Landmarks come in many forms, from the formerly towering Singer Building demolished in 1968 to the original Penn Station, New York's history with leveling iconic structures is a long one. However cultural landmarks are as important as structural ones, such as 5 Pointz which transformed from a broken down building into what was an international tourist destination. Here are a few spots that left their mark.
FAO Schwarz photo courtesy of Flickr
FAO Schwarz holds a special place not only in the hearts of the millions of kids who walked through those fabled doors to gaze upon the wonderment of high toy society ranging from life sized teddy bears to $2,000 rocking horses, but also in cinema due to the famous scene from the Tom Hanks movie 'BIG' where Hanks and Robert Logia dance a duet on giant sized piano keys on the floor.
And if you've ever been to FAO Schwarz hoping to play your own version of chopsticks or even the opening sequence to Ol Dirty Bastards' 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' you soon realized the area around the piano was 6 train at rush hour level crowded. I settled for tapping a few notes as I walked by just to say I played the piano from BIG.
FAO Schwarz had a mystique about it that ranged from wonderland to museum, but the magic appealed to both children and inner children alike.
UPDATE: While doing some research I discovered that the piano from the movie and the store we in fact two different pianos. Sometimes childhood dreams are meant to be shattered.
photo courtesy of Flickr
Before the world was in the palm of our hands via smartphones and everything from movies to music was just a touch screen away, there was the Virgin Megastore. Home to all the latest literature, music, movies and more it was possible to spend hours in a Virgin Megastore and not know where the time went. Countless plans in the free nights and weekends era of cell phones started out with "Let's meet at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square" and sometimes that is where they ended. While being a cultural center for people of all ages to meet up and read books or listen to music or just chill at the cafe was great for the community, it wasn't exactly great for Virgin's bottom line. As illegal downloading gave way to legal downloading and online retailers, Megastores went the way of the Megalosaurus, once mighty but now extinct. I'll fondly remember how I listened to Will Smith's 1999 release 'Willenium' almost in its entirety while waiting for someone and 3 years later listening to his follow up 'Born to Reign' in similar fashion probably waiting for the same person. The Virgin Megastore is sorely missed.
Toys R Us
photo courtesy of Flickr
If FAO Schwarz was a toy museum then the Toys R Us in Times Square was a toy amusement park. This Toys R Us location, complete with indoor ferris wheel, was the exact expression of grandiose you'd expect to find at the center of the world. A few attractions included a Candy Land you could walk through, Lego World with a few recreations of famous New York City buildings, Barbie Land and a huge animatronic T-Rex. A far cry from the seedy reputation Times Square was known for, Toys R Us helped solidify the transformation to tourist utopia. Eventually the rent became too damn high and Toys R Us had to pack it up on new years eve. Rumor has it a Gap/Old Navy will replace part of the vacant space so who needs a ferris wheel when you have performance fleeces.
photo courtesy of Flickr
Few things felt more gratifying after a long night of paying exorbitant cover prices for over crowded clubs and equally priced drinks than spending those last few bucks on 4 hot dogs and a tropical drink at Papayas. Gray's Papaya was a staple in the after hours scene, midday scene, early morning scene and the can I pay for this in nickels and dimes scene. Gray's Papaya was like that best friend you'd run into who wouldn't expect much from you, but would offer you the world. In this case the world was adequate hot dogs, best when smothered in everything since it was more bang for the buck and a tropical drink that was more Jamaica queens than Jamaica the island getaway. Eventually the rising rent claimed another victim and Gray's was no more. The legacy lives on however since Jay Z immortalized Gray's when he name dropped the establishment on 'Aint No' where he eloquently stated "The first chance to crack the bank they try me, all they get is 50 cent franks at Papayas". Gray's Papaya, truly no one could love you better.
Cultural landmarks may not have the structural pedigree of some of their more prestigious counterparts, but they are in some cases woven into our lives in a more impactful way. Whether it's day to day interaction or a childhood memory you hold onto well into adulthood, the importance of these institutions reaches beyond what you'd suspect at face value. When they disappear, the impact is just as powerful.
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