Saturday, May 23, 2015

Taxi Driver Diner Location Solved via Hell's Kitchen Mystery

There's no better place than Manhattan Before 1990 for a mysterious location of a photo to be solved. The detective work is  beyond anything a museum or library would do in New York City.  There might be stellar geo-sleuths out there but collectively this group is unrivaled.

The mysterious location of this 1979 photo (above) by M. Joedicke  took among the longest to find. The photographer didn't even know where it was.

There's a Pronto gas station sign  but let's just say Pronto came and went and nobody remembered it having even arrived in New York City.

The next clue was the liquor store telephone number with a 563 exchange which we later deduced had to be in Midtown:

But hold on. Some members wondered if this was even in New York City. How do we know for sure?  The bus stop is unique to New York:

That brings out the next obvious clue. This is a two-way street and it had an uncommon slope which also led the search towards Inwood, The Bronx and Harlem. That was far too wide of a search perimeter to find anything fast.

So another investigative approach was deployed. Another clue is the road is wet. A member then looked at all the rainy day photos in the original album.  He immediately found rainy photos on 34th Steet (this would later prove to be the correct street). But the photographer traveled to both East 34th St in Kips Bay and to West 34th St by New Yorker Hotel. He stayed at Hotel Mansfield on 44th St near 5th Ave and had also photographed 42nd Street all the way across. 

But that narrowed it down to only two, 2-way streets he photographed on a rainy day. Additionally, 34th St and 42nd St only sloped closer to the rivers. 

The taxi, garage and gas station led the member to believe it had to be near 10th Avenue where cabs often fueled.  42nd St is very well documented in New York photos so the member suggested focusing on 10th Ave and 34th St where there is an empty lot:

This turned out to be the correct spot but two notable members said it could not be the spot. One  respected  geo-sleuth said 2 buildings and a gas station could not fit. But the member suggesting 10th Ave and 34th St noted the slope, mentioned the photographer's 34th St and 42nd St rainy day photos and found a BP gas station on site there at one point: 

The member suggested 1979 gas stations could be skinny and noted how small the Pronto sign was. There was also a speculative guess by another member that a blurry address above one door was in the 400s. This site was 461 W 34th St. 

All the circumstantial evidence for taxis to fuel up, former gas station was here, two-way street, empty lot (open to possibilities), bus route, 563 exchange area, and a two-way street the photographer photographed on a rainy day (1 of only 2 two-way streets he photographed that day). The bet was the photographer (from another country)  had to have taken another photo during his stay nearby this photo. 

But still there were no firm believers of this spot being correct. Later, a former taxi driver and notable photographer  almost put it to rest by saying he had pumped gas here into his cab and it cannot be the spot. 

Then David Cohen revived the theory this could be 10th Ave and 34th St facing north...6 days later! There is a billboard which meant this had to have been a vacant lot, parking lot or gas station for a long time. 

Somehow he found video footage of the place  in a DJ mix on Youtube at the 2:11 mark. Here are stills at 10th Ave and 34th St (NE corner) with the same gas station sign holder and deli building (a coffee shop here), with a liquor store, by the extant 1929 building at 455 W 34th St  (behind signs): 

A comparison by Ruben Iglesias: 

The video footage is a beautiful document of 10th Avenue from 30th St to 46th St.  That led to another connection. 

For the longest time, quite a few Taxi Driver (1976)  geo-sleuths were wondering where the diner across from HESS was with Robert De Niro (r).

The same member who suggested the 10th Ave and 34th St had previously suggested this diner was across from the HESS gas station at 10th Ave between 44th St and 45th St. He couldn't figure out the angle because the architecture of HESS has changed since 1975 when Taxi Driver was shot. Bob Egan of PopSpots found a photo of how it once looked:

Using geometry, a city plan and directory listing, he was able to deduce the Taxi Driver (1976) diner had to be at 632 10th Ave:

There was an M&N Restaurant there. But we had no photo of the exterior or visual confirmation this place was correct....until this video footage at the 7:47 mark (used to solve the gas station mystery at 10th Ave and 34th St at the 2:11 mark).  There were images of 632 10th Ave at 45th St:

The ceiling light, door position and neon sign seemed to put it in the right ballpark for the Taxi Driver (1976) diner across from HESS. Bob Egan of PopSpots immediately replied.

He first stitched together two images for a wider view of 632 10th Ave:

He then used digital fingerprinting to confirm it's a match: 

Geo-sleuthing takes a lot of patience to wait for the clues to arrive and geo-artifacts to manifest. It also requires one to hold on to a circumstantial theory when others think it is wrong. There are many times a theory is wrong. Without the smoking gun, it could be wrong. 

It's never fully solved until you have visual confirmation.

Very humbling.

UPDATE - The  yellow circle should be over the bar on the left in the Taxi Driver scene and the green square should be over the H in HESS. 

UPDATE:  The DJ Mix video footage is originally from Chantal Ackerman's documentary News From Home (1977).  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mystery in the Bronx

One day, I hope Manhattan Before 1990  on Facebook becomes a museum.

The level of photographic curation and location identification is unrivaled in New York City.

Members dig for rare photos and photographers share exclusive photos of New York City that incite compelling storytelling or investigation.

Last night, I thought this Facebook group would be stumped for the first time as I watched people make guesses at where a park and building were in a 1940s photo by Mike Katz posted by Ruben Iglesias.

The immediate clues were the address 35 and the circles in the metal fence, Ruben noted:

Other clues noted that turned out to be true...a store is to the right (via Ruben) and this entrance has a  "T-shaped inset" (via Matthew Rohn)  which is not that obvious in the photo. This is what it looked like after it was found:

Like I said,  not so obvious.

Those clues could be anywhere  in New York City and a lot  can change since the 1940s.  

The group looked at almost every fence and park in Manhattan facing an apartment building. But still no cigar. Only so many buildings in Manhattan could have the address 35 by a park/square. Almost all of them were noted in the comments. 

My instincts told me it was either demolished uptown (or in Harlem)...or even further from discovery  in The Bronx.

One member started looking in the Bronx because he remembered fencing with similar circles there.

Eventually a man who had worked for Ma Bell in the Bronx started looking there at buildings that felt familiar to him by a park.

He suggested 35 Mc Clelland across Mullaly Park.  However, even though he nailed the place, it was not so obvious.

The streetview looked like this:

He was about to move on, after thinking the entrance was not the same. But another member recalled the "T-shaped inset" clue for the entrance and felt the window pattern was similar (but he photo was not as detailed): 

Additionally, the fence at Mullaly Park had circles and the park had benches along a diagonal path in a similar angle as the one in Ruben's mysterious post:

The right side at 35 Mc Clellan also looked similar with a fire escape and store in the right position at 1147 River Ave:

There was still doubt. This could easily be architecture at other locations.   Investigating older streetview was needed from 2007 and it showed a matching entrance and ground level window (r): 

This is the kind of work few museums with photo collections do.  And that is why Manhattan Before 1990 gets my vote for becoming a museum one day. 

Locals of all kinds contribute clues to identifying locations for photos and add enriching stories. 

In this case, the telephone man Martin Balassi (a "Bronx sherpa")  solved it  after 15 hours of group searching:

The 3 benches along the diagonal path of Mullaly Park are now facing 35 Mc Clellan. Here is an aerial: