Archive for April, 2010

When West 14th Street was “Little Spain”

April 28, 2010

Today, 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues is a mix of delis, small shops, and restaurants . . . as well as insane crowds spilling over from the Meatpacking District.

But in the 20th century it was a tiny neighborhood of Spanish immigrants, with a “Little Spain” merchants group and festival featuring flamenco dancers and mechanical bullfighting.

A few remnants of that neighborhood remain. One is Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, built in 1902 inside two 1840s brownstones. (1930 photo, from the NYPL, right)

It’s no longer open for regular church services, but the lovely Spanish baroque facade still makes an impression.

Our Lady of Guadalupe today, with its beautiful balcony and detailing:

The still-active, 142-year-old Spanish Benevolent Society, closer to Eighth Avenue, also remains. They run a decent tapas restaurant on the ground floor of a brownstone.

“Petty city thug” Francis “Two Gun” Crowley

April 28, 2010

Francis Crowley, nicknamed “Two Gun” because of the number of weapons he carried, had been in trouble with the law as a poor foster kid in Queens.

But he really amped up his bad-boy rep in February 1931, when he was 19, by shooting a couple of guys at a dance in the Bronx, then shooting a detective who tried to arrest him days later.

Over the next few months, Two Gun robbed a bank, burglarized the West 90th Street home of a wealthy real estate broker, and killed a dance-hall hostess.

His final crime: murdering a Long Island police officer. Days later, while hiding out with an accomplice in an Upper West Side apartment, hundreds of cops descended on the block, hell-bent on capturing Crowley.

After a two-hour gun and tear-gas battle at West End Avenue and 90th Street (above) witnessed by 15,000 New Yorkers, the police got their man. Crowley was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

His anti-police antics made him a popular national figure. But newspapers reported that he was a stupid street punk, “undersized, underchinned, underwitted” as a 1932 New York Times article states.

Only 20 when he was strapped into the chair at Sing Sing, his last words were reportedly, “You sons of bitches. Give my love to mother.”

The dates topping New York City buildings

April 28, 2010

Developers in the late 19th century couldn’t get enough of topping their buildings with the year it was constructed—usually on the cornice or upper facade.

And lots of builders couldn’t help but put their own names up there too. Like P. Martino, who put up this tenement in Williamsburg in 1871.

Mr. Gessner built this lovely structure in 1871 on Bleecker Street in the West Village.

St. George Greek Orthodox Church on 55th Street and Eighth Avenue is a modest little chapel, with the Hearst Tower looming behind it. 

Central Park: almost built on the Upper East Side

April 26, 2010

They would have had to call it something besides Central Park, of course.

But the great new park planned for the city in the middle of the 19th century came pretty close to being created on the Upper East Side.

The idea of a park was first suggested in the 1840s, and by 1851, one site seriously considered was Jones’ Wood, 150 acres of dense forest overlooking the East River (above sketch from the NYPL).

Once a summer retreat for New York’s wealthy, Jones’ Wood was being used as a sort of amusement area for working-class residents, featuring beer gardens and dancing.

City authorities thought it would make an ideal retreat from the ills of urban life. But others, anticipating the city’s growth northward, realized it was better to put the new park in a central location.

Though the city approved both sites in 1853, only Central Park was developed, opening in 1859.

Jones’ Wood was slowly parceled out and turned into a residential and commercial area, with the remaining land falling victim to a fire in 1894.

It’s now the location of Upper East Side neighborhoods Lenox Hill and Yorkville.

Where is the “Hudson River Tunnel Curve”?

April 26, 2010

It’s an interesting choice for a postcard: a picture of a curve in one of the “Hudson Tubes,” as they used to be called, that carried trains ferrying passengers from 33rd Street in Manhattan to Hoboken and Jersey City.

Opened in 1908 by the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, they’re the same cast-iron tunnels PATH trains use today.

So where exactly is this curve, noteworthy enough to put on a postcard?

It may be just past the Christopher Street station on the way to New Jersey. A February 26, 1908 New York Times article chronicling the first train ride out of Manhattan in the new tunnel says that after Christopher Street:

“A moment later there was a slight lurch, and those in the train knew that they had rounded the curve at Morton Street and were pointing straight for the Hudson.”

Ghostly ads of the Garment District

April 26, 2010

One of the best concentrations of faded ads is in the Garment District, where clothing and accessories companies once—perhaps still—manufacture dresses, coats, belts, and other industry staples.

I love the 1960s-ish 45-single logo on this ad, for Baar and Beards accessories is on 37th Street. It’s close to their headquarters at 350 Fifth Avenue.

Vintage Robert Bestian handbags are for sale all over the internet, but other than that, there’s not much information this brand out there. The ad is on 33rd Street.

Does this really say “Style Undies” above a list of children’s clothes words like pajamas and play togs?

“After the Rain” in Madison Square

April 24, 2010

Paul Cornoyer painted a darkened, rain-slicked Madison Square Park around the turn of the century.

Madison Square looks almost the same on a rainy evening more than a hundred years later, doesn’t it?

The Show Folks Shoe Shop hiding in Times Square

April 24, 2010

Partly obscured by a Maxell billboard and a red and white TGIF restaurant awning is a subdued two-story structure on Broadway and 46th Street.

It’s a grimy yet elegant find. Turn the corner, and you can see a curious phrase carved into the limestone facade: “”The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear.”

What’s the story? The building opened in 1926 as an upscale I. Miller shoe store, a chain that thrived until the 1970s. Early on, I. Miller specialized in footwear for show business types.

No wonder there are four life-size statues of famous actresses set in pockets of the facade. Mary Pickford (at right, as Little Lord Fauntleroy) and Ethel Barrymore are still well-known.

But the other two, Marilyn Miller and Rosa Ponselle, have fallen into obscurity. 

Kind of the way the building has fallen into disrepair. Landmarked in 1999, it needs a good cleaning, especially around the statues.

Ethel Barrymore, above left, as Ophelia in Hamlet; musical comedy actress Marilyn Miller as the lead in a play called Sunny.

What’s on the radio: December 19, 1934

April 24, 2010

This radio guide, which ran in the Daily News the Wednesday before Christmas in 1934, is a neat little time capsule of news events and popular entertainment in the middle of the Depression.

George Burns and Gracie Allen’s comedy routine. Singer Kate Smith hosting a music variety show. Amateur night in Harlem. Even a broadcast about Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition.

One Man’s Family was kind of the As the World Turns of its time—a popular soap opera that ran for three decades into the 1950s.

Herald Square in the 1950s and today

April 21, 2010

“One of the most popular shopping centers in the world” proclaims the back of this 1950s-era postcard.

It’s a nice look back at what would still be considered Herald Square’s department store glory days, before its decline into a more low-rent district.

There’s Gimbels, defunct since the 1980s, and Macy’s next door. Far off  on the right is the sign for the Hotel McAlpin, the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912.

On the right is the Hotel Martinique. Once a stately place to rent a room when Herald Square was the city’s theater district, it would become a disgusting welfare hotel in the 1970s and 1980s.

Herald Square today is spruced up, with a Bloomberg-era pedestrian plaza in front of the cleaned up Radisson Martinique.

Gimbels’ old building is covered in glass. Macy’s remains, of course, as does the McAlpin, now apartments.


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