Posts Tagged ‘sixth avenue el’

A snowy, windy day on the Sixth Avenue El

December 30, 2013

Martin Lewis’ 1931 drypoint etching “Snow on the El” reveals the Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street el station on a wet, snowy, blustery winter’s day.

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The woman in the foreground looks warm in her coat. The poor guy at the newsstand under the stairs probably isn’t so toasty.

More of Martin Lewis’ evocative etchings of New York in the 1930s can be found here.

The men who built the roadway on 28th Street

December 7, 2013

You rarely consider the effort that went into building the typical unfashionable Manhattan side street. Laying those granite blocks looks like hard work, and there’s no equipment or machines in sight.

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The caption of this photo, dated October 2, 1930, reads “Elevated shot (from El station) of men laying blocks down street-activity makes pattern.”

It’s from the wonderful New York City Municipal Photo archive. Here’s another look at the street, the Sixth Avenue El Station, and the thousands of granite bricks waiting to be laid down.

I love the ad inside the stairwell of the el station: graham crackers.

A Village speakeasy attracts a bohemian crowd

August 13, 2012

If you think New York packs in a lot of bars today, imagine what it was like in the 1920s.

During Prohibition, 32,000 speakeasies were operating in New York City, twice the number of legal saloons that existed in 1920.

Cousins Jack Kriendler and Charles E. Berns ran one of them: a little basement space called the Red Head, opened in 1923 off Fourth Street in Greenwich Village, then under the dark and grimy Sixth Avenue El.

“The Volstead Act had gone into effect in January 1920, so the illegal club in a tea room was an immediate hit,” states Dorothyparker.com.

After it was gutted by a fire, “the pair moved their speakeasy to a basement at 88 Washington Place at the height of the bootlegging, Jazz Age New York.

“Called the Fronton, it was now a real speakeasy, complete with live music and huge tables.”

Club Fronton had a Spanish theme and catered to artists and writers, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay (below) and Dorothy Parker (above), plus nightlife-loving politicians like Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Police raids didn’t close the Fronton down—eminent domain did. After a year, the property was condemned by the city so the West Fourth Street subway station could be built.

Kriendler and Berns moved to midtown this time. In 1928, they set up a speakeasy at 21 West 52nd Street. The 21 Club was an instant success—and 80 years after Prohibition, still packs them in.

[Above photo: 88 Washington Place today, a condominium residence]

Trolleys and wagons crowding Herald Square

June 4, 2012

“Herald Square, showing the ‘Great White Way’ and Herald Building,” states the back of this late 19th century postcard, which depicts what was then the city’s theater district as well as a thriving shopping area.

Even without Macy’s, which was still headquartered at 14th Street at this point, Herald Square appears to be as bustling, crowded, and messy as it is today.

Three views of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street

March 19, 2012

In 1901, when this first photo was taken, Sixth Avenue and 20th Street was the center of the city’s posh shopping district.

It was part of the fabled Ladies’ Mile, where stores like Siegel-Cooper, Adams & Co., and Hugh O’Neill’s Dry Goods Store sold fashion and furnishings.

“By 1915, all these stores had failed, merged, or moved farther uptown,” states the caption to the photo, which was published in New York Then and Now.

Here’s the crowd of well-dressed, well-to-do women in front of O’Neill’s. A hansom cab waits, a gas lamp will light the street at dusk, and the Sixth Avenue El is hurtling down the tracks, bringing smoke and more shoppers to the 18th Street station.

By 1975, when the second photo (also from New York Then and Now) was shot, the area had become grungy and grim.

It hadn’t been a viable shopping district of any kind at least since the El was torn down in 1939. The gas lamppost has been replaced, and the lovely cast-iron buildings support light manufacturing and small offices.

Today, in 2012, it’s a bustling shopping strip again—and residential area too. The O’Neill building has been renovated into pricey luxury condos.

The ground-floor store is home to a bank branch, of course.

The “chopped out” city from Greenwich Village

October 19, 2011

John Sloan depicts a moody Village set apart from the rest of the city in his 1922 painting “The City From Greenwich Village.”

In his notes, he had this to say about the setting, the light, and “chopped out” modern New York:

“Looking south over lower Sixth Avenue from the roof of my Washington Place studio, on a winter evening. The distant lights of the great office buildings downtown are seen in the gathering darkness. The triangular loft building on the right had contained my studio for three years before.

“Although painted from memory it seems thoroughly convincing in its handling of light and space. The spot on which the spectator stands is now an imaginary point since all the buildings as far as the turn of the elevated have been removed, and Sixth Avenue has been extended straight down to the business district.

“The picture makes a record of the beauty of the older city which is giving way to the chopped-out towers of the modern New York. Pencil sketch provided details.”

Sixth Avenue and 28th Street: 1938 vs. 2010

October 13, 2010

“Ride on the Open Air Elevated” commands the side of this Sixth Avenue El station—an attempt to lure New Yorkers away from the IND underground.

Berenice Abbott took this photo in November 1938. The 28th Street station had already closed and was slated for demolition, notes Changing New York, as was the entire Sixth Avenue elevated line . . . and eventually all the els across the city.

Here’s the same view up Sixth Avenue today. This stretch, center of the shrinking flower district, is open and appears wider and brighter.

Nothing from the 1938 photo looks similar, except the decorative border around the building on the left that’s now a McDonald’s.

Could it be the same building with the top floors sheared off? Possibly; back then, this McDonald’s was a Child’s restaurant.

John Sloan’s “Italian Procession” in the Village

October 4, 2010

“This painting is a rare document of the meeting of cultures in Greenwich Village, where bohemian artists and writers lived among the working-class Italian-American community south of Washington Square.”

So states a description of this 1925 painting by the Delaware Art Museum, which hosted a John Sloan exhibit a few years back.

“Sloan enjoyed his neighborhood’s Italian eateries—like Reganeschi’s—as well as parades like this one.”

A deadly subway plunge at 53rd Street

June 10, 2010

It’s hard to imagine that elevated train tracks traveled down narrow, relatively quiet West 53rd Street at one time.

And it’s even harder to imagine the terror of being on an elevated train there one random rush hour morning when it veers off track and plunges into a tenement or the street.

But that’s what happened on the morning of September 11, 1905. At least 12 people were killed when this train crashed at Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street, a notorious curve where the Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els diverge.

The crash was blamed on human error; a switch on the tracks was set wrong.

Both elevated lines were dismantled by 1940.

The other name for Sixth Avenue

January 3, 2010

Of course, no one calls Sixth Avenue by its official moniker: Avenue of the Americas. The street got this formal and cumbersome name in 1945. But why—and whose bright idea was it?

The blame starts with Sixth Avenue business owners. In the 1940s, they argued that the then-dingy avenue (the El had recently been dismantled above it) needed some sprucing up.

One way to do that would be to get Central and South American countries to build consulates and company HQs on the avenue. Real-estate bigwig Leonard Spear took credit for that idea.

In 1945, city council members were convinced, and Mayor La Guardia signed the name change into law. In the 1950s, signs representing different countries in the Americas went up all along the avenue.

The signs never helped the name catch on. Most were taken down for good in the early 1990s, when city lampposts were replaced. But a few rusted ones remain. One still hangs on at Sixth and Grand Street.


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