Archive for June, 2008

Brooklyn’s little drummer boy

June 30, 2008

In 1860, 11-year-old Brooklyn kid Clarence D. McKenzie joined the 13th Regiment of the New York State Militia as a drummer boy; his job was to drum different signals to help troops communicate on the battlefield.

In June 1861 his unit took a steamer to Annapolis, but before he saw combat there he was accidentally shot and killed by another member of his regiment. He was 12 years old and the first Brooklyn resident to die in the Civil War. Thousands attended his funeral, touched by “Brooklyn’s Boy Martyr” as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called him.

Clarence was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery under a monument depicting a drummer boy that still stands today. Shortly after his death, his Fulton Street church published a book (digitized here) about what a heroic, god-fearing boy he was. I doubt an adventurous kid like Clarence would appreciate being portrayed as such a goody-two-shoes, but it’s an interesting piece of historical ephemera.

Brooklyn’s drummer boy hasn’t been forgotten: Kensington’s PS 230 was renamed the Clarence D. McKenzie school back in March.

Before they were the Yankees

June 30, 2008

The team was called the Highlanders, named for the British army unit the Gordon Highlanders. The name also fit the location where they played: Hilltop Park on 168th and Broadway overlooking the Hudson River.

Unfortunately the American League Highlanders, who played their first game in 1903, didn’t win very often. And the more established New York Giants, playing for the National League nearby at the Polo Grounds, resented their existence. 

But the two teams eventually warmed up to each other, and by 1913, the Highlanders officially changed their name to the Yankees, a nickname fans and sportswriters had given the team. The Yankee era had begun.

It’s a shame Hilltop Park was abandoned because it sure offered a gorgeous view of the Hudson and the New Jersey Palisades, as seen in this photo. Since the 1920s the site has been occupied by Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

Columbia-Presbyterian hasn’t forgotten about its baseball roots; a plaque in a garden on hospital grounds marks the approximate spot where home plate was located.

The masks near the Meatpacking District

June 30, 2008

I’ve always wondered about this 5-story apartment house on far West 13th Street. Though you can’t exactly tell from this rainy-day photo, the building, constructed in 1925, is painted blue on an otherwise drab block, and the facade features these two symbols of the theater. Why the masks are there is a mystery. Perhaps an actor or director was the original owner.

How to get a job in Greenwich Village

June 30, 2008

The authors of The New Inside Guide to Greenwich Village, a cool little handbook published in 1965, seem to assume that anyone moving to the Village back then did so to pursue some kind of artistic endeavor. Therefore, they needed sound advice on how to actually pay the bills.

Not very enlightening, unfortunately. But this next part details who to call if you’re looking for temp work. I guess Miss Rae was the 1965 equivalent of Career Blazers?

The other waterfalls of New York City

June 27, 2008

Sure those four newly installed East River waterfalls (actually they’re giant fountains; we’ll let it go) are getting a ton of media attention. But the city has some real falls that deserve a visit this summer.

So pack a picnic basket and enter Central Park at 100th Street. Head north and you’ll come across the waterfall at The Loch. Water doesn’t spew out from 120 feet in the air—it’s more like three feet—but it’s pretty. Plus, you don’t need to hop the Circle Line to get close.

A waterfall with, well, more actual falling water is up in the Bronx close to 180th Street, where the Bronx River runs near the Bronx Zoo entrance. It feels very rustic even though the 2 and 5 trains are not far away.

The Bronx River Alliance offers canoe and paddle trips for a close-up view of the falls, but you can see them on foot too.

I’m not aware of any other falls, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a few were hiding away in Staten Island and Queens. 

Swanky apartment ads from the 1930s

June 27, 2008

It may have been the middle of the Depression, but Park Avenue developers had lots of recently constructed apartments to push, as these ads in the July 4, 1936 edition of The New Yorker demonstrate.

This one below, for a Murray Hill building, features an “interesting” floor plan. The dropped living room feels like a 1930s design innovation:

This ad on the left targets “the family with a debutante daughter or several children” and includes the kind of lifestyle illustration developers love using in ads today. On the right, no fancy copy; just some “smart”and roomy uptown apartments. I wonder how “reasonable” $3000 a year for six rooms really was.

Mailing a letter used to be so low-tech

June 27, 2008

Back in pre-1970s New York City, a piece of mail only needed a two-digit “postal code” to get where it was supposed to go. It almost seems too simple, considering what mail requires today: a 5-digit ZIP code, 4-digit add-on number, and a bar code slapped across the bottom.

When the ZIP code was instituted, the old postal codes became the last two digits of the new ZIP. If this card was going in the mail today, the ZIP would be 10022. But the Doubleday Book Shop is long gone. Ferragamo took its place. I bet Ferragamo is not open until midnight.

Amazingly, before 1943, you didn’t have to add any kind of number at all. Just the address was enough.

Patriotic pizza on the Upper West Side

June 27, 2008

Like this deli, I have a feeling the God Bless America pizza parlor got its start—or at least its sign—around 2001.

The secret door in the subway wall

June 25, 2008

Amid all the cute beaver plaques that adorn the Astor Place station lies a subway mystery: What’s with the tiled-over doorway on the southbound side that says “Clinton Hall” above it?

Turns out it was the name of the building at 13 Astor Place, above the station. Formerly the Astor Place Opera House (and the site of the Astor Place riots in 1849 that killed 20 people), the building housed the Mercantile Library of New York. When the city constructed the Astor Place station in 1904, they created an exit from the platform to the library.

The Mercantile Library occupied the site from 1855 to 1932, when it relocated to 47th Street.

Hotel St. George: “absolutely fire-proof”

June 25, 2008

Hotels didn’t get more opulent than the St. George, Brooklyn Heights’ premier place to stay during the first half of the 20th century and home to various Brooklyn Dodgers. The hotel’s several buildings were put up between 1885 and 1929, when it became the largest hotel in New York City. The ballroom and saltwater pool were huge draws for locals.

A New York Times article from 2002 states that famed architect Montrose Morris designed one of the hotel’s structures—one with flag poles and a roof deck. Presumably this is it pictured below, in a turn-of-the-century ad from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Despite the assurance that it was fireproof, part of the Hotel St. George did go up in flames in 1995. By that year, after decades of deterioration, only one building was still an active hotel; several others had been sold off as co-ops, and a few remained empty.

Two of the empty structures and one apartment house burned through the night in a spectacular 16-alarm blaze.