Archive for May, 2012

Angels of an Upper West Side apartment house

May 31, 2012

These lovely figures decorate the facade of the Evelyn, at 78th Street and Columbus Avenue—one of the city’s oldest apartment buildings, built in 1885.

Hard to believe that just 25 years ago, the angels may have been in the sights of a wrecking ball!

The Underground Railroad stop in Tribeca

May 31, 2012

David Ruggles (right) was a brave man. Born a free African American in Connecticut in 1810, he moved to New York in the 1820s as a seaman and grocer.

A decade later, he became a leader in the city’s burgeoning abolitionist movement.

From his three-story home at 36 Lispenard Street, he operated a bookstore, printed his own anti-slavery pamphlets, and wrote for African-American newspapers.

He also opened his house to slaves fleeing the South who needed a place to stay before typically going upstate or to New England.

Through the 1830s and 1840s, an estimated 600 slaves hid out in his townhouse on Lispenard Street, one of a handful of known New York City stops on the Underground Railroad.

His most famous guest, in 1838, was Frederick Douglass, who wrote in The Century in 1882, “With Mr. Ruggles, on the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets, I was hidden several days. . . .”

Ruggles died in 1849 in Massachusetts, his work to end slavery in a city divided by the issue close to forgotten.

[Above left: 36 Lispenard Street today, a different building on the historic site. A plaque notes its history.]

Manhole covers that left their mark on the city

May 31, 2012

Not everyone would agree that these cast-iron lids qualify as art. But there’s a certain beauty to the design of some 19th century examples still found all over New York.

This cover, spotted in Tribeca, looks like it hasn’t been opened since the neighborhood was the butter and eggs district.

It’s by Jacob Mark, “one of the oldest manufacturers of architectural iron work in the country,” states his 1904 obituary in The New York Times.

J.B. and J.M. Cornell goes all the way back to 1828, though it’s unclear exactly when this Chelsea manhole cover, with its low-key ornamental touches, was made.

Stars were a popular motif on manhole covers, like this one, found on West 145th Street. The McDougall and Potter foundry must have been quite an operation on far West 55th Street back in the day.

A Memorial Day parade marches down Broadway

May 28, 2012

This stereoscopic card shows the city’s Memorial Day parade in 1875, as it winds its way down Broadway at Bond Street.

In 1875, it was called Decoration Day—taken from the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers.

The holiday was only a handful of years old at the time, but already the parade tradition had taken hold.

1936: the year of the city swimming pool

May 28, 2012

Mayor La Guardia was a busy man during the Depression summer of 1936, the hottest on record in the United States.

Through June, July, and August, he attended dedication ceremonies at the 11 brand-new municipal pools the city opened that year.

The pools were a monumental achievement. Built with WPA labor, they were safe alternatives for city kids who used to cool off by swimming in the East and Hudson Rivers.

Judging by the enormous crowds seen in these vintage photos from that opening summer, they were a huge hit. The McCarren Park pool (top left), was so enormous, it could hold almost 7,000 swimmers at a time. Closed in 1984, it’s finally reopening this summer.

Astoria Park in Queens offered incredible views of the Hell Gate Bridge and was so state-of-the-art, Olympic trials for the U.S. swim and dive teams were held there.

The Sunset Pool, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, featured underwater lights, which were flipped on by Mayor La Guardia during the opening ceremony on July 21.

Ice cream store ghosts of Columbus Avenue

May 28, 2012

At 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue, a lovely stained glass ice cream sign hides above a cafe, affixed to the second floor of a corner building.

It looks very 1920s or 1930s, but it’s a ghost sign that seems to have long outlived the store it was attached to. Whose store was it?

A few blocks north, at 74th Street and Columbus Avenue, is this less mysterious ice cream signage: for the J.M. Horton Ice Cream Company.

It’s a sweet remnant of the Upper West Side’s manufacturing past. So what happened to Horton?

More than a century ago, the small local dairy “was supplying over half of New York’s ice cream,” explains The New York Times in a 2000 article.

By 1930, competition from bigger producers put them out of business.

[Horton's sign tip: Chris Wilmore]

Faded street signage of an older Manhattan

May 24, 2012

On a rundown tenement in Harlem, this street address affixed to the building as kind of a scroll is a bit of random loveliness and a reminder of a more fanciful city.

The other corner should have one that says “Fourth Avenue,” the old name for Park Avenue, where this residence is located.

It’s awfully hard to see this faded cross street carving, found on the Soho-Tribeca border. Look closely and you can make out “Greenwich S.” and “Spring S.”

The curious case of two neighboring tenements

May 24, 2012

Did these two buildings, on Third Avenue near 57th Street, start out as twins?

They’re about the same size and width, and it makes sense that both began their life a hundred years ago or so as typical five-story walkup tenements, the kind New York is famous for.

Unfortunately at some point—the 1950s? 1960s?—the one on the left underwent a serious facelift and had its lovely windows and ground-floor space modernized and uglified.

The only old photo I could find captures the building on the right—a classic Berenice Abbott shot from 1936, when the ground level of this now-restored beauty housed an antique shop.

[Photo link courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery]

The last man executed by New York state

May 24, 2012

Eddie Lee Mays had no idea how history would remember him.

But the Harlem resident occupies a distinct place in corrections record books.

On August 15, 1963, he was the last person put to death by New York state.

By all accounts, Mays was a bad dude. He’d already served time for killing a man in North Carolina, his home state.

Some time after his release, the 32-year-old and two accomplices held up the Friendly Tavern, at 1403 Fifth Avenue in East Harlem (below, a bodega today), one early morning in March 1961.

“[Mays] demanded that the patrons put their wallets and purses on the bar,” the Daily News recalled in a 1998 article.

But a 31-year-old named Maria Marini was frozen in fear and didn’t move quickly enough. An enraged Mays pointed a gun to her temple and fired, killing her instantly.

After his arrest, trial, and conviction for first-degree murder, “Mays had said he would rather ‘fry’ than spend his life in prison,” reported the Daily News.

And that’s what happened in the death house at Sing Sing. He was the 695th person to be executed by the state since 1890. Two years later, the death penalty in New York was repealed.

It was restored in the 1990s, then deemed unconstitutional in 2005, with no executions carried out and no one on death row to execute.

Under an arch in Astoria at midnight, 1930

May 21, 2012

Martin Lewis titled this drypoint etching Arch, Midnight. The people under the arch don’t look like they’re up to much good.

He reportedly considered two alternate titles, “Archway, Midnight” and “The Arch Over the Street, Astoria.”

Does anyone know where exactly this dark, shadowy underpass is in Astoria, and if it still exists?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,667 other followers