Short Film: A Photographer Turns His Lens on Our Changing Neighborhood

Stephen Harmon has been photographing the Upper West Side for decades, walking around the neighborhood and taking shots of the various characters who make this place unique. His photos are regularly featured in the West Side Rag.

Filmmaker Christopher Ming Ryan spoke with Steve and showcased several of his photos in the short film below. As Chris wrote:

In the 1960’s when Stephen Harmon saw Walker Evan’s 1931 photograph of Saratoga Springs’ Main Street he said to himself, “Nothing will ever look like this again and thank God that guy took that photo and I’m going to be that guy who takes those photos.”

It required moving to the Upper West Side in 1978 for Harmon to find a neighborhood on the cusp of change to gather the motivation. Thank God he took these photographs of Mom and Pop stores gone by and of the people of the Upper West Side that according to Steve, “walked around like they owned the place.”

Stephen Harmon: An Appreciation from Wheelhouse Communications on Vimeo.

See some of Steve’s photos here and here.

HISTORY, NEWS | 26 comments | permalink
    1. Rhoda white says:

      Loved this piece and so happy that you could foresee that things would change so that you recorded what was. The people are still the heart of the upper west side .

    2. lynn says:

      Amazing! So wonderful to see the old neighborhood like this. It seemed so much more colorful and vibrant then it does now. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    3. Steve is a gem ! As a relative newcomer to the UWS (only 23 years) I’m grateful for his dedication and willingness to take the countless hours and days to document these essential elements of a fast disappearing NYC.

      And as the cinematographer of this film I am blessed to know and spend time with him

      Please check out our Facebook page :

      Disappearing NYC

      and feel free to like and share it so we can continue to tell beautiful stories about amazing folks like Steve Harmon. Thanks

    4. Christine E says:

      A VERY short film. Too short! I would love to see a longer version, that includes many more images and stories (his and others’), so Mr. Harmon’s magnificant work can reach a larger audience. Or do only the museums that acquired his photos now have the image rights?

    5. Karen says:

      Wonderful! Now I want to see the entire photo collection!

    6. Carole says:

      Thank you, I spent the 70s in an apt above the Tap A Keg.

    7. Steve Harmon says:

      I am gratified and honored that Chris Ming Ryan made me and my photography of the UWS in the 1970s and 1980s the subject of a documentary in his series on Disappearing NYC. I am particularly grateful because I am alive and can view it and share it with my family and friends. Chris and his Director of Photography, Evan Fairbanks, have made several documentaries dealing with the theme of Disappearing NYC. Each one is a short gem that is a pleasure to watch. You can see all of them at ChrisMingRyan.com. I know you will like them and I hope you will share them with your family and friends because the talented work of Chris and Evan deserves the widest audience possible.

    8. Bob Lamm says:

      Wonderful film and wonderful photos. Thanks for posting this.

    9. Nelson says:

      Fantastic! Having first moved to the UWS in the early 1980s, this is a treasure. OMG…Tap A Keg!!! Thank you, Mr. Harmon.

    10. Joeanna says:

      ‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ Mary Oliver

    11. Pjay says:

      Thank yoy. I moved to west end& 75 th in 1977. I miss pandemonium!! Thi was truly a great economically, culturally& racially diverse area… now creative people no longer live here.

    12. Lisa says:

      I love this! I wish there was an online archive of all of his work. I’d love to browse for hours through that treasure.

    13. Chip Chapiin says:

      Gone…..but not forgotten:

      Upper West Side Favorite shops and restaurants… now gone

      79th Street Restaurant (diner) 
      A-1 Locksmith
      A.S. Beck Shoes
      Acker Merrill Wines (86 & B’way)
      Artie’s Deli
      Morris Bros
      Asian Star Restaurant
      B & H Fish Market
      Babka Bakery
      Barbara G’s
      Bargains and Things
      Barton’s Candy
      Baskin Robbins
      Beck’s Drugs
      Big Nick’s Pizza and Burger Joint
      Blue Boy Restaurant
      Bridie’s Hotdogs (oranges hanging from ceiling!)
      Briggs Men Shop
      Broadway Nut Shop
      Cafe Europa Restaurant
      Cafe’ China Restaurant
      Cake Masters Bakery
      Captain Nemo’s Seafood Restaurant
      Carvel
      CB Furniture
      Chantilly
      Charamis Beauty Parlor
      Charavari
      Chun Cha Fu Restaurant
      Circle Theater (Marshall Mason, playwright Lanford Wilson)
      Copper Hatch Restaurant
      Crazy Eddie’s Electronics
      Creations and Things
      Daitch Shopwell Supermarket
      David’s Handbags
      Defa Hi Fi
      Dix Liquors
      Dixie Liquors
      Eclair
      Esquire Coffee Shop (86 & B-way)
      Eyeore’s
      Fleur de Mayo Restaurant
      Food City Supermarket (80th & B-way)
      Forest and Sea Restaurant
      Gitlitz
      Gristedes, 86th & B’way
      Grossingers Bakery
      Harvey’s Meatballs and Potatoes on 78th and Bdwy
      Houlihan’s TV Repair, Columbus and 73rd
      Home Base
      Hunan Taste
      Hunan Taste Restaurant
      Hungarian Rendezvous Restaurant
      Indian Walk Shoes
      John’s Bargain Store
      Keystone Meats
      Laytner’s Linen
      Levitt and Elrod Music
      Linda’s Deli
      Loew’s *83rd* Street Theater
      Marvin’s Gardens Restaurant
      Menach
      Merit Farms
      Miss Ellie’s Restaurant (79th)
      Mrs. Field’s Cookies
      Mr. Louie’s Chinese Laundry
      Ned King Cleaners
      Ollie’s Noodle House (now Five Napkin Burger)
      Optimo Cigars
      Orphan Annie’s Restaurant (now Five Napkin Burger)
      Palmer Pharmacy
      Party Cake Bakery
      Pennywhistle Toys
      Perla Pharmacy
      Plymouth Shoppe
      Polletti’s Italian Restaurant (now Five Napkin Burger)
      Pumpkin Eaters’ Vegetarian Restaurant
      Quick-as-a-Wink Cleaners
      RCI Appliance
      Red Apple Supermarket (now Barnes & Noble)
      Rettinger’s Trimmings
      Riveria Theater
      Riverside Theater
      Rose Laiken
      Rosen’s Butcher Shop
      Schraff’s Restaurant (now Barnes & Noble)
      Schwartz’s Candies
      Sechuwan Taste
      Shakespeare Book Shop
      Show of Hands
      Sloan’s Supermarket
      Steinberg’s Dairy Restaurant
      Sterling Cafeteria
      Sterling Lanes (became Morris Bros and then Ancora Restaurant)
      Surroundings
      Teachers I and II Restaurants
      Teletape Studios
      The American Restaurant Coffee Shop
      The Front Porch Restaurant
      The Golden Cue
      The Looking Glass
      The Paper House
      The Pet Bowl
      The Sabra Cafe and Nightclub
      The Sacred Cow
      The Shirt King
      The Specialty Shop
      Tibb’s Coffee Shop (now Five Napkin Burger)
      Tibb’s Wharf Restaurant
      Tip Toe Inn Restaurant
      Tony’s Italian Kitchen Restaurant (79th)
      Townhouse West
      Uncle Tonoose Restaurant
      Upper West Side Favorite shops and restaurants… now gone
      Williams Barbeque
      Wisdom’s Child
      Women’s Wear West
      Woolworth’s (79 & B-way)
      Wrights (on 72nd and Bdwy)
      Wurst Gesheft

      ====================================

      • Dissident says:

        Pumpkin Eaters’ Vegetarian Restaurant

        I recall it as Pumpkin Eater and being quite good. Broadway in the low 90’s, IIRC. Souen was a macrobiotic restaurant, also on Broadway, near Pumpkin Eater.

        Thanks for that extensive list. I recall a number of those places.

    14. Marcia Epstein says:

      Too many of people and not enough of the neighborhood. My kids navigated to (public) school through the gritty UWS and would love to see more photos of the neighborhood they remember.

    15. gina gold says:

      Thanks! What a treat! I’m looking forward to seeing more of these pics. The UWS is so dramatically difft from my childhood UWS. (I’ve lived on west 96th Street my entire life.)

    16. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      thank you Steve. thank you Christopher Ming Ryan.

      I first lived on the UWS, in Morningside Heights, from 1972-75. I spent a lot of time working here in the late 80s and moved back (Upper 90s, on RSD) in 1991.

      I agree with Steve that something very precious has been lost. I am so tired of hearing people who didn’t live here tell us that the “old” UWS was all about crime and decay. It was about a vibrant, affordable, multi-class and multi-ethnic urban neighborhood. Steve Harmon captures this and explains it visually.

      • Sherman says:

        Hi Bruce

        The UWS is still extremely “affordable” to you and has been since you started to grace the neighborhood with your presence back in 1991.

        Furthermore, contrary to your claims the UWS was gross before all these greedy folks moved here and fixed the neighborhood up.

        I enjoyed looking at Mr Harmon’s photos. And yes, in retrospect maybe in the 1970s they early 1990s the UWS had a gritty and grimy charm to it but I’m grateful as to how much it has improved.

        Sherm

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          i have to give you “props”, Sherman. you’re really proud of being an elitist. You don’t hide anything.

          I imagine you find the vast majority of neighborhoods in NYC “gross”… and probably most of the UWS as it currently exists, as well.

      • Dissident says:

        Bruce Bernstein:

        I am so tired of hearing people who didn’t live here tell us that the “old” UWS was all about crime and decay.

        The suggestion that the neighborhood was ever “all about crime and decay” is indeed preposterous. But so is the suggestion that such negatives were anything less-than real and formidable factors during the era in-question. (And more-so, on balance, than in more recent years.) The reality, as so often is the case in life, is mixed. One can be nostalgic for the past, welcome much of the change and lament much of both, all at the same time. I speak as someone who grew-up in the neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s.

    17. Michael McClish says:

      Ha! I moved to NYC in ’78 as an aspiring opera singer, living at Bretton Hall 86th and Broadway. First night ever in NYC was at Hotel Opera, an SRO hotel, now an expensive coop. I miss H&H Bagels so much, and it’s gone. The Library restaurant, walking down Broadway to Lincoln Center. I was a teacher assistant at Dalton School, 86th on the East Side. I miss a lot of NYC, it changes you like it or not. I went back in 95, and knew it was all over when I saw a GAP store in the upper West Side. How many walls has Zabar’s broken through since then? Keep taking the pics!

    18. Gaynor says:

      Wonderful pictures of the UWS which charmed me with it’s history and vibrancy. Something very special and these pictures capture it’s change.

    19. Aidel says:

      Tremendous work! Many thanks to Steve. I would love to have the opportunity to show my children what the UWS used to be. Please, please more films and many, many photo collections in books! Also, it’s not only the images that are valuable, but also Steve’s vision. I’m particularly interested in Steve’s narrative along with his precious images. The thing that I miss the most is the character of the city. Steve can flesh out that character both as a citizen historian and as a character himself.

    20. Christopher Durham says:

      wow-that brought the biggest smile to my face….beautiful!

    21. Gail says:

      Thank you! I moved to the Upper West Side in February of 1978. Still here! I miss the old neighborhood so much! Remember The Cherry Restaurant on Columbus Ave and DDL Foodshow? So many great Greek coffee shops and Jewish bakeries, they no longer exist. Great times and I’m grateful that I was here to witness them!

    22. Dissident says:

      I appreciate Stephen Harmon’s photos.

      A pity that the film had to be so short. Many of the photos flashed-by much too quickly.

      Note that one of the businesses featured in the film, Fischer Bros. & Leslie kosher butcher, is still standing and active on W. 72nd St. between Broadway and West End Ave. I believe they may be the oldest currently-operating kosher butcher in the City.