Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

Gilded Age nightlife venues live on in today’s city

September 13, 2014

Hippodrome1900sApartment buildings in the city do it all the time: they take their name from a previous structure that once occupied the site in an older New York.

There’s the Lafayette apartment building on East Ninth Street, which harkens back to the old Lafayette Hotel that attracted artists and writers in the early 1900s.

And Harsen House, on West 72nd Street, got its name from the 19th century West Side village of Harsenville.

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But it seems like fewer commercial structures take the name of the building they’ve replaced—which is why it’s refreshing to see that a 1950s office tower at 1120 Sixth Avenue calls itself the Hippodrome.

Hippodromewiki2014What’s the Hippodrome? Built in 1905 by the creators of Coney Island’s Luna Park, it was a 5,200-seat theater of vaudeville stars and spectacular exhibits, many with animals.

New Yorkers flocked to the Hippodrome to see operas, the circus, and even a famous 1918 show where Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear.

Tastes and neighborhoods change, and by the 1930s, the Hippodrome was hosting Jai Alai and wrestling before being demolished in 1939.

An even more illustrious spot in New York’s entertainment graveyard is the Haymarket, the notorious dance hall that was the center of the Tenderloin.

thehaymarket1

This was the late 19th century city’s vice and sin neighborhood, the subject of a famous John Sloan painting from 1907 (above).

050 Headlines se FINAL.inddThe Haymarket, which featured risque can-can dances and female customers who were actually prostitutes, was situated at 66 West 30th Street from 1878 to 1911.

The building is gone, of course; right now, the site remains unoccupied. But not far away at 135 West 29th Street, a loft building rose earlier in the 20th century.

Haymarketbuilding2014The owners officially dubbed it the Haymarket Building and installed a nice plaque with some interesting backstory, a nod to one of the most famous nightlife venues in New York history.

[Hippodrome building today: from Wikipedia]

One photographer’s abstract, shadowy New York

September 8, 2014

Some photographers turn their cameras to the faces of people, capturing depth and unguarded emotion in human expression and behavior.

Alvin Langdon Coburn found quiet, abstract beauty in the light and shadows of the landscape of turn of the century New York City.

Coburncoalcart

["The Coal Cart," 1911]

Born in 1882 in Boston, Coburn received his first Kodak as a child in 1890. Infatuated with this relatively new medium, he learned the craft and experimented in the darkroom.

In his 20s, he traveled to New York City and Europe to study with greats such as Edward Steichen. Like leading photographers Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, Coburn was part of the Pictorialist movement.

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["The Octopus," 1912, taken from the top of the Met Life Tower in Madison Square Park]

Pictorialists “argued that photography was a creative art form, on a par with other visual arts including painting, and not simply a mechanical means of objectively recording the world,” states this post from amateurphotographer.co.uk.

“They used a wide variety of techniques to express emotion and mood, and were particularly known for producing atmospheric, soft-focus portraits and landscapes.”

["Fifth Avenue From the St. Regis," 1913]

Coburn exhibited photos in galleries and was commissioned to do portraits of notable men of the era, such as George Bernard Shaw and Henry James. Soon, his work took a more abstract turn.

“Like many photographers associated with Stieglitz, Coburn by 1910 sought to shed the romanticism of the pictorial movement and bring photography more in step with abstract painting and sculpture,” states the National Gallery of Art website.

“He made photographs looking down from the tops of tall buildings to explore the use of flattened perspective and geometric patterning. During World War I he became involved with the Vorticists, a group of British artists, including Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, who sought to construct a dynamic visual language as abstract as music.”

Coburnbroadwayatnight1905

["Broadway at Night," 1905]

“As a photographer of cities and landscapes (1903–10), he concentrated on mood, striving for broad effects and atmosphere in his photographs rather than clear delineation of tones and sharp rendition of detail,” states MOMA.

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["Flatiron Building," 1912]

“He was influenced by the work of Japanese painters, which he referred to as the ‘style of simplification.’ He considered simple things to be the most profound,” continues the MOMA website.

AlvinlangdoncoburnselfportraitCoburn didn’t stay in New York long. He moved permanently to the UK in 1912.

By 1918 he had given up photography professionally, devoting the rest of his life to the study of mysticism and the occult.

He died in Wales in 1966, leaving a legacy of enchanting images of the New York of a century ago: the soft glow of early electric lights, 22-story skyscrapers casting monstrous shadows over parks and sidewalks, and the presence of powerful machinery interrupting the serene beauty of nighttime streets.

[Right: self-portrait, 1905]

Hidden waterfalls in the tiny parks of Turtle Bay

August 25, 2014

New York has lots of lovely pocket parks that offer a hideaway from urban life.

But the stretch of East Midtown known by its wonderfully pastoral 17th century name, Turtle Bay, seems to have more of these patches of green than other neighborhoods.

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Even better, many of these parks have cascading waterfalls that drown out urban noise and heat and leaves us feeling calm and soothed. No need to head to Central Park for a waterfall fix—these do the trick.

Paley Park (top photo), on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues (not technically Turtle Bay but close) has a back-lit waterfall, along with ivy-covered walls and locust trees. Financed by a foundation set up by William Paley, former chairman of CBS, it’s attracted quiet crowds since 1967.

Waterfall51ststreet

Carved out of a space surrounded by modern apartment buildings and old-school tenements is Greenacre Park, above, created by a foundation organized by a Rockefeller family member in 1971.

The park is designed to be such a break from urban life, photography isn’t allowed (but no one will stop you from taking pictures from the street).

Waterfalls47thstreet2ndave

If the park with this circular wall of water has a name, I missed it. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in the blue-purple house, with the sight and sound of falling water accessible from your terrace?

Waterfallchurchpark

Across the street from the United Nations on 47th Street and First Avenue is lush, secluded St. Mary’s Garden, part of Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.

It’s hard to see the benches and walkways along the sides, as well as the small waterfall that feeds into the pond on the left.

A city street photographer’s loners and misfits

August 18, 2014

Louis Faurer, a Philadelphia native born in 1916, made a name for himself as a photographer for top New York-based fashion magazines in the 1940s and 1950s.

Faurerfromtimecapsule1960s

[Above, a still from a silent film Faurer shot in the 1960s called Time Capsule]

Yet he was captivated by the ordinary tide of unbeautiful people that passed him regularly on city sidewalks, at bus stops, under theater marquees.

Faurerwomenatabusstop1949

["Women Waiting," 1949]

Faurer turned his camera toward their faces—capturing raw, intimate portraits of the lonely, the haunted, the outcast, and the weird through the early 1970s.

Many of his images had a film noir feel, all shadows and silhouettes, highlighting the melancholy and chaos of urban life.

Faurerwomanbar

[Title and date unknown, above]

He particularly focused on people he found in Times Square, where he walked every day in the late 1940s and was attracted to “the hypnotic dusk light,” quoted Christoph Ribbat in Flickering Light: A History of Neon.

Faurer14thsthornandhardart1947

["Horn & Hardart Junkies," 1947]

In an era remembered for its conformity, Faurer sought out individual quirks and oddities. He captured dissonant, uncomfortable moments, but he never sought to exploit his subjects. His aim, as his photos reveal, was to show their humanity.

New York, 1971

[Above, "Chelsea Hotel," 1971]

FaurerphotoselfIn his 2001 obituary, The New York Times stated:

“For the catalog of a 1981 solo exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of the University of Maryland in College Park, he wrote, ‘My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future with hope.”’

Louis Faurer, above. More of his images can be found here at this University of Pennsylvania page.

Fall fashion: must-have clothes for men in 1911

August 15, 2014

This week, dozens of thick September fashion magazines have hit newsstands, all celebrating the hottest trends and styles for fall.

Fallstylebookcover

In 1911, fashion-forward men and the women who shopped for them had this Fall Style Book to guide them. That man holding the reins is wearing one incredibly long tan coat!

Interesting that the image is set in front of the 42nd Street main branch of the New York Public Library—the building had its dedication and grand opening just a few months earlier.

[Image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Magic and motion of 1920s Broadway at night

July 28, 2014

It’s an enchanting night in Times Square in this colorful postcard, and the Paramount Building, with the Paramount Theatre at street level, takes center stage.

Opened in 1926 in an era of grand movie palaces, the Paramount captured the city’s attention and imagination.

Paramounttheaterpostcard

The lobby “was modeled after the Paris Opera House with white marble columns, balustrades, and an opening arms grand staircase,” explains Cinema Treasures. “The ceilings were fresco and gilt. . . . in the main lobby there was an enormous crystal chandelier.”

During World War II, the globe and clock were painted black, so potential enemy invaders couldn’t see.

The Paramount Theatre bit the dust in 1964, and the building is now used for offices. Here’s a much more sedate daytime version of the same stretch of Broadway just a decade earlier.

How Columbus Circle almost became Hearst Plaza

July 28, 2014

For miles up Broadway, New York pays tribute to its greatest newspaper and media figures, from Newspaper Row near City Hall to Herald Square, Greeley Square, and Times Square.

Columbuscircle1912

William Randolph Hearst (right) must have realized this after he came to town in the 1890s.

HearstbuildingAlready a San Fransisco newspaper baron, he arrived to take over the New York Journal and build a media empire here too.

But waging war with against other papers with his sensationalist journalism wasn’t enough. He also began buying real estate at sparsely populated Columbus Circle, near the New York Journal offices (at left, in 1912).

His intention: to add to the map of the city something called “Hearst Plaza,” which would be the headquarters for his growing company and would rival Herald Square and Times Square in size and prestige.

Williamrandolphhearst“William Randolph Heart envisioned a headquarters building as early as 1895, and began purchasing huge amounts of property—in and around 57th Street and Eighth Avenue in the Columbus Circle area,” states the Hearst Corporation website.

He finally broke ground for a Hearst headquarters building on 57th Street and Eighth Avenue in the 1920s.

“The selection of this site was directly related to the commercial and cultural development in the Columbus Circle area and to Hearst’s intention to establish Hearst Plaza in the area.”

HearsttowerThe headquarters (above), a six-story Art Deco beauty with allegorical figures representing art and culture, opened in 1928.

But what happened to the great plans to turn Columbus Circle into a monument to his empire?

The Depression hit, and then World War II, both of which made a huge dent in the Hearst Corporation’s bottom line.

Columbus Circle didn’t need the Hearst name to thrive; it went on to become a bustling commercial center and gateway to the Upper West Side.

Hearst headquarters was built to support a skyscraper on top, in anticipation of the development of Hearst Plaza.

Newyorkjournal1898Yet wasn’t until 2006 when a skyscraper was actually completed there—the glass trapezoidal Hearst Tower (above).

Hearst did make one other contribution to Columbus Circle: he made the call for funds to build the Maine Monument, completed in 1913, honoring the battleship that exploded in 1898 off Cuba.

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.


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