Archive for July, 2008

Summertime theater in Patchin Place

July 30, 2008

Little Patchin Place, off West 10th Street in the Village, is one of those slightly scruffy 19th-century mews that thrill tourists and New Yorkers alike. I lived there for five years, and every day people would stand outside the front gate, peering in and soaking up the charm.

The apartments were kind of falling apart, but for the chance to live where e.e. cummings once resided? It was all okay. Below, Berenice Abbott’s 1930s Patchin Place photo.

Built around 1850 as living quarters for the Basque waiters working at the nearby Brevoort Hotel, the 3-story houses didn’t have electricity or running water until the teens, about the time the waiters moved out and artists, actors, and writers moved in.

Considering the artistic bent, it actually isn’t surprising that in 1918, residents of Patchin Place put on a play in the communal backyard behind one row of houses. According to a New York Times story, Patchinites performed Yeats’ “The King’s Threshold,” at midnight on July 1. About 300 people came to watch:

“Subways Are for Sleeping”

July 30, 2008

“What’s it like to flourish in New York City without a job, without a home, without friends?” reads the preface of this noir-ish little paperback, published in 1956. “Here are the amazing, bizarre, incredible, hilarious, true stories of people who live without money and like it. A strange breed of off-beat characters, they inhabit a city New Yorkers seldom see.”

Each of the 10 chapters tells the story of some eccentric New Yorker who manages to survive without paying rent or holding a job. Do characters like this still thrive in a city devoted more than ever to careerism and the pursuit of material pleasures? I bet they do. Time for an updated version of the book.

Luna Park’s “boatloads of screaming humanity”

July 30, 2008

New Yorkers at the turn of the last century were dazzled by Coney Island’s Luna Park, a 22-acre amusement park fantasyland, with “babbling brooks, Japanese gardens, German villages, Irish villages, Eskimo villages, Hindu villages, a Chinese theatre, a monkey theatre, and scores of other attractions calculated to make the average visitor drain his purse before he leaves,” reported The New York Times in 1903.

The chutes were an especially popular attraction. As the Times story put it, “The Court of Honor, or main avenue, opens out finally on a broad esplanade, bordering on a lake, into which a ‘chute-a-chutes,’ brilliantly lighted, was precipitating its boatloads of screaming humanity.”

Brooklyn’s brand-new public schools

July 27, 2008

At the turn of the last century, the city experienced a huge school-construction boom. These two spanking-new elementary schools were apparently a point of pride for Brooklyn; The Eagle included them in a Brooklyn postcard series. Can you imagine a city paper doing that today? Nah.

PS 32 in Carroll Gardens still stands. It’s now called the Samuel Mills Sprole School, named after the man who was its principal for 32 years until his death in 1905.

PS 56 appears to no longer exist, at least in this location. But it’s a beautiful building nonetheless, easy to imagine lots of little kids crowding around the little yard.

“God Bless Deli Grocery”

July 27, 2008

There are more of these circa-9/11 delis and pizza places than I ever thought. Perhaps the owners truly got caught up in the sentiment of the time, or maybe they just wanted to make sure no one accused them of being Muslim terrorists.

The God Bless Deli is on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.

Factory signage that’s fading fast

July 27, 2008

As New York’s manufacturing base continues to slip into oblivion, so do the manufacturing ads and signs. The Standard Toiletries sign in Bushwick could use a fresh coat of paint:

This Franco American Baking Company ad near the Javits Center is probably the most endangered:

RIP, Walsh Shoe Factory in Greenpoint:

Another shoe factory off Broadway in Williamsburg:

Naked women vs. mythic sea creatures

July 25, 2008

From the facade of a pre-war apartment building in Sheridan Square in the West Village.

They’re so unique and dynamic. Must be a story behind why the architect had them put up.

The collapse of Broadway’s Grandest Hotel

July 25, 2008

Built in 1870, the Broadway Central Hotel (originally the Grand Central Hotel), was the largest hotel in the world. The eight-story, 400-room structure fronted Broadway between Bleecker and Third Street, then called Amity Street. Located in a prime entertainment district, the Broadway Central was luxe all the way: three fancy dining rooms, top of the line linens and furniture, the works.

But as the city’s nightlife and theater district marched north, the Broadway Central became sketchy, then sleazy. By the 1970s the building housed a flophouse called the University Hotel and an after-hours club catering to a glam-rock crowd.

After years of neglect, a wall of the structure collapsed suddenly and magnificently in 1973, killing four residents. The site is now occupied by a New York University law school dorm.

The farm animals of New York

July 25, 2008

Since the early days of Central Park, sheep grazed in—where else—the Sheep Meadow. Lazing around munching grass all day in New York City? Not a bad way to pass the time.

Too bad the flock was kicked out and relocated to Prospect Park in 1934, where they joined a different flock of sheep that had been grazing Long Meadow since at least 1922, when park commissioner John Harmon brought them in.

Sheep weren’t the only hoofed creatures snacking on New York City. This undated photo shows cows chilling out in Inwood. Hard to believe Manhattan was once so pastoral.

Time stands still in Greenpoint

July 25, 2008

Enter the Brooklyn time machine and experience this corner soda fountain and luncheonette on Nassau and North Henry Streets. Is it 1948 or 2008?