So I met my cousin Rosemarie and our photographer Pietro at Astor Place yesterday. Or what used to be Astor Place….for starters the famous Cube sculpture from Tony Rosenthal was missing. Apparently it had been removed about a year ago to protect it from getting damaged because of the construction in the area - a sign of the times.
Astor Place holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I would take the NR train to from Penn Station and begin my exploration of the then gritty and sometimes scary East Village. This exploration began circa late 90’s / early 2000’s. There was no Pinkberry on St. Marks or newly constructed condo’s.
There were punk clubs, smoke shops, homeless people, and a sense of uneasiness in the air that reminded you to keep your guard up.
An interesting fact about Astor Place / the East Village: Jacob Astor built up the neighborhood for the aristocrats and included the Astor Library and Astor Opera House. Eventually the wealthy kept moving north and the area became a center for manufacturing in NYC. That opera house became the Astor Theatre where Blue Man Group started performing and now own. Things have a way of coming full circle.
One of the few things that remain in the East Village from my youthful memories is the Continental. Man, I remember seeing some epic punk shows there. Most notably was the house band, the LES Stitches. These guys embodied punk rock. Catchy, melodic, fast, fun, and a no fucks given attitude. They would get you jumping from the first note and ALWAYS put on an epic performance. I could write a whole post on these guys, but maybe another time.
Anyway, I guess gentrification is just a part of life in NYC now. I had a lot of fun on the shoot with Rosemarie and Pietro; it brought back some good memories from my teenage years. It also made me miss when certain neighborhoods in NYC made you stand up a bit straighter and feel a slight tinge of nervousness as you frequently threw an anxious glance over your shoulder.