Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

Harpo Marx on Yorkville’s corrupt Election Days

November 3, 2014

HarpomarxchildIf you think elections are corrupt these days, listen to what Adolph “Harpo” Marx remembers about Election Day in turn of the 20th century New York City.

It was “the one supreme holiday held every two years,” recalled Harpo in his autobiography Harpo Speaks . . . About New York. (Until 1906, mayors were elected to two-year terms.)

“The great holiday used to last a full thirty hours,” wrote Harpo. “On election eve, Tammany forces marched up and down the avenues by torchlight, with bugles blaring and drums booming. There was free beer for the men, and free firecrackers and punk for the kids, and nobody slept that night.”

Schools and business closed for the day. “Around noon a hansom cab, courtesy of Tammany Hall, would pull up in front of our house.

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Frenchie (Harpo’s tailor father) and Grandpa, dressed in their best suits (which they otherwise wore only to weddings, bar mitzvahs, or funerals), would get in the cab and go clip-clop, in tip-top style, off to the polls.”

After the cab brought them back to the Marx family tenement on East 93rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, Harpo’s father and grandfather (who wasn’t even a U.S. citizen) would wait . . . until the hansom cab came back to take them to the polls a second time.

Marxbrotherskids“About a half-hour later, the hansom cab would reappear, and Frenchie and Grandpa would go off and vote again. If it was a tough year, with a Reform movement threatening the city, they’d be taken to vote a third time.”

Festivities began on election night.

“The streets were cleared of horses, buggies, and wagons. All crosstown traffic stopped. At seven o’clock fireworks began to go off, the signal that the polls were closed.

Whooping and hollering, a whole generation of kids came tumbling down out of the tenements and got their bonfires going. By a quarter after seven, the East Side was ablaze.

“Grandpa enjoyed the sight as much as I did. . . .He pulled his chair closer to the window and lit the butt of his Tammany stoogie.

“‘Ah, we are lucky to be in America,’ he said in German, taking a deep drag on the cigar he got for voting illegally and lifting his head to watch the shooting flames. ‘Ah yes! This is a true democracy.’”

[Middle illustration: "Election Night Bonfire," Glenn O. Coleman, date unknown]

Four beauties in a row an Upper East Side block

September 2, 2014

East67thstnyplEveryone has their most beautiful street in the city. I’m always stunned by East 67th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Situated one after the other on his quiet block are four distinct Gilded Age institutional buildings with lovely design features and architectural grace.

First from the Third Avenue side is Park East Synagogue, a circa-1890 Moorish building with asymmetrical towers, stained glass windows, a stunning rose window, and arcades. Considering the ethnic mix of this rough-edged neighborhood at the time, it must have been a crowded congregation.

“The Orthodox congregation at the Park East Synagogue was largely German, but included many Polish, Russian, and Hungarian Jews as well,” states The Landmarks of New York: Fifth Edition.

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Next down the line is the Fire Department Headquarters at 157 East 67th. Constructed in 1886-1887 and designed by Napoleon LeBrun, the architect who standardized the look of New York City firehouses in the late 19th century.

This Romanesque beauty was built to house the telegraph operations and offices.

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Too bad the top of the 150-foot lookout tower was lopped off in the 1940s (it’s visible in the first photo). Here at the pinnacle of Lenox Hill, firemen in the tower could supposedly see flames all the way down to the Battery.

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Third in the row is the 1887 19th Precinct Station House. There’s a lot of architectural styles here, according to the AIA Guide to New York City: “A Victorian palazzo: brownstone and red brick borrowing heavily from the Florentine Renaissance.”

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Like all precinct houses, this one has two green lights flanking the doorway—a tradition established by the men of the “rattle watch” of New Amsterdam, who carried green lanterns with them while on patrol.

Last but not least at 151 East 67th Street is this handsome brownstone opened in 1890 by Mount Sinai Hospital, then around the corner on Lexington Avenue at 66th Street, as a dispensary and clinic. It’s now called the Kennedy Child Study Center.

A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids

July 28, 2014

I’m not sure exactly when the first New York City fire hydrant was wrenched open so neighborhood kids could play in the cool rush of water on a hot summer day.

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But this very New York way to chase away the heat may have caught on and been officially sanctioned in the late teens, when John Hylan was mayor (below, in 1921, in a NYC Municipal Archives photo).

“The mayor is particularly good to children,” the Queens borough president was quoted saying in a New York Times article from 1925.

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“It was his great heart that ordered the streets closed so that children could have a safe place in which to play, and it was his heart that ordered the policemen and firemen in summer to give the children baths from fire hydrants so that they might keep cool.”

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Since then, the spray—or trickle, as this NYPL photo of some boys on the Bowery in 1919 shows—from fire hydrants has cooled off millions of little New Yorkers, legally or otherwise.

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This AP photo was taken on Mulberry Street in 1936, the year of an exceptionally brutal heat wave.

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Turning Mulberry Street into a river looks a lot more exciting than hanging out under a giant shower at Lexington and 85th Street of “Croton surf,” as the caption to this 1920 NYC Municipal Archives photo calls it.

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New York in the 1960s could be pretty gritty, but at least the hydrants worked. Photographer Bruce Davidson captured this photo in 1966 of a boy on 100th Street.

A 10-day heat wave gripped the city in 1953, and Life magazine photographers captured some wonderful images of kids opening a hydrant (and then a police officer putting a stop to the fun).

[Top photo: "Hot Day," Lothar Stelter, 1952 ©Lothar Stelter]

Swingset and sandbox on the East River in 1901

July 17, 2014

Ashcan School painter Maurice Prendergast was known for his bold, colorful depictions of leisure and play in European and American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This view of the East River looks like a tapestry or a mosaic.

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Is it showing Carl Schurz Park, on the Upper East Side? The way the land across the river looks, plus the small houses, could be Queens.

Update: David Patrick Columbia over at New York Social Diary took a look at the painting and wondering if this was Carl Schurz Park too. Here’s his investigation, with photos that seem to make the case.

East Side kid Harpo Marx recalls his tailor father

June 12, 2014

Young Groucho and Harpo Marx with a DogBefore he and his brothers hit comic paydirt, Adolph “Harpo” Marx (left, with Groucho) spent his early 1900s childhood in a tenement on East 93rd Street.

Though his family of 10 struggled, he credits his parents for not letting poverty make “any of us depressed or angry,” he wrote in 1961′s Harpo Speaks…about New York.

While his mother, Minnie, set out to make her boys stars, it was father Sam “Frenchie” Marx, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, who helped keep the family together.

With Father’s Day approaching, here’s Harpo recalling his father’s warmth and magic in their tenement kitchen:

“Frenchie was the family housekeeper and cook. He was also the breadwinner. Frenchie was a tailor by trade. He was never able to own his own shop, and during the day his cutting table and sewing bench took up the whole dining room with lengths and scraps of materials overflowing in the kitchen.”

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“At six o’clock he quit whatever he was working on, in the middle of a stitch, and stashed his profession in the hall, materials, tools, tables and all, and turned to the task of making dinner for ten or eleven or sixteen people.”

Sammarxheadshot“With food he was a true magician. Given a couple of short ribs, a wilting cabbage, a handful of soup greens, a bag of chestnuts and a pinch of spices, he could conjure up miracles.”

“God, how fabulous the tenement smelled when Frenchie, chopping and ladling, sniffing and stirring and tasting, and forever smiling and humming to himself, got the kitchen up to full steam!”

Frenchie Marx (above in 1915, third from right) died in 1933 at age 73. He watched his sons become big stars, and he even had a cameo role in 1931′s Monkey Business.

Manhattan’s lonely little holdout buildings

May 31, 2014

These walkups were once the sought-after modern buildings of the block.

Now, they’re the holdouts—sometimes well-kept, often shabby reminders of an earlier New York that refuse to bow to the wrecking ball.

Holdoutswestmidtown

Without these low-rise survivors, many more city streets would be a boring canyon of uniform buildings.

The two tenement holdouts in the top photo, on West 36th Street, have had their side exteriors raked over by developers. Yet these 19th century stalwarts refuse to go.

Holdoutbldgupper5thave

Nestled between two limestone apartment houses is this Upper Fifth Avenue beauty, holding its own across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Holdout39theighthave

On Eighth Avenue at 39th Street is this blue former townhouse, now a commercial building. It makes the block resemble a gap-tooth smile.

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This three-story sliver on lower Seventh Avenue in Chelsea is a bit of a mystery. It’s architecturally the same as the building next door, which houses the Rubin Museum.

Yet it’s painted the same color as the former Loehmann’s store on the other side, being renovated into Barneys once again.

Check out more holdout buildings here, and of course, the most famous of all the holdouts—the one in the middle of Macy’s.

Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea?

April 7, 2014

The iconic New York brownstone, with its high stoop and decorative cornice, made its appearance in the early 19th century and quickly became a stylish, single-family home favorite.

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Over the decades, some have been updated, their facades altered and made over to suit their owners’ tastes.

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There’s this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East 70s.

But what explains the refrigerator unit-like redesign of this home, part of a beautiful stretch of three-story row houses dating back to the turn of the last century?

Perhaps its super comfy inside. And a garage—that can be convenient.

Here’s the price (and photos) of the upper duplex, courtesy of a Corcoran listing.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.

Acepumpsign

Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.

20thcenturygaragesign

I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?

Jeromefloristsign

Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.

Capitalelectronicssign

Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.

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Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.

The noisy sea lion kicked out of Central Park

September 23, 2013

SealionspoolvintageBy all accounts, Joe the sea lion was living the good life.

In 1935, he was the lone male bunking with four females at the Central Park Zoo.

This was the height of the Depression, but Joe had plenty of zookeeper-delivered fish to munch on.

The problem was, Joe was noisy. He barked a lot, and that riled up the female sea lions, so they barked too.

All this barking disturbed Joe’s rich Fifth Avenue human neighbors.

Centralparkzoosealions1940sZoo officials had to do something. “Wearied by the constant flow of complaints from apartment houses across Fifth Avenue and a little bored themselves at the recurrent barking under their windows, park officials in the Arsenal decided to see if the removal of the master would not have a quieting effect on the four females in the ‘seal’ pool,” wrote The New York Times on December 14, 1935.

It took an entire day, but the baited him with fish, trapped him in a box, and then headed for Brooklyn.

No word on whether he liked his new home at the Prospect Park Zoo, where Joe shared quarters with one female and another “equally big and imperious male.”

[Images are not of Joe but vintage snaps of the sea lion pool at Central Park; bottom from the City of New York Parks & Recreation Department]

Manhattan’s tiniest enchanting historic district

August 29, 2013

89thandlexsignAt the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 89th Street is a teeny stretch of landmarked homes.

It’s so quiet and under the radar, it’s not even marked by signs.

Designated 15 years ago, the Hardenbergh-Rhinelander Historic District is comprised of just seven Renaissance Revival–style houses completed in 1889.

89thandlexhistoric

Standing on the corner, you can imagine that the entire Carnegie Hill neighborhood once was lined with similarly lovely, ornate residences.

89thandlexcorner2“[The houses] are characteristic of the residential development of the Carnegie Hill-Yorkville area that had been spurred by transportation and street improvements in the late nineteenth century,” states the Friends of the Upper East Side website.

“Clad in red brick, brownstone and red terra cotta, the six houses form a picturesque yet symmetrical composition featuring a variety of window entrance enframements and a lively roofline composed of prominent pediments and modillioned cornices with pierced parapets and finials.

“The flats building located behind the houses and facing 89th Street, is clad in similar materials, has a complementary architectural vocabulary, and is dominated by a broken pediment/cornice surmounted by a pedimented window.”

89thandlexwindowOkay, so who were Hardenbergh and Rhinelander?

Henry Hardenbergh, who designed the homes, also designed the Dakota, the original Waldorf-Astoria on 34th Street, and many other beautiful late 19th century city buildings.

The Rhinelanders were an old New York family that owned vast amounts of real estate. Two Rhinelander enclaves in Greenwich Village, bulldozed decades ago, can be found here.


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