Seeing an eclipse from the Empire State Building

August 19, 2017

While the city anticipates the solar eclipse due to arrive on Monday afternoon, it’s worth noting that New Yorkers have had eclipse fever before.

In 1932, hundreds of people packed the observation deck of the Empire State Building and squinted toward the sky.

“In New York City millions forgot mundane matters in contemplation of the infinite,” the New York Times wrote on September 1.

“From the East Side, where the teeming life of the tenements swarmed on fire-escapes and rooftops to witness the eclipse, to Park Avenue, where the rich eyed the sun from penthouse easy chairs, the routine of New York halted while the moon edged across the fiery brilliance of the sun’s patch and dimmed its shining splendor.”

Times Square and city parks held thousands of eclipse-watchers. And according to the Times, animals at the Bronx Zoo acted up when darkness fell.

[Photo: AP]

Two Prince Street relics on a pre-SoHo building

August 19, 2017

SoHo’s cast-iron commercial buildings have long been repurposed into expensive lofts and boutiques.

But hiding in plain site on the handsome, two-story brick and iron building between Greene Street and Wooster Place are two relics, nods to the neighborhood’s late 19th and 20th century manufacturing past.

These metal signs, advertising the services of a lithographer and engraver as well as an office supplies seller, flank the ends of 120-125 Prince Street, actually two separate buildings constructed in 1892-1893 with a common facade.

“Stationery, Office Supplies, Paper, and Twine” states the one on the right. Twine? To wrap packages in an era before masking tape.

The sign on the left must have advertised the latest technology in printing at the time. Lithographing, engraving . . . manifold books? Special forms?

What they were for we may never know, but these businesses must have been right at home in the area at the time, when this post–Civil War red-light district was the 20th century commercial hub known as Hell’s Hundred Acres.

Imagine the area back then: few residents, no shopping, and all day in nearby buildings machinery churned and whirled and pulsed with the energy that comes from making things.

[Bottom photo: Wikipedia, 2012]

There is no beach anywhere near Beach Street

August 19, 2017

Beach Street—the name of this little strip of a road in Tribeca conjures up images of a sandy shoreline and gentle waves.

And while the Manhattan shore did used to lap at Greenwich Street, which Beach Street intersects, it’s apparently just a geographical coincidence.

So did Beach Street get its name from a colonial settler homesick for Liverpool or the West Indies?

It’s actually a corruption of Bache, named for Paul Bache, the son-in-law of Leonard Lispenard, who himself (or an older family member) was the namesake of nearby Lispenard Street.

The original Lispenard was a French Huguenot who arrived in Manhattan in the 17th century and eventually owned the swampy land south of Canal Street, which was known for a century at least as Lispenard’s Meadows (above), according to Henry Moscow’s The Street Book.

Beach Street has undergone as much transformation as any city block has over time.

Lispenard’s Meadows was a desirable area, as this ad in the Evening Post from 1807 shows. (No yellow fever!) After the swamp was drained, the neighborhood became exclusive St. John’s Park (above, in 1866).

When the railroad came in and the wealthy moved uptown, Beach Street was part of a warehouse district.

At some point, for one block, it was renamed Ericsson Place—after former street resident John Ericsson, a Swedish-born inventor, designer of the USS Monitor (built in Greenpoint), and a popular hero after the Civil War.

Today it’s a quiet stretch in a posh-again area. Apparently Beach Street did extend to the Hudson River at one time, one last chance for the name to actually make sense.

Alas, a modern office building cuts it off from the river, and Beach Street is forever landlocked.

[Second, fourth, and fifth images: NYPL; third: Evening Post 1807]

Identifying an eerie drugstore in a 1927 painting

August 14, 2017

The “eerie nocturnal view” of this corner apothecary painted by Edward Hopper in 1927 is easy to get lost in.

At first glance, Silbers Pharmacy looks like an ordinary city storefront, whose bright electric lights and colorful window display on a dark night feels inviting.

Here is a place city residents can turn to for late-night prescriptions, or even for an emergency laxative (Ex-Lax was invented in 1906 and manufactured in Brooklyn, hence the Ex-Loft lofts on Atlantic Avenue).

Yet the more you look at the painting (simply titled “Drug Store”), the more ominous it becomes, strangely devoid of any sign of humanity. It’s classic Hopper, of course, an artist whose work reflects the isolation and alienation of modern urban life.

So where was Silbers Pharmacy? Hopper apparently never identified the street corner; he was known to obscure identifying details of many of the storefronts he painted, as he famously did with his late-night diner masterpiece, Nighthawks.

But it was likely near his studio on Washington Square. One guess comes from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which put forth the possibility that Silbers occupied the Waverly Place building where Three Lives & Company bookstore is today.

Three Lives’ official address is on West 10th Street. But the door to the left is 184 Waverly, just like the “184” on the Silbers sign. And hmm, doesn’t the cast-iron column outside the door looks quite similar?

[Second photo: Alamy]

Everyone loved Central Park’s mineral water spa

August 14, 2017

You know how clean-eating New Yorkers never go anywhere without a bottle of water? Well, water—specifically mineral water—was a huge health trend in the 19th century city too.

Drinking and bathing in it was known as the “water cure,” which supposedly could treat fever, digestive complaints, and other body issues, as Ann Haddad wrote in in a blog post for the Merchant’s House Museum.

Wealthy New Yorkers took advantage of water curatives hawked by trendy hydrotherapists. They also headed upstate to visit the newly popular mineral spring resort spas.

For those of more modest means, an alternative came to Central Park in 1869: a mineral water “spa” that served several different types of spring-fed water.

The spa was the idea of a mineral water company owner, Carl Schultz, who (along with doctors touting the powers of H20) petitioned the Board of Health to allow him to open a venue in the park that would dispense water.

“The pavilion was erected in 1867 at the request of numerous physicians who felt that here was an opportunity of combining a mineral water cure with exercise in the open air,” recalled Scientific American in 1905.

After getting the go-ahead, Schultz had Central Park co-designers Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould build a delightful, Moorish style pavilion north of the Sheep Meadow at about 72nd Street.

“The waters are of two kinds: first the natural mineral waters from all the famous springs at home and abroad, and second mineral waters prepared artificially and scientifically, thus ensuring a definite chemical combination at all times,” wrote Scientific American.

The mineral water pavilion wasn’t just about clean water. It offered “morning summer recitals as an entertainment for the water-ingesting masses,” stated Ann Haddad.

Morning was an especially popular time at the mineral water pavilion, as seen above in an 1872 Harper’s illustration. According to the caption, these were Jewish New Yorkers socializing and enjoying the refreshing water.

Trends come and go, of course. After the turn of the century, with clean Croton-delivered water available to almost every home in New York City, the popularity of Central Park’s mineral water pavilion took a dive.

By 1960, the colorful little building with the fanciful roof was demolished. Today, the location is marked on park maps as “Mineral Springs,” a testament to the spa’s 19th century popularity.

[Photos NYPL Digital Collection]

The street names carved into Brooklyn corners

August 14, 2017

Look up at this busy Park Slope corner, and you’ll see two street names engraved on decorative blocks: 5th Avenue (the numeral, lovely!) and Garfield Place.

The lettering is in remarkably good condition, considering that it could be 134 years old.

In 1883, two years after the assassination of President Garfield, Garfield Place became the new name of what used to be Macomb Street. (Though the Macomb name lives on engraved into another corner.)

Third Avenue and Dean Street both still exist, of course. But it’s unusual to see street names carved into marble, which decorates the facade of a New York Times‘ 20th century printing plant on this Boerum Hill corner.

The former printing plant now houses a school, which features these wonderful original Art Deco bas reliefs.

Revisiting 10 shops from 1979 Greenwich Village

August 7, 2017

Last month, Ephemeral New York ran a post featuring some never-before-seen downtown street photos taken in the summer of 1979.

They were taken by a Dutch sailor whose ship was docked in New York Bay.

Whenever he could take a day off and visit Manhattan, he brought along his camera, capturing the energy and excitement of a city he had no idea was at its supposed nadir, facing bankruptcy and with residents fleeing fast.

These photos are from the same collection. Rather than random street shots revealing glimpses of the magic and beauty of day-to-day life downtown, they focus on stores—the kind of small, local businesses that are becoming an endangered species in today’s Manhattan.

Some of these businesses still exist, like Rocco’s, still the best pastry shop on Bleecker Street.

Ottomanelli’s meat market also remains on Bleecker; you can see part of the old-school sign in the photo below (though unfortunately the antique store and children’s store next door are both kaput).

The other shops have vanished. Something Special Cakes and Pies? What looks like a charming bakery seems to have disappeared without a trace. Can anyone identify the block the little shop is on?

Joe’s Dairy, the wonderful Italian cheese store on Houston and Sullivan Streets, hung on until 2013. The workers behind this tiny store made the most heavenly balls of mozzarella. See the cheese hanging in the windows.

Greenwich Village still has plenty of antique stores, but not quite as homey as the Village Oaksmith.

Where was this antiques store? And for that matter, does anyone recognize this colorfully painted tenement with the former Bazaar shop on the ground floor?

According to the sign in the window, it had already gone out of business. I wish I knew what the landlord was asking in rent.

[All photos: copyright Peter van Wijk]

New York’s hustle and bustle down at Park Row

August 7, 2017

Here is Park Row at the turn of the century. Why the crowds, which the caption on the back of the postcard says numbers 50,000 commuters, workers, and idlers every day? Think of all the worlds that collide at this juncture.

The statue of Ben Franklin, with its Victorian lampposts, is a nod to New York’s printing and publishing industry, still centered here at Printing House Square.

A treeless City Hall Park is mostly out of view on the left. But centered on the northern end are government buildings, courts, and City Hall, which employ politicians and big staffs that serve them.

Factor in the transit hub known then as the Park Row Terminal, which ferried people across the Brooklyn Bridge so they can pick up streetcars on either side and continue on their way.

And of course, at this time Park Row is still the center of the newspaper trade.

See the delivery wagons lined up in front of various newspaper buildings, ready to bring the latest edition of the news of the world to the city. (Here they are in a closer view from a black and white photo.)

[Photo: Teamster.org]

Seventh Avenue as a dark, mysterious canyon

July 31, 2017

If you’ve never imagined New York as a concrete canyon, this 1935 photo by Berenice Abbott just might change your thinking.

Abbott manages to turn utilitarian 35th Street—not exactly the city’s most picturesque east-west thoroughfare—into a river carrying vehicles and pedestrians surrounded by the shadowy cliffs of buildings.

It looks like Abbott aimed her camera in the Garment District. MOMA’s caption for the photo mistakenly says this is Seventh Avenue at 35th Street, but smart Ephemeral readers pointed out that MOMA had the caption backwards.

The street where the rich parked their carriages

July 31, 2017

If you’ve ever found yourself walking down the quiet, low-key East 73rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenue, you may have noticed all the carriage houses—each one reflecting a different architectural style.

This conglomeration of carriage house gorgeousness was no accident, of course.

In the Gilded Age, the wealthiest New Yorkers used their new money riches to build mansions on the newly fashionable Upper East Side streets between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

And even though new elevated railways offered access to the rest of the East Side, these nouveau riche New Yorkers weren’t the type to take public transportation. They needed a place to keep their carriages and buggies, not to mention the horses who powered them and their equine caretakers.

So this stretch of East 73rd Street, once lined with modest row houses built in the 1860s, became a block of private carriage houses where the rich parked their vehicles.

“Stables were a necessity during the period when urban transportation was limited to horses and carriages, but only the very wealthy could afford to build and maintain a private carriage house,” notes this 1980 Neighborhood Preservation Center report.

“The carriage houses were built on streets that were convenient to the East Side mansions, but were not so close that their noises and smells would mar the exclusive character of the residential streets.”

One of the first to go up in the early 1880s was 166 East 73rd Street (third photo), designed by premier architect Richard Morris Hunt for Henry Marquand, a millionaire banker who was a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After Hunt designed Marquand’s showstopper of a mansion around the corner at Madison Avenue and 68th Street, he put this 3-story carriage house together.

The $25,000 stable housed three carriages and six horse stalls; the second floor was a hayloft, and the third floor consisted of apartments for coachmen, grooms, and their families, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

The neo-Flemish Renaissance carriage house (fourth photo today, and fifth photo at right in 1905) was built for banker William Bayless.

At number 170 (fourth photo, left side) is the carriage house for merchant Henry Sloane, and then other titans of business after Sloane sold his mansion at 9 East 72nd Street.

Number 178 is a Beaux-Arts beauty built for a man named John Connors, who sold it to Charles Hudson, head of a brokerage firm who resided at One East 76th Street.

(Interestingly, a lot of these carriage houses changed hands early on; perhaps an indication that fortunes frequently rose and fell in the Gilded Age.)

One building built for vehicles in 1906 was actually intended not for horses but cars. Foreseeing that the future would belong to the automobile, one businessman put up this 5-story “automobile garage” at 177-179 (above left, today, and right, soon after it was built). It still serves that function today.

All of the carriage houses on East 73rd Street have long since been converted to homes.

Take a peek inside the combined residence of 165 and 167 (second photo), completed in 1904 for the president of the Remington Typewriter Company. It was going for a cool $14.5 million back in 2007!

[Fifth photo: MCNY X2010.7.1.647; Last photo: MCNY X2010.7.1.527]