Filth & Glory. NYC in the 70s.

Transit Authority K-9 Police use German Shepherds on the subway to deter crime. ~ image copyright © Allan Tannenbaum


The body of Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, is carried from the Chelsea Hotel, 1978. ~ image copyright © Allan Tannenbaum


These and numerous other unforgettable images are available in DIRTY, DANGEROUS & DESTITUTE | NEW YORK IN THE 70s: Photos by Allen Tannenbaum at The Selvedge Yard.

Hat tip: Ara Pehlivanian

Many people still think NYC is this way. It ain’t. I visited NYC as a wide-eyed teenager during this era and met pederasts, opium dealers, and prostitutes without even trying. I visited again as a young man at the end of the decade, goggly over the music scene (which was already packaged and dying).

When I finally moved to NYC in 1988, large parts of it were still pretty ragged. You could cop dope behind The New York Public Library and get shot on Avenue B. You could also accidentally start a fire in your apartment and not get kicked out. Or so I have, uh, read.

For all the dings on his soul, Rudy G really changed this town. He made it much more expensive but also much, much safer and more livable. Today it is one of the safest and most beautiful cities in America. A lot of change in a short time.


8 thoughts on “Filth & Glory. NYC in the 70s.”

  1. Having grown up in NYC, such images are my hazy memories. Having moved abroad and returning to visit family and friends it feels barely familiar.

  2. Having grew up in a small Kansas town, my only exposure to NYC was from tv, movies, and music. On a road trip, I first visited NYC in 93. It was still pretty much pre-Giuliani then. I had become friends with the singer of a NYC punk band called Sheer Terror, he showed me around the City, and helped me not be such a “hick standout”. Later on in the late 90s and 00s I was able to go back to NYC for Linux and Web conferences. So very different, but I still heart NYC very much.

  3. As someone who lives in the middle west, I was going to make the same comment that “Many people still think NYC is this way. It ain’t.” That was my impression too until a month ago.

    My wife and I spent a day in NYC last month; our first trip back in our adult lives. Far from these yesteryear images and memories, we enjoyed riding into Penn Station, walking the streets, eating lunch in Central Park, riding the subway, and seeing as much of the city as we could in six hours. It was mercenary, but we enjoyed every minute of it. It had been so long since I’d been there that I’d forgotten how walking the city feels like being at the center of the world.

    NYC is a beautiful place. I understand the charm and appeal it brings for so many millions of people. It’s great to see how the city came together to pull itself out of precipice and rebuild itself as “the greatest city in the world.”

  4. Judging from what you tell, it probably was a good thing that it took me all these years to finally get to know NYC personally next week. I’ve been to pretty much every major U.S. city in the past but for some reason I never could get a chance for NY before. As someone who comes from a somewhat troubled place in terms of crime and security, I like this quote:

    [Rudy G] made it much more expensive but also much, much safer and more livable.

    Life is full of tradeoffs. We’d all like to have it all – and hopefully for free. But in our real world that ain’t gonna fly. It takes serious money and commitment to keep a city -specially a big city- clean, inviting and livable. I can’t wait to witness how NY has managed to transform itself.

  5. Well before the Giuliani years (1994-2001) the city was turned over to the wealthy. I lived in NYC from 1974-1990 and saw it lose its color and its soul. Clean, yes. Livable, yes. But also homogenized and boring, having lost the color, income diversity, and youth that made it such a glorious spot for a wide-eyed midwesterner to discover in his 20s.

  6. Both of my parents are from NYC, so I visited many times as a kid in the 70s and early 80s. I remember what a mess it was and I loved it. I spent a lot of time in Washington Heights where we eventually had to move my grandparents out after my grandmother had been mugged too many times.

    I lived there myself in the early 90s and remember Giuliani’s election. I also remember being amazed that I could safely ride the subway through Brooklyn and Manhattan late at night. I expected trouble and never found any. It was already changing in 1995. That was also around the time that Times Square became “disneyified”. The East Village at that time reminded me a lot of Austin. It was still affordable then. People were just starting to move to Williamsburg.

  7. Love the picture of the policeman and his dog.

    I lived in NYC most of the 80s … I swear that said photo could pass for a canine patrol during said timeframe as well.

    Well, maybe without the Thurman Munson mustache (that goes for the cop too ;-)

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