In the summer of 1982, New York photographer Daniel Weeks undertook an ambitious project — he wanted to take a street-level portrait of New York City, block by block. So Weeks took a VW bus, mounted a camera on top, and hired a few guys to drive around and systematically take pictures of the city’s streets, block by block. One photographer sat on top of the van, snapping pictures using a Nikon with a 250-frame film back. The crew talked by radio as they drove slowly down the street a lane away from the curb.
“There was talk of assembling a YellowPages style photo-directory of storefront Manhattan, and even a meeting with New York City to discuss a ‘digital photo map’ of the city, which at the time would have been a stretch,” says Weeks.
But it was exhaustive, time-consuming work, and eventually it just got too expensive. So Weeks dropped it.
Until now. Years later, Weeks has come back to his project and begun scanning the negatives and posting them on the Internet. On the Upper West Side, Weeks’ crew took photos of Columbus Avenue from 68th to 86th streets, which you can see here. (He doesn’t have photos of the other avenues in the neighborhood although there are also shots of midtown.)
Since 1982, obviously, technology has changed quite a bit, and the folks at Google have created a service called Street View that has lots of similarities to Weeks’ project. But Street View clearly can’t recreate what isn’t there anymore. That’s what makes Weeks’ pictures so valuable.
Looking at Weeks’ shots and comparing them to images in Google Street View shows just how much the neighborhood has changed. Weeks, who now lives in North Dakota, sent us images of two blocks in the series and gave us permission to post them:
Below, check out a picture of the west side of Columbus Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets taken in 1982. If you click on the picture it will enlarge on a new page and you can see more detail.
I looked up the store called “The Last Wound-Up” (second storefront from the right) in Upper West Side Story, Peter Salwen’s indispensable book about the neighborhood. It turns out it sold “the world’s largest collection of wind-up toys and music boxes”.
Here’s the same street as it looked more recently. None of the stores that were there in 1982 are still around, although luckily the street has retained its character of small shops, unlike much of the rest of the neighborhood.
The picture below depicts the west side of Columbus between 82nd and 83rd Streets.
What’s funny is that if you blow the picture above up, you see that the second store from the left has a sign on it saying that a pizza shop is coming soon. That shop eventually became Ray’s Pizza, which is about the only store left on the block that sells the same kind of stuff that it did in 1982, aside from the Mission Bethel church on the corner. See the image from Google below:
In the end, it seems the only things that survive are churches and pizza shops. I guess we could do worse.
Here are some more local storefronts that Weeks’ merry band of photographers shot.
If you’re an old-timer, do these photos bring back any memories? Let us know in the comments.