NYC as it was

Frank Oscar Larson (1896-1964) was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, of Swedish immigrant parents and lived in Flushing, Queens most of his life. As an adult, Larson spent his days at a branch of the Empire Trust Company (now Bank of New York Mellon), working his way up through the ranks from auditor to vice-president, and spare time on weekends taking photographs of street life throughout New York City.

He was an accomplished photographer who eloquently documented 1950s Chinatown, the Bowery, Hell’s Kitchen, City Island, Times Square, Central Park, and much more.

This exhibition is compiled from thousands of negatives recently discovered stored away in his daughter-in-law’s house in Maine in 2009. Soren Larson, his grandson and a television news camera man and producer, has been scanning and printing the 55-year-old images found stored in over 100 envelopes filled with mostly medium format, 2-1/4 x 2-1/4″ negatives, and neatly noted by location and date in Larson’s own hand.

Frank Oscar Larson: 1950s New York Street Stories is on view at the through May 20, 2012.

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Three weeks of Wild Bill

Going to be in NYC this month? Film Forum’s three-week William Wellman retrospective kicks off today.

William “Wild Bill” Wellman (1896-1975) earned his nickname, enlisting in the Lafayette Flying Corps before America entered the Great War, directing the first-ever Best Picture Oscar-winner, becoming Hollywood’s greatest specialist in aerial adventure, and renowned as well for a quick temper and occasional fisticuffs. But beyond the tough guy and action classics, he helmed some of the greatest of screwball comedies, among works in virtually every other genre; guided signature performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Louise Brooks, Loretta Young, Ginger Rogers, et al.; sensitively portrayed Norman Maine’s disintegration in A Star is Born; directed Cooper, Cagney and Gable in star-defining roles; and in his Pre-Code collaborations with producer Darryl Zanuck at Warner Bros., was the key director of one of the American cinema’s greatest periods.

The festival kick off with weekend screenings of the first movie to win the “Best Picture” Oscar: WINGS (1927), starring Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, and Buddy Rogers.

Here’s the full lineup.

Anyone hungry?

There’s no denying New York’s an expensive town to visit, and sampling the amazing array of cuisines offered at the city’s seemingly endless roster of eateries can take a big bite out of one’s travel budget.

That’s why Restaurant Week, which happens a couple of times a year (and has long since stopped limiting itself to a mere seven days), is considered cause for celebration by both New Yorkers and those savoring a sojourn in the city. It’s a terrific opportunity to patronize some of the spots that might otherwise be out of one’s price range.

From January 16 though February 10 (Monday through Friday only), foodies all over town will be out savoring the culinary offerings of many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants.

But don’t dally, if you wish to join them—reservations go fast. Book yours now for the participating dining spot of your choice.

Our favorite New Yorkers: Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz is one of our favorite New Yorkers. Did we ever tell you she once took our photograph (many film rolls’ worth of photographs, actually)? No? Well, you can read all about it in the story we wrote for at the time.

Anyway, we read with avid interest Time Out New York‘s interview with Annie, Why I Love NYC, and it came as no surprise whatsoever that we’re big fans of all six of the sites she cites (well, five out of six—we never had the pleasure of visiting Margaret Bourke-White’s studio on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building, but we are perfectly willing to take Annie’s word for it that seeing it was an amazing experience).

If you’re traveling to NYC, you could certainly do worse than to visit the five places Annie mentions in the interview. I mean, who wouldn’t want Annie Leibovitz for a tour guide?

All aboard the Nostalgia Train!

Great news! A grand NYC holiday tradition is again renewed as the Nostalgia Train makes its weekly runs once again.

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View the Slideshow

What’s the Nostalgia Train, you ask?

Every holiday season in recent years, the good folks at the NYC transit have run the Nostalgia Train, which is made up of subway cars that operated from the 1930s to the 1970s. Not only do train fans and nostalgia buffs get to experience subway cars from another era, but all the ads that line the upper walls of the cars are vintage ones, ranging from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Our first experience with the Nostalgia Train came some years back, on a special express run from midtown to Coney Island on a hot summer day, but it’s even more fun at holiday time.

The train runs on Sundays from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m., November 28 thru December 26, making the same stops as the M train, traveling from the 2nd Avenue station on the Lower East Side to Queens Plaza and back again.

You can catch a ride on these classic R1/9 subway cars at stations along the weekday M Line icon line between Queens Plaza and 2 Av. You can board the train at these stations:

Queens Plaza

• Court Sq-23 St

• Lexington Av/53 St

• 5 Av/53 St

• 47-50 Sts/Rockefeller Center

• 42 St Bryant Park

• 34 St Herald Sq

• 23 St (6 Av)

• 14 St (6 Av)

• W 4 St Wash Sq

• B’way-Lafayette St

• 2 Av

Departures from 2nd Avenue are at: 9:58 a.m., 11:27 a.m., 12:57 p.m., 2:27 p.m., and 3:57 p.m..

Departures from Queens Plaza are at: 10:43 a.m., 12:13 p.m., 1:42 p.m., 3:13 p.m., and 4:43 p.m..

In the past, we’ve donned vintage clothing when riding the nostalgia train, and in a perfect world, everyone else would do the same—think how it would heighten the experience! But if you’re in from out of town and left your vintage wear at home, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this little bit of time travel.

The photos in the slideshow are from a ride we took in December 2008. They’ll give you an idea, we hope, of what a delightful experience the Nostalgia Train is.

It’s the most wonderful tour of the year

We have big news here at Avenues and Alleys: We’re pleased to announce that we’re launching a new walking tour, the Christmas Tour.

On this 90-minute walk, we’ll visit the sites and share the stories that have made New York the Christmas Capitol of America. This tour includes a look at Rockefeller Center’s legendary Christmas tree, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a string of gorgeous holiday window displays. We’ll also discuss New York’s iconic contributions to the holidays as they’re celebrated today, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, and even Santa Claus himself.

This is a tour that will definitely give you that holiday spirit. But hurry—this seasonal tour is only running through Dec. 22, so book now!

A don’t-miss classic from Blighty

A scene from The Life and Death of Colonel BlimpIf you live in NYC or have plans to be here in the next two weeks, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to Film Forum for a screening of the fully restored Technicolor marvel The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Blimp, which stars Deborah Kerr and Roger Livesey, ranks as one of the best pictures ever turned out by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and given the stellar lineup of movies they were responsible for—The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, among many others—that’s saying something.

In fact, it’s one of the greatest pictures ever made in Great Britain. Film critic Andrew Sarris wrote of the picture, “When I first saw the badly butchered American release version of Colonel Blimp more than 40 years ago, I never imagined I’d live to see the day when I would have the effrontery to write that I preferred it to Citizen Kane.”

We’d hate to have to choose between Blimp and Kane, but you get the point. Blimp is a must-see.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Long time passing

We thought you might enjoy Edible Manhattan‘s look back at the Automat; we did.

One of our great regrets is that we can’t take our tour guests for a spin through an Automat.

Alas, the last one closed in 1991.

But they remain alive in our memory. There were two or three remaining when we arrived in New York in 1982, and we managed to grab lunch at one (though just once, to our undying regret).

By the time of our visit, the Automats were pretty dismal spots, attracting more destitute unfortunates than working Joes and Jills. We don’t recall much about the food we ate that day, which leads us to believe it must have been fine, if unexceptionable (surely we’d recall if it had been truly objectionable).

Still, we can proudly state that we once ate at an Automat, something that many tens of thousands of newer New Yorkers, not to mention the tourists who flock to our great city by the millions, are unable to claim, so that’s of small comfort.