Archive for the ‘Chelsea’ Category

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

Ghostsignliquorsavenuea

The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

Ghostsignjewelry14thstreet

I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!

A little girl goes missing in 1960s Chelsea

July 14, 2014

EdithkiecoriusphotoIt was February 1961, Washington’s birthday. Four-year-old Edith Kiecorius had taken the subway from her Brooklyn home with her widowed mother and brother to visit her uncle in Manhattan.

Her uncle’s apartment was on Eighth Avenue near 18th Street, in the “deteriorating” neighborhood of Chelsea, as one newspaper described it at the time.

Edith spent the afternoon playing outside on the sidewalk. Her uncle left her alone for a few minutes to buy cigarettes, and by the time he came back around 4 pm, the little girl in a purple snowsuit had vanished.

In an era without Amber Alerts or even 911, police seemed to pull out all the stops to find her. Over the next week, they set up special hotlines for anyone who may have seen her; they searched rooftops, sewers, and the bottom of the Hudson.

Edithkiecoriuspolicegetty

“Detectives leafed through records of mental hospitals for women recently released and checked death lists,” reported the New York Times, as the police felt the person who took her might have “a frustrated mother instinct.”

Edithk307west20thstOn February 27, Edith’s body was found on a bed in a one-room flat at 307 West 20th Street (at left today), a “dingy Chelsea rooming house,” as a front-page Times piece put it. She’d been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

The killer was captured a few days later. Fred Thompson, a 59-year-old drifter who had just rented the room in the West 20th Street house. He admitted to cops that while in a drunken stupor, he lured Edith to his room by telling her that he had his “own little girl” she could play with.

He assaulted and beat her, then left her in the room while he spent days drinking on the Bowery. When he learned that police had found Edith’s body and that he was the prime suspect, he fled to Philadelphia and then to a New Jersey chicken farm.

Edithkfredthompsonnyt“Assistant Chief Inspector James J. Walsh of the New York City police said after questioning Thompson he had said, ‘I know I deserve my full punishment for what I did,'” the Times wrote.

“Asked what he meant by ‘full punishment,’ Thompson was quoted as saying ‘life imprisonment or the electric chair.'”

Thompson was tried and found guilty later that year; the verdict carried a mandatory death sentence.

But according to one source, Thompson, above, was instead institutionalized for the rest of his life.

[Second photo: Getty Images; Fourth photo: NYTimes]

The High Line could have been a swimming pool

July 3, 2014

Next time you’re strolling along the High Line, imagine yourself swimming it instead. If an idea generated from a contest had panned out, it might have been your city summer cool-off destination.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry

Back in 2003, the advocacy group Friends of the High Line held a contest seeking innovative ideas for the rusty, weedy rail viaduct that once brought goods in and out of the factories of the lower west side.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry2More than 700 entries from 36 countries were eventually displayed in Grand Central Terminal—among them a cow pasture, a wild meadow, and a roller coaster.

But probably the most whimsical entry  came from architectural student Nathalie Rinne from Vienna. She envisioned the High Line as a slender lap pool, a thread of blue amid brown and red warehouses and tenements.

The lap pool never stood much of a chance; the contest was mostly a way to get people thinking and generate support. In 2004, a traditional design contest resulted in the beautiful park that is the High Line today.

Yet on a sweaty summer day when even the breeze from the Hudson make the High Line feel stifling, a swimming pool won’t seem like such an impossible idea.

[Images: Friends of the High Line/Nathalie Rinne]

Lovely, empty skybridges linking city buildings

June 21, 2014

They’ve been part of New York City since the 19th century: short, enclosed bridges that look like railway cars (and could make for pretty cool little apartments) connecting one building to another.

Functional yet decorative, these skybridges still exist all over the city—many in unusual corners and alleys.

Skybridgestaplestreet

One of the loveliest is this skywalk in Tribeca. Built in 1907, it linked New York Hospital’s House of Relief (such a wonderful name for a medical facility), at the corner of Hudson and Jay Streets, to a new hospital annex across Staple Street, then an industrial alley.

The annex housed a stable and laundry facility; you can imagine early 20th century nurses carting sheets and gowns and blankets back and forth across the skybridge day after day.

Skybridgechelseamarket

The transverse in Chelsea near Tenth Avenue has cathedral-like windows that let in lots of light.

Since 1930, it has connected the former Nabisco factory (today’s Chelsea Market, where the Oreo was invented!) to a former Nabisco office building.

Skybridgemetrolifetower

This gem on 24th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, bridging the Metropolitan Life Tower to the MetLife North building (no longer occupied by MetLife, though), has a graceful arch and appropriate Art Deco touches.

It almost looks like an old-school diner in the air.

Skybridgegimbels

Perhaps the most striking of all is the copper skybridge at the former Gimbels building on 32nd Street. Constructed in 1925, it actually resembles a bridge; it linked the main Gimbels department store to a new annex across the street and three stories into the sky.

The Bowery Boys recently posted a fascinating and rare glimpse inside this mostly abandoned walkway over Herald Square. Gimbels is long gone, but the transverse remains, and the photos are ghostly.

[Bottom photo: Wikipedia]

Ghostly reminders of New York’s old buildings

June 12, 2014

Every building in New York has a story—even the ones that no longer exist, except as phantom remnants of an older, forgotten city.

Ghostlyoutlinechelsea

I’m drawn to the faded outline of this little walkup in Chelsea. Once pressed against the side of a grand turn of the century warehouse or department store, it hung on for years, crooked and stooped.

Ghostlyoutlineseast31st

I don’t know when this building, a perfect square with a tall chimney on East 31st Street, met the bulldozer. But I love that it refuses to be erased from the block.

GhostoutlinesAllenstreet

This Allen Street tenement reveals the remains of maybe three separate smaller structures, probably taken down at different times.

Ghostlyoutlinewest40s

How many people once lived and worked in this squat building in the West 40s, and what did they see when they looked out their windows? I wonder if they would recognize the cityscape of today.

Ghostlybuildingeast20s2

On the side of a brownstone in the East 20s are at least two building impressions—two layers of another New York.

Check out more phantom buildings and their remains here.

New York’s old-school food trucks and carts

June 2, 2014

The whole food truck trend, with vendors selling everything from artisanal waffles to handmade geleto on the streets of New York? (Below, “hot Vienna waffles” on 22nd Street and Broadway.)

Hotviennawafflersvendorbway22nd

Been there done that, these vintage images remind us. Trying to make a buck by selling drinks and eats from a vehicle is probably as old a practice as the city itself. Hot corn, for example, was a big seller in the early 19th century.

Clamsmulberrybend

Clams and oysters were also very popular street food through the 1800s. This clam vendor, on Mulberry Bend, must have a layer of ice on the bed of his wagon—how else could he keep his wares cold?

Popcornvendorsixthave1895

A “pop corn” vendor (“always hot”) attracts a well-dressed lady on Sixth Avenue and 15th Street in 1895. At the time, this stretch was the famed Ladies Mile shopping district of grand department stores.

Parkrow1896milkvendor

The milk wagon has arrived on Park Row, this 1896 photo shows. “Pure Ice Cold Orange County Milk” is at the top of the menu, followed by fresh churned buttermilk and a milkshake—for a nickel.

Hotroastedjumbopeanuts1937wpa

Here, it’s 1937, the middle of the Depression, and under the Elevated tracks a peanut vendor takes a cigarette break.

Streetvendor14thbwayregmarsh1938

This bundled-up seller appears to be selling pretzels out of a renovated baby carriage. The photo, from 1938, was taken on 14th Street and Broadway, ground zero for today’s food trucks and vendors.

[Top photo: Museum of the City of New York; second, NYC municipal archives; third, fourth, and fifth, Museum of the City of New York; sixth, Museum of the City of New York copyright Reginald Marsh]

A dazzling sunset from a West 23rd Street roof

May 31, 2014

“Sunset, West Twenty-Third Street,” completed in 1906, is another evocative take on the city by John Sloan, with a solitary figure, dramatic sky, and representations of daily life: laundry on a line.

Sloan had a thing for the triple combo of women, rooftops, and laundry, as these paintings reveal.

Sunsetwest23rdstreetsloan2

“A study of dramatic beauty and unexpected tranquility in an undistinguished urban landscape, ‘Sunset, West Twenty-third Street,’ displays Sloan’s ability early in his career to transform a utilitarian setting into a more sublime vista.”

Sloanheadshot1891That’s from the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, which has the painting in its collection.

“Although ‘Sunset, West Twenty-third Street’ could easily be understood as an image of an anonymous woman distracted from her laundry, the figure represented is the artist’s wife, Dolly, on the rooftop of the building that housed his studio.”

Where was his studio? At 165 West 23rd, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Here it is today via Google.

[Photo: John Sloan, 1891]

Manhattan’s lonely little holdout buildings

May 31, 2014

These walkups were once the sought-after modern buildings of the block.

Now, they’re the holdouts—sometimes well-kept, often shabby reminders of an earlier New York that refuse to bow to the wrecking ball.

Holdoutswestmidtown

Without these low-rise survivors, many more city streets would be a boring canyon of uniform buildings.

The two tenement holdouts in the top photo, on West 36th Street, have had their side exteriors raked over by developers. Yet these 19th century stalwarts refuse to go.

Holdoutbldgupper5thave

Nestled between two limestone apartment houses is this Upper Fifth Avenue beauty, holding its own across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Holdout39theighthave

On Eighth Avenue at 39th Street is this blue former townhouse, now a commercial building. It makes the block resemble a gap-tooth smile.

Holdout7thavebarneys

This three-story sliver on lower Seventh Avenue in Chelsea is a bit of a mystery. It’s architecturally the same as the building next door, which houses the Rubin Museum.

Yet it’s painted the same color as the former Loehmann’s store on the other side, being renovated into Barneys once again.

Check out more holdout buildings here, and of course, the most famous of all the holdouts—the one in the middle of Macy’s.

A peek into a New York boyhood in the 1850s

May 19, 2014

Letterstophilcover1982“It seems hard to believe that Twenty-third Street—which is the first street in the city of which I remember anything, could have changed in so short a time,” wrote Edward Eugene “Gene” Schermerhorn in an 1886 letter to his young nephew, Phil.

“The rural scenes, the open spaces, have vanished; and the small and quiet residences, many of them built entirely of wood, have given place to huge piles of brick and stone, and to iron and plate-glass fronts of the stores which now line the street.”

It was the first of 10 letters Gene would address to his nephew, recently collected in a thin, enchanting volume, Letters to Phil, published by New York Bound in 1982.

Each chronicles his memories between 1848 and 1856 of a small-scale New York that had yet to experience the enormous growth that made it an international capital by the 1880s.

NYC1842mapGene’s city had a population of about 500,000 and a northern boundary barely exceeding 14th Street. A descendent of a prosperous family that came to Manhattan in the 17th century, he shows what it was like to be a curious, privileged boy before the Civil War.

“Twenty-third Street and in fact all the streets in the neighborhood were unpaved,” he wrote. “There was plenty of room, plenty of dirt (clean dirt), and plenty of boys; what more could be desired!”

Gene writes of the games he and his friends played: marbles, “base ball,” and kite-flying. The also chased the pigs that ran around Sixth Avenue.

His Manhattan was a rural paradise. “Up town at this time was almost inaccessible. Of course there was no Central Park. Third Avenue was open to Harlem passing through Yorkville which was quite a large village  about 86th Street. . . .”

Harlemlane

Chelsea was located to the west of Gene’s home; Murray Hill, to the east. “Eighth Avenue was open to Harlem, and in connection with the Harlem Lane (now St. Nicholas Ave.) was the great road for fast driving.”

Madisoncottage2The business district, at City Hall, contained “none of those magnificent buildings now so common in the lower part of the city. A building of any kind six stories high was very rare.”

Downtown had all the theaters, as well as Barnum’s Museum. “It was a delight to go there on Saturday afternoons.”

The rough side of town was at Broadway and Houston Street, the site of St. Thomas’ church. “[Sic] Opposite to it was a row of small two-storied wooden houses; many of them low grog shops—a very bad neighborhood.”

Gene and his brother skated on ponds at 32nd and Broadway and Sixth Avenue and 57th. They headed over to Park Avenue south of 42nd Street on Saturdays and “played among the rocks and watch[ed] the trains.”

“Sometimes we would walk in the region which is now the Central Park. It was a very rough and rocky place, with plenty of woods and scattered trees and very few houses except ‘Squatters’ shanties.”

New York’s industry centered around transportation. The East River housed “Dry Docks” and shipyards. “On the Bowery at 6th Street was the ‘Hay Scale’ where the loads of hay brought in on that side of the city were weighed.

Gothaminn1870

“Facing this was the ‘Gotham Inn,’ quite a noted sporting tavern. On the corner of 3rd Avenue and 13th Street stood an old pear tree, which was planted on Gov. Stuyvesant’s farm in 1647.”

Gene gives a wonderful account of a free-range boyhood in a slower-paced city. But what he did with his life isn’t clear. He apparently never married; he may have lived a life of leisure. He died in 1922.

His nephew Phil is also a mystery. His 1952 obituary in The New York Times, however, says he lived on East 78th Street, was survived by a wife, and became a painter.

[Map of NYC in 1842; images from the NYPL Digital Gallery]

Medicine ads targeting the city’s aches and pains

April 7, 2014

When these medicine trade cards were circulating around New York, surgery was in its infancy and antibiotics had yet to be invented. The average New Yorker wouldn’t have enjoyed easy access to a doctor.

Thelittlepetstradecard1

So when aches and pains and ailments struck, potions and remedies like these were there, ready to be picked up at the corner pharmacy.

Thelittlepetstradecard2

[Above: the front and back of an ad for "Scott's Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil With the Hyophosphites of Lime and Soda," for a cough]

Germantradecard1

Did they work? Without an ingredient list, it’s tough to know. But the cards are interesting to look at—a reminder that earlier generations dealt with the stomach issues, headaches, and colds that drive us to Duane Reade today.

Germantradecard2

[Above, the back and front of a trade card for a medicine sold by Charles Schneider of East 17th Street, then the upper reaches of Kleindeutschland, the city's German neighborhood. What is it for?]

Rosycheekstradecard

[Above: Alexander's Cholera Infantum Cure, made by the Alexander Medicine Co. in 14th Street and Sixth Avenue and sold by a druggist named Rosenzweig in Brooklyn, could help your kids get rosy cheeks, apparently.]

They’re part of the wonderful William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards in the New York Academy of Medicine Library—which has a recently renovated and reopened Rare Book Room, available to researchers by appointment at their headquarters on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.


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