Inside a rathskeller in New York’s Little Germany

February 1, 2016

In 1936, a man named Joe King opened a restaurant serving “moderately priced German dishes and imported beers”  in a German Renaissance Revival building on Third Avenue and 17th Street.

Joekingspostcard

This was once the outskirts of New York’s enormous German immigrant enclave, Kleindeutschland. By the 1930s, Little Germany had mostly decamped to Yorkville (Luchow’s remained as well on 14th Street until the 1980s.)

But it would have been worth it to come down to this place in the old neighborhood. The beer steins, the lights, the tin ceiling, the piano installed for communal singalongs. . . . It closed in the 1960s, but I wish it were still around.

[Postcard: digitalcommonwealth.org]

Album covers from the 1970s shot in New York

February 1, 2016

Sometimes it’s obvious an album cover was shot in New York City—like Physical Graffiti, Billy Joel’s Turnstiles, or that wonderful New York Dolls cover of the band decked out in front of Gem Spa in the East Village.

NYCalbumcoverswho

Other times it’s not so easy to tell. Take the cover for the Who’s The Kids Are Alright, photographed in 1968 by Art Kane.

With the band wrapped in a Union Jack flag, you’d never know they were leaning against the base of the statue of German revolutionary and New York reformer Carl Schurz, located at Morningside Drive and 116th Street.

NYCalbumcoversneilyoung

Neil Young doesn’t come across as a New York kind of guy; he’s more California or Canada. But here he is walking past NYU’s law school building on Sullivan and West Third Streets on the cover of 1970’s After the Gold Rush, captured by Joel Bernstein.

The website popspotsnyc.com has some incredible photos and backstory on After the Gold Rush and other New York–centric albums.

NYCalbumcoversfoghat

Foghat—does anyone remember Foghat? In any case, the English band shot the front of their 1975 LP Fool for the City in the middle of 11th Street between Second and Third Avenues in the East Village.

The block hasn’t changed much, and the back of St. Mark’s Church is recognizable. Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation, has a nice post covering the then and now.

Rock albums shot on New York streets must have been a thing in the 1960s and 1970s—like these here. Maybe it all started with The Freewheeling Bob Dylan on Jones Street?

Grand Central is filled with acorns and oak leaves

February 1, 2016

Even when you’re rush through Grand Central Terminal, it’s impossible not to glance up and notice its breathtaking treasures, like the beautiful light fixtures, clocks, and painted or tiled ceilings.

Acorntracks28272

But there’s a decorative theme running through the station that’s a little more subtle and easy to miss: acorns and oak leaves.

AcornswaterfountainAn acorn tops the iconic brass clock above the information booth.

Marble garlands of oak leaves and acorns decorate the original 1913 water fountains. They’re also on the ceiling, chandeliers, and staircases.

So what’s with all the harvest images?

It’s a Vanderbilt thing. The Vanderbilt heirs financed the construction of the terminal, and the family crest is all about acorns and oaks leaves.

Acornflourishcloseup

“From a little acorn a mighty oak shall grow,” was Grand Central builder Cornelius Vanderbilt’s motto, according to Christopher Winn’s I Never Knew That About New York.

AcornclockinterestingamericaI’m not sure if any of the Vanderbilt homes that lined Fifth Avenue in the Gilded Age also featured acorns and oaks. Those flourishes may not have gone with the decor in this chateau-style mansion, for example.

But Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Newport, Rhode Island summer “cottage,” the 70-room palazzo-inspired Breakers, is also decorated with acorns—a symbol of strength and long life.

[Third photo: via newyork.com; fourth photo: via interestingamerica.com]

Magical color lights of a New York City night

January 25, 2016

Vienna-born photographer Ernst Haas turned his camera to New York City’s skyscrapers and suspension bridges, creating a kaleidoscope of blurry color in this painterly 1970 image, Lights of New York.

Lightsofnewyork

Haas started his career as a photojournalist for Life, Vogue, and other magazines. In 1962, he was celebrated with a retrospective show of his color photography at the Museum of Modern Art.

Over the years he captured a postwar, midcentury New York in all its poetic, weird, magical glory.

Why Midtown has a tiny Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue

January 25, 2016

Sixandahalfavenuesignwiki“Meet me on Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But Six-and-a-Half Avenue is a real street (inspired by Harry Potter?) tucked among the silver and gray office towers of Midtown between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

It was the Department of Transportation’s idea, apparently. In 2012, DOT officials wanted to encourage pedestrians to use the string of existing public plazas and covered passageways running almost in a straight line from 51st to 57th Streets.

So Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue, ruled by stop signs rather than traffic lights, was born—the first fractional street in the city’s grid system.

Half avenues, though, aren’t a new idea.

Sixthandahalfavegaynornyt1910

In 1910, Mayor William Gaynor floated the possibility of building a half avenue between Fifth and Sixth Avenues from Eighth Street to 59th Street, bisecting Bryant Park.

The unnamed half-avenue would help reduce traffic, said Gaynor. But like so many other ideas and proposals, it never went past the concept stage.

[Image: New York Times]

Unemployed men shoveling New York’s snow

January 25, 2016

Heavy snowfall, while lovely as it is to look at, creates a headache for most New Yorkers. But all that white stuff presents an opportunity for workers looking for extra cash.

Snowworkers1898heraldsquare

“12,000 Find Work in the Streets,” announced the headline for a New York Times story on February 15, 1914.

After 10 inches of snow had fallen, thousands of men lined up at “unemployment stations” established “in the lodging house districts” by the “cleaning department,” which sounds like it may have been part of the Department of Sanitation.

Snowshovelerslineupbain1908

In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, “116 gangs of men were put to work in the streets in those boroughs,” wrote the Times, using old-fashioned shovels, horse carts, and 19 “automobile trucks.”

The pay? In 1902, it was 25 cents per cubic yard of snow. By the 1930s, workers racked up an easier-to-calculate 50 cents an hour.

While thousands of men were getting paid to haul the snow, a side industry popped up outside the lodging houses: men with pushcarts selling “strips of burlap and bagging,” so the pickers and shovelers could keep their feet warm.

Snowdaylaborers1898

“Practically every ’emergency man’ at work in the street cleaning gangs last night had his feet incased [sic] in overshoes and leggings made of burlap bound with rope and twine,” reported the Times.

[Top and bottom photos: New York Times; middle: LOC/Bain Collection]

1880s New York’s most insane fancy ball costume

January 18, 2016

When Kate Feering Strong (below) received her invitation to Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt’s “fancy dress” ball, scheduled for March 26, 1883, she decided not to settle for a more traditional costume—like a Medieval princess or fairy tale character.

Katefeeringstrongcatcostume

Nope, Miss Strong went as a cat—complete with an actual (dead) white feline as a head piece and a gown sewn with the body parts of real kitties.

“The overskirt was made entirely of white cats’ tails sewed on a dark background,” commented the New York Times.

Mrsvanderbilt'schateauThe ball was arguably the most incredible social event of the year, and it also served as kind of a housewarming for the new Fifth Avenue Vanderbilt mansion.

“The bodice is formed of rows of white cats’ heads and the head-dress was a stiffened white cat’s skin, the head over the forehead of the wearer and the tail pendant behind. A blue ribbon with ‘Puss’ inscribed upon it, which hung a bell, worn around the neck completed the dress.”

Here are some of the other outrageous and ostentatious costumes, including the battery-powered “electric light,” worn by Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sister-in-law.

New York is a brick and mason wall ghost town

January 18, 2016

The construction boom across the city has this upside: after an old building has been flattened by the wrecking ball, its faded outline remains behind for a little while, before something new and shiny covers it up.

Fadedoutlinedowntown

These building phantoms give city streets an eerie vibe; they’re red brick and mason wall palimpsests of another New York. Look at the little chimneys that warmed what looks like a former Federal-style home on Bond Street?

Fadedoutlinedtbrooklyn

In Downtown Brooklyn, traces of a two-story tenement on the right hint at what kind of residences lined the streets of the independent city in the 19th century.

Fadedoutlineeast17thstreet

On East 17th Street in is a reminder of what this Flatiron block looked like when it was all low-rises, not tall lofts.

Fadedoutlinewest30th

This corner building in Chelsea must have cut a handsome, sturdy profile. The rooms of the second floor are still outlined too.

Fadedoutlinejanestreet

Back when Jane Street was just a tiny lane in the village of Greenwich, there was a little house under this steep little roof.

Catching a West Side horse car in a winter storm

January 18, 2016

With its network of privately owned horse cars, elevated railroads, and trolleys, New York in the mid- to late-19th century had a relatively decent public transit system.

Streetcar34thbroadway1899mcny

But getting around could be rough in bad weather, especially in one of the horse cars—the way thousands of workingmen, shop girls, and other New Yorkers regularly traveled.

Streetcardriverchristmas“The cold, bitter gale from across the Hudson River nearly swept me into the sunken lots, as I waited at the lower corner of 57th Street for the horse car to come down Eighth Avenue,” recalled James Edward Kelly, a sculptor, of an episode that happened during his boyhood on the West Side in the 1860s.

“The wail of the wind through the telegraph wires on the lofty poles gave additional dreariness. Then the sharp scrape of horses’ shoes on the cobblestones seemed to add to the tingling cold.”

Each horse car had a driver, who sat on top and wore a wool cap and “a soldier’s overcoat with the cape brought up over his head,” wrote Kelly. A conductor was also in the car, clad in “a large fur cap” and “a huge seedy overcoat, ragged and patched at the pockets from being worn away by making change.”

The cars seated 13 passengers on each side; a trip generally cost a nickel. Riders could also sit up front with the driver or stand outside on front and rear platforms.

There was no heat in the cars, of course. Piles of straw thrown across the floor, like a barnyard, offered some insulation from the elements. Two kerosene lamps at each end of the car glowed weakly at night.

Streetcarblockadebowery

“The window panes were so encrusted with ice and frost that one had to scratch it off to see the street,” Kelly remembered when the car was on its way to Vesey Street. “I began to get restless, so I went out on the front platform, where I found great pleasure in watching the straining muscles of the lean horses.”

Streetcarsnow1872nyplThe “fumes of the kerosene mingled with those of the wet straw and damp clothes of the passengers made it hard breathing … I worked my way up and out to the front beside the driver, who by this time looked like a snowman.”

During rough trips like this one, Kelly recalled that passengers became very friendly. “They would talk and laugh with one another like villagers, and occasionally, someone would start singing, in which many would join.”

“Some of the conductors were very jolly, and the men who were generally smokers on the front platform, had a cheerful, if storm-beaten trip.”

Their good cheer came in handy. Cars sometimes jumped track; male passengers would exit and lift it back on the rails (horse cars followed iron rails laid down on the street).

Streetcar1899lexand34thmcnyIt wasn’t easy for the overworked, underfed horses. Of a fallen horse, Kelly wrote, “its lean flanks heaving and sighing was the only response it gave to the beating, howling, and yelling” of passengers who tried to help the animal. Once the horse had been taken off the road, a new team was hitched to theirs.

“The snow seemed to make the passengers unusually sociable,” he wrote. “The men began hobnobbing … while the clear air rang with the girls’ merry laughter…. So it went on till we reached the 49th Street stables.”

[Top photo: 34th and Broadway, 1899, MCNY; second-fourth images: NYPL; fifth photo: snow all cleared at 34th and Lexington Avenue, 1899, MCNY]

Snow lions flank the New York Public Library

January 11, 2016

In December 1948, a blizzard (remember those?) covered New York in almost 20 inches of white powder. An army of more than 18,000 men shoveled and plowed the snow as it fell all night.

They must have done a good job, because incredibly, city schools were all open the next morning.

NYPL1948

But they didn’t clear away the snow from the two library lions, Patience and Fortitude, who have been guarding the main entrance of the New York Public Library since 1911.

They look lovely blanketed in snow.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,379 other followers