FIGHTIN’ 29th

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As a rule, I usually harbor some affection for the places I have worked, even if all of them ultimately wound up having little affection for me. There was the sepulchral passport photo office where I swept up and developed pictures, or the type shop where I worked nights for 8 years (I still love type), or the World’s Biggest Store, where I dealt with a Nurse Ratched of a supervisor for 4 years; or the direct mail place with the sweepstakes that hired me twice, and laid me off twice. Today’s page concerns a hole in the wall of a type shop I worked for between 1988-1991, a foreign language type shop, most of whose employees were Russian immigrants. I still have affection for it because after 8 years working nights, I grabbed a day job like I have grabbed at pizza slices for nearly 50 years.

It was located at 130 West 29th, an area between Madison Square and Penn Station home to many manufacturing fiefdoms. The Garment District is here, the Flower District (which used to be much bigger but is now confined to West 28th between 6th and 7th Avenues and a bit of Sixth), as well as some bizarre subsets, such as sewing machine wholesaling and parts. There were type shops here as well. In 1988 I was seeking daytime employment and I went to the Al Smith agency on West 42nd, who had a rolodex full of type shops looking for compositors, typesetters, proofreaders, markup people. Jobs were fairly easy to find, and Al gave me the number of ANY Phototype, run by three Russian immigrants (two were brothers) whose first name initials spelled A-N-Y. I was there three years before an economic slump hit and the inevitable happened. It was pretty much 3 years in a holding pattern but during those 3 years, I enlisted in the Center For The Media Arts, an industry school on West 26th (it went the way of all flesh in 1993 after a failed merger with Mercy College) and learned the then-new computer layout programs, QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, that kept me in the black for years.

Walking back to Penn Station after a recent foray, I took West 29th between 6th and 7th out of curiosity about my old block.

I know these look like renderings but they are, in fact, the real McCoy photographs of a new pedestrian passage from West 29th to West 30th (similar to one nearby on West 26th-27th). The new trend, and it’s actually one I applaud, is for the developers of humungous residential towers to vouchsafe some adjoining property to the peons like your webmaster who could never afford to live in them. 835 6th Avenue went up in place of an eyesore-ic parking garage a couple of years ago [2011], and its pedestrian passage ups the ante over the West 26th Street entry by adding a reflecting pool, Foodparc lunch vendor, and a big honking flat screen television. Tables and chairs stay in place via the honor system, as well as some electric eyes and guards I didn’t see.

As we’ll see, though, some things don’t change on West 29th. In 14to42.net, the indispensible Walter Grutchfield has the details on the Harris Suspender Company: [Harris] moved to 50 W. 29th St. in 1938 and stayed until 1942. Like the earlier version, they then moved to two Broadway locations, with remarkably similiar addresses: 644 Broadway (1942) and 1239 Broadway (1946). This second version of Harris Suspender went out of business around 1948. So, this sign advertises a business that was there only from 1938-1942, and it’ll be there till the building is torn down.

This is the classic West 29th that I remember. Clothing and bags wholesalers, with winter fur storage here and there.

130 West 29th appears to have been built, I’d say, around 1928 or 1929. There are these Deco-ish house numbers above the entrance. There was actually a fashion shoot (I guess) going on at the entrance, so I aimed above them rather than interrupt. The Randell Press occupied a different floor from ANY at the time — both have moved out of the building since. Next door was a parking lot that is now a Doubletree Inn. The other picture shows the 130 West 29th exterior as it was when I was there around 1990, with the Randell Press and Heros signs. I once had to battle an a would-be thief in the lobby. Scott Joplin once lived where the Doubletree is, according to Songlines.

Thor Equities, which some say has been the ruination of Coney Island, occupies some space at 131 West 29th. This street, and West 30th, you will find a couple of hand rolled cigar manufacturers, like Martinez at 171.

Crossing 7th Avenue, I like 214 West 29th for its gnome collection, and it’s one of several stepbacked, or ziggurat’ed buildings desined to allow some sun to fall on the street beneath it as specified in a 1916 city regulation.

227-231 West 29th show a wide variety of how to display house numbers.

An ad for the long-deceased Albert Merrill School, which featured lessons in computer technology and was heavilyadvertised on TV with Jimmy Randolph, still holds forth here. Will have to check out the $6.99 haircuts at the American Barber Institute. Caveat Emptor!

6/8/11





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