Steven Spielberg’s ‘St. James Place’ brings Cold War intrigue to Brooklyn

My friend sent me an insistent late-night text: Get thee to Brooklyn Heights, where the streets of the neighborhood had returned to the 1950s, before the neighborhood gentrified, launching the borough’s decades-long transformation from the home of Da Bums to host of The Brand that is now Brooklyn. 

It was yet the latest sighting in New York of filming for Steven Spielberg’s Cold War-era thriller “St. James Place,” starring Tom Hanks and Alan Alda.

I spent a little while poking around Monroe Place and Pineapple Street to take in the scenery, but missed catching any Hollywood royalty. My only thrill, aside from eyeing the vintage cars and a retro storefront, was getting scolded by a irascible stage hand for walking onto the film set, outside the courthouse on Monroe. (Sorry, Mr. Spielberg.)

Anyway, The Retrologist presents selections from filming of “St. James Place” on the evening of Sept. 29, 2014. 

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If you ever buy a camera at Chicago’s Central Camera, the first thing you need to do is take a picture of its sweet neon sign. #kodak #chicago

If you ever buy a camera at Chicago’s Central Camera, the first thing you need to do is take a picture of its sweet neon sign. #kodak #chicago

One of New York City’s most beautiful vintage storefronts has been desecrated. This is a big loss to Greenwich Village’s historic fabric. Epic shame.

One of New York City’s most beautiful vintage storefronts has been desecrated. This is a big loss to Greenwich Village’s historic fabric. Epic shame.

A “hot” historic find: When the modern sign for a shop called Game Champ went down, this hidden neon beauty emerged from the shadows. The sign for Hot Bagels — complete with “flames” and holes where the neon tubing used to be — is in Bay Ridge on 86th Street. #brooklyn #bagels #nyc #bayridge #history #urbanarchaeology

A “hot” historic find: When the modern sign for a shop called Game Champ went down, this hidden neon beauty emerged from the shadows. The sign for Hot Bagels — complete with “flames” and holes where the neon tubing used to be — is in Bay Ridge on 86th Street. #brooklyn #bagels #nyc #bayridge #history #urbanarchaeology

This awesome alphorn-toting mountain dude greets you at Brasserie Swiss, a charming Swiss chalet-style restaurant in Ossining, N.Y. Absolutely adore these kinds of places, especially this time of year, with a hint of color gracing the trees. #ossining #westchester #swiss

This awesome alphorn-toting mountain dude greets you at Brasserie Swiss, a charming Swiss chalet-style restaurant in Ossining, N.Y. Absolutely adore these kinds of places, especially this time of year, with a hint of color gracing the trees. #ossining #westchester #swiss

This beautiful neon sign in midtown Manhattan belongs to a wonderfully old-school diner, the sort of place whose survival in the heart of the city is nothing short of miraculous. La Parisienne Restaurant’s neon sign was actually covered under an awning for a long time, but happily is free to shine again. #signgeeks #neonsigns #vintagesigns #diners

This beautiful neon sign in midtown Manhattan belongs to a wonderfully old-school diner, the sort of place whose survival in the heart of the city is nothing short of miraculous. La Parisienne Restaurant’s neon sign was actually covered under an awning for a long time, but happily is free to shine again. #signgeeks #neonsigns #vintagesigns #diners

The Fifth Avenue Record & Tape Center in Park Slope will close at the end of the year. Opened in 1972, this store has $25,000 worth of records, VHS tapes, eight-tracks, cassettes and CDs, the @nydailynews reports. The storefront, of course, is priceless. #igersnyc #ignyc #parkslope #brooklyn  #nypix

The Fifth Avenue Record & Tape Center in Park Slope will close at the end of the year. Opened in 1972, this store has $25,000 worth of records, VHS tapes, eight-tracks, cassettes and CDs, the @nydailynews reports. The storefront, of course, is priceless. #igersnyc #ignyc #parkslope #brooklyn #nypix

All hits, all the time: Vintage Musicradio 77 WABC mural rocks on in upper Manhattan

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Musicradio 77 WABC: All hits — all the time!

If you’ve lived in New York long enough, or have at least an awareness of 20th century radio history, then this brand means something to you.

You can hear that PAM jingle — 77 WABC! — that is a delightful little earworm. It’s part of the culture, obligatory background noise in a movie set in New York in the 1960s or 1970s.

Indeed, even movies that were filmed in that era knew the value of the jingle: You can hear it in a scene from “Midnight Cowboy,” that 1969 flick that captures New York on the cusp of that decade that so fascinates us, that seems so remote to today’s New York: the 1970s.

So it is extraordinary when we find something from that era that somehow has escaped New York’s relentless instinct to erase the old, erect the new — rinse and repeat.  

I point this out with some reluctance actually, because attention paid to that which is vulnerable often ensures its destruction.

I refer to the beautiful image above — this massive mural in Hamilton Heights that to this day still promotes Musicradio 77 WABC, which seems to date to some point in the 1970s.

Now, the station still exists — except for the Musicradio part of course. Way back in 1982, executives made the fateful if prescient decision to switch formats to all talk, after 22 years as a music station.

Today’s gabfest with notables such as Curtis and Kuby can be traced back to that fateful day — May 10, 1982 —  when WABC made the format switch.

That day is remembered bitterly by many New Yorkers who grew up with AM popular music as the “Day the Music Died.” This was the station of Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram and other golden voices, of the Beatles and the great pantheon of 1960s and 70s pop music. It was the antithesis of an iPod playlist, of recommendations on Songza and Pandora, of the way so many of us consume music today. 

It’s certainly unusual for an advertising space in so prominent a location (just south of West 145th Street, on St. Nicholas Avenue) to remain frozen in time, not collecting a dime as it promotes a defunct product — for decades.

There are several reasons for that I’m sure. As the neighborhood around it continues to transform, perhaps advertising gold will be seen in those fading bricks — but I should hope this relic gets a pass from the Manhattan gentrification machine.

This ghost sign has lingered so long — it’s been up longer than Musicradio 77 was even on the air — that it deserves some sort of protection. It is sort of a museum exhibit on permanent loan from curators unknown, an important relic of a time and place not only in New York, but in the story of how we listen to popular music.

It is too important to lose.

Text and photo: Rolando Pujol

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Cohen’s Bakery, a Catskills staple for 94 years, has so many sweet treats. The raisin pumpernickel bread is rightfully famous. And you can’t beat the joint’s patina. #catskills #elenville #upstateny #iloveny

Cohen’s Bakery, a Catskills staple for 94 years, has so many sweet treats. The raisin pumpernickel bread is rightfully famous. And you can’t beat the joint’s patina. #catskills #elenville #upstateny #iloveny