Tribeca in the 1980s

A couple of months ago, I asked readers for old photos of Tribeca—and several of you responded. I’ve been meaning to ask again before posting them—and I promise I will follow up on that—but then I saw on Twitter that Yvonne Babineaux had uploaded a batch of vintage Tribeca photos on Flickr. “The pics are from between 1983 and 1990,” she emailed after I begged for her permission to run them here. “Most were probably taken in 1988, because some of them have a stamp on the back from the developer. They’re no later than 1991, because I moved away then.” When I asked if she lived in Tribeca at the time, she said that she grew up in the Bronx, before moving to Hells Kitchen and then the East Village, and now she lives upstate. “I kinda had loads of time back then. I didn’t have a job—well, not any real type of job to tie me down.”

Click on each photo below to enlarge it. You’ll also see any location information that Yvonne (or I) came up with. (I had to allow the photos to be slightly too big for the page—a long way of saying I know it looks crappy but it’s worth it.) If you know where a photo was shot, send me the details (including the photo title) at Actually, you can also comment on the photo, too.

And do send any old photos you might have!

And thanks again, Yvonne! I guarantee that you’ll have tickled many folks’ fancy around here.

P.S. Can you believe how empty it was?

P.P.S. Maybe I’ll work up a few then-and-now comparisons…. Stay tuned….

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  1. Fantastic! Thank you for posting these photos and thank you to Yvonne for providing them.
    Desolate is a kind word of description.
    These photos make me shake my head in wonder at those who speak fondly of the 70’s and 80’s as the ‘glory’ days of Tribeca; before it was ‘ruined’ by renovation, restoration and the introduction of amenities like grocery stores.

  2. Some then and now comparisons would be amazing.

  3. @Dan: I’ll start doing it when we’ve IDed all the pix

  4. THanks for all these fabulous photos! I used to hang out at Area nightclub all the time!

  5. Andrea, love your comment!

  6. This is a really difficult ‘Where in Tribeca’, (for the unknowns)
    The pictures are terrific…

  7. Unknown 11 – Desbrosses & Greenwich….sheesh, do I have to do them all?

  8. Ha,Jim, I was wondering where you were..

  9. Unknown 3 – the former lair of Dominique Strauss-Kahn…seriously, what do I win?

  10. Unknown 2 south side of Duane east of Greenwich.

  11. Unknown 5 – Laight & Washington – Your move, Andrea!

  12. Unknown 8 – close-up of Desbrosses & Greenwich. Oh, snap!

  13. I don’t speak of the 70s here as the “glory days” but I did enjoy living among ruins in a peaceful, quiet place that no one really wanted or cared about. Just my personal inclination, though in many ways it felt liberated by possibilities where it now feels constrained by certainties. I have no objection to orderliness, but you may understand a preference for feeling as if one is reigning over nothing to the feeling that one is sharing space with treasures from which they’re forever excluded. Although I’m not given to wistfulness, that period in this place did possess unique virtues.

  14. This photo album is retarded. You can’t even click through the pictures without having to hit the back button each time. Take a lesson from Curbed.

  15. Andrea, unfortunately most of us who lived there back then can’t afford to live there anymore. So there’s one very good reason to be wistful.

    Beyond that, the community of artists, musicians and creatives that defined the hood is long gone. Independence Plaza, the one bulwark against gentrification, is now a luxury building and the old timers are being pushed out. The great nightclubs are closed. Affordable, welcoming neighborhood places like Yaffa’s and Riverrun are replaced by cold, expensive ones. And by the mid-80s, there were already plenty of grocery stores and amenities. If you count mostly empty luxury furniture shops as amenities, you’re right, we didn’t have any of those back then.

  16. @Dick: You’ll be happy to hear, perhaps, that I’m working on adding slideshow functionality; in the meantime, I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with all that clicking. As for your word choices, there’s something my mama used to say that seems relevant: Just because you can be an entitled schmuck doesn’t mean you HAVE to be.

  17. Sometimes, one’s name says it all, right, “Dick Burns”?

    – Hottie

    P.S. It is always inappropriate to use the word “retarded.” But this Dick seems to be mentally challenged…

  18. Alex G, I completely understand that when things change we become wistful for the past – it’s human nature and we all do it. As social animals we all like to be part of a community and are saddened when our community dissipates.

    This also relates to Independence Plaza, which was not built as a ‘bulwark against gentification'; it was built to house office workers for the World Trade Center complex. They failed, as such, because people preferred to live in their communities and commute to work. Let me know when the perfect, affordable, convenient neighbourhood exists.

  19. Unknown 1 – Wistful SoHo – Broome & Wooster

  20. Smithers is right about unkonwn 1. I worked there in 1979 (The Kitchen).

  21. “possibly Greenwich and Franklin” is the SE corner of Greenwich and Beach

  22. Oh Andrea give it up. IPN wasn’t built for the workers of the WTC. It was built for upper middle income individuals. I came to TriBeCa in the early 80’s and it was great. Hip, quiet, cool music joints. One isn’t merely wistful because it is the past rather we are wistful because it was such a great downtown neighborhood. Let us wear our sad sack shirts – we aren’t hurting anybody and we are completely out #’ed now.

    I heard a “new” mom who lives on No Moore Street tell me that when her mother called after the midnight celebrations of the killing of Bin Laden at the WTC and she was worried about her daughter say, “oh Mom, nobody cares about that stuff down here anymore!” Ah, if she only knew…..

  23. IPN was not built for WTC workers. It was conceived as a fancy” apartment complex during the sweeping urban renewal project that forced the move of most of the Washington Market up to Hunts Point. The fancy folks didn’t want to move to such a “desolate” neighborhood, and the developers obtained Mitchel-Lama subsidies. We, the hoi polloi pioneers, moved into the desolate neighborhood and helped create the neighborhood it is now. There were no schools, no supermarkets, no upscale restaurants (unless you count Magoos and Barnabas Rex). It was safe, convivial and exciting to be part of an incipient community. Thanks to Mitchel-Lama, this pioneer was able to benefit from the efforts of the efforts of the 70’s and 80’s and raise a child here. But too many have been forced out. As far as the desolate appearance is concerned, apart from the ill-conceived heavy hand of urban renewal, NYC was reeling from financial crisis. BMCC remained a rusting skeleton for years before it could be completed. But I could go on and on…people look fondly on those days in part because the contrast between the rich and the not-rich was not so palpable.

  24. I moved to the neighborhood in 1976 and it was fabulous! Clearly if one wasn’t here they wouldn’t know. It was full of young, creative people, all with huge, interesting spaces to create and play in. I had almost 4000 sq.ft. for about $400/mo. We could afford a quality of life that isn’t possible anymore. The world has changed in general and just as one might look back at the spirit of the late 60’s and early 70’s as a special time, so it was down here as well. I can’t complain about the changes as it’s still a very special place but the soul it had is quite faded. Calling the area “desolate” because of these photos is just lacking in imagination – which is perhaps the one thing we have lost the most of since then.
    BTW, Dick, you can click on the flicker link (“vintage Tribeca photos” highlighted in blue) and see the photos as a fluid series. Maybe you should have figured that out yourself.

  25. Hi, I am Yvonne, I took those pictures. I just wanted to say why the pictures seem to look desolate. I took most of my pics during the early morning hours, and mostly on Sundays. Quite a few were taken in the winter when it was at it’s coldest. I don’t want to sound mean or nasty but I didn’t want people in my pics, I just wanted the buildings and I would wait till I got a clear shot. I would say that I liked NYC back in those days just for the reason that those were the days I lived there and had fun there. I lived in Baltimore for years after I lived in NYC and will probably have fond memories of Baltimore mainly cause I lived there.

  26. @Yvonne: Thanks for clarifying. I should’ve asked—the near-total absence of people was pretty amazing! (“Desolate” was my word, and I didn’t necessarily mean it in a bad way….)

  27. I too was here in the 70’s when Washington Market as it was called then was a wonderful neighborhood to live in with like minded folk being creative in many ways. I used to park my car in the empty lot which is now Washington Market Park when visiting my brother on Duane St. in the early 70s & then, when I too moved here in the late 70’s my pickup truck was always parked along the empty lots which is now the Citi/Travelers buildings. What is now the Food Emporium was the Washington Market School with a wall of windows facing the park which eventually was walled up for the supermarket. IPN had a big banner or painting on the south wall saying something like move here & walk to work in Wall St., yes it was built for high income families but none came & so Mitchell Lama took it over, moved in welfare families & middle income families & charged decent rents with $100 garage monthly fees for those lucky enough to own a car. Then folks started realizing what a find the neighborhood was & things began to change. The sculptor living in the loft above me died & a young lawyer moved in at 6 times the rent & I could hear him every night coming home after the bars closed at 4 with a party of his friends & him saying isn’t this place cool over & over again. We’re still here although a lot of our friends who owned their lofts had to move from the neighborhood because the maintenance fees became unbearable so I guess we are lucky to still be here.

  28. Vibrantly desolate is the way it was .

  29. Can anyone tell me the name of the restaurant–sorry, have forgotten everything, including the location–in Tribeca that permitted artists to run a tab, the walls of which were covered in paintings accepted in lieu of payment?


  30. Magoose it was

  31. Hey, Tribecca!
    I was there with you, during that incredible snowstorm in NYS in ’79 or ’80, completely adrift, looking for a friend of mine from St.Louise, Suellen Epstein, back then before she became famous, I’d come down from Woodstock, another friend, Joan Embre and all her lovely kids (they’d got me reading Dylan Thomas to their school…. I’d got them all into “Under Milk Wood”)
    but I’d never found Suellen then, a realshame, everyone else, cops, taxis, corner shop burger joints, everyone,so friendly to a lost welshman…….
    eventually I ran out of money, though still with lots of hope and regrets, I went to Kennedy and caught the Freddie Laker home….. I got back with 2pence!
    But Good Luck to you’all
    I still dream of you. Really do!

  32. Does anyone know what was on the site of the Citigroup building before it was there or when the building went up? Any photos?

  33. Cee – the building was completed in or around 1989, and that lot had been empty since at least the mid-1970s. During my early childhood it was a parking lot, then later a park/garden. There was actually a protest about the site when Smith Barney (the original owners) first laid plans to develop it in the mid-80s. The Tribeca “baby boom” had started in the early 80s and many parents wanted the space to remain a park and to be developed with playgrounds, benches, etc. Needless to say, they lost but I guess the semi-public green space outside the building was a small consolation prize to the losers!

    A lot of IPN residents on the north side of 80 N Moore were pretty angry when that building went up – endless uptown views became views of a bunch of desks and conference rooms!

  34. Great letters to compliment great photos. I’ve lived in Tribeca since 1972 when my painter husband found us a floor in an empty shoe warehouse to call home. . We called it “belowHo” then as we couldn’t afford SoHo and drifted further downtown. Rose and Lauren’s comments are especially accurate. I, too, have a wall of ancient photos from the 70s and 80s, mostly of signage and stores now all gone. I call it the grim reaper wall.

    Jean B. Grillo, District Leader, 66th AD, Part B.

  35. Does anyone remember the name of the restaurant on Harrison and Greenwich (South East corner) before The Harrison, before Spartina (they served great chicken with mashed potatoes (with the skin) and collards and catfish)?

    Can’t seem to find anyone who knows.

  36. @ags: How’s Bayou???