Updated 04/20/2012 10:49 PM
Three Decades Ago, Patz' Disappearance Made City Residents More Wary
Much has been said about how Etan Patz' disappearance impacted the nation – but what was the effect on the SoHo neighborhood and the city where he lived? Josh Robin filed the following report.
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Allan Tannenbaum remembers SoHo in 1979.
"It definitely wasn't as safe and as peaceful as it is today," he says.
He would know. As the chief photographer for the now-defunct SoHo Weekly news, his pictures are published in a retrospective on the neighborhood.
Clothes in one of the images were actually made in a SoHo factory – which now is likely a multimillion dollar loft space.
New York in the late 70s was well past the time when people left their doors unlocked and kids played unwatched in the streets.
But Etan being snatched from outside his home prompted many parents to redouble their grips.
"When i was a kid, you would just come home from school and go out and play with your friends and your parents didn't worry about you," Tannenbaum says. "But that's all changed."
"Kids who would play in SoHo and Greenwich Village stopped," Jeff Jaffe of Pop International Galleries says of the period following Etan's disappearance. "It didn't happen anymore."
Jaffe has run a gallery near the Patz' apartment for three decades.
"It was a story that I think profoundly, profoundly changed New Yorkers," he says.
Tannenbaum also sees as a cultural turning point.
"Everybody knew about it, so people were talking about it," he recalls.
Ruth Messinger agrees.
"It became one of these crimes which, in a way, turned New York City into one large community," says the former Manhattan borough president.
Messinger was a city councilwoman from the Upper West Side at the time of Patz' disappearance.
"For the family, I just can't imagine what it was like," she says. "But I think there was a whole cohort of New York – not just people in government, and not just people in that community – but it was like, this is the world's worst nightmare."
It's a nightmare the Patz family continued to suffer – remaining in the same apartment, in case their son found his way home.
By 1979, the factories were just about out and artists were moving in to the vast spaces left behind. Following them were those with money, drawn to the scene.
Thirty three years later, news trucks idle on the cobblestones and tourists blithely stroll the same streets where a little boy once walked on his way to school for the first time, alone.