A former thief dedicates his life to the city’s poor

October 13, 2014

JerrymcauleyBy his own account, Jerry McAuley was a rogue and a serious crook.

Born poor in Ireland and sent to live in New York City at age 13, he became a drunkard and river pirate who frequented the rum shops and brothels on Water Street, one of the worst sections of pre–Civil War Manhattan.

At 19, he was convicted of highway robbery and went to Sing Sing in the 1850s. McAuley learned to read and write and found religion in prison, he explained in an autobiographical sketch.

When he was released seven years later in 1864, he returned to Water Street—and after a couple of relapses into crime, he decided to change his ways and help men like himself straighten out their lives.

In 1872 he renovated a former dance hall at 316 Water Street and called it Jerry McAuley’s Mission.

Mcauleymission

This “helping hand for men” was one of many religious missions in the city determined to aid the down and out with food, job training, and lodging via prayer meetings and bible study.

McauleycremornemissionMcAuley’s effort was similar, except in one crucial way: he accepted everyone.

At a time when an increasing number of missions and benevolent societies were dedicating themselves to helping the poor, the sentiment was that only the “deserved poor” should be offered charity.

The so-called undeserving poor—drunks and criminals, basically—were on their own. And thanks to the Panic of 1873, there were many more deserving and undeserving poor who desperately needed help.

“No one, however wretched, however far gone in sin, is ever turned away; a helping hand is extended to all, and the vilest outcast is made to feel welcome and confident that there is still a chance for salvation left him,” wrote James D. McCabe, Jr. in his 1882 book New York by Gaslight.

McauleyfountainMcAuley’s mission earned notoriety citywide, and many wealthy New Yorkers provided financial support.

In the 1880s, McAuley and his wife founded a mission on West 32nd Street in the Tenderloin called McAuley’s Cremorne Mission to help prostitutes and other “fallen” women turn their lives around.

McAuley didn’t live much longer. He died in 1882 from tuberculosis, contracted during his stay at Sing Sing. His mission still exists as the New York Rescue Mission.

He’s also memorialized on a 1913 water fountain in Greeley Square, with the inscription: “I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”

[Last photo: via pilot-projects.org]

A dazzling City Hall fountain sprays Croton water

October 13, 2014

It took five years to build the Croton Aqueduct—the engineering marvel that brought fresh upstate water to Manhattan through a series of pipes and reservoirs.

Crotonfountain1842

When this incredible delivery system of clean drinking water finally opened on October 14, 1842, a celebration was in order.

CrotonfountainsongThe most thrilling moment took place at City Hall Park, when the park’s new Croton Fountain was turned on—and a magnificent propulsion of Croton water rose dozens of feet in the air.

That’s some water spray, right? But the Croton Aqueduct really was something—it even inspired a song, the “Croton Jubilee Quick Step” (right).

“On opening day in 1842, President John Tyler was on hand to witness the plume from the Croton-fed City Hall fountain surge 50 feet high,” wrote The New York TimesSam Roberts in his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects.

President Tyler wasn’t the only dignitary in the crowd. Former presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren also attended.

Crotonfountain1871

The Croton Fountain, which had a 100-foot stone basin, was the city’s first decorative fountain. Its spire of water dazzled New Yorkers until 1871, when a new fountain designed by Jacob Wrey Mould (he designed bridges in Central Park and decorative elements at Bethesda Terrace) replaced it.

The second fountain didn’t spray water quite so high. But it was Victorian spectacular, with several pools and gas-lit bronze candelabras. When Victorian style fell out of favor in the 1920s, it was shipped off to Crotona Park in the Bronx.

Crotonfountain2014

Seventy years later, the Jacob Wrey Mould fountain was restored and reinstalled in City Hall Park in 1999. There’s no 50-foot plume of Croton water, unfortunately, but it’s a lovely fountain nonetheless.

The remains of two streets no longer on the map

October 6, 2014

IDrydockplaygroundsignmagine the East River from 12th Street down to Grand Street lined with great ships in various stages of construction.

That was the reality along the river from the 1820s through the end of the 19th century, when today’s far East Village was known as the Dry Dock District (a dry dock is a narrow basin where ships would be built).

Drydockstreetnypl1936Thousands of New Yorkers who made their homes along Avenues B, C, and D were employed by the neighborhood industry as dock workers, mechanics, and shipbuilders.

Today, that thriving industry is long gone. Even stubby Dry Dock Street, which survived at least into the 1930s between Avenues C and D off 10th Street, no longer exists (right).

Dry Dock lives on in name only at Dry Dock Playground on 10th Street and Avenue D.

South of the playground on the north side of East Houston Street is a handsome elementary school building that has the name “Manhattan Street” lettered on one side.

Manhattanstreetschoolsign2

Manhattan Street? Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.

This little road closed in the 1940s when the Lillian Wald Houses were built. From at least the mid-19th century, Manhattan Street cut a short path between East Third Street to East Houston Street east of Avenue D.

Manhattanstreet1861nypl

Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, recently posted a fantastic history of this forgotten pre-Civil War street.

[Second and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A serial killer stalks Times Square in the 1970s

October 6, 2014

Timessquare1984mcnyfeiningerThe first two women were found on separate twin beds in a hotel room in flames in December 1979.

A firefighter at the scene, inside the then-seedy Travel Inn at 515 West 42nd Street, grabbed one of the women and brought her outside to a hallway. He was about to administer CPR before realizing she had no head or hands.

Neither did the other woman. Police determined that both had been killed, their bodies set on fire with lighter fluid, by a man who had arrived at the hotel using a fake name and phony New Jersey address.

TravelinnThen in May 1980, another woman’s body was found in a room at the low-rent Seville Hotel on East 29th Street after a fire had been set there.

The body was mutilated but mostly intact, and police identified her as a 25-year-old prostitute (one of the women from the Travel Inn had been as well, while the other was never officially ID’d).

CarltonhotelwikiThe similarities between the two crime scenes led law enforcement to dub the killer the “Times Square Ripper.”

The Ripper targeted vulnerable sex workers in an area so sleazy, a stretch of it was nicknamed “The Minnesota Strip” for all the teenage runaways from Middle America who ended up there.

It wasn’t long before police caught the Times Square Ripper. He was nabbed by New Jersey police later that month in a North Jersey motel, where he had tortured a teenage runaway.

After matching his fingerprints, comparing handwriting samples to his signature on the motel registry, and finding a “trophy room” in his home of items belonging to the dead women, the police had their man.

RichardcottinghamRichard Cottingham (left) was a mid-30s computer programmer who worked in Manhattan and lived in New Jersey with his family.

By all accounts a clean-cut guy, he was convicted of the murders of five women and sentenced to life in a New Jersey prison.

[Top photo: by Andreas Feininger, 1984; middle photo: the Travel Inn today; third photo: The Seville Hotel today, renamed the Carlton; fourth photo: Richard Cottingham]

Bands booked at Irving Plaza in October 1983

October 6, 2014

Irving Plaza has featured music in some form or another since the 1920s: ballroom dancing, folk hootenannies, Polish songs.

By the late 1970s, it was a rock venue. And if you were young and reasonably into up and coming bands in 1983, these are the groups you’d have been able to see.

Irvingplaza1983

The Violent Femmes! I wouldn’t mind going back in time to see them play in their heyday.

This ad appeared in the downtown alternative arts and entertainment paper the East Village Eye. Browsing their digital archive is a lot of fun.

A wintry view of the end of Christopher Street

October 4, 2014

Christopher Street in the far West Village really hasn’t changed very much since Beulah R. Bettensworth depicted it in 1934. Well, at least this corner of it.

Christopherstreet1934

This Depression-era painter lived a block away at 95 Christopher, and her stretch of the street looks like the downtown of a small village: there’s the Ninth Avenue El Station that once ran up Greenwich Street. Victorian Gothic St. Veronica’s Church peeks over the station.

The PATH station entrance has a similar awning. And there still is a yellow three-story building on that northwestern corner. Too bad the cigar store is gone!

A bold bull makes a run for it in 1913 Manhattan

October 4, 2014

On the rare occasion when an animal breaks loose on the way to the slaughterhouse in today’s city, his plucky escape ends up scoring him a forever home at a farm sanctuary.

Bullfifthavenue

A century ago, the story ended in a hail of bullets. That’s what happened to this bold bull, one of 200 brought to the city on a November day in 1913. The bulls were temporarily held at the New York Stock Company on West 60th Street and the Hudson River before they were to be sent to the abattoir.

BullcentralparkheadlinenytBut thanks to a gate left ajar, 26 of the bulls managed to break free. Eight left the stockyard. One got as far as Central Park West and 80th Street, where he collided with a delivery wagon.

The bull in the photo had another idea.

“One lumbering steer seeking to escape pursuit turned into Fifth Avenue and 59th Street and, dodging bullets which were fired at it by pursuing policemen, caused such uproar that Fifth Avenue thought that either a gangsters’ battle was in progress or a Wild West show had lost its bearings,” wrote The New York Times the next day.

After the bull detoured to Madison Avenue, a patrolman fired a shot that accidentally killed a construction-site watchman. A hotel waiter was also shot in the crossfire.

Finally the bull charged down 50th Street. Bleeding from previous shots, he died in front of the mansion that today is home to the New York Palace hotel.

[Photo: Bain Collection]

The literary past of a once-seedy Gramercy hotel

October 4, 2014

Looking at the facade of the former Kenmore Hall Hotel, at 145 East 23rd Street, you can imagine the kind of place it was when it opened in 1929.

Like so many of the new hotels built in the Jazz Age city, it was a place for the city’s young smart set, with a roof garden, skylit lobby, and swimming pool.

Kenmorehallpostcard

It was also a hotel with a hidden literary rep. Shortly after the 22-story building opened, struggling young writer Nathanael West became its night manager.

MisslonelyheartscoverNathanaelwestIn the 1930s, West earned fame for his novels Miss Lonelyhearts (inspired by a real Brooklyn Eagle advice column to the lovelorn) and Day of the Locust.

During his time on the Kenmore’s graveyard shift, West reportedly worked on Miss Lonelyhearts while letting writer friends like Dashiell Hammett, Edmund Wilson, and Maxwell Bodenheim crash in empty rooms.

KenmorehallhoteltodayWest died in 1940 in a California car accident with his wife, Eileen McKenney (of My Sister Eileen fame). In subsequent decades, Kenmore Hall changed hands; as East 23rd Street became seedier, so did the hotel.

By the early 1990s it was an infamous SRO hotel where the city’s downtrodden lived in squalid quarters and drugs and crime were rampant.

Since 1999 the cleaned-up Kenmore is an SRO offering affordable housing—plus a little-known literary pedigree.

[Bottom photo: Emporis]

Beautiful sailing ships at the South Ferry station

September 29, 2014

If you’ve ever taken the 1 train to its last, lovely, looping stop at the South Ferry/Whitehall Street station, you’ve probably seen them—15 beautiful terra cotta plaques depicting a sailing ship on the water.

Southferryplaque

The officials in charge of building the first New York City subway line in 1904 did a lot of things right. Not only did they hire brilliant engineers and planners, but they brought in designers to create inspiring decorative features on platforms.

Ceramic plaques like these were installed in the earliest stations. Each plaque reflects something about the station’s neighborhood or history: a sloop for South Ferry, a beaver at Astor Place, a steamboat at Fulton Street.

Southferryplaquesign

South Ferry’s ships might be the most magnificent of all, and it’s one of just a few stations that has a monogram panel with the station’s initials.

Centre Street at Park Row: five views, 150 years

September 29, 2014

You wouldn’t know it by this low-rise buildings and muddy road. But when this photo was taken in the early 1860s, the intersection at Centre Street and Park Row was the nexus of New York’s political and publishing worlds.

Centrestreetparkrow1860s

On the left out of view is City Hall. At right is Tammany Hall, until 1868 headquarters for the Democratic political party machine.

The spire of St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church rises above the Tryon Row Buildings, topped by a sign that says “printer.” North of St. Andrews at this time is Five Points, the city’s terrible and notorious slum.

Centrestreetparkrow1890

Here’s the same intersection (from a slightly different vantage point) in 1890. The Tryon Row Buildings have been replaced by the First Judicial District Civil Court, notes the caption to New York Then and Now, which published the photo.

“The horsecar of the Fourth and Madison Avenue line is on its way uptown to Harlem, having just come from Park Row,” states the caption. “Begun in 1832, it was the first streetcar railway in the world.” At right are the offices of a popular German-language newspaper called New Yorker Staats-Zeitung.

Centrestreetparkrow1920s

Fast forward to 1925, and things are very different in this Brown Brothers photograph. Gone are the telephone poles and horsecars, replaced by street lamps and street cars.

The newspaper business has long decamped uptown. The Staats-Zeitung building was bulldozed to make way for the New York Municipal Building, opened in 1909. On the left is the lovely New York City Hall of Records, constructed in 1902.

Centrestreetparkrow1974

By 1974, Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.’s image shows us a canyon of city, state, and federal buildings, contemporary street lamps and lots and lots of car traffic.

And Tryon Row, which lent its name to the buildings in the 1860s photo? It appears to have been demapped by now.

Centrestreetparkrow20132

The traffic in 2014 is mostly by foot and bicycle. On a warm early fall afternoon, Centre Street and Park Row is packed with tourists and city dwellers enjoying City Hall Park or crossing the street to take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge.

And look, they brought back the old-style street lamps!


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