7 mystery photos of downtown New York in 1968

For a couple of months in 1968, one New Yorker walked around the East and West Villages, aiming a camera loaded with black and white film at the people and buildings encountered on the street.

This New Yorker captured scenes that would be familiar to city residents today. Above is Sixth Avenue looking south toward Jefferson Market, a year after it became a library branch (but before six years before the fortress-like Women’s House of Detention behind it was demolished).

Here’s Gem Spa at Second Avenue (are those Belgian paving blocks on the street?) and St. Mark’s Place. Apparently in 1968 it was Gems Spa.

I’m not sure what block this is, taken from a roof or terrace across the street; I think it’s LaGuardia Place, without the community gardens on the east side of the street, which didn’t come until the 1970s.

Is that a volleyball net in Washington Square Park? It’s set up in the southern end of the park, with Judson Memorial Church and its iconic bell tower in the background.

Back in the East Village again looking down St. Mark’s Place, with the St. Mark’s Theater marquee advertising a Bette Davis film (it was a second-run house at the time).

The park benches at St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue are still popular—but you don’t see men in hats and overcoats like this anymore. These folks are old-school East Villagers, and their younger neighbors are hanging out by the church fence near the Biafra sign.

Below, a sidewalk artist displays his work, though it’s hard to know where we are. Soho barely existed at the time; perhaps it’s part of the Greenwich Village art show?

Since most of the images here are easily identifiable, what’s the mystery? That would be who it was who decided to shoot some film of random ordinary street scenes and hang onto the photos for the next 50 or so years. I don’t have an answer…but I know the photographer stashed them in a drawer and basically forgot about them.

[All photos © Ephemeral New York]

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20 Responses to “7 mystery photos of downtown New York in 1968”

  1. Peter Bennett Says:

    I was 14 in 1968, lived in the Village, and the photo of 2nd Ave reminded me how I always tried to avoid riding my bike down 2nd when I rode home from uptown, those cobblestones were murder on a bike.

  2. waverlymuse Says:

    i’m pretty sure that the st mark’s theater was on 2nd avenue, near st mark’s place. (see the street sign)

  3. Aleen Thomas Says:

    I wonder if the art show pix isn’t the west side of
    LaGuardia Place between Bleeker and W 3rd. My late partner exhibited at the art show about there in 1970. It was pretty gritty. If you look at the sidewalks you can see what may be shadows of the old freight elevators. My clue is the medallion. Just a guess . . .

    • fotoflowsolutions Says:

      I think you are right. If you look at the aerial photo of La Guardia Place, you can see the art show set up on the west side of the street and the back of the easels that hold up the prints on the east side of the street.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I think you are right, too, and it makes sense, since the photographer shot another one of LaGuardia.

  4. thekeystonegirlblogs Says:

    Some interesting photos. Number six, the park benches, is particularly interesting. What is the strange spotted apparition on the first bench? I mean the one sitting next to Sam ‘The Boss’ Giancana!

  5. Bob Says:

    The mystery block is LaGuardia Place, but between Bleecker and West 3rd Street, and not directly opposite the community gardens.

  6. countrypaul Says:

    Once upon a time….

  7. John Lynch Says:

    The community gardens on LaGuardia Place were installed later. I remember walking across dirt there well into the 80s.

  8. Chung Wong Says:

    On the mystery block, Keith Haring last lived in 1990 at 542 La Guardia Pl in view. David Crosby, Graham Nash and maybe Bob Dylan possibly lived at 540 La Guardia Pl according to a source.

  9. CLIFFORD STANLEY Says:

    I can’t solve the mystery, but I can pretty confidently say that the the fifth photo from the top is looking UP 2nd Avenue, not down St. Marks place.

    Love the blog.

    Cliff Stanley NYer in exile, Berkeley CA

    >

  10. Jo Says:

    I concur that the photo of the marquee of St.Marks movie theatre is looking uptown on 2nd Ave. It was right south of Ottendorfer Library.It was a great place to see independent and foreign films!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Sigh, I can’t imagine seeing a storefront theater marquee like that in the EV anymore, at least not for a small theater like the St. Marks appeared to be.

      • Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

        The St Marks movie house was wonderful on winter days, though there wasn’t much heat, at least some heat pipes were clattering. You sat there in your over coat, smoking pot, at least that was the norm, and enjoyed the movie. Oh those were the days, ahhhh…

  11. Kiko Says:

    If you want more street views of about the same vintage, go to the New Museum for the Hans Haacke show. There was a shot of Women’s Detention House next to the Jefferson Market Library O have not seen. Good thing, they took it down.

  12. Manqueman Says:

    Blocks were relatively common in those years. IIRC (doubtful), I last saw a small area where the blocks hadn’t been paved over west of Soho ~10 years ago.

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