Posts Tagged ‘Union Square history’

A row of trees in Union Square mark a genocide

June 16, 2014

ArmeniantreesNew York is a city of memorials. Some you can’t miss: Grand Army Plaza, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, and the new 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Others are so low-key, you might walk past them thousands of times without realizing they exist. That describes this row of trees on the northern border of Union Square Park.

Lovely, yes. But unless you notice this small plaque at the eastern end, you’d never know that they were planted almost 30 years ago to commemorate the Armenian Genocide early last century.

Armenianplaque

New York’s “Little Armenia” community was centered not too far away in the upper 20s at Lexington Avenue.

But there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the former Armenian neighborhood and the memorial, which remains understated and little-known on one of the busiest stretches of Manhattan.

The very humble beginnings of Union Square

February 23, 2013

Behold the sparse, lonely junction of Broadway and the Bowery at 14th Street, as well as the patch of green in the foreground that marks the southern end of today’s Union Square.

This is how the square appeared to New Yorkers who ventured up this far from the center of the city in 1828—no big box stores, no M14 bus, no NYU students milling around.

Unionsquarebroadwaybowery

Amazing, right? Artist Albertis Del Orient Browere painted it from memory in 1885, according to Painting the Town, a book produced by the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1828, Union Square was called Union Place. “The building boom that would bring fine residences, elegant hotels, exclusive boarding schools, and subsequently, theaters and commercial enterprises to the square lay twenty years in the future,” the book says.

“Union Place, first called the Forks to describe the junction of the Bowery, Broadway, and University Place at 14th Street, originated as a burial ground for indigent people. As the city continued to grow, the cemetery was transformed into a park, making Union Square a desirable location for those wealthy New Yorkers who constituted the vanguard of the northward migration.”

The 19th century “slave market” at Union Square

October 25, 2012

If you were an actor in the 1860s to 1880s, you spent a lot of time in Union Square.

This was the city’s theater district. The Union Square Theatre, Academy of Music (below right), and other spaces attracted big evening crowds.

Photo studios, play publishers, costume shops, and other theater-focused businesses thrived during the day.

Desperate, out-of-work actors congregated here too, in a section of 14th Street deemed the “slave market,” where managers and theater agents went to fill their casts for an upcoming show.

“Until the 1880s, the south side of Union Square on 14th Street was called the Rialto, after the name of the busy commercial district in Venice,” writes Irving Lewis Allen in City in Slang.

“In the 1860s, actors lounged around the base of the great equestrian statue of George Washington, and there they had what they and passersby called the slave market for those seeking employment through the casting offices in the area.”

A New York Times article from 1921 also explains that the south and east sides of Union Square came to be known as “The Slave Mart”:

“An actor out of engagement would stand around waiting, as the saying was, to ‘sign up’ for the next season. As soon as he had ‘signed up’ he would convey the tidings to his associates and then would be seen no more—until the next season.”

The slave market disappeared when the theater district moved uptown . . . and booking agencies took over the task of filling casts. Out-of-work actors, however, are still plentiful in New York City.

Broadway and East 10th Street: 1911 vs. 2011

November 21, 2010

“Here Broadway approaches Union Square from the south, with what is probably the midday crowd on its wide sidewalks,” states the caption of this photo, published in a fascinating book of photos, New York Then and Now.

Sure, the businesses lining this stretch of the city’s longest street have changed in 100 years; see the signs on the left for a few furriers.

The hotel on the left is the fashionable St. Denis, built in 1852 by James Renwick, better known as the architect who designed Grace Church, at right, in the 1840s. (He was also behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral.)

Broadway teems with trolleys going in both ways. It’s like a game of Frogger. No wonder pedestrians were always dodging them—not always with success.

The same view exactly a century later shows that this corner is still prime real estate, and many of the buildings survive, with nail salons, delis, restaurants, and boutiques renting space.

Too bad you can no longer see the Flatiron Building from this vantage point.

Subway mosaics that supply a little history

May 11, 2010

I’ve always loved the colorful mosaics that decorate certain subway stations. They give you a local history lesson while you’re waiting for your train—when the mosaics aren’t too grimy, that is.

The Borough Hall stop on the 2 and 3 line features this colonial-looking borough hall building (left).

At Christopher Street, the platform is lined with mosaics of Newgate prison (right), which jutted out into the Hudson around Christopher and West Streets until the 1820s.

Images of Peter Stuyvesant’s Bouwerie (left) adorn Union Square, close to where the original Bouwerie was in the early 19th century.

And of course, there are the train mosaics (right) at Grand Central Terminal, a tribute to railway titan Cornelius Vanderbilt, who opened Grand Central Depot in 1871.


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