Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

Three centuries of Broadway and Murray Street

July 7, 2014

For most of the 19th century, the intersection of Broadway and Murray Street was the city—a bustling nexus of commerce and city government with notoriously heavy traffic.

Broadwaymurrayst1887

This photo, from New York Then and Now, dates to 1887. Without traffic signals of any kind, crossing Broadway could be tricky, as these pedestrians demonstrate.

City Hall Park is on the right; the building on the right corner is A. T. Stewart’s “Marble Palace” dry goods emporium. Note the telegraph and telephone wires on wood poles.

It’s worth remembering too that underneath this stretch of Broadway, the city’s first subway got its ill-fated start in 1870.

Broadwaymurraystreet1974

Eighty-seven years later, this downtown corner is still busy. Loft buildings and office structures line the west side of Broadway, like the lovely Home Life Insurance Building, constructed in 1894.

A.T. Stewart’s department store building is still there—from the 1910s to 1950 the home of the New York Sun newspaper. The beautiful clock was still there last time I checked.

Broadwaymurrayst2014

Today, the intersection looks almost unchanged from 1974, save for more visible traffic and pedestrian lanes markings and the loss of the pub at the corner of Warren Street on the west side. It’s now a bank branch.

Herman Melville imagines the brutal Draft Riots

July 7, 2014

DraftriotsmelvilleHerman Melville wasn’t in New York City in July 1863 to actually witness the Draft Riots.

A city native born on Pearl Street, he returned to the metropolis from Massachusetts that same year, moving with his family to a farmhouse on East 26th Street.

But the horror of the city’s worst riot certainly affected him. In 1865, he published Battle Pieces & Aspects of the War, which included a poem about the four horrific days of violence and murder that began 151 years ago this week.

The riots were ignited by opposition to the Civil War and class animosity, but more specifically the new draft begun days earlier that forced poor men to fight while richer men could buy their way out.

Draftriotsarson

Titled “The House-top. A Night Piece,” the poem “is an imaginative reconstruction of the awful scene with his judgment of the results,” states the introduction to The Poems of Herman Melville, edited by Douglas Robillard. It begins with a hot, restless night:

“No sleep. The sultriness pervades the air
And blinds the brain—a dense oppression, such
As tawny tigers feel in matted shades,
Vexing their blood and making apt for ravage.”

DraftriotsillustrationnyplThe steamy Monday after the draft began, thousands of mostly poor and working-class Irish immigrants, enraged by the draft lottery, began setting fires to buildings citywide and attacking and killing black residents who happened to cross their path.

“The town is taken by its rats—ship-rats
And the rats of wharves. All civil charms
And priestly spells which late held hearts in awe—
Fear-bound, subjected to a better sway
Than sway of self; these like a dream dissolve
And man rebounds whole aeons back in nature.”

[Below: The New York Seventh Regiment was called in to quell the rioters]

Draftriotsseventhregiment

Read the full text of the poem, which hints at the military force brought in to finally put an end to the Draft Riots and serves a harsh indictment of man’s dual nature to do good and evil.

As for Melville, he spent the Gilded Age falling into obscurity, working at the Customs House on West Street near Gansevoort—a street named after his Revolutionary War Hero grandfather.

[Third image: NYPL]

What happened after landing at Castle Garden

June 23, 2014

Ellis Island gets all the notoriety. But the city’s first immigrant processing center—the building that greeted an astounding eight million new arrivals over 35 years—was Castle Garden, a former fort and concert hall at the foot of the Battery.

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From 1855 to 1890, immigrants whose ships arrived in New York Harbor would be ferried from the ocean liners that brought them to America to Castle Garden on barges.

Castlegardenharpers1880Once there, they were examined by doctors, given access to a job board, currency exchange office, and waiting area—and then free to reunite with relatives or disappear into the streets of Manhattan.

Castle Garden brought some sense of order to immigration, which skyrocketed in the years following the Civil War. It was regarded as a noisy, alienating place—so much so that it’s the source of the Yiddish word “kesselgarden,” meaning chaos.

The 1884 painting above, “In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden,” by Charles Frederich Ulrich, illustrates the confusion and the sense of uncertainty that must have permeated the waiting rooms.

Castlegarden1And though native New Yorkers were unlikely to ever visit, city journalists often did and recorded their accounts. An 1871 Harper’s Weekly article had this to say about the waiting room:

“Father and son, sister and brother, meet here in fond embraces, with tears of joy, after years of absence. What shaking of hands, and assurances of love, and inquiries for those dear to the heart, that are still thousands of miles away. . . .”

NY3DBoxAnd outside the foreboding fortress: “The lights were shining feebly on the Battery. The lamps but few and far between, and an almost total darkness prevails at some places.

“Behind me were the crowds of immigrants still emerging from Castle Garden, whose dome loomed up splendidly out of a sea of darkness—a beacon for the guidance of immigrants who arrive on our shores.”

Read more of the fascinating Harper’s article, plus other accounts of landing at Castle Garden in the late 19th century, in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age, by Ephemeral New York.

[illustration: Harper's Weekly, 1880]

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.

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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.

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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]

An “arcade railway” never built below Broadway

June 12, 2014

Traffic in New York—it’s always been terrible.

But in the years following the Civil War, when mass transit consisted of stages and horse cars (steam engine-powered elevated trains were just getting their start), much hand-wringing went into figuring out how to relieve the growing city’s “continual state of deadlock.”

Arcaderailway1868

The answer, according to some officials? Something called the Arcade Railway.

As the colorful lithograph shows, the rail line would run underground beneath Broadway, with branches fanning out east and west at 23rd Street to the northern end of Manhattan.

Broadway Arcade Railway, 1884 New York Transit Museum

It was “not merely to tunnel under the street, but to remove the street itself block by block, wall to wall, and construct another street at the depth of fifteen feet, supporting the present street level on arches, and making stores in what are now the basements and sub-basements of buildings,” explained an 1867 article in Scientific American.

The idea, which appeared about the time one engineer was secretly building a short-lived pneumatic tube subway under the same stretch of Broadway, had political support.

Arcaderailway1886

But businessmen, especially department store king A.T. Stewart, who had two massive emporiums on Broadway at the time, feared it would kill sales.

The plan circulated for a couple of decades—getting shot down by city lawmakers five times from 1870 to 1889 (above, a slightly modified version from 1886, from the NYPL Digital Collection).

By 1891, city officials and private businessmen embarked on a more wide-reaching, ambitious plan: the creation of a citywide, privately funded subway—which opened 110 years ago as the IRT.

The Arcade Railway is just one of many ill-conceived mass transit-related ideas that didn’t materialize, like these bridges never built.

A piece of the Berlin Wall hidden downtown

June 2, 2014

BatteryparkcityberlinwallIn a verdant stretch of Battery Park City, just steps away from the soon-to-open Freedom Tower, sits another global emblem of freedom.

It’s a piece of the Berlin Wall, one of four segments known to be  in New York (left).

How did it end up in a small, hard-to-find expanse between Gateway Plaza and the North Cove Marina?

The city of Berlin donated it to Battery Park City in 2004, the 15th anniversary of the destruction of this Cold War icon.

“These segments were originally located in downtown Berlin in the area between Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz,” a sign helpfully explains.

berlinwallphoto1“They were not exposed to the West (“Outer Wall”), but part of the Inner Wall that was designed to prevent East Germans from entering the heavily guarded death strip between the Inner and Outer Wall.”

A bigger section of wall can be found at lovely pocket park Paley Park on East 53rd Street (left).

There’s also pieces at the entrance to the Intrepid Museum and at the United Nations.

The NYPD’s pioneering 19th century mugshots

May 26, 2014

One more thing that appears to have gotten its start in New York? The mugshot. The city’s nascent police force began taking photographs of criminals as early as 1857.

Byrnesbook1

“The culprits of New-York, pickpockets. burglars, shoplifters, forgers, and the whole genus of swindlers, owe no debt of gratitude to Monsieur Daguerre,” stated a New York Times article published that year.

RoguesgallerynypdThe article explained that police had hired a “daguerreotypist” to capture 28 images of some of the more notorious street thieves, which were then kept in a book dubbed the Rogue’s Gallery.

Over the next few decades, the Rogue’s Gallery expanded into the hundreds.

ThomasbyrnesphotoBut it really took off and became a prime crime-fighting tool under the reign of chief of detectives Thomas Byrnes in the 1880s.

Among his other police innovations (like the Third Degree and the Dead Line), Byrnes came up with the idea of taking a photo of every criminal suspect, not just known crooks.

He then cataloged the suspect’s image, along with a physical description and other details that could be used to identify the potential lawbreaker before an offense was committed.

Byrnes’ Rogue’s Gallery was housed in a room on the first floor of police headquarters (above), which was then located on Mulberry Street.

Byrnesbook3

He even published a book in 1886, Professional Criminals of America, which was kind of a portable Rogue’s Gallery containing photos and descriptions of 200 bad characters.

NY3DBox“In fact, it is a bad thing to judge by appearances, and it is not always safe to judge against them,” wrote Byrnes.

Did the Rogue’s Gallery work? Crime did drop, but it’s hard to know if all the mugshots had anything to do with it.

Read more about the early policing efforts of the NYPD and the pioneering crime-fighting tactics of Byrnes, promoted to police chief in the 1890s, in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age, in bookstores June 3.

[Mugshot images: Professional Criminals in America]

Boss Tweed’s brazen escape from a city jail

May 19, 2014

TweedportraitNew York has had its share of corrupt politicians. But few cast as depraved a shadow as William M. “Boss” Tweed.

How brazen was Tweed? As head of Democratic political organization Tammany Hall, he passed a new city charter in 1870 that gave him control of the city treasury.

That allowed Tweed and his cronies to embezzle tens of millions of dollars, mostly by creating fake contracts, padding bills, and invoicing the city for services never rendered.

After an outcry on the part of The New York Times and Harper’s cartoonist Thomas Nast (below, one of his infamous illustrations of Tweed), he was tried and convicted of fraud and larceny charges in 1873.

TweedprisoncartoonnastHe should have been locked up for life. But a year later, his sentence was reduced from 12 years to one.

After his release from prison on Blackwell’s Island, he was rearrested on civil charges and sent to the Ludlow Street Jail—a relatively cushy prison for white-collar criminals.

Now here’s the really ballsy part. Because the Ludlow Street Jail was so accommodating, they allowed Tweed to take carriage rides in Central Park and visit his family at their Madison Avenue mansion (with a prison guard in tow).

TweedludlowstjailnytDuring one visit in December 1875, Tweed disappeared. He took off and fled the city.

Where did he go? First to New Jersey, then Florida, and then to Cuba. From there he made his way to Vigo, Spain.

However, the Spanish recognized him from a Nast cartoon and notified New York officials—who had offered a $10,000 reward for information about his whereabouts.

“When asked about his flight, Tweed said that some friends urged him to go to Turkey or to Egypt, where the telegraph could not so easily locate him,” wrote The New York Times, “but he finally picked Spain, hoping that in the absence of an extradition treaty the Spanish authorities would not surrender him.”

NY3dBookIntCoverNo such luck. He was sent back to the city, and a year later, in 1876, was again incarcerated on Ludlow Street.

This time, he wasn’t allowed daily family visits. He confessed his crimes in an attempt to win freedom, but he was convicted of nonpayment of a civil judgment and kept in jail.

He died there, on Ludlow Street, at age 55 in 1878.

Read more about Tweed’s crazy web of corruption in New York City in the Gilded Age, in bookstores and on Amazon starting on June 3. [Ludlow Street prison photo: New York Times]

New York’s wonderful old-school pizza signs

May 3, 2014

With pizza gone high-end and foodie these days, it’s time to pay homage to the classic corner pizza parlor and pizzeria restaurant, where a slice of cheese generally costs the same as a subway ride and the store signage screams no-frills 1970s.

Royalpizzasign

Royal Pizza has been feeding pies on Third Avenue and 39th Street since 1973. This privilege sign looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades.

V&Tpizzeriasignneon

With its wonderful pink and blue neon sign (decorated with illustrations of Venetian gondoliers!), V&T Pizzeria has been slicing pies since 1945.

Stevespizzasign

I don’t know the age of Steve’s Pizza, in the Financial District. But this is classic New York corner pizza signage.

Samspizzasign

Sam’s, on Court Street in Brooklyn, goes all the way back to 1930. In an otherwise good review, New York describes it as looking like a set from The Sopranos and having “the faint smell of a 1970s basement.”

What’s the commotion at City Hall Park?

April 24, 2014

Something’s drawn a crowd downtown at the edge of City Hall Park, according to this penny postcard, stamped 1912. A tangle of wagons on the right, and adults and kids swarming the curb in front.

City Hall Park 1912 2

Just another spring or summer day in a park featured in many vintage postcards? Without a caption, we’ll never know.

There’s the kiosk for a City Hall subway stop, and the statue of Nathan Hale, relocated many times in its 120-year history.


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