Growing up on the Upper East Side in the `70s and `80s, the Financial District (or FiDi, as some people insist on calling it these days) wasn't a neighborhood I exactly spent a lot of time in. Even into my teens, when virtually the entirety of Manhattan became fair game as my friend Danny and I ran roughshod over it on our bikes, I rarely went down there. For a start, there wasn't much of a reason. It wasn't exactly the funnest part of the city.
That all said, I do dimly remember visiting "the light tunnel" at 127 John Street. My step-father worked in the neighborhood in the late `70's, so perhaps we were down there visiting him or something, but I remember being taken into the lobby of this seemingly random office building to check out this spacey neon tunnel. I don't recall if it was an art installation or just some forward-thinking architect's idea, but it was certainly a novelty of the time.
I sort of put in on the same level as the Burlington Mills exhibit on 6th Avenue (which I spoke about here). Burlington Mills was this cool attraction where you entered the lobby at one end of a building, got on a moving conveyer belt, and it slowly took you through these four or five rooms with all sorts of textile-manufacturing going on. I remember completely loving that.
The big difference between Burlington Mills and the 127 John Street's neon tunnel is that the latter has been well-documented (whereas I can barely find anyone who even faintly remembers the Burlington Mills thing). Again for the late `70s and early `80's, the tunnel seemed like the coolest, most futuristic thing since "Battlestar Galactica" or "Space: 1999" hit the boob tube. If you were a photographer and you needed a unique backdrop, it was a no-brainer.
As such, some thoughtful shutterbug captured one of my favorite local hardcore bands, KRAUT, in the tunnel, which they saw fit to slap on their 1995 compilation, Complete Studio Recordings 1981-1986. Similarly, the great Bob Gruen captured that awesome shot of Blondie in the tunnel at the top of this post (although, I'm at a loss why guitarist Chris Stein is dressed like a priest).
Moreover, you can catch a fleeting few moments what it was like to walk into the tunnel in Rick Liss' awesome short film from the early `80s, "N.Y.C. (No York City)," starting at about 1:05.
I have no idea if the neon tunnel is still at 127 John Street, but I gravely doubt it. Anyone know anything more about it?
ADDENDUM: I did a wee bit of research after posting this, and came across this infomative article from the New York Times (is there any other kind?). Evidently, the developer responsible for this any several other whimsical bits of fun was one Melvyn Kaufman, who sadly passed away this past March. In terms of the current status of the tunnel, the Times had this to say....
The neon tunnel at 127 John Street is long gone, a casualty of the building’s conversion to a residential rental in the 1990s. Currently owned by Rockrose Development, the building is now known as 200 Water Street.
There, rent runs to about $5,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. The capacious lobby is sheathed in hushed beige and cool marble.