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Friday, June 10, 2011

It Hurts Me Too

Please Click and Play Audio Clip to Accompany Your Reading:

In the off chance you have not heard, read or seen, the painting over of a sign at 11-13 Minetta Street is BIG International news. It's a media feeding frenzy. In 1958 the Commons opened here. From the 1950s through the 1960s, it became the home of The Fat Black Pussycat Theatre, a legendary beatnik coffee bar which saw the likes of Bill Cosby, Tiny Tim, Mama Cass Elliot, Richie Havens, and Shel Silverstein. It has been said that it may have been here that Dylan wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" in 1962 (however, everyone wants to lay claim to a Dylan connection and it appears that there is no hard evidence of such).

In 1972 the space became Panchito's, a Mexican restaurant with a main entrance on MacDougal Street and back entrance here at 11-13 Minetta Street. The owner of Panchito's, Bob Englehardt, is 84 and has been a Village resident since 1951. He has owned the building since the Black Pussycat closed in 1963. Bob frequented the club and says:

Why don’t we just take the whole world and set it in concrete? That would save everything. The Village was freedom, it wasn’t a concreted-over straitjacket.

The Pussycat represented the worst of what the Village was. When you wanted to get drugs, get into fights and get with underage girls the Pussycat was where you went. The Village was never about rules. Making someone ask for permission before painting a building is the exact opposite of what made the Village what it was.

I’ve lived in the village since ’51. The Fat Black Pussycat in my opinion was a cesspool. You could barely see anybody because of the smoke, and you couldn’t talk to anybody because half of the people you wanted to talk to wanted to sell you narcotics.

Residents are fuming, tourists are raging, some are threatening to boycott Panchito's. Others, like myself, stopped eating there 30 years ago. I understand the sentiment. The issue is how little of historic significance we have left - neighbors and visitors want to hang on to every last vestige, even though it may have been a cesspool, these are the only connections we have left.

In a way there is irony here - a battle to regulate, preserve and protect the images of a counter-cultural generation known for rebellion. We've seen this kind of controversy before in New York City, when graffiti artists have defaced other artists' work - graffiti over graffiti. Here, of course, we have business painting over another's business. Whose business is it?

Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), who called the painting of the sign "a shame" says:

It's a tangible link to this incredibly important era in the neighborhood's history, when so many great musicians and poets and artists used the South Village as a springboard to transform the world. Less and less of it is left.

The street is not part of any existing historic district, however there has been an effort to create a South Village Historic District, which would include Minetta Street. Many feel such a designation would have saved the sign. However, even if the district were protected, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in regards to the recent painting over of the old sign:

We would have approved it. We’ve never said no to an owner of a commercial establishment who’s wanted to cover advertising for a previous tenant.

There has been a lot of romanticizing of this small, one-block street. I understand the concerns of the residents and the love of the their street, however, maintaining charm is a war here. Sandwiched between MacDougal Street and 6th Avenue, Minetta Street is often overflow for the late night drunken revelry of MacDougal Street and serves as a shortcut between the neighboring streets.

You can read the New York Times article here and the GVSHP story here. There's not much we can do about that sign now (although some believe it could be restored by removing the new paint job). I don't want to make light of the situation, but it's for times like this that the Blues are written. If you loosely reinterpret the lyrics of that Elmore James classic (the song link for this story), parts of them fit. I'm playing it a few more times. Why don't you join me and share our pain? Because when things go wrong, It Hurts Me Too ...

Song Note: Thank you Eric Clapton for this wonderful interpretation of the Elmore James classic - It Hurts Me Too :)

Related Posts: The Real Peel, Diamonds and Rust, Model for Decorum, Bohemian Flavor of the Day, Summer of Drugs, Physical Graffiti


Barcelona m'enamora said...

Hi! The tech of this restaurant looks to me like a stage set. It looks like if you want to come in there's nothing inside...

Magpie Mason said...

I've eaten at Panchito's a number of times during the past 25 years, and I've walked past a thousand times, but I never even noticed the FBPC lettering up there. So I wonder why it is significant.

I'm all in favor of historic preservation, but where everything is "historic," then nothing is historic, and the Village has bigger preservation concerns than this.

Another excellent post anyway.


Anonymous said...

My anonymous tip to Jeremiah's Vanishing NY and Ephemeral NY broke this story last week. The response has been stunning. It's great to see that it's become something of a rallying cry to help establish a South Village historic district.

JAY. I believe you're missing the point in a profound way. As well, if you've walked down Minetta St thousands of times over the past 25 years and failed to notice the FBPC signage, then I'm afraid you're not very observant. I'm just sayin'. Minetta St. is only a block long. I think you may be confusing Minetta with McDougal. The entrance to Panchitos is on McDougal.

Thanks Brian for a great post.