Sammons Says

Just West of Center, Celluloid Scenes Replaced by New Development

I love watching classic film—Turner Classic Movies is my favorite network. One of the great kicks is checking out the movies of “old” New York City (the ’40s through the ’80s, really). Just view the beginning of West Side Story to see some amazing shots of what it all looked like from the air in 1961; marvel as the camera zooms in on upper Hell’s Kitchen and the lower Upper West Side before there was a Lincoln Center. Or fast forward to 1982 and check out Tootsie to see what West 42nd Street was like with scenes shot right between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in front of what was National Video and is now the Yotel hotel and the MiMa apartment complex. Both areas were on the rough side then, though hardly generic.

Now let’s skip to 2013. The Columbus Circle area contains some of the priciest real estate in the country, whether we’re talking office, retail or residential. Walk down Ninth Avenue, the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, and visit myriad gay and straight bars and restaurants and a few retail outlets too. There are Starbucks aplenty along with a few remaining local establishments (thankfully). But ironically, with the bicycle trade taking off (watch that bicycle lane), the Bicycles Store at Ninth Avenue at West 47th Street has been pushed to 10th Avenue and is being replaced by a Kiehl’s. The side streets here remain, for the most part, low-rise thanks to zoning ordinances that have yet to be fiddled with.

Arrive at West 42nd Street. On the northwest corner, there is the old standby, Manhattan Plaza, which was completed in 1977 to house those in the entertainment (primarily theater) industry. The retail, though, has been slightly updated since its purchase a few years back. On the northeast corner is a relatively new high-rise apartment building. On the southwest corner is a just-cleared lot ready for construction of a new high-rise hotel. And on the southeast corner, what’s that? Still the old brick tenement buildings only slightly modernized (how long with those last?).

Turn right on West 42nd Street, and you can see residential high-rises all the way to the Hudson River. There is retail scattered about, though some holes are still to be filled. The Food Emporium is undergoing a renovation, but all of those apartments with all of those people are craving a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods (give it time). Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange wouldn’t recognize the street where they strolled at the end of Tootsie. But the pair might take in Musical Mondays, which has relocated to the upscale XL nightclub just west of 10th Avenue from its former now-too-pricey Chelsea location (it is a hoot, by the way). However, they won’t be able to catch the 7 train next year at its Hell’s Kitchen stop, because there won’t be one thanks to budget cuts (something that NYC will likely regret).

Now glance just south of West 42nd Street, and you see a completely new city rising up—much as Columbus Circle/Upper West Side and even Hell’s Kitchen has done over the past 50 or so years. There will soon be yet more very expensive residential and office space, as well as dozens of retail outlets to spend that hard-earned dollar.

I wonder what movies future generations will be watching in 2050 while thinking how quaint this “west of center” area looked way back in 2013.

Follow Robert Sammons on Twitter or via RSS. rsammons@ngkf.com