A couple of years back I penned a windy little post here that mapped out several shops around Manhattan that -- while ultimately incidental -- played relatively significant roles in my life as a pre-teen and teen. Being that I'm woefully sentimental and an unapologetic nostalgist, I went into as much detail as I could to specifically pinpoint the locations of each of these places -- mostly record stores, comic shops and the like -- and sang their respective praises. As time continues to march on and I continue to walk the same streets here in New York City that I grew up on, it often seems hard to fathom that I'm living in the same town I was raised in. So much has changed. So many places have vanished, often without the slightest shred of evidence that they ever existed to begin with. I suppose that's the nature of a city, but it still amazes me.
Since the advent of the internet, it can seem even stranger. Time was when in order to retrieve images, relics or other documentation of a bygone era, there was a significant amount of research and legwork involved. If you were searching for an out-of-print book or record or photograph of some kind, you invariably had to scour through specialty shops or reach out to archivists. Post-internet, you can track down the most far-flung ephemera via any number of websites and have any rarified item delivered right to your door without ever having to put your pants on or step outside. With barely even a few clicks of a mouse, you can see countless images, retrieve virtually any bit of esoteric information or prize virtually any existing item. It has arguably spawned a generation worryingly conditioned to immediate gratification, but that's an alarmist rant for another post.
Anyway, being that we now collectively have all this access to all this information, it's even more infuriating when you still cannot find any photographic evidence of something, however banal or minute that something might be. Periodically, I become fixated with finding pictures of places that I used to know from my youth, utterly convinced that someone somewhere out there feels the same way that I do about these forgotten locales. For example, you may remember this post of mine from January of 2010 wherein I expressed my desire to unearth some form of proof of an old movie theater on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. As fate would have it, I finally managed to track down a photograph of same eleven months later. Similarly, I repeatedly whined about trying to find more images of the original Forbidden Planet, which -- in time -- I was also able to do. There are still a few places, however, that have managed to elude me. Again, I'm not talking about storied landmarks or addresses known around the world. I'm talking about relatively rinky-dink storefronts, but in my defense, whole books have been devoted to same.
Quite recently, Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York posted a profile of a truly amazing website that really had me glued to my screen. Dan Weeks' Street View New York 1982 (and its accompanying blog, Posterous) document the efforts of a photographer who sought to preserve the topography of Manhattan via incredibly detailed, panoramic photographs of its many avenues. It was an incredibly demanding, unwieldy and financially-crippling project for Weeks -- sort of the analog version of what Google Maps does today. I can't imagine how exhausting it must have been for the man.
In any case, decades later, Weeks has exhumed the ambitious project for the internet and is gradually presenting the photographs on the site. If, like me, you're a native New Yorker who walked the street of Manhattan in the early 1980s, looking at Weeks' website is like discovering a lost family photo album. The contrast between the streets captured in his pictures and their contemporary incarnations is striking.
There was one photograph of his, however, that really put the hook in me. I reached out to the photographer to see if I could post it here, but I never heard back from him, so I can only offer a link, but if you click here and scroll down to the 19th row, you'll see the image I'm talking about.
I've talked about the place a number of times here before (notably here and here), but the Disc-O-Mat between 57th and 58th streets on Lexington Avenue was favorite destination of mine. Circa 1979, it was a comparatively shoddy ground floor space, filled from floor to ceiling with vinyl. Before I'd discovered the myriad record-collecting havens of Greenwich Village, this humble spot in the comparatively staid environs of midtown was practically sacred to me. A couple of years later, the shop expanded into a two story operation (cassettes on the ground floor and vinyl upstairs). It was in this incarnation wherein I remember prizing vinyl LPs from bands like Adam & the Ants, AC/DC, Talking Heads, Blue Oyster Cult, Laurie Anderson, Black Sabbath, The Police and scores more. This all may sound like no big deal and much ado about nothing, but to a fifteen year old, these were pivotal moments. Every part of the experience -- getting on the bus (or walking) from East 93rd and riding down to 58th to hit Disc-O-Mat (not to mention the nearby Crazy Eddie's just to the south and the independent Revolution Records just to the north) -- was memorable. It was all part of the ritual. Hell, I remember one afternoon in 8th grade going to Revolution Records on 63rd and Lexington (now a pizza parlor) after school to procure a copy of Back in Black, spending my last dime on the record and having to race back uptown by foot in the rain (there were no ATM's in 1980). I got home late for dinner, of course, and without any sort of explanation that was going to make anyone happy. But I had my copy of Back in Black, so all was right with the world.
Anyway, again, if you click to that page and scroll dow to the last few rows, you can see a small image of the Disc-O-Mat I loved so dearly. It may not seem like much to you, but it surely meant the world to me at the time.
Go visit Dan Weeks' site and see what you can find.