All the ways to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in 1903

September 21, 2020

Here we are at Brooklyn Terminal in 1903, on the Brooklyn side of the bridge known as the “East River Bridge” during its long construction.

To cross the bridge, you had options. Taking a trolley car was one method; a horse-drawn cart was another. And of course, walking was a possibility. By 1903, it was free to be a pedestrian on the bridge, but when the span opened in 1883, the fee to walk was one cent!

What, no bike lane yet?

[MCNY F2011.33.1886]

A sidewalk relic of the Hotel Carter’s better days

September 21, 2020

The Hotel Carter has been closed for months now—for good or because of a renovation, I’m not sure.

The infamous West 43rd Street hostelry, named the dirtiest hotel in America several times by TripAdvisor and the site of numerous suicides and a few horrific murders during its 90-year history (including this one in 2007), is currently hidden from view by scaffolding.

Sticking out on the sidewalk, however, is a Hotel Carter icon I’d never noticed before: this sidewalk sign—with the Carter name spelled out in script, a signifier that this is a hotel of class and taste.

Of course, the Hotel Carter was neither of these, at least in its later incarnation. Opened in 1930 as the Hotel Dixie (complete with its own basement bus station, see the sign for it at the far right in the photo below), the place was designed for business travelers who needed to be in the Times Square area.

The owners went bankrupt not long after that; the hotel changed hands over the years. The bus depot closed in 1957, unable to compete with the new Port Authority Bus Station around the corner on Eighth Avenue.

Rechristened the Hotel Carter in 1976, the hotel became largely a welfare hotel in the 1980s, though by 1984 it was so dangerous and decrepit, the city stopped sending people there, according to a 1989 Daily News article.

The Carter began attracting travelers again in the 1990s and 2000s, many of whom left illustrious scathing reviews (and photos of their bedbug-bitten skin).

Whatever becomes of the Carter, the wonderful vertical Hotel Carter sign is currently visible through the scaffolding.

Walk by and look up at it…and then down at the logo embedded in the sidewalk. If the Carter has a date with the wrecking ball soon, at least the sidewalk sign might stick around.

[Top image: Wikipedia; fourth image: New York City Department of Records and Information Services]

A 1941 painting reveals a lost Brooklyn street

September 21, 2020

New York City has a shadow metropolis of hundreds of demapped streets—roads, avenues, and ordinary blocks that were removed from the streetscape over the centuries because they didn’t fit the encroaching street grid or were wiped out by new development.

It’s fun to find references to them in the contemporary city. A few examples: the manhole covers embossed with “Goerck Street” across Manhattan or signs for the ‘Fourth Avenue Building” on Park Avenue South.

But a striking painting by Miklos Suba, a Hungarian-born Precisionist painter who immigrated to Brooklyn in 1924, brought to my attention another demapped street in a formerly industrial swath of the borough.

“York Street/Flint Street Corner (House in Shadow)” was painted in 1941, a clean, controlled, and geometric depiction of the back of tenement and factory buildings in Brooklyn. (Top image)

York Street is still here, stretching from DUMBO to Vinegar Hill. But what happened to Flint Street, a one-and-a-half block alley under the Manhattan Bridge approach? (Second image)

The first mention I found of it is in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article on street names from 1869. By the middle of the century, Flint Street seemed to have vanished without a trace.

It wasn’t a casualty of the development of Cadman Plaza, which opened in 1939. Perhaps it was demapped because of changes to the Brooklyn Bridge approach, or maybe the industrial buildings of the surrounding streets subsumed it.

[Above photo: Front Street looking toward Flint Street, 1927]

I bet Suba would know. A resident of Montague Street and later Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, Suba developing an intimate relationship with the borough he lived in until his death in 1944, capturing buildings in bold colors and devoid of people. (“Smith Street,” 1930, is another example of his work, above)

[Top image: McNay Art Museum; second image: LOC; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Whitney Museum]

Duane Street like you’ve never seen it before

September 14, 2020

If you’re used to thinking of Duane Street as an affluent downtown street stretching from Foley Square to Tribeca, then this 1877 depiction of a dingy, down and out Duane Street will come as a surprise.

The painter is Louis Comfort Tiffany. Before he made his name by creating stained glass pieces, he studied painting.

The title is “Old New York,” and the painting is part of the collection at the Brooklyn Museum. I wish I knew what brought Tiffany to Duane Street and why he captured this image of rundown storefronts and two men—one busying himself with work and the other standing, perhaps waiting for business.

The sordid past of the East Village’s Extra Place

September 14, 2020

The downtown alleys of old New York tended to be unsavory. So it’s not exactly a surprise that the East Village alley called Extra Place experienced its share of the social ills of the 19th century city.

Gangs, domestic violence, fires, and disease all touched this obscure dead end off First Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue, a look through various newspaper archives shows.

How Extra Place got its name is a bit of a mystery. But Forgotten New York has it that the street dates back to 1800, when a landowner named Philip Minthorne divvied up his 110-acre farm equally among his children. A small “extra” piece of land was left over.

Extra Place may have been a respectable, more middle class place to live at first, just like the surrounding neighborhood. New York newspapers of the 1860s and 1870s contain ads from Extra Place addresses looking for chambermaids and other household workers.

 By the 1880s, Extra Place was making headlines. The story of two Extra Place residents who stabbed and billy clubbed each other at 2 a.m. one night appeared in the major papers the next day. One was a truckman and the other a watchman residing at a lodging house at 6 Extra Place; they were arrested and brought to Essex Market Police Court.

Reports of fights and drunkenness on Extra Place became more common. Fires too. One 1887 blaze that broke out in a bar fixtures factory running from the Bowery to Extra Place displaced many residents and killed two horses in a stable, reported the New York Times.

In 1888, domestic violence was reported at 4 Extra Place. In one case, two brothers stabbed each other, and one assaulted the other’s wife with a hammer. (They too were brought to Essex Market, per the Evening World.

Then there was cholera. In 1892, a woman came down with the deadly disease, and some residents were quarantined to prevent a wider outbreak. (Not an uncommon sequence of events in New York at the time.)

Reporters wrote stories about the “queer” alley and its tenements. “Peddlers rarely venture into the street,” one stated. “Crooked lampposts and ugly fire escapes are in sight, but the east side eye has been educated up to that sort of thing and the straight and dignified lamppost is regarded with as much suspicion as the bare walls of a tenement.”

Extra Place receded from headlines in the 20th century. (See the alley in the 1930s, photo at left and below.) But a renaissance for this alley located in a down and out part of Manhattan was not yet in the cards.

“Extra Place is a narrow little dead-end street, dark even by day and marked off by rusty iron warehouse doors and shuttered windows, with week-old newspapers blowing along the gutters,” wrote Brendan Gill in The New Yorker in 1952 (via the AIA Guide).

In the 1970s, Extra Place made an appearance on the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia LP cover. In gritty, broke New York City, Extra Place was still under the radar. I’m not sure it even had a street sign.

Fast forward to the 2000s, when the developers behind a new luxury apartment building wanted to turn Extra Place into a pedestrian walkway lined with boutiques and restaurants.

Judging by how quiet it was on Extra Place a few weeks ago, I don’t think the plan worked. You can luxurify this alley with trendy brands and pave over the Belgian blocks with concrete, but Extra Place’s 19th century feel doesn’t disappear so easily.

[Map: NYPL; seventh photo: NYPL]

Only one of these Gilded Age buildings still stands

September 14, 2020

Between the late 19th century and World War I, about 70 opulent (and sometimes absurdly ostentatious) mansions were built on the mile and half strip between East 59th and 90th Streets, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

By World War II, many had been demolished; wealthy New Yorkers were now favoring apartment houses instead of single-family dwellings. By the 1970s, almost all of these monuments of Gilded Age money were leveled.

The view in this turn-of-the-century postcard looks up Fifth Avenue at 60th Street. It only captures a few blocks, but not one of the mansions in the postcard still stands. (I sure wish the lavish Elbridge T. Gerry Mansion, the second one in the row, was not bulldozed…it’s wild!)

But one building in the postcard is still with us today—the headquarters of the Metropolitan Club, the stately, refined building in the foreground on the right. (At left, in 1898)

Formed in 1891 with J.P. Morgan as its first president, the Metropolitan Club consisted of New York’s major male movers and shakers. They built this Stanford White-designed clubhouse in 1893.

Exclusive clubs for power brokers and titans of industry might seem a little silly to contemporary city residents. But the Gilded Age was the great era of private clubs.

Joining the Knickerbocker Club, the Metropolitan Club, or the Union Club gave elite men a place to dine, network, and rub elbows in a comfortable space away from the office. (Clubs for elite women popped up in the early 20th century as well, like the Colony Club and the Cosmopolitan Club.)

The Metropolitan Club still exists, though now women can become members. The building extends east along 60th Street, a restrained emblem of Gilded Age society on a very different millionaires’ row. (Above, another view up Fifth Avenue, 1896)

[Postcard: MCNY F2011.33.1749; second photo: MCNY 93.1.1.2910; third photo: MCNY 93.1.1.17065]

This Second Avenue sign is a visual time capsule

September 7, 2020

Unfortunately the sign doesn’t date to 1885. But that’s okay.

The gorgeous double-decker Block Drug Stores (is there more than one?) sign, at Second Avenue and Sixth Street, has been hanging for decades on this East Village/Little Ukraine corner—a magnificent visual time capsule from an earlier New York.

New York’s vintage drugstore signs are disappearing on us. I know the first one in this post is gone; the other two I hope still exist.

 

Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River

September 7, 2020

The East River—its bridges, boats, and natural beauty—has inspired centuries of artists. But few have depicted the river with the richness and romanticism of Woldemar Neufeld.

[“Beekman Place Houses”]

Neufeld’s journey to New York City was marked by tragedy. Born in Southern Russia in 1909, his Mennonite family immigrated to Waterloo, Ontario, after his father was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920 following the Russian Revolution, states the Waterloo Public Library.

[“East River in Winter”]

After establishing himself as an artist in 1933, he continued studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University. In the mid-1940s, he, his wife, and his young family moved to Manhattan.

[“Henderson Houses”]

Neufeld lived on East End Avenue, one block from the East River waterfront on the Upper East Side. Even after relocating his family home to Connecticut, he maintained his studio there for 30 years.

[“Hell Gate at Night”]

”When I moved to East End Avenue, it began a new chapter in my life,” he told the New York Times in a 1986 interview. ”For years I painted nothing but the East River. Some people down there still call me the artist laureate of the East River.”

[“John Finley Walk”]

He painted other scenes of New York as well. But his East River images (the first four in this post are linocuts, a printmaking technique using linoleum, and the fifth is a woodblock print) capture the vivid brilliance of the river and midcentury city.

Neufeld depicts the heroic workaday river, where ships belch smoke and tugboats fight through ice. He also gives us the enchantment: an illuminated bridge at night, a soft dusting of snow on riverside park trees, and the popping colors of a luxury block as seen from the river.

His style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But these narrative prints reveal Neufeld’s (at right in 1950) love and appreciation of the stories the East River tells, as well as the energy and vitality of the city beside it.

[Top image: 1stdibs; second image: George Glazer Gallery; third image: Gregory James Gallery; fourth image: Gregory James Gallery; fifth image: Hibid.com; sixth image: Hartford Courant, 1950]

New York City’s last unsolved murder of 9/11

September 7, 2020

Nineteen years ago on 9/11, a total of 2753 people were killed at the World Trade Center by Al Qaeda terrorists.

But one more person was murdered on that terrible day, shot to death on a dark Brooklyn street just before midnight.

Almost two decades later, amid yearly tributes to the victims at the World Trade Center, his death on a Bed-Stuy block is still unsolved.

The victim was Polish immigrant Henryk Siwiak, a 46-year-old father of two. Siwiak came to the United States 11 months earlier looking for work, according to a WNYC report from 2011.

Siwiak was staying near his sister in Far Rockaway. On the morning of 9/11, he arrived at the Lower Manhattan construction site where he had been working, but the site had closed due to the terrorist attacks.

“So he walked to Brooklyn and sometime later went to a Polish employment agency,” states WNYC. “There he was offered a job: to clean a Pathmark supermarket in Flatbush. The pay was around $10 an hour and he would start that same night.”

He went home to Queens and called his wife. “He borrowed a map from his landlady,” Siwiak’s wife, Ewa, later told WNYC. “I spoke to her later. She tried to stop him, told him it wasn’t a good neighborhood, it was not a good time to go there, and definitely not on that particular day.”

That night, Siwiak took an A train and got off at Utica Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which was unfortunately a long way from the supermarket.

Apparently trying to find the store, he ended up on Albany Avenue between Fulton and Decatur Streets (above right, the block in 2019).

At 11:45 pm, residents heard gunshots. Siwiak was hit in the chest. He made it up the stoop at 119 Decatur Street (above left, in 2011) and rang the doorbell before dying, the New York Times reported in 2011.

The gunman got away. Was it a robbery? Money in Siwiak’s pockets had not been taken, according to the Times.

“His widow has theorized that Siwiak was targeted in the aftermath of the attack because he looked Middle Eastern, with a dark complexion, and spoke with an accent,” states the Daily News article. “And she noted that her husband wore an army fatigue jacket and camouflage pants on the night he was blown away.”

To this day, police still have not said they have any leads. (At right, 119 Decatur Street in 2019)

His case remains cold, his death a mystery overshadowed by the horrors of 9/11 and memorialized by no one outside his family.

[Top image: Wikipedia; second image: Google 2019; third image: Todd Heisler/NYT; fourth image: Google 2019]

New York invented the first Labor Day parade

August 31, 2020

History isn’t sure who actually came up with the idea of a holiday honoring workers. What is known is that the first Labor Day was launched by the Central Labor Union in New York City, with a parade and festivities taking place in Union Square on September 5, 1882.

 

The holiday was popular. “The following year the union shifted the holiday to the first Monday of the month,” states the Smithsonian/National Museum of American History.

“This tradition generally spread as state governments began to officially put the holiday on their calendars. Finally in 1894, the federal government made Labor Day a national holiday for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

This image of the parade five years later also shows marchers in Union Square. And what about the 2020 Labor Day Parade? I tried to look it up but found nothing. Perhaps it’s being held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

[First image: Wikipedia; second image: MCNY]