Christmas sidewalk vendors of Sixth Avenue

December 5, 2016

Sixth Avenue along Ladies Mile was a prime shopping district during the 1902 holiday season, with enormous emporiums like Siegel Cooper, Hugh O’Neill, and Macy’s offering Christmas windows, in-store Santas, and deals galore.

A smart vendor could make some cash selling his wares there, as this tree or wreath vendor appears to be doing.

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Hey, isn’t that the house of worship once known as the Limelight? These New Yorkers would have called it the Church of the Holy Communion.

Christmas shopping is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago, as these additional photos reveal.

Who killed this pretty East Side model in 1937?

December 5, 2016

veronicagedeonphooIt was a gruesome scene inside the fourth floor apartment at 316 East 50th Street on Easter afternoon, 1937.

Veronica Gedeon, a 20-year-old model, was found naked and strangled to death on a bed; her mother, Mary, had also been strangled. Mary’s clothes were off as well, her body under the same bed.

Newspapers reported that Mary had been “ravished.” Meanwhile, a deaf bartender who had rented another room as a boarder was also dead in his bed, stabbed multiple times.

Only Mary’s pet Pekinese was spared, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 29.

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Police from the 17th precinct rushed to the home after Joseph Gideon, the estranged husband of Mary and father of Veronica, came upon it when he paid a holiday visit to the apartment, which Mary ran as a boardinghouse.

veronicagedeonhouseCops questioned Joseph, but nothing tied the immigrant upholsterer to the murders. They picked up other suspects who were cleared.

While the police tried to solve the crimes, the press focused on Veronica, known as Ronnie, according to Undisclosed Files of the Police: Cases From the Archives of the NYPD.

Her modeling work wasn’t high fashion. The pretty blonde posed sometimes nude for ads, artists, and detective magazines.

She had a fiance, but the night of the murders, she was out with another man and reportedly returned to the East 50th Street apartment intoxicated.

Her modeling work and love life were mined for clues; even pages of her diary were printed in the papers.

veronicagedeonirwinThanks to this focus, the public didn’t shy away from blaming Veronica for the crimes. “The young model probably messed around with too many men . . . she should have been more particular with her boy friends,” commented one Brooklyn resident in another Eagle story.

The real killer, however, wasn’t interested in Veronica—he was infatuated with her married older sister, Ethel.

Robert Irwin (right), a sculptor and “sex mad” divinity student became obsessed with Ethel when he boarded with the family in another apartment the Gedeons had on East 53rd Street.

A massive hunt for Irwin consumed the NYPD. “The city’s entire detective force, 1950 strong, armed with photographs and thumbnail descriptions of the vanished sculptor, probed through cheap Bowery lodging houses and saloons, through hospital wards and missions for down-and-outers,” wrote the Eagle on April 6.

Caught in the Midwest, Irwin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

He calmly told officials the story: he “arrived at the Gedeons’ apartment on Holy Saturday night,” stated a New York Daily News article from 2008 that looked back on the crime.

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“He and Mary Gedeon chatted amicably for some time, but when Irwin pried for gossip about Ethel, Mrs. Gedeon told him it was time to let go of the imagined romance. Irwin snapped.

veronicagedeonandmomgetty‘The room was blue with death,’ he later said. ‘There wasn’t anything I could do.'” He killed Mary first, then murdered Veronica when she came home at 3 a.m. The boarder was stabbed to death as he slept.

Sentenced to 139 years in prison amid controversy about his mental state, Irwin was eventually moved to Matteawan, a state institution for the criminally insane, where he died in 1975.

[First and third photos: Life magazine, April 12, 1937; second photo: Find a Grave; third and fourth photos: Brooklyn Daily Eagle; fifth photo: Getty images]

Meet the original Upper West Side old-timers

December 5, 2016

Think wistfully about the Upper West Side of the past, and enormous rent-stabilized apartments, independent bookstores, and grittier streets might come to mind.

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But for the members of a group called Ye Olde Settlers’ Association of Ye West Side, the neighborhood they mourned was a bucolic one of farms and country estates.

yeoldsettlersnytimes1912That’s because the Ye Olde Settlers were the original Upper West Side old-timers.

The 80 founders had lived in small villages like Bloomingdale and Harsenville in the 19th century. As the city’s population ballooned, they watched their stretch of Manhattan get carved up, paved over, and urbanized—all within a few decades.

And just like longtime New Yorkers do today, these senior citizens enjoyed getting together to talk about the good old days in the ‘hood.

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“Once a year that young but thoroughly New York organization known as Ye Olde Settlers’ Association of Ye West Side holds a dinner and induces many of its members to give reminiscences of the days when houses were few, apartments were none, and transportation on the West Side was chiefly accomplished by old-fashioned horse cars on Eighth Avenue…” wrote the New York Times in January 1915.

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What exactly did they gather to remember? The Apthorp farm for one, with its stately mansion. In 1908, the Apthorp apartment residence replaced the farm on West End Avenue and 78th Street.

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They also recalled Manhattan Square (created before Central Park at 77th Street, now the site of the Museum of Natural History), mayor Fernando Wood’s estate (Broadway at 76th Street), and the Furniss estate (Riverside Drive and 100th Street).

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Formed in 1911, Ye Olde Settlers published yearbooks (with some fascinating historical tidbits) into the 1920s. But like the West Side of old, the group died out without ceremony.

[Top photo: Furniss Estate, MCNY, x2010.11.14452; second image: New York Times, March 24, 1912; third image: Apthorp Mansion, MCNY, x2010.11.6201; fourth image: New York Times, January 24, 1915; sixth image: Ye Old Settlers’ yearbook, 1921]

Feel the nostalgia for these Manhattan store signs

November 28, 2016

Maybe we’ve hit the commercial real estate saturation point, or maybe it’s just a coincidence.

But a lot of vintage store signs seem to have come back into view this year…and have yet to be covered up again by the signage of a new store tenant.

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Holiday shopping season is the perfect time to view the above sign for 1980s Upper West Side store The Last Wound-Up, which specialized in new and retro toys and gadgets powered by a wind-up knob.

The shop was located on Columbus Avenue and 73rd Street. (Thanks to ENY reader Amy for the snap.)

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Before Duane Reade colonized Manhattan, there were pharmacies like this one, spotted on Eighth Avenue in Midtown.

It has no name and no frills—but look at that wonderful 1970s-yellow pestle and mortar icon above the entrance!

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Speaking of no frills, you’ve got to love this sign, on First Avenue in the East Village. The store recently housed an eatery called Tree. But “restaurant” is better, no?

This is the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

November 28, 2016

It made its debut on Christmas Eve 1931, in the muddy pit that would one day become Rockefeller Center.

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A group of mostly Italian immigrant hardhats knocking down the brownstones on the eventual site of 30 Rock chipped in to buy it—a very humble 18-foot balsam.

rockefellercenter1945edwardratcliffx2010-11-8801They put up the skinny tree inside the construction site and draped it in tin cans, paper, and tinsel—as well as traditional cranberry garlands and foil from blasting caps used during dynamiting, according to a 2015 New York Times piece.

Public Christmas trees in parks had been a thing since the first one graced Madison Square Park in 1912.

But the workers in the pit were honoring more than just the holiday (and the fact that they had jobs during this Depression year).

They were celebrating because it was payday, with each man receiving his wages in an envelope beside their tree.

Two years later, with Rockefeller Center completed, the owners decided to erect and decorate a real Christmas tree, a 65-footer that went up outside the then–RCA building.

rockefellercentertree1972c2010-11-8796Every year since, the holiday tree has delighted national crowds during its annual lighting ceremony and has been visited by hordes of thousands.

In its 85-year history, the tree has had its disruptions. Thanks to a war-mandated blackout, the two trees at 30 Rock weren’t lit in 1944.

In 1979, in an effort to bring attention to the American hostages held in Iran at the time, two men climbed the tree. One hung on for 80 minutes chanting “Free the 50.” (He was given a summons for trespassing.)

In 1971, with recycling catching on, the tree was turned into mulch for the first time—a tradition that continues once the tree has completed its duty come January.

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[Top photo: AP, 1931; second photo: MCNY 1945, x2010.11.8801; third photo: MCNY, 1973, x2010.11.8796; fourth image: MCNY, 1945, F2011.33.2122Q]

A hidden magical garden behind the FDR Drive

November 28, 2016

Considering the density of its streets, New York is a city with a surprising number of hidden gardens: some in churchyards, others created on empty lots, and some designed to mask garages and other unpretty structures.

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But few of these green spaces are as hard to get to as the quarter-acre oasis between the FDR Drive and First Avenue, behind the cluster of buildings that make up Bellevue Hospital Center.

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It’s the Bellevue Sobriety Garden, a strangely magical place that mixes sculpture, trees, flowers, mosaics, doll parts, cement, and foliage.

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Started by a Bellevue psychiatrist in 1989 and tended to by recovering addicts in the hospital’s Chemical Recovery Program, this isn’t your typical serene green space.

You won’t find many tourists or crowds here; it’s accessible via a lonely stretch of 26th Street beyond First Avenue or from an FDR Drive off ramp. And it’s not a landscaped masterpiece; grass can be patchy, and it has a wild, overgrown look to it.

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But that’s all part of its whimsical and imaginative charm, a garden straight out of an artist’s fairy tale. It’s not exactly a secret, but if you visit, you’ll feel like you stumbled into a New York you never knew.

The entrance, flanked by enormous statues and pieces of old buildings, welcomes visitors while encouraging them not to steal the veggies and fruits grown here in warmer months.

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Slender cobblestone paths take you past patches of flowers to benches, trellises, a wooden bridge, and a tiny gingerbread-like house. Along the way you’ll walk past mosaics and sculptures of sheep, dogs, pigs, and a snake.

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Take a walk through it, and you’ll forget about the parking lot next door and the roaring traffic on the FDR Drive.

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Back in 2014, someone came in and vandalized the garden, defacing its statues. By the looks of things now, on a warmish autumn day, everything seems back in order—a peaceful and magical respite not very accessible to the average New Yorker.

Times Square used to be a festival of neon light

November 24, 2016

Behold Times Square when it was New York’s premier entertainment district, a festival of neon lights emanating from billboards and theaters.

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The postcard carries a 1945 postmark, but it appears to depict Times Square in 1940. Two films released that year, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and The Westerner, with Gary Cooper, blaze across movie marquees.

A turkey dinner at the Municipal Lodging House

November 24, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1931, in New York City.

By early 1932, one in three city residents will be out of work. Roughly 1.6 million were on the relief rolls, according to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Down and out New Yorkers began building a Hooverville in Central Park.

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And an astounding 10,000 men waited for their turn to sit down to dinner at the Municipal Lodging House, the public city shelter for homeless men, women, and children at the foot of East 25th Street.

This New York City Department of Records photo captured a group of these men in bulky overcoats and hats. They’re young and old, mostly oblivious to the camera and focused only on consuming their turkey and potatoes.

4 minutes of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, 1945

November 24, 2016

Didn’t get up in time to watch this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—in person or on TV?

No problem. Instead, travel back in time to 1945 and take a look at this vintage parade footage, which offers excellent views of mid-century Central Park West, clowns who are not scary, and parade floats inspired by fairy tales rather than blockbuster movies.

1945 was a milestone year for the parade, which started in 1924: it had been suspended for the three previous years because of rubber and helium shortages brought on by World War II, according to AM New York.

Firefighters racing to a blaze in 1905 New York

November 21, 2016

Their engine is pulled by horses, and the long coats these smoke eaters are wearing look awfully bulky. But that’s how New York’s firefighters did it in 1905, when this postcard image was made.

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thegildedageinnewyorkcover-1Amazingly, the city’s fire department had only been professionalized since 1865. Prior to that, various volunteer engine and ladder companies put out New York’s fires, sometimes competing with one another to do so.

Find out more about the rough and tumble early days of the FDNY, when the volunteer companies also served as social and political clubs, in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.