Archive for the ‘Fashion and shopping’ Category

An 1890 spring morning in the heart of the city

April 14, 2014

Frederick Childe Hassam’s “Spring Morning in the Heart of the City” gives us an overcast, lush view of Madison Square Park’s (yes, once the center of New York!) carriage traffic and well-dressed pedestrians.

Hassam frequently painted Madison Square; this elite area of the Gilded Age city was near his studio on 17th Street.

Childehassamspringmorning

“While discussing the picture in 1892, Hassam said his intention was to focus upon the group of cabs in the foreground and to have ‘the lines in the composition radiate and gradually fade out from the centre.’” states the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“He also noted that ‘all those people and horses and vehicles didn’t arrange themselves for my especial benefit. I had to catch them, bit by bit, as they flitted past.’”

A New York socialite dubbed “King of the Dudes”

March 31, 2014

EvanderberrywallchowdogEvery era in New York history has its characters.

And in the late 19th century city, which celebrated extravagance and excess, socialite and clotheshorse Evander Berry Wall was one of the most colorful.

Born in 1860 into a wealthy family, he inherited $2 million by his 21st birthday.

That was an incredible sum in the Gilded Age, and it enabled party-loving Wall (who sported a monocle, and insisted on only drinking champagne) to not work for a living and instead indulge in his love of fashion.

Evanderberrywall1888How much of a fashionista was this guy? Reportedly he owned 500 pairs of pants, 5,000 ties, loved loud colors and patterns, and changed his clothes six times a day.

“He wore waistcoats that dazzled the eye. He wore violet spats. His spread-eagle collars and startling cravats kept New Yorkers agog,” wrote The New York Times in his 1940 obituary.

In the 1880s, he battled for the title of best-dressed New York man with another foppish dandy. Wall eclipsed the other guy during the Blizzard of 1888, when he entered the luxurious Hoffman House bar clad in thigh-high black patent leather boots.

From then on he was crowned “King of the Dudes.” Dude was kind of an insult at the time, but Wall embraced it with pride.

In 1912, he and his wife (yep, he was married) began living abroad in Europe.

EvanderberrywallmonocleHe befriended royalty, indulged his love of social events and horse racing, and took his beloved chow. wherever he could.

He’s best remembered by his outfits, of course, and as the epitome of the Gay 90s.

“To the end he was a fabulous and eccentric dresser of his earlier days—stiff shirts, tailcoats, Byron collars—and he never went to Longchamps in season without his silk hat even if, as he complained, valets no longer knew how to ‘keep the gloss on your topper,’” wrote the Times.

The only shame is that no color photos survive to really show off what a bon vivant fashion plate Wall truly was.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.

Acepumpsign

Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.

20thcenturygaragesign

I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?

Jeromefloristsign

Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.

Capitalelectronicssign

Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.

Vernonavepharmacysign

Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.

Gorgeous neon signs illuminating the city

March 3, 2014

What’s more beautiful than block after block of glowing reds and blues and pinks and yellows, emanating light and heat?

Oldhomesteadsign

These food-oriented neon signs also make you hungry. The Old Homestead sign looks pretty old, though not as old as this steak house (two words!) itself, from 1868.

Donutpub14thstreet

The Donut Pub on 14th Street, a 50-year-old remnant of New York before cronuts and Starbucks, recently survived a competitive attack by an upstart Dunkin’ Donuts down the block, which quietly closed shop a few years ago.

DeRobertispastryshoppe

DeRobertis Caffe and Pasticceria has been baking sweets for 110 years on First Avenue near 14th Street, when this was an Sicilian immigrant micro-neighborhood featuring Russo Brothers, Veniero, and probably hundreds of small shops lost to history.

Queensign

Queen is an oddly named Italian restaurant (since 1958!) on Court Street in Brooklyn. You have to dig that crown.

Katzsign

And of course, Katz’s Deli, a treasure of New York neon and store signage—and sandwiches and Jewish soul food too.

More sublime neon beauty can be found here.

A 19th century painter’s moody, snowy New York

February 27, 2014

His impressionist paintings, veiled in twilight-like shades of blue and gray, reveal city’s beauty and enchantment.

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls him “the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century.”

Childehassamwinterdaybrooklynbridge

["Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge"]

But you may never have heard of Frederick Childe Hassam—a popular and prolific painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work is still acclaimed, but perhaps not to the degree it deserves.

Childehassamnewyorkstreet1902

["New York Street," 1902]

Born to a well-off family in Boston, Hassam worked as an illustrator and then began exhibiting his paintings, earning accolades for his lovely cityscapes of Boston and Paris.

After moving to New York in 1889, he fell in love with the city. It certainly shows. His depictions of the Gilded Age city may be his most striking, illuminating city streets, parks, and people with radiant strokes of color and light.

Childehassamcalvarychurchinthesnow

["Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square"]

Hassam was not without critics. Some admonished him for not showing the struggle and hardship brought on by industrialization, while others questioned his so-called pedestrian subject matter.

“The man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Hassam said in 1892.

Childehassamfifthaveinwinter1892

“Fifth Avenue in Winter,” above, was reportedly one of his favorites. It was painted from the studio space he rented on Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

Childehassamsnowstormmadsq1902

["Snowstorm, Madison Square," 1890]

Hassam’s moody, magical scenes of New York covered by snow show us a city very similar to the wintry New York of today.

Cabs wait for passengers, confident, fashionable young women stroll unescorted, and weary pedestrians in black hats and lace-up boots trudge through the snow on their way to and from Brooklyn.

Hassam painted wonderful scenes of rainy day New York too, like this one near Madison Square.

Three centuries at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

February 24, 2014

“The pace was leisurely, with bicycles, horsecars, broughams, and hansom cabs comprising traffic,” states the caption to this 1898 photo looking north on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. It’s from New York Then and Now.

42ndfifth1898

The twin lamppost makes a nice contrast to the twin Moorish-style towers of Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and a mainstay of this section of Fifth Avenue until 1927.

The building on the northwest corner at 42nd is the circa-1875 Hotel Bristol. See the stone wall with a low fence on the far left? There’s no New York Public Library Building yet.

The year this photo was taken, the Croton Reservoir would be torn down—the wall looks like part of the reservoir structure.

42ndfifth1974

What a difference 76 years make. Fifth Avenue’s residential era is long over; it’s now the city’s commercial heart.

The temple, lampposts, and Hotel Bristol are gone, but the six-story building from 1870 on the far right still exists, with a Russell Stover candy store at the ground floor.

5thave42ndstreet2014

Thirty-eight years later, in 2014, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street is still a crowded commercial corner, with one church steeple still in view.

What happened to the six-story building at the far right? It was swallowed up by H&M!

A short history of tipping waiters in New York

February 24, 2014

Any current city guidebook gives the same advice: the proper tip to a server in New York stands at 20 percent of the total bill. It wasn’t always so.

Delmonicosadmiraldewey1906

“The waiter who hands you the check . . . should get 15 per cent (as should a waitress in a tearoom); in a night club, 20 percent,” wrote Lawton Mackall in his 1949 New York dining guide Knife and Fork in New York.

ChurchillsNYPL1914Fifteen percent 65 years ago was pretty good, considering that decades earlier, the question was whether to tip at all.

“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the professional middle class, the public restaurant, and the tip were relatively new, the debate was not over how much to tip, but whether tipping itself was so destructive to democracy that it could not be allowed to continue,” wrote Andrew P. Halley in Turning the Tables.

Not everyone was on board with this practice imported from Europe—tipping was seen by some as “morally wrong.”

Tipexcerpt“When the waiter rushes forward to take your coat, hang it up, drag out your chair . . . when he flies to fulfill your order as if wings had been applied to his heels . . . for this wonderful galvanization of the waiter, what does it mean? Merely that he considers it probable, nay certain, that some of the silver change in your pocket will be transferred to his,” stated The New York Times in 1877.

Blossomrestaurantbereniceabbott1935

“By tipping him in this way you are corrupting his honesty, and harming his manliness, for he will be sure in the end to keep his good serving for those who pay, and turn a cold shoulder to the economical.”

Turn of the century labor leader Samuel Gompers came out against tipping any service worker. There was even talk of introducing no-tipping laws in the city, which had been passed in other jurisdictions.

3menwalkingpastlunchroomnyc

In 1907, a waiter wrote in to the Times to protest. “No doubt within a short time some of our politicians will introduce  an anti-tipping bill, as other states have done. . . .

Boweryrestaurantwalkerevans3334“An anti-tipping law would mean hardship and misery to the waiters, and it would be not long before they would organize and demand better pay and shorter hours, and the patrons would have to pay for it.”

Eventually, the anti-tipping laws were struck down before any were enacted in New York . . . and tipping servers working in one of the city’s almost 8,000 restaurants, whether a luxe establishment or lunch counter, became customary.

[Top photo: Delmonico's restaurant dinner for Admiral Dewey, 1906; Churchill's ad, NYPL; Blossom restaurant photo by Berenice Abbott, 1935; Three Men Walking Past Lunchroom, New York City, by Rudy Burckholdt, 1939; Walker Evans photo of Peoples Restaurant on the Bowery, 1933-1934]

The human hair dealers of Fulton Street

February 13, 2014

Brooklyn’s Fulton Street has a long history as one of the borough’s busiest shopping mecca.

And in the late 19th century, it was a posh, premier commercial strip—lined with fashionable boutiques, stationery stores, fine furniture dealers, and confectioneries.

Johnbenehaircard

And human hair dealers too, as these cards make clear. These sellers catered to the upper-class ladies of the then-independent city.

Vehrlenhairdressingback

Faded hair switches—I wonder what they sold for? These cards are part of the fantastic, digitized Fulton Street trade card collection at the Brooklyn Public Library.

The most extravagant party of the 19th century

January 23, 2014

In Gilded Age New York, superrich families like the Astors and the Vanderbilts were known for their opulent balls.

The most over-the-top ball of them all, however, was held by Bradley and Cornelia Martin, a wealthy lawyer and his matron-like wife known as the Bradley Martins.

Bradleymartinball

In the late 19th century, their riches made the Bradley Martins part of the upper crust of city society. And in 1896, the story goes, they had an idea.

CorneliamartinmaryqueenofscotsThe Panic of 1893 still had its grip on the city. Unemployment was high; the economy in the doldrums.

Mrs. Martin believed that hosting a costume ball would lift spirits. And the money spent (about $300,000) would end up benefiting the florists, cooks, and other service workers they had to hire—a trickle-down effect as it were.

So they sent out 1,200 invitations, booked the Waldorf Hotel at 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue for February 10, 1897, and held their legendary “monument to vanity,” as the New York World put it.

About 600 invitees attended. They arrived at a hotel (below) transformed into Versailles. Guests dressed as Kings and Queens of legendary European royalty. Mrs. Martin, at right, went as Mary Queen of Scots.

Waldorfhotel1890sAttendees dined on champagne, duck, truffles, petit fours, and other delicacies; they danced until 5 a.m.

The next day, the newspapers dutifully reported the details of the ball—but they also excoriated the Bradley Martins for their wastefulness and tacky display of wealth during an economic recession.

“The ball was greeted with a torrent of criticism and the Bradley Martins removed themselves to England; there was much clucking of tongues in the society pages and sermons about foolish ostentation,” wrote Eric Homberger in Mrs. Astor’s New York.

Even a city used to gawking at unrestrained vulgar ostentation had had enough. The Gilded Age was unofficially over.

The gilded gas chandeliers of a Village pharmacy

January 20, 2014

Bigelowstorefront2014Just how old is Bigelow Pharmacy in the West Village?

Well, the nation’s oldest apothecary got its start on Sixth Avenue in 1838.

Back then, West Eighth Street was still called Clinton Place, the Erie Canal was just 13 years old, city limits didn’t stretch much past Union Square, and Martin Van Buren occupied the White House.

Bigelowschandeliers

Bigelow’s current building dates to 1902. A visit there is like a trip back in time: wood shelves, scrolling library-like ladders, and old-school chemists’ bottles on display in the top cabinets.

Bigelowsoakcabinets

The chandeliers, however, might be the best relic. These gilded gothic-style beauties were originally powered by gas.

BigelowssodafountainReportedly the gas jets still work—or at least they did when they were turned on during the city-wide blackouts of 1965 and 1977.

Now if only they kept the soda fountain, a hangout for Villagers (and supposedly the cast of Saturday Night Live in the 1970s) for decades until the 1980s. [Bottom photo: from Bigelow Pharmacy via Crain's New York]


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