Gramercy Park Revisited: My Search for Bob Dylan Album Cover Locations in New York City
Executive Summary of this site (for you busy beavers):
My search for the long-lost location of the Blonde on Blonde album cover shoot (which I have still not found), led me to discover two other memorable Dylan album photo sites - that of Highway 61 Revisited and also that of Another Side of Bob Dylan - in places in New York City that I would never have thought of.
Album: Highway 61 Revisited (released August 1965 by Columbia records)
Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan (released August 1964 by Columbia Records)
Intro: My Own Back Pages
I've been walking around New York City for half my life. There's always something new - or something old - around every corner, and thousands of personal memories from the back pages of my life.
Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NY
I've always been interested in seeing where famous events happened - where movies were filmed, where books were written, where famous photos were shot -- and there are dozens of these spots in Greenwich Village, one of the older neighborhood sections of Manhattan, whose small streets have been home to many writers, musicians, and painters, and also, where I used to live.
Being a longtime Dylan fan, I have long known where the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" was taken; it was on the north end of Jones Street, only a block from Cornelia Street, where I had my first apartment in Manhattan in 1977. (Ground floor $150 a month.). I even took my parents-in-law's picture there one snowy winter day, with them posing as Dylan and Suzie walking down the street.
Album below: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (released May 1963 by Columbia Records)
I also knew that Dylan had lived, early in his career, up the block on 161 West 4th Street, and that some of his early performances were at the Cafe Wha? a few blocks away on MacDougal Street.
But it wasn't until about 30 years later that it occurred to me that Dylan's other album covers might have been shot in the Village and that I might see if I could find where the pictures were shot.
Looking at his early album covers, two seemed like they were shot in New York City ; "Bringing It All Back Home" - with the element of tall buildings in the background, and "Blonde on Blonde" - with Dylan standing next to a brick building with an industrial iron window guard -- the type found on factories - in an industrial area, most likely in the west part of the Village.
Album: Blonde on Blonde (released May 1966 by Columbia records)
The cover of a third album, "Highway 61 Revisited," always struck me as having been shot indoors on the front of a stage, like after a press conference. New York City is pretty gritty and there aren't many sparkling white places around, especially where rock stars hung out. (Wrong! It turns out.)
So, in my spare time, I started to research.
ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN
(cover of Another Side of Bob Dylan, released by Columbia Records)
First off, "Another Side of Bob Dylan," the album with a black-and-white photo of Dylan standing in front of a somewhat tall building, with his arm resting on his bent leg.
First, I Googled the album's title (on Google) and image (on Google Images) a dozen ways to see if anyone had outtakes of the photo-shoot on their website; but no pictures seemed to match up. .
Then I looked at several Dylan coffee table books that I own and found one that had the same photo, but in a little more detail, having been cropped wider from the original negative.
(photo of Bob Dylan from Another Side of Bob Dylan
I looked closely at the tall office buildings in the background to the left of Dylan, and figured the photo might have been shot in lower Manhattan, around Fifth Avenue in the 20's, near where I had once also lived. So I walked around the area on weekends, holding the album up to compare it against various skyscrapers, but found no match-up.
Then I happened on a trove of online Dylan photos on a Dylan fan site which covers Dylan through all his musical explorations (folk, folk-rock, etc.).
In the photos of an early period - from 1964, there was a picture of Dylan standing next to a New York City lamp pole, taken by Sandy Speiser (who, according to a web site, was a Columbia Records staff photographer).
In the photo, Dylan was dressed pretty much exactly as he was on the "Another Side..." album cover - all in black with a collarless coat over a mock-turtleneck shirt.
(Bob Dylan at a city street corner under a street sign.)
So I enlarged the photo with my scanner and studied it.
It looked like it was photographed near a big New York City intersection, and in the background were about 6 vertical parallel lines, probably window edges, that instantly made me think of the back of the GM Building (where the Apple store is) on 57th Street, specifically the back windows of F.A.O. Schwartz.
So, album in hand, one day I visited 57th Street at Madison Avenue, found a lamppost, and held up the album. I have to say it was pretty close, but no cigar. The back of the FAO Schwartz didn't look the same, and the building ledges were a little off. Big disappointment.
So I sent the photo by email to my friend, Jon, a native New Yorker and another 35-year Manhattan street-walking enthusiast. Recognizing a distinctive triangular street sign behind Dylan's head, he said that it was definitely one of the old signs they used to use all along Broadway (the street). He also figured that wall of the building behind, with the vertical parallel lines, looked like the windows of the ballroom for the Sheraton Hotel on 52nd Street, a few blocks north of Times Square.
Times Square? Dylan? Folk music? Impossible. I could imageine Dylan having his photo taken at Bleecker and MacDougal where the folk crowd had hung out, but in tawdry Times Square? (i.e. The old Times Square - till the 1980's - way before it became somewhat respectable- back when little black lines were drawn over the eyes of the "actors" and "actresses" in the stills from the movies playing in the porno theaters.)
So, with enlarged Sandy Speiser photo in hand, I went to the southwest corner of Broadway and 52nd Street, where I could see the Sheraton Hotel off to the right, a block and a half east on 52nd street. And, as I held up the photo, next to the pole that had a "Walk/"Don't Walk" sign, it all matched!! - the windows and the building ledges on the buildings on the left all lined up.
(Left: Close up excerpt of a photo of Bob Dylan)
So then I held up the actual album to see how the photo matched
It was the very faint vertical strip of squares behind Dylan's head in the photos that sealed the deal for me.
(Close-up showing skyscraper windows; from the album
I had never really given them much thought before - it had never occurred to me that they could be windows from a skyscraper. But seen live - behind the album cover I held up - they matched up perfectly with either the windows of the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue or with the windows of a tall skyscraper a block further east. That building, on the northwest corner of 52nd and Sixth Avenue, I later found out, is called the Credit Lyonnais Building and was built in 1964, the same year the album shot was taken.
Now, having figured out the general corner where the album photo had taken place, I wanted to see if I could get closer to the exact spot.
While doing Google Image searches for Sandy Speiser, others photos seemed to always pop from the same photo shoot. They included:
1) Dylan, kneeling in front of a window full of masks.
Could they give me further proof this was the right corner?
First, the picure of Dylan walking down the street. A close look at the signs in back of Dylan indicated that he was walking in front of the front door sign marquee for The Alvin Hotel. And to the right of that marquee you can see the beginning of a sign I later learned to be Colony Records (which is presently located three blocks down the street).
(Dylan walking west down 52nd Street from Broadway)
A little Googling later and I fould that both the Alvin Hotel and Colony Records had been on the northwest corner of 52nd and Broadway, something that helped to confirm my earlier finding that the album photoshoot had been done on 52nd street. (see the map of this below)
Then to the photo of Dylan crouching in front of the window full of masks (including ones of Charles DeGaulle and Jackie Kennedy). This image has shown up in many official Dylan CD booklets. But on Google Images, there is one image of it, from the Morrison Gallery in New York (an art gallery on Prince Street and also on the Bowery where you can buy a copy of the image) that is more vertical than the others, showing more image.
(Dylan crouching in front of a window full of masks and joke items.)
And in that one, you can see the words "Records" of "Colony Records" and ..."n Hotel" backwards in the upper right corner. That would put the mask store on the opposite corner of The Alvin Hotel, so the "mask window" must have been located at the Southwest corner of 52nd and Broadway.
Here's an excerpt from a New York City tax map from the 50's-60's indicating where the Alvin Hotel, Colony Records, and the window full of masks was located.
(Excerpt from the New York Public Library.)
Then to the color photo of Dylan crouchng. Here's what it looks like:
(Dylan crouching on 52nd Street)
This picture is almost always printed in Dylan publications with Dylan looking to the right. But that would not make sense if Dylan was where I thought he was.
(Dylan crouching on 52nd Street, flipped.)
So I flipped the photo and enlarged it. If you do that, you will see a vertical neon sign neon in the background that looks like it reads "O'Grady" And if you go to that spot just a block down from where the album cover was shot. You will find...the sign for " ROSIE O'GRADY BAR." (at the northwest corner of 52nd and Broadway). This indicated to me also that this picture was probably taken while Dylan was crouching in front of the "mask window" across from the Alvin Hotel.
Next we come to the other Sandy Speiser picture of a somewhat contemplative-looking Dylan, looking downward. In the picture Dylan is facing right. There is also a building behind him with a horizontal band of small square windows on it. This picture also shows up in a several Dylan publications including page 33 of the tall booklet inside Bootleg Series Volume 1-3.
(Dylan standing, looking right)
Initially, I figured that to be a building a block down Broadway (#1650), which has the same type of window pattern (it was a famous building in the history of popular music, housing a number of music publishers and songwriters). But a close look at the number of windows told me it did not match up.
So I flipped the color picture. Ta da! It's almost the same picture as that of Dylan from the album cover - but in color.
(Left: Dylan standing, looking left)(Right: Dylan from the album cover)
I'll talk more about these two photos in a minute but first a short sidebar on two things:
1) I find it interesting to discover that Sandy Speiser either shot all these photos, including the album cover shot, in color, or was using both a color and a black-and-white camera alternately. Here's another shot of the "masks" photo -- this time in color:
(Dylan in front of mask window - in color)
2) Why I know the proper direction these shots from the Sandy Speiser/Times Square session should be printed - the small curl of hair on Dylan's forehead:
These two other shots taken by Sandy Speiser in that session show Dylan in front of signs/newspaper with text reading correctly - and in both cases there is a curl on the right side of Dylan's head (as we are looking at him.)
That's why, for example, in this, another Sandy Speiser shot of Dylan, crouching in front of the mask window, we know that this is printed corrrectly.
All 3 photos above courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.
Photographer: Sandy Speiser.
Ok, so we can assume the pictues were taken in the same spot. So where are those little box windows on the second floor level that you can behind Dylan's elbows in both pictures.? I walked around the building at the northeast corner of Broadway and 52nd Street but the windows on the bottom 2 floors had been renovated and those strip of windows weren't there!?
Time to go back into history.
So I went online to the New York Public Library's online data base of old New York City photos and seached for all the photos of that interesection. Bingo!
Here are 4 photos of the building that's behind Dylan in the cover shot and in the similar color shot. As you can see, the building DID have the little horizontal strip of second floor windows when it as built. Evidentally, they must have been changed since 1964.
Note row of small horizontal windows above second floor windows
That same building on the northeast corner of 52nd and Broadway - from further back.
Looking further down 52nd Street.
A closer shot looking down 52nd Street east of Broadway.
Note:In the last picture, you can also see the vertical sign for "Club Lido" that later changed into the sign for "Rosie O'Grady.")
Also note: midblock in the bottom picture, just past the tall whitish building we are discussing, you can see a 5-story building . That's gone now, but, if you go to that block, you can still see its roofline outline in the brick against the larger building to its left.
(Above 4 photos from the New York Public Library online archives.)
Finally, we move to the shots of Dylan in the arcade playing with a rifle-shooting game that can all be found at Google Images when searching "Sandy Speiser Dylan." It seemed likely that the arcade would be connected to the window with the masks in it. So I seached around for pictures of arcades on Broadway and 52nd Street.
In doing so, I ran across an interesting 1960 photograph of a legendary jazz trumpeter named Chet Baker, in a photo by well-known music photographer William Claxton. The photo is of Baker in front of the Charlie "Yardbird" Parker's nightclub -- Birdland, which, I soon found out, turned out to be in the basement of the corner building on northeast 52nd and Broadway -- the same building in the background of the Dylan photo.
A rough outline of that photo follows; to see the original photo (c) by William Claxton
(Reference drawing of Chet Baker in front of Birdland photographed by William Claxton).
If you look very closely at that picture, you can see that right behind Chet Baker's head, above the store at the street corner, you can make out the sign reading "Amusement Center." This sign would be about 10 feet east of where I think the Dylan shot with the masks behind him was taken, which was across the street from the entrance to the Alvin Hotel.
So Dylan was probably photographed inside that amusement center (arcade) playing in the shooting gallery. And...if you zoom in close again to that Claxton photo, you can see what turns out to be the "Walk/Don't Walk" signal box that Dylan was holding onto in the Speiser photo that started my search of this corner. Small world. So the Dylan photo would have been taken at the same corner in 1964, four years after the Chet Baker shot from 1960.
My conclusion? Dylan was probably standing with one foot on the window sill in front of the window of masks, when Speiser took the cover photo for "Another Side of Bob Dylan."
(Superimposition of Dylan on a present-day photo
And just to complete the picture, here are some other photos :
1) The southwest corner of 52nd and Broadway today, with a circle of where I believe the album photo was shot.
2) A photo of "Flash Dancers" which is now in the basement space where Birdland used to be (David Letterman sometimes focuses his cameras from a block up and across the street down on the entance in comedy bits).
3) A photo of the Northeast corner of Broadway and 52nd street today, with Flashdancers and the O'Grady sign circled. This building would be in back of Dylan in the cover photo.
So what was Dylan doing in Times Square on that day?
Most likely he was taking a break from the recording studio. From 1962 to 1965 Dylan recorded his first five albums at one of the recording industry's premiere recording studios, Columbia Records Studio A. The studio was located in the top floor (7th floor) of 799 Seventh Avenue on the southeast corner of 52nd Street, just two blocks east from where the cover photo was shot.
You can see two pictures of 799 Seventh Avenue below. The studio is circled in the top photo. In the bottom photo you can see the studio in the foreground from above. (I don't know in what years these pictures were taken. The Sheraton Hotel in the background was then called the Americana - which is how I tracked these photos down after posting some really old photos from New York City archives, without the recording studio built atop the 7th floor, in my initial entry.)
799 Seventh Ave was located next to the Abbey Victoria hotel. That building is pictured in the postcard below. You can see a little of 799 Seventh to the left of the hotel.
The Abbey Victoria Hotel, 51st and Broadway, NYC
Both buildings were demolished in 1983, and were replaced by the enormous Equitable Building, which now takes up the whole length of the block from 51st to 52nd. Here is what it looks like today, with a red outline around where the the Columbia Studios floor would have been.
Dylan recorded Another Side of Bob Dylan in Studio A on June 9, 1964 in one session lasting untill 1:30 in the morning.
A year later, during June through August of 1965, Dylan would go to Studio A to record Highway 61 Revisited, the album including the song Like a Rolling Stone, before recording primarily in Nashville for a few years, later to return, in 1974, to record the first sessions of Blood on the Tracks, when the studio was owned by A&R Records.
To see images of Dylan recording in Studio A, go to Google Images and do a search for "Dylan Studio A."
A map to put the scene of the covershoot and Studio A in perspective to Times Square
52nd Street between 5th Ave and 7th Ave, perhaps also not coincidentally to the Dylan photo-shoot, was for the years from 1920's to the 1950's known as Swing Street and was home to a dozen of New York City's best-known jazz clubs. Perhaps that's another reason the photo shoot was held on 52nd street.
That area of northern Times Square was also one of the centers of popular music from the 40's to the 60's. It was home to both the Brill Building (1619 B'way) and several other buildings (1650 B'way and 1697 B'way) which were jammed with offices and studios of music publishers and songwriters like Carole King, Leiber and Stroller, and Neil Sedaka (for a history see Wikipedia: The Brill Building).
Dylan has always had a soft spot for Manhattan, as most recently evidenced by the cover of his book, Chronicles Volume 1, which features a photo taken at night of Times Square in the 1960's (also by Don Hunstein) which was taken a few months before Dylan first arrived in New York in January of 1961. (In the background of the photo a theater is playing the movie Inherit the Wind). (Coincidentally, the foreground of this photo is right about where the famous picture of James Dean was taken with him walking through Times Square in the rain with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.)
(Cover of the hardcover book Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan.
Dylan also used a photo of Manhattan for his recent album, "Modern Times." The stylized black-and-white photo by Ted Croner entitled "Taxi, New York at Night" shows a blurry taxi racing in front of diamond-shaped skyscraper windows and was taken in 1947. ( That building would be REALLY hard to track down.)
(Cover of the music compact disc Modern Times by Bob Dylan.)
So, to sum up, I had discovered (at least for myself) where the cover of "Another Side of Bob Dylan" had been shot...
Now, to see if I could find "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde."
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED
(Album: Highway 61 Revisited (released August 1965 by Columbia Records)
"Highway 61 Revisited" has always been one of my favorite Dylan albums, primarily for the song "Desolation Row," which I listened to constantly in college.
The album was also voted as one of the top 10 rock albums "of all time" by numerous publications, including Rolling Stone. It includes a song considered by many to be the # 1 rock song of all time - "Like a Rolling Stone."
Unlike "Another Side of Bob Dylan," the cover of which was a close-cropped photo with not a lot of background information, "Highway 61" shows Dylan sitting down -- with a person standing behind him dangling a camera, and in the background, there are some architectural elements, like pilasters. The pilasters had always made me think that the photo was taken inside something like a college lecture room with nice molding against a white wall, with Dylan sitting on the front edge of a stage.
So I entered "Highway 61 Revisited" into Google Images but only came to page after page of photos of the album cover.
This was one of the greatest rock albums of all time and no one had pictured where it was shot? It didn't seem right to me.
So then I entered the title into the regular Google search box, but after reading a lot of sights, found nothing.
Continuing on, I then entered the name of the photographer, Daniel Kramer, together with the words (in quotes) "Highway 61 Revisited" into Google - and found a site on which Daniel Kramer reminisced about taking the cover shot.
You can read it online by searching on Google for "shooting Highway 61 revisited." It's usually in the top 4 results. The search result is from www.empmuseum.org which is the website of the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
(Album: Highway 61 Revisited (released August 1965 by Columbia records)
On the site, Kramer, who photographed Dylan many times, is quoted as saying that he took the shot outside of an apartment that Dylan was sharing with his manager, Albert Grossman "in Gramercy Park." He added that he took the photo out on the front steps. Dylan had gone in and put on a motorcycle t-shirt and the photographer positioned Dylan's friend (Bob Neuwirth) with a camera, behind him, and took two frames and "that was that."
Well, that was a great lead. But where did Albert Grossman, Dylan's manager who played such a big part in the Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back" live? So I Googled him.
What came up, eventually, in a Google Search that included "Dylan" and "Albert Grossman," was that Janis Joplin, another client of Grossman's, along with the writer of a story on one website, would - "often visit Albert in his apartment on Gramercy Park and sit on the sofa, looking out the window and plan for the future."
Gramercy Park? Gramercy Park is kind of the rich man's version of Washington Square Park, the park in the Village where street singers hang out and the folk music revival of the early 60's partly started. Located about a half mile north and east of the Village, Gramercy Park is a collection of beautiful residences - some townhouses and some large apartment buildings -- surrounding a private park that takes a key to get into - a key only given to the usually well-heeled owners and tenants of the buildings surrounding the park.
Dylan and Gramercy Park didn't go together in my mind. But Albert Grossman - a big-time record exec and Gramercy Park did. Who knows? Could work.
So I went to Google images and entered "Gramercy Park." The first image that came up was of two townhouses on the west side of the park; buildings that I had seen at last a hundred times before while walking past the park. 100-year-old 5-story townhouses with tall steps and fancy white doors and intricate metal grillwork on the balconies... and - look at that! (I said to myself as I zoomed into the white doors) -- that white door has an arced metal piece on it that seems awfully familiar....
(photos from Google Streetview.)
Was that it?
Amazing! All this time I thought the album cover had been taken indoors on the edge of a stage, and instead it might have been taken outdoors on front the steps of a townhouse in Gramercy Park - where I have walked past countless times!
I had to check it out.
So, once again, album in hand, I trooped over to Gramercy Park after work, to see in a new light - five Federal row houses, all somewhat similar, facing the western side of the park. So I walked along the block, looking at the cover and the buildings until I came to the furthest one south and "bingo!" -- the door handle, the arched pattern of the brass window element, and the thin white pilasters of the side matched perfectly.
(Close-up excerpts from Daniel Kramer's photo of
I had found it.
But - it was so easy to spot? How could something like this have remained so "unknown" - not on the web, not in print (as far as I know) for so long --?
Who knows? But what brought it to life was Google. Before Google it took days in libraries reading books to make links between things -- like Dylan and Albert Grossman, and Highway 61 Revisited. With the Internet, it took seconds.
(map showing location of 4 Gramercy Park West, New York City from Bing Maps.)
(photo of Gramercy Park from Bing Maps - Bird's Eye view.)
#4 Gramercy Park West from two angles, present day (2011).
So with these two albums down, I went to search for number three - where "Blonde on Blonde" was shot.
But before I go there, I want to mention another clue to this album cover site that I never heard about until February of 2008. There's a video on YouTube and Google/Video of Dylan giving a press conference in 1965 in San Francisco (go to YouTube or Google (then click Video), then enter the search phrase: "Dylan 1965 San Francisco Press Conference") and many copies of the video will come up. During the Q & A, a very enthusiastic man asks him about the significance of the album cover for "Highway 61 Revisited." The questioner reads a lot of significance into the photo. Dylan responds: "We just went outside and I sat on the steps, That's all."
(photo of Dylan at the 1965 San Francisco press conference from YouTube.)
Note: You can see the front of the building on Google Street View by entering in the address of the building, 4 Gramercy Park West, into Google Maps, then clicking on "street view" and zooming in on the white double doors. And you can see many images of the front of the building, including some really old ones, by going to Google Images and searching for "4 Gramercy Park West
The 4-story apartment building was built in 1846 by the famed architect Alexander Jackson Davis. It was home to James Harper or Harper & Row, and later a mayor of New York, as evidenced by the two lamps in front: a mayoral tradition. It is presently a private residence so please don't go past the gate. All my photos are from the sidewalk.
BLONDE ON BLONDE
So two down, one to go.
(Album: Blonde on Blonde (released June 1966 by Columbia Records)
I'm going to let you into a little secret before I go on -- I never found where the cover to Blonde on Blonde was shot. I put in a lot of legwork - and I even spoke to the photographer himself - but nada. So somewhere out there there's another bit of Bob Dylan historiana waiting to be discovered in Manhattan. So go get it. But since we've come this far, I'll tell you where I searched and how my search came to a dead end.
Let's backtrack first.
"Blonde on Blonde," another of my favorite albums, is a two-record album (one of the first rock double-albums, if not the first). The album jacket, when opened, has a tall vertical picture of Dylan leaning up against a brick wall with a checker-patterned window grating behind him. Dylan is wearing a scarf, so it's probably fall or winter.
Album : Blonde on Blonde (released June 1966 by Columbia Records)
By entering the album title, "Blonde on Blonde," into the search box on Google Images, after a few pages of this image, about 6 other images of Dylan from the same photo shoot can be found, most of them in close-up, all of them in focus; all of them showing the same wall and metal grating, which turn out to be a form of old window security guard, the kind sometimes found on factories and high school gyms. They stick out from the building to allow the windows to be opened from inside for air.
On one of the photos, Dylan is balanced on a small green Christmas tree stand. In that photo, you can make see a certain type of brickwork pattern to the brick wall, which was one of my primary clues in searching for the photo location.
The photos are so closely cropped there is no distant background to speak of to provide any additional clues.
Clicking on one of these photographs, I found that the photographs were credited to Jerry Schatzberg, something that is also indicated on the album cover.
A little Googling about Jerry Schatzberg later and I learned that he was a very known photographer, had taken many photographs of musicians and actors, and had also directed several movies; his most famous film being Panic in Needle Park, staring Al Pacino as a drug dealer on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who deals drugs from the bench of a small island in the middle of the 2 lanes of Broadway at 72nd and Broadway - a former drug haven nicknamed Needle Park in the 70's).
By Googling Schatzberg and Blonde on Blonde, I eventually found a site where he discussed taking the cover photo:
It can be found here, at a blog called "Leaky Sparrow":
In the blog entry, written in 2006, Schatzberg says he took the photos "in the meat market of Chelsea, where the art galleries are today." He also says that the photo Dylan chose for the cover is blurry because they were "shivering."
I assumed that Jerry Schatzberg was primarily remembering taking the photo in the area where there were many meatpacking buildings in the 1960's and is now called "The Meatpacking District" - a gentrifying place that pioneering galleries had moved into in the 1990's.
So one weekend, I walked through the entire 8-or-so-block area of "The "Meatpacking District" which is along the western part of 14th Street (now a trendy restaurant district) and on the southern border of Chelsea, looking for buildings that had that kind of metal grating over the windows and that pattern of brickwork, but I could not find one.
I did find one place (pictured) that looked like it could have been it, with the window guards removed, but the brickwork pattern didn't match.
In the last few years as this area has become very trendy with high fashion nightclubs and restaurants and it was very likely that the "Blonde on Blonde" building might have been knocked down to make way for a new building.
Having found nothing, I stopped into a fire station in the neighborhood and to ask a fireman if they had any older firefighters who might recognize the building from the album cover. The young firefighter I spoke to said that most everyone was his age, but added an important note: that buildings were no longer allowed to have metal bars over the windows like those on the windows in back of Dylan, because it didn't allow for people to exit in case of a fire.
Ok, so in addition to the fact that the building might be knocked down, I had that maybe if the building was still up, it didn't have those grates on it since they were illegal.
So I sat on the search for a while, until I read that Jerry Schatzbeg had produced a book compiling all his old Dylan photos and was selling it for $1,500 a copy (It's called Thin Wild Mercury and by Genesis Publications). I figured that most likely the book would have the proof sheet of his photo-shoot of Dylan in it and so, when his book tour came to Manhattan, I went to a book signing he had at the National Arts Club, which was coincidentally about three townhouses down and across the street from where the Highway 61 Revisited cover was shot.
There was the man in person, looking quite youthful, like the pictures of himself 40 years earlier on the Web (and on the inside gatefold of the Blonde on Blonde album itself). While the guests mingled, I flipped quickly through the beautifully put together book of Dylan images -- but no proof sheet. I can't even remember now if the Blonde on Blonde picture itself was in it. So I'd have to ask Jerry himself.
So, in a moment when the crowd around him thinned, I went up and said: "Hi, my name is Bob and I have a hobby of finding where famous photos were taken. I read on a website that you took the Dylan photo for Blonde on Blonde near the Meatpacking District. If it's ok with you, could you tell me what building it was?"
He replied (to roughly paraphrase): "You know I spent an entire day a few years ago trying to find that building myself. And I could not. I took it somewhere in the Meatpacking District."
And I said, "You mean around 14th Street."
And he said, "Oh, I thought it was in the 40's.
Hmmmm. That put a little twist to things. The 40's is almost 2 miles north of the Meatpacking District - which is around 14th street - but remembering back to the 1960's it could be easily confused - they both were composed of a lot of industrial warehouses and both near the water.
So, I thanked him for his new lead, and I said his book was great he wished me good luck trying to find the building.
So, on my next free weekend I walked along 10th and 11th Avenues from 14th street to 42nd street looking for a similar building, but again came up with no Blonde on Blonde cover location.
That was a few years ago, but in writing this web entry in 2011 I came across an except of a book by Brian Hinton called "Bob Dylan: Album File and Complete Discography" in which his research indicates that the Blonde on Blonde album cover was shot near the Chelsea Hotel, which is on 23rd Street on the west side -- between The Meatpacking District and the west 40's.
This put Jery Schatzberg's rememberance in a little different perspective. When Jerry had mentioned the Meatpacking District on the website, that had made sense to me because it was located close to Greenwich Village, near to where I assumed Dylan was living at that time, and also near The White Horse Tavern where Dylan used to go in the early 60's to watch the Clancy Brothers.
However, it turns out that around the time of Blonde on Blonde, Dylan had moved and was living in the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. So on the cold day that Dylan and Jerry Schatzberg had their photo session, if they started out from the Chelsea Hotel, they might have walked west to where the NEW art gallery district is today (called, not ironically: The Art Gallery District) - around western 23rd Street. It's not the 40's but it's only off by about 15 blocks.
And that's where the search still stands.
I found two out of three of the photos I set out to find. And I walked a lot of Manhattan, which is always entertaining. One cover to go.
I hope this PopSpots entry encourages someone to do some further digging into the Blonde on Blond cover, which has become somewhat my elusive Holy Grail. The clues are all in the cover itself, and the 6 or 7 photos on Google Images.
Maybe Jerry Schatzberg will uncover some extra photos from the shoot that show a little more location in the background. Or maybe Bob Dylan himself, the only other player from that day (that I know of), will write about the cover shoot location in his next book (or email the location to PopSpots.)
Or maybe it will just remain a mystery. Another mystery from the Man of Mystery.
Thanks for reading.
-Bob Egan July 2011
ADDENDUM #1 - Sept. 5, 2011
A PopSpots reader sent in some very interesting personal photos relating to the "mask store." To see the photos and read about how they fit into the story, click HERE.
One of the addendum photos... (click above to see more)
photo (c) Jeff Thomas