Archive for May, 2008

Weehawken Street’s sloped-roof house

May 29, 2008

Rarely do you view a 130-year-old image of a city house and realize that the same house looks identical today. But that’s the case with 392 West Street, aka 6 Weehawken Street, in the West Village. This engraving, probably from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in the 1870s, depicts the wood-frame home at that address.


Here’s 6 Weekhawken today. The staircase ends differently, a tree provides some shade, and a small window near the door has been walled up. But everything else seems to match.

The little house has a colorful history. It was built in 1834 as the Weehawken Market on land that had been part of Newgate State Prison, a colonial jail at 10th Street and the Hudson River which shut down that same year. 

But the market failed, and in 1848 the house was bought by a boat builder, then traded hands again and used as a saloon, gambling den, clam house, and pool hall. In the 1970s to 1990s, it housed gay bars. The building doesn’t seem to have any commercial use now. 

Weehawken Street, the centerpiece of the tiny Weehawken Street Historic District, is the smallest street in Manhattan—and one that people love to piss on, as this old sign makes clear. 

Peacocking around at St. John the Divine

May 29, 2008

This handsome peacock didn’t feel like showing off his plumage tonight, but that’s okay. He was gracious enough to share the bench with us later.

There used to be several peacocks on the Cathedral grounds at 112th and Amsterdam Avenue. Anyone know what happened to them? Hopefully they weren’t snatched as pets or didn’t become part of an exotic dinner.

Diner destruction on West Street!

May 29, 2008

Whoa, what’s going on here? This classic chrome diner looks like it was beaten up and left to die on West Street between Clarkson and Leroy. In 2005 it was a barbecue joint called Rib, and before that it earned good reviews as the Lunchbox Food Company.

With so many  old city diners biting the dust (the Cheyenne, the Strand, and the Moondance to name a few), this place is crying out to be restored.

How New Yorkers got mud off their boots

May 29, 2008

They used a boot scraper—a little device built into the iron railing leading to the front door of every decent house. It was a necessity in the mid-1800s, when most streets were still little more than muddy cowpaths or dirt thoroughfares lined with horse manure. This one is from an 1840s row house on West 11th Street and Seventh Avenue. 

The prettiest block in the South Bronx

May 25, 2008

The first Bronx subway stop on the 6 train from Manhattan leaves you a block from 138th Street and Alexander Avenue. Once known as “Doctors Row” and “The Irish Fifth Avenue,” Alexander Avenue between here and 141st Street boasts gorgeous row houses dating to the 1870s. 

If you swoon over original details and don’t mind living sandwiched between a couple of housing projects, this could be the block for you.

Though now considered part of the catch-all South Bronx, the neighborhood is in the tiny Mott Haven Historic District. Once a thriving community dominated by Mott Ironworks and piano factories, Mott Haven fell victim to the usual urban blight in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1990s, antique shops, lofts, and a couple of cafes on nearby Bruckner Boulevard have helped revive the area. It feels pretty safe, yet reports of the neighborhood’s Soho-fication are, well, premature. Luckily, remnants of old Mott Haven still remain, like this piano ad.

Check out the brick sign on the old Mott Ironworks building, on the Harlem River. J. L. Mott is Jordan Mott, an industrialist who bought the land from the Morris (as in Morrisania) family in 1828.

Meet the 19th Century Hipster Queen

May 25, 2008

That would be Ada Clare, a writer and actress who came to New York in the 1850s as a single mother espousing free love. One of the few female regulars at Pfaff’s, the 19th century literary “beer cellar” on Broadway near Bleecker, she was known citywide as the “Queen of Bohemia.” 

Witty and attractive, she regularly contributed to literary journals of the day and remained tight with Walt Whitman until she died in 1874, at age 38, after being bitten by a rabid dog.


The Battle of Harlem Heights

May 25, 2008

It’s Memorial Day weekend, a good time to look back on a small yet crucial battle that took place just west of the Columbia University campus. On September 16, 1776, fighting broke out between the Continental Army and British troops at 106th Street and Broadway. The battle pushed northward, with most of the fighting happening around 120th Street. This plaque, at 117th and Broadway, commemorates it.

Not everyone agrees that the U.S. won. But the battle did force the British to retreat from upper Manhattan, and this invigorated the Continental Army’s morale after decisive defeats in Brooklyn and at Kip’s Bay.

How old is that Delancey Street liquor store?

May 25, 2008

Right before the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge is this gem of a shop. More than 80 years old—yep, that’s as old as hills indeed!

When horses powered New York

May 23, 2008

The American Museum of Natural History just launched its horse exhibit, which makes this a good time to consider the equine era in New York City. It’s only been 100 years or so since cars and trucks began to replace horses as a major mode of transit above ground. This photo is from 1888; check out the horses pulling streetcars (to Harlem!) at Bowery and Canal. 

Reminders of horse power abound, like this equine water fountain under the 59th Street Bridge. It was built in 1919 for use in the open-air market that existed there at the time, a market likely packed with horse carts, which were still a common sight in the 1940s and even the 1950s.

I only know of two other horse drinking fountains in the city. One is on Central Park South just inside the park off Sixth Avenue; the other sits at the Southeast corner of the park. Both were presented to the ASPCA in the early 1900s. And they both still work!

If you’re looking for an East Side apartment

May 23, 2008

Across from Serendipity 3, on East 60th Street, is the Ambassador Terrace, with their lovely 1950s-era (1960s?) vacancy sign. Anyone know what LO stand for? The only LO I could find was for LOuisiana in Canarsie.