Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

Peeking into the Brooklyn Bridge subway station

August 22, 2014

The opening of the subway was so incredible in the first decade of the 20th century, the new stations were frequently the subject of penny postcards, like this one, with its above ground and inside view.

Brooklynbridgesubwaypostcard

“New York City’s subway system is the most complex of any in the world,” the back of the card reads. “The Brooklyn Bridge Station is the busiest in the world. It is estimated that 2,000,000 pass here daily.”

“The subway consists of four tracks, two for express trains and two for local. During the rush hours the trains run on a minute schedule.”

The short life of a lower Broadway footbridge

August 4, 2014

Think Broadway gridlock is bad now? Here’s what it was like in the 1860s—when the city’s busiest thoroughfare had two-way traffic, no marked lanes, and no lights.

“Carriages, wagons, carts, omnibuses, and trucks are packed together in the most helpless confusion,” wrote James D. McCabe in 1872’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

Geninbridgecolor“It is always a difficult matter for a pedestrian to cross the lower part of Broadway in the busy season. Ladies, old persons, and children find it impossible to do so without the aid of police, whose duty it is to make a passage for them through the crowd of vehicles.”

To make this stretch of safer for pedestrians—and of course, encourage more foot traffic to his shop—a well-known hatter named John Genin, whose store sat on the southwest corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, pressured the city to build a crossing steps from his door.

He’d dreamed of a footbridge here since the 1850s and drew up designs too, as this illustration above shows.

In 1866, the fanciful Loew Bridge, named after city politico Charles Loew, opened. New Yorkers used the lacy, elegant bridge to get across town as well as take in the view.

Loewbridgecloseup1867

Genin must have been happy. But anotherr hatter on the northeast corner of Broadway and Fulton, Charles Knox, was not. Shadows cast by the bridge put Knox’s shop in darkness, and he was convinced he was losing sales.

He and a group of hatters from his side of Broadway sued the city, forcing city officials to tear it down. Loew Bridge only lasted a year, undone by a fierce business rivalry in an industry that barely exists in the New York of today.

A 19th century New Yorker invents toilet paper

August 4, 2014

Gayettyspaperad1907druggistMany things owe their existence to the inventors and developers of New York City, like Christmas tree lights, Oreos, chop suey, and ambulances.

Toilet paper? That’s a city creation too.

Before the invention of the modern water closet, people used newspaper, corncobs, even the Sears catalog to take care of business.

As advances in plumbing and sanitation brought indoor privies to an increasing number of homes in the 19th century, a businessman began marketing the first commercially produced toilet paper.

Gayettystoiletpaperad1857top

Joseph C. Gayetty sold “flat sheets of ”Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water closet,’ for the fairly expensive price of 1,000 sheets for a dollar out of his shop at 41 Ann Street in Lower Manhattan,'” states this New York Times article from 2004.

As his ads reveal, Gayetty positioned his paper as a curative.

Gayettystoiletpaperadlocad“All persons anxious to be spared from Piles, of cured of that dreaded disease, should use Gayetty’s Medicated Paper,” says an 1859 ad from the New-York Daily Tribune.

“Young and old should use it systematically. The sedentary should never be without it. All other paper is poisonous, be it white or printed.”

Apparently, Gayetty’s paper wasn’t the biggest hit. The average consumer in the 1850s may not have wanted to pay for something that used to be free.

Or maybe it was the fact that his flat sheets weren’t so easy to use. According to the Times article, it wasn’t until “the brothers E. Irvin and Clarence Scott produced a roll of perforated paper in Philadelphia and founded the Scott Paper Company in 1879 did the idea catch on.”

A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids

July 28, 2014

I’m not sure exactly when the first New York City fire hydrant was wrenched open so neighborhood kids could play in the cool rush of water on a hot summer day.

Citykidslotharstelterhotday1952

But this very New York way to chase away the heat may have caught on and been officially sanctioned in the late teens, when John Hylan was mayor (below, in 1921, in a NYC Municipal Archives photo).

“The mayor is particularly good to children,” the Queens borough president was quoted saying in a New York Times article from 1925.

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“It was his great heart that ordered the streets closed so that children could have a safe place in which to play, and it was his heart that ordered the policemen and firemen in summer to give the children baths from fire hydrants so that they might keep cool.”

Bowery1919nypl

Since then, the spray—or trickle, as this NYPL photo of some boys on the Bowery in 1919 shows—from fire hydrants has cooled off millions of little New Yorkers, legally or otherwise.

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This AP photo was taken on Mulberry Street in 1936, the year of an exceptionally brutal heat wave.

Summerheat1920lex85thcrotonsurf

Turning Mulberry Street into a river looks a lot more exciting than hanging out under a giant shower at Lexington and 85th Street of “Croton surf,” as the caption to this 1920 NYC Municipal Archives photo calls it.

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New York in the 1960s could be pretty gritty, but at least the hydrants worked. Photographer Bruce Davidson captured this photo in 1966 of a boy on 100th Street.

A 10-day heat wave gripped the city in 1953, and Life magazine photographers captured some wonderful images of kids opening a hydrant (and then a police officer putting a stop to the fun).

[Top photo: "Hot Day," Lothar Stelter, 1952 ©Lothar Stelter]

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.

Ulrichcastlegarden

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.

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]

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.


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