Yes, this blog is mainly about Beirut, but I’ve added a new travel section to share some of my trips and the experiences that may resonate across borders.
In the early 1990s, I watched Beirut patch up its bullet holes and repaint its facades. In the late 2000s, I moved to New York after that city’s transformation had already happened. That’s why I found this photo collection of 1980s New York so interesting.
I spent much of my time in the city living in the old lower Manhattan neighborhood known as the “East Village”– sometimes referred to as the East Rat Trap due to its generous rodent population. That may not have changed much since the 1980s, but almost everything else has. The once gritty, impoverished, crime and drug war infested part of town is today one of the most expensive and “trendiest” places to live–somehow similar to the transformation of downtown Beirut, where most original inhabitants were pushed out to make way for posh cafes and unaffordable high rises.
The New York Times recently published a series of 1980s photos of the village produced by photographer Ken Schles –fascinating to me because I lived all over this neighborhood. I decided to use Google Maps Streetview to create some before and after pictures. Not all the pictures were very specifically captioned, but I knew I could find some of them with the help of memory and google.
This shot was described as somewhere on “8th street between Avenue B and C” (1983)
I found the same spot today:
Notice the war like concrete block barricade (below right) has been removed, the facades cleaned up and the addition of gentrified graffiti:
This next shot was a bit more specific, described as “View from 224 Avenue B” (1983)
But that is the location of the photographer. The liquor store was across the street (notice same window space above the store)
I confirmed this by using streetview’s pan around function to look across the street after entering in the address.
I zoomed in and matched the iron work on the fire escape that Schles shot through in his original black and white.
Finally, the hardest picture to match was this one, which only offered the caption “Winter (East 4th Street) 1985.”
It’s a long street, but I’ve been down it hundreds of times and remembered a church. I walked down 4th with streetview and found it:
In addition to the breeze blocks and boarded-up facades, 1980s New York also reminded me of 1980s Beirut with the proliferation of abandoned lots and open spaces. Yet during redevelopment, the soaring cost of gentrified real estate means that almost no plot is now left unconstructed in both cities. At least in New York a few plots have been saved by the city from developers and turned into “community gardens.” By contrast in Beirut, no plots are purchased by the city and existing parks are not even opened to the public.
Also, not only is Streetview not available in Lebanon, but you may get arrested for taking a picture. That doesn’t stop us though.
Correction: An earlier version of this post noted the photographers’ caption on the first image as “…between Avenue A and B” when it actually says “…between Avenue B and C” which matches the location in the google maps photo.