I CAN SEE FOR MILE AND MILES: with my coin operated binoculars from atop the Empire State Building…just not Russia 🙂
COLONY RECORDS CLOSES
On July 10th, 2005 after Howard Johnson’s Restaurant closing auction had been held, their doors shut forever. It was a knife in my heart. Finding it unbearable to part with the retro Times Square treasure I just lingered outside, photographing the restaurant as much as I could so as to preserve every piece of it and not wanting to let go. As I held my camera up the window the manager of the Howard Johnson’s came out and asked me if I wanted to take one final look inside. I walked through the empty orange and green room of memories and we sat down in the back booth. He told me of his memories of the beloved restaurant and his personal story of how he at the time had no future job offers and sensed it was the end of an era for Times Square.
Seven years later on September 18th, 2012, Colony Records located in the art deco Brill Building, closed its doors for the final time. No closing sales or auction, just a final proud last day. I stopped by on Monday, September 24th to photograph the shell of what once was. Deja vu. I found myself inching closer to the doors and photographed the workers packing up the final vestiges of the store while the demolition crew had begun tearing down the past. My eye caught a man inside, obviously not part of the demo crew taking pictures on his cell phone for himself. From the distance I thought it was perhaps a foreman, a future owner or perhaps the Brill building owner. As I got closer to peek inside for myself, I recognized the man to be Richard Turk, the owner of Colony.
I asked if he didn’t mind me taking some last pictures of the place, he was surprisingly kind enough to let me come inside. My memories of first discovering Colony began to flood out and began to choke up. Richard asked if he could record my story for a video log they are making of people’s warm and colorful memories, I was so honored to be a part of history. We began to talk. I told him of Patti Lupone’s comment that Times Square is becoming a third rate shopping mall, that my personal ‘beginning of the end’ was the demise of Howard Johnson’s. That’s when Richard’s eyes lit up and began to open up. “That was the beginning of it! American Eagle Outfitters (which replaced HOJO) don’t care about the retail space below, they care about the giant neon advertising sings above.” He feels Mayor Bloomberg’s mall-ification of Times Square was a death sentence to those establishments above 47th Street. “There were no plans to include us up here on West 49th Street and above, we are merely side roads leading to the Square. We were never included.”
“I also can’t stop technology. If a singer wants sheet music for a song, they don’t have to buy the whole song book anymore. They can pull it up on the internet and it will even appear in their own key.” But the smell, the tactile holding of an lp, songbook, CD or sheet music is to many irreplaceable. In it’s heyday music’s royalty would come to shop from Michael Jackson, to Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. “I can tell you when Eartha Kitt came in, the store simply exploded!!! An absolute dynamite personality, I was obsessed with her song C’est Si Bon.” (For me it was “I Want To Be Evil”, which happened to be the first lp I bought at Colony.) Colony would still get the rush of the theater crowd before and after the shows, but other than those ties, it was dramatically slowing down. There was no forcing of them out by the landlord, it was solely his and his business partner Michael Grossbardt’s decision to go out with their heads held high and above water. The Brill building management team even went so far as to mount a camera atop of the newsstand on the corner to record the foot traffic coming in and out of the store. No matter how good traffic Richard said was, they argued back with their video proof. It was time to close.
Richard reminded me that Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant, ‘the meeting place of the world’ used to be next door. At one time, the eleven story building housed song writer’s offices that had a clientele that would boggle the mind of music historians. Richard pointed to the closed store adjacent to Colony. “It has been their plan all along to turn the bottom three floors into a chain store retail space.” I immediately asked about the landmark status of the building. His surprising answer was that only the main entrance of the Brill Building and the upper floors are land marked, the bottom three floors are not! The retro brass doors with the musical clef handles were custom made by Colony in 1974 and Richard is taking them with him. If you look at the new plastic wrap that has encased the ground floor, there is a horrific rendering of plans for the 3-story clothing store “Generation”. Just what we need, another place to buy a t-shirt in Times Square – not a CD, DVD, sheet music or book, but a bra and a t-shirt.
The dust was getting heavy and we exited the store just as the mailman stopped by. “I guess will have to admit we’re going to have a change of address” Richard said as he took his mail for the last time. I looked up at the iconic blue neon letters and asked quietly, “What happens to those?”. Richard said one of the signs had been a continuous piece of neon and it just crumbled as they tried to take it down, but he remaining blue letters above the doors are individual and can be saved. “As for the Colony signs“ he answered, “if I had my wish they would go into either the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or the NY Songwriters Hall. It’s still up for discussion…it’s just my desire not a fact yet.” I shook his hand and thanked him for this private moment and left as I kept having visions of Howard Johnson’s repeat in my head. I had to return. “Richard! I can’t let this moment go without taking your picture!”. We fumbled for a spot and Richard wanted to proudly stand by his custom doors one last time, I caught the moment. He said one last thing to me, “I stood outside the door as you found me today for 2 reasons. One, the dust and noise were getting overwhelming, but most important, I couldn’t look at my Colony in the condition it is in, I guess it’s the feeling one gets when your home is destroyed by some disaster. I stood there for 3 hours, and chatted with dozens of people, like yourself, who recanted some incredible experiences at the Colony. I left feeling truly humbled and blessed.” He smiled and fumbled for his business card, “I guess I can’t give you a Colony card anymore, I’ll just have to give you this one.” It reads: Richard Turk – music man.
A KISS FROM CYNDI LAUPER: I had the privilege of being Cyndi’s private tour guide on a tour bus named in her honor – here is my reward 🙂
Jan. 27, 2011.
AMERICA LOST: Look at her hands, they are withdrawn as she is holding herself, knees locked tight. His shoulders are stooped, his strong worker’s hands lowered into his lap. His right arm’s tattoo reads ‘luck’. Their faces are resolute, yet their body language reveals their true situation. Her’s a body language of surrender, his a body language of quiet determination. Their bond, love and joy for life shows in the wonderful matching shoes and red shoelaces. They are homeless. I found them sitting on the steps of the Salvation Army on West 14th Street, their faces reminding me immediately of a Grant Wood painting or a Dorothea Lange dust bowl photo. These are classic American faces. Proud, strong.
I asked if I may take their photo, they immediately lit up, smiled and responded “sure!”, yet…when I took the photo, their faces became somber bearing their souls. He said they were just passing through. When I reached for my bag to give them something, he shook his head, refused, his broad smile came back, fist bumped me, nodded at the camera and said “hey, thanks man.” Proud, strong, American.
LEGO ♥ NY: These perfect Lego souvenirs are available at one of the coolest Lego stores around, the Rockefeller Center Store in midtown Manhattan. Inside the store there is a replica of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and various other New York City landmarks. Model kits of famous NYC buildings such as The Gugenheim, MOMA, The Empire State Building all range about $39.99 – – – these blocks, just $1.99 = perfect!
ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING . . .: A very well fed, camera shy Elvis was caught by my camera crossing 44th Street in Times Square. It wasn’t until I got home to check the photos that I noticed the big coincidence that, in that moment, ABC television was flashing it’s neon signs advertising their news series “Nashville” on the signs above. (I don’t think ABC was desperate enough to have him do a promo for the show…).
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR: …is Christopher Columbus, usually seen 70 feet above Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Starting this week, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has enclosed the statue in an 810 square foot living room complete with a big screen TV, couches, magazines for you to read and wallpaper that features American icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, hot dogs and the Grand Canyon. It is all part of a temporary art project funded by the Public Art Fund.
Eagerly I climbed the six flights of scaffolding stairs as the view got more and more incredible, literally a bird’s eye view.
It is surreal when you first enter the ‘living room’. Reactions range from absurdly ridiculous, insane and ugly to genius, innovative and brilliant. Upon hearing of the idea first my reaction was unflattering. A scar on our city I thought, a gimmick, defacing the discoverer of our land. But then…as I climbed the stairs….and entered the room….and saw Columbus for the first time in my 56 years of living in this city, face to face, my opinion changed instantly.
Reactions are a mixture of astonishment, bemusement and wonderment. Smiles are instant. To watch the faces of the people as they enter the room is a show in itself. You are encouraged to sit, make yourself comfortable, read the daily supplied papers…just don’t sit on the windowsill as the attendants will tell you. There is even a vinatge copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves Of Grass’ on the bookshelf. You are to observe every tiny detail as you make your way around the room.
I have been to countless public art projects in my lifetime in this city, this one is one of the most inventive. (I am not a fan of Christo.) It brings me almost face to face with a statue the was literally paid for by the Italian immigrants in this city, paid for with their hard earned pennies, nickels and dimes.
Created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, it was erected as part of New York’s 1892 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas. Il Progresso a New York City-based Italian language newspaper spearheaded the campaign for it’s citizens to donate what they could. I think they would be proud and smile, exclaiming “Bella! Bravo per gli Americani! Fantastico!”
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR: …is Christopher Columbus, usually seen 70 feet above Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Starting this week, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has enclosed the statue in an 810 square foot living room complete with a big screen TV, couches, magazines for you to read and wallpaper that features American icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, hot dogs and the Grand Canyon. It is all part of a temporary art project funded by the Public Art Fund. Story to continue…
AN INCOMPLETE MAN: Marlboro cigarettes – check. Favorite copy of Vogue – check. Bobby pins – can’t find them in that big purse.