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 Pretzel Logic - Steely Dan (1974) - Album Cover Location

The album cover. (Cover photo by Raeanne Rubenstein, a well-known photogrpher of music and Hollywood celebrities; album released by ABC Records in 1974)

The site of the album cover photo location. Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, west side of street, just above the 79th St. Transverse (i.e. road through Central Park) at the park entrance called "Miners' Gate. (Google StreetView: "Fifth Avenue and 79th Street" then go north 3 clicks and spin left)

Past meets present...

(Cover photo by Raeanne Rubenstein; album released by ABC Records)

...and now a more solid shot. Note the probably-not-ironic misspelling of "pretzle" for "pretzel" on the cart, and the price...15 Cents! Now they'd be ten times that.

(Cover photo by Raeanne Rubenstein; album released by ABC Records)

The album cover folds out to reveal a wider picture, including some buildings on Central Park West, all the way across the park, in the background.

(Cover photo by Raeanne Rubenstein; album released by ABC Records)


This search reminded me about an old joke about Camel cigarettes: You'd hold a pack up to someone and say, "So where did the camel get water to drink...?

...then you'd flip the pack over and say, "Around the corner - at the Oasis.!

I had always imagined that this photo was taken near Riveride Park at the Upper West side of Manhattan since the pretzelman seemed so isolated. But recently, on the internet, on several sites I read that the photo "was taken along Fifth Avenue, just inside Central Park."

If you just look at the front of the record, that's not much of a hint as to its location since Central Park is two and a half miles long. So I scrolled through about 100 pictures of the cover on Google Images, and, low and behold, just like the back of the Camel pack being full of new clues, it turns out the back cover is a continuation of the front photograph, and revealed all the clues I needed for my search.

There was: a low wall, a long wall receding in the distance, skyscrapers in the background that looked like Central Park West or Central Park South, and a streetlight, as seen below. This clearly put the photo either inside of Central Park, or alongside the park's eastern edge, the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue.

If you look inside the box marked "tall buildings," on the right hand side I could make out a building with twin pointed towers on it. I knew that would most likely be the San Remo (co-op) on Central Park West between 74th and 75th (where Bono, Billy Squier, and Steve Speilberg have apartments) or another set of double-towers also on Central Park West, between 90th and 91st streets, known as The Eldorado (former tenants include Moby and Michael J. Fox).

The receding wall in the middle seemed like a wall on one of the roads crossing Central Park, but almost all of Central Park has walls all around it, so I could not figure where that short wall on the bottom of the picture was.

So I decided to locate the twin apartment towers first, and thus, one bright January morning I walked from my 105th and Broadway apartment, across Central Park to where the "Jackie O" reservoir is, roughly centered on 90th street, to see if the twin towers on 90th were the ones in the background.

I held my printout up -- luck. The buildings to the left of the towers didn't match.

Parenthetically, a week after doing my "Pretzel"research, a Pop Spot follower named Rob emailed me and asked if I knew where the back cover of "Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits" was taken. Finding the back cover photo online, when I saw the towers in back of them, I knew immediately and sent him the picture below - taken right where I had taken the shot across the reservoir above. Small world! (but as comedian Steve Wright quips,"you wouldn't want to paint it.")(PS. this will be part of another Pop Spot to come.)

Since the towers near 90th Street ("The Eldorado" at 300 Central Park West) weren't the right ones, the next day, a Sunday, I checked out 72nd street. But before I did, I found a picture of the buildings along the park around 72nd street online and saw (using Bing Bird's Eye View) that they matched up with the towers on the album.

I also made a map that showed the angle from where the photo must have been taken from in order to see the empty space between both the towers on the right, as well as the two towers to the left, as it is on the record album. The parameters ended up being the depicted space between the vertical black parallel lines in the picture below.

Photo: Bing Maps

The next day I got off the 72d subway station, walked by the Dakota and entered the park near the Imagine memorial to John Lennon. (In the photo, the Dakota is in the background. The Lennon apartment on the left near the top.)

A little further north, looking up, I could see the towers of the San Remo. There was the right amount of clear sky between the towers, so I had the angle right, so now I just had to cross the park, looking back with my paper photo to see if I might come across the spot of the album cover.

It did not seem to me that the towers on the cover of the album were all the way across the park, which is 1/2 mile wide, so I thought the vendor might have been inside along one of the roads. It was a nice day for a walk through the park anyway.

The path between the parallel lines took me through a new section of Central Park that I had never been to before called The Ramble. It is 30 acres (according to Wikipedia) of small hills, twisty trails, and bucolic stone and wooden bridges.

As I walked, I held up my paper guide to match up the towers. But beside the towers in the background nothing else seemed to match. And there were no small walls anywhere in the park, outside of the curbs to the streets.

Finally, I came out to Fifth Avenue where the red arrow is in the picture below. Looking north, I could see the 79th Street transverse wall (in rectangle) and a streetlight (circled). So I walked across the street to the entrance to the park indicated by the green arrow. The crisp Manhattan air suddenly had the scent of impending PopSpot discovery.

Here is what I came upon. Bingo!

And yet...that kind-of looked like the spot. The only problem was the 4-foot stone wall, which was not in the pretzelman picture. It didn't make sense. So I around looked to match up and confirm other clues.

Everything else matched: the low base wall (the 12-inch high gray base underneath the new 4-foot stone wall), the towers in the background, the streetlamp, and even a person walking down the path that I hadn't previously noticed in the photo on the album before. And behind the small wall was the transverse wall receding into the distance. This was definitely the place, but still I needed to find out about that new wall with the word's "Miners Gate on it.

Coming full circle for a second, here's the cover again. As I mentioned, on some web sites the album cover site is described as "off Fifth Avenue inside Central Park."

Also notice in the picture that the little tree that was behind the wall in back of the pretzelman is now a big tree in front of the wall. After speaking to someone at the Central Park Conservancy (the group that runs the park), this is what I think happened:

As originally built, as this old postcard picture indicates, there was a short wall along Fifth Avenue where the pretzelman would be. (just off the picture to the left. But it eventually fell down, except for the 7-inch base.

That base was given a 2-inch decorative capping, something pointed out to me by Charlie, who sells books in front of the museum, with whom I was discussing this.

Then, according to the Conservancy, in the early 1980's, to add "new historic charm," the Park decided to mark all 18 entrances ("gates") to the park with the long-forgotten original names given to them in 1862 while the park was under construction. (The names they had created were based on the types of citizens who would use the park: Artisans', Engineers', etc.)

At that point, when they built the small wall marked "Miners' Gate," they either moved the lower wall behind the tree first, or planted a new tree in front of the rebuilt wall after taking down the other tree. At least that's my conclusion based on my..."pretzel logic." Go figure.

(Cover photo by Raeanne Rubenstein; background: Google Street View)

Thanks for visiting. (And Ricky....Don't lose that number!)