Archive for 2008

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.

All dressed up and ready to party

May 23, 2008

Say it’s 1939, and you splurged ($49.95!) on this tafetta dress from Nelson-Hickson, a hot women’s wear designer at the time.

Now you’ve got to show it off. So you grab the latest issue of Cue, which was sort of the Time Out New York of its day (and was folded into New York in the 1960s), and check out which bands are playing at the big hotels. The Aloha Maids sound pretty cool.

Where to schedule surgery in 1891

May 23, 2008

If you had a choice, you may have picked the “Syms Operating Theatre” at Roosevelt Hospital (now St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center) on the corner of 59th Street and Ninth Avenue. Tiers inside the building accommodated about 200 viewers—how else were young physicians supposed to learn from your doctor’s mistakes? 

Back then, this was the premier place in New York to have surgery. The last operation took place in 1941, and the building was landmarked in 1989.

Trampled on the Brooklyn Bridge

May 20, 2008

May 24 marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s most famous bridge. By all accounts, that date in 1883 was pretty grand for the cities of New York and Brooklyn: Schools were closed, a procession of thousands crossed the East River, politicians made speeches, and fireworks lit up the evening sky. 


But the bridge’s early days weren’t without tragedy. During the 13 years of construction, 27 workers reportedly lost their lives. That includes its designer, John Augustus Roebling, who succumbed to tetanus acquired on the job. His son, Washington Roebling, succeeded him, but not without developing the bends in 1872. (Yep, these are the Roeblings of Roebling Street in Williamsburg.)

Worst of all was the stampede that occurred on May 30, 1883, the Sunday after opening day. Thousands packed the walkways to stroll across the new bridge. At a staircase on the New York side, masses of walkers somehow began pushing and shoving one another. In the end, 12 people were trampled, as this Brooklyn Daily Eagle headline sums up.


Boys High School graduates, 1934

May 20, 2008

Look at these kids, graduating high school in January, 1934 (city schools used to do that; they had January graduates as well as June grads). Most headed to college, then they may have gone off to war. What did they make of their lives? Guess we’ll never know.

Boys High School is now Boys & Girls High School on Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Just in time for bikini season

May 20, 2008

I get the feeling Helen Douglas may have been the early 20th century’s equivalent of the J Sisters, the siblings who run the eponymous salon on 57th Street that brought the Brazilian wax to New York women. This ad comes from a 1903 issue of The Cosmopolitan.

When Yiddish theater rocked the world

May 17, 2008

Well, the Lower East Side and parts of Europe, anyway. This is the front cover of sheet music published in 1920 by the Hebrew Publishing Co., then at 50 Eldridge Street (click on the photo to get a better look at their cool logo). If anyone reads Hebrew or Yiddish, I’d love to know the title and what it’s about. The artwork sure is beautiful.

Some sample lyrics and music below. Columbus, America, Uncle Sam, land dus freie….I tried to find a translation but came up empty.

No chicks allowed in these hotel bars

May 17, 2008

Crazy, huh? Women have been socializing at city drinking establishments after social trends shifted after prohibition (though may not have wanted to, since many were rough, unwelcoming places). But it was still perfectly legal for a bar to refuse to serve, or even admit, a female—until a 1970 sex discrimination law took effect. 

From Knife and Fork in New York, a 1949 city restaurant guide by Lawton Mackall, here’s a partial list of old “male citidels.” 

Naturally, the movers and shakers at the Waldorf-Astoria, St. Regis, and other posh hotels got used to seeing chicks around. As the maitre ‘de of the Roosevelt Hotel told the New York Times in 1971, “the men are happy now, especially since the hot pants came in.”

“Night falls…but not in the City of Light.”

May 17, 2008

So reads this postcard depicting the world’s largest diorama—a block-long, three-story recreation of New York City from the Bronx to Coney Island. Built by Con Ed for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park, it was one of the spectacular attractions that wowed millions of visitors.

The Fair’s theme was the boundlessly optimistic “World of Tomorrow.” The diorama was meant to illustrate how electricity would power the future: twinkling lights, air conditioning, a bigger, brighter, more affluent New York. This second postcard below shows the outside of the diorama, with two other great exhibits, the Trylon and Perisphere, to the left.