Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

Fifth Avenue and the original Waldorf-Astoria

July 17, 2014

In late 19th century New York, Fifth Avenue reigned as Millionaires Row. But by the time this postcard was produced around 1910, the stretch of Fifth Avenue north of 32nd Street was shedding its reputation as a wealthy residential enclave.

The rich were migrating northward. Posh mansions were being razed to make way for commercial buildings, like offices and hotels.

Fifthavenue32ndstpostcard

No hotel was as extravagant as the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the building on the left with the flag.

Waldorfastoria34thstreetviewBuilt as separate hotels in the early 1890s on the site of two former Astor family mansions, it was combined in 1897.

Times Shutter features a similar postcard, with some info about the hotel (it was the largest in the world, a gathering place for the rich and ostentatious, and the first to allow unchaperoned women!) as well a photo of the same stretch of Fifth today.

Today, the hotel is gone (the Empire State Building took its place two decades later), as is two-way traffic and that lovely streetlight on the left.

Gone too is Fifth Avenue with a quaint, unhurried feel.

[Another view of the Waldorf-Astoria, from 34th Street, right]

Two towers that almost replaced Grand Central

July 10, 2014

HyperboloidWhen Grand Central Terminal was built in 1913, the architects of the Beaux Arts train station expected it to be the base of a skyscraper someday.

In the 1950s developers proposed one. The tower design they commissioned had the space-age name the Hyperboloid: a wasp-waist, 80-story structure (at left) created by one of the century’s most innovative architects.

“Working for developers Webb & Knapp, I.M. Pei proposed an 80-story tower with a circular footprint and, thanks to a taper halfway up the shaft, an hourglass profile,” explains skyscraperpage.com.

Grandcentralmarcelbreuer“Its facade was crisscrossed by structural supports; overall the building resembled a bundle of sticks. At the base of Pei’s building, and again in its upper levels, the floors were left open and the structure was left exposed.

“Grand Central Terminal would have been demolished to make room for the tower, just as Penn Station was demolished a few years later to make room for Two Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden.”

Plans for the Hyperboloid, of course, never came to pass. But it wouldn’t be the only tower proposed for the Grand Central Terminal site.

Air rights were sold to another developer in the 1960s, and architect Marcel Breuer came up with this (very Pan Am Building-like) skyscraper, which would sit on top of the terminal (at right).

Grandcentralexterior

By then, Grand Central had been deemed a historic landmark by the Landmarks Commission. A fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1978 resulted in Breuer’s tower getting permanently derailed.

[Second image: The Architecture of Additions, by Paul Spencer Byard, via City Review]

These tenements are always ready for July 4th

July 3, 2014

The iconic New York City walkup comes in all colors . . . but these are the only two I’ve ever seen that show off the red, white, and blue.

Redwhitebluetenements42ndst

This one is across the street from the Port Authority on 42nd Street. It’s the longtime home of Kaufman Army Navy Store, opened in the 1940s.

Why the American flag colors? A descendant of the store’s founder had the facade painted in 1969 as a “nod to the tradition of patriotism of military surplus stores from the 1950s,” quotes the New York Times in this story about Kaufman’s.

Redwhiteandbluetenementaveb

Not to be outdone, this tenement on Avenue B (aka, the “German Broadway”) and East Fourth Street wears its patriotic colors (plus a little gold) proudly.

Shooting James Dean all around New York City

June 30, 2014

JamesdeandennisstocktimessquareIn early 1955, after wrapping up his third and final movie in California, James Dean allowed photographer Dennis Stock to chronicle his return to his hometown in Indiana as well as his adopted city of New York.

East of Eden had yet to be released, and Rebel Without a Cause wouldn’t premiere until shortly after his death in September.

But Dean was a rising celeb, and in a story titled “Moody New Star,” Stock’s images appeared in the March 7, 1955 issue of Life magazine.

These photos of Dean looking introspective as he walks through Manhattan lmost 60 years ago are part of a more extensive collection available in the wonderful Life archives.

Jamesdeandennisstockmidtown

Here’s Dean brooding in Times Square and another part of what looks like Midtown, with an old-school barber pole in the frame.

The photos helped solidify his image as an outsider before the public really got to see his onscreen persona.

Jamesdeandennisstockstudio

And then there’s this shot of him in his tiny studio apartment on the top floor of a brownstone on West 68th Street. It was Dean’s home in the early 1950s, when he was one of thousands of struggling young actors trying to make it in the city.

[Photos: Dennis Stock-Magnum/Life magazine]

The mystery quote on the Daily News building

June 27, 2014

DailynewsfacadeThe (former) headquarters for the New York Daily News, on East 42nd Street, is a 1930 skyscraper masterpiece.

The enormous lobby, with its illuminated revolving globe and compass points set into the floor, is an impressive monument to wonder and the bigness of the universe, as well as a nod to the newspaper’s global perspective.

Then there’s the huge facade framing the 39-story building’s main entrance.

Dailynewsbuilding1931This bas relief features the newspaper name, an urban cityscape, and a crowd of people, with this inscription: “he made so many of them.”

What does it mean?

It’s part of a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “God must love the common people; he made so many of them.”

Sounds like an homage to the regular New Yorkers who made the Daily News, which got its start in 1919 as the city’s first tabloid, one of the nation’s biggest newspapers throughout the 20th century.

Dailynewsfacadequote

At the time of the building’s opening, the News had an impressive circulation of 1.3 million. Now it’s roughly half that.

Sunbathing on a Midtown tenement’s tar beach

June 23, 2014

You can practically smell the coconut oil: Photographer Thomas Hoepker takes us back to New York City in 1983 with this evocative image of a rooftop sunbather on a lonely tenement somewhere in Midtown.

It looks hot up there with the black tar roof. Note the TV antennas!

Rooftopsunbathermidtown1983

More of Hoepker’s New York photos spanning many decades can be seen here.

© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

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.

The legendary appetite of Diamond Jim Brady

June 9, 2014

DiamondjimbradyheadshotNew York in the late 19th century was filled with gluttonous characters. But James Buchanan “Diamond Jim” Brady may have topped them all.

Born on Cedar Street the son of a saloon owner, Brady made millions selling railroad supplies.

By the 1880s, that allowed him to indulge in his passion for glittery jewels, beautiful women (his longtime ladyfriend was A-list actress Lillian Russell), and food.

 The chronicles of his consumption are legendary. “I have seen him eat a pound of candy in five minutes,” a friend is quoted saying in his obituary. [Below, at Delmonico's, second from right]

Diamondjim1905delmonicos

“A typical lunch consisted of two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, and beef,” wrote H. Paul Jeffers, in his book Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age. “He finished with several whole pies.”

NYT2008122315471033CDinner included “a couple dozen oysters, six crabs, and bowls of green turtle soup. The main course was likely to be two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, two servings of terrapin, and a variety of vegetables. . . . Because Jim did not partake in alcohol, all this was washed down with carafe after carafe of orange juice.”

Restaurant owner George Rector, who ran one of the fashionable “lobster palaces” of Times Square, reportedly said Brady was “the best 25 customers I ever had.”

“When he pointed at a platter of French pastries, he didn’t mean any special pastry, he meant the platter,” William Grimes quoted Rector saying in Grimes’ book Appetite City.

NY3DBoxCould Brady, admittedly a very large man who held court night after night in the city’s poshest eateries with groups of friends and celebrities, really have wolfed down all this food?

Grimes poses the possibility that the myth played into the sense of excess and extravagance that characterized the Gilded Age.

“[Brady's gluttony] symbolized the outsized appetites of a gaudy, grasping, exuberant America, where income went untaxed and a robust mass media panted after images of the rich at play.”

Read more about Diamond Jim Brady in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Photos: second: MCNY photo collection, 1905]

The “pleasure seekers” of Broadway at night

June 5, 2014

Looking at this postcard, you can almost feel the heat from the colorful lights of theater marquees and restaurants, and hear the whirling of the cable cars as they rush down Broadway.

Times Square night

“This view, in the centre of the theatre district, shows the usual crowd of pleasure seekers, who nightly throng the famous ‘Great White Way,’” the back of the card reads.


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