Archive for September, 2008

A wartime service at Columbus Circle

September 30, 2008

Before the Trump International Hotel and the Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle was a not-glitzy gathering place for Italian-American rallies and parades. This photo was taken in 1943. On Columbus Day of that year, The New York Times wrote:

“Because of the war and especially because Italy, the native land of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, is suffering such a tragic fate, the celebration tomorrow and Tuesday of Columbus Day will be more spiritual in character than ever before in the history of the United States.”

On Columbus Day the previous year, 25,000 Italian-Americans came out to show their support for the Allies, and Mayor LaGuardia gave a speech praising their loyalty and urging tolerance of minorities, as Americans of Italian decent were considered back then.

Cool and creepy Victorian-era attics

September 30, 2008

There aren’t many freestanding Victorian houses in Manhattan, which makes this one, on Amsterdam Avenue and 152nd Street, all the more remarkable. The front doors, the top floor, the roof—it’s all very Addams family-esque.

The house is currently used as office space for the American Cancer Society, but it must have a fascinating history.

This structure on Lower Fifth in the Flatiron District isn’t quite so Gothic. But that 2-story attic is very Munsters-like.

A little bit of Sunshine in Queens

September 30, 2008

Queens—where residents once labored in factories producing (among other things) staplers, pencils, and . . . crackers. In 1914, the Loose-Willis Biscuit Company built a huge “thousand window” factory in Long Island City, where they cranked out millions of packages of Sunshine crackers. This ad comes from the back of the 1934 Boys High School yearbook:

The bakery shut down in 1965, and Keebler has since taken over the Sunshine crackers brand. But the old factory is still there; it’s that giant 10-story structure with IDCNY (International Design Center of New York) emblazoned on the roof, now used as a furniture design showroom.

When the Guardian Angels patrolled New York

September 26, 2008

Back in the down-and-dirty 1980s, the Guardian Angels walked New York City’s streets and subways, a uniformed crime-fighting presence that made citizen’s arrests and sometimes crossed the line into vigilantism, according to some NYPD officials. 

Founder Curtis Sliwa and then-wife Lisa—pictured in this East Village Eye photo from 1983—split in the 1990s. But the Guardian Angels still exist, albiet with a much smaller presence in the city. Perhaps when New York goes bad again, the T-shirt and beret–clad Angels will be back in full force.

A Brooklyn family’s pretty portrait

September 26, 2008

I have no idea who these people are. Mother and father appear to be prosperous, their daughters plump and well-dressed. Could they be the circa-1900 equivalent of today’s upper-class brownstone Brooklyn family?


The portrait studio is located at 494 Fulton Street. Today, this is part of the Fulton Street Mall, but a century ago, Fulton Street was lined with opulent department stores (Abraham & Strauss, Loeser’s) and fancy restaurants (Gage & Tollner).

Perhaps this family lived nearby in fashionable Fort Greene or Brooklyn Heights. Maybe they had their own brownstone—one that is now home to another young Brooklyn family. 

The Flatiron’s second most striking building

September 26, 2008

Sure the Flatiron building across the street gets all the attention. But on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street stands a lovely, 7-story red brick structure with Western Union’s old logo obscured under the windows.

This was Western Union’s “uptown” branch. Built in 1883 by architect Henry Hardenburgh—designer of the Plaza, the Dakota, and other gorgeous New York buildings—the office had pneumatic tubes that whisked telegraphs to Western Union’s main headquarters in lower Manhattan. 

It’s now a New York Historical Designation that has recently been condo-ized. For more photos and information on this gabled, Queen Anne gem, check out the architectural site  Starts and Fits

The Booth brothers play Julius Caesar

September 24, 2008

On November 25, 1864, for one night only, three famous actors—brothers Junius Brutus Booth Jr., Edwin Booth, and John Wilkes Booth (yep, that one)—put on a benefit performance of Julius Caesar.

The play was staged at the opulent Winter Garden Theatre, on Broadway and West 3rd Street (later the site of the Broadway Central Hotel and now an NYU dorm). The Booth brothers, who had never performed together, hoped to raise funds for a Shakespeare statue in the new Central Park.

The show sold out and enough money was raised. But as the brothers performed, a huge fire raged next door to the theatre, set by Confederate sympathizers who plotted to burn down New York City. John Wilkes Booth apparently had nothing to do with that scheme. But months later, he assassinated President Lincoln.

The statue of Shakespeare still stands. Edwin Booth, who disavowed his brother, has his own statue in Gramercy Park, as seen in this 1920 photo:

A furrier with a sense of humor

September 24, 2008

Furrrsher of New York—a store name that plays off 1980s Valley Girl slang. This store on West 30th Street is in midtown’s dwindling fur district.

Daddy Browning and his Peaches

September 24, 2008

Meet Edward West “Daddy” Browning and his 15-year-old bride, Peaches. Daddy Browning was an Upper West Side real estate developer who lived on West 72nd Street and had a penchant for publicity. In the 1920s, he ran an ad in the New York Herald Tribune seeking to adopt a 14-year-old girl, supposedly as a playmate for his daughter.

Thousands of gold-digging applicants flooded his office, and in 1926 he met and married Frances Belle Heenan, a wannabe actress from Washington Heights he nicknamed Peaches. The two delighted in their Jazz Age excess and tabloid celebrity status.

Of course, it didn’t end well. After 10 months of flaunting their bizarre relationship, they landed in divorce court, the press dutifully reporting all courtroom details. Daddy Browning died in the 1930s, and Peaches lived into the 1940s.

The disappearing soda fountain sign

September 22, 2008

They used to be all over the city: signs for delis, pizza parlors, and newsstands that featured the logos for Coca-Cola, 7Up, and other sodas.

Their days are numbered, but some of these soda-fountain signs are still around, like for this newsstand on Bleecker Street in the West Village:

This 7Up sign is the remnant of a restaurant that used to be on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. Now, it’s a Thai place, but they never changed the sign:

A Coca-Cola sign for a deli, hidden by scaffolding in the Flatiron District:

Makes you thirsty, doesn’t it?