In my down time, I browse the New York Public Library’s online digital photo archives, looking at old pictures of the city. When possible, I prowl around Google Maps, trying to find the locations of the photos as they appear today. Often, very little remains. Whether they fell victim to the sweeping urban renewal projects of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, or they succumbed to the recent invasion of glass-and-steel condo towers occupying many of New York’s formerly gritty and diverse neighborhoods, most buildings standing proudly in the NYPL’s black-and-white photos are long gone today. But every now and then, I’m surprised, and pleasantly so, to find that not everything in life is so ephemeral. Some things do stand the test of time.
I ran across this rather unassuming photo of an Italian bakery on 1st Avenue in 1928:
Charmed by the unplanned activity in the scene, I zoomed in. “Caffe Pugliese & Pasticceria, Vito De Robertis, Proprietor.”
Out front, a young-ish man in a crisp uniform polishes the railings. Two portly men, perhaps regulars at the caffe, chat on the sidewalk.
It’s a charming scene: a glimpse into an everyday morning more than 80 years ago. The address is listed on the backing of the photo as 176 1st Avenue. The back side reads “Easter Pastries, April 5, 1928.” Indeed, it was a day worthy of a railing polish. Feeling nostalgic, I typed the address into Google Maps. The block hadn’t been wiped out by apartment towers. So I tried my luck in Street View. And much to my surprise, look what I found at 176 1st Avenue:
Lo and behold, the bakery still stands! At some point, they dropped the name “Caffe Pugliese” and became simply “De Robertis,” but it’s still there! Some quick googling revealed that the bakery was actually opened in 1904 by Paolo De Robertis, who had immigrated to New York from Puglia in Italy (thus the name Caffe Pugliese).
Paolo’s grandchildren continue to run the bakery, serving pastries, cookies, and espresso to any and all who want to step back in time, if only for a moment. The past has a way of slipping quietly away without our notice, but it’s comforting to stumble upon happy little surprises like De Robertis Pasticceria. Old New York lives on in the most unexpected of places.
Check out the De Robertis website, or visit them in person at 176 1st Avenue, where they’ve been since 1904.