When the Beastie Boys dropped their landmark sophomore album Paul’s Boutique, Paul’s actual Boutique stood proudly on the southwest corner of Ludlow and Rivington streets. It was July 1989, a time when skate rats and druggies ran New York City’s grimy Lower East Side, and everyone looked so effortlessly cool. Naturally, the Beastie Boys snapped an album photo there, fitting in perfectly, defining a moment for the rest of time.
On a Sunday morning in 2014, though, it’s all yuppies with babies, juice bars and expensive bottled beer. What’s left of Paul’s Boutique is a picture of the original, panoramic album cover on a wall about 10 feet above the ground, adjacent to the bathroom in Wolfnights: The Gourmet Wrap shop. Still, “Tourists are coming in at least once a week to take pictures,” Vicky Dalva, Wolfnights’ general manager said. In the gentrified neighborhood restaurant with swinging wooden seats hanging from the ceiling and healthy shrimp wraps, the Beastie Boys live on in that one, nearly hidden photo and a list of signatures.
Dalva points to a clipboard right next to the cash register holding a petition with a page and a half of signatures, some written in straight up graf tags, “He already came by to take some pages. There were way more before,” Dalva says. She’s talking about LeRoy McCarthy who’s made it his mission to mark hip hop landmarks throughout the city. “He didn’t just wake up one morning wanting to change a street,” says Dalva, “There’s an agenda.” And of course Change.org petitions. Out in Queens, there’s already a Run DMC/Jam Master Jay Way and McCarthy wants to continue the trend by co-naming hip hop landmarks all over the city. However, with a 24-1 ruling against the renaming last week, it’s clear that the downtown community board doesn’t give a shit about the Beasties.
McCarthy first came before Community Board 3 in early January with support from 75 percent of residents and businesses to rename the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow Beastie Boys Square. He completed an entire checklist of guidelines ready to stand before the board and make his case. Apparently that didn’t matter to the ignorant group who couldn’t come to an agreement and postponed a decision, demanding McCarthy return with more, but an unspecified amount of signatures, in February.
“I met him a few times,” says Vern Hogan the store manager at the Steve Madden diagonally across from Wolfnights. “He walked in and we each signed individually. It’s really cool.” The community board didn’t buy it. On January 30th, before McCarthy could even present his new signatures, they denied his request. In that hidden, behind-the-scenes, quiet way that prejudice and privilege often work, hip hop was denied its New York City right without anyone to stand up for its place on Rivington and Ludlow. The board couldn’t say it to McCarthy’s face so they announced it when he wasn’t even there to stand his ground.
There’s one clause that allowed them to get away with this, might we say, bullshit. “The Board may deny approval of an application if it feels that such a co-naming, despite meeting all of the guidelines, would tend to bring disrepute upon the community for any reason or would not, in the opinion of the Board, be looked upon favorably by an overwhelming majority of the residents of the district,” the guidelines read. The streets, however, tell a different story. One with remarkably absent “disrepute.”
“I don’t know who’s on the community board, but it’s probably old people. At one point they probably protested the Beastie Boys,” said Vern, laughing. “The Beastie Boys promote positivity, so why not?”
Even if community members themselves weren’t excited about the potential change — which we know they were from the 75 percent majority McCarthy gathered — tourists are increasingly curious. In addition to Wolfnights, “We have a lot of people coming in here looking for Paul’s Boutique. It happens every few weeks,” said Shane Volpone, a bartender at ‘Inoteca, a restaurant on the east side of Rivington. “It might be cool for those people more than the community.”
“Tourists are already coming on walking tours,” adds Alex Hogan, a deliveryman for Juice Press a couple stores down from the corner. “They could learn the history. They already visit Joey’s place from ‘Friends’ and Carrie’s from ‘Sex and the City,’” he adds. Honestly, it’s perplexing that a lived history is pushed aside as fictional characters claim pieces of New York City history. “In the Internet age, everyone will see that album cover. There should be a real life mark as well,” said Steve Madden’s Vern Hogan. “They have to put the sign way up high, though, because people will steal it,” offers a second Juice Press deliveryman, although it might never happen now.
The block might always have haters, but even those arguments fall flat and come off as illogical. “I wasn’t a fan of the Beastie Boys,” was all one white-haired, leather-jacket wearing man could muster. “It’s changing history. People grew up here and lived here for years, you can’t just change that. I don’t like change,” said Samantha, a Juice Press smoothie bartender, seemingly unaware that in 2003, Rivington street, the one she works on, was co-named Rabbi Yaakov Spiegel Way after the Rabbi of the first Roumanian American Congregation on that same block. She was quickly put in her place by a co-worker though, “If they rename it then people will know. They’d learn.”
So those who continue to deny the co-naming simply appear ignorant to those actually spending time on the block, “They need to be educated more. Rappers get bad press. The Beastie Boys are more than just rappers,” said Vern, who’s been a fan since the album first came out. “You know how many celebrities live here? Damon Dash goes jogging down this block all the time. People would come and visit! It’s sad and unfair,” he finished. Can we get Damon Dash to save the day? What about the Beastie Boys? Someone has to stand up for hip hop. McCarthy can’t reapply for another five years, but if the silence continues, Macklemore might just be what the future remembers of hip hop. Can’t think of anything much scarier than that.