AM New York reporter David Freedlander has done admirable work for some time now covering the New York scene, particularly those parts of it that are in danger of vanishing. I am fortunate enough to be the subject of his latest story. I met with David a couple times over the past month, talking and taking miniature walking tours of Manhattan. No tape recorder, only a notepad; old-school reporting. One such travelogue can be found on AMNY's website here. (Nice atmospheric music; very Gershwin.) There's also a nice array of envy-inducing photos from those trips. Why can't I make these places look this good?
Here's the story in full:
Blog Testifies to Disappearing New York History
By David Freedlander
New York is a city of the things unnoticed until it's too late.
The faded wall advertisement that one day gets covered up by billboards, the odd dimly lit bar that closes to make way for a health food store, the shoeshine stand that suddenly disappears.
That vanishing world is documented in the blog Lost City, a Web site that is part archaeology of New York and part screed against rapacious developers and the politicians who enable them.
Its author is a freelance writer, who requests anonymity for fear of upsetting editors or sources with his screeds against the "new" New York, but who agreed to talk to amNewYork as long as we used his "nom de blogosphere," "Brooks of Sheffield."
"I would always plead to my editors and say, 'this bar is disappearing, this restaurant is closing, and we need to write about it,'" he said one recent afternoon over a bowl of matzah ball soup at the Edison Cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Times Square and one of the few places where it's still possible to dine on the cheap under big, bright chandeliers.
"And they would always tell me that's the nature of the city, and you can't get sentimental about New York."
Brooks began the blog in January 2006 after the abrupt shutdown of McHale's, a legendary Times Square watering hole where all the old theater hands used to go.
"I keep wondering where all the stagehands go now," he said. "Theater people need to drink."
As the pace of change in a city already known for rapid turnover accelerated, the tone of Lost City changed as well, growing more insistent and placing more blame at the feet of the Bloomberg administration.
"New York has always been fueled by money, but never so baldly as right now," he said. "It adds no value to the city or to history, but only to the people building them. I think we can add housing and jobs and all of that to the city and still put up buildings that people are happy with and proud of,"
He added, "I really wish I could close the blog down. The sad thing is though there are more and more things to write about all the time."
Lost City is now just one star in a constellation of sites devoted to documenting the idiosyncratic corners of the city. Forgotten NY, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, and a host of others contribute to the choir, and they have begun to get the notice of the city's professional preservationists.
"It's indicative of the lightening pace in which development is going through in this city," said Andrew Berman, president of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "They focus less on architectural pedigree, and more on the things that capture people's eye, which are harder to advocate for in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but they allow people to connect who are troubled by the losses of the city's history."
Brooks divides the great spaces of the city into four categories. There are those that are gone, like the Moondance Diner or CBGB; those soon to be lost, like Astroland; those, like Katz's or the Ear Inn that own the building and so are safe; and finally those that, through a miracle or landlord's generosity, are holding on.
"A place like Katz's, it tells the story of the history of New York," he said. "I don't think its Pollyannaish or unrealistic to say that those kind of places enrich the city. We have a lived history here that tells why New York is great, and why it has been many things for many people over the centuries."
Brooks bristles at the notion, though, that he is only engaged in a romantic reverie for a gone world.
"These things are still a part of the city, they are not nostalgia, not yet anyway," he said.
"I guess you could call it overly romantic but the people who wanted to save Grand Central were also overly romantic, but they were also right."