By James Maher
Name: Jerry Shea
Occupation: Photographer and Art Director
Location: 10th Street between 1st And A
Date: Tuesday, May 23 at 2:30 p.m.
My first visit to the neighborhood was in the late 1950s. I was living upstate, where I was raised, and it was my habit as a kid just to roam the streets of New York. I would come down here on the Third Avenue El, which was a real treat. That was a lucky day when I discovered the El.
And as soon as I was old enough, I got down here and settled in. I lived on 10th Street between Second Avenue and Third for a long time. The East Village and the West Village back then were the favorite places of mine. I liked being here because it was more relaxed. It wasn’t pretentious, and I loved the mix of people.
It drew me, and I kept coming back. And of course there were clubs that were fun. Then I had a girlfriend who lived here, and together we really explored the neighborhood, all parts about it, and we read about the history of it. When you read the history of a neighborhood, it gets you closer to the neighborhood — you care for it more. And especially the history here — it’s extraordinary.
Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was really kind of grim here. You could easily walk across the East Village and pick up a couple hundred vials that were used for crack ... but when it changed, that was the period of time where I was working and I was in Midtown and uptown, and it was only later that I came back down here. I’m retired, but I’m a photographer and art director. I was the art director for Sears, Roebuck & Company, and my photography today is street photography. And I got involved in the community. I was involved with the 9th Precinct Community Council for a lot of years, which meant a lot to me.
Veselka is definitely a favorite, favorite place. I’m there for breakfast and lunch just about every day. I just had lunch from there, and I shared notes with Tom, the owner. I was at Veselka before he was, back in the late 1950s.
I love the skyscrapers of New York, but I love the sky more, and being down here there is more sky. I love downtown. I love the Villages. What makes this place special was the mix of people. It was artists, writers, immigrants. It was so beautiful to walk on a warm Sunday morning across the East Village, and you would pick up three or four different strands of music coming from the buildings. I remember one of the mornings, I counted four or five, but you would certainly pick up Latin music, and there was a building over here I deliberately walked passed because there was always jazz on. It was really sweet.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.