple places may be off — and a few are speculations, based on clues in the film. If you have any further information, please email me!
View Midnight Cowboy: The Map in a larger map

Grand Central Terminal: The original plan from 1910

Continuing the celebration of Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, here’s a look at the proposed street plan which was run in the New York Tribune on June 26, 1910.

“The front faces on 42nd Street, with a bridge crossing that busy thoroughfare to the Park Avenue slope. Under the vacant blocks to the north lie the tracks, switches and mechanisms of the huge train yard. The surface of these vacant blocks will be occupied by fine buildings, devoted to commerce or to the arts.

Park Avenue is seen stretching away to the north. It is split by a new station and runs around both sides of it, joining again at the bridge over 42nd Street. Cost of this new terminal is estimated at $180,000,000.”

This was the beginning of the ‘Terminal City’ plan, a group of linking buildings with similar design. Sadly, many of those buildings were never built, and those that were have been torn down during the furor of the midtown skyscraper boom.

The plan below shows Terminal City from a different angle, and with new features:

The uniformity intended for Terminal City stands in stark contrast to the multiplicity of towering structures in the area today. In particular, the graceful New York Central Building (today the Helmsley Building) would finally rise to Grand Central’s north in 1929. The decidedly ungraceful Pan Am Building (today the MetLife Building) was planned during the late 1950s, when commuter travel by train decreased and Grand Central was considered an antiquated relic.

But it’s not what you see that New Yorkers marveled at back in 1910. It’s what you didn’t see. “[A]ll of  this machinery of this vast terminal — the signals, the tracks and the hundreds of trains — will never be seen from the street,” proclaimed the 1910 Tribune article. “They will be less in evidence than the engines at the heart of an ocean liner.”

Electric trains afforded such a disappearance from street level, creating an entirely new boulevard from 45th Street to 57th Street.  In some serious understatement, the Tribune continues, “These changes will revolutionize the character of this part of the city. Along the new part of Park Avenue will be constructed a mile and a half of imposing apartment houses.”

Spectacular apartment complexes would appear on Park Avenue, but mostly above 57th Street.  Commerce would eventually fill in the block below, bringing the most innovative skyscrapers of the 1950s, structures like the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and the Lever House at 53rd Street, buildings which toyed with the city’s zoning laws and created new public spaces.

Below: A cross-section plan of the new structure, created in 1905, focuses on what would have focused on the terminal’s most magnificent secret — the buried tracks and public spaces.

Top two images courtesy Library of Congress; bottom image from New York Public Library

Grand Central Terminal: The original plan from 1910

Continuing the celebration of Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, here’s a look at the proposed street plan which was run in the New York Tribune on June 26, 1910.

“The front faces on 42nd Street, with a bridge crossing that busy thoroughfare to the Park Avenue slope. Under the vacant blocks to the north lie the tracks, switches and mechanisms of the huge train yard. The surface of these vacant blocks will be occupied by fine buildings, devoted to commerce or to the arts.

Park Avenue is seen stretching away to the north. It is split by a new station and runs around both sides of it, joining again at the bridge over 42nd Street. Cost of this new terminal is estimated at $180,000,000.”

This was the beginning of the ‘Terminal City’ plan, a group of linking buildings with similar design. Sadly, many of those buildings were never built, and those that were have been torn down during the furor of the midtown skyscraper boom.

The plan below shows Terminal City from a different angle, and with new features:

The uniformity intended for Terminal City stands in stark contrast to the multiplicity of towering structures in the area today. In particular, the graceful New York Central Building (today the Helmsley Building) would finally rise to Grand Central’s north in 1929. The decidedly ungraceful Pan Am Building (today the MetLife Building) was planned during the late 1950s, when commuter travel by train decreased and Grand Central was considered an antiquated relic.

But it’s not what you see that New Yorkers marveled at back in 1910. It’s what you didn’t see. “[A]ll of  this machinery of this vast terminal — the signals, the tracks and the hundreds of trains — will never be seen from the street,” proclaimed the 1910 Tribune article. “They will be less in evidence than the engines at the heart of an ocean liner.”

Electric trains afforded such a disappearance from street level, creating an entirely new boulevard from 45th Street to 57th Street.  In some serious understatement, the Tribune continues, “These changes will revolutionize the character of this part of the city. Along the new part of Park Avenue will be constructed a mile and a half of imposing apartment houses.”

Spectacular apartment complexes would appear on Park Avenue, but mostly above 57th Street.  Commerce would eventually fill in the block below, bringing the most innovative skyscrapers of the 1950s, structures like the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and the Lever House at 53rd Street, buildings which toyed with the city’s zoning laws and created new public spaces.

Below: A cross-section plan of the new structure, created in 1905, focuses on what would have focused on the terminal’s most magnificent secret — the buried tracks and public spaces.

Top two images courtesy Library of Congress; bottom image from New York Public Library

‘Shadows’: Improv, jazz and a squint at midtown Manhattan

A beat in Times Square: Ben Carruthers drifts through the city in ‘Shadows’

BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature where we find an unusual movie or TV show that — whether by accident or design — uniquely captures an era of New York City better than any reference or history book. Other entrants in this particular film festival can be found HERE.

When we did our Times Square podcast a few weeks ago, I went looking for photographs that captured its mid-century transition, when the balance between glamour and sleaze began tipping from one extreme to the other. When was the moment that 42nd Street went from meaning one thing, to the other? Had I seen John Cassavetes’ ‘Shadows’ then, I wouldn’t have needed to look much further.

‘Shadows’ is a revolutionary moment in film, displaying a loose, on-the-fly vocabulary and a casual, bebop storytelling style completely foreign to movies of the day. Cassavetes, a young acting teacher and soon-to-be film star in his own right, assembled production funds and the film’s cast from among his friends and acquaintances. Its largest supporter was radio deejay and writer Jean Shephard, years before writing short stories that would form the basis of the film ‘A Christmas Story’.
The film was finished in 1959 after Cassavetes had initially completed one version in 1957 and sent the actors on their merry way. He recalled the cast and inserted new scenes which are easily identified. The plot is largely improvised and feels it. The somewhat central plot — a romance between a young black woman and a white jazz musician she meets at a party — was provocative for its time, but feels little wooden today. The acting is all over the place. (Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands, later to become his greatest star, appears only fleetingly as an extra.)
But I’m recommending this film for its style and electricity, its cool depiction of downtown beatniks afloat in midtown Manhattan. The images and sounds seem to fly together, with an airy jazz score accompanying a broad number of New York locations rising from a grainy black-and-white haze.

Its most famous scene depicts the lovely Lelia Goldini strolling down 42nd Street after dropping off her brother at Port Authority. He wants her to take a cab home; she wants to enjoy a walk. 42nd Street isn’t the seedy corridor it would become, but it isn’t safe either. Outside a movie theater, aflame with the glowing lights of surrounding marquees she’s harassed by a stranger. But this is a street in transition; Lelia is rescued by strangers, and the harasser is himself harassed. (See if you can recognize one of the strangers.)

The movie is strongest when it’s drifting along with rebels, three hapless hipsters led by the magnetic Ben Carruthers. They invade a countless number of dive bars and diners, looking for street smart ladies. That’s how they look at the entire world which makes their visit to the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art strangely compelling. I’m sure you’ve never looked at art the way these three do.
In a cramped and dank nightclub, smoke and whiskey filled, a jazz vocalist, played by Hugh Hurd, is forced to become an emcee to a bunch of talentless dancing girls, the humiliation on his face a sure representation of the changing tastes of New York nightlife. In the variety shows of yore, his somber talents would have fit in; by the late 1950s, moody jazz was merely a distraction.
‘Shadows’ has a wonderful mood of melancholy that would go on to exemplify the great New York independent movies of the 1960s and 70s. The long procession of cabs zooming down the avenue, past the Colony Records and the Thom McAn’s, past the titillating neon ‘FASCINATION’ of a 42nd Street theater, would go on to influence the dreams of New York lovers for years after.

Here’s the trailer:

Times Square: History in stages, chronicled in lights


The canyon, as seen from the Empire State Building. (Photography by the Wurts Brothers, courtesy NYPL)

PODCAST: Times Square is the centerpiece of New York for most visitors and a place that sharply divides city residents. Nothing about it sits still. Even its oldest buildings are severely transformed and slathered with electronic imagery.

In 1900, the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue was the drab Longacre Square, the heart of the horse and carriage industry, and few dared put a legitimate theater or restaurant so far north. But with the construction of the subway came big changes, and when the new headquarters for the New York Times arrived, so did a new name.

Listen along as we travel through the decades, through Times Square’s glory days of lobster palaces and celebrities, the introduction of electric advertisements, its gritty slide and eventual rebound. Is the new Times Square an extraordinary transformation? Or a travesty?

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Times Square
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1909, when things weren’t quite so insane. I believe this is Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets. You see the Gaiety Theater on the left, as well as Churchill’s Restaurant. Long Acre Riggery sits next door, proving that the neighborhood’s transformation wasn’t as quick as you might have thought. There’s also an ad for Turkish Trophies cigarettes.

Rector’s Restaurant, the greatest of the so-called ‘lobster palaces’, where opulance and celebrity mixed with musical entertainment in an occasionally rowdy environment.

1910: The strangely orderly streets are still mostly filled with horse-drawn carriages and trolleys. Theaters have worked there way in by this time, including the New York Theatre on the left, and the Gaiety and Globe theaters on the right. (Courtesy Spooner Central)

Between 1911-1915: Standing on 42nd Street, looking north, the Times Building and the subway entrance to the right. The theater built and named for George M. Cohan was completed in 1911. (Courtesy LOC)

1921: People readily embraced Times Square as a place for instant news information. Thousands of similarly dressed men wait impatiently outside the Times Building on a hot July afternoon awaiting news of the Jersey City boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier.

1931: No sign of a Great Depression here. Trolley tracks are still very much in evidence. (Courtesy Flickr/straatis)

1935: The Paramount Building astride the Hotel Astor dominate the plaza. I’m not sure I would like negotiating this seemingly chaotic cross street.

1945: Thousands arrive in Times Square to celebrate the end of the surrender of the Japanese and the end of World War II.

1955: Times Square’s subtle shifts can be seen here — larger than life electric beauties overhead, dancing girls across the street. The RKO Mayfair (later the DeMille sat at Seventh Avenue and 47th Street. (Courtesy Flickr/Christian Montone)

By the 1960s, old stages and movie theaters were giving way to a new form of entertainment, the adult kind.

1965: The neon shines as bright as ever. Bonds Clothing Store thrived for years at this central location and provided one of its most memorable sign. Previously the space had been the swanky nightclub International Casino. In the late ’70s, the clothing store closed, and, in some clever combination, it became the nightclub Bond International Casino, home of the Times Square Riot of 1981. (Courtesy Panoramio)

1970s: A strange mix of entertainments and ideas now permanently intermingle in Times Square. Cohan represents the past, while TKTS booth (which opened in 1973), providing discounted Broadway tickets and a safe haven for visitors, presents a possible key to its future.

1985: By this time, the city had worked through almost two decades of improvement ideas for Times Square. (Courtesy Flickr/Jim In Times Square)

The New Amsterdam Theater, before it was renovated by Disney. (Courtesy Flickr/GuanoReturns)

2008: Most of the seedier element of Times Square was eradicated by this time. (Courtesy zero null)

A fabulous video of various New Years Eve ball drops throughout the years, starting in 1978:

And to tie it all back to the beginning, here’s an Edison film shot from the top of the Times Building, from 1905. Most interesting, actually, is the view of Bryant Park and the large, stately Hippodrome.

This episode was so packed, we barely even talked about New Year’s Eve! For some historical nuggets on that annual event, you might like to listen to our old show on One Times Square. Also, if theater history interests you, check out out podcast on Florenz Ziegfeld.

Hands across New York

I snapped this picture of the giant hand of Madame Tussaud on 42nd Street this weekend, a golden appendage which ominously dangles above her popular wax museum.

The massive amputation of a French woman reminded me of a similar disembodiment that occurred over 130 years ago. In 1876, in an effort to raise funds for its transport and display, the Statue of Liberty was displayed in Madison Square Park. Or rather, just her hand and right forearm with torch. The phantom appendage stood watch over the west side of the park for nearly six years.

And of course, this famous image of gaslight Madison Square, with Liberty’s arm to the right:

My Broadway ‘Whirl Girl’ obsession


See these lovely lasses? This is a photograph that ran on the HD photo website Shorpy last week, featuring some chorines from a 1921 Broadway show. “The Broadway Whirl,” a lively revue knockoff, played the Times Square Theatre, a ‘legitimate’ stage at 217 West 42nd Street that was closed in the 1980s. If you’re trying to place it today, it’s directly across the street from the garish 42nd Street McDonalds.

The theatre opened in 1920, with the ‘Whirl Girls’ taking to the stage only a year later, in July 1921. According to the original review in the New York Times, ‘Whirl’ “conform[s] rather faithfully to the popular type of revue. Which is to say that it is rich in girls and costumes, equipped with two good comedians and a variety of talented dancers, full of movement and color, and in the main rather poor in idea.”

The Times Square Theatre had a spotty record with hit shows, its biggest coming in 1931 with Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’. It also had nice runs with ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ‘The Front Page’ (the basis for the film ‘His Girl Friday’). By 1934, however, it was turned into a movie theatre. Which is to say that, by the 70s, it was rich in girls without costumes:

As for the five damsels at top, it doesn’t appear that any of them really broke out of the chorus line. Shorpy’s has some interesting solo shots of a couple ladies.