Photo by Jeff Rothstein
For better or worse, New York City in 2019 is almost unrecognizable when compared to the New York of only a few decades ago. Fortunately, we have the work of many photographers who have captured the changing city over time. The latest collection we’ve come across is by photographer Jeff Rothstein, a native of Brooklyn who has lived in Manhattan’s West Village for over thirty years, and has been photographing New York City since the 1970s. He shoots on a 35mm black and white film camera and considers himself an “urban observer.”
From Times Square to Queens, the city has developed in new and exciting ways which Jeff Rothstein’s new book, Today’s Special: New York City Images 1969-2006, honors with a collection of five decades worth of historic New York locations that have disappeared. Among the forty-eight images in the collection are snapshots of Times Square, the old Jewish Lower East Side, and many forgotten businesses throughout the city. Although long gone, Rothstein’s photographs draw the viewer back into the wonders of late 20th century New York by capturing the iconic fashions and businesses which make New York what it is, today.
Here are ten snapshots from Rothstein’s book which showcase a seemingly vanished New York:
1. Times Square Grit
Photo by Jeff Rothstein
Before the invasion of commercial retailers to the midtown area, Times Square was riddled with peep shows, prostitution, gambling and—believe it or not—was the place in Manhattan with the most felony and net crime complaints in the 1970s. This corrupt neighborhood was almost unrecognizable from the television spectacle of modern day Times Square, with Rolling Stone magazine declaring West 42nd Street the “sleaziest block in America” in 1981. The City of New York even created a “Vice Map” in 1973 which located all the businesses considered undesirable.
This picture taken by Rothstein in 1978 captures one of many posters for Times Square’s strip clubs and peep shows. Posters such as this were common throughout the Times Square neighborhood and the businesses which posted them were constantly busy with male customers. The area remained stimulated with the sex industry until the 1990s movement pushed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to revamp 42nd Street into the tourism powerhouse which it is, today but elements of seedy Times Square still exist if you know where to look. You can join our upcoming tour this weekend of the Remnants of Gritty Times Square to discover them!