Seinfeld’s Off the Grid Anniversary

The Brooklyn-born, Long Island-raised, Queens College-educated comedian Jerry Seinfeld was born on April 29, 1954. While no doubt many Off the Grid readers are Seinfeld fans, the following day is another Seinfeld anniversary which strikes even a little nearer and dearer to the heart of this blog.

The Seinfeld episode “The Maid” first ran on April 30th, 1998.  In it, Kramer is struggling with the challenges of a “long-distance relationship” with his girlfriend, who has moved “downtown,” far (about a 20 minute subway ride) from the Upper West Side setting of the show. Unable to bear the stress, Kramer breaks up with her, and finds himself lost on the unfamiliar and confusing streets of downtown Manhattan.

In a panicked pay-phone call for help, Kramer tells Jerry in amazement that he is on the corner of “1st and 1st — how can a street intersect itself?  I must be at the nexus of the universe.”

Ist Avenue and 1st Street – the nexus of the universe?

The intersection of First Avenue and First Street may not actually be the nexus of the universe, but it does have a peculiar look that might lead one to believe something unusual is going on. First and First is of course where the east-west oriented numbered street grid north of Houston Street clashes with the north-south oriented named street grid south of Houston Street on the East Side.

Perhaps even more jarringly, here Houston Street is extra-wide and eschews the angle of the two intersecting grids, leaving a gaping rift between the neighborhoods to the north and south, which perhaps Kramer thought approximated the boundary between two metaphysical worlds. The explanation for this gap, however, is somewhat more mundane.

For most of its life, Houston Street was an unremarkable and narrow street; actually, its original width can still be seen in the blocks west of 6th Avenue.

On this 1849-50 map (courtesy NYPL), Houston Street is as narrow as other East Village sidestreets

However, in the 1930’s, Houston Street was widened substantially to allow the construction of the IND subway line (now the A, C, E, D, and F) which came down Sixth Avenue and then turned eastward on Houston Street.  From Sixth Avenue to Lafayette Street, buildings on the south side of the street were demolished to allow for the widening of the street and the construction of the subway lines, but east of Lafayette Street buildings on the south side were kept intact and buildings on the north side of the street were demolished.

East Houston Street in 1930, after the demolition of houses on the south side (courtesy NYPL)

This was done to avoid demolishing the very substantial Cable Building — where the Angelika Theater is now located — on the north side of Houston Street between Mercer and Broadway, and the Puck Building, on the south side of Houston Street, between Lafayette and Mulberry Streets.

The Cable Building (courtesy New York Daily Photo)

At the corner of First and First, one looks out not only at the gaping chasm of East Houston Street, separating two downtown worlds, but two small parklets on the north side of Houston Street on either side of First Avenue, which are the leftover remanants of what used to be full city blocks which were cleared when Houston Street was widened.

Parklets at First Avenue & Houston Street

Ray’s Pizza, 195 Houston Street (courtesy Bowery Boogie)

In another bit of insular New York humor, when Jerry asks him to identify what’s around him, Kramer says he sees a Ray’s Pizza, to which Jerry responds by asking “Famous Ray’s or Original Ray’s?” (could anyone outside of New York possibly get this?).  In fact, there is a “Famous Original Ray’s Pizza” at 195 East Houston Street, which would be visible from the corner of 1st and 1st.

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Andrew Berman

Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of GVSHP since 2002.

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  2. […] later immortalized in films such as “Dazed and Confused” and used in TV shows from Seinfeld to That 70′s Show and My Name is […]

  3. […] not above looking at our neighborhood through the lends of popular culture (see prior posts on Seinfeld or 80′s music videos), we decided to take a trip down memory lane, check out some of the […]

  4. […] Rizzi’s partnership with the Tom Tom Club began in 1980 when he designed their first single and album covers, and continued for decades after.  But his decades-long partnership with the Tom Tom Club is far from Rizzi’s only foray into the pop cultural mindset — his work “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” made it onto an episode of Seinfeld, another Off the Grid favorite. […]

  5. […] This large, regal structure, which sits on the block bounded by East Houston, Lafayette, Mulberry, and Jersey Streets,  was built in two parts, the north section in 1885 and the south addition in 1892.  In 1983 it was declared an official NYC Landmark and, thanks to the Neighborhood Preservation Center, you can read that designation here.  Designed in a German Romanesque Revival style (technically known as Rundbogenstil) by Albert Wagner, the Puck building originally housed  the printing facility of J. Ottmann Lithographing Company.  Today, the space contains two large ballrooms on the ground floor, three floors that are owned by NYU, and a very controversial soon-to-be penthouse (read more about the Puck Building’s six degrees of separation from a popular TV sitcom HERE). […]

  6. […] Although today Houston Street is a wide east-west thoroughfare, it spent most of its early life as an unremarkable narrow New York City cross-street. It wasn’t until the early 1930s when construction for the IND subway line (now the A, C, E, D, and F) cut a swath through downtown (via Sixth Avenue and then turning eastward on Houston Street), that the wider street we know today was created. You can read all about the widening of Houston Street in an earlier Off the Grid post. […]

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  8. […] Although today Houston Street is a wide east-west thoroughfare, it spent most of its early life as an unremarkable narrow New York City cross-street. It wasn’t until the early 1930s when construction for the IND subway line (now the A, C, E, D, and F) cut a swath through downtown (via Sixth Avenue and then turning eastward on Houston Street), that the wider street we know today was created. You can read all about the widening of Houston Street in an earlier Off the Grid post. […]

  9. […] look at just one of those intersections, Second Avenue and Second Street.  It may not he the “nexus of the universe” like neighboring First Avenue and First Street, but it has more than its fair share of history wrapped around, and just below, its […]

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