People had always flocked to the city, searching for prosperity, trying to find a better life. But many 'unfortunately' stayed poor, and from 1961 to 1969 the number of people on welfare had tripled, and this, combined with bad inflation, and years of ineptitude by the city's money managers, left the city on the verge of bankruptcy and financial ruin.
Today's most popular and hip areas were nothing like they would become decades later. Now iconic artists such as Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg had only begun to move into the raw cold-water lofts of Soho then, and after business hours, once the manufacturers and garment workers had left for the day, the area was a desolate wasteland, with visitors in danger of being mugged by "Italians" from the surrounding neighborhoods.
West Broadway and Houston, looking south into SoHo - WTC in distance.
The East Village, a bombed-out hellhole with landlords who would set fire to their empty buildings rather than pay property taxes, was headed towards becoming the drug infested squatter warzone that it was in the 80's, and the West Side Highway, the first elevated highway in the world, now home to luxury lofts and tree-lined jogging paths, actually collapsed in 1973 under the weight of an overloaded dump truck carrying the very asphalt meant to repair it.
The highway was then closed between Canal and 18th Street, and subsequently parts of that area and its abandoned piers became a shantytown for the city's derelict homeless, its sex maniacs, and its heroin addicts (which numbered 200,000 by the mid seventies).
The subways were filthy and dangerous, and the streets unsafe. In 1973, 2040 people were murdered in New York City, and there were over 80,000 robberies. Car theft became so lucrative that over 112,000 cars were stolen that year, and one mafia crew, under the Gambino family, led by Roy DeMeo, (below)
known as the "Murder Machine" for being the most 'prolific' hit men ever in organized crime (suspected by the FBI for killing 70 - 200 people in the late 70's and early 80's), began devoting time purely to stealing them, going so far to ship up to 70 cars at a time on freighters to a connection in oil rich Kuwait.
"Broadway Freddy" DeNome, (right), member of the DeMeo crew, pro drag racer, car thief and hitman, with one of his race cars.
Needless to say, there was easy access to all of society's ills - drugs, guns, prostitution - but there was still some effort involved, some protocol required, to 'gain access' some of these things. You had to know somebody, or some thing, and here's a REAL NEW YORK STORY about just that.
This is where the "Pizza Box", on Bleeker Street near MacDougal, comes in.
The Pizza Box is a typical New York Pizza place - nothing fancy, but serves a good slice the way you want it. It's still in the same spot it always was, and is still a popular stop today for pizza eaters in the Village. But back in the 70's you could get something more than a slice of pizza there, if you knew how to ask for it.
"Hey how 'bouta plain slice", you would ask, "And also could i get directions to the World Trade Center?" That was the code.
Back then a slice was around 50 cents, but in this situation you had to hand over a fifty dollar bill, and while the guy behind the counter heated and wrapped up your slice, he also gave correct directions downtown to the World Trade Center, "that new building they're building downtown".. (The second WTC tower was finished in 1973)
You said "thank you", grabbed your white paper bag wrapped sideways over the pizza with one hand underneath (as you would), and walked out. When you casually strolled down the block and around the corner, or sat down in your car, and reached into the bag, you not only found a hot slice of pizza, but an unmarked, untraceable .38 caliber revolver.
Welcome to New York.
You can try it today, but you'll probably only get a slice and $47.50 in change.