Biggest New York Events Of The 1970s

February 28, 2018 - 3:32 am

1970s New York was a city of infinite contrast as well as unending possibility. Grimy, graffiti-marred subway cars rumbled under litter-strewn neighborhoods where unemployment rates reached epic proportions and crime was at an all-time high. The newly-burgeoning disco scene set the city ablaze with celebrity-studded parties held behind velvet ropes and out of reach for most New Yorkers.

New York was on the cusp of change, but in which direction it would go, no one could predict. Rebuffed by Washington and struggling for solvency, many New Yorkers looked for a way out and headed for the suburbs. Others stayed, betting on the city’s future and making their own luck. Against this backdrop, events like these continued to shape the lives of those who lived here.

The Hard Hat Riot: May 8, 1970

The Vietnam War had spread to Cambodia, further polarizing Americans who seemed to mobilize into two distinct camps: those who backed up the government expressing an “America, love it or leave it sentiment,” and those who vehemently and verbally opposed the war. Many of these were college students who felt a gut-wrenching level of betrayal and anger when four of their own were gunned down and killed at Kent State University during an anti-war demonstration on May 4.

May 8 was to be a day of remembrance and mourning for the fallen students, marked by the flying of American flags at half-mast. In a show of solidarity, high school and college kids from around New York organized a peaceful demonstration on Wall Street. In response, hundreds of construction workers wearing hard hats converged onto the scene from four directions, shoving past a thin barricade of policemen and chasing the fleeing demonstrators, attacking many with their hard hats and fists.

The workers zeroed in on those with the longest hair and hippiest garb but no one was safe, including the Wall Street workers attempting to shield the students. At least 70 were reported injured and required treatment at area hospitals. The construction workers proceeded onto City Hall, where they forced their way inside, terrifying employees. Eye witness reports vary, but many indicated the police were either unable or unwilling to stop the melee.

Some cops even removed their own helmets when asked to by the workers. The American flag at City Hall was forcibly raised back to full-staff. Violence continued throughout downtown Manhattan and included the random slashing of a Red Cross banner at Trinity Church. Speculation abounded about the attack, amid rumors that it was organized by Peter J. Brennan, then president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

Christopher Street Liberation Day: June 28, 1970

The first gay pride parade to take place in U.S. history marked the anniversary of the infamous police raid and subsequent riots that occurred one year earlier at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. As part of Christopher Street Liberation Day, the pride march represented the culmination of many months of work by a multitude of people, including Craig Rodwell, who is largely credited with conceptualizing the march, and bi-sexual rights activist Brenda Howard, who along with other gay rights leaders is thought to have coined the phrase “Gay Pride.”

Every major gay and lesbian organization operating in the city was represented in the parade, which had around 2,000 marchers participating. Concerns abounded about police interaction and bystander resistance, yet the marchers strove on to the astonishment and approval of most onlookers. City permits for the parade came through a mere two hours before the event was scheduled to start. This first of many pride parades to grace New York City spanned 51 blocks, from Christopher Street up Sixth Avenue to Central Park.

Gerald Ford Tells New York To Drop Dead, Sort Of: October 29, 1975

New York was in the throes of one of the worst fiscal crises in its history and facing imminent bankruptcy. Unable to pay the city’s bills and hoping to acquire federal assistance, New York’s Mayor, Abraham Beame, and Governor, Hugh Carey, met with President Ford and appealed for a bailout. Ford requested a day to think it over but ultimately sent them on their way, empty handed, stating that New York was on its own.

Ford was misquoted as telling the city to drop dead, although the quote was widely reported in the dailies. No matter what his actual words, Ford’s intention was not misrepresented in the press. Ford did eventually sign legislation, providing federal loans to the city, but historians speculate that his initial refusal to help New York was ultimately his undoing, costing him the re-election and a much-desired second term as President.

The LaGuardia Airport Bombing: December 29, 1975

Despite a fatal bombing at the Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan earlier that same year, New Yorkers were still largely uninured to the threat of terrorist attacks in the 1970s. When a bomb exploded four days after Christmas at an airport crowded with families traveling for the holidays, innocence turned to horror, as 11 lay dead and 75 wounded.

Horror, however, soon turned to bewilderment. No arrest was ever made in the case, nor has anyone ever claimed responsibility for the attack. Initial speculation centered upon Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), the terrorist group committed to independence for Puerto Rico that was responsible for the Fraunces Tavern bombing.

When that lead ran cold, attention turned to a Croatian independence fighter named Zvonko Busic. Busic ultimately spent 32 years in an American prison for air piracy, but was never officially arrested or charged with the LaGuardia Airport bombing. He has maintained his innocence to this day.

Studio 54 Opens: April 26, 1977

The wunderkind of their day, old college chums Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were the force behind the never-ending glitterfest that was Studio 54. Considered the most glamourous disco of its day, Studio 54’s nightly and notorious guest list included Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Halston, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli.

To be allowed to grace the premises, one had to be exceedingly famous, wealthy or stunningly gorgeous. Most of the mere mortals who tried to enter its hallowed halls were icily rebuffed by door hosts, whose lofty position was comprised of keeping the select few in and the rest of the world out, making those unable to enter all the more eager for a taste. It may have been the best party in town, but nevertheless, the music stopped a mere five years later, when the world’s most fabulous disco closed its doors and ended the party.