While “The Deuce” (as its friends and foes knew West 42nd Street between 6th and 8th Avenues) has become the New 42 (more or less, a stretch of New York City that has become the place that tourists flock, or are herded to, there’s still a remnant, or two, of its former highs and lows to be found there and in the streets surrounding it in Times Square.
Many New Yorkers have decried the changes that have come to New 42, but to me it’s fantastic, which might sound like apostasy to people used to my overdevelopment rantings on other Forgotten NY pages. Let’s say I’d rather have B.B. King’s, where I’ve seen the Smithereens, the Zombies and the late John Entwistle, than Peep Land, OK? (It’s likely that even if the “New 42” development surge that began with a trickle during the Koch Administration and reached culmination under Rudy Giuliani had never happened, home video and online porn would have doomed the grindhouses anyway.)
The Crossroads of the World has been the place where all ‘true’ NYC celebrations happen (New Year’s and the NFL’s opening week are celebrated here) but nowhere else in NY has seen such a roller coaster ride from respectability to hell’s ninth circle and back again. In my own memory (the 1960s on) the Deuce has gone from a string of grindhouses playing monster and kung fu movies (stuff that Michael Weldon has gleefully chronicled in his long-running Psychotronic magazine and website) which became Triple XXX palaces with live sex shows from straight to gay and everything in between. Came an eerie lull in the early to mid-1990s after the pornmeisters had been moved out, and then came the mad, crazy, phantasmagoric mix we have now.
Let the tourists come. I believe in NYC tourism. Nothing like the New 42 exists in Des Moines, Juneau or Truth or Consequences. But let’s take a moment to remember where the buses never rolled, and where the jovial Grey Lines barkers won’t bark today.
Begin with Peep-O-Rama (seen above on the title card). On the north side of 42nd just west of 6th Avenue, it was the Deuce’s last peep show and even after the raincoat brigade had shuffled out one last time, the building remained open as an art gallery for a while.
A couple of doors down was the Palace of Variety, home of Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson’s Bindlestiff Family Cirkus (which added elements of burlesque to a traditional circus atmosphere). In early 2004 it was a nightly sellout and your webmaster and friends cound not roust a seat.
All buildings on this side of the street were razed in 2004 to make way for the massive $1 billion 50-story Bank of America Building, which will sort of look like a dry run for the Freedom Tower.
Same scene, circa 1990. Tad’s Gristle has survived lo the years.
Hell’s Seraphim, 42nd and 8th, 1988. photo: Matt Weber
According to New York Songlines‘ Jim Naureckas, 8th and 42nd was long notorious for male solicitation; Montgomery Clift was arrested here even after his Oscar nomination in 1948. The Church’s Fried Chicken site is now occupied by the multicolored high-rise Westin New York Hotel, opened in 2002.
The Deuce, 1988. photo: Matt Weber
LEFT: The New 42 in transition ca. 1990. The Harem Theatre was a porno grindhouse located where the Loews E-walk is at present; in its final days in operation it was a crack den. How would your webmaster know? Cinematreasures, of course. photo: Matt Weber
RIGHT: a view of the Harem with the old Modells sneaker store sign in the background and the old Knickerbocker Hotel (Broadway and 42nd) and Bush Tower (42nd west of 6th) in the background. The latter was built in 1918 for the entrepreneurs of Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal in Sunset Park. Circa 1994. photo: greatgridlock.net
That strange sound you hear is your webmaster kicking himself because he didn’t begin photography for FNY till after most of the New 42 conversion was complete. But urbanphotos did..
Grand Luncheonette, 229 West 42nd Street between 7th and 8th. photo: Matt Weber
Forgotten Fan and Queen of Staten Island Jean Siegel presented me with a batch of photos of the Deuce in transition in the 1988-2002 period.
Herman’s, Father and Son Shoes, and Thom McAn are long gone (Thom McAn is now a brand sold by K-Mart). Scene was on the north side of West 42nd between 6th and Broadway, to the left of what became the Palace of Variety.
“Cooped Up? Enjoy a Movie Today” was one of the notable ads uncovered during the New 42 demolitions. And, glance at lower right for a look at Bickford’s, the long-dead restaurant chain.
Shuttered grindhouses on the New 42, 1990. A close look at the right side will reveal a look at a Knox Hats storeferont. The company was started by Irish immigrant Charles Knox…in 1848! Knox is now a part of Arnold Hatters on 8th Avenue near the new 42.
New 42 survivors. Eltinge (the “Empire” since 1954) Theater.Internet Broadway Database: Thomas W. Lamb, architect. Built by Al Woods (in 1912) and named for the female impersonator whose career made Woods’ fortune. Woods introduced a new seating system: “slender,” “medium,” and “stout” seats for patrons of all sizes. Woods lost the theatre in the depression and it became a burlesque house. By 1941, it was a movie house. In 1998, redevelopment of 42nd St. in full swing, the whole building was lifted, moved down the block, and transformed into the facade and entrance of the AMC multiplex cinema.
To the left of the Empire, we see the Liberty Theatre, which is even older dating to 1905, now absorbed as a part of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
The ol’ razzle dazzle indeed. One of the last Howard Johnson’s restaurants held down the NW corner of Broadway and West 46th Streets for a good 4 or 5 decades until it succumbed, as we all must. (It was a block away from an artifact that was a good 80 years older — the J.A. Keal’s Carriage Manufactory sign on 47th Street, which has once again been hidden by masonry). Though there are still HoJos in Waterbury, CT and Lake Placid and Lake George, in NYC it is now left to the Amazing Mets to carry the orange and blue banner. Photos from August 2005.
With the incredible foot traffic and auto traffic in this area, you’d have to make quite the effort to not do very good business. I’d think that they simply got priced out…
The Howard Johnson’s sign depicts the old British nursery rhyme of Simple Simon meeting the pie man.
Above the old HoJo’s…but not for long…we find the remains of the old Orpheum Dance Palace (originally Wilson’s Dancing Academy), which entertained customers with “10¢ a dance” more-time-more-money taxi dance partners from 1917 to 1964. Here Henry Miller met June Smith, inspiring him to write Tropic of Capricorn. In the 1970s and 1980s the Orpheum’s 3rd floor was taken over by the New Paris Theatre, described by David Freeland in the NYPress thusly:
“The establishment’s set-up epitomized Times Square during its peak years of squalor: In between film screenings, a young woman lay on a mattress positioned in the middle of the stage. After a man in a towel entered and the couple had sex, a group of female employees would mill through the audience to solicit patrons for “private showings” in a series of back rooms … Screwillustrator Guy Gonzales recalls the New Paris as the sleaziest of Times Square porn palaces: ‘It smelled like decayed flesh in there, a lot of bodily fluids.’ ”
At length the New Paris closed and the legit whodunit Perfect Crime moved in. But the old Orpheum wasn’t completely de-sleazed, since the Gaiety male strip club occupied the second floor till the very end.
2006: only a small piece of the Orpheum remains, on the Broadway side. photo: Christina Wilkinson
Gaiety live show ad, 1981. Gone are the days when newspapers had all the big-splash movie ads at the top of the page and the postage stamp porn theatre ads at the bottom!
Clash on Broadway
“From 1936 until 1942, Wrigley’s had a block-long sign here featuring giant neon fish and the “Wrigley’s Spearman.” This was replaced, from 1948 to 1954, by the Bond Clothiers sign, a neon spectacular that featured two 7-story nude figures (later clothed in neon after complaints from the Hotel Astor) and an actual waterfall with 50,000 gallons of recirculating water. Pepsi took over the spot, turning the giants into giant bottles, and an illuminated clock into a bottlecap.”
In May and June 1981 The Clash played a series of 17 shows at the old Bond’s; the second floor had been converted to a concert space. The Clash were just then revving up popularity in the USA, having released what amounted to 5 original albums’ worth of music in 2 years with London Calling and Sandinista! For the only time in my life, I was oblivious to the lack of air conditioning; in the incredibly packed hall the Only Band That Mattered ran through a catalog I then knew by rote. For some reason I remember the Bush Tetras opened. I don’t remember if it was early or late in the 17-show series.
45 & 46
Some streets north of Times Square provide questions to which I not yet have any answers…
A frame shop on West 45th Street caught my eye…the bit of script writing above the window on the second floor says “Kreinick’s.” Another very old NYC business that disappeared years ago and not remembered…till now? Who was Kreinick?
The same building displays an ancient painted ad: Eddy? and Olga’s Hairdresser.”
On 7th Avenue and West 46th is another relic: The I. Miller Shoe Store, with statues of 4 former leading laidies of Broadway in the 1920s. I discuss this building in Who Are Those Guys (and Gals) Part 4.
Your webmaster hasn’t explored the old Minnesota Strip area (8th Avenue between 42nd and about 50th) nearly enough; I got into a cursefest with a security guard at Worldwide Plaza one day as I attempted to photograph an outdoor sculpture. Now I carry a copy of Photographer’s Legal Rights and a copy of the MTA’s new position on photography (permitted all the time, which will probably not dissuade most cops, who do what their precinct captains say to do). Expect more glimpses from the old Deuce as the months go by.
Hell’s Kitchen, or as the real estate moguls would like you to call it, Clinton, is a fascinating oasis of peace just north of Times Square’s cacophony. I wandered down 46th Street in search of a peaceful scenario.
West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, just to the west of the theater district, is known as Restaurant Row; (9th Avenue is NYC’s capital of ethnic delicacies). It’s lined with Henry Bacon park lamps and still has much of its old 1870s-1890s brownstone buildings which fascinatingly contrast with the booming scene in midtown where new skyscrapers continue to rise.
This placid atmosphere is just a couple of blocks way from the New 42.
St. Clement’s Episcopal Church at 423 West 46th between 9th and 10th also serves as the home of Playhouse 46.
Down 42nd Street: Sex, Money, Culture, and Politics at the Crossroads of the World, Marc Eliot, Warner Books 2001
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The Devil’s Playground : A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square, James Traub, Random House 2004
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Ghosts of 42nd Street : A History of America’s Most Infamous Block, Anthony Bianco, HarperCollins 2004
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©2006 Midnight Fish