Posts Tagged ‘Enrico Caruso in New York City’

The musical history of 72nd Street’s Verdi Square

December 19, 2012

These days, Verdi Square, a tiny triangle between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue north of 72nd Street, seems mainly to be a safe traffic island for pedestrians dodging the rush of cars.

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It’s served a few other functions over the years. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was Needle Park, populated by drug dealers and users (and memorialized in the 1971 Al Pacino flick The Panic in Needle Park).

EnricocarusoArturotoscaniniAnd in the early 1900s, it was a meeting place for musicians such as tenor Enrico Caruso (at left; he lived nearby at the Ansonia) and conductor Arturo Toscanini (right), according to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

George and Ira Gershwin also hung out there, reports DNAinfo.com.

The history of Verdi Square—acquired as a park in 1887 but not named for Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi until 1921—makes it an ideal place to listen to music. Fittingly, a series of summer concerts have been held there in recent years.

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Verdi Square also hides a gem from the city’s past: this 1913 luminaire once stood at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, at the Fireman’s Memorial there. It was reinstalled here and recast when the park was renovated in 2004.

A secret passage to an old Times Square hotel

June 28, 2010

Go to the north end of the subway platform of the Times Square shuttle, and you’ll see a grimy door with an old darkened sign above it.

This was once an underground passageway leading from the subway to the Knickerbocker Hotel, a Beaux-Arts beauty built in 1906 by John Jacob Astor.

The Knickerbocker, on Broadway and 42nd Street, was a trendy place back in the aughts and the teens. Legend has it that the martini was invented there.

And opera great Enrico Caruso supposedly belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” from his room balcony one Veterans Day.

Covered up by construction scaffolding for a few years, the sign and door are visible once again. 

And as tempting as it is to imagine going inside and doing a little time traveling, don’t even try. The door remains locked, and though the building still exists, the hotel was shut in 1920.


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