Archive for the ‘Union Square’ Category

The fading 9/11 Memorial under Union Square

September 8, 2014

Unionsquare9:11memorialhallwayInside the Union Square subway station, just past the small transit police precinct, is a long, sparsely populated corridor. At about the halfway mark is an understated wall of remembrance to the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

It’s right out there in public along a wall of white tiles. As visible as it is, it’s also one of the quietest and most unassuming 9/11 memorials in the entire city.

Office-like paper labels have been affixed to the tiles, each with the typed name and hometown of one of the dead.

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There’s no bronze plaque, no poetry, no pomp, no statues. Just names on tiles, some marked by poignant handwritten notes from loved ones.

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It’s been up since 2002. “Erected this month by the Manhattan-based nonprofit group ArtAid, the memorial’s missives grow daily,” states a Daily News article from March 30 of that year, which noted that the MTA had no plans to take it down.

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Time has taken its toll on the wall. Some of the labels have fallen off or otherwise disappeared, while others are fading out and hard to read.

Still, if you like your public memorials to be uncrowded and inconspicuous, or you remember how Union Square become kind of a gathering place for New Yorkers in the days after the towers fell, this is the place to be on September 11.

The Labor Day parade hits Union Square in 1887

August 30, 2014

A contingent of tobacco workers packed into a horse-drawn wagon turn west through the north end of Union Square in this Labor Day parade photo from 1887.

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It’s another first New York City can lay claim to: the first Labor Day parade was organized by the Central Workers Union to show “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” in the city.

At the time this photo was taken, the parade is only five years old. But it caught on quick. By 1894, the nation begins to celebrate “National Labor Day” on the first Monday of September.

[Photo: MCNY Digital Gallery]

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

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The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

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I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!

A row of trees in Union Square mark a genocide

June 16, 2014

ArmeniantreesNew York is a city of memorials. Some you can’t miss: Grand Army Plaza, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, and the new 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Others are so low-key, you might walk past them thousands of times without realizing they exist. That describes this row of trees on the northern border of Union Square Park.

Lovely, yes. But unless you notice this small plaque at the eastern end, you’d never know that they were planted almost 30 years ago to commemorate the Armenian Genocide early last century.

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New York’s “Little Armenia” community was centered not too far away in the upper 20s at Lexington Avenue.

But there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the former Armenian neighborhood and the memorial, which remains understated and little-known on one of the busiest stretches of Manhattan.

New York’s old-school food trucks and carts

June 2, 2014

The whole food truck trend, with vendors selling everything from artisanal waffles to handmade geleto on the streets of New York? (Below, “hot Vienna waffles” on 22nd Street and Broadway.)

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Been there done that, these vintage images remind us. Trying to make a buck by selling drinks and eats from a vehicle is probably as old a practice as the city itself. Hot corn, for example, was a big seller in the early 19th century.

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Clams and oysters were also very popular street food through the 1800s. This clam vendor, on Mulberry Bend, must have a layer of ice on the bed of his wagon—how else could he keep his wares cold?

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A “pop corn” vendor (“always hot”) attracts a well-dressed lady on Sixth Avenue and 15th Street in 1895. At the time, this stretch was the famed Ladies Mile shopping district of grand department stores.

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The milk wagon has arrived on Park Row, this 1896 photo shows. “Pure Ice Cold Orange County Milk” is at the top of the menu, followed by fresh churned buttermilk and a milkshake—for a nickel.

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Here, it’s 1937, the middle of the Depression, and under the Elevated tracks a peanut vendor takes a cigarette break.

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This bundled-up seller appears to be selling pretzels out of a renovated baby carriage. The photo, from 1938, was taken on 14th Street and Broadway, ground zero for today’s food trucks and vendors.

[Top photo: Museum of the City of New York; second, NYC municipal archives; third, fourth, and fifth, Museum of the City of New York; sixth, Museum of the City of New York copyright Reginald Marsh]

How New York City invented the penthouse

May 16, 2014

Penthouse1930sbereniceabbotPenthouse: the word conjures up luxury and exclusivity.

Thing is, it’s a clever 1920s rebranding of the top of a building, where no one with any choice used to want to live.

For most of the city’s history, the single-structure mansion was the preferred domicile for the rich.

At the turn of the 20th century, monied New Yorkers were increasingly occupying “French Flat” cooperative apartments.

But even then, the undesirable rooftop apartment was given over to servants. Until the city and its tastes changed in the Jazz Age.

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“By the end of the 1920s, the cliff dwellers of Manhattan were beginning to appropriate for their own pleasure the once forlorn roofs of apartment buildings,” writes Donald L. Miller in his excellent new book on New York in the 1920s, Supreme City.

Penthouserestaurant30cps“The ‘Cinderella’ of New York architecture, the ‘penthouse,’ or roof apartment, had for decades been considered the least attractive part of a high building, a boxlike residence for the servant class, set among soot-scarred chimneys and wooden water tanks.”

Now, with a vertical city making air and light the most luxurious commodities of all, developers and their wealthy clients had these “cramped dormitories for the laboring classes” torn down and “replaced by new luxury quarters.”

“[Reporter Virginia] Pope saw ‘a new chapter of New York’s social history . . . being written above the roof line,'” wrote Miller. “In there roof houses ‘New Yorkers achieved ‘a detachment impossible to any dwelling set on earth,'” wrote journalist William Irwin. “There were no neighbors in sight; ‘only the tainted air above Manhattan.'”

A 1924 New York Times article foresaw this new desire for penthouses, which were still very limited in number, and only a few dated farther back that the late teens.

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One penthouse in particular, “is a substantial affair of steel construction, cement floors, and wire embedded windows. Windows on four sides give on the towers and steeples, the skyscrapers and the occasional treetops of the city.

“A wide walled terrace looks up to a ceiling no one can touch, the blue sky of heaven.”

[Top photo: 55 Seventh Avenue in the 1930s, by Berenice Abbott; second: a 1940s Gramercy Park penthouse, NYC Municipal Archives; Third: a postcard from the Penthouse restaurant, Museum of the City of New York; bottom photo: a Tudor City penthouse in the 1930s, MCNY]

New York mourns Lincoln, the martyr president

April 21, 2014

News of President Lincoln’s assassination made it to New York City on the morning of April 15. A city that for four years had been divided in its loyalty to the President was now awash in gloom.

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“All Broadway is black with mourning—the facades of the houses are festooned with black—great flags with wide and heavy fringes of dead black give a pensive effect. . . ” wrote Walt Whitman.

LincolnlynginstateWhile Lincoln’s body remained in Washington, the grieving continued. “An Easter Sunday unlike any I have seen,” wrote lawyer George Templeton Strong in his diary.

“Nearly every building in Broadway and in all the side streets, as far as one could see, festooned lavishly with black and white muslin. Columns swathed in the same material.”

“Rosettes pinned to window curtains. Flags at half mast and tied up with crape. I hear that even in second and third class quarters, people who could afford to do no more have generally displayed at least a little twenty-five cent flag with a little scrap of crape.”

Nine days after his death, Lincoln’s corpse arrived in New York, one of many stops his funeral train would make before reaching Illinois, where the “martyr president” would be buried.

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A ferry brought the funeral rail car from Jersey City to downtown New York. An enormous procession viewed by thousands wound its way from the ferry landing at Desbrosses Street to City Hall, where the open casket would lie in state for 24 hours.

An estimated 120,000 New Yorkers waited to pay their respects. “Thousands passed reverently before the remains throughout the day and night, and thousands more were turned away, unable to gain admittance,” wrote The New York Times.

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By one o’clock the next day, April 25, a second procession of 50,000, with thousands more watching from the sidewalks and building windows (including a young Teddy Roosevelt, seen here), accompanied the funeral hearse up Broadway to Union Square.

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The procession continued to a train depot at 30th Street and Tenth Avenue. There, Lincoln’s body was loaded onto a train to continue its journey to Illinois. New York was left to deal with its grief.

Colonial New York’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade

March 17, 2014

In the Fifth century, the British-born missionary known as St. Patrick began converting the Irish to Christianity.

In the 18th century, St. Patrick got his first parade—held not in Ireland but on the streets of lower Manhattan.

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[St. Patrick's Day in Union Square, 1874]

Depending on the source, it was either 1762 or 1766. The small celebratory march took place near City Hall on March 17, the feast day of St. Patrick. The parade was composed of Irish soldiers serving in the British Army in a pre-Revolutionary War city.

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[Marchers in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1909, then below in 1913]

The marchers wore green (banned in Ireland at the time) and played bagpipes, just like today. “The tradition of a militia-sponsored event was continued until 1812, when Irish-American fraternal and benevolent societies assumed organizational responsibility, although soldiers continued to lead the march,” wrote The New York Times.

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As Irish immigrants poured into the city in the 1840s and 1850s following the potato famine, the parade swelled to massive proportions.

Through the 19th century, it followed a circuitous route from Second Avenue and 23rd Street down to City Hall, up Seventh Avenue, and back again to the East Side before ending a Cooper Union.

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[the parade in 1949 at St. Patrick's Cathedral]

“Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall (1868-1872) attended the festivities dressed in emerald-green coat and shirt, and facetiously insisted that his initials were short for “Ancient Order of Hibernians,” the Times wrote.

The Irish may have been unloved as an ethnic group, but vote-hungry politicians realized they couldn’t ignore the popular parade and began making appearances.

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[In 1956, these Irish wolfhounds were the mascots of New York's celebrated 69th Army Regiment, aka the "Fighting Irish"]

“In 1887, newly-elected mayor Abram Hewitt broke tradition by refusing to review the parade or fly the shamrock flag at City Hall, lecturing the city that ‘America should be governed by Americans.’ He was not reelected,” reported the Times.

By the middle of the 20th century, the parade featured close to 200,000 marchers and millions of spectators. Despite its reputation for rowdiness and controversy over who can march and who cannot, politicians continue to show up, Mayor de Blasio not withstanding.

Lincoln’s statue gets little love in Union Square

March 3, 2014

Lincolnstatue1917mcnyAfter his death, president Lincoln was embraced by the public. But his image in bronze wasn’t beloved by critics.

Shortly after Henry Kirke Brown’s bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled at the southwest end of Union Square in 1870, one critic loathed it.

“A frightful object has been placed in Union Square,” stated The New York Times in September.

“It is said to be a statue of a man who deserves to be held in lasting remembrance as a true patriot, a sincere, unselfish, noble-hearted chief in times of great trouble and perplexity—Abraham Lincoln. But it does not resemble Mr. Lincoln. The lines which give the face character are not there. . . . “

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“The sculptor has tried to atone for this defect by putting plenty of hard lines in the clothes, which are enough to distract anybody who thinks that dress need not of necessity increase the hideousness of man.”

Lincoln2014nyparksThe writer poked fun at the “pantaloons” Lincoln was wearing, as well as his toga.

“It is like the hideous nightmare . . . . How much it costs to make it and put it up, we do not know, but we will gladly receive subscriptions toward the expense of taking it down and sending it off to Chicago, where ‘works of art’ of this kind are highly appreciated.”

Yikes. The public seemed to be okay with this depiction of the martyred president—in those post-Civil War years very much beloved, even by New Yorkers.

But when Union Square underwent a redesign in 1930, and the Lincoln statue moved to its current home in the north-central part of the park (above), workers didn’t treat the statue with about as much respect as the Times did.

Toppledlincolnstatue

Here it is, looking like it was toppled over during an air raid in a hardscrabble, treeless Union Square of the Depression.

[Top photos: MCNY; middle: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; bottom: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A 19th century painter’s moody, snowy New York

February 27, 2014

His impressionist paintings, veiled in twilight-like shades of blue and gray, reveal city’s beauty and enchantment.

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls him “the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century.”

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["Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge"]

But you may never have heard of Frederick Childe Hassam—a popular and prolific painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work is still acclaimed, but perhaps not to the degree it deserves.

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["New York Street," 1902]

Born to a well-off family in Boston, Hassam worked as an illustrator and then began exhibiting his paintings, earning accolades for his lovely cityscapes of Boston and Paris.

After moving to New York in 1889, he fell in love with the city. It certainly shows. His depictions of the Gilded Age city may be his most striking, illuminating city streets, parks, and people with radiant strokes of color and light.

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["Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square"]

Hassam was not without critics. Some admonished him for not showing the struggle and hardship brought on by industrialization, while others questioned his so-called pedestrian subject matter.

“The man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Hassam said in 1892.

Childehassamfifthaveinwinter1892

“Fifth Avenue in Winter,” above, was reportedly one of his favorites. It was painted from the studio space he rented on Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

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["Snowstorm, Madison Square," 1890]

Hassam’s moody, magical scenes of New York covered by snow show us a city very similar to the wintry New York of today.

Cabs wait for passengers, confident, fashionable young women stroll unescorted, and weary pedestrians in black hats and lace-up boots trudge through the snow on their way to and from Brooklyn.

Hassam painted wonderful scenes of rainy day New York too, like this one near Madison Square.


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