When they razed the block that stood between East 14th and East 13th street between Broadway and 4th Avenue in the mid-90's, I was living on East 12th between University Place and Broadway. Strangely, I can only barely remember what the architecture looked like before that block came down. When it was all demolished, there was a giant swathe of open space on the southern tip of Union Square. I remember thinking how nice it would be if they just put down a simple square of grass, instead of the mammoth building they were planning to erect. I felt a similar sentiment last year, when they stealthily tore down the weathered academic structure on Astor Place that's now the looming, black Death Star building. I wasn't alone. For a couple of months, there was a tenuous stencil and sticker campaign that read: "Imagine a park here." Obviously, that fanciful notion never came to pass.
Just like over on Astor Place, progress on the Union Square site progressed with great immediacy. In seemingly no time at all, there was a brand new movie theater (or arena, as it was billed) and -- more importantly for me -- a brand, spankin' new Virgin Megastore. Tireless champion though I am of independent, mom'n'pop music shops, I did not lament Virgin's arrival. Though comparatively late in the day, the writing was not yet on the wall about the impending demise of the music industry as we know it. In any event, any physical, brick and mortar outlet that sells music is a good thing, as far as I was (and remain) concerned. I snapped the picture up top of it shortly after it opened.
About seventeen or so years later, the theater's still there, but the Virgin Megastore is now long gone (I penned a weepy paean to its demise here). Now there's a -- WAIT FOR IT -- bank branch where Virgin was initially perched.
In any case, why am I blathering about all this now? Well, if you're a regular reader here, you've heard me sing the praises of Gregoire Alessandrini's great photo blog, New York City 1990's before. Well, while re-perusing his site, I found these two amazing photos of the block in question after the initial structures had been razed. I thought I'd replicate them here for the purposes of illustrating this post (and I hope he doesn't mind, as usual).
This top one is basically the view looking south from Union Square Park. That corner is where the entrance to the Virgin Megastore was. Hard to picture now, I know.
Cheers to Gregoire as always. Be sure to check out his site at once!!