Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bway and 88th in 1970

Some time ago I came upon this black and white film taken in 1971 (or, more likely, 1970) from a traffic island on Broadway near 88th Street. It was filmed by Nicholas West.

It's in slightly slow motion, so it feels underwaterish. Nothing much happens. People walk across the street or they sit and watch the traffic. Cars go by. The neon sign of the New Yorker cinema blinks off and then on again. On the marquee, a double bill: Pudovkin's "The End of St. Petersburg" with Hani's "Bwana Toshi," subject of a lukewarm 1970 review in the Times.

Wrote the reviewer, "In its emotional density and its cool compansion [sic], Hani's eroticism seems a good deal more humane than his humanism. It is also, of course, more erotic."

There is nothing apparently erotic about Broadway and 88th Street in the winter of--not 1971--but 1970. It is, however, loaded with humanity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Elpine Revisited

For a while, I've had a thing for the Elpine drinks stand in Times Square. Long gone from its spot on 46th Street and 7th Avenue, it appears in the background of many old photos and had its big moment in the film Sweet Smell of Success.

There's really no information out there about Elpine. They served fruit drinks and hot dogs, among other items. They had two locations, but did not achieve the success of Papaya King and Gray's Papaya.

The story of the little stand remained a mystery. Then I got an email from a guy named Al Streit.

1943: John Vachon, via Shorpy

Mr. Streit writes:

"Elpine Drinks was a business owned by my wife's grandfather and his two brothers. Yes, Elpine: 'el pine' as in pineapple. The name has nothing to do with the Swiss Alps.

The Varons were a Spanish-speaking Sephardic family. Originally spelled with an accent mark over the 'o' (Varón), the pronunciation was anglicized to VAIR-un. Three brothers, Joe, Frank, and Morris came to NYC from Gallipoli before World War I.

One of the businesses they founded was Elpine Drinks. The signature drink was based on pineapple juice, and being Spanish, they decided to call the business 'el pine' as in 'the pineapple.' Yes, I am very much aware that the Spanish word for pineapple is 'la piña,' but that point was lost, I'm sure, on English-speaking Americans of the day. It was, I guess, an inside joke.

And given that pre-Castro Cuba was a popular vacation spot for east coast Americans back in the day, perhaps they hoped to conjure up images of relaxing under a palm tree while drinking the pineapple mix?"


circa 1960s, Aaron Signs, via Lost City

The Varon brothers also went into the liquor business and had a large liquor store near Wall Street.

Mr. Streit sent along a photo of his wife's grandfather, Frank Varon, co-founder of Elpine. Here he is advertising the Schenley line of alcoholic beverages.

Elpine lasted at least into the 1970s, according to photo records. Below is a rare color shot of the spot in 1971.

It is the latest dated photo I have found yet. After that, Elpine just vanishes.

1971, Michael Jacobi

Monday, October 5, 2015

On the Stroll

After 20 years of working on Wall Street, Chris Arnade walked away in 2012, disillusioned with the business. He kept walking, all the way to the Bronx, with a camera in his hand. In Hunts Point, he got to know and photograph the other humans of New York, the ones at the margins--prostitutes and drug addicts, living in poverty. Collected in a series called "Faces of Addiction," the images are both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Arnade has also photographed the pigeon keepers of New York, the people of Brownsville and East New York, the tricked-out bikes of New York, and much more, including the transgender sex workers of Jackson Heights, Queens. When we look to the Meatpacking District and wonder where did all those girls go -- they went here.

all photos by Chris Arnade

The following text is excerpted from an essay by Chris Arnade, from his flickr page:

At 4:00 am the 7 train over Roosevelt Avenue provides the rhythm for Jackson Heights, Queens. Each train spills out people from the late shift and fills with others going to the early shift.

The closing of the bars brings another rush: Drunken men to the sidewalks and hack cabs to the streets.

It is also the time the transsexuals start working, selling sex. They stand out: Tall, heavily made-up black and Hispanics dressed for show. They cluster about one intersection flirting with passing men and dodging the desperately drunk ones.

Their corner has two all-night bakeries where they rest. The young women working the bakeries know all of them; they have their drinks ready without the need to ask.

Jessica sits and sips her coffee. “Why 4:00 am? Because the men are so drunk they can kiss me and still pretend they are not gay.” Across from her is Claudia dabbing makeup on her face. “Hispanic men have to be all macho. Being gay is a no-no. This late, perhaps nobody will know, not their family. Even they can pretend.”

At the next table sit two men in dirty work-clothes eating plates of rice and meat.

None of the Johns say they are gay. “The men out here are in the closet or they don’t want to believe what they really like. They look for us to say they’re looking for a woman, but they know what it really is. There are more closeted gay people than we know.”

The transsexuals do not consider themselves gay. They are women who like men. “I am not gay. I am a woman. I just want what every other woman wants, a tall white handsome guy like you. Do me a favor, forget that camera and give me a big kiss, honey.”

They almost all come from very modest backgrounds and from places where homosexuality is not only shunned but a sin. They knew they were different early.

Desire, from Jamaica, knew when she was six. “My dad hated who I was. Jamaicans hate fags.” It took until the age of sixteen, when she went to jail and was happy for the attention of the other men that she was able to come out. “Guys started liking me in jail.”

Jessica from Puerto Rico had the same story. “I always knew I was different, from five. I did not want my penis. I wanted what the girls had. I came here because it’s better to be this way in New York than where I come from.”

Chris Arnade has since left New York City. He wrote an essay for The Awl about what he'll miss about Brooklyn. You can find his photos on Flickr.

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.