Tuesday, September 1, 2015

NEIGHBORHOOD TIME-TRAVELLING

Lately we've been watching Naked City on MeTV. A cop show (long before they were called "procedural dramas"), Naked City, at its best, resembles an off-Broadway production from its time (1958-1963). Sure, the dialogue comes off today as a little self-conscious, but you can tell its creators were trying to elevate a well-worn genre into something important, tackling topical issues along with philosophical dilemmas, while still leaving time for the cops to grab a smoke.

The best thing about Naked City, outside of seeing stars-to-be in early roles, is that it was shot entirely on location here in New York. Each episode becomes something of a fortune hunt as we try to identify what part of town we're watching, and how much has changed.

Last week, that was no problem, as it was shot just a block away from our home on the John Finley Walk overlooking the East River.  A now-and-then comparison was in order.



That's James Coburn and Barbara Davis entering from 84th Street in 1962. Had this been filmed now, Central Casting would have put joggers, dog walkers and bikers in the shot as well.

Here it is today:

The walkway stones and fences are the same.The first few benches were removed after 9/11, presumably to give first responders an easier way to enter if necessary. (Gracie Mansion, the Mayor's official residence, is accessible via the Walk.) The Brearley School playground overhang is still in place in the background, its black crepe replaced by grey. Note the green "share the path" warning sign on the right for bikers.

The squat building in the distance from the '62 shot has been replaced by two high-rises. The apartment buildings on the right seem to have undergone a much-needed sandblasting. As far as they eye can see, however, all their original windows have been replaced, and now look less interesting. Yes, even windows had character back in the day.

Walking north, Welfare Island comes into view on the left, as Coburn tries discreetly to cop a feel:




Today, the same view looks like this:



The wall along the walkway is a dirty gray these days, thanks to the FDR Drive (originally the East River Drive) down below. Welfare Island is now Roosevelt Island. The smokestacks are different. The trees have been eliminated in favor of, you guessed it, high-rises. 

Thanks to the landscaping, though, you can now see the Octagon (the little building with the flag atop the roof), which is the only remaining segment of the New York City Lunatic Asylum. Now it's connected to the apartment building on its right. How'd you like to live there? 

Fun fact: The Lunatic Asylum was the subject of an 1887 expose by reporter Nellie Bly for the New York World. Bly spent over a week there posing as a patient. The articles were later republished in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House; or, Nellie Bly's Experience on Blackwell's Island, Feigning Insanity in Order to Reveal Asylum Horrors. A movie version is scheduled for release on November 20. Should be a lot of laughs.

Barbara Davis dramatically walks further north, leaving Coburn temporarily behind:



A skyline from a Stalin-era edition of Moscow Architectural Digest looms threateningly in front of her. She seems to be thinking, "Why do they call this the East River? It's affected by the tides. Shouldn't it be the East Tidal Strait?"


And today:

The skyline is now hidden by trees, while a high-rise in Queens is on the left. The buildings on the right side of the island remain. Overall, things look better than they did in 1962, even if -- or because -- it's been developed. 

I wish James Coburn were still walking around my neighborhood, though.

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1 comment:

B.P. said...

Very cool. I'd like to see the area before they built the park extension over the FDR, there was a boat launch there.