Peeking into the Brooklyn Bridge subway station

August 22, 2014

The opening of the subway was so incredible in the first decade of the 20th century, the new stations were frequently the subject of penny postcards, like this one, with its above ground and inside view.

Brooklynbridgesubwaypostcard

“New York City’s subway system is the most complex of any in the world,” the back of the card reads. “The Brooklyn Bridge Station is the busiest in the world. It is estimated that 2,000,000 pass here daily.”

“The subway consists of four tracks, two for express trains and two for local. During the rush hours the trains run on a minute schedule.”

The end of a Madison Square Gilded Age mansion

August 22, 2014

In 1859, Leonard Jerome—one of the richest men in New York City, who amassed a pile of cash in stocks and a name for himself as a horse fancier—made a promise his wife.

JeromemansionLOC1877

“I’ll build you a palace yet!” he told her, while the two were temporarily living abroad and enjoying the social swirl of Paris.

Jerome was a competitive and driven man who would build a racetrack in the Bronx and make and lose fortunes throughout his life. But he certainly stuck to his pledge.

Jeromemansionmadave1870nypl

Once back in New York later that year, he bought a parcel of land on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street, a posh neighborhood of new brownstones reserved for New York’s wealthiest.

Jeromemansion1968The Jeromes didn’t want a brownstone, however. Instead they built an extravagant mansion inspired by the architecture of Paris (top photo, in 1877).

“The result was the most lavish statement of the Parisian Second Empire style as applied to domestic architecture in New York before the Civil War,” wrote Wayne Craven in Gilded Mansions.

Jenniejerome“Its design broke with the uniformity of the Knickerbocker brownstones, for the Jerome mansion possessed the signature mansard roof with dormers and a richness of decorated architectural surfaces, especially around doors, windows, and dormers.”

For the next few decades, the Jerome mansion was the site of incredible balls and concerts in the mansion’s theater. And conveniently, Madison Square Garden was soon built across the street (second photo).

In 1867, Jerome’s finances collapsed, and his womanizing compelled his wife to relocate to France with their three daughters (including Jennie, future mother of Lord Winston Churchill, above).

He moved out of his palace, leasing it to the Union League Club.

Jeromemansion19682

By the 20th century, with Madison Avenue no longer stylish, the mansion changed hands and underwent alterations by the University Club and the Manhattan Club.

MerchandisemartAs the decades went on, the Manhattan Club moved uptown, and the Jerome mansion fell into disrepair—a faded reminder of a long-gone era.

In 1965, the house received landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was put on the market for $850,000 (above photos, from 1967), but found no takers, and was demolished in 1967.

In its place rose the 42-story tinted glass skyscraper known as Merchandise Mart (left).

[Top, third, and fourth photos: Library of Congress; second photo: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A “distinctly vulgar scene” at Coney Island

August 22, 2014

Painter George Bellows depicts a day at the seashore in “Beach at Coney Island”: shirtless boys, a passionate couple, and girls in white bathing attire, all in close quarters at the city’s tawdry summer amusement playground.

GeorgeBellowsSceneatConeyIsland19082

Suggestive, sure, but it’s hard to believe that the painting was considered vulgar by critics.

“His Beach at Coney Island (1908, private collection) signals the relaxed moral codes associated with this locale on Brooklyn’s south shore,” states this page from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included the painting in the big George Bellows show from 2012-2013.

“One leading critic described Bellows’s teeming view as ‘a distinctly vulgar scene,’ not least because of the amorous couple shown embracing in the foreground.”

A city street photographer’s loners and misfits

August 18, 2014

Louis Faurer, a Philadelphia native born in 1916, made a name for himself as a photographer for top New York-based fashion magazines in the 1940s and 1950s.

Faurerfromtimecapsule1960s

[Above, a still from a silent film Faurer shot in the 1960s called Time Capsule]

Yet he was captivated by the ordinary tide of unbeautiful people that passed him regularly on city sidewalks, at bus stops, under theater marquees.

Faurerwomenatabusstop1949

["Women Waiting," 1949]

Faurer turned his camera toward their faces—capturing raw, intimate portraits of the lonely, the haunted, the outcast, and the weird through the early 1970s.

Many of his images had a film noir feel, all shadows and silhouettes, highlighting the melancholy and chaos of urban life.

Faurerwomanbar

[Title and date unknown, above]

He particularly focused on people he found in Times Square, where he walked every day in the late 1940s and was attracted to “the hypnotic dusk light,” quoted Christoph Ribbat in Flickering Light: A History of Neon.

Faurer14thsthornandhardart1947

["Horn & Hardart Junkies," 1947]

In an era remembered for its conformity, Faurer sought out individual quirks and oddities. He captured dissonant, uncomfortable moments, but he never sought to exploit his subjects. His aim, as his photos reveal, was to show their humanity.

New York, 1971

[Above, "Chelsea Hotel," 1971]

FaurerphotoselfIn his 2001 obituary, The New York Times stated:

“For the catalog of a 1981 solo exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of the University of Maryland in College Park, he wrote, ‘My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future with hope.”’

Louis Faurer, above. More of his images can be found here at this University of Pennsylvania page.

A Riverside Park Holocaust memorial never built

August 18, 2014

Riverside84thstsign“On Sunday, October 19, 1947, fifteen thousand people gathered in the rain to witness the dedication of the site for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial in Riverside Park,” wrote Wayne Jebian in the Columbia Journal of American Studies in 1995.

On that gray day, Mayor O’Dwyer spoke; Jewish leaders and 100 survivors of Buchenwald and Dachau appeared at the ceremony.

RiversideparkmemorialnytThe stone plaque placed in the ground was supposed to be the cornerstone of a larger Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, one of the first Holocaust monuments planned in the United States.

But it was never built, and 67 years later, the cornerstone and the plaza surrounding it have become the memorial.

Considering that the postwar Upper West Side was home to many concentration camp survivors and Jews who fled war-torn Europe, what happened?

“Over several decades sculpture proposals for this location were submitted by Jo Davidson, Percival Goodman, Ivan Mestrovic, and Erich Mendelsohn and Nathan Rapoport, among others, but none received funding,” states the NYC Parks Department website.

Riversideparkholocaustmemorial

That’s because city officials in charge of approving sculptural monuments rejected the proposals as “too ugly, too depressing or too distracting for drivers on the West Side Highway,” wrote The New York Times in 1993.

One sculpture that did get city approval. “On June 17, 1951, the New York City Art Commission unanimously backed the design by Mendelsohn and Yugoslav sculptor Mestrovic,” wrote rememberwomen.org.

Riversideparkholocaustplaque

“The sculpture was to be of an eighty-foot pylon of two tablets on which the Ten Commandments would be inscribed, a 100-foot wall of bas-relief depicting humankind’s struggle to fulfill the Commandments, and a giant carving of Moses. When Mendelsohn died in 1953, the momentum seemed to die with him.”

The idea for a memorial was scrapped in the 1960s. These days, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is commemorated every April at the cornerstone, the Upper West Side’s de facto public Holocaust monument.

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

Ghostsignliquorsavenuea

The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

Ghostsignjewelry14thstreet

I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!

Fall fashion: must-have clothes for men in 1911

August 15, 2014

This week, dozens of thick September fashion magazines have hit newsstands, all celebrating the hottest trends and styles for fall.

Fallstylebookcover

In 1911, fashion-forward men and the women who shopped for them had this Fall Style Book to guide them. That man holding the reins is wearing one incredibly long tan coat!

Interesting that the image is set in front of the 42nd Street main branch of the New York Public Library—the building had its dedication and grand opening just a few months earlier.

[Image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The brothel above an 1880s Gramercy saloon

August 15, 2014

There’s a wonderful bar and restaurant near Third Avenue on 23rd Street.

The wood and glass entrance is lit by amber lanterns; chandeliers inside cast a glow onto the tin ceiling. Everything about the bar radiates that enchanting, old New York feel.

Klubesrestaurantfacade

Now it’s known as the Globe. Not too long ago, it was the Grand Saloon. Reportedly it’s been a food and drinking establishment since the 1880s.

KlubesrestaurantchandelierClearly it’s been called many things over the years. Yet the name it had at least a century ago still emerges like a ghost above the entrance: Klube’s Restaurant.

Who was Klube? Sometime before 1912, a German immigrant named Charles (or Carl) Klube bought the place with a partner named Klinger.

Klube and his wife operated the restaurant as part of hotel, which occupied the top three floors of the building.

The hotel, called the St. Blaise, wasn’t just your standard neighborhood lodging house—it was actually a 15-bedroom brothel.

City of Eros, by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, references it in a passage on Manhattan’s various East Side houses of assignation.

Klubescloseup “More modest hotels like the Delevan, the German Hotel, and the St. Blaise were subdivided row houses that resembled parlor houses from the outside,” wrote Gilfoyle.

“They had between 15 and 50 rooms that were used by prostitutes who frequented the hotels and nearby saloons.”

At some point, the St. Blaise name faded away, and Klube established Klube’s Steak House here. It went out of business in 1965, but in 1950, The New York Times described it as a “homey little German restaurant.”

No word about what happened to the brothel above.

Is this the oldest iron fence in New York City?

August 15, 2014

Stuyvesant Square, between east 15th and 17th Streets, is looking beautiful this summer.

Stuyvesantsquarefence

This elegant swatch of flowers, benches, and fountains is split into two halves by Second Avenue, with both sections surrounded by a handsome black cast iron fence.

The fence was decreed by a descendent of Peter Stuyvesant, who in 1836 wanted to land to become a park enclosed by a fence “similar to that around Union Square.”

Stuyvesantsquarefencecloseup

 Topped with spiked finials and cage posts, the seven-foot tall fence is impressive.

“It is technologically interesting as it is freestanding, without any lateral braces to support it, and stylistically interesting as a cast-iron version of Federal style ironwork built in 1847,” states the 1975 Landmarks Preservation Commission report designating it a city landmark

StuyvesantsquarewurtzbrosnyplAnd according to this NYC Parks Department page, it’s the oldest cast-iron fence in New York City.

It’s not the oldest iron fence in the city though. The wrought-iron fence around Bowling Green, put up in 1771 to protect a new statue of King George III from independence-minded colonists, still stands—predating Stuyvesant Square’s fence by 76 years.

[Right: Stuyvesant Square and its old-school fence in the 1930s, NYPL Digital Gallery]

A treetop view of Washington Square Park

August 11, 2014

Judging by the automobiles entering the park near the Washington Arch, this looks like an early 1920s view of Washington Square.

Washingtonsquareparkpostcard1

So much is different from the park today though: no playground, no fences, no dog run. Just small-scale, landscaped walkways, an unglamorous fountain, and a mysterious little building in the center that could be a comfort station.

The back of the card tells of romance in the park. “Here is one of our little parks, so you can see it is not all business down here,” the presumably male writer says.

“I have often sat in this park with a girl quite a few nights. Not lately though.”


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