The Times Square CBGB That Never Was

IMG_3884Stephen Rex Brown Blueprints for the CBGB in Times Square.

Some punk rock purists might roll their eyes at Tuesday’s announcement that the CBGB Festival will hold a “multi-stage” concert in hyper-commercialized Times Square. But before you go cracking a Disney-meets-Dead-Boys joke, consider this: a few years before the legendary club on the Bowery closed, founder Hilly Kristal was on the verge of reopening it in Times Square.

The new location wouldn’t have been a mere recreation of the club that fostered the likes of The Talking Heads, Television, Blondie and many others, either. Mr. Kristal planned to drastically expand it. Blueprints drawn up of 1540 Broadway, which are pictured above, hint at the scale of his ambition.

He aimed to demolish a four-screen movie theater next-door to the now-closed Virgin Megastore and make it a club. Given that the theaters could seat 1,626 people total, it is clear that Mr. Kristal was fine with CBGB — which by then had developed into the merchandising bonanza it is today — moving on from the dirty bathrooms, dingy bar and sorry speakers of the original location.

“He was ready,” said Louise Parnassa-Staley, the longtime booker at the club who now has the same role with the summer festival. “He wanted to go big.”

The plans for the club-that-never-was were thrown in storage along with a slew of other ephemera from 315 Bowery until recently, when its new owners came across them.

Ms. Parnassa-Staley recalled that in 2004 and 2005, when CBGB seemed in constant jeopardy of closure due to a prolonged dispute with its landlord, Mr. Kristal began scouting other potential locations. He considered a space on 34th Street near the Hotel Pennsylvania, another on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and the one in the heart of Times Square, next to the Virgin Megastore.

Joey Ramone May 19, 1951 – April 15, 2001Francisco Daum The old CBGB at 315 Bowery.

Mr. Kristal liked that the latter location was at the biggest subway station in the city, making it easier for him to reach the largest audience possible. The club would have been comparable to the Roseland Ballroom.

The deal “was very close” to getting done, Ms. Parnassa-Staley said, although Mr. Kristal never got down to the details of how exactly he would remodel the movie theater into a music venue. “He was the type of guy who would take a sledgehammer, knock down a few walls and then call the engineer,” she said. “The engineer would show up and say, ‘what the hell did you do?’ He did it kind of out of order, but it worked for him.”

He also wasn’t preoccupied with losing any authenticity by opening up in Manhattan’s monument to consumerism. “It wasn’t so much that he wanted to go uptown or downtown, he wanted the right space that he could make his own,” Ms. Parnassa-Staley said. “It didn’t have to have personality, he was the personality.”

But the colorful owner of the club stopped pursuing a Times Square location with the same sense of urgency once he secured an extension to his lease on the Bowery in December 2005. By the time the club closed in October 2006, Mr. Kristal focused more on reopening in Las Vegas. Soon he became sick and all plans were put on hold. He died in August 2007 of complications from lung cancer.

Now, CBGB will arrive in Times Square on July 7 in a very different form. Brooklyn Vegan hinted that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Hold Steady, and Superchunk might be among the acts to perform at the concerts.

One of the new owners of the name, Tim Hayes, said the spirit behind the club remained the same as when Mr. Kristal considered moving 43 blocks north.

“If Disney was able to redefine Times Square, we want to define it in the other direction,” he said.

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