A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979

In 1979, Peter van Wijk was a radio officer in the Dutch Merchant Marine. That summer, his ship docked a couple of times in New York Harbor, giving him the opportunity to visit Manhattan and wander the streets.

Like all curious newcomers to New York, he brought a camera along with him, and he took photos of iconic tourist spots like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and Times Square.

But he also captured the seemingly ordinary street scenes that offer fleeting glimpses into the heart and soul of the late 1970s city: shoppers going in and out of mom and pop stores, musicians and vendors drawing crowds, and taxis navigating traffic-choked streets.

Thirty-eight years later, van Wijk decided to share his previously unseen images, and Ephemeral New York has the wonderful privilege of posting them.

It goes without saying that the Gotham of 1979 was a vastly different place. These days, everyone wants to live in New York; in the 1970s, residents couldn’t get out fast enough. The city’s population dipped an incredible 10 percent from 1970 to 1980, to just over 7 million.

Ed Koch had been elected mayor a year earlier on a law and order platform. The city’s nickname, Fear City (or more ironically, Fun City), was a nod to rising crime and rampant graffiti.

Cuts in city services left garbage on the streets, and shells of buildings sat empty in the South Bronx, East Village, and the Lower East Side, among other neighborhoods.

You wouldn’t know any of this from looking at these photos. The city in this collection of images is animated and colorful, with life and energy.

It’s a New York that feels almost small scale compared to the contemporary city—more a collection of neighborhoods rather than an island of cookie-cutter stores and development.

The gritty, street-smart New York of the 1970s is often hailed as a more authentic version of the city. How true that is has been up for debate lately.

These photos don’t take a side. They’re simply fascinating portals into the past that bring memories back of the city in the late 1970s, before crowded subways, a critical mass of Starbucks and Duane Reade stores, and an army of residents wearing white earbuds as they go about their day.

[All photos:copyright Peter van Wijk]

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48 Responses to “A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979”

  1. Ty Says:

    Enjoyed these pics. I drove a taxi in the 70s and had a photography bug but never took pictures because I thought “Who’d want to see this?” Very provincial.

    There was an unwritten rule that if someone wanted to go to what is now Soho after dark you dropped them on better lit Sixth Ave or Broadway and had them walk the rest of the way.

    I understand people’s longing for authenticity. It is still there but moved to the buroughs. You have to go out and look.

    It’s kind of amusing that white middle-class young people all huddle together in places like Williamsburg just like every other immigrant group has for the past 400 years. I make fun but they brought new writers, artists, chefs, beer makers and just more humanity that makes our streets so interesting.

  2. pneshamkin Says:

    The picture of Shopsins on Bedford Street brought back memories of the best roast beef sandwich in New York!

  3. Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

    As someone who grew up in NY in the 50s and 60s, enjoyed it in the 70s, and saw it become tamed by corporate developers in the 80s, 90s and aughts, allow me to weigh in.

    The 70s were a time of extraordinary creativity and dynamism in NY in the arts and culture. At the same time it was a time of alienation and white flight from the boroughs, particularly by ethnic whites who felt displaced by minorities. Many of them moved along with their, frankly racist, resentments to Staten Island, Long Island, Rockland County, and what New Yorkers refer to as “upstate.”

    Corporations, particularly banks, intentionally withdrew and withheld funds, including tax dollars due to the CIty. They attempted to wrest control of the City’s government through the City Budget Commission and various ‘foundations’ controlled by some of New York’s wealthiest families.

    Another big change came to the city: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch took over the Post and pitched the same fascist, racist poison that it continues to drip today. He also started a tabloid war, which turned racist on a dime. Those who remember the summer of “Son of Sam” will recall that David Berkowitz appeared as likely black, or Latino in origin in the ‘artist’s renderings’ that bedecked our streets and daily tabloids. The black outs and riots of the Summer of ’77 didn’t particularly help quell the hysteria, either.

    In sum, Murdoch, conservative historians, reactionaries like Rudy Giuliani who many consider an inveterate racist, have succeeded in creating a false and synthetic memory of NYC in the 70s, when it originated hip hop culture and graffiti art, which have informed art and culture movements now world wide. I think global warming is more of a threat to our future as a species than rap music.

    Keep up your valuable work! Great Photos!

    • reportersexposed Says:

      Oh wow, another one who overuses the word “racist” to the point of hysteria and hilarity. I wonder what kind of neighborhood YOU live in? If it’s a nice “white” neighborhood, when are you moving to Brownsville or East New York to spread diversity? Never? That’s what I figured. You must be a racist.

      • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

        Always telling someone launches a flame based on a factually uninformed attack. Angry a little? Since I used the term ‘racist’ once in my six paragraphs and specifically to describe a what many consider former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani to be, I’d say your response is offensive and offensive on top of being ad hominem. As a lifelong New Yorker, I found myself priced out of the City a decade ago. But, the last neighborhood I was in was Chelsea, back when it was a racially and culturally diverse place. I worked in neighborhood and environmental restoration for over two decades before that, and as an artist as well. “Oh wow”, I wonder what neighborhood you live in to inhabit the sorry and half-baked state of your winging misdirected hostility?

    • Kate Says:

      Mr. Phillips, While I don’t agree with reporters exposed, I count the word “racist” 3 times in your post. Just sayin’.

      • Zoe Says:

        To Kate:

        “Just sayin”

        Do you realise how petty & mean-spirited you appear w/ your comment? What have you brought to the table? …Whilst the commenter you are criticising gave an interesting slice of life perspective regarding NYC which is completely relevant to Ephemeral’s post.

      • Kate Says:

        Zoe, Petty, really? JP attacked the poster who commented on his excessive cry of racism. Judging by JP’s defensive response reporterexosed struck a nerve. I was simply pointing out the inaccuracies in his rant. If a person goes on the attack, they should at least be correct in their assertions.

      • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

        To Zoe and Kate, I enjoy and respect both your comments on their spirit and merits. Kate was correct. When I went back and re-read my comment, I did notice that it mentions racism in NY and in three separate contexts.

        All of these, I would maintain are relevant within the context of the times and events this article focuses upon. And I find it curious that they excited the attack that neglected to address context or challenge their factual accuracy, beyond saying in troll fashion that he found it ‘hilarious.’

        With respect to racism and racists taking refuge in Staten Island historically; that borough’s historic personality as a reactionary and authoritarian borough go back to its origin as Richmond and the Revolutionary era.

        In the 20th Century, Staten Island was the center of NYC based Ku Klux Klan activity as impressively recounted in Kenneth T. Jackson’s “The Klan in the City, 1915-1930.” (Long Island and Garden City, was the other epicenter) (Ken was the first compiler and editor for the “Encyclopedia of New York, and still lectures at Columbia).

        This is a century before the killing of Eric Garner for selling “loosies.”

        Nor was Staten Island purely anti-black. It was known as the Anti-Semetic Borough as well. There are hundreds of chilling stories to recount and clarify some of which the press continues to misrepresent and falsify to this day, see the Daily News ‘morgue piece’ on the Harry Hoffman murder for a classic example of this delivered recently in 2012 decades after the acquittal of Harry Hoffman. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/justice-story-movie-projectionist-accused-murder-reel-life-whodunnit-lefty-man-article-1.1048175).

        A little research indicates that the prosecutor, Fasch, was a rabid Anti-Semite who was seeking to cover up for a local Republican real estate developer (who may have murdered his lover because she claimed to be pregnant and wanted to be paid). A bit more research indicates that Hoffman (who was never linked to the victim by any material evidence except the caliber of bullet whose ballistics were faked by NYPD) was framed, in part because he was a movie projectionist. They were the one stage union the theater industry had never been able to ‘break.’ They were aligned with the Communist Party.

        The Daily News piece is a poorly researched example of a journalism piece that depended upon one very flawed book and the word of NYPD for its sourcing. (It was, in short, the kind of story that someone calling themselves “reportersexposed” should have made constructive use of their time going after.)

        The tragedy of the Eric Garner killing beyond the sad taking of his life, was that it was tried in Staten Island. The case begged for a change of venue from a borough where any jury selected would find itself one step removed from the police. The DA and the CIty Government evidently agreed based on their ready settlement.

        Then there was a second ‘racism’ with reference to the vicious and proselytizing rhetoric that Murdoch’s NY Post inflamed the white ethnic tensions in NY in the ’70s that had hardened during the busing and UFT school district fights decentralization v. Board of Ed. For excellent accounts of these, see White Ethnic New York, by Joshua M. Zeitz, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2007.

        Sure there was crime in the 1970s. We all remember the Central Park Five and Donald Trump taking out a full page ad (in the NY Daily News) calling for their execution. . . (https://twitter.com/michaelhayes/status/784429690345889792/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Ftheweek.com%2Farticles%2F653840%2Fdonald-trumps-30year-crusade-against-central-park-five)(http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/donald-trump-and-the-central-park-five).

        Though as the recent election of Trump demonstrated, false memory and false history continues to be a prevalent weakness prevalent in many quarters. So- the term of “racism” did come up thinking about the branding that framed such false histories as many memories of ‘Son of Sam’ and the ‘chaos’ that Giuliani falsely claims he ‘rescued’ NY from.

        And then there was the third mention of racism in my comment, which was directly in reference to the repulsive ascension of Rudy Giuliani using the most divisive innuendo and claims (centering on Crown Heights and attempting to foment racial hatred and conflict) until the recent Trump campaign that he also helped ‘guide.’

        Which finally brings me to the high principles and issues that apparently formed the concern of “thereportersexposed.”

        This is a blog that appears to have been launched 2015 and then dropped, that reads like nothing so much as a vendetta site with a beef directed at a former editor or employer. His claims may entirely have merit, but they don’t ring with the gleam of making a better world exactly.

        Do I wish to be the recipient of residual hostilities that want to take issue with the words I use or the opinions I might express based upon wholly unsubstantiated ad-hominem attacks launched by the ‘angry author?’ Absolutely not. I will engage that type of attack and point out it’s lack of merit. That is the “nerve” they struck, Kate.

        I don’t like trolls and bullies. And it might be that the author of ‘reportersexposed’ is just a decent guy having a bad day. His words failed to convey that impression, however. There is a difference between accusation, assumption, and fact. These are distinctions that I believe it is the duty of historian to be doubly sensitive to and call out when they occur. And there is a vast difference between argument and research with substance or citation. None of these qualities were particularly discernible in his comment. If they’re motivated by some affection or allegiance its author might feel for Giuliani or his prejudiced opinions, he should just be honest and come forth with them. It’s not as if we don’t have to suffer similar offense from the official Tweeter in Chief.

        But, I will gladly concede that I used the word “racism” three times with justified context and meaning, and thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and provide your thoughtful response. I will readily concede that I view racism as one of the great stains on America, and rife with conflicts, complexities, and ambivalence that New York history has yet to come fully to grips with.

        Did I think that “Reportersexposed” in any way illuminated or informed this conversation or this thread of otherwise interesting comment? No. I found it a gratuitous and at best grouchy attack that I’m giving the benefit of the doubt as not having a more malicious intention.

        And thanks Kate for coming to my defense, but I don’t think the response was mean spirited, just assuming that I was taking offense while demanding clarification as to what I was taking offense to, which I hope I’ve obliged.

      • Zoe Says:

        To J.W. Phillips

        It was not “Kate” who came to your “defense” — which you just wrote. That gives the impression that it is I who wrote the negative comment correcting you — when that was “Kate”.

        I was not following that thread or argument. I was speaking generally to her comment in my inbox which was extremely petty. As was another negative comment on Ephemeral’s blog today — attacking me — which brought nothing to the table of a historical or anecdotal nature except to police the thread in an extremely rude & judgmental way.

        If this is a new norm I’m not going to look forward to Ephemeral’s posts & people’s comments in my inbox. Which would be sad. I find it astonishing when people say whatever comes in their mind in a blog thread — without any empathy — when they would never say the same thing as a guest at dinner etc. It’s possible to just scroll past a comment as one would talk to another person at a party etc. vs. critiquing them over unimportant matters or attacking their speaking style etc.

    • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

      Thank you Zoe. One of the drags of long thread is they can tangle. I wanted to clarify to “Kate” and also thank you. Best. JwP.

  4. Peter Bennett Says:

    Leave it to a tourist to capture the everyday life we all took for granted and now relish as halcyon days.

  5. pontifikator Says:

    As a native New Yorker who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, THIS is the NY I loved and remember. I lived in SoHo, where many of these photos were taken (downtown, Canal St, etc.) and would not have moved for anything. I miss that New York and those New Yorkers.

  6. FoxyVil Says:

    I first lived in NYC in the 1960s, visited frequently over the 1970s, then went back in the 1980s and stayed until the 1990s. Few friends seem to grasp why I prefer the earlier years to the more recent ones, and certainly the present. Manhattan in particular–and I was always able to live there, which I greatly doubt I’d be able to now–hadn’t become the inhuman and I humane pastiche it is. It retained a sense of community, its history remained inscribed in its urban topography, and its population was diversified, not a corporate enclave for the rich. Some have pointed out to me how dire many areas were and how urban renewal was beneficial for the city. While certainly there was blight, I’m not persuaded that the changes were for the better or that whatever benefits change brought were redistributed throughout the structure to reach all classes and constituencies.

    And, yes, Giuliani is among the worst and, as I point out to all who may listen, anyone who has lived in NYCover the last several decades could have told the rest of the world that there are two public figures who have risen to undeserved “stature” from beginnings in the city: the second one is the current squatter in the White House.

    Thank you for your efforts in keeping our collective historical memory alive.

  7. peopleplaceswords Says:

    Note the City Walls projects {in vintage condition} adorning several of the buildings, now faded and defaced. Bring them back!

  8. rkny Says:

    To the left of the alarm shop on Canal, in the empty lot, there used to be a tiny flea market on weekends. There was an older lady there who sold wristwatches. Pretty sure her name was Ellie. Eventually she moved indoors somehwere else on Canal. Anyone remember her/the market?

    • David Says:

      I arrived in NYC in the fall of 1980. I used to attend that flea market. I still have a small collection of chipped fiestaware plates that a vendor left on the sidewalk at the end of the day. Unable to sell them with their imperfections. I love those colorful plates. The roughness of NYC was exciting in its own way.

      I went to an old army navy store far down there on East Broadway on the edge of Chinatown run by a crabby lady in her 90s it seemed. Clothing packed so tight you couldn’t walk the aisles, much of it moth eaten because it had been piled there so long. She was always picking through the clothing and muttering to herself.

      So many rich memories….

      • Zoe Says:

        I think I remember that Army & Navy David (if it was the one near Canal Street). (Like you I came to the City in late 1980). I used to walk all the way from Hudson St. in Tribeca (where I worked for a clothing designer in her live/work loft… probably illegal) to my place on E.1rst rather than take the train. That whole area was so interesting then. I’m sure the muttering shopwoman you described had interesting stories about the City to tell.

        Regarding your much loved & long cherished Fiestaware: there were so many really beautiful things deliberately left on the street for people to take for themselves. Furniture & smaller items via the other two methods: Clean orderly filled boxes left out away from the trash & something left on top of the lid of those metal trashcans.

        The City would often look the other way & not apply their unscheduled pick-up/dumping fine to the landlords — because those things disappeared straight away. There was a pale pink sofa left between 2nd Ave & Avenue A on a single digit street for *ages* until it became basically outdoor furniture.

        When I left the City it became more trouble to donate things! (Vs. leaving them neatly sorted on the curb for people to take).

  9. Shaun Hervey Says:

    Thanks for sharing the photos

  10. Zoe Says:

    This is a great post Ephemeral! I concur w/ Peter’s comment here. As locals we take things for granted. My mum who is from Berlin would always photograph things that I thought were really ordinary. (It used to slightly embarrass me when she stood next to some random commercial fisherman to have her photo taken w/ him! Now I think it’s great).

    I wonder who that is on the stage in the middle of the street (who looks like Lou Reed from a distance).

    Re. empty streets & burned out buildings:

    I moved to the LES in December 1980 (after spending a lot of time in the City in the preceding 20 yrs; especially as my dad stayed in a lot of the uptown hotels near the Park & we lived in CT). First at 6th St. on 2nd Ave. & then on Irst St. & 2nd Ave.

    Parts of the LES *were* empty as stated here (& I mean the actual historic LES below 14th — not only the LES below Houston w/ the rest of the LES renamed ‘The East Village’ by Real Estate agents). Especially Alphabetland (AKA Alphabet City). It was desolate from A to D.

    All the downtown parks were empty. Nobody crossed through them. If you did you were basically risking your life. They were personal salons for drug dealers. So obviously their customers risked their lives.

    Almost all the tenements had their doors permanently open. That was another distinctive feature once past First Avenue. Supposedly this was because the drug dealers would break the locks on the doors to allow their customers constant access.

    The formerly grand apartment building on the corner of 1rst St. & 2nd Ave was still a burnt out shell then (1980-mid 80s). I lived right next door & no matter how much I cleaned everything would be covered w/ soot. Even clothing — as it would settle on the tops of the hangers. I had to scrub the windows w/ that feldspar & soap (Bon Ami); which was then advertised as one of its uses on the tin. (Apparently sooty windows were in cities all over the country — enough for them to market their product for that use. Now the container cautions about its use on windows for some reason… perhaps a change in formula).

    I was part of that whole downtown music/graffiti/art scene in the 80s. It is weird when people romanticise it — because it was a very dark scene. (People I knew taking drugs & bands/musicians celebrating anger & just overall godlessness). I was in it only by accident because my brother & then my husband were musicians & I was an artist/designer & so all my friends were in the arts.

    I couldn’t wait to get out of there & eventually moved to Park Slope & then Bay Ridge & finally to the country outside the City. It was exciting & fun to be 20 to 29 on the LES. (Snowball fights w/ strangers on lower 2nd Ave.! Underground clubs that stayed open till 5am followed by breakfasts on no sleep at Kiev etc. Jean Michel & Al’s SAMO posters lining 2nd Ave. Breakdancing on the basketball court at the end of 1rst St. at Houston…). But it was not what people who weren’t there think it was.

    Another neighbourhood whose streets were always empty & desolate in a romantic way — as they caught the setting sun — was Hell’s Kitchen. For some reason some of the streets there were sandy sometimes. Winds? I always wondered about that. *Loved* that place & its sandy streets which glittered like diamonds bathed in afternoon amber sunlight.

    • Ty Says:

      I forgot about Kiev where you could get challah bread and borsht at four in the morning served by the rudest servers on the planet.

      I lived in Chelsea which was considered dangerous. We’d sometimes see Lou Reed riding uptown on a clunky old bike from the 50s.

      Eighth Avenue was a haven for Cuban exiles. It sported two dimly lit wooden floored mom and pop cigar stores where they rolled the tobacco in the window.

      This stretch of Eighth Avenue attracted Cuban Chinese who had run from Communist China in 49 then from communist Cuba in 59. Result? Comidas Chinas Y Latinas. Pork fried rice and plantanos

      I liked to go out to the docks early in the morning to get some air. The walk down Gansvoort Street meant stepping around ice and entrails the meatpackers pushed into the street. Animal carcasses hanging on hooks just inside. The packers day ended about 8am. They would come out in their blood stained smocks to have smoke.

      Their were several murders in the bars on that stretch. One guy, stabbed in the chest, early in the morning, died right on my corner and no one noticed for a couple of hours.

      I was priced out and moved to the Bronx in 2010. The Chase Banks and Starbucks occupy those places. The two story 1830s wooden houses where the Cubans rolled their cigars were torn down and replaced with a black glass box.

      I accept the change as inevitable and certainly like the safety. Regular murders are just not acceptable. There is no “real” New York except the one that is now.

      If you are touring our city and are looking for some high impact wow try Main Street Flushing which out Chinatowns Chinatown or Sheepshead Bay with the signs in Russian or Jackson Heights and Elmhurst with women shopping in those beautiful saris and the men in jodhpuris. It cracks me up how the Muslim women shove a phone into the habibs and talk hands free. Or further out on Hillside where the turbaned Sikhs shop at Patel Brothers sometimes along side Punjabi Muslims, people who have been at war for decades.

      I must stop this ramble but these are the good old days.

      • Zoe Says:

        To Ty:

        Ramble on… by all means! (People can scroll past can’t they?).

        My former boyfriend worked at Kiev. Actually that is how we met! He was behind the counter. They used to toss things like bread from the kitchen to him & his young workmates at the counter. It was a ballet! Once he was shaking one of those plastic squeeze bottles of ketchup & the top came off — so a perfect line of it was painted across several people at the counter. He was *horrified* — as of course there was the requisite person furious at him… whilst the others were too much the jaded New Yorkers to care (because if that’s the least that happens to our clothes by the end of the day in that city!)… but I thought it was very funny. (Then again I was 20). He wore nail polish & eyeliner & changed his haircolour a few times & looked a bit Bowieish inc. black fedora — if that rings a bell for you (sandy brown shoulder length curls w/ ends dyed pink & then very short platinum blond hair).

        I worked in Chelsea when it was still the photo studio area. Big cheap lofts for fashion & advertising & art photographers. I had to clean up after a party once & the photographer/studio owner wanted me to throw out all this beautiful food. Great big wheels of expensive cheese & unopened boxes of gourmet crackers. I couldn’t throw it away. (My mother was starving in postwar occupied Berlin when only the Western Zone got the food drop — so we were raised never to throw out food). I asked him if I could take it home. He looked surprised (which amazed me as he knew I had this horrid job for almost zero pay) & I filled up one or two trash bags of food which my husband & I ate for a week!

        I remember the meatpacking district w/ meat being wheeled by on what almost looked like rolling racks for clothing. I don’t remember blood in the street like people talk about. (Then again I wasn’t there that often). I remember the very ancient early 19th c. houses/shops. (I don’t want to know if most of those are gone… so please nobody tell me…). I think the apartment of Frank Serpico in the film ‘Serpico’ was shot there (?).

        8th Avenue there was an Armenian & Greek neighbourhood in the 50s & 60s (& possibly 40s?). This was prior to Astoria. There were grocers & restaurants & nightclubs w/ of course what we (my dad is Lebanese) call ‘Oriental dance’. (This was a separate community from the Lebanese/Syrian one — but some of the musicians played w/ each other. Because how many Oud & Rabab & Ney players are there in a city).

        Also I read there was an Oriental dance school there for ages run by one of the local dancers. And — if I remember correctly — in the (first? only?) Dylan autobiography he wrote of a friend of his from Greenwich Village dancing there who wore black nail polish & told him to wear black kohol on his eyes for protection as she herself did. (Which is something we men/women/children/babies wore/wear for protection. This began because before sunglasses it kept people from blindness in just the way football players wear black under their eyes. As it keeps the sun from bouncing off the pale inner lid into the retina. And then our ancestors must have extrapolated that it protected them from Jinn — spirits believed to cause illness & blindness etc.).

        Some amazing musicians played there — some of whom are elderly & kept playing. A well known Armenian Oud player just passed in the last several years & was playing until then — including w/ younger musicians.

      • Zoe Says:

        PS to Ty:

        I was priced out of the City also. (There’s a see of NYC refugees in the CT city I live next to).

        That’s charming about the girls/women tucking their mobile phones into their hijab. I love that.

      • Zoe Says:

        PS to Ty:

        I meant ‘sea of refugees’… not ‘see’.

        Also the word you wanted is ‘hijab’.

        ‘Habibi’ (for males) or ‘Habibti’ (for females) means ‘Love’ (as does ‘Habib’… word you used). Such as said to a person as a term of affection. Like Liebchen or Liebling in German.

  11. Ty Says:

    Thanks Zoe, I wasn’t comfortable with the word I chose, now I know why. But you have to give me points for using a word that means love. I am only familiar with the German word because I had to practice a piano transcription of Franz Liszt’s Liebesträume over and over when I was very young. Parts still ring in head now.

    I used to wander around the Syrian and Lebanese shops on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I was so enthralled by the nuts and dates and figs and olives and stuffed grape leaves that I wanted to know that I was usually followed around by a suspicious shop owner sure that I was a shoplifter.

    I see Bob Dylan as the prototype hipster because 1) he came to New York from the Midwest 2) he appropriated the name of Dylan Thomas (a Chelsea resident though himself an immigrant from Wales) 3) when things got good for him he left. 4) he is, was, maybe a nihilist “Ain’t no use in trying to wonder why babe, doesn’t matter anyhow”

  12. Bill Jackson Says:

    Loved seeing this post. I first arrived as an art student at the end of the 70s. First “home” was the Brittany dorm at 10th & Broadway. Over the years lived on upper west side and Hell’s Kitchen. All these neighborhoods have changed dramatically. Photos are a potent reminder. Thanks for posting.

  13. Untapped Staff Reads: Stonewall Riots Revisited, Dutch Sailor’s Photos of a 1970’s New York | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979 [Ephemeral New York]: In 1979, Peter van Wijk was a radio officer in the Dutch Merchant Marine. That summer, his ship docked a couple of times in New York Harbor, giving him the opportunity to visit Manhattan and wander the streets. […]

  14. Ty Says:

    I still live in NYC but feel like I travelled a thousand miles from then.

    I had a friend who lived with his gay cousin in an otherwise uninhabitable tenement on East 2nd between B and C in 1982. In an attempt to make the building rentable the landlord closed the East Second Street entrance and created a new one from Houston because of the junkies. He built a cinder block wall with a big metal door on the Houston Street side and embedded broken glass in the top to prevent the entrance of said junkies.

    Every evening the junkies would form an orderly line down Avenue B towards Houston from an blocked up former grocery store using the very same cinder blocks. At the right moment someone would jimmy in one of the cinder blocks from the inside the store and begin to dispense. Everyone politely moving up the line.

    There was a fire house on East Second where they had strapped a huge longhorn on top of the ladder truck’s cabin. When leaving for the frequent fires they’d blast Flight of the Valkyries (“Apocalypse Now”) from the trucks loudspeaker no matter what time of the day or night. Upon return they’d blast Happy Trails to You, again, no matter what time of the day or night.

    I mention his gay cousin because he and I shared a love for history and he had the complete Durant histories crammed into that tiny apartment. A man with priorities. We’d do some coke and drink beers and sit in that cramped apartment and talk history. He died from pneumonia the next year and I couldn’t understand at the time how a healthy guy could die so fast by something so curable.

    My father’s New England family nearly starved in the 1920s and 1930s. The mills all closed and the farms were just rocks by that time and government stayed discreetly away until Roosevelt. Something conveniently left out of most US Histories. They ate weeds from the backyard. His mother would take donations of offal from the butcher. The memory he talked about most was when he got caught in the rain wearing his new 1932 “government” shoes and the dye leaked all over the church floor. I mention this only to put his reaction to the amount of food thrown away each day in NYC into context.

    He had a good job driving a subway train for the Hudson Tubes in the graveyard shift. We all ate and slept well from that job. But when he found out that a bakery on 11th Street just threw away bread each night as soon as he got off he went down there . Sure enough they threw away Italian round loaves with sausage baked inside. At easter they made a bread with hard boiled eggs baked inside. Shells and all. He waited and said what are you going to do with that? He offered up some money. A deal was done. Baked almost burnt is the way.

    A lot of memories from a few pics taken by a Dutchman.

    • Zoe Says:

      That was all very interesting Ty!

      Where in “New England”? A lot of “weeds” are edible wild plants (inc. those which people forage for now & are sold to expensive restaurants). Some of them are very nutritious. (In vitamin C etc.). But they don’t provide protein & fat & calories — which are necessary. People still would have known about which were edible then. An elderly man in Stratford CT told me he used to hunt squirrels there — w/ a gun of course — in the time you’re referring to. And luckily there was still the ability to fish & go oystering & clamming in New England. Also there was deer & duck hunting. Of course that wasn’t as beneficial to New Englanders in cities.

      Re. the selling of drugs below 14th St. then. Between 2nd & 1rst Aves (forgot which street… E.9th?) there was that storefront which sold weed from a little window inside. The police knew all those places were there then. (I’ve said enough! Either they were being benevolent as they had far more important things to attend to… or read the book ‘Serpico’ for the other possible explanation!).

      Now I have to look up that kind of Italian bread/pastry w/ the eggs! My husband who was born & raised in Sicily used to hit those small Italian bakeries (on First Ave or A — between houston & 8th Streets there were several) at around 4 to 5am & ask the bakers in Italian for the hot fresh bread as it came out of the oven. It was amazing & I used to love this ritual we had. They kept the door open a crack for the extreme heat (as these places were tiny) but w/ the gate closed for their safety. Those tiny Italian bakeries & the old Jewish owned haberdashery shops on 1rst Ave & Ave A below 14th (below 7th St. most of them) were still there in 1980 when I moved there — but were the first places to go in the 80s.

      • Ty Says:

        Zoe you are going to laugh but the “weeds” were watercress rutabaga dandelion greens and mustard greens. They made a wine from the the dandelion greens. I said it that way because he was so ashamed when he told us how good we have it now.

        I know my father hunted because he raised beagle hunting dogs to sell. His sister told me he missed on purpose because he couldn’t kill an animal. One time I asked him how he fought in WWIi he said squirrels don’t shoot back.

        They ate brains and tongue. I ate tongue but would never touch the brains.

        They were inland Yankees. No ocean. I’m the 11th generation. Not a dime made in 400 years.

        They did go to the New Hampsire shore when my grandfather was working to get fried clams and lobster. Poor people’s food.

        I grew up with mostly Sicilians who use food as a metaphor for everything including female and male anatomy. My father the old Yankee was perfectly content among them. Go figure.

        We called it Easter bread.

        The bakery was Veserio? on 11th Street. There was another in Jersey city he’d go to in Harbourside. Now just a cold glass office block.

      • Zoe Says:

        Ty — You don’t mean Veniero’s on 11th St. do you? “Veserio” rings a bell also. (The tiny bakeries I referred to had bread only. Venieros is the pastry shop & café). I’ll look into that traditional Easter bread. (My Sicilian born/raised husband never mentioned it. He was from Palermo though. It may not have been a food from the city).

        My mum used to send me out into the land (1.5 acres inc. wooded) surrounding our house in our CT Shore town to gather dandylion leaves & ‘onion grass’ but not due to money — only because Europeans (as she was) use them for salads (dandylion leaves) & soups etc. (‘onion grass’ AKA wild onion or wild chives etc.). None of my friends’ parents had them foraging before dinner!

        New Hampshire is a beautiful place! They did & still do have hunting there — so that would have helped during the depression for people in the country. (This all ties in to Ephemeral’s *turtle* post for where those NYC restaurants must have got there wild game inc. turtles).

        I get your story about not being able to kill. My grandfather bought some rabbits which lived in little rabbit houses in their back garden in greater Berlin during WWII: but he couldn’t kill them or watch them killed. My mom said a neighbour did it (away from my family’s sight).

        Your father sounds like a really interesting person who led an interesting life! Keep telling his stories: perhaps to the historical society for the NH town and/or city he & you are referring to. A lot of historical societies have oral history programs now (inc. recorded — first on tape & now video) which include the most mundane subjects (such as those we are discussing vs. politics etc.).

      • Ty Says:

        PS They were mill town workers in Uxbridge Massachusetts. Not quite urban not quite rural.

  15. nycitydude Says:

    This is how I remember my first few years here in NYC! In 1977 I came from Amsterdam as a young man, and I’m still a young man here! Great pics indeed!

  16. Ty Says:

    I have very warm childhood memories of watching cartoons with a second hand clunky Fiesta Ware bowl full of tomato soup in my lap.

    Manhattan had a highly organized distribution system of used goods. No cynical “trickle-down theory” but the real thing.

    “Rich people” ie: anyone with more money than us, would put out books, furniture, radios, TVs on the sidewalk comfortably knowing they would be gone by daybreak. People would take for themselves or to resell again.

    I collected books, kept some, and took the rest to Strand on Broadway and East 12th to cash in. I remember seeing a well-off looking woman buying an art book I know I had sold the week before.

    As mentioned, merchants on Canal would put out chipped merchandise for a fraction of the price. At closing they would just leave it there. If you risked being out on Canal Street at two in the morning you deserved it for free.

    A darker part of this system was dumpster diving. When someone died alone the cops would investigate, clean the dead person of their cash and valuables and then call the coroner. (They still do this.)

    Once the medical examiner cleared the cause of death of wrongdoing the landlord would hire a crew to clear the apartment to fix up and rent again. Wrecking crews would then throw everything into a dumpster. I could not even watch people dive for this stuff but I guess there is no real harm.

    Their finds were amazing. Out-of-print books, screenplay drafts for successful movies (with producer’s hand written notes), love letters, Eames chairs. The cumulative record of one person’s life.

    From this I never could shake the feeling that the labels “success” and “failure” had nothing to do with what we own or how many people we lorded over but how many people we loved; requited or unrequited it does not matter.

    • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

      There were tiers of recyclers, junkmen, and night pickers as well as reputable antique hunters, booksellers and secondhand dealers in the mix in the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s. People kept track of ‘bulk put out’ days posted by the Department of Sanitation and certain junk dealers would specialize in such items as salvage up-brand refrigerators that they could rehabilitate and sell as ‘mid-century.’ Furniture was a complex and multi-faceted field with specialists. There were even, ‘finders’ – people commissioned to sift through the garbage and ephemera left behind for specific types of objects. I knew one of the ‘finders’ for Joseph Cornell, the eccentric artist who made boxes composed and comprised of ephemera, for example. He was somewhat of a recluse who lived with his mom on Utopia Parkway. His finder was a collector, and eccentric in his own right.

      When someone died, depending upon the seriousness of the estate, first relatives would be called in for the their dibs. Then there would be specialist houses such as Park Bernet, high end, and Doyles for more middle class fare. Estate sales would attract crowds from the neib, but also professional ‘pickers’ and ‘lookers.’ I knew a bunch of ‘piano people’ back in that day (now it’s even a challenge to unload anything other than a Steinway).

      Besides the Strand, there were a dozen book stores from Argosy to dealers who have long since moved upstate to Saugherties such as “Our” Book store. Book stores like the New Yorker had original chapbooks (original poetry pamphlets from small publishing houses).

      It had less to do with ‘how many people loved someone’ than how many people had enough room. That’s not even touching specialty areas like old vinyl, 78s, etc.

      I guess the point, if there is one, besides the fact that the City was a more varied and interesting place for many of us back then, is that it was like a rain forest that provided life support and sustenance to a much more varied and diverse intelligence and population than our current economy and culture seems to readily foster. The on-line thrills of perusing through sites like this or the Internet Archives and its Prelinger archives or other interesting sites has its value, but the physicality of ephemera, the smell and type of an old book, or the workmanship behind so many of the objects encountered in such variation in the flea markets, particularly in the 20s off Sixth Avenue, was extraordinary.

      • Ty Says:

        When writing about the rich subject of New York you have to decide what to leave out out rather than include. There were dozens of bookstores on that strip. If one didn’t want what you had another would.

        I am fairly adamant that the first people to have dibs on the deceased person’s goods were the NYPD. They efficiently cleaned the pockets and desk drawers of the recently deceased. The second was the ME Office. The third was the landlord and possibly the doorman so he or she would call quickly in the future. The last was the deceased’s family who collected whatever assets were unrecognized or not liquid enough to sell. It is was simply a matter of economics. I witnessed this as recently as 2012.

        Lastly I presented a philosophical view that runs counter to what most of the people who live in Manhattan or possibly the rest of America believe. That a valuable life can be measured in how much and how many people you love regardless of whether or not they love you back.

        People hoarded their stuff in the tiniest of apartments and still died alone. It just shows up in more stark relief on this tiny real estate starved island.

      • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

        Perhaps. But, having lived in New York most of my adult life and having known more than my share of collectors, as well as compulsives and hoarders, I would caution people to impose their values upon other. I knew many hoarders who took a cosmic thrill and delight in what were treasures to their eyes.

        Ty, I am deducing that you are referring to people who die alone or intestate, whereby the law takes matters into their own hands. This can occur simply by outliving all those around you, or people growing out of touch. That is a subject unto itself and surrogates court and is a rich subject in the history of political patronage and how these estates are dispensed with. The dark underbelly of estate law, if you will.

        The New York Times award winning reporter Nina Bernstein did a brilliant piece on Hart Island, that was published in May 2016 that treats that subject richly:

    • Zoe Says:

      To Ty

      Charles Dickens portrayed the very sad scene you’ve described in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

  17. Ty Says:

    Hi Zoe, In my mind Charles Dickens was less focused on the rights of a certain economic group then on what makes us humans happy and what does not. He didn’t so much as fight the industrial revolution of England and try to humanize it.

    Had the people I knew, who’s stuff ended in a dumpster, known that helping young people, for example, negotiate a job interview was way more important than a mention in Crain’s or the New York Times I think they would have breathed their last more contentedly.

  18. Zoe Says:

    Ty & Jonathan

    In 1978 when I went to Woodstock (NY) for the Art Students League summer school there there was a ‘Free Store’. Basically a tiny wooden building filled w/ things (nothing of value or interest or charm when I was there) which anyone could go into & leave/take whatever they wanted.

    And now there is a website (or more) online where people can swap things. And of course (a few years before my time) there were swap meets.

    Discuss! *fills Ty & Jonathan’s virtual coffee cups*

    • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

      In the small town in which I now live, people commonly put things out and place on them a sign, “free.” A lot of creative people used to be able to afford to live in Chelsea. Then it became too expensive, or let’s put it another way, too much about money. And Williamsburg and other places beckoned. Now a lot of the people that had moved there have since moved up to Athens, Hudson, Greenport, Tivoli, Catskill, Saugherties, Troy, etc.

      I remember the ASL in the mid 1960s when it was filled with cigarette smoke and there were teachers like Will Barnett who’d been there forever, and wild men like Marshall Glasier who sauntered through the halls having his jousts with Ian Hunter.

      Ian used to chip in and hire a model who’d sit down in Zero Mostel’s studio down on 28th Street in what was once Tin Pan Alley. A decade later, my future wife’s ‘Nana’ (grandmother) was a modestly successful illustrator back in the teens who recounted how went down to the Art Students League to study with Edwin Dickinson. She recalled being in the same group as a younger boy, Norman Rockwell. Both Dickinson and Rockwell died the same year you spent up in Woodstock at the Art Students League summer school, 1978.

      Today the ASL sits under the cantilever shadow of what will be Extell’s Nordstom tower for which it has an $81M extra in the bank and a hulking behemoth over its head. The seasonally empty apartments that will likely inhabit its upper floors will sell for $100M each. Or, they won’t. History and real estate both go through their cycles. Artists, as Ralph Ellison might have pointed out, tend to work things out on the lower frequencies. Thomas Cole would point out you can dine al la fresca on Hunter Mountain or nearby Round Top at a greater height, for a lot less without the bother of Trump Tower gridlock.

      • Zoe Says:

        To Jonathan

        Re. “cantilevered” buildings taking over… I don’t like them… or to be more precise: I loathe them…

        Interesting stories (the rest of what you wrote).

      • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

        There may be reasons to cantilever a building, but few that I can think of that make for aesthetic or pleasing experiences. Extell hit upon this method of taking advantage of New York’s new air rights sales and zoning workarounds during the tenure of their recent chairman Dan Biederman. They have executed some of their proposals and sold some others. All of them have resulted in some of the more awkward configurations I’ve ever inspected.

      • Zoe Says:

        PS to Jonathan

        I saw Zero Mostel in the 1971 version of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. (I just looked & there were two others — 1964 & 1976 — which he was in as well). Our parents used to drag us to plays & concerts (inc. those music festivals then). You’re saying he was a visual artist as well? (As you wrote “studio”). Or was it a dance/rehearsal space? I just looked at his bio on Wikipedia & there’s nothing about art/crafts/photography. (Not that those bios are exhaustive or necessarily accurate).

      • Jonathan W. Phillips (Real Estate Historian) Says:

        “Zee” as his friends called him, was a painter before he was ever a performer (first at Café Society, Barney Ross’s Communist Party backed adventure in the West Village in the 40s and 50s, NY’s only interracial night club at that time), before he was ever an actor.

        Wikipedia is an invaluable, but highly flawed and politically problematic institution at this point, unfortunately, beset by a variety of self-appointed editors with shaky egos and riddled with planted, obviously self-serving promotional information that simply floats by for lack of time, money, and editorial diligence. It’s part of the corruption of fact that besets our society. Books can be just as bad, but fortunately they can also be sublime and far more definitive and superior. There are a few on Zero Mostel I’d be happy to recommend.

        But, yes, he was an active painter, though considered an amateur by most of NY’s art dealers, who knew him well, as he was also a denizen of art museums and galleries. I was friends as a child with his younger son, Tobias, also an artist, though we’ve been out of touch for several years.

        Fiddler was Zero’s boon and bane. That is, it was his ‘role of a lifetime’ in a lifetime of roles, but far from his definitive range. He won the critics award for his performance in Eugene Ionescu’s Rhinoceros, for example and had the range to do James Joyce as well (Harold Bloom). When he died of an aneurysm, he was on the road with The Merchant of Venice, where he was poised to launch a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s Shylock.

        Zero use to draw and paint at the Art Students League and also bought a small building in Chelsea when one could afford to do that as it was “Flowers and Furs” in those days and dirt cheap. He maintained a studio there where he had his buddies come draw from the model (and there was a poker night as well). Jack Gilford (On the Way to the Forum is what most people remember though he also was in The Diary of Anne Frank) was one of the regulars. Ian Hunter, a gifted screen and playwright who was also blacklisted) was another. They were all variously parents of friends of mine or my parents friends. New York was much smaller back in those days. Zee’s older son, Josh, went to Music & Art, where he had a lust for my sister, who was a couple of years his junior there and a talented painter.

        I went to a quaker camp that a lot of the ‘red diaper babies’ were sent to in Southern Vermont back then, and my bunkmate was Joey Gilford, who affected the style of young Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in the Wind) – (you could do worse in choosing whose style to copy). Anyway all of us were too young to know that young Dylan and Jack Elliot were both copying in turn from Woody Guthrie. And thus the legacy of style and influence is ever so. Each generation invents the world anew, at least as far as they know. (I say that in a warm way, not a cynical one).

  19. Ty Says:

    Yes I impose my values.

    My value is that that almost all of us want to loved. No matter how distorted our perception we want to be loved and we want to love. A few exceptions exist but my point remains. NYC, in all its brutal honesty, simply puts that into stark relief.

    Testate and intestate do not matter. Just because someone writes a will does not mean they have a clue on how much they would have wished to have been loved or who they wish they could have have told that they love.

    My 11th great grandfather of Billerica Massachusetts in 1695, in his will, said how disappointed he was in my 10th great grandfather, Daniel. He said that he was only giving him a few pounds and not land. In 1695. No love there. But lots of disappointment. It comes down to us, his disappointment.

    Those dumpsters just reinforce a point that my family has known since 1695. Testate or intestate does not matter. No love, no happy. No happy no future happy.

    Dying bitter with a will means no more than dying bitter without a will.

    A bit personal but you know what the little ones are attracted to most in an uncle? Nothing, They just want to be.

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