When I was a kid in school, I always looked forward to the relatively rare times that they dragged the 16mm projector into the classroom to present a primitive A/V program. At least it was something different than the routine lecture format used for most schooling at the time. Fast forward to today, and you have at your disposal (anytime of the day or night) millions of videos on YouTube that both educate and entertain. Lately, I’ve been voraciously consuming videos depicting collections of archive images going back as far as the mid-1800s.
Tonight I spent a very worthwhile 14 minutes watching a video called “Once Upon a Time in New York.” The format of this video is showing street scenes as they were in olden days, side-by-side with images of that same place shot in 2014. While there were street scenes where you could recognize many notable buildings that remain, the vast majority of images challenged you to try to find structures that survived to the present day. From the early days through the 1960s, NYC’s attempts to manage gentrification failed many, many times as money and power always took precedent over saving and repurposing architecture of the past.
During the 30 years that I spent working in NYC (1978-2008), I don’t recall seeing the destruction of any historic structures. What I did see were frequent attempts to save at least the façade of old buildings even though the interiors might be fully refurbished for a new purpose. The old Bank for Savings, built in 1892 and located at 21st Street and Park Avenue South, became an Associated Supermarket, with a high rise (and high rent) apartment house growing out of the roof of what I believe was just a 3-story building originally.
That isn’t to say that the destruction of old buildings has stopped entirely, but at least now the Manhattan property’s barons are listening to the landmark preservationists before the wrecking ball removes what is irreplaceable.