the Lower West Side before “Tribeca”

great site, great pix
If you have not been to Kevin Walsh’s website Forgotten New York, you owe it to yourself to click around there. I came across it (again) in the course of trolling the inter-tubes for some depth and detail for my September 22, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle for Manhattan Loft Neighborhoods / Tribeca loses Bazzini, gains .

Anyone who coins “Pre-beca” is a winner on the Manhattan Loft Guy scoreboard; if you can also post photos from the 1970s, 1980s (and much earlier) of the land on which “Tribeca” later stood, you head to the Hall of Fame. Check out The Lamps of Pre-beca for such photos. I don’t share Walsh’s interest in street light variations, but the “streetscapes” in these photos are deliciously desolate.

some personal reflections
My dad worked in an office down by Rector Street in the late 1960s and I remember taking the Broadway Local down there to visit. I had to walk a pedestrian bridge (over some spillway of the Battery Tunnel, perhaps), and it was a strange world down there in those days. The World Trade Center site was a huge construction zone; I assume the landfill from the foundation work was already dumped into the Hudson by then, later to become Battery Park City.

I may be conflating romantic imagination with memory, but I have a sense of the odd mix of office towers and commercial spaces along Washington and Greenwich Streets down there. (Were they electronics / radio suppliers?)

It was a very dynamic time for Manhattan, with a huge building boom in full swing, yet many of the Washington Market food businesses that got razed for the World Trade Center headed to the Bronx, leaving as orphans some butter, egg and provisions businesses further north around Duane, Reade and Jay Streets (Bazzini, Wils and Hotel Bar Butter among them, as noted in my September 22 post). The decline of that neighborhood on the Lower West Side lead to the creation (eventually) of a new neighborhood in the exact same location. Just this once I will use the pain-in-the-butt capitalization: TriBeCa.

I have no recollection that I ever wandered those streets in the late 1960s; probably not, as I had no business there. By the time I did get down just below Canal Street on the west side occasionally, it was to visit clubs and bars in the late 1970s. The one time that I probably walked Pre-beca south-to-north was well after dark, after watching the Bicentennial fireworks from The Battery (more or less). I know we walked back to Chelsea that night, probably “inland” from crowds walking under the West Side Highway, so probably up Greenwich, Hudson.

If I had known on July 4-5, 1976 that this area would soon be famously christened, or that I would live there within 5 years, I might have paid more attention. But it was dark, and desolate (apart from crowds of pedestrians streaming north, of course).

bonus points!
Another thing I remember learning about as a kid: the coelacanth. Walsh earns even more MLG Points (redeemable in
very limited locations) by using the word in a blog post about New York City lampposts:

A quirk of fate allowed the skeletal remains of the streets where Washington Market used to be– as well as a cache of extremely old castiron lampposts–to remain in place 20 years after their contemporaries had long vanished, like the coelacanth of Indonesia, still swimming 400 million years after its brother fish had disappeared.

note to readers
I am going to update my Favorite Links column, to the right. (One of these days, other than this day.) Forgotten New York will make the list.

© Sandy Mattingly 2010

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