Back in 1993, I spent a few nights in the then-newly-erected dormitory for Cooper Union, perched on the corner of Stuyvesant Street at Third Avenue, looming over St. Marks like something out of “The Lord of the Rings.” I’d been commissioned by an old colleague who was now editing the school’s alumni magazine to write about life in the freshly-minted dormitory, the school’s first in their long history. You can read a more detailed account of the experience on this ancient post.
As I recounted in that post, though, there was a point wherein I was walking up and down St. Marks Place -– which still looked like St. Marks Place, at the time, if you smell what I’m cooking –- and interviewing various shop-owners and folks on the street about their impressions of the dorm. I remember chatting with a by-the-numbers punk rocker on the stoop of Sounds about it, and even though he was zealously boozy-before-noon, his assertion that this was “probably only the start” was lucidly prescient.
Indeed, looking back, it does seem like it was only the beginning. I mean, obviously, change is the only constant in the urban environment, and St. Marks Place has seen no shortage of upheaval (see Ada Calhoun’s stately tome for that whole story), but the development -- and subsequent turnover -- that has beset St. Marks Place, the East Village, and the entirety of Manhattan writ large in the 23 years since I chatted with that Mohican Nostradamus has almost transformed the area beyond recognition.
Last Friday, my friend EV Grieve reported the depressing-albeit-unsurprising news that the northeast corner of St. Marks Place is to be razed to accommodate a new, seven-story office building. This means, basically everything on the Third Avenue side from the edge of the Cooper Union dorm to the corner is gone, stretching as far down St. Marks Place as Papaya King.
Personally speaking, while I’m legitimately embittered by this development, the St. Marks that I first fell in love with back in the 80’s has already vanished. Trash & Vaudeville left a couple of years back. Sounds is gone. Mondo Kim’s, Venus Records, Norman’s Sound + Vision, FreeBeing and Rockit Scientist are both long gone. St. Marks Bookstores -– all its incarnations -– are gone. Dojo is gone. Coney Island High is long gone.
Sure, the Grassroots Tavern and St. Marks Comics are holding on, as is Search & Destroy, but that place still feels kinda recent … and not just a little expensive, considering the stuff they’re hawking.
Nowadays, I find its less hassle to avoid St. Marks between Third and Second entirely. There’s precious little there for me, these days.
This, of course, was not always the case. While loss of that McDonald’s, the Vape Shop and, to a lesser extent, the Papaya King aren’t going to get me weepy, I still dearly miss the old pizzeria that occupied the space currently held by Korilla, below captured by Weber Street photography.
I will also dearly miss the Continental, but that’s not to say I’ve set foot in the place since about 2006, when they removed the stage and stopped hosting live music. But when the Continental did feature live music, I routinely had my hearing abused by bands like The Unband, the Candy Snatchers, the Pleasure Fuckers, The Upper Crust, the Lee Harvey Keitel Band and the unforgettable, pyromaniacally irresponsible splendor that was Nashville Pussy. In that respect, the Continental was as valuable a venue as Brownie’s (gone), Tramp’s (gone), the Marquee (gone), Wetlands Preserve (gone), CBGB (gone) and Coney Island High around its corner (also gone).
Here's myself and Rob D. (the more dignified one) holding court in the Continental's basement circa 1995 or so.
So, am I sad that St. Marks is to be rendered further unrecognizable? Yes, but to my mind … to paraphrase the intendedly ironic title of Calhoun’s book … St. Marks is already dead.