Archive for the ‘SoHo’ Category

is this the most wonderful sign in Soho?

November 3, 2014

Long before Soho became Soho, Fanelli’s was a no-frills bar that served up cheap food and drinks for the men who worked in the neighborhood’s factories, plus the occasional artist or stumblebum.

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And at least since the 1970s, that neon sign has been affixed to the red-brick building at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, a wonderful sight on a cold New York City night.

Fanellis1976nyplFanelli’s has a long and fascinating history. The building that houses the bar apparently has been around since 1857, when a grocery store was located on the ground floor, according to newyorkartworld.com.

A residential building on Prince Street adjoined the Mercer Street building. “The suspicion arises that it must have been used as a brothel since Mercer Street was lined on its west side, almost solidly by brothels during the 1850s and 1860s,” states the site.

By the 1860s or 1870s, depending on your source, various saloons served beer and liquor there. In 1922, former boxer Michael Fanelli turned it into a cafe/speakeasy.

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By the 1970s, Soho had arrived—and you know the rest of the story.

[Middle photo: Fanelli's in 1976, NYPL Digital Gallery. Bottom: Fanelli's in 1975, MCNY]

Buying produce from Bleecker Street pushcarts

June 30, 2014

Thanks to the bell tower of the Our Lady of Pompeii Church that’s still on the corner at Carmine Street, this soft, muted depiction of vegetable sellers and neighborhood shoppers at Bleecker Street is instantly recognizable.

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It’s probably the early 1940s. Artist Bela de Tirefort, an Austrian native, painted many scenes of daily life around Washington Square Park and the Flatiron Building from the 1930s through the 1950s.

It’s not clear if this is also Bleecker Street, but the resemblance is strong.

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“In the 1940s, pushcarts made this street all but impassable,” states the Project for Public Spaces.

“Cart operators were forced by law to move indoors, but the street retained its association with food, and today’s Bleecker Street still contains some of the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, pastries, cheeses, meats, fish, and delicacies to be found in the city.”

Thirty or so years earlier in 1915, Ashcan painter George Luks also took a stab at depicting the shops and crowds in this nighttime view of the opposite corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets.

A beautiful Village garden on top of a garage

May 5, 2014

WashsquarevillagewikiThe four “superblock” apartment buildings collectively known as Washington Square Village received little love from the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood when they opened in 1959.

But Sasaki Garden, the one-and-a-half acre greenspace designed within the four buildings and on top of the complex’s sublevel parking garage, scored a better reception.

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And no wonder, thanks to the walkways and benches that wind around an incredible variety of plants and trees: crabapple trees (and their beautiful blossoms), Japanese maples, dogwoods, maples, even a weeping willow.

Sasakigarden3Designed by Modernist landscape architect Hideo Sasaki, it was and remains still an expansive oasis of quiet and loveliness in the middle of crowded Bleecker and West Third Streets.

The slab-like buildings are like fortresses hiding a treasure within their walls.

You can’t really experience its beauty unless you take a walk through it—which the general public might technically be allowed to do, as no sign says it’s for residents only.

Go now, while the pillowy pink and white blossoms are still out, because Sasaki Garden may not be around much longer.

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New York University bought Washington Square Village in the early 1960s; faculty and grad students occupy the apartments.

Yet NYU’s 2031 expansion plan calls for towering new buildings to cut into the garden and disrupt the original design. (The plan is currently on hold thanks to a recent legal decision.)

140 years of changes at Broadway and Houston

May 3, 2014

More than a century before anyone had ever heard of Soho or Noho, Broadway just north of Houston Street was a bustling business district and slightly low-rent entertainment area with the massive Broadway Central Hotel across the street and one block up.

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Just look at the shops and venues: a publisher, a banner painter, and a company dealing in straw goods—plus the New York Museum of Anatomy, Science & Art at number 618 and the Olympic Theater at number 624.

The Olympic opened in 1856 and was soon renamed Laura Keene’s New Theatre, after the actress of the era (who starred in “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington the night President Lincoln was shot).

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The theater with its lovely lampposts went through more name changes before closing in 1880; the building burned down in 1881, explains the caption to this photo, from New York Then and Now.

One hundred years later, the East Side of Broadway was kind of sketchy, a sparsely populated area with fabric and supply stores.

But look at the new cast-iron buildings from the late 19th century, like the beautiful Mercantile Building. One structure from 1875 remains: it’s at the end before the Mobil Station.

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Now, the Mobil Station has been replaced by the giant Adidas Store at the corner. Best Buy is renovating another cast-iron beauty, and Urban Outfitters occupies the ground floor of the Mercantile Building.

And this slip of Noho has been a prime shopping area since the 1980s.

The most beautiful Duane Reade in New York City

October 14, 2013

Duanereade30springstreet2A Duane Reade store originally designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert?

It’s hard to believe. Gilbert is the genius who gave New York the Woolworth Building, the New York Life Tower, and other spectacular structures from the dawn of the skyscraper age.

But it exists, at the corner of Spring and Lafayette Streets, inside a repurposed East River Savings Bank building Gilbert designed in 1927.

The interior space is stunning, especially if you’re used to Duane Reade’s usual bad lighting and low ceilings.

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Here are detailed ceilings, vintage chandeliers, a lovely old clock above the door, and a brass staircase to the lower level.

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References to the building’s past as a financial institution are mostly wiped away, with the exception of the stenciling on the exterior, between the front door and the subway entrance on Spring Street.

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The lettering is faint, but you can just make out “cassette di sicurezza.”

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Google translate tells me this means “safety deposit boxes” in Italian—the first language of many neighborhood residents, as Spring and Lafayette Streets would have been squarely in Little Italy territory.

Check out some other old city buildings whose original tenants departed—and now are occupied by very different businesses.

The beautiful saloon ceiling on Grand Street

October 7, 2013

OniealsexteriorThere’s a lot of New York history at 174 Grand Street.

This corner, at Centre Market Place, was the location of a polling place in the 1860s, a church in the 1870s, and a deadly jewelry store robbery in the 1920s.

A brothel operated there, as did a saloon-turned-speakeasy catering to officers who worked across the street at the old police headquarters.

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Cops didn’t have to actually cross the street to get a drink there. A tunnel was dug from the police building directly to the bar (and still exists today; it’s now a wine cellar). Very convenient.

Oniealsceiling1Now it’s the site of a restaurant/bar called O’Nieal’s. And though the neighborhood no longer has raffish old New York charm, O’Nieal’s lovely ceiling will transport you back to that version of the city.

The beautifully carved chunk of mahogany wood spans the entire restaurant. Walk in, and look up.

[Top photo: onieals.com]

New York’s Italian food stores are fading fast

July 11, 2013

As New York’s Italian-Amerian neighborhoods continue to shrink, more and more of the grocery stores, butchers, and bakeries that made the city’s many Little Italys so unique have packed it in.

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Joe’s Dairy, the tiny cheese store on Sullivan Street (ah, the mozzarella!) was the latest old-school Italian shop to bite the dust.

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But some of these little mom and pops continue to hang in there, brightening streets with their typically red, green, and white signs and 1970s-esque typefaces.

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Court Pastry Shop and Mastellone Italian Deli, both on Court Street in Brooklyn, are still holding on. Home made Spumoni!

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Milano’s Italian Sausage is on the outskirts of the Meatpacking District. What a list of delicacies! I wonder how much longer it will stay.

Was Columbus Avenue in the 80s once an Italian enclave? If so, I think the Zingone Brothers shop is the last survivor. The family-owned grocery has been in business since 1927.

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 Albanese Meats & Poultry has stuck it out on Elizabeth Street since 1923, when this was a Sicilian block with  half a dozen butcher shops. It’s a wonderful holdout—but I’m not even sure it’s actually still open.

Easter egg colors on historic Sullivan Street

March 29, 2013

Painted in springtime pastel shades of purple, yellow, blue, and pale green, this row of townhouses on Sullivan Street between Bleecker and Houston has always reminded me of dyed Easter eggs.

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Pretty, right? They’re part of the tiny MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, a collection of 22 homes built in Greek Revival style between 1844 and 1850.

How did the row, and another stretch of similar townhouses right behind it on MacDougal, remain so lovely over more than a century and a half?

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Credit a forward-thinking businessman named William Sloane Coffin. In 1922, Coffin bought the houses as part of a corporation that was founded to preserve older single-family homes in the city, so middle-class residents wouldn’t have to move into apartment buildings or out to the suburbs.

SullivanstreethousesPurchased from the estate of the original developer, the houses were remodeled in a neo-Federal style. Front stoops got the heave-ho, maids’ apartments were built on the top floor, and an interior garden open only to residents was created between the houses.

Considering the rich and famous residents of the block, that interior garden is very much private and off-limits. Luckily this real-estate listing from 2010 gives us a peek!

The most beautiful police headquarters ever built

March 13, 2013

This turn-of-the-century postcard can’t stop boasting about 240 Centre Street, built in 1909 to serve the newly consolidated police department in the now five-borough city.

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According to the back of the card, it’s made of Indiana limestone, cost $1.5 million to build, holds a detectives bureau, rogues gallery, 75 basement cells, a drill room, and a gym.

Oh, and perhaps my favorite, there’s a “play-room for lost children.” Were lost kids a problem in 1909?

I wonder if the police force of a century ago could have ever imagined that their headquarters would become the Police Building co-op apartments in 1988, and that the neighborhood would go from Little Italy to a posh enclave known as Nolita.

This Zillow listing for a one-bedroom (it costs more than the entire structure did in 1909!) gives a nice glimpse of the marble lobby and cupula.

The sweet treats once manufactured in New York

February 6, 2013

TootsierolladTootsierollfactoryContemporary New York boasts of its artisanal gourmet chocolatiers and confectioners.

But decades ago, the city was home to big factories pumping out some of the cheap sweets that are iconic old-school brands today.

Like Tootsie Rolls. Invented by a Brooklyn candy maker in 1896 and named after his daughter, these chewy candies used to be produced by the Sweets Company of America in a factory at 325-329 West Broadway.

That factory has sat empty for years, but as you can see from the photo, a developer has big plans: it’s set to become luxury condos called the Chocolate Factory, reports Curbed.

LifesaversadLooks like the same fate is in store for the former Life Savers factory at Eleventh Avenue and 20th Street.

This is where the minty candies shaped like life preservers got their start in 1913, before the Mint Products Company moved the factory to Queens in 1916, according to Businessweek.com.

The new name of these opulent residences: the Lifesaver Lofts, of course!

LifesaverloftsTake a stroll through Chelsea Market, at Ninth Avenue and 15th Street, and you’re constantly reminded that this high-end foodie heaven was once part of the factory complex owned by the National Biscuit Company, or Nabisco, since the late 19th century.

Nabisco2It’s where millions of Oreos, Nutter Butters, Vanilla Wafers, Animal Crackers, and Fig Newtons were produced, packaged, and sent across the world.

Until the 1950s, that is, when Nabisco began baking all of its signature cookies in New Jersey and moved out.

[Left: A Nabisco building on 11th Avenue in 1913; Library of Congress]


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