Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another era, another lost city


Our friend Esquared posted an excerpt from the Dec. 21-28, 1987 issue of New York magazine. It's a cover story by Pete Hamill titled "The New York We’ve Lost."

Here are a few passages:

“It was a city, as John Cheever once wrote, that “was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat.” In that city, the taxicabs were all Checkers, with ample room for your legs, and the drivers knew where Grand Central was and always helped with the luggage. ... In that city, you did not smoke on the subway. You wore galoshes in the rain. Waitresses called you honey. You slept with windows open to the summer night.

That New York is gone now, hammered into dust by time, progress, accident, and greed. Yes, most of us distrust the memory of how we lived here, not so very long ago. Nostalgia is a treacherous emotion, at once a curse against the present and an admission of permanent resentment, never to be wholly trusted. For many of us, looking back is simply too painful; we must confront the unanswerable question of how we let it all happen, how the Lost City was lost. And so most of us have trained ourselves to forget. …”

And!

I suppose that 30 years from now (as close to us as we are to 1958), when I've been safely tucked into the turf at the Green-Wood, someone will write in these pages about a Lost New York that includes Area and the Mudd Club and Nell's, David's Cookies and Aca Joe and Steve's ice cream. Someone might mourn Lever House or Trump Tower or the current version of Madison Square Garden. Anything is possible. But if so, I hope that at least one old and wizened New Yorker will reach for a pen and try to explain about our lost glories: and mention spaldeens and trolleys and — if he can make it clear, if he has the skill and the memory — even Willie Mays.

You can access the entire article through Nonetheless here.

18 comments:

nygrump said...

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill is a terrific read this period, about growing up in Brooklyn.

the other Lisa said...

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.

Melanie said...

Imagine--becoming relevant at this age!!I remember spaldeens--those pink hard rubber balls I threw against a building to amuse myself as a child growing up in Park Slope. Pete Hamill and I were neighbors in that kinda way that you nod but don't really carry on a conversation but always knew when you are around and what Bar you go to and even gossip--that was NY without even being on the scene you got the scoop from a neighbor--Brooklyn was pretty gossipy. Brooklyn to me is also a state of mind.

Lisa said...

@TOLisa - So tell us please, what New York do YOU remember, cherish and mourn, or are those emotions alien to you? What elegiac passages of loss have YOU written about something of great meaning and value in your life that slipped away unnoticed, little by little, until it was too late? And what is YOUR purpose in constantly being a nasty wet-blanket naysayer on this blog?

Pete Hamill lived through the years he is writing about. Did you? If not, then how the hell do you get off essentially saying he has no idea what he's talking about? How do you know it WASN'T like that? Because my dad lived in those same years, and he talked about the city EXACTLY the same way. Two against one - I know who I'll believe. And baby, it ain't you.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Nothing lives forever. The thought of Mudd Club or Area 2011 is kind of depressing. But it's just that a lot of the new seems kind of pricey and bland. Maybe I should be living in Queens.

Kurt said...

I can't believe New York City has been changing for decades, centuries, even! I thought it only started since NYU started building in the East Village and the term YUNNIES was coined. Thanks for posting this Grieve, it was really eye opening

Bowery Boy said...

Someone please to read this article to Rem Koolwhores.

Businesses come and go. Residents come and go. I don't always like it, but I do understand it. But the buildings are real things that can live on for centuries if we don't rip them down. They are how we remember and salute all the ghosts of past experiences. While we tear down 35 Cooper, the building right next door is bankrupt. Neither the financial nor the emotional math work for the future of either.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great article, thanks to Esquared for posting it and to EV Grieve for the re-post. @The Other Lisa: Maybe you should change your handle to, "Debbie Downer."

Anonymous said...

I did have to chuckle at some things in this lovely piece.

Perhaps most stupid of all the stupidities inflicted upon the city in the years after the war was the destruction of the trolley-car system.

Just substitute "9/11" for "the war" and "Bloomberg's stupid bike lanes" for "the destruction of the trolley-car system," and HAY! Suddenly we're transported from the 1950s to any given day on this blog!

However, in response to the sarcasmos like Kurt and TOLisa, it can't be denied that the structural and demographic change of the last two decades (give or take) have been hyperaccelerated. New York always changes, yes, but it used to change much more slowly and it seemed, organically. The past 15 years has felt like a total Hulk-smash on entire neighborhoods. (I was born in Brooklyn in 1970, btw, and my family goes back there many generations, so I have some basis for comparison.)

Anyway, it sucks. I mean the loss and lament of the past, not the Hamill essay, which was a deep pleasure to read.

Kurt said...

@Anon 1:43, Robert Moses' work was much more organic and moved much slower? I guess all those history books were lying to me.

Anonymous said...

That's all you got, Kurt? One dude?

Jeremy said...

Wait - This article doesn't make any sense. Kurt's right - everyone here has taught me that the only thing that has ever changed about this city is the coming of the yuppies and frat bars to the East Village. Other than that, it's been exactly the same for centuries!

esquared said...

this line sums it up -- for me at least: Growing up here, you learned one bitter lesson: Whenever something was destroyed for the crime of being old, what replaced it was infinitely worse.

Kurt said...

@Anon, 3:16 Has any other "one dude" done more to change the face of the city since Giovanni da Verrazano?

Anonymous said...

Kurt, quit derailing the discussion. Does someone really need to explain hyperacceleration to you? You sound like a pretty smart dude for a contrarian pain in the tuchus.

Kurt said...

Hyper-acceleration of gentrification is not a phenomena unique to the East Village. Most of us has seen it happen to Times Square and my ex-girlfriend has told me all about how the upper west side of her childhood, look up needle park for those who weren't around, looks nothing like the stroller nirvana it became. Neighborhoods, like all things, change.

Anonymous said...

Kurt, you are correct that hyperaccelerated gentrification is not limited to the EV. Then again, no one said or even suggested it was.

"Neighborhoods, like all things, change."

WE KNOW

Tell your girlfriend thank you. Otherwise I would have assumed that Tompkins was always a dog and stroller run and Union Square was always a mecca for skateboarders and NYU jugglers and shit. But thanks to you guys I looked it up!

Jill said...

I played hit the penny with a rubber ball with my mother while we waited for the bus to take me to school. I tried to play with my son when he was little, but he was completely uninterested.