2020 has been a big year in so many ways and we’re just at the midpoint. The coronavirus pandemic and the recent demonstrations surrounding the death of George Floyd racial justice have affected not only the lives of New Yorkers, but also the physical places that we call home. Our city’s streets and buildings stand as physical evidence of the story of 2020, offering insight into the differences between the New York of January and that of the here and now.
This visual contrast can be seen quite vividly along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, perhaps the city’s most iconic (and most expensive) thoroughfare. Untapped New York’s photographer Ryan Lahiff has compiled a series of photographs comparing Fifth Avenue landmarks from the 2019 Holiday Season to pictures of those same places from this past weekend. From Rockefeller Center to the Flatiron District, these photographs tell of Christmas lights and holiday windows on one hand and barbed wire security on the other; of busy gatherings and then of empty streets.
Lahiff tells us,” I walked up Fifth Ave from Saks to the Apple cube near the corner of Central Park just to continue capturing the boarded up storefronts to go with the SoHo and Flatiron/Broadway shots I’d already taken. It wasn’t until I got home and was going through all the shots that I realized I’d stood in near identical spots as I had during previous Christmas periods to capture the store windows and decorations. It was only when I started matching up the shots I’d just taken with the previous Christmas shots that I realized just how close I’d both stood and framed the same locations…it led to some pretty incredible before & after’s of Midtown at its happiest & brightest, versus its most post-apocalyptic & depressing.”
Following the looting at Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue has probably reacted to the looting threat most intensely, adding barbed wire and security personnel, in addition to the boards. Across all its stores, Apple has done the most aesthetically pleasing job painting the wooden boards white to a nearly seamless visual effect. At the Apple Brooklyn near the Barclays Center, the boards encase the glass perfectly from floor to ceiling looking both resistant to damage and concealing what lies within. The Cartier store, one of two twin mansions from the Gilded Age that still stand, has boarded up the ground floor and retreated the red awnings. Even the stores lining Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens are boarded up.
And now, New York City is entering into a unique time period. The city is starting to re-open, having entered phase 1 yesterday, the streets continue to be filled with demonstrators for criminal and social justice in response to the killing of George Floyd. The opportunistic looting seems to have been curtailed. Shops like these along Fifth Avenue will need to decide what their next steps will be.
Next, check out 17 Gilded Age Mansions on Fifth Avenue.