Archive for the ‘SoHo’ Category

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]

A mystery chapel in a Canal Street subway station

February 4, 2013

Canalstreetmosaic2The only thing that makes waiting for the subway less aggravating is spotting one of these colorful mosaics lining the platform.

They’re mini history lessons depicting some hallmark of the area from when the station was built, say a noteworthy building, like City Hall.

But the Canal Street 1 train platform, with mosaics of a chapel and spire, poses a mystery.

StjohnschapelIn the vicinity of the Varick Street station, no church exists.

It did at one time—and it was a beauty. The lovely St. John’s Chapel was built in 1807 (predating the street grid!) as a parish of Trinity Church, and it became the centerpiece of a luxurious residential enclave called St. John’s Park.

Well-to-do families built Georgian row houses around a small genteel park, and the neighborhood remained fashionable through the 1840s (below, in a 1905 painting by Edward Lamson Henry).

St. John’s Park began losing its appeal in the 1850s, when wealthy New Yorkers chose to relocate uptown. Then a railway terminal replaced the park in 1868, turning the enclave into one of factories and tenements.

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Lovely St. John’s Chapel, with its sandstone portico and columns and 200-foot oak spire and clock dominating the skyline for over 100 years, was torn down in 1918.

All that remains today is the subway mosaic, a small patch of green at the Holland Tunnel entrance—and a forgotten lane in Tribeca bearing the St. John’s name.

What a downtown or Brooklyn rental cost in 1983

January 31, 2013

A 1200 square foot Soho studio for $1350 a month?

An impossible find in 2013—but available 30 years ago (perhaps even without a fee!), according to this ad from the May 1983 issue of arts and entertainment monthly the East Village Eye.

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It’s not the only rental that sounds absurdly inexpensive to New Yorkers conditioned to pay an average of up to $3,973 a month for a Manhattan apartment these days.

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If you were willing to give “historic” South Williamsburg a try, you could score a two bedroom “modern” rental for $330 a month. Broadway and Marcy Avenue was probably a pretty rough place though.

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An East Village subhed in the three digits per month? That was the going rate for this three-room place on Second Avenue and 10th Street, according to this East Village Eye ad from September 1984.

A vintage 1903 espresso machine at a Village cafe

December 21, 2012

CaffereggiodominicparisiSure Starbucks was the first retailer to mass market cappuccinos, lattes, and other espresso concoctions.

But it was Caffe Reggio, a dimly lit place with an old-school Bohemian atmosphere at 113 Macdougal Street, which brought the first espresso machine to America in 1927, introducing New York to Italian coffee drinks.

The huge machine, built in 1903, is displayed like artwork in the cafe. It’s a shiny, nickel-plated beauty with many mysterious spigots. And there’s a colorful story and character behind it.

“That machine represents the life savings of Dominic Parisi, it’s his pride, his occupation,” reports a New York Herald Tribune article from 1945 that can be read in full on Caffe Reggio’s website.

Caffereggioespressomachine[Above: Parisi with his prized machine, from cafereggio.com]

“Dominic was a barber until his sight dimmed. Forty years he held the razor—it’s the trade of his family,” states the Tribune.

“When he could no longer barber, he got together his savings, $1,000, and sent them to Italy for the machine magnificent, topped with an angel, its base surrounded with dragons.”

Another article, this one uncredited, explains, “Dominic spent his life savings of $1,000 to import the espresso from Italy. Only he is allowed to touch it.

“He rubs it with loving care. With it he makes a strong black cup of coffee or cappuccino (a marvelous blend of strong coffee, steaming milk, and cinnamon).

“Real coffee lovers haunt his cafe. They are all ‘my friends’ to Dominic, who never takes his hat off because, ‘Excuse me—it makes me sneeze.’”

Caffereggiophoto

The espresso machine isn’t the only antique at Caffe Reggio. This little curio shop of a coffee house boasts of “a dramatic 16th century painting from the school of Caravaggio and an antique bench which once belonged to the Medici family.”

The website has lots of photos from the 1920s through today of celebrities, locals, and bohemians hanging out at Reggio.

City signs that should have been spell-checked

November 12, 2012

New York street signs are a fascination of this website—very old signs and wonderfully ornate ones in particular.

But misspelled signs are fun too, like this one an Ephemeral reader sent over. It comes from Robert Wagner Middle School on East 76th Street. Hopefully it kept all the “loiters” away . . . .

City sign makers have put up some other fails in recent years. My favorite is this street sign from 2008 that was briefly installed in front of the Angelika Film Center on West Houston. Merser Street?

Another gem is this, um, Bleeker Street subway station sign, from May 2007, caught by a blogger at debcentral.com.

I’m assuming it’s been fixed since then, but who knows?

Gothamist has a fun compilation of other bastardizations and typos here.


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