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  Billy Joel - 52nd Street - Album Cover Location

The album cover. (The album was released on October 13, 1978 by Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Cover photo by Jim Houghton.)

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

This is the spot where the cover shot was photographed in 1978 on 52nd Street just east of Seventh Avenue in northern Times Square.

And here is the album OVERLAYED over the spot. You can see the gates from the elevator shaft that was once there.

Here's the same scene from further back. That large building (The Equitable Building) is on the southeast corner of 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue, about 7 blocks from the center of Times Square.

It's a block east and south of 53rd and Broadway where the Beatles first played at the Ed Sullivan Theater and where Late Night with David Letterman is now taped.

This is approximately what the scene would have looked like approximately 35 years ago if the original building was still standing.

Billy was standing next to the service elevator that went up to the recording studio seven stories up. To his back was a coffee shop whose front was on Seventh Avenue. The musicians often used the service elevator to avoid the crowded elevators out front on Seventh Avenue.

And here's the same scene with addition of Jim Houghton, the photographer, and his lights to give you a feeling of what the scene would have been like while the picture was being taken (actually a photo assistant named Earl Seinbecker was also on the scene).

In this shot, taken with just one light source, the strong flash lit up the large Heineken advertising bottle in the coffee shop window.

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

This is the building Billy was standing beneath. Billy would have been in the circled area, just to the left of that dark circle on the white wall, which is really a rectangular window but looks oval in this grainy, over-enlarged photo.

Billy recorded in the big square room at the top of the building along 7th Avenue. This was formerly the famous "Studio C" at 701 Seventh Avenue, in business since the 1930's, where Sinatra, Dylan, Streisand, and many other singers recorded some of their greatest songs.

When Billy recorded there it had changed hands and was called A&R; Recording and was run by the famed record producer Phil Ramone.

It had high ceilings and old walls that made the sound golden.

This map will put where the building was in perspective to Times Square and Central Park.

In the 1970's Times Square was still pretty seedy (not like the wild, bright, tourist playground it is today), but this part of Times Square wasn't so bad, as it was near many big, well-known hotels.

And a close up map looking down at the A&R; Studio, for a different perspective (or in case you plan to parachute to the site.)


When I was doing an earlier PopSpot about Bob Dylan recording classics like "Like A Rolling Stone" in Columbia Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue (circled), I would run across books that indicated that Billy Joel later recorded in the same space (now belonging to A&R; Recording) and that he was photographed for the cover of "52nd Street" out on the sidewalk at the bottom of the building's 52nd Street elevator shaft.

But the books did not have a photo of the wall along 52nd Street that would put Billy's 52nd Street album cover photo in perspective to its surroundings, so I set out to find a picture of the side of the building where Billy was standing all those years ago.

I had other pictures of Columbia Studio A, and if you look to the right, they later added "Studio B" (which looks like another boxy shape) but none of the photos showed the "52nd Street" album cover side of the building.

Here is the album cover again. So the question was -- how to get a picture of this side of the building, where the elevator shaft was?

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

First, I looked at the elevator shaft itself, to see if that would lead me anywhere. In several of the photos I found on Google Images, during the same photo session, Billy was actually inside the elevator while being photographed. He had the same clothes on and was also carrying a trumpet.

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

Later in my search, when I found a copy of the album itself, I saw that the picture on the inside record sleeve was also taken at that same time, probably before they went down the elevator.

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

I read later that Billy said the reason he had a trumpet in his hand was that he wanted to be carrying an instrument in the photo, and a piano was naturally, too large. So he borrowed it from jazz legend Freddie Hubbard, who played on "Zanzibar" on the album.) The trumpet was a nod to jazz, since 52nd Street, the street on which he was recording (and in fact on which he was STANDING, in the cover photo) had been world-reknowned from the 1930's to the 1950's as being the center of the jazz club scene in Manhattan, and was commonly referred to as "Swing Street."

In fact, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker's club "Birdland," had been just a block away on Broadway.

Billy is also been quoted as saying he came up with the idea of naming the album 52nd Street and shooting the picture at street level as a salute to the Beatles Abbey Road album, where the Beatles had been photographed outside the studio (Abbey Road Studios in London) where they had made their album. (Coincidentally, CBS Records, Billy's label, had its headquarters a block away at 52nd and Sixth Avenue.)

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

Now here's a picture that I came across on Ebay that's taller than the album cover, but the same photo. Both are set at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

It's actually the cover to the songbook which gives the lyrics and music for other musicians to play the songs from the album. The row of lights at the top of the picture would become a clue, as we will see in the next picture.

(You might also see an oversized advertising bottle of Heineken bottle in the window. This doesn't show up on the cover of the album, unless you scan it an look at it in Photoshop and "lighten" the window up full blast.)

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

When searching for clues to places, I always scroll through about 200 Google Images or search in Ebay for the name of the album plus the word "promotion" because then you run across photos taken at the same time, but used in advertising, like this one below.

Note that the lights over Billy's head are a continuation of the lights we saw on the sheet music book above.

So we know this is the wall that runs along 52nd street to 7th Avenue, and now we know there is a coffee shop on the corner. Unfortunately we can't make out the name of the coffee shop from the sign.

Too bad. If we knew the name of the coffee shop we might be able to find a postcard of it and see what that side of the building looked like.

So what to do?

First, I went back to looking for more pictures of the Americana Hotel which was across the street from where Billy was standing. (The hotel is now called the "Manhattan at Times Square," but the old postcards are under the old name, "Hotel Americana" on Ebay) Finally I found one that showed the "Billy" side of the building.

So I zoomed in....

...and then I zoomed in closer, but still could not make out the coffee shop name.

But, upon finding a more focused, though cropped, version of the photo, I could finally make out just where Billy was standing next to the elevator shaft.

In addition, I found a brochure of the Americana Hotel with a street level view of the "Billy" side of the building on the right hand, in the background. You can see Columbia Studio B up at the top. But it didn't show the bottom of the elevator shaft or the coffee shop.

I needed to somehow find a picture or postcard of the coffee shop.

So I went to the "Manhattan at Times Square" Hotel" on Seventh Avenue and 52nd Street, across the street from the recoding studio building where the coffee had been located, and I asked some of the hotel doormen who worked there if they remembered the name of the coffee shop.

They had forgotten the name of the coffee shop (though they said that back in the day, it had a really cheap but tasty one-dollar breakfast special), but they remembered that there was a community college right across the street, right in the middle of the same building as the A&R; studio.

What? A community (2-year) college? In a Times Square office building? That sounded strange.

But it was true. I looked it up. Right in the same building as A&R; Music where Billy was recording his album and where Dylan had recorded "The Times They are a Changing" and "Like a Rolling Stone" was a college spread over on 2 floors: the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), part of the City Univerity of New York (CUNY).

The college had since moved to Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan, but I called up the research librarian and college archivist, Dorothea Coiffe, and asked her if by some chance she had any photos that might have the name of the coffee shop in them.

Dorothea was very helpful. She got the idea of the search immediately and said she would look through some of the old 1970's yearbooks and get back to me.

Meanwhile, I kept looking for postcards of restaurants along 52nd Street, but I all I came up with was Lum Fongs, which was the next building over from where Billy was standing, but you couldn't see the elevator shaft from the postcards.

It's a very funky Rat-Pack-type looking place. I'll bet Frank Sinatra went out for Chinese while recording at Studio A.

Below is a shot from the NY Municiple Archives. Billy would have been just to to the right.

But just then, as the search was getting a little stymied along 52nd Street, magically, out of the blue comes an email from none other than Dorothea Coiffe, the research librarian at the Bureau of Manhattan Community College with scanned pages from a half-dozen BMCC year books from between 1967 and 1983.

I opened the picture files one by one, slowly as if I was opening college accpance letters.

The first one showed the doorway of the college.

The second one showed the doorway in color and also showed that ET was playing in that year which put it at about 1982.

The next photo was a wide shot of a guy in black who looked like Al Pacino walking past the doorway. To his right I could see the marquee for the Abbey Victoria hotel....

...pictured here.... (The building with the college can be glimpsed to the left).

..and in close-up next to "Al," you could see the sign for 799 Seventh Avenue and the letters A & R for A & R Recording.

So that meant that the entrance to the community college was the same as the entrance to A+R Studios, which meant that, perhaps, a photo of the "campus" coffee shop, right next door to the college entrance, was also in the yearbooks.

And then...I opened the last photo, and...KA-BOOM!

There was the picture of the now legendary (to me) coffee shop and to the left, the row of lights that were over Billy's head in the picture!

And with this, Dorothea Coiffe of BMCC won the 2011 Research Librarian of the Year award from Bob Egan of Popspots. A mission well done.

So now I had a pretty good image of the entire wall of the coffee shop almost to where Billy was standing.

And now, knowing the word "Griddle" on the side of the building, I was able to ask the bellhops at the Sheraton is that rang a bell, and it did: they now remembered it to be "The Golden Griddle."

Here's a close-up of the photo....

...and a shot of the lights over Billy's head next to those in the photo, and of course the matching signs for the Golden Griddle Coffee Shop.

A search for postcards of the Golden Griddle in the usual places (Google Images, Flickr, Ebay) turned up empty, so I decided I'd use Photoshop to recreate the rest of the building behind the Golden Griddle, based on the BMCC yearbook photo, the long distance picture of the elevator shaft entrance, the promotional picture of Billy leaning against the wall, and the album sleeve.

First, in the picture below, I added the elevator shaft entrance, a door, several windows, and the two sprinkler plugs.

Then, I stuck the album in place and adjusted the size of the elevator shaft and windows,

Then, I darkened the scene to see how it would look at night...


...and added a photographer and his umbrella light, since, in the album picture, there is light coming from two sources.

And that's how I figured the scene looked over 24 years ago, down on the mean streets of 1970's Manhattan.

Now that I had rebuilt the side of the building, I could see that, in the "promo" shot, Billy had moved toward Seventh Avenue and was leaning just in front of the window, and above the sprinkler system pipes.

Today, the building behind Billy has been knocked down and replaced by the Equitable Building. The red outline in this shot shows were the A&R; studios were (and where Columbia Studios A+B were before that) - where Billy had blasted out "Big Shot," "Honesty," "My Life," and "Zanzibar" among the other songs on the album.

If you go there, from the northeast corner of 52nd and 7th Ave look to the right and walk down the street four "bays"....until you get to...

...this big entrance. And, if you look up...'ll basically be looking up the path of the elevator shaft to A & R Studios.

This shot will give you an idea of the spot where Billy was leaning in the photo.

...and if you lean there, you can see where the coffee shop used to be,

And finally, for those who really like to go back in time, here where's Billy was standing from a 100-year old picture from the New York Public Library, even before all those other buildings had been built.

Lotta history there on 52nd Street. It's the kind of place that might get a person into a New York state of mind.

...and one final QUICK encore, and then we'll say "the end"....

...Whoops! Let's make that TWO final QUICK encores, as this unique outtake from the cover session just showed up (as I'm about to put this on the website) in a video promotion Billy made for "Billy Joel - The Complete Albums Collection. (Since I wrote that last sentence, I substituted an expanded version of that picture, the one below this, with more signage and wall, sent in by Mike of Lloyd Harbor. (Note the letters G and S that are now exposed. That word might have been "eggs" or "dogs" as in "hot dogs.")

(Courtesy Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Photo by Jim Houghton.)

...and now we'll say....the end....Well, that's actually where I first ended, but be sure to check out some new photos that have been sent in -- in the ADDENDUM section below....

Adendum #1 - March 1, 2013

PopsPot reader Eric --- (email name: WHAMMO) wrote in to tell me that that there is a whole panorama of the streetscape of 52nd Street "stitched together" from photographs that run through the first pages of the 52nd Street songbook. So, I bought one on Ebay and here's an advanced look (more will come later).

This photo has the A&R; back door in it; which turns out to be about ten feet away from where I had it. I thought Billy was next to the steel gate outside the A&R; the elevator door; but there was actually a small deli between him and the A&R; elevator door. The photo also it solves the mystery of what the "eggs" sign said.

Sample page from inside 52nd Street songbook.

Adendum #2 - March 1, 2013

Popspots reader and US/UK record producer George Glennon visited the 52nd Street site on December 6th, 1980 and sent in these photos of him and his manager standing where Billy did..

He writes: These two photos were taken Saturday Dec 6th, 1980 at about 5-5:30 at dusk with a 110 camera. I remember as I was in town when John Lennon got shot that Monday. That's me on the left with my manager at the time. You'll recognize the spot, and its right next to the service elevator entrance to the studio. Great memories and seeing you put so much work into the page on this album cover/studio I'm happy to send what I have. We always stayed at the Sheraton Center (which was the Americana) right across from the studio and ate frequently in the "Ham and Eggs" (as I called it) diner, as well as at Joe's Pier 52 right next to where we are standing there and to the east.


Recently, a PopSpot reader named Dr. Shoichiro Otake sent in a treasure trove of pictures of the location that he had taken on August 4, 1980, when he visited New York from Japan many years ago. It took him several visits to Times Squate to find the locations, as he wasn't sure the photo was taken on 52nd Street, but he found it on his last day in New York. He recently sent us the pictures. They are great rock 'n' roll and New York historical reference.

An outtake from the original session. (photo: Jim Houghton)

The album cover. (The album was released on October 13, 1978 by Columbia Records/CBS Inc. Cover photo by Jim Houghton.)

Shoichiro's photo of the album cover location.

Dr. Shoichiro poses where Billy was standing.

Dr. Shoichiro again. But the passerby who took his photo put her finger in front of the camera. (Hey, that's rock 'n' roll!)

A photo from further back. The service elevator that led to the top floor Columbia recording studio would have been about 10 feet to the left, past the tiny deli.

A side view. The service elevator, which the musicians used to get up and down from the recording studio quickly, instead of using the busy main elevators around the corner on 7th Avenue, is to the left of the yellow awning.

Here's the side of the coffee shop/restaurant on 52nd Street.

This is a photo looking along the side of the restaurant taken from the corner of 52nd Street and 7th Avenue.

The Griddle Coffee Shop sign with the Americana Hotel behind it. The hotel is still there, now called the Sheraton New York Times Square.

This is a magazine ad for the album showing the coffee shop sign in the background.

And, to end, this is the scrapbook where Dr. Shoichiro has kept the photos for the last 4 decades. Thank you, Dr. Shoichiro for sharing your memories of Billy with your fellow Billy Joel fans and rock fans around the world via PopSpots!

This is a iink to a webpage of Dr. Shoichiro's photos as we originally published it, before adding it as an addendum.