New York | Let’s Get Physical (Graffiti)

Sometimes you need to get away, far away! A 14 hour flight is pretty far, and thats what I did recently, when I flew from Kuwait to New York to spend a 4 day weekend there with Mrs E and her son Aston. However, due to a forced change in my schedule, only 2 of the 4 days were to be spent in the company of my better half, meaning I had the first 2 days with just me and my camera – what to do?

I used to be a regular visitor to Manhattan back in the 80’s and 90’s, so I’d visited most of the usual touristic locations, plus as this was to be Mrs E’s first visit, she would no doubt want to do things like Statue of Liberty, Empire State etc. So I found myself thinking about things that were very ‘me’ focused, and would allow me to make best use of my camera.

From my previous visits, one thing I loved to do when I had free time was to walk – New York is a great walking city, the grid structure in Manhattan means that you can’t really get lost, and there is so much to see and experience. But even with walking, it’s good to have a target, somewhere to aim for – so for day 1 of my stay I chose to walk from my hotel, The Hilton Midtown, located on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, to St Marks Place, which is to the South East of Manhattan, in the East Village area (more about why I chose this spot, a little later), a distance of about 2.6 miles.

It was a cold, rainy morning, but it was great to be out and about in the city, so dressed in my winter gear (which seldom gets an outing these days!) I hit the streets; or 6th Avenue to be more precise. The early stages of the walk took me past the NBC Studios, Gotham Hall with it’s stunning gold doors, and on to Macy’s Department Store, which is a stones throw from the Empire State Building.

It continued to be cold, the rain persisted, so by the time I turned left on Broadway, I was in need of warmth and refreshment, and was lucky enough to find a really great American Brasserie called ‘The Smith’. Excellent staff and great food, it was probably my best dining experience of the entire stay in NY; the eggs benedict were just wonderful.

Breakfast over, with the rain subsiding a little, I headed onwards along Broadway, which soon turned into 5th Avenue, where I came upon the amazing Flatiron Building, at 5th Ave / 23rd Street, another New York gem.

Built in 1902, this 285 foot iconic tower acquired the name ‘flatiron’ due to it’s resemblance to ‘flatiron’ presses; it originally had the more boring name of The Fuller Building. It currently provides office accommodation to a number of companies including Macmillan Press, however it’s most recent owners, the Sorgente Group, have plans to turn the building into a luxury hotel.

With less than a mile to go to my destination, I passed several really cool buildings, as the skyline changed dramatically from the towers of the Midtown area, to smaller, more stylish structures, including the Grace Memorial House, on 4th Avenue.

Finally, having arrived in the East Village, I turned left on to St Marks Place. It’s actually a part of 8th Street, but is officially referred to as St Marks Place between 3rd Ave, and Ave A (the one before 1st Ave!), due it’s proximity to the nearby St Marks Church.

But why St Marks Place? Well, it has references to 2 favourite musical memories of mine. Firstly, it is referred to in the lyrics of the title track of the 1974 Album by Lou Reed – Sally Can’t Dance:

“She walks down St Marks Place, and eats natural food at my place

Only Lou would rhyme ‘place’ with ‘place’! OK, that might be a bit obscure, but more famously, the buildings at 96-98 St Marks Place are instantly recognisable to Led Zeppelin fans, as they are featured on the cover of 1975’s mighty double album, Physical Graffitti.

When I first got to the ‘Physical Graffiti’ building, I was disappointed to find a large truck parked outside, but after a period of patience, and a short walk around the surrounding streets, I returned to find the truck had left, so I eagerly snapped away.

A bit corny, but right next door is the ‘Physical Graffitea’ tea shop, then the world famous ‘Big Steve’s Fun City’ 🙂

Having got a number of pictures of the building, I though about trying to recreate the album cover using photoshop, and that was when I noticed that back in 1975 they had made a very significant edit to the building.

The ‘real’ building is 5 stories high, but in order to create the perfect symmetry for the album cover and retain the ornate brick work at the top, they cut out a floor – how did they do that in 1975 without photoshop??

After spending quite a bit of time at the building, joined occasionally by fellow Zep fans, I took a further walk around the local area, it’s such a great place to explore, and so photogenic.

Rather than walk all the way back to my hotel, I decided to use the subway, and as I headed to the nearby station, I passed one last amazing structure, The Cooper Union Building, located at 41 Cooper Square.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is a private college, founded in 1859, and this 9 story building, completed in 2009, houses their Albert Nerken School of Engineering. I found it such an interesting building with great lines and colours, and so different to what surrounds it; it was a great way to finish my expedition – thank you New York, for a fantastic day out!


The Smith Restaurants

New York Hilton, Midtown

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