"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

You Must Remember This

Here’s another one from Pete Hamill via the New York Magazine Archives. Let’s go back to 1987:

Once there was another city here, and now it is gone. There are almost no traces of it anymore, but millions of us know it existed, because we lived in it: the Lost City of New York.

It was a city, as John Cheever once wrote, that “was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat.” In that city, the taxicabs were all Checkers, with ample room for your legs, and the drivers knew where Grand Central was and always helped with the luggage. In that city, there were apartments with three bedrooms and views of the river. You hurried across the street and your girl was waiting for you under the Biltmore clock, with snow melting in her hair. Cars never double-parked. Shop doors weren’t locked in the daytime. Bus drivers still made change. All over town, cops walked the beat and everyone knew their names. In that city, you did not smoke on the subway. You wore galoshes in the rain. Waitresses called you honey. You slept with windows open to the summer night.

That New York is gone now, hammered into dust by time, progress, accident, and greed. Yes, most of us distrust the memory of how we lived here, not so very long ago. Nostalgia is a treacherous emotion, at once a curse against the present and an admission of permanent resentment, never to be wholly trusted. For many of us, looking back is simply too painful; we must confront the unanswerable question of how we let it all happen, how the Lost City was lost. And so most of us have trained ourselves to forget.

[Picture by Bags]


1 Jim in Binghamton   ~  Sep 27, 2010 11:33 am

I like "old NY" pieces like this. One thing I always think of in response is: what is my "lost NY?" -- the lost NY of someone who was a gradeschooler in Brooklyn in the 70s, then a high school commuter into the city in the mid 80s.

I'm not sure what I feel nostalgic about re that NY, tho as someone who went to high school downtown, and spent time in those years in some of the dive bars of the east between Houston and 14th - the places willing to serve 17 year olds -- I never fail to be amazed at the transformation of that part of the city -- and the lower east side south of Houston as well -- in the last 20 years.

One thing too about the NY of the 70s is that there were still some holdovers of the NY Hamill talks about. For example, Paddy's Clamhouse near the new (then) Garden, where my Dad always took me before Knick and Ranger games as a kid.

2 mark donelson   ~  Sep 27, 2010 3:22 pm

Great stuff.

And yet, that very last paragraph in the article...he's being sarcastic, but it has all come to pass. I was waxing nostalgic to my wife about Steve's ice cream the other day (really!), and certainly the Mudd Club has become as iconic of its era as the places Hamill listed way back then were. Lever House got the benefit of the Landmarks Commission, but it's considered classic architecture of its period today. Trump Tower and David's Cookies he got right, IMO, but I'm sure they have their nostalgia partisans, too.

Just goes to show, generation after generation, the city changes faster than we're prepared for....

3 bags   ~  Sep 28, 2010 6:42 am

i'm a romantic sap but cheever kills me. these are the closing lines of "goodbye, my brother". slays me:

"Oh, what can you do with a man like that? What can you do? How can you dissuade his eyes in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand; how can you teach him to respond to the inestimable greatness of the race, the harsh surface beauty of life; how can you put his finger for him on the obdurate truths before which fear and horror are powerless? The sea that morning was iridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming — Diana and Helen — and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea."

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