Archive for October, 2009

The Village Halloween Parade’s humble start

October 28, 2009

For years, it’s been a colossal spectacle, with deep crowds lining Sixth Avenue, thousands of marchers donning fantastically creative props and costumes, and live TV coverage capturing each moment.

Plus tons of cops, police barricades, drunken kids, and litter—lots of litter.

But in the early 1970s, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was more of a small-scale bit of street theater, a mile-long walk planned by a local mask-maker and pupeteer for his West Village neighbors.

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The giant caterpillars of the 1998 parade, standing tall on Sixth Avenue

It started in the courtyard of Westbeth, the factory-turned-artist lofts on Bethune Street. From there, a few dozen revelers in masks and costumes—including a man in a lobster outfit and a two-headed pig—wandered along the Village’s side streets to Washington Square.

The parade’s popularity took off fast—as did the number of marchers and viewers. By 1984, the parade grew so massive, the route had to be relocated to Sixth Avenue from Spring Street to 22nd Street to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who came to the Village to see it.

The topless cellist arrested by the NYPD

October 28, 2009

Charlotte Moorman, a native Texan, trained for a traditional concert hall career as a cellist.

But after moving to Manhattan in the late 1950s to study at Juilliard and play in the American Symphony Orchestra, she became interested in avant-garde works and mixed media.

CharlottemoormanIn 1963 she founded an avant-garde art festival and began performing around the city with composer Nam June Paik.

Her concerts were pretty cutting edge: She played the cello nude from the waist up.

Today, it’s actually legal for women to go topless. But it was shocking stuff back in the 1960s. She and the fully-clothed Paik were even arrested at a 1967 show in Midtown.

Cops released Paik, but Moorman was tried and found guilty of  indecent exposure. The verdict was later overturned. 

She continued to perform works such as “Cello Sonata No. 1 for Adults Only” and “TV Bra for Living Sculpture,” during which she donned a bra composed of two tiny televisions.

A vintage ad towers over West 51st Street

October 28, 2009

Gre-Solvent was a hand cleaner that promised to wash away serious industrial-strength gunk and grime. This 3-story faded ad on Ninth Avenue and 51st Street looks like it could date back to the 1930s. It’s remarkably well-preserved.

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This corner of Hell’s Kitchen seems a bit off the beaten path for such a large ad. It must have been aimed at workers and residents who toiled away at the factories and light manufacturing companies that once flourished in the neighborhood.

A look at the old East 18th Street subway station

October 26, 2009

This vintage postcard sheds some light on the 18th Street station on the Lexington Avenue line—one of the original IRT stations that opened in 1904. It’s been closed since 1948 after the 14th Street-Union Square platform was lengthened.

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Though the MTA has made 18th Street and other abandoned stations off-limits since 9/11, you still can catch a glimpse of it if you take the 6 train and look really hard out the window.

The station walls are dark and graffiti-covered, but it’s not hard to see the old columns and staircases—ghostly reminders of different periods in the city’s past.

A sumptuous 22-room mansion on the East River

October 26, 2009

The breathtaking house looks like it belongs in Newport, Rhode Island, or on Long Island’s North Shore.

CommandmantshouseInstead, here it is at the quiet junction of Evans and Little Streets in Brooklyn’s tiny Vinegar Hill neighborhood, on several bucolic, rolling acres along the East River.

So what’s it doing there? Called the Commandant’s Mansion, Matthew C. Perry House, or just “Quarters A,” it was built in 1806 to house Commanders of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, right up the East River. Perry and his family resided there in the 1840s.

It’s a pretty impressive house, particularly for a former working-class Brooklyn nabe: Federal-style, with three floors, fireplaces in every room, a White House-like oval room, plus a widow’s walk.

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Sealed off from onlookers by a tall iron fence, it may be one of the most hidden homes in New York City. It was sold by the Navy after the Navy Yard was shut down in the 1960s and is now privately owned.

The successful newsboy strike of 1899

October 26, 2009

Hawking newspapers in the 19th century was hard work. Rather than working for the newspaper itself, a newsboy—usually a kid or young teen from a poor family, often homeless himself—had to buy copies of the paper from the publisher, then sell them independently.

An estimated 10,000 newsboys worked the streets of New York City. Publishers wouldn’t buy back unsold copies of their papers, which made it tough for a kid to eke out a profit.

Newsboystrike1899

Newsboys plying their trade on the Brooklyn Bridge. Those bundles look heavy.

In 1899, the Evening World and Evening Journal started charging newsboys 60 cents for a hundred copies of their papers, a hike from 50 cents. Pissed off, thousands of newsboys went on strike. They held protests all over Manhattan and got into fights with men and boys hired by the papers as replacement workers.

But the strike worked. After a few weeks of gloating media coverage in other New York City papers, the publishers scaled back the price hike.

The sweetest store sign in Manhattan

October 22, 2009

Economy Candy, on Rivington Street, has such a nice old-timey sign. It’s a neat place to poke around and stock up on old-school treats as well. 

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The neighborhood candy store is fast becoming extinct in New York City, going the way of the independent drugstore and the superette. Let’s hope Economy stays put.

New York is a hell of a town

October 22, 2009

More than a few city neighborhoods currently or used to start with “Hell.” Hell’s Kitchen is the most famous—and enduring. (C’mon, does anyone really call it Clinton?)

The nabe’s moniker but it may have first been used in the late 1800s to describe the revolting slums and ferocious gangs in the West 30s and 40s.

Hellgatebridgepostcard

Hell Gate is the name of the once-dangerous tidal strait separating Astoria from Randall’s Island. It’s also a lovely bridge that connects these two land masses across the East River.

Was Hell Gate once the name of the neighborhood on the Manhattan side of the East River too? I’m not sure, but maybe—there’s a Hell Gate Station post office on East 110th Street.

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And let’s not forget the fantastically named Hell’s Hundred Acres, a gritty term for pre-1970s Soho. The beautiful cast-iron buildings that today house million-dollar lofts were used for decades as warehouses and manufacturing sites. 

Hellshundredacresfire

Safety codes weren’t followed and the buildings allowed to deteriorate, so they often went up in flames—hence the nickname. This photo documents a 1958 fire in a Wooster Street factory that killed six firefighters. Hell’s Hundred Acres indeed.

Jack London: a hobo in City Hall Park

October 22, 2009

Writer and San Francisco native Jack London is usually associated with California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska, thanks to novels like White Fang and To Build a Fire.

But he spent some time in New York City too. While hobo-ing around the country in the early 1900s as a young man, London lived for a few months in City Hall Park downtown.

JacklondoninchairHe recounts a typical day as a park vagrant in his autobiographical memoir, The Road, published in 1916:

“It was during a week of scorching weather. I had got into the habit of throwing my feet in the morning, and spending the afternoon in the little park that is hard by Newspaper Row and the City Hall. It was near there that I could buy from push-cart men current books (that had been injured in the making or binding) for a few cents each.

“Then, right by the park itself, were little booths where one could buy glorious, ice-cold, sterilized milk and buttermilk at a penny a glass. Every afternoon I sat on a bench and read and went on a milk debauch. I got away with from five to ten glasses each afternoon. It was dreadfully hot weather.”

London goes on to describe a nearby game of “pee wee” played by some “gamins” before the cops broke it up. It’s a pretty neat glimpse into daily life in downtown New York City at the time. Read more from The Road here.

A crowd forms on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street

October 20, 2009

“Ashcan School” artist John Sloan really had a thing for the Sixth Avenue El. Several of his paintings depict the El at Third Street or Eighth Street; Jefferson Market Courthouse can often be seen in the distance.

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Here he highlights the next stop on the El, at 14th Street. It’s still a major shopping crossroads. Currently a Starbucks and Urban Outfitters occupy the Southeast corner, past the “Shoes” marquee in the painting.

The building across the street with the pointed turret is still there. Down toward Seventh Avenue looms the Salvation Army headquarters, also still in existence.


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