Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1980s’

The 1984 murder of a Studio 54 “miss party girl”

September 18, 2017

Connie Crispell lived in New York City from 1974 to 1984.

Her life in the city hit many of the cultural touchstones of the 1970s and 1980s—nights at Studio 54, after-hours clubs downtown, panic over AIDS. Yet her name and her tragic murder have mostly been forgotten.

Born to a prominent family in Virginia, Crispell came to Manhattan at age 22. She rented a two-bedroom at 12 East 86th Street for $500 a month and tried her hand at various jobs—marketing jewelry made out of subway tokens, founding a bartender-for-hire service.

But her true place in the city seemed to be on the dance floor at Studio 54.

Crispell and her roommate, “fell into a routine that began with taking a nap after work,” stated New York magazine in a 1984 article, which quoted a friend describing her as “miss party girl of New York City.”

“They rose at about 10 p.m. and showered. They put on disco music to get themselves in the proper spirit, and Crispell often made a pitcher of vodka tonics. Then they hopped in a cab and headed for Studio 54,” arriving back on 86th Street (below left) at 4 a.m.

By the end of the 1970s, her roommate gave up the party scene and moved out; Studio 54 shut down briefly. Crispell continued to spend money she didn’t have and was evicted from her apartment.

“With some financial help from her family, Crispell moved into a studio apartment in the old FBI building, on East 69th Street,” wrote New York. “She seemed to identify with the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and she sometimes called her place ‘my Holly Golightly apartment.'”

As the 1980s began, Crispell worked in an office position with designer Carolina Herrera, then as an account executive at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a salesperson at Brooks Brothers.

Studio 54 reopened again, and Crispell returned night after night. “She became a kind of celebrity of the dance floor and was often admitted to the club without paying,” according to New York.

She dated a blue blood preppie and then moved in with a 60-something diamond tycoon. After that relationship ended, she took a $120 a week room at the all-female Martha Washington Hotel on East 30th Street.

She supported herself by signing up with an escort service that gave her a beeper and sent her to meet men at the city’s poshest hotels.

As her former roommate and other friends fell into more settled lives, Crispell continued to live on the edge. She told people she thought she might have AIDS, and she did a 10-day stint in Bellevue after threatening to jump from a 9th floor apartment.

Once she was released, she was back at Studio 54, inviting fellow club-goers home with her to her new sublet at 58 West 58th Street (above right) in the wee hours of the morning. “Soon Crispell’s home became a kind of salon,” wrote New York, attended by heiresses, designers, and Village People band member Randy Jones.

One of those after-hours party guests, however, was a 20-year-old convict named Charles Ransom. According to newspaper accounts, Ransom said that he and Crispell had sex after she hosted a Kentucky Derby party in April 1984. Afterward, Crispell told him that she thought she had AIDS.

Ransom said he blacked out and strangled Crispell, stuffed her nude body in a trunk, and put the trunk on the balcony of the apartment. He invited two prostitutes to stay at the sublet for several days before the owners returned and called police.

Ransom got a minimum of 25 years in prison. A month after the murder, Crispell’s friends held a memorial at Fifth Avenue’s St. Thomas Church to mourn “the loss of the girl who always wanted one more moment of fun,” wrote New York.

[Top photo: New York; second and third photos: Biography.com; fourth photo: Manhattan Scout; fifth photo: streeteasy.com; sixth image: Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin; seventh photo: New York Post via New York]

What remains of a Gansevoort Street restaurant

July 15, 2017

In 1938, the short, unremarkable building at 69 Gansevoort Street was home to R & L Lunch—a luncheonette that I imagine primarily fed the men who worked in the Meatpacking District (but hey, ladies invited, per the sign!).

Forty-seven years later, Florent Morellet turned what became R & L Restaurant into Florent, the legendary 24-hour haunt of late nighters, club kids, sex workers, and New Yorkers who enjoyed eating brunch in a place that often felt like a party.

Below, Florent in the mid to late 1980s; note the pink neon Florent sign in the window.

Florent closed in 2008. The space housed a couple of short-lived restaurants, if I remember correctly, and now this time capsule of a storefront has recently transformed into a branch of a national fashion chain.

At least they kept that wonderful aluminum sign, which these days is one of the last authentic pieces of the days when the Meatpacking District actually was home to meatpacking plants.

[Top photo: Sol Libsohn via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York; second photo: New York City Department of Records Photo Gallery]

Watching Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park

July 3, 2014

Simonandgarfunkelonstage2It’s hard to imagine how rundown Central Park was in the early 1980s. Neglect, graffiti, and lack of funds in a broke city left it a place of patchy grass and unkempt ball fields.

One way to raise much-needed funds to help restore it? Hold a benefit concert.

That’s what brought Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel together on a cool Saturday night in September 1981, harmonizing in front of 500,000 fans, who carpeted the lawn with blankets, beach chairs, and coolers.

SimonandgarfunkelcrowdThe show was free, but money raised from merchandising and HBO rights was supposed to net $70,000 to benefit city parks. Amazingly, the promoters made good on their promise.

“The restoration money, [Parks Commissioner Gordon J. Davis] says, paid for landscaping beyond any damage done, ”and the other funds have gone for a variety of projects running from graffiti removal from walls to some of our recreation programs dealing with troubled kids,'” wrote the New York Times almost a year later.

SgconcertincentralparkThat reference to damage done? The crowd left behind tons of beer cans, bottles, and other trash that cost $20,000 to clean up as soon as Simon and Garfunkel left the stage.

They weren’t the only stars to play Central Park in the late 1970s and 1980s: James Taylor, Elton John, and Diana Ross also sang on the Great Lawn.

But perhaps the most popular concert of all was the one given by Garth Brooks in 1997—which brought in 750,000 fans.

[Bottom photo: via mrtopten.com]

A downtown club’s lineup in December 1985

September 16, 2013

Richard Lloyd, The Feelies, They Might Be Giants, Del Fuegos?

Looks like a decent lineup for the end of December 1985 at the Ritz, a club that occupied Webster Hall on East 11th Street from 1980 to 1989.

Theritzschedule1

I’m not so sure about their New Year’s Eve lineup though. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band had that one hit. And Soft White Underbelly . . . Blue Oyster Cult?

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You could pick up tickets from Bleecker Bob’s on West Third Street—now closed, sadly.

[Both ads come from the Village Voice December 23, 1985]

A drama student left to die on a West Side roof

July 15, 2013

CarolineisenbergJust as so many other young adults have done, Caroline Isenberg (right), 23, came to the city to be an actress.

A Harvard grad who scored a small role in a TV movie during college, Isenberg enrolled in drama school and moved into an apartment at 929 West End Avenue, near 106th Street.

Today this Morningside Heights neighborhood looks safe. But in 1984, when she signed a lease, it had rougher edges. Reportedly, the building’s front door lock was frequently broken.

Early in the morning on December 2, 1984, Isenberg returned home by herself after seeing a Broadway play.

929westendavenueAs she entered her building, someone accosted her, forced her into the elevator, and took her to the roof, cops later determined.

There, she resisted her attacker’s sexual advances and robbery attempt and was stabbed nine times.

Her assailant locked the rooftop door and fled, leaving her dying on the rooftop and screaming for help.

“Her cries awakened the neighborhood and neighbors rushed to help her,” The New York Times reported.

Isenberg was brought to St. Luke’s Hospital. Remarkably, she was able to talk to police officers and doctors and give a quick description of her attacker before her life ended on the operating table hours later.

Emmanueltorresapphoto“All this for $12,” she told the doctors trying to save her. “I should have given him the money. I should have let him do it.”

It didn’t take long for police to arrest Emmanuel Torres (right), son of the building’s super.

Detectives reportedly said that Torres, 22, didn’t target Isenberg. But he’d planned to mug someone—and that mugging escalated into attempted rape, then murder.

Found guilty of murder in 1985, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Isenberg’s murder was big news at the time, and it prompted the 1980s band The Alarm to pen a (pretty terrible) song about her.

[Bottom photo: AP]

A Harlem mother saves the city’s fragile babies

July 11, 2013

ClarahalephotoThe first baby came to her in 1969.

That’s when Clara Hale’s adult daughter, Lorraine, was driving down 146th Street and noticed a woman on the street nodding off with her infant slipping out of her arms.

Lorraine convinced the woman to temporarily give the baby to her mother, a 63-year-old Harlem widow who had raised her own three kids plus 40 foster children.

Word spread that “Mother” Hale was taking in babies. A stream of kids, born to addicts who could not care for them, were placed in her home, some sleeping in cribs in her bedroom.

Halehouse2013With city officials’ help, she bought a five-story brownstone on West 122nd Street (left)—and Hale House was born.

“Aided by donations, a growing staff and volunteers, Hale House took in nearly 1,000 infants, many still trembling from withdrawal pangs after becoming addicted to drugs in the womb,” stated The New York Times in her 1992 obituary.

One donor was John Lennon, according to a Daily News article; in 1979 he gave Hale a $20,000 check and sent food and gifts the Christmas before his murder.

By the 1980s, Mother Hale had gained national recognition. And as the crack epidemic took hold in Harlem, she cared for even more infants, saving them from languishing in city hospitals.

“We hold them and touch them,” she once said about her approach to handling such fragile souls. “They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow, even at a young age, they understand that. They’re happy, and they turn out well.”

Motherhalestatue

Until her death at age 87, she was still nurturing children in need. After she died, Lorraine took over Hale House, continuing its mission before pleading guilty to stealing donations in 2002.

Under new leadership, Hale House still exists, helping children and families through a learning center and transitional housing program. A statue of Mother Hale out front reminds us of her calling.

A century before Mother Hale, New York’s foundlings were taken care of in a different setting.

King Kong’s return to the Empire State Building

June 3, 2013

It must have sounded like a great publicity stunt at the time.

In April 1983, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of King Kong, the owners of the Empire State Building decided to hoist an 84-foot inflatable replica of the lovestruck mega-gorilla to the top of the building, anchoring it to the mooring mast for a week.

A little tawdry, perhaps. But the Empire State Building was losing ground to newer, more fashionable skyscrapers. The owners, Harry and Leona Helmsley, thought the inflatable King Kong would keep the building in the public eye, wrote Mitchell Pacelle in his book Empire.

Kingkongballoon19832Of course, things didn’t go as planned. “The 3,000 pound balloon arrived deflated and folded into a crate,” explains Pacelle. “But the measurements had been bungled, and the crate wouldn’t fit into the elevator.”

Kong was unpacked, squeezed into the elevator to the 86th floor, then brought manually to the mooring mast to be inflated in front of a pack of media reporters.

Kingkongmovie“The balloon, alas, was hopelessly tangled. From the sidewalk, it looked like an oversize garbage bag blown up off the street.”

Kong’s shoulder popped during the inflation, and that, along with 100 mile an hour winds, postponed the unveiling, though two hired biplanes continued to fly around, mimicking the action in the movie (right).

“The next morning, with the winds subsided, Kong was hastily inflated,” said Pacelle. But he sprang another leak, the winds whipped up, and he was brought down forever.

What a downtown or Brooklyn rental cost in 1983

January 31, 2013

A 1200 square foot Soho studio for $1350 a month?

An impossible find in 2013—but available 30 years ago (perhaps even without a fee!), according to this ad from the May 1983 issue of arts and entertainment monthly the East Village Eye.

Sohorentalad

It’s not the only rental that sounds absurdly inexpensive to New Yorkers conditioned to pay an average of up to $3,973 a month for a Manhattan apartment these days.

Williamsburgaptad

If you were willing to give “historic” South Williamsburg a try, you could score a two bedroom “modern” rental for $330 a month. Broadway and Marcy Avenue was probably a pretty rough place though.

Eastvillagerental

An East Village subhed in the three digits per month? That was the going rate for this three-room place on Second Avenue and 10th Street, according to this East Village Eye ad from September 1984.

The 1980s model slashed by her spurned landlord

February 20, 2012

It was one of those brutal, senseless crimes that rallied all of New York, dominating the media for years.

Marla Hanson was a struggling 24-year-old model who lived at 433 West 34th Street. She’d rented her $600 apartment from Steven Roth, a TV makeup artist who at some point made crude sexual advances toward her—which she spurned.

Apparently upset by the rejection, and the fact that Hanson was moving out and wanted her security deposit back, Roth hired two thugs to cut her face.

On June 5, 1986, while standing outside her building arguing with Roth, the goons approached her. One held her head while the other ran a razor blade over her from cheek to cheek.

“Every corner of her face was slashed; the muscles that controlled her smile were severed, half her nose skinned,” reported People in 1987.

It took 150 stitches to close the wounds, and she was left with an S-shaped scar from her right cheek to the corner of her mouth.

In 1987, Roth and the thugs all got 5 to 15 years in prison for the attack. Her modeling career over, Hanson became a screenwriter and victims’ advocate.

She didn’t have to worry so much about money though. Philanthropist Milton Petrie, touched by Hanson’s ordeal, provided her with $20,000 a year for the rest of her life.

[Top photo: Marla Hanson with then-boyfriend Jay McInerney in 1990; bottom, her apartment building on 34th Street, the scene of the slashing, from cityrealty.com]

What happened to the residents of The Whitby?

January 30, 2012

Ex-chorus girls and actresses. Retired jazz musicians. A female impersonator who once worked the vaudeville circuit.

These were some of the characters interviewed in a 1988 New York Times article who lived at the Whitby—a grand 1923 apartment building designed by Emery Roth on 45th Street just west of Eighth Avenue.

The article chronicled a familiar story. The Whitby—once a residential hotel popular with theater people and in the 1980s a rental with rates as low as $221 a month—was going co-op. The retired show folk who lived there feared the change about to hit their eclectic longtime home.

“‘It was a home for actors,” said Jon Richards, an 84-year-old retired Broadway actor who has lived at the Whitby since the 1964 New York World’s Fair. ”We walked in, and we walked in among friends, among family.”’

In the article, a rep for the Whitby’s owner said none of the tenants would be kicked out if they couldn’t afford to buy their apartments.

I wonder what happened to them in the ensuing 24 years—and if the Whitby is now populated by executives and bankers rather than eccentric theater people.

[Top photo: from Streeteasy.com. Bottom: a photo of the Whitby originally from The New York Times, by way of thewhitby.com]