Archive for August, 2008

The first-ever Labor Day parade

August 27, 2008

It happened in September 1882 (on a Tuesday, actually); thousands of workers marched from Fifth Avenue to Union Square, where picnics, fireworks, and rallies were held, all in support of an 8-hour workday. 

Beginning in 1894, the first Monday of September was designated “National Labor Day,” a date set by President Grover Cleveland.  

Labor Day weekend didn’t always mean last chance for a summer beach vacation; an annual parade occurred in the city every year for decades, and thousands of New Yorkers marched or came out in support. The parade was cancelled several times in the 1980s, then called off again in 2002 in honor of the victims of September 11.

Last year’s parade was KO’d as well, its popularity eclipsed in part by the massive West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn held the same weekend.

Notorious welfare hotel: The Martinique

August 27, 2008

Welfare hotel—now that’s a term you don’t hear much anymore, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s; in response to a growing homeless crisis back then, the city put up thousands of families in shoddy, rundown hotels across the five boroughs. 

No hotel epitomized New York’s bad old days like the Martinique, on 32nd and Broadway. The 16-story building started out in 1910 as an elegant French Renaissance–style residence in what was then part of the theater district. But as the theater district moved north, the Martinique slid into decline. By 1974, the city was warehousing homeless families there.

Newspapers were always running stories about the harsh life in the Martinique: families cooking on hot plates, creepy characters in the halls, spray-painted numbers on the doors. Finally, by the late 80s, the city emptied out the Martinique and other welfare hotels for good.

Today it’s a much spiffier place, renamed the Radisson Martinique. The original building details and sign remain.

Give my regards to Broad Street

August 27, 2008

An 1825 view of Wall Street from Broad Street, from Valentine’s City of New York Guide Book, published in 1920. Trinity Church is in the center, while a Presbyterian church and Simmons’ Tavern are on the right. (Note the cute hound dashing across the road.)


This drawing was done before the Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed about 700 buildings in lower Manhattan. Simmons’ Tavern, which looks like it was made from wood, may have been one of them.

Astor Row: The country homes of Harlem

August 25, 2008

They aren’t the most opulent residences in the neighborhood; Harlem has brownstones and townhouses much more ornate and in better condition. But the 28 homes stretching from 130th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue—otherwise known as Astor Row, after the Astor estate, which developed them—have a unique rustic, rural charm.

These semi-attached brick row houses look more Charleston than they do New York—set back from the street with lush front yards, shady trees, and wooden porches. 

Built between 1880 and 1883, Astor Row was occupied entirely by whites until 1920, when black families began moving in. As Harlem decayed, so did the block. They were landmarked in 1981, and today, the houses are in mixed shape: Some appear to be restored and occupied, while others have fallen into neglect. 

Where to buy a skeleton in 1916

August 25, 2008

If you needed bones or perhaps an entire skeleton, Gustave Noque was your man. This ad for his “osteological preparations” store on East 26th Street appeared in the back of Long Island City’s Bryant High School yearbook in 1916, amid more tepid advertisements for ice cream parlors and produce stands.

It’s a little jarring, especially in a nice little yearbook, but future medical students have to learn anatomy somehow.

The bear and faun in Morningside Park

August 25, 2008

At the base of one of Morningside Park’s many long, winding stairways sits this bronze statue. Dedicated in 1914, it’s officially known as the Alfred Lincoln Seligman Fountain, named after a New Yorker who died in a car accident in 1912.

I’m not sure if this tender image of a bear and a faun is supposed to depict a mythological scene or if it’s something sculptor Edgar Walter came up with on his own. Either way, it’s sweet and magical. You can see it by entering the park at 114th Street.

Ghosts of the Garment District

August 24, 2008

Decades ago, the apparel business began moving overseas, lured by cheap labor. Designers and factories still exist on the Garment District’s grimy streets, but the area isn’t the bustling fashion center it used to be—with men pushing heavy racks of clothes up and down Seventh Avenue all day.

However, ghostly reminders of businesses past still linger, like this one, for garter belts:

And children’s coats, plus another ad for a company called Blogg & Littauer:

This last one isn’t part of the apparel industry, but it’s pretty cool: the Protective Ventilator Co. was established in 1869:

Time traveling in Chelsea

August 23, 2008

If you could transport yourself to the corner of Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in 1933, this is what you’d see. That’s the Grand Opera House, opened in 1868. Eventually the opera house began hosting vaudeville acts and showing movies until its demise in a fire in 1960.

When this photo was taken, Wallace Beery was starring in “Chinatown Nights,” and a night at the Cornish Arms Hotel costs a buck fifty!

Here’s the same corner today, with an unspectacular (okay, ugly) 1960s building taking the place of the gorgeous opera house.

The Cornish Arms Hotel is now the Broadmoor, an apartment building, and the Penn Station South Houses stretch up the block. These high-rises were built in the early 1960s by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union as affordable housing for union members.

Somethin’ sweet in Bushwick

August 23, 2008

In the 1661 it was chartered as the Dutch village of “Boswijck” or “Boswyck,” aka “town in the woods.” By the mid-1800s, it had become Bushwick, part of the new city of Brooklyn. Until World War I, Bushwick was home to a huge German population. Then Italians began moving in, making it one of the city’s biggest Italian neighborhoods by 1950.

There’s not much left of Italian Bushwick these days, but Circo’s Pastry Shop serves as a reminder of when Italian shops and restaurants lined Knickerbocker Avenue. Just think of all the Italian wedding cakes they’ve baked since opening in 1945.

“Fifth Avenue New York”

August 23, 2008

As seen on the facade of the 1920s-era building at 144 Fifth Avenue, near 20th Street. There’s another Fifth Avenue bas relief just like it on the other side of the fire escape.