Morton Street

Morton Street: In Conclusion

Streets are an incredibly interesting and complex part of a city, especially in Manhattan, a bustling urban center in which almost any locale can prove to be much more than what initially meets the eye. When observing and researching streets with rich histories that trace back to the earliest days of colonization of what is now New York City, there can be many discrepancies between what is seen and what actually is. And because these streets, many of which are off the grid and therefore hold a very unique and individual place in the city, have such rich histories, the representations of them over time shift in their meaning, in their denotation of what the street is like and how people interact with and utilize the space in everyday life.

Morton Street spans only six avenues from Bleecker Street down to West Street where the edge of the city makes its acquaintance with the Hudson River. Morton was established long before 1811, when New York City planners imposed the grid on the ever-expanding city (Barbanel), so Morton has maintained its elbow-like shape and crooked presence in a city made up of so many rectangles. In fact, the area of Morton Street that is closest to the water sits on some of the first land in New York that was settled by Europeans (Greenwich Village Society). Clearly, Morton Street had an existence that predated much of the rest of the island. Perhaps this is why it still remains unclear today how exactly Morton Street got its name, with two different prominent stories. According to “The Origin of New York City Street Names”, which is an excerpt from The Landmark History of New York, Morton Street is named after John Morton, a well-known 19th century New York merchant. He was a delegate of the second New York Congress, and he was known as the “rebel banker” because of the rather large amounts of money he advanced to the Continental Congress (Ulmann). However, most believe the street to be named in honor of John Morton’s eldest son, Jacob Morton, an enormously popular political figure who served in several municipal positions and was major-general of the first militia of New York for over 30 years (Lamb).

Interestingly enough, the fact that there are two different stories as to whom Morton Street is named for is only the beginning of several other binaries that the street presents. Morton street has melded new and old, residential and commercial, and it has transitioned through a lot of change over the span of its existence in Manhattan. We can begin to piece together a snapshot of its history just from looking at pictures of the buildings along the path of the street. For instance, the two photos below show Morton Street at Washington Street in 1931 and in 2011.

Morton Street at Washington Street (1931)-Photo Courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Gallery <http://digitalgallery.nypl.org&gt;

Morton Street at Washington Street (2011)

The image from 1931 shows several buildings of all different architectural styles, and they all look residential; but the photo from present day shows one massive concrete building that has office space on the bottom and residences on the upper floors. Here we see the discrepancy between new and old, the effect that time has had on the exact same block of one street. And if we narrow the scope even further to look at the aesthetics of the street just in present day, it becomes obvious that while much of the street has been modernized, some of the past architecture still remains. At the outset of Morton’s trail at Bleecker Street and running through to Hudson Street, charming brownstones sit level with the treetops, creating a quaint atmosphere, one that could almost look like a painting or like a manufactured movie studio backlot constructed to look like the quintessential downtown New York. But from Hudson down to West Street and the Hudson River, Morton Street reflects a new history, one of commercialization and gentrification, as tall lofts stretch into the sky and concrete office buildings completely alter the aura of the street.

Morton Street at Bleecker Street

Morton Street at West Street

Morton Street, like many streets, has been affected by trends, by the passage of time, by the people who interact with the city and the space around them. The “phatic” of the street is “the function” and foundation of the street, the “effort to ensure communication” (de Certeau 99), but because Morton is so different along its path and encompasses so many different “languages”, the street experiences a kind of language barrier. It is as if the street has a split personality, and this is something that does not extend just to the aesthetic actuality of the street, but also to the ways in which people experience the block and how the street is represented.

For instance, walking along Morton Street in daylight defies “what is a common city practice, crowds walking through streets to particular destinations” (Morris 690). Unlike most New York City streets, there are no crowds to be found here. In fact, it is not uncommon to be the only person on the street.

Morton Street at Daytime

How often does one encounter a completely empty block in Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon? On a block such as this one, it is not hard to understand that while “the relationship between body-subject and city” is perhaps “more of a two-way process”, there can be instances in which the walker “seems to act (for the most part) on a quite static urban territory” (Morris 692). But if this is the case for the daytime, then the nighttime is a completely contradictory experience. Walking down Morton Street at night is noisy, bustling, and energetic, with people leaving the various office buildings on the street as well as coming and going from brownstones and apartment buildings. It is as if the daytime acts as a mask for the night, hiding the darker part of its existence until the sun sets, when the night acts as a mask for what Morton was during its daily existence.

Morton Street at Nighttime

Other discrepancies arise from how the street is reflected in media representations, like in literature or music. Patricia Highsmith, a novelist who actually lived on Morton Street when she was a teenager and drew a lot of inspiration from the West Village (Cohen), wrote the novel A Dog’s Ransom, and the story of crime and clashes of power and social standing in New York City was published in 1972. In her novel, much of which is set in the West Village, she writes various chase scenes that depict the maze-like quality of the West Village, like when she says “Clarence thought that the Pole had gone into the first narrow street west—Commerce, Clarence saw as he ran at last across Seventh Avenue South…Morton Street was parallel with Commerce one street south”. But she also conveys a very dark quality to the area surrounding Morton Street when one of the characters is described as “ducking into a dark doorway, vanishing”, invisible among all the doors “because they all looked alike here: narrow brownstones” (Highsmith).

This representation is quite similar to the one conveyed in “Morton Street”, an early 1980s song by the now defunct band Get Wet. With such lyrics that include “sharp knives, shivers, lonely by the river”, “there were so many young boys trying to look so mean”, and “don’t go down to the pier tonight…there’s a boat sailing out on a mirror of moonlight”, this very dark, foreboding image of Morton Street is perpetuated, just like in Highsmith’s novel. The song literally warns people to stay away from the Hudson River, from Morton Street, and gives the sense of a Morton Street at a completely different time and place in the 1980s when drugs, violence, and impending danger constantly crowded the streets.

In both the novel and the song, there is not only the evident binary between the past and the present but also between how the readings of these media texts make us feel and how they differ from the actual experience that we would have walking down the street today. Though Highsmith’s reflection from the 1970s of the concrete layout of the area is still accurate today, taking a walk down Morton Street in the present is not filled with the tension and darkness with which she describes the area. And Morton Street is no longer anything like the reflection that can be heard in Get Wet’s song, as the danger that once filled the streets has been replaced by neat row houses, gleaming lofts, and stark office buildings.

But the most obvious discrepancies are those that exist between interior and exterior, the difference between simply walking down the street and seeing the façade and what is going on behind the closed doors of buildings on Morton Street. Consider for instance, the exterior of 5 Morton Street, pictured below, and compare that to the image of the sprawling living room below it.

The real 5 Morton Street, NYC

Interior of Phoebe's Apartment (Courtesy of Friends Central http://friends.wikia.com)

One would never think that this living room would fit inside that brownstone, but that is the magic of television. On the ground-breaking sit-com phenomenon Friends, which ran for a decade from 1994-2004, the character of Phoebe Buffay (played by Lisa Kudrow) reveals that she lives in 5 Morton Street in Apartment 14. While 5 Morton Street sounds like the perfect West Village address to the casual viewer, Phoebe’s apartment gives a very unrealistic image of a single woman living in New York City. In reality, for 5 Morton Street to contain at least 14 apartments, Phoebe would more likely live in a cramped studio rather than the sprawling multiple-room apartment that she appears to inhabit. Here, the audience sees a completely contradictory image of the inside of Morton Street when juxtaposed with what appears to be happening on the outside. But also of note is the fact that this representation in the 1990s is much different from those in the 1970s and 1980s. From Phoebe’s apartment, Morton Street not only seems to be extremely clean, beautiful, and safe, but also a place where someone of wealth would reside.

Similarly, online digital representations of Morton seem to contradict what appears to be going on from the street view. The building at 55 Morton Street seems, from its exterior, to be a harmless, older apartment building on one of the busier blocks of Morton between Seventh Avenue South and Hudson Street. But searches for “Morton Street” on sites like TripAdvisor and Kayak display customer reviews that purport that 55 Morton Street is being operated as an illegal hotel, with units being rented out to tourists and other guests. The hotel, called Signature Morton Suites on these sites, gets 2.5 stars out of 5 on TripAdvisor and an abysmal ½ out of 5 stars on Kayak, with most reviewers calling it “terrible”, “filthy”, “dirty…with noise so bad you can’t sleep on the weekends”. With several reviewer pictures of rotting floors and walls, broken locks, and broken appliances, and no official website or information about the hotel, it seems that these suspicions could be true. These reviews show a grittier side to the city reminiscent of Highsmith’s reflections in A Dog’s Ransom and Get Wet’s warnings of the area in their song “Morton Street”. And once again, this discrepancy becomes very clear. Standing on the tree-lined street surrounded by beautiful preserved brownstones and neat-looking apartments and buildings, one would not think that an illegal hotel was operating in the midst of such a friendly, harmless looking street. This is another example of the inside, or the inside knowledge, presenting something completely contrary to what the outside seems to boast.

Probably the most interesting visual discrepancy on the street was addressed recently in the Wall Street Journal’s real estate section. The house at 46 Morton Street, a five-story brownstone built in 1844 and once occupied by Francis Mason and his wife, Patricia, a real estate broker to the stars, has been put on the market by their realtor daughter, Leslie Mason, and is being sold for $8.8 million.

Exterior of 46 Morton-Photo Courtesy of Ramsay de Give for the Wall Street Journal

The façade of the house is hardly 18-feet wide, but because Morton Street is off the grid and 46 Morton is placed right on the elbow of Morton Street between Seventh Avenue South and Hudson Street, the house is actually 35-feet wide at its back, where it leads to a massive 2000-square foot garden that reaches as wide as 48-feet at its rear.

Backyard Garden at 46 Morton-Photo Courtesy of Ramsay de Give for the Wall Street Journal

Before the Masons passed away, Patricia cultivated the garden as part of her life’s work, and her backyard treasure was even once a showplace on horticultural tours of Manhattan. The huge backyard and garden were most likely used as stables when the house was originally built, and the property listing boasts that 46 Morton Street has “the largest south garden in Greenwich Village” (Barbanel). Not only is it amazing that such a large open space could exist in the city, but also that something like this exists behind the urban, brick façade of the house. The reappropriation of the space is also evident, as the space was used for stables and for work in the 1840s when the house was originally constructed, and was turned into something for pleasure and leisure, a garden, in the 20th century. But the principle still remains the same: the inside is nothing like what the outside hints at, and the story that we see on the outside is a completely different story than what we see happening on the inside.

In studying and observing Morton Street, it is common to find or feel or see something that feels unlike exactly what is being presented; oddly enough, the consistency of the street seems to come from these discrepancies, from Morton’s ability to always be something more, have a greater story and history to tell than what is visible from the street. Though this notion seems to be rather abstract and intangible, one can examine all these different media reflections to understand the convoluted and complex history of the street. Streets are experiential. They seem at first to be simple, to be the veins of the city that carry us from place to place. But streets are actually living creations that change and adapt and affect the world around them and how people move and interact with the city. Morton Street has an entire life, an entire existence that is not visible from the street itself. There are two sides to every story, and Morton Street is no exception.

Works Cited:

Barbanel, Josh. “At Bend in Road, a Garden Surprise.” Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, 8 Nov. 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.

Beachfront, Sherri and Zecca Esquibel. “Morton Street.” Get Wet. Boardwalk, 2009. CD.

Cohen, Patricia. “The Haunts of Miss Highsmith.” New York Times. New York Times. 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated
by Steven Rendall. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988. 91-

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “The Far West Village and
Greenwich Village Waterfront: Proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.” Gvshp.org. Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, 2004. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.

Highsmith, Patricia. A Dog’s Ransom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972. Print.

Lamb, Martha Joanna. History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1880. Print.

Morris, Brian. “What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Walking in the City.’”
 Cultural Studies 18.5 (2004): 675-97.

“Morton Suites Hotel.” Kayak. Kayak, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.kayak.com/New_York-Hotels.Morton_Suites_Hotel.64822.ksp
“The One With Joey’s New Brain.” Friends: The Complete Seventh Season. Writ. David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Dir. Kevin Bright. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.

“Signature Suites Morton Suites—West Village: Traveler Reviews.” Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60763-d235234-r23932623-Signature_Suites_Morton_Suites_West_Village-New_York_City_New_York.html.

Ulmann, Albert. “The Origin of New York City Street Names.” The Landmark History 
of New York. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1901. Print.

An Introduction to Morton Street by Julie Busch

Morton Street is situated in the West Village, and, in total, spans only six avenues from its eastern-most boundary of Bleecker Street to West Street and the Hudson River. The farthest west portion of the West Village was part of the first land settled in New York by Europeans; therefore, the land now known as Morton Street was likely settled before almost all of the island of Manhattan (Greenwich Village Society). Morton is a quiet street that is often cited as one of the most picturesque streets in the village, as it is lined with brownstones (New York Times).

Its quaint façades have long been considered the basis of its charm. An article published in the New York Times in 1885 entitled “Respectability in Hiding” addressed the downtrodden west side of Manhattan, calling attention to a small section of streets that are “upholding dignity in untidy surroundings”. In the article, Morton Street is named as the center of this oasis of “respectable” streets, with its clean pavement, stately trees, genuine grass, and attractive brownstones with artistic elements, only stating that the block becomes less desirable once Morton turns at a slight angle and becomes less affluent, creating an economic and social divide within the confines of one street.

And just as the street had two parts or sides in the late 19th century—the affluent and the less affluent—there are also two sides of the story of how Morton Street got its name, as two explanations can be found that differ but have an interesting overlap as well. According to “The Origin of New York City Street Names”, which is an excerpt from The Landmark History of New York by Albert Ulmann, Morton Street is named after John Morton, a well-known 19th century New York merchant. He was a delegate of the second New York Congress, and he was known as the “rebel banker” because of the rather large amounts of money he advanced to the Continental Congress. However, most websites, including LiveonMortonStreet, a website created by a Morton Street real estate agent, believe the street to be named in honor of John Morton’s eldest son, Jacob Morton, an enormously popular political figure who served in several municipal positions and was major-general of the first militia of New York for over 30 years (Lamb).

Today Morton Street remains as one of the more charming blocks in 21st century Manhattan. It is mostly residential, with a few cafes and shop sprinkled in, and boasts trees that reach over the street and touch one another, creating a canopy and giving a sense that one has left the bustling city and entered an entirely new place.

Works Cited:

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “The Far West Village and
Greenwich Village Waterfront: Proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.” Gvshp.org. Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, 2004. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.

Lamb, Martha Joanna. History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1880. Print.

“Respectability in Hiding.” New York Times. New York Times, 1885. Web. 11 Sept.

Toes, Christine, ed. Live on Morton Street. 2011. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.

Ulmann, Albert. “The Origin of New York City Street Names.” The Landmark History
of New York
. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1901. Print.

“Waking Tour of Greenwich Village.” New York Times. New York Times. Web. 12
Sept. 2011.
Graffiti on Morton

Taking a walk down Morton Street is unlike taking a walk down most streets in Manhattan. There are no billboards, no advertisements, no sign of a “burgeoning commercial culture intent on leaving no vertical space unmarked” (Henkin 70). Most of the apparent signage is confined to the street signs themselves, and to plaques that adorn almost all of the brownstones and apartments on the street asking people to pick up after their dogs and be aware of the automatic sprinkler systems. There are no historic plaques honoring people or places that used to exist on Morton Street, and there are no ads for music or stores or anything else.

I walked down the street and realized I was not being inundated with texts, with signage and billboards and ads like on so many of these Manhattan streets. It was strange. Living in New York, we become so anesthetized to the consistent, overwhelming presence of images and words plastered on almost every street that sometimes we can only notice their absence. I looked carefully up and down each brownstone, each apartment building, and was surprised to find so little text. Not only were there very few signs of modern text or signage, but there was nothing to be seen that commemorates what was one of the very first areas settled on the island. If it is indeed true that “American cities seem made, not for history, but for the future” (Ferguson 393), then Morton Street certainly helps to prove this point; there are no apparent signs of the past, except for the expanse of Morton between Washington Street and West Street, which has been given a second name, Detective Claude “Danny” Richardson Way, honoring the NYPD officer and military veteran who died while trying to save people during the September 11 attacks (Cook).

Detective Claude "Danny" Richards Way at Morton and West Streets

What I found to be the most eye-catching sign on the block was a garage door, covered in graffiti. This graffiti display is located on the stretch of Morton Street between Seventh Avenue and Bleecker, right where Morton actually begins. This graffiti, and one other smaller display almost directly across the street from it, are the only large and noticeable works of street art that can be found on Morton Street. Though there is other graffiti on other parts of the street, the rest is not only very small in comparison, but also is confined to garbage cans, dumpsters, and the backs of street and traffic signs. This stretch of Morton from Bleecker to Seventh Avenue is the “elbow” of Morton Street, where it trails off at a 45 degree angle from the rest of the street. And what struck me as most interesting was that this is the exact portion of the street that was identified as being the less affluent portion of Morton Street in the late 19th century. This was the portion that stood apart from the rest of the street, which was tidy and beautiful, housing the wealthy in homes that were pristinely maintained (New York Times). Graffiti is often seen as a convention of a more urban, less refined space, so it is interesting that this kind of signage is found on the one expanse of Morton that was so long ago cited as the less desirable portion of the block, seen as the starting point of an economic divide within the street.

Garage Door with Graffiti on Morton between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South

Building with Graffiti on Morton between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South

However, in an interesting juxtaposition, even though graffiti may often connote a marred, less desirable space, this block where the graffiti is located is the one block of Morton that stands out as seemingly the most historic and quaint. The brownstones and buildings all look to be of fairly original design and construction, while most of the other blocks of Morton Street have a mix of historic brownstones and gentrified properties, new contemporary apartment buildings that create a stark contrast to the quiet and classic charm of this portion of Morton Street that seems to stand alone as a tribute to its past.

Works Cited:

Cook, Dee, ed. Claude “Danny” Richardson. NYPD Angels, 2007. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.

Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. “Reading City Streets.” The French Review 61.3. (2008): 386-97.

Henkin, David M. “Word on the Streets: Bills, Boards, and Banners.” City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 69-100.

“Respectability in Hiding.” New York Times. New York Times, 1885. Web. 11 Sept.


Walking Down Morton Street

Walking down Morton Street and trying to decipher the character of the street does not prove to be any easier on subsequent visits than it was on the first. Though a short street, it is incredibly complex, made up of contradicting elements. It is brownstones, and it is apartment buildings. It is old, ornate architecture but also new and shiny rows of modern condominiums and skyscraping apartments. The street is quaint, but also a bit decrepit in some spots. So while it may appear to be a short street taking up minimal space on a map, it “cannot be reduced to [its] graphic trail” (de Certeau 99).

The “phatic” of the street is “the function” and foundation of the street, the “effort to ensure communication” (de Certeau 99), but because Morton is so different along its path and encompasses so many different languages, the street experiences a kind of language barrier. There is certainly communication, but deciphering it is not an easy task, and one which I have yet to fully understand. This can be seen from the contrasting images below, the first two of which show the rows of beautifully preserved brownstones, some of them quite ornate. All of these brownstones are located on Morton between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South, and on Morton between 7th Avenue South and Hudson Street. But the third and fourth images show two views of the contemporary, posh apartments and condos that sit just two very short avenues away on Morton between Washington Street and West Street. The juxtaposition of these images exemplifies the discordant character of the street.

Brownstone on Morton between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South

Brownstones on Morton Between 7th Avenue South and Hudson

New Condos on Morton Between Washington and West

Contemporary Apartments on Morton between Washington and West

Because of these apparent contradictions within Morton Street, is seems hard to categorize it. For instance, while it is easy to view many New York streets as a type of synecdoche, which “names a part instead of the whole which includes it” (de Certeau 101), it does not seem as if Morton could be the part representative of the whole of New York, and a singular block of Morton also could not represent the whole of Morton because each block is so different. Morton, however, could possibly be a synecdoche for the West Village. The West Village is, in many places, a fusion of old and new culture and old and new architecture. So while Morton Street may, in itself, be a sort of anomaly and escape category and pattern, it still perhaps fits in to the pattern of the West Village.

But it is not just the aesthetics of the street that make for an interesting walking experience. Observing who is on the block and what they are doing enhances the visit. Walking down Morton Street, like many other streets in the West Village, defies “what is a common city practice, crowds walking through streets to particular destinations” (Morris 690). Unlike most New York City streets, there are no crowds to be found here, and one might even say there is a dearth of people on the street. In my handful of walks down Morton Street, I have never encountered more than 15 or so people in the entire six avenue span of the street, most of whom I have seen walking out of the two or three office buildings located throughout the street. In fact, on my last visit, the block of Morton between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South had not one person and not one car parked on the street, as can be seen in the image below. How often does one encounter a completely empty block in Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon? On a block such as this one, it is not hard to understand that while “the relationship between body-subject and city” is perhaps “more of a two-way process”, there can be instances in which the walker “seems to act (for the most part) on a quite static urban territory” (Morris 692).

Deserted Block of Morton Between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South

On the surface, walking down Morton Street does seem like quite a static experience. There is an absence of the dynamic movement and life and text that we are used to finding on so many New York streets. It is only upon careful consideration that one can see and begin to understand the intricacies of the street because initially, Morton Street seems so very simple.

Works Cited:

De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated
by Steven Rendall. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988. 91-

Morris, Brian. “What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Walking in the City.’”
Cultural Studies 18.5 (2004): 675-97.


Not Just Filled With Cars…But Filled With History, Too

Searching the New York Times database for historical articles about Morton Street could be likened to taking a walk down Morton Street. At first, the results are a bit underwhelming and after much observation and digging, small gems begin to reveal themselves. Most of the articles in the database that cite Morton Street are classified ads or obituaries for people who lived on the street. It was difficult to discover articles that actually revealed something interesting about the street.

What I was really looking for was an article that I could contextualize, one that would provide me with some knowledge of the past that I could adapt to what I know about Morton Street in its present state. I came across an article about the sale in 1950 of a three-story garage building at 18-20 Morton Street that was then valued at $150,000 (New York Times). It is a tiny snippet, hardly an article at all, but it peaked my interest because I have passed a garage on Morton Street between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South on all my visits there; each time, I have thought it slightly odd for a garage to be placed on such a tiny and quaint residential block. It sticks out harshly amongst the old brownstones and new posh apartments, but little did I know it had a history. Though I could not find an older image of the building, images of the garage that presently stands at 18-20 Morton Street are found below.

View of Garage at 18-20 Morton Street

View of Building Above Garage at 18-20 Morton Street

Reading the 1950 article and then looking at the present image shows the “power of photography to depict how ‘the past jostles the present’ and ‘what the past left you and what you are going to leave in the future’ in the space of a two-dimensional print” (Woods). Seeing as how the very same garage is still standing, the past has clearly left a trace in the present, something that will obviously affect how the space is used and experienced in the present and the future. New York is a city where land is constantly being reappropriated; the process of tearing buildings down and constructing new ones goes forward each and every day. Factories become apartments and artists’ lofts become business headquarters, but we look at this garage, and it has long been a garage, for decades, spanning many different eras in New York, as we live in “a changing New York, both old and new” (Woods).

In fact, the garage could be considered a palimpsest of the city, for it “suggests rootedness among the flow of capital, while bearing testimony to past flows” (Crang). On a street that has been largely overtaken with new architecture, the garage has remained, and the aesthetic qualities of the three-story building on top of the garage are clearly reminiscent of another time period, with its aged, yellowing façade and ornate brick accents.

This story was more powerful to me because of the fact that one can still look at images of that garage today and see traces of what was there before. Though many of the articles in the database reported crimes on the block throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, they were much harder to visualize and contextualize than the information in this article. I was immediately intrigued by this story because as soon as I read it, I was able to go into my personal pictures of the block and onto Google maps to see if 18-20 Morton Street was indeed still a three-story parking garage. Though this was maybe the shortest relevant article that I came across, I thought it was the most telling. Morton Street, though sprinkled with many new buildings and developments, also displays elements of the past, a fact that is evident from reading this article about a garage from over 6 decades ago that still stands today.

Works Cited

Crang, M. “Envisioning urban histories: Bristol as palimpsest, postcards, and snapshots.” Environment and Planning A 28 (1996): 429-52.

“Sells Morton Street Garage.” New York Times. New York Times. 22 Jan. 1950. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

Woods, Mary N. “Afterimages of the ‘New’ New York and the Alfred Stieglitz Circle.” Afterimages of the City. Ed. Joan Ramon Resina and Dieter Ingenschay. New York: Cornell University Press, 2003. 183-208.


2000 Census: Morton Street Population Statistics

Morton Street is so quiet and quaint that it is not difficult to paint a certain picture of the people who one assumes would live there. It is a part of the city, yet still perfectly removed from the hustle and bustle of most other areas of the city, making it seem like prime real estate for families. And because Morton Street has been mostly devoid of people when I have walked down the street, the types of individuals and families who live and experience Morton Street every day are mostly left to the imagination. It was, therefore, very interesting for me to uncover census data of the area surrounding Morton Street because its gives me some clues as to what life is like beyond the façade on the street.

Tract 67 highlighted, with Tract 69 to its immediate left

Morton Street spans two different tracts on the census map, tracts 67 and 69, but both tracts encompass similar demographics. In tract 67, with just over 5600 people, an overwhelming 83.8% of the population is Caucasian, with 6% of Hispanic origin, 5.7% Asian, and 1.8% African American. In tract 69, 83.9% of the population is white, while 5.8% are of Hispanic origin, 5.3% are Asian, and 2.9% are African American. The reason that it seems a bit striking that such a large portion of the West Village is dominated by Caucasians is because New York, as a whole, is such a melting pot, with only 45.8% of the total population comprised of white people. New York City has a white population that comprises less than half, but these two tracts and almost entirely white. I find this interesting because it ties into the history of the grid of New York; Morton Street retained its name and shape rather than being straightened out and numbered because extremely wealthy people, mostly white Europeans, people with political power, were against having their area conquered by the grid. So maybe it is not so surprising that Morton Street and the surrounding area is still dominated by white people, perhaps of European descent.

Besides the ethnic breakdown of the area, it is also interesting to look at the family demographics. In 2000, 53.2% of the people in households in tract 69 were in family households, with 1,094 total family households. Of those, 4.4% had female householders with no husband present and there were less than 20 households with a male present without a female counterpart, not surprising for a city that has been so widely represented on shows like “Sex and the City” as a land filled with too many single women and not enough men. But surprising for an area so quaint and with so many nearby schools, tract 69 had 62.4% non-family households. However, comparatively, track 67 is even less family-oriented than tract 69, with only 33.2% of the population in households being a part of a family household, while 79.9% of total households are non-family households. Interestingly enough, though, track 67 has a hefty number of households where there is a male householder and no wife present.

Even though the census information is just over a decade old, it would seem plausible that the statistics would stay relatively similar from year to year. Because of some new developments on Morton Street, it will be interesting to see how the 2010 census compares when it is available to search by street and tract like the 2000 census is. There is, for instance, a new building called One Morton Square, located at 100 Morton Street on the corner of Morton Street and West Street, almost on the Hudson River. The property, built in 2004, is comprised of both lofts and apartments, with just a handful of townhouses thrown into the mix (City Realty). To me, this would signal an even greater influx of non-family living, making the percentages even more weighted toward non-family households and even less family-living. I find this to be slightly counter-intuitive, since the assumption would be that a quieter, more secluded neighborhood would have more families. However, perhaps the reason there are not large numbers of families living on Morton Street and the surrounding area is because real estate prices are higher than almost all other places in the city, making it that much more difficult for families to afford increased space to provide for multiple occupants.

Works Cited:

1 Morton Square. City Realty. Web. 6 Oct. 2011.

New York City Dept. of City Planning. 2000 Census Profiles for New York City: Morton Street. NYC: Dept. of City Planning, 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2011.

Fictional Reflections of Morton Still Ring True

This passage is from Patricia Highsmith’s novel, A Dog’s Ransom, which is about a criminal, Kenneth Rowajinski, who kidnaps the pampered dog of a wealthy Manhattan publishing house executive, Ed Reynolds, and his wife, Greta, with the goal of extorting ransom money. In this excerpt, city patrolman Clarence is chasing Kenneth Rowajinski in the hope of capturing him. The book is extremely dark and intense, and Highsmith creates an atmosphere in which people cannot trust their neighbors, especially with the rough urban backdrop of New York City.

Highsmith wrote 22 novels. She lived in New York City, and during the summer when she was nineteen-years-old, at 35 Morton Street. This residence on Morton Street is where she is said to have really started her writing career. {SPOILER ALERT} And Kenneth ends up murdering the beloved poodle, Tina, right on Morton Street. Highsmith hated dogs because she did not like sharing attention and always felt that dogs commandeered attention away from her. She made her feelings evident not only from the fact that A Dog’s Ransom is about the kidnapping and killing of a dog, but also from the fact that the dog’s name “Tina” was the name of the dog of one of her past lovers (Cohen).

The novel was published in 1972, and so what first fascinated me about this passage was how accurate the description of the Morton Street area still is today. Seventh Avenue South is still six lanes and a prime spot to hail a cab, a stark contrast to most other areas of the West Village, where there is significantly less traffic and chaos. What I also found interesting was the description of Hudson Street as “a wide street where traffic flowed” because besides 7th Avenue South, Morton and Hudson is one of the only intersections where I have encountered people and had any experience with traffic; I think it is probably one of the only intersections in the Morton Street neighborhood where I’ve actually had to wait for the light to change and look out for cars. Also, in the excerpt, the area in general is described as having a singular look because all the homes were brownstones. For the most part, this is still true today of Morton Street and much of the West Village. Even though close to 40 years have passed since the book was published, Highsmith’s description still paints a fairly accurate depiction of the area today.

Taxis whizzing by on Morton and 7th Ave. S. looking north towards Commerce and Barrow Streets

Morton and Hudson, looking north toward Barrow Street

I also think that this chase scene is very effectively written. The reader can feel the chase and the zig-zagging as a result of the way that Highsmith drops the names of the streets in succession. One can really get a sense of the area, especially that it can be maze-like, which differentiates the West Village from most other areas of Manhattan that conform to the grid. The reference to the theatre on Commerce Street, which is the Cherry Lane Theatre, only serves to reinforce the authenticity of the description of the area, as does the description of Barrow Street as dark, since at night, the West Village is much darker and harder to navigate in comparison to most other areas.

In the novel as a whole, we also see many of the themes typical of New York City literature. The novel reflects the tensions of the rich vs. the poor, as an ex-convict, lower-class citizen tries to hurt a rich couple where he believes it will hurt them the most. And the wealthy husband, Ed Reynolds, also works as a publisher, so much of his wealth and power is associated with one of the media industries that is concentrated in the city. Lastly, and especially from the excerpt above, we can see the reflection of the concrete jungle, as the images of winding streets and taxis and cars whizzing by create vivid imagery and also capture the constant movement and dynamic nature of New York City life.

Works Cited:

Cohen, Patricia. “The Haunts of Miss Highsmith.” New York Times. New York Times. 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Highsmith, Patricia. A Dog’s Ransom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972. Print.

Woody Allen Ate Here

Woody Allen’s Manhattan, a complicated and comedic romance film, was released in April 1979, and had grossed over $39 million by the start of the new decade only a few months later(IMDB). Woody Allen plays a neurotic writer named Isaac, who has given up his job as a successful television writer to try to compose a more serious work of fiction in the form of a novel. Having divorced his ex-wife (played by Meryl Streep), and facing the fact that she is writing a “tell-all” memoir that sheds unappealing light on Isaac and the end of their marriage, Isaac struggles to find not only a new professional balance in his life, but a personal one as well. He dates a girl named Tracy (played by Mariel Hemingway) who is a mere 17 years old. But when he meets his best friend’s mistress, Mary (Diane Keaton), he leaves Tracy (and the guilt that came along with dating a teenager) behind and begins a more sophisticated romance with Mary. But of course, Mary is still in love with Isaac’s friend, Yale, and returns to him. Isaac soon realizes the depth of his love for Tracy, but she has already committed to moving to London for a year to study drama, which Isaac had tried fervently to convince her to do back when he was looking to smoothly end things with Tracy so that he could be with Mary.

This scene in which Tracy tells Isaac about her opportunity in London and Isaac tells her that he thinks it is a great idea was filmed in John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street between Morton Street and Jones Street (Reucker). John’s has been around since 1929, and while they have a more tourist friendly spot in a renovated church in the theatre district, it is the original John’s on Bleecker that still maintains its reputation as one of the best pies in town. Though the exterior is never shown, it is clear from the dilapidated wood walls, crowded interior, and passing trays of pizza that Tracy and Isaac are at John’s. Also, the only tiny part of the exterior that can be seen is a neon sign that says “Wines and Beer”, a sign that still glows in the window of John’s today.

Isaac and Tracy at John's in MGM's "Manhattan" (1979)

Neon Sign at John's on Bleecker (johnsbrickovenpizza.com)

What struck me most about this was that only a local New Yorker or someone who had eaten at John’s before would know exactly where Isaac and Tracy were. Most of the rest of the film, especially in the establishing sequence at the beginning, features landmarks that are quintessential New York buildings and places that capture “the city and its distinctive cityness” (Pile 204). We see Times Square, The Plaza Hotel, and Central Park. Any one viewer would understand from these images that the film takes place in New York. But it takes a greater knowledge of the city to know John’s, to know these small local spots that contribute just as greatly to the landscape and the character of New York as the more famous ones do. What becomes interesting here is that while we see all these other sights, we do not see really see John’s, nor do we get a glimpse of Bleecker or Morton or Jones, but just knowing it was filmed there opens up the film and the neighborhood to analysis.

It is fascinating to note that sometimes, because there can be such a plethora of different experiences in a city, some of those “experiences appear to be wholly absent, secret, invisible, hidden, intangible, tacit, forgotten, unfathomable; and, partly, that experiences of the city are at their sharpest at the point of disappearance” (Pile 203). We see the most well-known New York landmarks in a film about New York because it puts the film in context for all audiences, even those who are not familiar with the city at all. But to a local, these more “invisible” filming locations may be more exciting, more relatable. For instance, when I read during my research that this scene between Isaac and Tracy was filmed at John’s, I knew that I wanted to write about it because I have eaten at John’s many times. It has more meaning to me than a shot of the Plaza where millions of tourists visit every year; John’s is like a secret of the city, and I think that this speaks to the greater neighborhood, Morton Street included. The West Village is like a little gem buried beneath the skyscrapers and billboards and flashing lights of much of the rest of the island. It is not a tourist attraction, and it probably cannot be considered as representative of Manhattan. It has a different culture and vibe, and visiting the Morton Street area in the West Village creates more of a feeling of leaving the city than it does simply traveling to another area of it.

Even though the romantic picture of New York that we see in Manhattan is mostly formed through images of New York sights that are universally recognized, much of the authenticity of the film is created by scenes such as the one discussed here that take place in local spots. Isaac and Tracy essentially break up at this tiny pizza joint on Bleecker Street, which feels very realistic. After all, not everything significant in New York happens at the top of the Empire State Building or on a carriage in Central Park. And while the film obviously prominently features many of these quintessential New York places and activities, the more obscure locations can be just as telling.

“Manhattan (1979).” IMDB. IMDB, 1990. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.

Manhattan. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 1979. Film.

Pile, Steven. “’The Problem of London’, or, how to explore the moods of the city.” The Hieroglyphics of Space: reading and exploring the modern metropolis. Ed. Neil Leach. New York: Routledge, 2002. 203-16. Print.

Reucker, Nils. “Manhattan Filming Locations.” Movie-locations.com. Movie-locations.com, 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.


Morton where it first begins at Bleecker Street

Walking down Morton Street on a Friday night was a completely contradictory experience from every other time that I have taken a walk down the street. While the street “had acquired a mystique” (Caldwell 208) during the daytime, I felt that it would be even more mysterious at night. I have usually been on the street in the early or late afternoon on weekdays, the sun illuminating the quiet street that winds from Bleecker to the Hudson. But being there on a Friday night proved to be a completely different atmosphere. The entire length of Morton Street was buzzing. The New York City energy that I’ve felt that the street lacked was not only present, but incredibly apparent. The street was bustling with people. On a street that spans just six avenues and only requires about 10-15 minutes to walk the entire length of, I saw over 100 people, including small children, couples, and large groups of friends exploring the neighborhood, as well as about 10 dogs who were being walked.

My most interesting observation was the contrast between dark and light on the street. On my previous visits, all in the daytime, the world surrounding Morton Street was bright and alive even though the street was very placid; while the atmosphere around me on these visits was light, the street had a darker, quieter, secluded quality to it. I expected that like much of the West Village, Morton Street would still retain that darker and quieter and more mysterious quality at night. But this was not the case at all when walking down the street at night. A “street is external and internal space at the same time” (Schlor 239), and while I had grown very accustomed to witnessing the external space of the street, I have never been able to see much of the interior until I walked on Morton Street at night. At night, the world around me was dark, but the street was bright and vibrant and alive, and “the old darkness and the new brightness combine[d] to produce their own, special atmosphere” (239). Street lamps illuminated the entire length of the street, the windows of brownstones and apartments and office buildings were lit up, and I could see inside to living rooms and gyms and lobbies. There was a mix of all different ethnicities of the people who were walking down the street, as well. And most interestingly, the entire length of the street had a red glow, one that came from the giant traffic jam along Morton. Not only were there rows of cars parked along either side of the street, but also there was an absolute sea of cars coming and going from the street. In the images below, the already cramped blocks can be seen crowded with cars.

Morton Street at 7th Ave. South

Morton between Bleecker and 7th Ave. South

Likewise, there was a fair mix of people seeming to be arriving at destinations on Morton Street and those seeming to be departing the street, perhaps using it as a means of getting somewhere else in the city. I have never seen more than a handful of people and cars actually on the street itself, so it was really surprising to see so many people. Multiple couples were seen exiting brownstones, and there were throngs of people dressed head-to-toe in white as if maybe they were attending a Halloween party on Morton Street.

My most striking observation and subsequent insight was that Morton Street really has a life, almost like a person does. We have different sides of ourselves that sometimes show and are sometimes hidden away, and streets operate in a similar vein. They have different personality characteristics that come out at different times of the day and that are dependent on what is going on around them. Just like we are affected by the people and things around us, so to are streets, and “the image of the street changes with its functions” (Schlor 236). I saw a different side of the personality of Morton Street Friday night. It had a lively, open nature that I had never experienced before.

Caldwell, Mark. “Electric Costumes and Brass Knuckles: Glamour, Crime, Sports, and the Commercialization of Night in the 1890s.” New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. New York: Scribner, 2005. 176-211. Print.

Schlor, Joachim. “Night Walking.” Nights in the Big City. London: Reaktion Books, 1998. 235-74. Print.


Friends with Morton

On the ground-breaking sit-com phenomenon Friends, which ran for a decade from 1994-2004, the character of Phoebe Buffay (played by Lisa Kudrow) lives in the same apartment throughout most of the series, and finally, in the 15th episode of season 7, it is revealed just where that apartment is. Phoebe and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) see an attractive man at their local coffee shop and perpetual hangout, Central Perk. When the man leaves his cell phone, both women start to fantasize about would happen if they took the phone: perhaps whoever took responsibility for finding it would get a date with the gentleman. Phoebe eventually ends up with the phone when the phone’s owner calls it to try to locate and retrieve it. Phoebe tells the man that he can come pick it up at her apartment, and that she lives at
5 Morton Street in apartment 14 (Friends 7.15).

Phoebe and Rachel in Phoebe's Apartment at 5 Morton Street

There are many reasons why the writers could have chosen to place Phoebe on Morton Street. First, as the establishing shots throughout the series clearly place the characters in the Greenwich Village/West Village vicinity, Morton Street keeps Phoebe firmly in that region of the city. In other words, this creative choice could have been made for no other reason than that it makes perfect sense to anchor her there “as a means of control” since the representation of the New York that we see in Friends has a tendency to “concentrate, to condense” the city and “the exchange-site of social activities” (Sadler 197) in order to make the show’s location manageable. This is not a rare occurrence in the televised world, especially for shows that take place in New York, as the city is so rich and complex that sometimes representations of the city “tend to limit…the city-center” (197).

Friends very rarely ever takes place on the streets of New York, but instead only in “posh New York Apartments and trendy coffeehouses” (204). Trying to reconcile Phoebe’s address with the actual exterior of 5 Morton Street is more easily said than done. In television “things must seem real to ‘connote the real,’ but in the process, the ‘completely real’ appears ‘completely fake.’ The death of authenticity breeds hyperreality” (197). Below is an image of the real exterior of 5 Morton Street, and below that, a picture of Phoebe’s living room. Five Morton Street is a very narrow apartment building, a ground floor and only four stories of apartments. For Phoebe to live in Apartment 14, there would have to be at least 14 apartments in the building, putting 3-4 on each floor. So the interior of Phoebe’s living room looks rather sprawling when considering the dimensions of the actual building. But in trying to make sense of this choice, it does help the authenticity that Phoebe inherited the apartment from her grandmother (Friends Central), something which could account for both the large size and the decorating. However, the apartment still gives a sort of unrealistic image of a single woman living in an apartment in New York City, “showing the city as an attractive place to live and visit” rather than the reality that “such characters could not afford these places” (Sadler 205).

The real 5 Morton Street, NYC

Interior of Phoebe's Apartment (Source: Friends Central)

Btu perhaps the writers chose Phoebe’s location because these slight discontinuities only exist under an intense microscope, and otherwise the location seems perfectly credible. Maybe the writers chose to use Morton Street for Phoebe’s address because of its capacity to be used in a very specific but also vague way at the same time. People familiar with the city would likely identify Morton as a quintessential mostly residential New York City street, making it an ideal fake address. And to outsiders, Morton Street sounds legitimate enough to sound like a credible address but is also ambiguous, and therefore not questionable. If a character lives on Broadway or 34th Street or 42nd Street or 5th Avenue, the location and thereby the character become fraught with pre-conceived connotations that people have of these iconic, famous New York City streets. But a street like Morton makes sense to audiences who know Morton and makes no difference but still sounds hip, chic, and downtown-like to viewers who otherwise know nothing of Morton Street.

The choice of Morton is also interesting because I believe that Morton Street, just the name of it, the sound of it, makes it accessible. There are many Morton Streets in the United States, so the choice to make Morton Street Phoebe’s residence could also have to do with the fact that it’s a friendly kind of street name. It doesn’t run the risk of sounding strange and foreign or alienating a viewer. Morton Street sounds like it could be just like any other street in Anywhere, USA, therefore “maintaining the tourist-friendly narrative” (Sadler 197) of the show.

What I found most interesting though is the chosen location on Morton Street in the context of the span of the entire street. Five Morton is right where Morton Street begins, very close to Bleecker. This block, between Bleecker and 7th Avenue South, is one of the most interesting blocks of Morton because it maintains the original architecture and brownstones, while most of the other blocks of Morton have been overtaken by office buildings and new apartments and lofts. Not only does this block of Morton seem to me to have the most character, but also I feel that it is the most eccentric, with all the unmatched apartment buildings and the feeling of a history that exists there. Phoebe was the resident “eccentric” on Friends, with her new-age beliefs, unusual past, and hilarious antics. It seems that if Phoebe were a real person and really lived on Morton Street, that is exactly the block where she would live.

“The One With Joey’s New Brain.” Friends: The Complete Seventh Season. Writ. David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Dir. Kevin Bright. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.

“Phoebe’s Apartment.” Friends Central. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.

Sadler, William J. and Ekaterina V. Haskins. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 29.3 (2005): 195-216.

Sound of Morton

Walking down Morton Street does not provide the most interesting soundscape, which mostly consists of the sounds of cars whizzing by or the footsteps of the errant pedestrian. The street is more quaint than many other Manhattan locations not only in its appearance, but also in its sound. It would be difficult to pick out a sound from the street that would identify it and differentiate it from other West Village streets. Therefore, I found a more interesting sound reflection of the street to be a song. I was surprised to find a song actually titled “Morton Street”. The song is by the now-defunct 1980’s pop band Get Wet, with lead singer Sherri Beachfront (now Lewis). The band has a heavy ‘60’s influence. The band’s biggest hit was “Just So Lonely”, which they got to perform on American Bandstand in the early 80’s. There are many Morton Streets throughout the world, so at first, I was not sure that the song’s title referred specifically to Manhattan’s Morton Street. However, the lyrics include references to “the river” and “the pier”, and Morton Street ends at the Hudson River, where there of course are more than a few piers.

Additionally, I found an artist profile on an online music community that states that the two band members met in New York and that their main audience was concentrated in New York (SoundClick). This information in combination with the song lyrics led me to believe that the song is about Morton Street in the West Village. Here is a clip of the song, with some of what I thought were the most interesting lyrics below that.

Video from Get Wet’s July 3, 1980, performance Live at the Ritz in NYC
Courtesy of YouTube.

Sharp knives, shivers, lonely by the river
Fighting with the tide
Bar lights, small talk,
Spilling on the sidewalk
No where else to hide…

I walked in and sat down
and had a double gin
My heart started to pound
Soft lights
I wasn’t seen
But there were so many young boys trying to look so mean…

Shattered pier lights
Ships asleep for all night
Helpless in his hands…

Don’t go down on the pier tonight
There’s a boat sailing out on a mirror of moonlight…

And every night since then we meet down on the pier at a quarter to ten
But an hour ago on the telephone he said goodbye
I’m going to leave you alone…

The song initially struck me because it seemed so ominous and dark, painting a conflicting image from what I have experienced on my visits along Morton and in my research. And as noise, or in this case, music, can often “indicate the collective character” (Corbould 864) of a place, I felt like I needed to investigate the song in the context of the time period in which it was made. We all have that vision of New York in the 1980s—the crime, the drugs, the HIV outbreak—most of these images being perpetuated by musicals and movies like Rent and other popular culture.

The song creates a distinct image right from the beginning, referencing the knives, the loneliness, the people spilling out from bars and into the streets because there is nowhere else for them to go. Was this really an image from Morton Street and the surrounding area in the 1980’s? Though Morton Street is never mentioned in the song’s lyrics, the fact that the street name is the title must mean it has some sort of significance. Perhaps it warranted the title because it is such a quintessential West Village street. To try to find information about the area in the 1980’s, I searched the New York Times historical database, coming up with over 10 pages of results for my search of “West Village”, “crime”, and “violence”. Many of the articles highlighted the “efforts by law enforcement agencies to halt meteoric rise of crack trade in New York” (Wines), citing drug rings throughout Greenwich Village and the resulting crime and violence. After exploring the database, I can see that perhaps Morton Street was not such a quaint place to reside or visit in the 1980’s, something that is certainly captured by Get Wet’s song. Today, there are not any bars on Morton Street, and though my experience at Morton Street at night did reveal a lot of people, I would hardly describe it as people “spilling” onto the sidewalk. But Sherri Beachfront, who lives with HIV herself, probably experienced a very different New York in the 1980’s, and perhaps it was some experience on Morton Street that made her name a song after it.

It is interesting to consider a time when Morton Street was not as it is today, a site of some of Manhattan’s most expensive real estate, an aesthetically pleasing block that offers a mixture of beautifully preserved brownstones and contemporary apartments and lofts, mixed in with the occasional office building. The lyrics of the song, in addition to the darker, minor chords that comprise the chorus and refrain sections, bring attention to a time when the Hudson was not a safe place to go for a run, when the streets were crowded with homelessness and drugs, and the city was a darker, grittier place than it is today.

Most interestingly, this assignment transported me to Morton Street at a completely different time, when it seems that it was a completely different place with a different vibe altogether. Hearing a representation of the street rather than experiencing it and seeing it firsthand “pose[d] a separate mode of existence, connected to a separate public sphere and a different history” (Corbould 872). I was able to uncover something that I had never even considered before, and all through the experience of essentially hearing the street.
Works Cited:

Beachfront, Sherri and Zecca Esquibel. “Morton Street.” Get Wet. Boardwalk, 2009. CD.

Corbould, Clare. “Streets, Sounds and Identities in Interwar Harlem.” University of Sydney Department of History. Sydney NSW, 2006.

Get Wet. SoundClick Inc. 1997-2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. .

Wines, Michael. “Against Drug Tide, Only a Holding Action.” New York Times (1923-Current file): A1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) with Index (1851-1993). Jun 24 1988. Web. 15 Nov. 2011 .
Digital Morton

In reading Anne Galloway’s “Ubiquitous Computing and the City”, I was struck by this quote: “Eyeglasses are a good tool—you look at the world, not the eyeglasses” (386). Though a strange phrase, it makes perfect sense. Glasses allow you to see the world—it is not so much about the glasses as it is about what they allow you to see around you. But with the presence of computers and the infinite applications that allow us to digitize, localize, and personalize the space around us, this has all changed. Of course, it is still about the world, but we care much more about the eyeglasses now, the tools that we use that have a causal relationship with how we see the world around us. Many people, myself included, usually do not visit a restaurant or stay at a hotel unless they have researched online, scoured reviews, seen how many stars this or that place gets. We pick our glasses specifically (the Yelps, Googles, Kayaks of the world), and they consequently continue to, in a way, narrow our experience of the world. These applications have gotten so specific that we can search for a specific street, and in the case of Morton Street, uncover a mystery. In a way, these applications act as watchdogs over local infrastructures, virtually making “relations of power and control…invisible” (401). Establishments are greatly affected by their virtual profile and reputation.

Searching for digital representations of Morton Street in various applications is an interesting task. This is mostly due to the fact that when typing “Morton Street, NYC” into such quintessential location-specific applications such as Yelp and FourSquare, the search engine picks up on the NYC portion, but not the “Morton Street” portion of the search, Yelp giving results for all kinds of businesses all around the city and FourSquare supplying results that mostly consist of the most popular tourist attractions in the city like Times Square and the Empire State Building. When you refine your search to simply, “Morton Street”, both sites ask which Morton Street you are looking for, as there are so many throughout the country. But a bit unsurprisingly, the list of various Morton Streets in the USA to select from does not include Morton Street in the West Village of Manhattan.

But one website that does provide some insight about Morton Street is TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is a site that allows users to plug in places or even specific streets like I did, to gather information about hotels, airfare, restaurants, vacation rentals, and also allows users to spread all information with their social network through Facebook. The site provides ratings and user feedback and reviews. When I entered Morton Street into the search box, I was interested to find out that for the past few years, at least according to TripAdvisor commenter reviews, 55 Morton Street has been operating as a hotel, known as Signature Morton Suites, and ranked #101 out of 146 establishments that fall into a “Special Lodging” category in NYC. The hotel gets 2.5 stars out of 5, with most reviewers calling it “terrible”, “filthy”, “dirty…with noise so bad you can’t sleep on the weekends”. However the most shocking reviews claim that Morton Suites is actually just being used as a hotel, illegally, with one review in which the person states that he/she lived in the building for 8 years and was then told the lease was up so that the “mice and roach infested” units could be used to operate an illegal hotel. Interestingly enough, though there is no concrete evidence to verify that this is true, the Morton Suites has no official website when entered into a Google search. Reviews can be found on similar sites like Kayak (on which it literally gets a rating of ½ out of 5) and Yahoo Travel, but there is nowhere to make reservations or get official information about the hotel.

Exterior of 55 Morton Street

Though I will have to keep looking into the mystery, I find it very interesting that the digital representation of Morton Street that I found is so poor. It seems like such a harmless, friendly street, so to think about this kind of illegal activity or the grimy interior behind the pleasant facades is a bit jarring. Below I have posted a link to several reviewer pictures from their stays at 55 Morton Street (The embed links to the photos were not allowing me to post them here directly). As you can see, the accommodations are less than thrilling, with a crumbling interior and broken appliances. I feel like most of the information that I found about Morton Street, up until last week when I discussed the area in the 1980s, was very pleasant and charming. I find it interesting that now, nearing the end of my research, I have uncovered more of the signs of this grittier New York that we often don’t expect to find in the sunny rows of ancient brownstones and gleaming loft spaces.


Works Cited:

FourSquare. FourSquare, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. https://foursquare.com/

Galloway, Anne. “Imitations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous Computing and the City.” Cultural Studies, Vol. 18. 384-408.

“Morton Suites Hotel.” Kayak. Kayak, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.kayak.com/New_York-Hotels.Morton_Suites_Hotel.64822.ksp

“Signature Suites Morton Suites—West Village: Traveler Reivews.” Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60763-d235234-r23932623-Signature_Suites_Morton_Suites_West_Village-New_York_City_New_York.html.

Yelp. Yelp, 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. http://www.yelp.com/nyc


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