Archive for the ‘Upper West Side/Morningside Hts’ Category

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 Broadway 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.

Is this patch of green New York’s smallest park?

June 27, 2014

Septuagesimounonycparks2If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss Septuagesimo Park.

At .04 acres, this slender gap in a row of brownstones on West 71st Street (hence the name) has been called the city’s smallest official park.

By contrast, Central Park has 843 acres, and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is three times Central Park’s size.

This postage stamp of a park, originally known as “71st Street Plot,” owes its existence to Mayor John Lindsay.

“New York City acquired this property through condemnation on March 28, 1969,” explains the Parks Department website. “Mayor Lindsay’s vest pocket park initiative supervised the landscaping of the parcel.”

Septuagesmiounonycparks

By 1981, as the Upper West Side was emerging from decades of decline, it was put under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. In 2000, commissioner Henry Stern gave it an illustrious new name that sounds like a cafe in Rome.

In New York, of course, small is good. Septuagesimo Park’s one bench-lined lane is framed by gardens and a few shady trees—all you really need to take in summer in New York.

[Photos: NYC Parks Department]

Summer night enchantment on Riverside Drive

June 9, 2014

Ashcan School painter and social realist George Bellows recreates the magic and mystery of one moment in time from a summer’s night in 1909.

Summernightriversidedrive1909

What a glow from both the street lamp and the moonlight! The light and colors are similar to this Bellows’ painting, done in 1920 closer to his home turf inside Gramercy Park.

The sad decline of an Art Deco movie theater

May 22, 2014

Metrotwinmidtown1933nyplIt started out in 1933 with great promise in the cinema-crazed Depression.

The auspiciously named Midtown was a gem of a movie house on Broadway and 99th Street that played first-run films (Ann Harding! William Powell!)

By the 1950s and 1960s, it had switched to foreign movies, showing European flicks like Belle de Jour, Breathless, Repulsion, and other non-mainstream fare.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The neighborhood was still rebounding after decades of decline, and the Metro took on second-run films, then porn flicks, according to Cinema Treasures.

Metrotheaternyarchimges

After a resurgence as an art house venue in the 1980s (and a name change to the Metro), it served as a first-run theater in the 1990s, only to shut its doors in 2004.

MetrotheateremblemSince then, it’s been abandoned, a shuttered eyesore in a neighborhood of higher-end development.

Over the years, new tenants were announced—including retail outlets and a movie theater chain that serves beer—yet never moved in.

Metrotheater2014At least the unique facade, with its Art Deco emblem representing comedy and tragedy amid two female figures, scored landmark status back in 1989.

A piece of another era, the theater haunts the upper Upper West Side, a reminder of something lovely that entertained the community.

A word about the theater’s original name, the Midtown: I suppose the owners thought that this corner at 99th Street and Broadway would soon be the city’s new midtown?

[Photos: top, New York Public Library Digital Collection; second: New York Architectural Images]

Riverside Drive and the lazy Hudson beside it

May 16, 2014

It looks like a pleasant spring or summer day on Riverside Drive and in the park beside it, based on this postcard stamped 1916.

Riversidedrivepostcard1916

We’re at 93rd Street. Grant’s Tomb can be seen over the treetops; open-topped automobiles and a double-decker bus share the road. Pedestrians linger on the sidewalks or on the teardrop-shaped green.

And in the distance, there’s no George Washington Bridge.

New York’s wonderful old-school pizza signs

May 3, 2014

With pizza gone high-end and foodie these days, it’s time to pay homage to the classic corner pizza parlor and pizzeria restaurant, where a slice of cheese generally costs the same as a subway ride and the store signage screams no-frills 1970s.

Royalpizzasign

Royal Pizza has been feeding pies on Third Avenue and 39th Street since 1973. This privilege sign looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades.

V&Tpizzeriasignneon

With its wonderful pink and blue neon sign (decorated with illustrations of Venetian gondoliers!), V&T Pizzeria has been slicing pies since 1945.

Stevespizzasign

I don’t know the age of Steve’s Pizza, in the Financial District. But this is classic New York corner pizza signage.

Samspizzasign

Sam’s, on Court Street in Brooklyn, goes all the way back to 1930. In an otherwise good review, New York describes it as looking like a set from The Sopranos and having “the faint smell of a 1970s basement.”

Above-ground remnants of the Croton Aqueduct

April 28, 2014

CrotonwatermanholeIt was an amazing engineering feat: the construction of an aqueduct from upper Westchester to Manhattan that would bring fresh water to New York City.

Built between 1837 and 1842, the Croton Aqueduct fed a growing metropolis’ huge need for clean drinking water as well as water for fighting fires.

The water had quite a journey to travel. From the Croton River it crossed the Harlem River over the beautiful High Bridge.

Crotonaqueductgatehouse

Then it flowed into a receiving reservoir in the West 70s between Sixth and Seventh Avenues (not quite yet the middle of Central Park; the park hadn’t been built yet).

From there it reached the Egyptian revival–style distributing reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, and then to streets and households all over Manhattan (who paid an annual fee for the water, of course).

CrotonaqueductinsideThe old Croton Aqueduct was in use until the 1890s (the Harper’s Magazine illustration at left is called “Shutting Off The Croton”), when it was replaced by a new aqueduct by the same name and used through the 1950s.

Amazingly, some of the 19th century aqueduct gatehouses (where the inverted siphon pipes that carried the water connected) still stand.

One is fenced off at Amsterdam Avenue and 118th Street (above). Completed in 1895, it replaced an older gatehouse at Amsterdam and 119th Street.

Another gatehouse, at Amsterdam and 113th Street, has been repurposed into a senior center.

Crotongatehouseharlem

A third gatehouse is on Convent Avenue and 135th Street in Harlem—it’s a beauty (above).

The gatehouses and manhole covers aren’t the only visible reminders of the aqueduct. Incredibly, part of an old reservoir wall appears to remain in the south wing of the New York Public Library building, which was built on the site of the distributing reservoir. Catch a glimpse of it here at Daytonian in Manhattan.

The West Side girl who swam the English Channel

April 21, 2014

GetrudeederlepicGood thing the heavy Victorian female “bathing outfit” of the late 19th century evolved.

Thanks to lighter, tighter suits, women began taking up swimming—like young Gertrude Ederle. Born in 1906 to German immigrant parents, Trudy learned to swim at the Jersey shore. She dubbed herself a “water baby” and broke dozens of distance records.

She medaled in the 1924 Paris Olympics. But her greatest achievement was yet to come.

GetrudeederlesouvinerphotoIn the 1920s, crazy competitions of strength and endurance were all the rage, among them attempts to swim across the English Channel.

Men had made the 21-mile trip, but no woman had—until August 1926, when 20-year-old Trudy left Dover, England smeared in grease and made it ashore in Cape Griz-Niz, France after 14 hours and 20 minutes in choppy, rough waters.

On August 27th, when she arrived home from Europe, New York City went wild with celebration.

“Airplanes circled overhead as her ship steamed up the Narrows, the harbor swarmed with the biggest fleet of small craft ever seen, and cheering admirers packed Broadway as she rode to City Hall in a blizzard of ticker tape, confetti, and flowers,” wrote Peter Salwen in Upper West Side Story.

“The Daily News gave her seven full pages of coverage and a new road roadster, and after a stop at City Hall to accept the key to the city from Mayor Walker, she rode home to a neighborhood that had become a sea of flags, bunting, and ‘Welcome, Trudy’ signs.”

Getrudeedlerlecrown

Her father’s butcher shop at 108 Amsterdam was decorated with bunting. The next day 5,000 people turned out on West 65th Street for a block party in her honor (above).

GertudeederleparadeTrudy received offers from Hollywood and Broadway and was deluged by marriage proposals. But after the hoopla died down, she mostly returned to living a quiet, unassuming life.

 She moved to Queens and working as a swimming instructor for deaf children (her hearing was seriously damaged in the water of the Channel).

The swimmer dubbed “America’s Best Girl” by President Coolidge after her feat died in 2003 at age 98.

She hasn’t been totally lost to history; in 2013, the city opened the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, complete with a pool, in her old neighborhood on West 60th Street.

Twenty years of Starbucks in New York City

April 14, 2014

If your experience in New York doesn’t stretch back more than two decades, then you’ve never known a time when the city didn’t have multiple Starbucks stores in almost every neighborhood.

Broadway87thstsignIt was 20 years ago this month when the first Starbucks opened on Broadway and 87th Street.

“At 3,000 square feet, this is the largest of the company’s 318 stores and also one of the largest coffee bars in the city,” wrote Florence Fabricant in her New York Times column on April 27, 1994.

That writeup didn’t capture the conflicting emotions many New Yorkers felt about having Starbucks descend on the city.

“When the store at 87th Street welcomed its first caffeine-charged customers in April 1994, national chains and upscale retailers and restaurants were not common in that part of the Upper West Side,” stated a New York Times article from 2003, the year the first store closed.

Starbuckseast20s

Starbucks “stirs conflicting feelings among people who live near their branches,” another Times article from 1995 said.

“Some see the coffee bars as promising signs of upscale development and badges of sophistication. Others are put off by the sprawling uniformity of Starbucks stores and fear that they may threaten the distinctive character of old-time establishments in their areas.”

Twenty years later, the opening of a Starbucks branch can still whip up the same opinions.

[photo: a Starbucks in the East 20s, one of 283 in the city]

A pioneering photographer captures the 1910s

March 24, 2014

Born on the Upper West Side in 1890, Paul Strand became a pioneering filmmaker with his eerie silent Manhatta in 1921, among other motion pictures during his six-decade career.

[Below: American City, 1916]

Paulstrandamericannyc1916

He’s also one of the first street photographers—credited with establishing photography as an art form in the teens and capturing haunting images of people amid the sleek, dehumanized early 20th century metropolis.

[Below: Wall Street 1915]

Paulstrandwallstreet1915

Strand’s interest in photography began during his student years at the Ethical Culture School. Photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine was his teacher, and Hine introduced Strand to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, artists who greatly influenced Strand’s work.

Paulstrandblind1916Stieglitz soon became a mentor. “In early 1915, his mentor Stieglitz criticized the graphic softness of Strand’s photographs and over the next two years he dramatically changed his technique and made extraordinary photographs on three principal themes: movement in the city, abstractions, and street portraits,” states the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“During the 1910s, New York thronged with pedestrians, carriages, and automobiles, and the streets became the unavoidable symbol of flux, change, and modernity.”

Strand did something revolutionary at the time: he abandoned posed photography in favor of portraits of people unaware of the camera.

[Above: Blind, 1916]

Paulstrandcentralparkscene1915-16

[Above: "Central Park Scene, 1915"]

He stated his reasoning: “I felt that one could get a quality of being through the fact that the person did not know he was being photographed … [and I wanted to capture] these people within an environment which they themselves had chosen to be in, or were in anyway.”

Paulstrandmanfivepntssqny1916Strand shot images of the poor, of immigrants, of workers, of the blind and disabled, of aging New Yorkers in parks. His work reveals the humanity amid a modern city on the move, bustling with traffic, crowds, and commerce.

“Treating the human condition in the modern urban context, Strand’s photographs are a subversive alternative to the studio portrait of glamour and power,” states the Met.

[Above: Man, Five Points Square, New York, 1916]

“A new kind of portrait akin to a social terrain, they are, as Sanford Schwartz put it, ‘cityscapes that have faces for subjects.'”

See the 10-minute Manhatta here—it’s a treasure.


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