Archive for January, 2013

The tidy, empty backyards of 1920s Brooklyn

January 31, 2013

Painter Winthrop Turney was born in Brooklyn and lived there for most of his life. He found a worthy subject in the backyards of the row houses and tenements in the borough’s poorer neighborhoods.

Brooklynbuildingsfromrear

“Brooklyn Buildings From the Rear,” is above and “Brooklyn Backyards,” below. Both were done in the 1920s, and both depict the same shuttered houses and looming factory.

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Turney was also fascinated with the Brooklyn waterfront, specifically the Erie Basin off Red Hook, once an industrial shipyard.

Some examples of his view of Brooklyn’s docks and ships can be seen here.

A colonial tavern is unearthed on Broad Street

January 31, 2013

StadthuysIn 1979, financial giant Goldman Sachs had plans for new headquarters at 85 Broad Street.

Nothing unusual about that—except that 300 years earlier, this address was the location of New Amsterdam’s first city hall, or Stadt Huys (“city house”), built in 1641.

Considering the possibility of uncovering historical remnants, archeologists excavated the site before construction began.

They didn’t find anything related to the Stadt Huys. Instead, they uncovered something that harkens back to the city’s beer-drinking past: the remains of a tavern built next door in 1670.

This was the Lovelace Tavern, once on the water’s edge and named for English governor Francis Lovelace, who presided over the now British-controlled city from 1668 to 1673.

The Lovelace Tavern (probably the little annex on the left in this illustration) even assumed the role of New York’s City Hall from 1697 to 1706, after which it burned down and all traces of it disappeared.

LovelacetavernremainsArcheologists came across some fascinating remains. Besides the tavern’s foundation walls and floor, they discovered thousands of pieces of clay pipes, wine glasses, and wine bottles (empty, unfortunately).

I’m not sure where the pipes and bottles are, but the tavern’s foundation walls were preserved and are actually on view beneath a Plexiglass cover on the plaza of the building.

This Flickr photo gives the clearest view of what remains of the Lovelace. If only those tavern walls could talk. . . .

What a downtown or Brooklyn rental cost in 1983

January 31, 2013

A 1200 square foot Soho studio for $1350 a month?

An impossible find in 2013—but available 30 years ago (perhaps even without a fee!), according to this ad from the May 1983 issue of arts and entertainment monthly the East Village Eye.

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It’s not the only rental that sounds absurdly inexpensive to New Yorkers conditioned to pay an average of up to $3,973 a month for a Manhattan apartment these days.

Williamsburgaptad

If you were willing to give “historic” South Williamsburg a try, you could score a two bedroom “modern” rental for $330 a month. Broadway and Marcy Avenue was probably a pretty rough place though.

Eastvillagerental

An East Village subhed in the three digits per month? That was the going rate for this three-room place on Second Avenue and 10th Street, according to this East Village Eye ad from September 1984.

Changing views of Park Avenue in the East 50s

January 28, 2013

Has any of Manhattan’s avenues changed as much over the past 100 years as Park Avenue? Known as Fourth Avenue until the late 19th century, it was cut with railroad tracks, as evident in this 1905 photo looking south from 56th Street.

Parkavenue56thstreet1905

“Because of increased traffic, smoke and noise, the city eventually required the railroad to lower its tracks into an open cut or tunnel from 46th to 96th Streets,” according to New York Then and Now, published in 1976.

“Here we see seven tracks, of which three are temporary, while new tracks are being laid preparatory to electrification. A retaining wall is being built on each side of the cut to allow additional space for an enlarged station approach.”

On the left before the bridge at 54th Street is a Steinway piano factory, in front of the Schaefer Brewery, with the cupola, which once stood at 51st Street.

Parkavenue56thstreet1975

By 1975, when the second photo was taken, Park Avenue in midtown had become a posh canyon of office towers and a few luxury apartment houses.

The center structure is the New York Central building (now the Helmsley Building), right in front of the Pan Am Building, which opened in 1963.

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Today, this juncture resembles its 1975 incarnation—except the trees planted on the mall have grown taller, and the Pan Am Building is the Met Life Building, purchased from Pan Am in 1981.

[Top two photos from New York Then and Now, Dover]

Sugar Hill: once Harlem’s most glamorous enclave

January 28, 2013

Harlem has lots of lovely, little-known streets and micro-neighborhoods. One of the grandest is Sugar Hill, an area rich with beautiful row houses, handsome apartment buildings, and a towering view of upper Manhattan.

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Bounded roughly by 145th Street to the upper 150s and Edgecombe and Amsterdam Avenues, it was developed in the early 20th century for well-to-do white New Yorkers.

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But after a real-estate recession, the neighborhood soon become home to a black elite, a place synonymous with money and the sweet life.

409Edgecombeave“By the late 1920s, an area that had once been part of Washington Heights was gradually becoming Sugar Hill,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.

“This new upscale neighborhood would eventually become home to black celebrities such as Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson, and A’Lelia Walker and would have an influence on the Harlem Renaissance because the writers, musicians, athletes, civic and political leaders, and others who came to live on Sugar Hill sponsored and participated in talks, soirees, and literary gatherings there.”

SugarhilledgecombeaveviewA century later, the architectural treasures of Sugar Hill remain, like the neo-
renaissance houses in the top photo, built from 1896 and 1898 on St. Nicholas Avenue.

At 409 Edgecombe Avenue is a 1917 apartment residence (above). It’s the former home of W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall. The view across Jackie Robinson Park is pretty incredible (right).

The panther on the hunt in Central Park

January 28, 2013

Joggers and cyclists hurtling up East Drive near the Ramble are always mistaking this sculpture for the real thing.

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Perched on top of a steep hill at about 76th Street and looking like he’s ready to pounce, it’s a ferocious panther in bronze, officially titled “Still Hunt.” Here’s the park from the panther’s point of view.

PanthercentralparkcloseCreated in 1883 by Georgia-born sculptor Edward Kemeys, it’s one of the few sculptures in Central Park meant to look natural and blend in—which is why it has no plaque and makes passersby do a double take.

Kemeys, who helped build Central Park and was inspired by the real-life animals at the Central Park Zoo (then called the Menagerie) was an animalier, and his jaguars, lions, and other creatures are on display in cities across the country.

The Central Park panther isn’t Kemeys’ only panther in New York City. His “Panther and Cubs” bronze sculpture belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about six blocks north.

Stay at the Hotel Arlington in Madison Square

January 25, 2013

According to this century-old postcard, $2 at the Hotel Arlington in genteel Madison Square gets you a room and a bath. Looking for a suite? That’ll run you at least $4.

Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 25th Street hasn’t changed excessively since the early 1900s. Madison Square Park is just as pretty, but it’s no longer all that centrally located.

Hotelarlingtonpostcard

The Arlington Hotel building still stands and it’s still a hotel—a Comfort Inn. A low-rise holdout building that could be the one in the postcard (though remodeled) sits on its right.

The Gothic Revival church across the street remains. Built in 1868 by Richard Upjohn, it was once Trinity Chapel and is now home to a Serbian Orthodox congregation.

An 1835 fire burns a quarter of New York City

January 25, 2013

GreatfirebynicolinocalyoIt started on the frigid night of December 16. Flames broke out inside a warehouse on Pearl Street, the center of New York’s dry-goods district.

“The city’s undermanned volunteer fire brigades rushed to the scene, but what little water could be pumped from the nearby hydrants turned to ice in the frigid night air, and the crews—exhausted from fighting a blaze the night before—were soon completely overwhelmed,” wrote Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.

[Above: the fire as seen from Williamsburg, by Nicolino Calyo]

With help from strong winds, flames leaped from shops to warehouses to the majestic Merchants Exchange (below, in a 1909 illustration).

Within hours, 20 blocks and 600 buildings bounded by South, Broad, and Wall Streets and Coenties Slip, were ablaze.

Greatfiremerchantsexchange

New York had experienced devastating fires before, particularly in 1776. This fire was something else though—so intense, it could reportedly be seen from Philadelphia.

The cold made it tough to get under control. “Whiskey was poured into boots to prevent [firefighters'] toes from icing up,” states Paul Hashagen in Fire Department, City of New York.

GreatfireCUNYmap“By the time the flames were out, a quarter of the city’s business district had been destroyed, including every one of the stone Dutch houses that had survived the fires of the Revolution,” wrote Burns and Sanders.

Hundreds of businesses were ruined. Most of the city’s insurance companies went bankrupt. Amazingly, only two people perished.

As horrific as it was, the Great Fire of 1835 had a few upsides. It forced the city, which rebuilt within a year, to organize a professional fire department and shore up building codes.

And it showed the need for a modern water-supply system, resulting in the opening of the Croton Aqueduct and reservoir on 42nd Street seven years later.

[Map of the destroyed area: CUNY]

These building corner street signs are fading fast

January 25, 2013

I love spotting these on random New York corners. But I’ve never seen one designed like the sign carved into a brick walkup at Hudson Street and St. Luke’s Place, with house numbers in the mix.

Crossstreetshudsonstlukes

East Harlem has lots of century-old tenements—and lots of corner carvings. Too bad “109th Street” was obliterated from this one at Third Avenue.

Crossstreets3rdavenue

A corner sign in Chelsea features stately lettering. It’s at Ninth Avenue and 19th Street and is in bad shape, but still doing its job of letting passersby know where they are—at least in part.

Crossstreets9thand19th

Celebrating winter with old Brooklyn businesses

January 23, 2013

The Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful digitized collection of late 19th century business cards from hundreds of shops and companies located in the teeming city of Brooklyn.

JVDubernellcard

They’re whimsical and imaginative—and some honor the cold weather while advertising their goods, like J.V. Dubernell, tailor.

His shop was at 331 and 333 Fulton Avenue, and his suits sound kind of expensive for the era.

Bostonstorebusinesscard

That’s some sled illustrated in this card, for this clothing store, which comes off like the L.L. Bean of the time. Check out these prices for trendy wool cloaks!

Amespaintdealercard

This sweet scene advertises the business of a paint dealer. Sumpter Street is in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, quite a bit away from the other businesses, which are located closer to downtown Brooklyn in what was the fashionable shopping area of the time.

Perhaps a paint store was not welcome on refined Fulton Street?


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