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Back in 2011 I wrote about the teardown of all the shops on the east side of Broadway between 77th and 78th Street. A year later I looked in on the construction, which was just beginning. The low-slung building that housed New Pizza Town, Jewelry Store, World of Nuts, Subway, Laila Rowe and Cosi was landmarked for some reason and couldn’t be torn down. Now complete, here’s the once interesting block:

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I don’t know much about architecture – aside from some inspired work with Lego (OK, the kids helped) – however, this seems like a lost opportunity for creating something distinctive rather than bland and ugly. I eagerly await its teardown sometime in the next century.

Another tradeoff: Eight locally owned and operated businesses and franchises for a bland store selling CCME (cheap crap made elsewhere) and another massive chain pharmacy. One of those lost businesses was Ruby Foo, a place where my wife and I had our second first date. Its previous occupant was Mad Fish where we had our first second date three years earlier. I’m willing to bet that Ruby Foo alone employed more people than the two current occupants on the block.

The people who operated World of Nuts, a candy and ice cream store, knew our kids by name.

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Grom, Broadway & 76th, closed last month. Get the full scoop here.

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Last year, Upper West Siders saw the shutdown of the entire block of stores between 77th and 78th Street. I spent a few minutes catching up with Flag Guy. The northern portion of the block seen in the left of the above photo (click to see big), has been gutted. The shell of these historically significant buildings will be preserved, which earns the developer a tax break.

This section of the block: nineteen stories of glorious glass. What was most recently there? Manhattan Diner (so-so, but reliable), Ruby Foo’s (a classic standby), Cosi (where have all the new moms and triple-decker baby carriages gone?), Laila Rowe (emergency gifts for teenage girls), Jewelry store (reliable repairs, reasonable pries), Subway (so what), World of Nuts & Ice Cream (OK in a pinch, but Emack and Grom were always the first choice), New Pizza Town (the loss of this icon remains a tragedy).

The shell of the Divine Lorraine hotel, North Broad Street, Philadelphia.

When I was growing up, the family business was one of  scores in the apparel industry. Our shop was on the fourth floor of a building in North Philadelphia that housed a half dozen other manufacturers and contractors. More than two decades have passed since our doors, as well as those of all the others in the city, have creaked shut.

The North Philadelphia I remember from of the 1970s and 80s was decaying, falling apart, verging on abandonment. I drove down North Broad Street with my father recently, through mile after mile of a falling apart, torn down, overgrown, weedy and trash-strewn cityscape. “It’s gotten much worse,” he said.

Boarded up house, Allegheny Ave.

House for sale, Allegheny Ave.

 

Last post on the greenhouse for awhile. If it’s still there, I’ll go back in the fall and again in winter and again in spring until they tear it down. Here is the wide view, the three big greenhouses stacked side by side, maybe a football field in length.

It leaves me wondering about a few things I could easily find out. Who mows the area around it? Something’s been planted in neat, organized rows along the road and I wonder about that. It’s  neglected and tended, in disrepair but seemingly unvandalized, overrun by a collection of nature that isn’t all that natural. Why not just leave it alone and see what happens?

My dad, 82, lives just a few miles from this place. I live in New York, about two hours away.When he was my age, he had a place with a boat on Great Bay in New Jersey he’d go weekends during the summer with Janet, his second wife. I’m convinced that I brought my second wife there once with the kids about a dozen years ago, just before he sold it. The boat was already gone, but the dock was still there and anyone who’s ever been there could instantly conjure the smell of the salt marshes and the light just before sunset. I’m the only one with that memory and I can’t say with any certainty that it happened.

 

“There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
you got it, you got it

“We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
we got it, we got it

“There was a shopping mall
Now it’s all covered with flowers
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

“If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

“This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it’s nothing but flowers”

Nothing but Flowers, The Talking Heads

We return to the greenhouse, my favorite place on earth after Dog Beach. What little I remember of trees tells me that the fast-growing tree below, the one so anxious for light and air it shattered a glass pane is either Juglans nigra (black walnut) or Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven).

Juglans is a native of North America, once common to the forests of the northeast. Here’s what Edward Sibley Barnard says in New York City Trees: A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area (Columbia University Press):

“Intolerant of shade, the black walnut secures its ecological niche by producing substances that retard the development of other trees around it. The black walnut was once plentiful in the eastern United States, but almost all the great old-growth forests are gone now, felled by lumberman seeking America’s finest cabinetry wood. ”

You might find this tree for sale in a nursery.

The other option, Ailanthus, is a weed tree imported from Asia either unwittingly or on purpose. It does not appear in Barnard’s guide, although you will find it everywhere, growing through cracks in sidewalk or old buildings. If you break a branch or a leaf, tree of heaven oozes a milky white stinky sap. The tree “suckers,” meaning that it’s roots shoot out sideways underground. If you cut down the tree or if the trunk is merely damaged, another will soon pop up nearby from the root system.

The tree above could very well be Ailanthus, on its quest to choke out all other plant life.

I won’t tell you much about it. It was sold for development when development went bust a few years ago and the inmates have taken over. God, I love it and hope they never tear it down or clean it up. It was early morning and birds flew in and out through the missing panes and I startled and flushed out a half dozen white-tailed deer.

 

More of this later.

On the site of the doomed Teagschwendner, work of some kind begins.

Masking their excitement with blase, the overjoyed populace passes.

And has more than a year not passed since this rainbow presented itself to the city?

 

Brutalism is a style of architecture. It seems to explain itself well enough in this image made recently of the AT&T switching center on 10th avenue between 53rd and 54th. The sun shone bright did not illuminate. No light enters, and no light leaves. Waves riding another frequency slip in, deposit their messages and exit with others to carry off into the ether.

It is said that on particularly dark nights and lunar eclipses a body can pass through the solid matter walls only to be absorbed by them. If you find it following you, walk slowly until you find help. Never look it in the eye. Image

The Upper West Side has suddenly come alive with shops, stores, and shops, restaurants, sellers, vendors, and stores. Is this an economic revival, or merely the return of civilization?

But first, some creative signs pasted to the windows of the old Starlight Diner, and whatever it was that was next door.

On Broadway in the low ’80s, the competition for cupcake dollars intensifies:


After you’ve fattened them up, have their photos taken at Amsterdam & 79th:

Occupying what was once half of Avventura (other half still there), food grown from live organs, or perhaps organisms or organizations.

Opening tomorrow, a boutique espresso machine and pod shop moving into where recently you could buy boutique tea.

Hmmmmmm… Something(s) is (are) wrong with these signs. Can you find it (them)? Answers posted August 13, 2019.

 

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