SIX OUT THERE and getting Sixer

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Back in 2003 I took a stroll up 6th Avenue from Tribeca up past Macy’s — it has a lot of hidden features such as the remnants of streets swallowed up when the avenue was extended when the IND subway was built in the late 1920s, the city’s second-oldest Catholic church, one of the city’s oldest pharmacies, and more. So much has changed since then: the Moondance Diner was uprooted andmoved to Wyoming; Father Demo Square was demolished and rebuilt; the old Waverly Theater was gutted and restored as the IFC Center. A couple years earlier, Billy’s Topless was forced out. In just a few years so many changes have happened.

Another change that begun on 6th Avenue in the early 2000s has recently almost completed the avenue’s transformation, between 23rd and 32nd Streets, into one of NYC’s premier high-rise apartment strips. Just a couple of years ago this stretch of Sixth featured mostly delis, porno DVD joints, and parking lots that on weekends were home to vast flea markets.

I found myself on this stretch of 6th after hearing that a large cast-iron front building on 6th and West 31st had been pulled down. I was amazed to see that every building on the west side of 6th between 29th and 31st was gone, presumably because even more huge luxury towers were on the way, and decided to record the remaining old buildings now that their days seem to be numbered. This looked like a job for Forgotten New York.

I am well familiar with the area; I worked here in parts of 4 years, from 1988 to 1991: I was a typesetter at a print shop called ANY Phototype, the ANY coming from the first names of two Russian immigrant brothers and their partner who owned it. It was a multi-language printer: lots of it in Russian (which I didn’t do) but quite a bit in German, French, Spanish, a language spoken in Switzerland called Romansch, as well as English. Much of it was quite dry, but we did do Circus Magazine, which in those days covered mostly pop metal at a time when I was into the Clash and Talking Heads (yes, 1988-91, I know). ANY was located at 130 West 29th on a block otherwise dominated by clothing importers and wholesalers; this was and is the edge of the Garment District. ANY, I gather, is still around. It was a placid period in my life; I was treated well. My first daytime job after several years working nights.

Above we see the NW and NE corners of 6th and 29th, with the newly vacant corner, and an array of early 20th-Century buildings.

TOP: SE corner of 6th and West 29th. According to Jim Naureckas of New York Songlines,

This was (apparently) the site of The Haymarket, the Tenderloin’s most famous dance hall. A venue for “respectable vice,” the dancers here would give private exhibitions of the can can in curtained booths. O. Henry and Eugene O’Neill both hung out here.
The juxtapositions in a transitioning neighborhood are occasionally amusing. I can’t imagine the well heeled residents of, say, The Aston, The Oakwood, The Chelsea Landmark, all part of the New 6th Avenue, would have much use for hair weaves and T shirts. They have to get them from somewhere though, don’t they? …
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Sixth Avenue and especially West 28th Street still has a bustling Flower District, and the remnants of a Sewing District can still be found on West 23rd-26th. Superior, a confident retailer, is hanging in at 828 6th. I enjoy the green awning combined with the yellow sign and red neon letters.
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I’d bet that the McDonalds at 6th Avenue and West 28th, SW corner, survives any further local destruction. This one is housed where an earlier chain restaurant, Child’s, used to be: Childs restaurants used nautical motifs with fish, seahorses, and mermen. Some seahorses are left over on the facade.
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This tower has been in the works for some time. The site referred to doesn’t work.
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All I can say is…no, rather not.
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28th Street between Fifth and Sixth was formerly known as Tin Pan Alley, the epicenter of songwriting in NYC in the early 20th Century; George Gershwin sold Fred Astaire songs here when Fred and sister Adele were a fledgling song and dance act, and the William Morris Agency was located here in its early days.
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Cast-iron facade, Tin Pan Alley. It’s unusual to find them so far uptown.
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Music and showbiz history was made at 45 West 28th, now the home of a nondescript wholesaler. Here George Gershwin worked from 1914-1917, with Fred and Adele among his music customers. Gershwin, according to Naureckas, met Irving Caesar here: the two later wroteSwanee. No. 43, to the immediate right, was the home of the William Morris Agency beginning in 1903.
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Today, the last remnant of Tin Pan Alley is a commemorative plaque on the sidewalk on East 29th Street just east of Broadway, mostly unnoticed except for street vendors, who sometimes set up directly on top of it, and dogs, who crap on it.
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The New Sixth: Oakwood Chelsea top, Capitol at Chelsea bottom, both at West 27th Street.
My first impression is that these are soulless and corporate, and I suppose ForgottenFans thought I’d say that, but perhaps if I knew someone who lived there and had an opportunity to enter the buildings, sample the amenities, and especially if I saw one of the suites or apartments on one of the upper floors and liked the view, I’d change my tune. Perhaps. Things look pretty boring, though, on the ground floor from the outside, muffled, off-putting. Compare the bustle and hustle depicted previously on this page.
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Returning to West 29th and 6th for a minute, we see a double dose of the quickly vanishing 6th Avenue past: the Puerto Rico themed Boricua City and Pink Stone general merch, and Maid-Rite Dresses; the indispensable Walter Grutchfield reports that Maid-Rite was here in 1920 but otherwise can say little.
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I am happy to say that the handrolled cigar place I saw on 29th near 7th that I encountered when I started working on the block in 1988 is still there.I like the smell of a fresh cigar. I wished I smoked them. Since I have an impressive lung capacity for someone in…ah, middle age, I’m not about to get started on anything that puts smoke down there though. It’s the only part of me that’s really 100%.

Photographed March 22; page completed March 23, 2008





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One Response to SIX OUT THERE and getting Sixer

  1. Music Mann says:

    45 west 28th street is also
    where the “Wizard of Oz” was first published in 1904 by Jerome Remick Co.
    Inside that building the tin ceilings on some of the lofts are original .
    Pipes in the hallway that had gas light jets can still be found.

    Some people are unaware that all of the west 28th Street tin pan alley
    buildings(shown) where such great Vaudeville & show songs were written had
    a common passage way drilled through those buildings so to keep sheet music
    customers from having to leave and then climb stairs in each of the buildings .
    In a sense they were all connected .

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