Tour of New York Back in the 1990s

In the 1990s, we could see the remains of a golden era, of a certain idea of New York. A mythical time, where one could stumble into BasquiatPatti Smith or Debbie Harry at the deli on the corner. A period where everything seemed possible, cheap, simple, and wild. These are the words of Gregoire Alessandrini, a French film student, and writer that arrived in New York City in the early 1990s. He was supposed to spend one year in New York. However, he fell in love with the city. He would spend eight "amazing" years in New York, working as a correspondent for different French magazines. In this visual story, you can see some of his pictures, as well as other gems we have found digging an awesome material to put this great story together. 


Photo: Gregoire Alessandrini


During those eight years, Gregoire Alessandrini was able to witness a unique atmosphere, which he share now with us: "The city had obviously tremendously changed since the 70’s and 80’s but you just had to walk around the corner, enter any downtown dive bar to find the signs and remains of this legendary NY. Just like if the city was waking up with a bad hangover from all the past parties and eccentricity. You could just point your camera and here you went… old Keith Haring murals, empty lots, graffiti and RIP murals, crazy people and wild parties, cinematic atmospheres in the desolate Meatpacking District, 42nd Street sleaze still alive, old signs and store fronts, ‘old’ New York atmosphere in general."


(Photo credit: Gregoire Alessandrini)


1 – Not-so-distant past


This photo was actually taken in the not-so-distant past. It feels, however, like it is from a completely different New York.  In the photo above: the Empire State Building seen from West End (Photo: Gregoire Alessandrini)


2 – World Trade Center bombing 


The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, carried out on February 26, 1993, when a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. This was the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, said the FBI.


3 – Quality-of-life laws


Shortly after taking office, Mayor Rudy Giuliani names Bill Bratton NYPD police commissioner. Bratton applies the Broken Windows theory of policing, which stresses enforcing quality-of-life laws. (Photo: 1990 Chevrolet Capriche/Courtesy: NYPD)


4 – Safer and Safer


Upon taking office, Mayor David Dinkins begins a police hiring spree. Nearly 8,000 officers join the NYPD over the next two years. Photo credit: Gregoire Alessandrini.


5 – The Macarena Fever


6 – Concorde in Gotham


An Air France Concorde left New York's JFK International Airport for a world record circumnavigation flight, on August 15, 1995.


7 – Twin Towers' Last Decade


The iconic twin towers of downtown Manhattan’s World Trade Center were a triumph of human imagination and will. Completed in 1973, the towers stood at 110 stories each, accommodating 50,000 workers and 200,000 daily visitors in 10 million square feet of space. They were the hub of the bustling Financial District, a top tourist attraction and a symbol of New York City’s–and America’s–steadfast devotion to progress and the future.


On September 11, 2001, two planes hijacked by terrorists crash into the Twin Towers, destroying the complex. One World Trade Center is struck at 8:46 a.m.; Two World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m.  To read the timeline of events of that day including two other associated terrorist hijackings, please click here. On September 12, the last survivor is rescued from the WTC site at approximately 12:30 p.m.
September 14 is a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance; President Bush visits Ground Zero. New York Stock Exchange reopens on September 17. Prayer for America service takes place at Yankee Stadium on September 23.


8 –The nostalgia of downtown


Steve Butcher took photographs of his neighborhood in the Lower East Side and East Village during the last years before it evolved from gritty to gentrified. 


On the photo above, Mr. Butcher captures the Auto Service Center on the corner of Lafayette and Prince Street (in Soho) as it was being used by French street artist WK to do a piece on model Alek Wek. Click here to see it today on Google Street View.


9 – Last days of old Times Square


Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his team of developers brought in upscale hotels, theme stores, and restaurants to create the neon Times Square we know today. 


10 – A brand-new Times Square


Times Square in 1999.


11 – The Scent of Woman


Gabrielle Anwar and Al Pacino dance in the Waldorf Astoria in ‘Scent of a Woman’ (1992). Great movies were filmed in New York locations back in the 1990s.


12 – Jogger lovers


Fashion – A style made famous by 1990s jogger lovers, Sport Luxe saw exercise garments leave the gym for life on the catwalk. Cleverly co-ordinating the stripe of the joggers with the thick white block of the jacket, this outfit and it’s soft touch of feminine glamour provides Sport-Luxe enthusiasts with a perfect example (Source: Nathalie Horsley)


13 – High energy in the Lower East Sice


Ash Thayer moved from Memphis to Manhattan in the early 1990s with dreams of becoming a photographer. Her community became her subject. Living off part-time work and student loans while attending The School of Visual Arts, Thayer mostly squatted on the Lower East Side. Over time, she developed a deep connection with the community that took her in. That relationship comes through in "This Land," a photography project Thayer shot between 1992 and 1999.


14 – Iconic music venues


 The Limelight was a nightclub that was an epicenter for “club kid” culture in the ’90s, and a rock venue that hosted a lot of industrial and post-punk bands like Foetus, Gang of Four, Cop Shoot Cop, and New Model Army. The building, which was a converted church, looks more or less the same today, but it is now Limelight Shops, a mall for designer apparel.


The Palladium on 126 East 14th St. was both a cavernous dance club — early episodes of Club MTV were shot there — and a venue that hosted gigs by The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Devo, Public Image Ltd, 2 Live Crew, and Fugazi. The historic venue was eventually purchased by New York University, and is now an enormous dorm for NYU students. It’s still called The Palladium, though.


Coney Island High, located on 15 St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, was the most popular punk venue in New York through much of the ’90s. The venue was demolished in the early ’00s and replaced with a condo building, and now there’s a sushi restaurant on the ground floor.


15 – 5Pointz, Queens


The name "5 Pointz" signifies the five boroughs coming together as one, but, because of its reputation as an epicenter of the graffiti scene, the industrial complex has united aerosol artists from across the world as well. The site 5 Pointz consisted of twelve factory buildings that were one, three, or five stories high.

The buildings were originally constructed in 1892 for Neptune Meter as a factory for the construction of water meters. At the time, the company was known as Thomson Meter Company; it changed its name in 1893, a year after the factory's opening. 

The property was bought in 1971 by Jerry Wolkoff, who did not have immediate plans for redevelopment. Originally, the space was occupied by a record company that created 8-track tapes, CD covers, and items for phonographs.


Wolkoff was approached in the 1990s for permission for the factory to be used for legal graffiti work, which he granted. The site was first established as the Phun Phactory in 1993 by Pat DiLillo under a program called Graffiti Terminators. As the new curator for the Phun Factory, DiLillo was adamant that the word "graffiti" not refer to the work displayed at the Phun Factory, as "graffiti" had long been associated with crime and gang activity.

In an effort to legitimize the art movement and set a distance from the negative connotation, he imposed strict rules for future projects. His rules included that none of the artwork submitted or showcased, would depict gang related symbols. Additionally, if any of the artists' tags were found in the neighborhood or neighboring communities, their work would be immediately removed. DiLillo was also credited by some young artists as the motivation for getting their GEDs and discouraging them from breaking the law.


After 40 years of ownership, the Wolkoff family decided to develop the 5 Pointz site, stating that allowance of the murals on the building had been for temporary purposes and that redevelopment of the site had been planned ever since it started to be used for graffiti. On August 21, 2013, the New York City Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve plans to build condos on the property, while the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a landmark status nomination by artists because the art was less than 30 years old at the time. The Institute of Higher Burnin' or 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc., mainly referred to as simply 5 Pointz or 5Pointz, was an American mural space at 45–46 Davis Street in Long Island CityQueens, New York City, whose murals were exhibited mainly on the exterior walls of the building, drawn by artists from the world over.


As of August 2014, 5 Pointz was in the process of being torn down and by November 2014 the building had been fully demolished, to be replaced by a condominium complex. However, a team of 21 graffiti artists—dubbed “aerosol artists” in court documents—sued the developer of the new condominium, and emerged victorious in their suit against the developer who whitewashed their work from the historic Queens, New York graffiti mecca known as 5Pointz. A federal judge handed the group a $6.75 million judgment on Monday, ruling the developer’s destruction of the street art violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which provides certain artists rights over work even if it is not their property.


Watch the months-long demolition of 5Pointz in a one-minute time-lapse


The controversial rental towers rising on the ashes of 5 Pointz in Long Island City are on the path toward completion. Renderings below are courtesy of Mojo Stumer Associates.


16  – y2k and the end of the world


Remember when everyone thought the world would end in the year 2000? Because computer programs abbreviated the year to two digits, the impending millennium had everyone warning of a digital meltdown when we exited the 20th century. Y2K survivalists started stocking up for the end-of-times and even a Presidential council was formed. In the end, companies worldwide upgraded their systems beforehand and nothing much happened. Well, the end of the world was just the beginning of a new millennium. And that's what the visual storytelling "Tour of New York Back in the 2000s" will be about. Stay tuned.


Best pop songs of the 1990s? Listen to this great compilation and have fun


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