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 fit...spot 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 further...an 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:



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mission Impossible (Self-destructing Post)

I have been on a mission to re-think a design for how we view massive amounts of information.

An obvious goal would be to eliminate excess, redundant and uninteresting information being presented. 



If you notice, social media feeds are very perishable. 

We don't often re-scroll to see things again. It's now you see it, now you don't. Tomorrow,  most of what you view is all but forgotten.  Posts become dinosaurs after a few hours, replaced by a new story every minute. 



And these days we are seeing a lot of things we don't want to see. 

The interest factor is inconsistent and arguably in decline. How different can a selfie really look in each photo?

Scrolling is largely needed to skip over posts we don't want to see or see for much longer. 

It is a big time killer.

It's like skipping over miles of places on a map being scrolled. 

We will have probably spent years of our lives scrolling past things we don't wish to view by the time we die. 

And for things we do want to see, the posts are often disposable media. We don't often go back to review them. Facebook Timeline is seldom used for this very reason. The posts of today, this minute and the next second keep us busy enough. 

So let's imagine a new set of posts where every post is something we want to see.

Tiling windows or tabbing to view pages would actually be faster than scrolling. 

But you can only tile or tab so much. So what if as soon as you tap "close" the window just disintegrates like a Mission Impossible message. 



The popular Snapchat already employs a system of "disappearing" messages after expiry.


But this time there is a difference, another recommended window appears to replace it, showing something interesting. 

If you destroyed a post by accident, we can always consider a "back" button.  But let's first consider a search field to find a lost post (or old post).  Let's also consider permanently freezing windows you liked or commented on to be cached in your archives. 

If we automate disappearing posts by expiry times (for self-destruction), exploration will be even faster. You can also  "like" any post to freeze it, skipping any destruction.  

The juice of the design will be in how new windows are recommended. 

That's the mission if you choose to accept it.


My secret agenda is to figure out a faster way to explore stories geo-spatially.  A way to travel place to place without needing to scroll slowly along a map and barely seeing anything - and coming across signs (map pins) that don't really saying anything or tell me where to go to find something cool.

I started looking at displaying windows into a place (instead of non-descript pins) and the idea of not even using a map to show stories at places. This is after spending time to figure out one way to recommend windows nearby and faraway.  The next step was to figure out how to view these windows - to jump from one to another fast.  I started to become focused on self-destructing windows that led to new windows. A view can clear up for a new window with a prior post bursting. 



Is it just as fun to burst a photo? 






Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Windows Into A Place

Imagine a world where your screen had windows into a place.


In one window,  you see Al Pacino talking to Jerry Orbach for the film Chinese Coffee (2000)  at Caffe Vivaldi (32 Jones, NYC).   That's Al Pacino's debut as a feature film director.

In another window (same place at 32 Jones), you see Rob Reiner talking to John Cusack by the fireplace in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994).



Through a window by the front (same place), you see Marcus Mumford singing with Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) star Oscar Isaac in January 2012. 


And one day, nearly three years later, Dec 30, 2014, you are notified that your friend Kate Sland is at 32 Jones (same place) with Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) star Oscar Isaac and Erik Frandsen (who's played with Bob Dylan and appeared on The Colbert Report). You see a photo of them taken by someone you've seen sing, Jon D'Angelo. 


Imagine if these windows told stories to be seen for history.

And that you could jump fast without any scrolling to a nearby window at another place with more interesting stories and see what a notable writer thought.  


 “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”  WH Auden lived at 7 Cornelia.



"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Ernest Hemingway lived  at 25 Cornelia. 



Back on Jones Street, actor Kirk Douglas and country singer Steve Earle lived at No. 20. Earle, a Greenwich Village history buff, wanted to live by history: 


Don Hunstein photographed Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo for Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) by 8 Jones (r)  and 9 Jones (l) where jazz legend Jaco Pastorius later lived in the 1980s. 


Jaco Pastorius is standing a few blocks away with the jazz landmark Village Vanguard (178 7th Ave S) behind him. During 1982-86, he would feed homeless people with food from local restaurants. Village restauranteurs knew him well. 

Circling back to the fireplace at 32 Jones...imagine you could "jump" from here to a new window that is related to John Cusack but not nearby (even fictional): 


John Cusack and Cameron Diaz are on the 7 1/2 fl at 610 11th Ave (NYC). Secret door behind filing cabinet goes into John Malkovich's mind in Being John Malkovich (1999). 

Imagine venturing even further away...


John Cusack and Jack Black are at Champion Vinyl (1500 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago) in High Fidelity (2000). 

Imagine seeing connected stories this good consistently every hour. 

Now imagine you are notified an interesting conversation is happening related to a story you like. A new window opens for you to connect. 




You can add or open "new windows"  for additional visual perspectives: 


You can open  "new windows" for dialogue:



People who were there show up in live storytelling windows: 


Fab Five Freddy aka Fred Brathwaite appears in Blondie's video Rapture

* * * 

In defining a more usable, compelling locative media experience, we are conceptually thinking about connecting windows at places as a design theme. We need a media-viewing Mac for places to go past the Commodore 64 of mapping. 

Map scrolling, as noted in a prior post, has proven to be too slow for regular exploration. Media is too hidden in anonymous untitled story pins.  Maps can offer inspiring maps, but media viewing is relegated to secondary and tertiary navigation levels.  Maps cannot yield top-level inspired media viewing on the front page.  

We have 100s of iconic stories just for the vicinity of Jones Street collected over a decade in our database that a map cannot present all at once.  


We desire a geo-media platform with rapid visual exploration and storytelling. One that embraces community comment threading (which maps cannot do). And a way to manage even a 1000 stories at one place instead of just one story at one place in one anonymous pin. Scalability needs great consideration.  

You'll get the technical issues of mapping lots of info  in this post  discussing the mapping of 375 million taxi origin points in Manhattan. And that is just to show a map (no media viewing).  

After spending about 20,000 hours, using  tools to geo-index 1.5 million items into 150,000 notable stories, it became rapidly apparent, we need something more than a map to view media conveniently fast. Maps cannot achieve user goals fast or be used every minute of the day. 

After participating daily with 12,000 photographers, bloggers, historians, art curators and local experts in a Manhattan Facebook group passionate about sharing stories and photos at places, the key reward also became apparent. It's live storytelling stimulated by one lead photo and story at a place. 

You can get 60 notifications in an hour at times in this group whereas with maps, notifications are at zero regularly. Notable photographers like  "Donna Ferrato" notify you: 



Notifications, for example, were triggered in our group by  Keith Haring's Pop Shop at 292 Lafayette (NY): 


Notifications  were triggered by Richard Avedon's studio at 407 E 75th St:  


Windows can give you an experience of a scene past/present. 

Now we are hoping to find a compelling way to tile or stitch connective windows that will leave streetviews in the dust. The idea is to explore geography much faster than a map leaving out tons of irrelevant data normally seen in a map. Most data on a map is needed for driving but not for media viewing. We want to show only compelling visuals and stories geo-spatially in windows. The key design traits are:

1. Windows into a place.
2. Jumping fast to nearby windows
3. Jumping fast to faraway windows
4. Jumping deeper into conversation windows with images and text. 

Like a film director, we can show the same locations and story using different cinematography for geography. Like Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver

The idea is to navigate linearly (nearby) and topologically (related locations anywhere in the world). 

Searching for stories by  place takes work. So  we have also considered how to predetermine stories of interest by mutual interest to extend story exploration without searching. The trigger point for starting an exploration has also been deeply considered.