A couple days before New Years, I went to say my goodbye to the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center, where as a teenager I bought all of my bound, hardcover Jane Austen and Charles Dickens novels, where I had sat on the floor reading magazines near the cafe and where I read the entire Calvin & Hobbes series near the kids corner. It was bustling as usual, but the rows of empty shelves and roped off areas signaled its impending demise.
People were taking pictures of the massive murals in the cafe with the portraits of Hemingway, Wilde and other greats, seeming to sense it would be covered over soon. I savored my last drink from the cafe (a glorious hot apple spice) and embarked on my photo mission to document what would soon be lost to the discount retailer, Century 21.
I got reprimanded three times for taking photographs so I did not get everything I wanted, especially the large collection of old Lincoln Center concert posters and photographs. But I hope in the pictures below that I captured the great variety of spaces in this store: the open design around the escalators (always giving views of the floors above and below), the high ceilings to convey a simultaneous grandeur and modernity to literature, and the small nooks to lose yourself. The store consciously incorporated the culture of Lincoln Center, not only with the concert posters but also with a space for concerts and book readings.
On New Years Eve, I said my final goodbye. I was looking for Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York. The employee at the desk near the travel area told me it was out of stock and that it would be better to order online. As I walked away, I noticed the webpage that was open on his computer: “PLAYBOY MODEL INDEX.” A little bit of my childhood was shattered and I circled back just to double check. Sadly the webpage was still open and I left for the Borders in Columbus Circle.
Later, I decided to research the history of buildings on the lot before the Barnes & Noble was built. This photo shows what the area looked like circa 1993 when the bookstore didn’t exist yet. While the skyline already contained the harbingers of the luxury skyscrapers that now define the Lincoln Center/Columbus Circle environs, the stretch of Broadway between 66th Street and 68th Street contained brownstones and three storey low-rise buildings.
The Barnes and Noble building was built in 1995. The store is 5 floors (including basement CD/DVD area and cafe on the 4th floor). In 1949, a 5-floor mixed-use brownstone stood at the corner of Broadway and 67th Street, with a first floor store, an “embalming school” on the second and third floors, office on fourth floor and a penthouse apartment on the fifth. My Juilliard cello teacher spoke of a burger joint that once existed here.In 1962, a 600-person movie theater moved in next door. In 1971, a restaurant, studio and theatrical school opened, followed two years later by a music school. On August 3, 1995 the Department of Buildings approved a 26 floor apartment building to be approved, with no mention of retail space but three months later on October 3rd a second certificate of occupancy was issued that included 4 floors for retail.
As for 2011, adios Barnes & Nobles! Stay tuned for photographs of the Century 21 slated to move in…along with the propensity towards chaos and disorder when people search…I mean fight for good deals.