Posts Tagged ‘East Village history’

When Second Avenue was known as Lovers’ Lane

November 14, 2013

Does the lower end of Second Avenue, in the East Village, make you feel especially romantic?

SecondavenueloverslaneDidn’t think so. But over 100 years ago, the stretch from 17th Street to Houston Street was considered so scenic and lovely, it was actually known as the “East Side Lovers’ Lane.”

“It is interesting to note that never before has the term ‘Lovers’ Lane’ been given to so wide a thoroughfare as Second Avenue,” wrote The New York Times in 1911, in an article about plans to widen what was then a Polish and Hungarian immigrant par residential, part commercial avenue.

Secondavenueloverslane1868“If Second Avenue is a lovers’ lane, doubtless  the removal of the sidewalk encroachments would furnish more room for happy couples to promenade and contribute to its gayety.”

New York has had several Lover’s Lanes: Maiden Lane may have been one in Dutch colonial days; Central Park and Riverside Park also had tree-lined paths designated for couples. And Brooklyn Heights’ Love Lane has a sweet story behind it.

But back to Second Avenue. In 1942, a neighborhood group led by a minister called on the city to make Second Avenue a lovers’ lane again by planting trees.

Secondavenueloverslane2013The minister “hastened to add that he was looking for civic improvement, not for a new trysting place,” another Times article noted.

Trees were brought in, but it doesn’t seem like the lovey-dovey vibe caught on ever again.

[Middle image: Second Avenue at 11th Street in 1868; from the NYPL. Bottom: Second Avenue looking south from 14th Street]

A secret house behind an East Village tenement

December 10, 2012

AvenuebbackhousesideThe city’s oldest neighborhoods are dotted with backhouses, some easily seen from the street through a crack in a fence or tiny alley.

But most are out of sight, sealed from street view and reachable only through surrounding buildings—like this two-story little home behind 206 Avenue B between 12th and 13th Streets.

A 30-year resident of 206, an old-school tenement constructed in 1900, describes the back house as a former carriage house.

That’s certainly possible; as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation explains in their excellent Off the Grid blog post, some backhouses started out as stables.

“In these cases, a single family house was built, typically in the early 19th century, with a stable for the family’s horses located behind, accessible through either a side passageway or a tunnel or ‘horsewalk‘ through the house.”

Avenuebbackhousefront

Other times, backhouses were simply cheap buildings put up in courtyards so landlords could pack in more families and score more rent.

“Thus sometimes these backhouses had windows with little light or air, as they were often mere feet from the walls or windows of the front house or tenement or neighboring buildings,” states Off the Grid.

AvenuebbackhousedistantI’m not sure how the ivy-covered back house at 206 Avenue B came to be.

Considering the East Village’s history as a rough, crowded enclave of wave after wave of poor immigrants, it’s likely an example of the latter.

Off the Grid has more photos and history of these charming, sometimes rough-around-the-edges buildings.

And like its counterpart at 206 Avenue B, this backhouse in the West Village, unfortunately, has been cordoned off from street view forever.

When Avenue B was the “German Broadway”

June 18, 2012

A lot has been written about the East Village’s late–19th century incarnation as an enclave called Kleindeutschland, aka Little Germany.

Tompkins Square Park was the center of this vibrant neighborhood.

And while “Avenue A was the street for beer halls, oyster saloons, and groceries,” Avenue B was the neighborhood’s commercial artery, known as the “German Broadway.”

“Each basement was a workshop, every first floor was a store, and the partially roofed sidewalks were markets for goods of all sorts,” states  All the Nations Under Heaven: an Ethnic and Racial History of New York City.

I wish some trace of Avenue B’s German past still existed.

Instead, I’ll just imagine the shops that probably occupied the lower level of 45-47 Avenue B, built in 1880.

And I’ll imagine that the Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession in the City of New York still worshiped at this church on Avenue B and 9th Street, built in 1847 and home to the Lutherans since 1863.

The photo, from the NYPL Digital Collection, dates to the 1930s, but the church was torn down in 1975.

East 13th Street’s most famous downed tree

August 29, 2011

Some of the toppled trees caused by so-called Hurricane Irene are impressive. But none will be missed as much as the pear tree that stood on an East Village corner for more than 200 years—before being felled by a winter storm and then an out-of-control wagon.

The story begins in the middle of the 17th century. That’s when New Amsterdam governor Peter Stuyvesant went back to his native Holland, returning to the city with a flowering pear tree.

Stuyvesant planted the tree on his Bouwerie, or farm, “as his memorial, ‘by which,’ said he, ‘my name may be remembered,” a nearby plaque reads.

As the tree grew, so did New York. Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street sprouted around it, and the tree remained on that corner until February 1867 (above photo, from the NYPL).

“After a massive winter storm, which had weakened the tree, two drays (low flat carts without sides or with very low sides, used for heavy loads, especially by brewers) collided, one of which was thrown against the tree with sufficient force to send the 200-year-old veteran to the equivalent of its knees,” reports a Villager article from 2005.

“With its demise went one of old New York’s popular sightseeing attractions and perhaps the last living vestige of the Dutch presence in the city.”

“The tree was taken down, but a Stuyvesant descendant gave a cross-section of its trunk to The New-York Historical Society, where it is enclosed in a glass case on the fourth floor.”

Here’s Third Avenue and 13th Street today.

The East Village’s Yiddish Hall of Fame

September 25, 2010

So what’s a Hollywood Walk of Fame–style memorial to Yiddish theater stars of the 19th and early 20th centuries doing in front of a Chase bank branch on Second Avenue and 10th Street?

It was created by the Second Avenue Deli in 1984, which occupied this site for decades until 2006. 

About 30 plaques are embedded in the sidewalk, each bearing the name (or in some cases two names) of some of the biggest celebrities who graced the theaters and vaudeville houses that lined Second Avenue.

There’s a plaque for Abraham Goldfaden (left), billed as the founder of Yiddish theater and the “Yiddish Shakespeare,” according to his 1908 obituary in The New York Times.

Fyvush Finkel, Bruce Adler, and Molly Picon, above right, also have stars. Many of the others, unfortunately, are too worn down to read. 


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