A glorious vintage color view of Times Square

October 20, 2014

It’s impossible to get tired of viewing vintage color postcards of Times Square (still Longacre Square in this image, though it must have been produced later than 1904, when the official new name came along).

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There’s The New York Times tower in the center, with the word “victory” underneath the Times signage, plus what looks like a flag or bunting…could it be for World War I?

The gorgeous Hotel Astor is on the right. Streetcars and automobiles intersect at what looks like an kiosk-style subway entrance. On the extreme right is Wilson’s Dancing Academy, where author Henry Miller met his second wife, June.

Halloween greetings from an older New York City

October 20, 2014

“The desire of young people to avail themselves of the Halloween idea with its funny and weird traditions has found many methods of expression in this city,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1894.

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That year, Halloween parties were held in private homes, then dutifully written up, guest lists and all, in the Eagle.

SadiesmithhalloweenpartySocials featuring dancing and apple-diving, singing, and midnight flute-playing were organized, according to the Eagle.

Halloween fever had swept the city and become a commercialized venture, the holiday’s religious undertones long gone, this 1908 Eagle Halloween ad from Brooklyn department store Loeser’s makes clear—with masks, lanterns, candy, and nuts all on sale.

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Trick or treating and the annual Halloween parade in the Village hadn’t yet become a tradition, of course. But sending Halloween greeting cards seems to have been super popular by the turn of the century.

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These sweetly spooky early 1900s Halloween cards come from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. More cards can be found here.

A city library designed to look like an open book

October 20, 2014

BPLwikiWhen you view it at street level, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library looks like an imposing literary fortress, with a magnificent front door lined with Art Deco motifs of famous characters from great books.

But the architects behind it also gave the building a whimsical touch: they designed it to be shaped like an open book. The spine is at Grand Army Plaza, with one cover along Eastern Parkway and the other on Flatbush Avenue.

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“In the nearly thirty years that had passed since breaking ground on the Central Library building in 1912, the modernist aesthetic, with its clean lines and austere façades, had taken hold. . .  .

“The new library building would be briskly modern, and the very shape of the building—with two wings stretching out like the covers of an open book—would reflect the purpose of the institution itself,” states the Brooklyn Public Library website.

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The open-book design is probably best viewed from the air, but the second photo, taken during construction, offers a sense of it. Clever, right?

Skating on the Central Park Lake under twilight

October 18, 2014

It’s almost that time of year again—just not in Central Park anymore. Painter Saul Kovner’s twilight scene on the Lake casts an enchanting glow on Depression-era skaters.

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Before you get any ideas, keep in mind that skating on the Lake was officially banned in 1950! Kovner painted other winter scenes in New York as well, like this one of a snow day in Tompkins Square Park.

A 34th Street renovation reveals a 1902 facade

October 18, 2014

Since 1985, the elegant limestone building at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and 34th Street—originally the Herald Square home of Saks—has been sheathed behind ugly blue mirrored glass.

Saks34thstreet1920s

The store had a long history as Saks 34th Street; in the 1960s it became a Korvette’s and was most recently occupied by Daffy’s.

But during its current renovation into a new branch of retailer H&M,the lovely old department store came back into view.

A sharp-eyed Ephemeral reader noticed that some of the blue glass panels had been removed. There, a sliver of the facade finally got a chance to breathe and reveal itself to Herald Square.

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Those windows look like they need a good scrubbing—that’s more than 80 years of 34th Street exhaust and grime up there! But it’s wonderful to see them in any condition after all this time hidden away.

[Thanks to Jeffrey P. for the "palimpsest moment" and photos.]

Sailing up New Amsterdam’s Broad Street Canal

October 18, 2014

It’s hardly surprising that when the Dutch arrived at the tip of Manhattan in the 17th century, they developed New Amsterdam so it looked a lot like, well, old Amsterdam back in Holland.

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They dug dikes. They built windmills. They reportedly even planted tulips. And they created a canal out of a tiny inlet that ran from the East River, naming it Heere Gracht, after a much grander canal in Amsterdam.

Broadstreetcanalsketchnypl“In the twenty-two acre triangle bounded by the wall and the rivers, the Dutch set to work digging their familiar ditches,” wrote Gerard T. Koeppel in Water for Gotham.

“They transformed a deep, natural inlet on the east side of town into a large, timber-lined canal called the Heere Gracht (now Broad Street).

“Crossed by three bridges, the Ditch extended nearly to the wall, allowing unmasted boats to float at high tide ‘almost through ye towne.'”

Broadstreetcanalsketch2nyplIf the idea of a canal sounds lovely, it supposedly didn’t smell that way.

“At high tide small boats could carry goods three blocks into the heart of the city; at low tide, it was a foul-smelling open sewer,” wrote Eric Homberger in his Historic Atlas of New York City.

Still, it apparently was something of a focal point in town. “Lining the Heere Gracht were the homes of burghers and several taverns and breweries,” stated Homberger.

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The Heere Gracht didn’t last much longer than New Amsterdam itself. Once the British took over, they filled it in, a good one hundred years before the Revolutionary War.

Thanks to its previous incarnation as a canal, Broad Street today remains one of the widest streets in Lower Manhattan.

A spooky Gothic skyscraper next to Trinity Church

October 13, 2014

Well, skyscraper by 1905 standards. That’s the year the 21-story Trinity Building finished construction.

Designed as a Neo-Gothic complement to Trinity Church on Lower Broadway, it’s loaded with gargoyles and creepy human faces, as well as fanciful gables and moldings topped by a gorgeous cupola.

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This vintage postcard doesn’t reveal all the incredible detail on the facade, but it’s a nice look at Broadway in 1910, I’m guessing.

The cemetery next door is so tourist-free and green, it looks like a lawn. And hey, streetcars!

A former thief dedicates his life to the city’s poor

October 13, 2014

JerrymcauleyBy his own account, Jerry McAuley was a rogue and a serious crook.

Born poor in Ireland and sent to live in New York City at age 13, he became a drunkard and river pirate who frequented the rum shops and brothels on Water Street, one of the worst sections of pre–Civil War Manhattan.

At 19, he was convicted of highway robbery and went to Sing Sing in the 1850s. McAuley learned to read and write and found religion in prison, he explained in an autobiographical sketch.

When he was released seven years later in 1864, he returned to Water Street—and after a couple of relapses into crime, he decided to change his ways and help men like himself straighten out their lives.

In 1872 he renovated a former dance hall at 316 Water Street and called it Jerry McAuley’s Mission.

Mcauleymission

This “helping hand for men” was one of many religious missions in the city determined to aid the down and out with food, job training, and lodging via prayer meetings and bible study.

McauleycremornemissionMcAuley’s effort was similar, except in one crucial way: he accepted everyone.

At a time when an increasing number of missions and benevolent societies were dedicating themselves to helping the poor, the sentiment was that only the “deserved poor” should be offered charity.

The so-called undeserving poor—drunks and criminals, basically—were on their own. And thanks to the Panic of 1873, there were many more deserving and undeserving poor who desperately needed help.

“No one, however wretched, however far gone in sin, is ever turned away; a helping hand is extended to all, and the vilest outcast is made to feel welcome and confident that there is still a chance for salvation left him,” wrote James D. McCabe, Jr. in his 1882 book New York by Gaslight.

McauleyfountainMcAuley’s mission earned notoriety citywide, and many wealthy New Yorkers provided financial support.

In the 1880s, McAuley and his wife founded a mission on West 32nd Street in the Tenderloin called McAuley’s Cremorne Mission to help prostitutes and other “fallen” women turn their lives around.

McAuley didn’t live much longer. He died in 1882 from tuberculosis, contracted during his stay at Sing Sing. His mission still exists as the New York Rescue Mission.

He’s also memorialized on a 1913 water fountain in Greeley Square, with the inscription: “I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”

[Last photo: via pilot-projects.org]

A dazzling City Hall fountain sprays Croton water

October 13, 2014

It took five years to build the Croton Aqueduct—the engineering marvel that brought fresh upstate water to Manhattan through a series of pipes and reservoirs.

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When this incredible delivery system of clean drinking water finally opened on October 14, 1842, a celebration was in order.

CrotonfountainsongThe most thrilling moment took place at City Hall Park, when the park’s new Croton Fountain was turned on—and a magnificent propulsion of Croton water rose dozens of feet in the air.

That’s some water spray, right? But the Croton Aqueduct really was something—it even inspired a song, the “Croton Jubilee Quick Step” (right).

“On opening day in 1842, President John Tyler was on hand to witness the plume from the Croton-fed City Hall fountain surge 50 feet high,” wrote The New York TimesSam Roberts in his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects.

President Tyler wasn’t the only dignitary in the crowd. Former presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren also attended.

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The Croton Fountain, which had a 100-foot stone basin, was the city’s first decorative fountain. Its spire of water dazzled New Yorkers until 1871, when a new fountain designed by Jacob Wrey Mould (he designed bridges in Central Park and decorative elements at Bethesda Terrace) replaced it.

The second fountain didn’t spray water quite so high. But it was Victorian spectacular, with several pools and gas-lit bronze candelabras. When Victorian style fell out of favor in the 1920s, it was shipped off to Crotona Park in the Bronx.

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Seventy years later, the Jacob Wrey Mould fountain was restored and reinstalled in City Hall Park in 1999. There’s no 50-foot plume of Croton water, unfortunately, but it’s a lovely fountain nonetheless.

The remains of two streets no longer on the map

October 6, 2014

IDrydockplaygroundsignmagine the East River from 12th Street down to Grand Street lined with great ships in various stages of construction.

That was the reality along the river from the 1820s through the end of the 19th century, when today’s far East Village was known as the Dry Dock District (a dry dock is a narrow basin where ships would be built).

Drydockstreetnypl1936Thousands of New Yorkers who made their homes along Avenues B, C, and D were employed by the neighborhood industry as dock workers, mechanics, and shipbuilders.

Today, that thriving industry is long gone. Even stubby Dry Dock Street, which survived at least into the 1930s between Avenues C and D off 10th Street, no longer exists (right).

Dry Dock lives on in name only at Dry Dock Playground on 10th Street and Avenue D.

South of the playground on the north side of East Houston Street is a handsome elementary school building that has the name “Manhattan Street” lettered on one side.

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Manhattan Street? Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.

This little road closed in the 1940s when the Lillian Wald Houses were built. From at least the mid-19th century, Manhattan Street cut a short path between East Third Street to East Houston Street east of Avenue D.

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Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, recently posted a fantastic history of this forgotten pre-Civil War street.

[Second and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]


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