Grand Central Station like you’ve never seen it

October 5, 2015

Looking strangely out of place on 42nd Street, this is Grand Central Station (formerly Terminal) in the early 1900s, after a renovation of the original 1871 structure—which had become too small for the growing metropolis.


Grandcentralterminal1871Cornelius Vanderbilt’s red brick terminal with its towering cupolas underwent a French Renaissance remodeling, which added three stories.

In the distance is the Queensboro Bridge, built in 1909. This version of Grand Central wouldn’t last long; it would be knocked down and replaced by the current Beaux-Arts beauty by 1913.

This might be the spookiest house in Soho

October 5, 2015

With its boarded-up parlor windows, wispy lace curtains, and lone light coming from the attic dormer windows, the 1824 Federal-style house at 139 Greene Street certainly gives off a spooky vibe.


Number 139 has an interesting history as a family home, brothel, factory, and longstanding renovation project. If any house in Soho is haunted by ghosts, this would be the one.

139GreenestreetnightIt all started in 1825, when the home was built by a merchant tailor named Anthony Arnoux, who ran a shop on Broadway and East Fourth Street.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Federal houses were all the rage, and the newly fashionable streets north of Canal Street on the west and east sides of Broadway were lined with similar residences built by the city’s elite.

Arnoux didn’t move in until the 1830s, but he and his five adult children (plus one female servant) occupied what must have been a lovely house at least through 1850, according to census data.

139GreenestreetsignSome of that loveliness remains: the arched dormer windows, red brick, marble stairs, and elegant front entrance.

The similar yet beautifully restored Merchant’s House Museum, across Broadway on East Fourth Street, is a Federal-style house that gives an idea of what the Arnoux house looked like in its prime.

As Greene Street became shabby, the Arnoux family didn’t stick around. By 1860, the neighborhood had become a bustling strip of hotels, shops, and brothels—lots of brothels.

Number 139 became a house of assignation, according to the Gentleman’s Companion, a guide to New York City’s premier red-light district in 1870.

Greene Street “has become a complete sink of iniquity,” the guide states, with 41 brothels luring in men between Canal and Bleecker Streets.

139Greenestreetnyt1867sept139 Greene Street was a third-class “disorderly house” with 7 “inmates” run by Patrick and Amelia Whalen. A fire broke out there in 1867, reported the New York Times.

After the prostitutes left, the millinery trade moved in, followed by light industry.

Perhaps the manufacturer of printers rollers (as advertised on the facade of the cast-iron loft building next door) had something to do with the bashing in of the front wall of the house, as well as the destruction of the marble front stairs.


In 1968, with Soho’s fortunes rising, an art dealer bought it to use as a storage space, then sold it to an art conservationist—who has been restoring 139 Greene Street ever since . . . and perhaps allowing its 19th century ghosts free reign to haunt the premises.

[Third image: New York Times; fifth image: MCNY; 1970s]

Vintage signs from 1960s and 1970s New York

October 5, 2015

They’re an endangered species, these 1960s and 1970s store signs, with their old-school cursive lettering and often sporting a kaleidoscope of colors.


The sign for Murray’s Sturgeon Shop is a gorgeous example.

Short, sweet, and stylized, the sign looks very 1960s, though Murray’s has been in the smoked fish business on Broadway and 89th Street since 1946.


The Weinstein & Holtzman Hardware sign bursts with magnificent color on Park Row near City Hall. They’ve been selling paint and tools sine 1920.

Hardware stores all over New York have some wonderful vintage signs.

I can’t find any information on when Truemart Discount Fabrics, on Seventh Avenue and 25th Street, opened.


But that old-school sign! It’s a relic of lower Seventh Avenue’s low-rent past, influenced by the Fashion Institute of Technology across the street.


The sign for Anthony Liquors, Inc. on Spring Street in Nolita isn’t splashy, but the typeface is unique. I wonder if other store signs in what once was Little Italy had the same type.


I’ve always liked the sturdy, simple sign for John’s Shoe Repair on Irving Place, and the confident line underscoring the name John, done in script.

I hope they can keep going in a city that doesn’t have much use for neighborhood shoe repair places.

The Greenwich Village vision of artist Alfred Mira

September 28, 2015

Alfred S. Mira and his realistic, gritty, intimate Greenwich Village street scenes should be better known.

[“Seventh Avenue, Greenwich Village”]


Born in 1900 in Italy to a carpenter father, he left school and began working for an interior decorator, dreaming of going to art school but without the 50 cents a day it cost to attend.

[“Washington Square Rally,” 1942]


He did make a career out of painting though; he listed his address as East 8th Street and his occupation as painter in the 1940 census. And he sold his work at the Washington Square outdoor art exhibit, a heralded event decades ago.

[“The El, View of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street,” 1940]


Though he painted scenes from all over the city, Mira focused his work on the sites and monuments of Greenwich Village: the Washington Arch, MacDougal Street, and Seventh Avenue South.

His inspiration seems to come from the urban realists who made a name for themselves in the early 1900s, such as George Bellows and George Luks.

[Title unknown, but there’s Jefferson Market in the background]


But his style is his own: honest, sometimes gritty, sometimes dreamy, and deeply atmospheric—a true street artist who captured the moods of the city.

[“Summer Morning”—anyone know what intersection this is?]


Alfredmiraselfportrait1934“Mira painted angled, bird’s eye viewpoints, thereby creating what one critic categorized as ‘moving camera eye impressions,’” explains gallery Questroyal Fine Art LLC.

He died in 1980 or 1981, depending on the source, and his work still inspires. It also still sells, with several paintings going for thousands of dollars at top auction houses.

[Self portrait, 1934]

A bumpy dedication of the Statue of Liberty

September 28, 2015

Statueoflibertymoran1886On October 28, 1886, the city had scheduled a day of festivities for the official dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Things mostly went off well, but not without plenty of hitches that turned the celebration into a comedy of errors.

First, there was the cold, miserable rain, which poured down on marchers during the morning parade from 57th Street to Madison Square Park to the Battery.

President Cleveland (a former governor of New York State) was to lead the parade and then watch from a reviewing stand at Worth Square—which he did, umbrella-less, with sheets of rain pouring down on him for two hours.


In the afternoon, after the city’s first-ever ticker-tape parade, an official dedication ceremony took place on what was once known as Bedloe’s Island—with thousands of New Yorkers watching from the Battery.

Interestingly, no regular citizens were allowed on the island, and few, if any, women were invited. A group of suffragists rowed out close, though, and held their own ceremony, hoping the day would come when women had the liberty to cast votes.


The 2,500 or so French and American dignitaries invited to the ceremony were treated to music, prayers, gun salutes, speeches, and finally, the unveiling of the copper-colored statue, which had been shrouded in a French flag.

The wet flag was lifted prematurely, however, in the middle of a speech by New York Senator William Evarts, cutting Evarts off.


After President Cleveland accepted the statue from France, a flotilla of ships began setting off alarms in celebration, drowning out the rest of the speeches.

The boats also released plumes of smoke, which along with the clouds and mist made it even harder for crowds on shore to see the copper-colored statue.

Statueofliberty1890sA huge fireworks display had to be cancelled that night because of the rain. And the actual lighting of the statue?

It didn’t go off well, mainly because no one could figure out how to light Lady Liberty properly—odd, as she was supposed to be an official lighthouse for New York Harbor.

Finally, on November 1, the city did a do-over of the fireworks and illumination. According to the New York Times, at least the phyrotechnics went of splendidly.

“Land and sea alike were teeming with glories. The vast fleet added not a little to the scene—the distant city with its million lights and flame-tipped spires was a sight to be remembered itself.”

“When the last rush of rockets from the island had scattered their showering gold and the wonted darkness settled again, the great figure grew brighter and huger and gleamed ghostly but beautiful, the new Anadyomene, Liberty rising from the sea.”

Visiting the 1884 original Gansevoort Market

September 28, 2015

Gansevoort Street sure looked a lot different in 1884, the year the original Gansevoort Market made its official debut. This photo was taken a little later, dating to 1907.


Opened after Washington Market in today’s Tribeca became too crowded, Gansevoort Market was an open-air produce market bound by Gansevoort, Little West 12th, West, and Greenwich Streets.

In other words, the heart of today’s ultra-trendy Meatpacking District.


The market was a big deal at the time; Harper’s Weekly even wrote about it in 1888.

“During the dark hours of early morning, as hundreds of wagons of all descriptions converge upon the market regions, pandemonium reigns as traffic chokes the thoroughfares for blocks around,” an article stated.

Gansevoortmarket1890sOver the next decade, the city built the West Washington Market, for dairy farmers and meat sellers. The WPA Guide to New York City described the scene this way in 1939.

“Activities begin at 4 a.m. Farmers in overalls and mud-caked shoes stand in trucks, shouting their wares. Commission merchants, pushcart vendors, and restaurant buyers trudge warily from one stand to another, digging arms into baskets of fruits or vegetables to ascertain quality.”


“Trucks move continually in and out among the piled crates of tomatoes, beans, cabbages, lettuce, and other greens in the street,” the Guide continues.

Gansevoortmarketkings1893“Hungry derelicts wander about in the hope of picking up a stray vegetable dropped from some truck, while patient nuns wait to receive leftover, unsalable goods for distribution among the destitute.”

Over the decades, produce moved out to the more accessible Hunts Point in the Bronx, and meat purveyors moved in.

West Washington Market burned down in a 1954 fire. The Gansevoort Meat Market building put up by the city in the 1940s remained in use.


That is, until the Meatpacking District, as it was now known, emptied of meatpackers and began hosting fashion designers and faux French restaurants.

Today Gansevoort Market lives on in a very 2015 incarnation—as a trendy food hall.

Top photo: Museum of the City of New York; second image:; third photo:; fourth photo: MCNY; fifth photo:]

A rainy September evening at Madison Square

September 21, 2015

It’s just after the turn of the century in this enchanting postcard of the Fifth Avenue side of Madison Square Park.


The Flatiron Building is there, so it must be at least 1902. But carriages and drivers still line the street opposite the park, likely waiting for the city’s wealthy and powerful to emerge from the Fifth Avenue Hotel, demolished in 1908.

The postcard itself is postmarked 1910, and the writer has scribbled, “I am loving New York and having a great time.”

Reading a 1960s Village writer’s “Lunch Poems”

September 21, 2015

Frankoharacedartavern“It’s my lunch hour, so I go for a walk among the hum-colored cabs.”

So begins Frank O’Hara in “A Step Away From Them,” one of his witty, observational Lunch Poems.

The name comes from the time of day when they were supposedly written: during O’Hara’s lunch hour in Midtown, when he worked as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

Born in Baltimore and a graduate of Harvard, O’Hara arrived in the city in the early 1950s, a time when abstract expressionist painters and Beat poets were hitting their stride.

FrankoharaapartmentAnd both were meeting and drinking at bars like the San Remo and the Cedar Tavern (top photo; O’Hara is in the center), next door to O’Hara’s apartment at 90 University Place (left), which he shared with then-partner Joe LeSueur.

The Lunch Poems were published in 1964, and they are of their time, with references to no-longer-there restaurants and long-gone starlets and sometimes a campy sensibility.

But the New York O’Hara writes about—the culture, the noise, the crowds, the way the Sixth Avenue bus “trunk-lumbers sideways” so full of people, is still the city of today.

In “Music,” he references Grand Army Plaza by Central Park and the statue of William Sherman on a horse, led by an angel:

Frankoharapoems“If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s

“The Day Lady Died” is about Billie Holiday:

“I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
Then go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfield Theater and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
Of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it”

O’Hara wrote other poems too, and he also made a name for himself as an art critic.

The Lunch Poems, though, were his last collected volume. He died prematurely after being hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island in 1966 when he was only 40.

FrankoharamomaPerhaps his most relatable verse, chronicling day-to-day life in a pre-Bloomberg city of smokers drinking coffee they made themselves, comes from “Steps”:

“oh god, it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much”

[Photo of O’Hara in front of MOMA: newyorkschoolpoets.wordpresscom]

Bits of Medieval France in the Joan of Arc statue

September 21, 2015

Jeanne d'ArcThe heroic, life-size bronze of Joan of Arc at 93rd Street and Riverside Park was created a century ago by a group of prominent city residents who wanted to commemorate the Maid of Orleans’ 500th birthday.

And incredibly, it was the first statue in the city that honored a real, nonfictional woman (as opposed to the Statue of Liberty or Mother Goose).


But this monument to a Medieval martyr is distinguished and remarkable in other ways as well.

JoanofarcparksdeptSculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington sought to show not a warrior but a spiritual girl whose mission to defeat the British was inspired by the voices of saints.

“Well, the whole idea was that I remember reading before she went into battle she had acquired a new sword,” Huntington later explained.

“And when she went into battle, she unconsciously raised it to heaven to ask the blessing of the Lord on it before she went into battle.”

To invoke Medieval France, architect John Van Pelt made a granite base that contains actual stones from the cathedral in Rheims, where King Charles (who supported Joan’s fight before abandoning her) was crowned.

JoanofarcinscriptionHe also incorporated real limestone blocks from the Tower of Rouen, where Joan was imprisoned and tried for heresy and witchcraft before being burned at the stake.

“On December 6, 1915, the sculpture was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony, which included a military band and French Ambassador Jean J. Jusserand,” states

JoanofarcdedicationThat Jusserand (left, at the ceremony, with Mrs. Edison) made it to the ceremony is impressive, considering that France was embroiled in the Great War at the time.

In front of a crowd of about 1,000, Thomas Edison’s wife unveiled the statue—a symbol of solidarity among America and France and one of the finest city sculptures.

Joan of Arc’s name lends itself to numerous city buildings—like these “French Flats” on 14th Street and this women’s hotel in Chelsea, formerly known as a home for “friendless French girls.”

[Second photo:]

A faded toothpaste ad reappears on 43rd Street

September 14, 2015

Ever heard of Sozodont Toothpaste? Me neither, but in 1859, it was invented by a New Jersey druggist and manufactured by a firm on Washington Street called Hall & Ruckell.


And at some point in the early 1900s, this colorful Sozodont advertisement went up on the side of a stately building on 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal.

Toothpastedvanderbiltave2Hidden behind another building for decades, the remarkably well preserved three-story ad finally saw the light of day again thanks to that building’s recent demolition.

Sozodont fell out of favor in the early 20th century; apparently its high alcohol content destroyed enamel and turned teeth yellow.

The ad will probably go into hiding again soon, but what a relic of the early 20th century city!

[Thanks to Rick F. for alerting ENY to this beauty.]


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