Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Gregoire Alessandrini

French fashion exec Gregoire Alessandrini has become a de facto chronicler of 1990s New York, when he was a film student in New York City and constantly toted around his camera. Having captured a seedier Times Square before the Giuliani-era cleanup in some evocative shots on his blog, New York in the 1990′s Photo Archives, Alessandrini also turned his lens on the Meatpacking District. Before the High Line, before Pastis and the Gansevoort hotel, before the designer boutiques and the high-end art galleries, there were simply… butchers and meat distributors. And lots of litter. And graffiti that blanketed warehouses, dotted with the occasional lowbrow nightclub.


Back to the `90s


One of the greatest aspects about maintaining this weblog for the last seven years has been connecting with people (readers, fellow bloggers, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, photographers, etc.) who share the same affinity I feel for New York City and what I would consider its vanishing (or, at the very least, transforming) character. Along the way, I've amassed a steady stable of like-minded archivists and nostalgic folks with keen memories, and it's really been re-affirming. Every time I'm convinced I'm simply typing away into an empty void, someone comes along to share their own pictures or recollections. At the risk of getting all wetly weepy, it's really been encouraging.

With my fellow bloggers -- folks like EV Grieve, Jeremiah Moss, Bowery Boogie, Brian K, Yukie from The SoHo Memory Project and beyond -- whenever one of us stumbles upon a new trove of vintage NYC pics or a new blog rife with heretofore unseen images of lost elements from the city, we shout about it from the highest rooftop. Today is one of those times.

A gent named Gregoire Alessandrini reached out to me yesterday, inspired by my recent post about The Gas Station. Gregoire maintains an amazing, photo-driven blog called NEW YORK CITY 1990's, and when I perused through it this morning, my jaw dropped open. It's spectacular.

I devote an inordinate amount of time here waxing rhapsodic about New York in the 1980s, a decade I spent being a student. But the 1990s were just as dynamic. Most of my own photographs date back to this period. But Gregoire's pictures really, really capture it. As I've said in various posts along the way, the 90's don't feel that long ago, but to look at these photographs, you'd barely recognize it as the same city today.

Within Gregoire's archives, you'll find images of long-vanished storefronts, bars, landmarks, street art and other elements of the time period -- from Billy's Topless on 6th Avenue to the Savoy in Hell's Kitchen to The Vault in the Meatpacking District and all points in between --- that just do not exist anymore.

I'm taking the liberty of repurposing one of Gregoire's shots above. I don't recall the exact address, but the building pictured looming in the background is one I actually worked in for a spell in the mid-90's. After tiring of having an army of sketchy freelancers troop in and out of his apartment on a daily basis, my old editor for The New York Review of Records (a sadly long-vanished music rag I fervently scribbled for in the 90s) began a frenetic relocation dance around Manhattan. Circa 1993 or so, this was its temporary base of operations.

As you can see in the photograph, the eastern-facing facade of the building was festooned with a massive, imaginative mural suggesting that a higher portion of the building had become detached and was dangling from a thread. I always loved that. I'm not even sure I could identify this building today, but suffice to say, the mural in question was painted over eons ago. When I saw Gregoire's photograph, I was blown out of my chair. You simply have no idea how long I have searched for an image that captured it.

Once again, go check out NEW YORK CITY 1990's now! Tell'em I sent'cha.

Lurking for Lurie

ADDENDUM: Well, here’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Yesterday, I posted the entry below about John Lurie that was admittedly pieced together with a fairly relaxed regard for substantial fact-finding. Basically, I forwarded on a bit of gossip and did only a cursory amount of actual research before posting my thoughts. That’s probably fine when you’re discussing something trivial, but in this instance, I was inadvertently partaking in a bit of what would probably best be described as character-assassination. John Lurie himself reached out to me to, quite rightly, take me to task for some of the information I’d passed on. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Lurie for this, and will learn from this experience moving forward. I have nothing but the greatest respect for that man, and had no business projecting the way I did. I do hope he understands, and I feel genuinely awful about this incident. I’ve also excised portions from my original post to make amends.

Thanks for reading, Alex


In the past couple of months, I've had this weird, recurring thing with John Lurie. I think it started back in September, when I tracked down the Criterion Collection edition of "Stranger Than Paradise," the viewing of which rekindled my curiosity about the man's legacy in the pantheon of New York City musicians. I knew he'd formed the so-called "fake jazz" ensemble Lounge Lizards during the nuclear winter of No Wave in the late `70s/early 80's (featuring Anton Fier of the Feelies on drums, Arto Lindsay of DNA on guitar, his brother Evan on keyboards and a gent named Steve Piccolo on bass), but what I credibly know about jazz -- fake or otherwise -- isn't much. I did know that Lurie seemed like an incredibly cool cat, and I enjoyed the snippets of music I'd heard by him in various films. I'd always loved the lulling "Bob the Bob," although that particular piece, as it turned out, was recorded by a completely different line-up from the afore-cited incarnation of the band.

LoungelizardsstIn any case, after that, I started searching again with half-an-eye for that debut Lounge Lizards disc. Again, while I'm normally not a big saxophone fan (maybe I'm just haunted by FEAR's scathing indictment of the instrument in its association with NYC), I felt it was music I should know about, given my fascination with all the fixtures around it.

In November, meanwhile, you may remember I sang the praises of the new photo blog I'd encountered called New York City 1990's: Photo Archives by Gregoire Allessandrini. If you've not checked it out, you really need to do so at once, as it's just an amazing trove of images from the era in question. But, while pouring over Gregoire's shots, I came across this excellent shot of posted flyers and bills on a wall in Hell's Kitchen, and sure enough -- there was Lurie's name once again. That's the shot in question at the top of this post, by the way. I hope Gregoire doesn't mind me using it. 

 See end of article on original site...


Wide Open Air on Union Square

When they razed the block that stood between East 14th and East 13th street between Broadway and 4th Avenue in the mid-90's, I was living on East 12th between University Place and Broadway. Strangely, I can only barely remember what the architecture looked like before that block came down. When it was all demolished, there was a giant swathe of open space on the southern tip of Union Square. I remember thinking how nice it would be if they just put down a simple square of grass, instead of the mammoth building they were planning to erect. I felt a similar sentiment last year, when they stealthily tore down the weathered academic structure on Astor Place that's now the looming, black Death Star building. I wasn't alone. For a couple of months, there was a tenuous stencil and sticker campaign that read: "Imagine a park here." Obviously, that fanciful notion never came to pass.

Just like over on Astor Place, progress on the Union Square site progressed with great immediacy. In seemingly no time at all, there was a brand new movie theater (or arena, as it was billed) and -- more importantly for me -- a brand, spankin' new Virgin Megastore. Tireless champion though I am of independent, mom'n'pop music shops, I did not lament Virgin's arrival. Though comparatively late in the day, the writing was not yet on the wall about the impending demise of the music industry as we know it. In any event, any physical, brick and mortar outlet that sells music is a good thing, as far as I was (and remain) concerned. I snapped the picture up top of it shortly after it opened.

About seventeen or so years later, the theater's still there, but the Virgin Megastore is now long gone (I penned a weepy paean to its demise here). Now there's a -- WAIT FOR IT -- bank branch where Virgin was initially perched.

In any case, why am I blathering about all this now? Well, if you're a regular reader here, you've heard me sing the praises of Gregoire Alessandrini's great photo blog, New York City 1990's before. Well, while re-perusing his site, I found these two amazing photos of the block in question after the initial structures had been razed. I thought I'd replicate them here for the purposes of illustrating this post (and I hope he doesn't mind, as usual).

This top one is basically the view looking south from Union Square Park. That corner is where the entrance to the Virgin Megastore was. Hard to picture now, I know.

Union Squareblog1

This shot is the block as viewed from 4th Avenue looking West. Now, this space is marked by the lobby of an expensive condominium and a frankly very pricey wine emporium.

Cheers to Gregoire as always. Be sure to check out his site at once!!

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