West Side Rag »Time Travel to the Upper West Side to 1968 via Fascinating Documentary Streaming on Vimeo

Posted on January 1, 2022 at 9:18 am by West Sider

“Summer in the City” again (Photos courtesy of Michael Blackwood Productions)

By Joy Bergmann

What has changed and what has not changed?

A new year always invites reflection. But this time around, I’m looking in a different rearview mirror, going back 53 years instead of 365 days: “Summer in the city,” a slice of life documentary filmed in 1968 on the Upper West Side.

Here is the trailer on Vimeo on demand, where the movie is rented for $ 2.99:

Directed for German television by directors Christian Blackwood and Robert Leacock, “Summer in the City” offers an outsider-insider’s perspective on the neighborhood.

Christian and his producer brother Michael Blackwood were born in Berlin before moving to UWS in 1949, says Ben Blackwood, Michael’s son and current CEO of Michael Blackwood Productions. [Their original surname, Schwarzwald, appears in the credits.] Uwe Johnson, a distinguished German writer who lived at UWS for several years while working as a textbook editor, wrote the narration after the film was edited.

Before viewing, a little historical context.

Housing was, as always, a central concern. In 1968, the buildings of the San Juan Hill neighborhood had been razed as part of Robert Moses’ campaign “urban renewal” plans, making way for Lincoln Center and Lincoln towers. Meanwhile, public housing estates like Frederick Douglass Houses welcomed thousands of new tenants.

The Vietnam War raged on, as did heroin use. Pollution has left the city sooty, the Hudson without fish. And racial inequality was, as now, painfully evident.

But “Summer in the City” is not negative news; it is a revelation.

Seething scenes from everyday life mingle with conflicts. Children play stickball and fire hydrants. Their parents dance and sing at neighborhood parties. The seniors have dinner. Lovers kiss in Central Park. The young people compete in a “ball” of dragsters. Lives begin; lives end.

I spent an enjoyable few hours trying to decipher the locations from the film, and I hope WSR readers can improve my list below.

What do you remember What’s different and what endures on the Upper West Side? Where do we go from here?

[Note:  Parental discretion advised. The film contains graphic drug use, violence at protests and some nudity. Hat-tip to The New Yorker for alerting me to its existence. ]


SUMMER IN THE CITY: Place hunting

0:10 Block Party; looks like Riverside in West End, but where?

2:58 Aerial view 96th and Amsterdam; Holy Name of Jesus and Saint-Gregory Church

3:50 Bench-sitters, Place Verdi 72nd and Amsterdam?

4:30 p.m. Riverside Park

5:12 Large cafeteria on Broadway? Don’t think it’s Schrafft’s Where Tip-Toe Inn

7:00 a.m. 330 West End Avenue, Seniors’ Hotel

10:16 Central Park

1:53 PM Street Dancing, Peace & Freedom Party Gathering, 81st St just west of Columbus

17:11 Chico’s apartment

18:53 Shops near Amsterdam & 82nd

39:10 Roll call of 24e Cité

39:53 Subway trip from 81st Street

41:55 Demonstration at town hall regarding welfare reforms

50:58 Jeanette Washington apartment

56:11 24th District Commander discusses UWS

59:09 Family walking near 95th / 96th and Broadway

1:01:43 Family apartment

1:06:00 Fire hydrant near the school, Amsterdam & 84th

1:06:40 Christian singers around the corner

1:07:50 84th Schoolyard & Amsterdam

1:08:09 Grace Methodist Church on 104th street?

1:08:16 Singing guitarist in Street

1:09:23 Street gathering; domino game

1:11:28 EMS carrier called Peter from the street

1:13:53 Apartment for young people; 42 W. Something

1:18:17 Drag competition in the ballroom 253-267 W. Something

1:24:23 Wedding – Saint Nom St. Gregory church?

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