Friday, August 4, 2017

NEW ! NYC 1990's "PHOTO OF THE MONTH" / AUGUST 2017

Each month, the New York in the 1990's Photo Archives invite you to discover stories and facts 
about a specific image from the collection
Where it was taken, on what occasion, why, thoughts about a specific area, 
event or moment of New York City life in the 1990's.

All your comments, questions, thoughts and 90's memories are welcome!
Please share!


AUGUST 2017

Billy's Topless on a cold winter night  © G.Alessandrini


"BILLY'S TOPLESS"

Billy's Topless, an institution ?  It sure was according to many New Yorkers and even according to Wikepedia ! Here's what the online free encyclopedia says about this vanished classic New York spot from an other era...

 

"Billy's Topless was a topless bar in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Operating from 1970 to 2001, it was considered for many years an informal city landmark.

The bar

It was located at 727 Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) and 24th Street (...) a small topless bar, more closely resembling a neighborhood bar than a strip club in both size and atmosphere; one writer described it as "no more illicit than if we had decided to go get hamburgers". Considered an informal landmark of the area,[3] Billy's contained only a small bar and a stage surrounded by about 24 chairs. The bar offered a modest free buffet, perhaps a single dish such as  over a can of Sterno. Also, unusual for such an establishment, Billy's had no cover charge.

The original owner of Billy's Topless was Bill Pell. After Pell died in the 1970s, Billy's was acquired by Milton Anthony, the owner of the AP Variety Talent Agency, an agency that had provided "topless go-go dancers" to numerous strip clubs in New York City since 1966.

An older anachronism in the New York adult entertainment scene, Anthony (born c. 1920) claimed he held to certain principles with his agency and in his club: no breast implants, no lap dancing, and no touching the dancers.As such, Billy's stood in contrast to expensive adult clubs such as Scores that tended toward dancers with a more stereotypically "Barbie doll" look and allowed direct contact with the patrons. Detractors of Billy's occasionally lower-end charm called it "seedy". Supporters tended to think of it as "old fashioned",and the kind of establishment that catered to "real people".The Village Voice writer Robert Sietsema called it an "old fashioned topless bar ... where the old grit still remains."

Closing

Billy's Topless suffered, along with much of the city's adult entertainment industry, under the quality of life directives of then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, who called New York's adult establishments a threat to public "health, safety and welfare" and a "corrosive institution".[6] In his second term he aggressively targeted New York's sex industry for "reconstruction". Laws were enacted forbidding adult establishments from operating within 500 feet of a residence, school or place of worship, and the NYPD conducted raids on businesses that did not comply with the new ordinance.

The laws were initially drafted to target the sex businesses in the Times Square area, but small, local establishments like Billy's were affected as well. The Chelsea community board confirmed that there had never been a citizen complaint against either Billy's Topless or its customers.[12]

In 1998, to avoid being closed down by the first wave of new zoning laws, Billy's took "topless" out of the bar's name, and the place was rechristened "Billy Stopless" by removing the apostrophe from the sign (see image at right), although it was referred to in print as "Billy's Stopless" and dancers had to wear bikini tops. In the mid-1990s, dancers at Billy's made $50 plus tips, which typically amounted to about $500 per night. After the change in policy to avoid the zoning laws, the bikini-clad dancers could expect to take home about $200. Patrons were quoted as saying, "You can see this on the beach for free. This is no fun." Billy's Topless closed for good in 2001, and the space was converted into a bagel shop."

 

Please also see: 

Manhattan's Wild West Side and Night and the City


JULY 2017

La Flor de Broadway (Broadway and 137th street) © G. Alessandrini

 

"HARLEM CAR FIRE"


I don’t think that I will ever forget this 1994 spring day in Harlem, when this photograph was taken.

At the time, I used to live on Amsterdam avenue (at 138th street) and one of my favorite joint for breakfast and coffee was « La Flor de Broadway » on 137th street. A Dominican spot where older folks would mix with youngsters from the neighborhood to enjoy their unequaled cafe con leche and tostadas.

As I was ordering food, some kind of rumble came from the street and all of the patrons stepped out to see what was going on.

A group of hoodies had stopped a car on the corner of 137th street and Broadway and they started to smash its windshield with a baseball bat. As one of the assaillant was pulling the driver out of his car, another one started pouring gasoline inside through the broken window.

A match was stricken and the car caught on fire. The violence of the scene and the idea that the car could explode on the street corner distracted me from snapping a picture. Being a neighborhood resident, I was also wary of being noticed taking pictures by the thugs…but when the firemen showed up, here I was, snapping with my good old Nikon!   



JUNE 2017

Malcom X doll (Black leaders series by Olmec Toys)

"MALCOM X giving a speech on an East Village roof"

 

« Founded in 1985 by Yla Eason, Olmec Toys, Inc. was the largest minority-owned toy company in the United States. It also had the industry's largest selection of black and Hispanic toys. By 1995 the product line extended to a variety of boy action figures, toys and dolls that included African-American, Hispanic andAsian baby dolls, toddler dolls and fashion dolls. Olmec coined the phrase "ethnically correct," referring to the doll's appropriate color as well as its sculpted facial features to accurately represent each doll's ethnicity. In 1994 Olmec had its product line in many major retail stores throughout the country, but it went bankrupt within several years. »

Their most famous dolls were Sun-Man, an African-American super-hero and (Kente Fun) Imani, a cute African princess. But in the early 90’s, I got in touch with the Olmec Toys press office to write about a new series of dolls of African American Leaders they just had launched.

I then had the chance to receive a Malcom X doll that I photographed on my East Village roof on 12th street for a french magazine. 

A few years later, because of money problems, I had to part with it, selling it for almost nothing at the Loves Saves the Day store on 2nd avenue. At the time, I already knew that I shouldn’t sell it but I really didn’t have the choice. The marshall would soon come knocking at the door !

For years, I tried to find an oportunity to buy back this Malcom X doll. I thought it would never happen until I saw one on ebay that I was able to get.

Please also see:  Celebrities of 1990's New York


MAY 2017

Show World and the Big Top Lounge (8th ave. ) 1995 © G. Alessandrini / www.nyc90s.com

"Show World"(1995)


As reported by my fellow blogger Jeremiah Moss on his great site « Vanishing NewYork », Richard Basciano, « the Porn King of Times Square », owner of numerous  X-rated stores and theaters in the 42nd street area has passed away on May 1st. Once the "biggest sex related entrepreneur in the city" according to William H. Daly, director of the Mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement, in a 1995 NewYork Times article, he was the first one to introduce VCR’s in adults establishments, followed by booths with live girls and live sex acts on stage.

His most famous establishment was Show World on 8th avenue, which survived the mid-90’s Giuliani’s zoning laws (aimed to clean up the area of all the porn shops) and is still miraculously (very partially) open in today’s disneyfied 42nd street. Anyone who once passed the door of this sex emporium in its heydays never forgot the strange experience it was.

A scary yet fascinating atmosphere, perfectly described by Sheila McLear in The last of the Live Nude girls, her memoir about the final days of the live girls fantasy booths. 



An other view of the front entrance of Show World on 8th avenue


The « Big Top Lounge » with its live shows and its sleazy girls on the second floor is no longer there and was leased to a Broadway theater company as Basciano was still living in the higher floors of the building. The live girls booths had also disappeared in 1998, as well as the peep show cabins with open windows where unknown hands were flashing dollar bills to get a quick touch and grab of the girls on the circular stage.   

As Jeremiah reminds us in its post, only one part of the original Show World still exists, with its (discreet) entrance on 42nd street, still featuring porn videos and gadgets as well as its basement filled with crossword puzzle books !


An orginal "octogonal" coin from the Show World peep show booths

Basciano was a real New York personality, liked by his employees but unsurprisingly suspected of having direct links to the Italian mob. While he tried to fight the transformation of Times Square and the Giuliani decision to chase the sex businesses out of the district, the value of his properties kept growing, making him more rich than he ever was. He ended up selling most of his properties to real estate developers who created the new 42nd street in the late 1990’s.

For those who want to get a slight taste of the neighborhoods gloriously seedy past, it’s time to check out the remains of Show World before it disappears forever. Most likely to be replaced by a new tall glass building. Just like what happened a few doors down the block, when the old Ideal Theater that housed the Playpen was completely razed.


Please also see other images of Show World, The Playpen and the 42nd street area in the 1990's: HERE


APRIL 2017

"Love Saves The Day"

This picture was taken in the mid-1990’s and it shows the sign posted on the side of the door of the iconic East Village store « Love Saves The Day ».
Love Saves The Day, initials LSD, like the Beatles « Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds »?
Most likely, since the store was first open around the time were the mythical Fab Four record came out. It finally closed in 2008 after 40 years. 

It is sad to think that the building where the store was located (121 Second avenue) is no longer there after the major gas explosion which happened in 2015, as well as the one next to it where Belgian fries joint « pommes-frites » had opened in the 90’s.
Today, there’s nothing left but an empty lot soon to be sold to hungry promoters.

Love Saves the Day was definitely an East Village landmark. A « bric à brac » shop selling all types of toys for grown ups, gadgets, novelties and funky costumes. Walking in this store was like stepping in a psychedelic shrine. 

The picture of this sign outside the store is a reminder of the strange and mean manners of the people working there. It was really rare to be welcome with a smile and you often felt like you were bothering them when browsing. Their store was great fun but they were not. Kids were obviously not welcome (since they were probably going crazy when discovering the merchandise sold in the store) and all these warnings and interdictions outside gave you an idea of what to expect inside.
Nevertheless, it was a great sign that didn’t go unnoticed and was mentioned in a New York Times article about the final days of this store. 

Please also see:


MARCH 2017


Back to the Meat Market

Among my old black and white negatives, I recently found this forgotten picture which was not featured in my "Meat Market post". It once again amazed me to see how much and how quickly this area has changed. This old sign for the Gachot Inc meat company on the corner of East 14th street was photographed less than 25 years ago (as well as those of Atlas or Walmir Meat on this site) and this image will most likely seem surreal to anyone discovering this neighborhood today for the first time. 
I guess I shouldn't call it the "Meat Market" anymore since the area's gentrification came with a new name: the "MePa" for "Meat Packing District". 
A name that probably makes sense in this new cleaned up New York and since most of the wholesale meat sellers actually moved out of the area as the highline became one of the major tourist attractions in Manhattan, with its high end stores and flashy restaurants (as well as the gigantic concrete block named the Standard Hotel).
An area which also used to be a wonderful location for photographers or film students like me seeking great cinematic New York moods. Two of my early films feature scenes shot in these streets in the early morning. The VHS tapes and 16mm roll of film are now at the lab and I can't wait to see this footage and to share it with you...

Please also see : 

FEBRUARY 2017

 NYC kids "riding the bus" 

This picture was taken in the spring of 1993 on the north west corner of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. 
This image from my collection of NY in the 1990's pictures was widely commented and is definitly something you would see in New York at the time, especially in upper Manhattan. A pretty risky (yet economical) way to ride only made possible by the way the GMC RTS buses were built. You could rest your feet on the bumper while holding on to the back with the obvious risk of burning your fingers (or falling). At the time, some Manhattan bus lines were still featuring the old GM "fishbowl windshield" buses with their 60's silhouette and were progressively replaced by these (please see Harlem 101 bus ride below filmed aboard one of these). 
To me this image also gives an certain idea of the carefree spirit of the early 90's, especially in the East Village were you often felt that everything was permited !   

Please also see: 
New Yorkers and street scenes (Part 1)
and Harlem "101" Bus ride in 1993 
 

JANUARY 2017


VAZAC HALL or « 7B »


Vazac’s is one of the first bars where I started hanging out when I moved in New York in the early 90’s. A great neighborhood joint with its horseshoe shaped bar, its jukebox and its pinball machine. Cool and relaxed in the afternoon and crowded and fun at night. A real NY dive bar with a great atmosphere and a classic look which inspired a few film makers. Some of you will remember Paul Newman at Vazac’s in The Verdict or some scenes from The Godfather 2 and Crocodile Dundee ! Also known as 7B, located where the virtual frontier of Alphabet City’s meanest streets used to be, Vazac’s is an iconic spot of the East Village. Let’s hope it will survive the real estate boom and New York’s gentrification !
 
Please also see : 

 

DECEMBER 2016


It is now East Houston Street’s turn to go through a spectacular transformation with new condos and glass towers sprouting all along its sidewalks, from Broadway all the way to the Manhattan Bridge. The upcoming "Essex Crossings" will further the massive clean up and never ending gentrification of the Bowery with more clothing stores, sports clubs, hip hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars. 
The old gas stations are now all gone and the last iconic Mom and Pop’s stores of the area are vanishing,


In the early 1990’s, this portion of Houston street was the virtual frontier between the already changing/gentrifying East Village and the still pretty gritty lower east side. Artists and pre-hipsters were living in storefronts and a few bars were starting to open with success but you still had to know where you were going to avoid any unpleasant encounters.


One of East Houston’s treats was the short stretch where local graffiti artist Chico (famous in the East Village and LES for his RIP and store murals) had taken over the vacant buildings walls. Street and RIP portraits, Chico’s style, of celebrities as diverse as Tupac Shakur, Mike Tyson (« If you can’t beat them, bite them » after his memorable fight against E. Holyfield!), Lady Di or Joe Camel, the long gone cartoonish character with his « camel » cool and flair.


This excerpt of the beginning of Richard Price’s great novel Lush Life, perfectly depicts driving around Clinton, Delancey and Eldridge street, enumerating the newly opened nightspots, the local businesses and historical buildings and of course Chico’s murals in the mid-nineties:
« Iglesia, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner.  Bling Shop, barbershop, car service, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People’s Park, corner. Tyson Mural, Celia Cruz Mural, Lady Di mural, corner ».


December’s photo of the month is Chico’s tribute to rap artist Tupac Shakur. It was painted only a few days after the rapper’s death and it's one of the most sought after images on my site. Today, I am happy to be able to share with you a few shots of this iconic (and now gone) New York City mural.


Please also see many other murals photographs by Chico and other East Village and Lower East side graffiti artists in the 90’s


     
 OCTOBER 2016
The Lost Diner (Terminal Diner) 1995




I recently learned that the Empire diner in Chelsea will be back in business soon. I guess this is great news for all those (like myself) who saw the slow disapearance of all of Manhattan's classic diners. Before it closed, the Empire had become an expensive restaurant, a bit far from the American diner's tradition. I bet that it will now be a luxury and/or gourmet restaurant catering to Chelsea's hip crowd...but at least it still exists and its owners have obviously understood the value of such a place as a real New York landmark.
In the mid-90's, there were a few diners left in Manhattan, trying to survive in a city that had already started to change.
The Jones diner on Lafayette actually showed an amazing resistance to the transformation of this very trendy area. It was small and greasy but a real fixture of NoHo area when Lafayette street was still a kind of frontier between the already super-gentrified Soho and the still kind of gritty (but already changing) East Village. A bit more west was another New Yorkers favorite: The Moondance with its poetic name and its moon crest spinning night and day above the entrance door. A diner that was dismantled to be rebuilt in Providence, Rhode Isalnd, but it finally closed in 2012.
But it's probably along the West side that one could find some of the prettiest exemples of this classic architecture. The Cheyenne was definitly a classic New York place you could find in touristic guides and the untouched Market Diner (were Sinatra used to meet with his mafia friends in the good old times), was hosting cool parties at night. The Market Diner is actually one of the latest casualties of the current real estate frenzy in New York. It was recently destroyed and will be replaced by guess what ? A big glass tower !
Some other diners, smaller and not as spectacular located closer to the West side highway had been forgotten but were still standing. The River Diner with its deep blue store front and of course the Lost Diner that I had the chance to discover while exploring the area. It's obvioulsly its real classic look that caught my attention and of course its wonderful name ! I thought that it could be perfect as a location for a David Lynch film. A name that was fairly recent at the time since a new team had taken it over and was trying to give back its former deco glory. Originaly named The Terminal Diner, it was finaly totaly abandoned in 2006 and slowly became a ruin.
As I have written in my post dedicated to New York's diners, I shot a lot of images of this diner as well as of all the others for an article (which was not published) for french magazine Telerama. Unfortunately these images were never returned to me by its editor Pierre Murat. I was fortunate enough to find a second choice in my archives in order to keep a trace of these old diners and I am happy to able to share these photographs with you today.
 

SEPTEMBER 2016
Indian Larry, Alphabet City, Winter 1996


A little bit of fresh air for the last days of a hot summer !

Winter 1996 is remembered for its incredible blizzard and snowstorm, which literally paralyzed Manhattan for a few days. A wonderful opportunity for photographers to walk around the city to capture instants where everything feels still and quiet in the bright white wonderland. 
Living in the East Village at the time (12th/Ave.A), I went for a stroll this early Sunday morning in Alphabet City and the Lower East Side to witness a total very different vibe of the whole area 
Bright light and sky, unusual silence, some skiers in the middle of the empty streets. Everything buried under the thick snow.

Somewhere near Avenue C, my attention was caught by the roaring sound of motorcycles. At the end of the block, some tough looking guys where riding bikes in the snow, laughing and acting crazy, drinking and smoking. One of them skidding on the snow with a dirt bike, only wearing a pair of shorts despite the cold and showing tattoos on his chest and arms. I snapped a couple of pictures.

It's only a couple of years ago when the internet site EV Grieve wrote a nice review of my blog with a selection of my pictures that I had the surprise to learn who was that crazy looking dude!
The one and only Indian Larry, bike builder, stunt rider and biker, notorious Alphabet city resident and a TV show host. I learned that he died in 2004 from injuries due to an accident while performing in a bike show.
He was known in the neighborhood as Indian Larry because of the chopped Indian motorcycle he used to ride in the streets of New York City.

RIP Indian Larry! It was great crossing your path on that 90's winter day!


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1 comment:

  1. https://www.flickr.com/photos/leolondon/2115365436

    must have been the same weekend!

    ReplyDelete