New York Trilogy: A Walking Tour
Astor Place subway stop (East 8th Street between Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue)
Hi! Welcome to my tour of the East Village. My name is Paul Hallasy, and I'm the author of New York Trilogy. When I began writing my book, I didn't realize that it would eventually become a historical record of a particular time and place, but that's true about any work of art.
The East Village and New York City of today are virtually unrecognizable from the places I first started writing about in 1981. The AIDS crisis literally wiped out an entire generation of gay men, who made up a large part of this area. The economic transformation of New York, and the East Village in particular, changed the physical face of the neighborhood.
I’m going to take you on a tour of a few blocks in the heart of the East Village, which will reveal the massive change that has occurred since I started writing my book 35 years ago.
You should be standing just behind the stairway going down to the Astor Place subway stop, facing an open square in front of a tall building with a curved glass facade. This could be the unofficial entrance to the East Village, and it's a good place to start talking about the massive change in this neighborhood.
1[In front of you, in the square, is a huge cube standing on one of its points. That's Bernard Rosenthal’s famous revolving sculpture. Its official name is 'The Alamo', but mostly it's known as 'The Cube'. It has stood here since 1967.
However, as I write this, The Cube has been moved for the transformation of the square into a public plaza. So if all you can see is a huge construction site, you're still in the right place.]
2[In front of you, in the square, is a huge cube standing on one of its points. That's Bernard Rosenthal’s famous revolving sculpture. Its official name is 'The Alamo', but mostly it's known as 'The Cube'. It has stood here since 1967. The square has recently been upgraded from a small island into the plaza you see before you.]
In my opinion, recent efforts to make New York more “pedestrian-friendly” have not only made it feel more suburban, like a shopping mall, but have also paradoxically increased traffic.
The huge glass building on the other side of The Cube is the undulating 21-story Astor Place Tower, designed by Charles Gwathmey and Robert Siegel. Paul Goldberger called it a “green monster” in The New Yorker. For years, this space was a parking lot where people sold used clothing, books, records and knick-knacks. I bought a velvet Last Supper here, which I had sewn onto the back of my denim jacket.
On your left is a huge office building made out of dark glass, which replaced Cooper Union's old engineering building. The local blog, EV Grieve, has christened this monstrosity the “Death Star.” Cooper Union has built a new engineering building around the corner, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis. It was so expensive that they’ve recently had to start charging tuition for the first time in their history. My brother attended Cooper Union when it was still free.
OK! Let's get going. Turn so that The Cube and Astor Place Tower are on your right. Then walk straight down the road, towards the Death Star. I'll meet you a little further along.