Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Vanishing NYC News Stand

This year’s Chucky Cheesy Award for the Mall-ification of Manhattan goes to the Grand Central Partnership, who has been helping to eliminate the colorful diversity in street fixtures in its area through such ‘improvements’ as the above “Prototype Newsstand” and street planter, both found along Lexington Avenue in the early 50s.

For generations the NYC newsstand has been more than a place to get a paper. It’s served as a candy store, stationer, pharmacy and tourist information kiosk, typically staffed by a succession of new New Yorkers. Each one has been slightly unique, and its chaotic quality reflected our town. Just as the big chains have largely destroyed the funky independent book stores, these ‘quaint-icized’ sardine cans are just one more step towards making our town look like a giant mall.

A poster on the side of this stand boasts of the Partnership’s success in the elimination of “unsightly street furniture” -read benches where elderly, frail or tired New Yorkers could rest their feet for a moment. (Could this also be part of an attempt to make the area less hospitable to the homeless?) GCP also bragged about its hundreds of street planters, all of which seem to sport the same design. Now, I have nothing against sidewalk planters, even though I am aware that the real reason for the existence of so many of these is not horticultural, but to stop would-be car bombers (just note where they are located). But BCP seems to have adopted a “one size fits all” approach to their style. The planter shown here may be appropriate in front of a stodgy old hotel, but I found it in front of the Citicorp Center. It’s an ill match indeed!

What makes our town (and the other great cities of the world) special has been precisely what groups like the GCT have been trying to eliminate. Chaotic newsstands are part of our history, just like musty book stores. When visitors come here, what do they want to see? Stuff they can find at their local mall?