Archive for January, 2009

Whatever happened to Verrazano Street?

January 28, 2009

Giovanni da Verrazzano (he spelled it with two z’s) already has a bridge named after him. But a West Village street also was set to take his name in the 1940s—except the city never got around to building it.

verrazanopicture Verrazano Street (with one z, for some reason) would have run from Seventh Avenue South to Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, slicing through bits of Downing, Bedford, and Carmine Streets.

It was supposed to be an entryway to the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a Robert Moses–proposed superhighway that would have connected the Holland Tunnel to The Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. 

The city was all set to build it; Verrazano Street even made it on to city maps in the ensuing years. But when the Lower Manhattan Expressway met fierce community opposition in the 1960s, the city abandoned the idea . . . and Verrazano Street as well, officially de-mapping it in 1969.

The Jeanne d’Arc “French Flats”

January 28, 2009

It’s a strange sight: On the mostly nondescript commercial corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue is a striking red-brick apartment building—complete with a statue of Jeanne d’Arc above the front entrance.

jeannedarcapts Called the Jeanne d’Arc, the building is a remnant of the brief time in the 1880s when West 14th Street was a wealthy residential area.

It’s also one of the city’s first “French Flats,” a fancy name for a middle- to upper-class multiple-family dwelling. In other words, it’s the standard apartment house we know and love that’s all over New York City today.

jeanndarcstatueapt Completed in 1889, the Jeanne d’Arc was designed to attract upwardly mobile families who could afford a building with design touches such as a pressed-metal cornice, carved figures and griffins, and a statue of Jeanne herself.

There she is with her sword and shield, ready to fight for 14th Street. The letters at one time must have spelled out her name, but now it just looks like “lear.”

For more Jeanne d’Arc in New York, check out the Jeanne d’Arc Home “for friendless French girls.”


Midnight theater at the Laight-Again Club

January 28, 2009

From the July 1982 issue of the East Village Eye. Did the Laight-Again club once have some association with Laight Street? 


102 First Avenue was also the Old Homestead Bar for a while. It’s now an Irish pub called Lilly Coogan’s.

Strolling and showing off on Broadway

January 26, 2009

It may be one of the more grungy parts of Manhattan now. But around 1900, Broadway between 14th Street and Herald Square was one of the centers of the city—a place to stroll, shop, show off, and be seen—lined with fancy hotels and theaters. 


The ritual is chronicled in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, when the title character, new to New York, visits this part of Broadway with a young female neighbor and is enchanted by what she sees:

“The walk down Broadway, then as now, is one of the remarkable features of the city. There gathered, before the matinee and afterwards, not only all the pretty women who love a showy parade, but the men who love to gaze upon and admire them. It was a very imposing procession of pretty faces and fine clothes.”

When elephants lived in Central Park

January 26, 2009

Meet Hattie and Jewel, a pachyderm pair who made their home in what was known as the elephant enclosure at the Central Park Zoo. 

This 1906 postcard reveals what a huge draw they were—thousands of people visted every week to watch them. But it also shows them with chains attached to their legs, a very sad sight.


Jewel was the moody one, arriving at the zoo in 1878 from the Barnum & Bailey Circus. She tried to kill a keeper, hurling him out of her enclosure with her trunk, according to a The New York Times article.

Hattie was young and plucky. In a story about her death in 1922 (keepers weren’t sure of her age) the Times wrote: 

“She became angry on another occasion at a man who tossed a lighted cigarette against her trunk. The man got away. Years afterward he came back. Hattie squinted at him through her little eyes, filled her trunk with muddy ooze and squirted it all over him.”

Jewel outlived Hattie and died in 1928 at 97. Another Times article reported that after a zoo veterinarian found her paralyzed in her enclosure, he shot her three times in the head, ending her life.

The cherry grove of Delancey Street

January 26, 2009

The uptown side of the Delancey Street F train platform features lots of cherries—three cherry tree murals as well as several smaller cherry mosaics.


So what’s with the cherry motif? Before the Lower East Side became a jam-packed tenement district in the late 1800s, it was farmland owned by James DeLancey, acting colonial governor of New York in the 1750s who staunchly supported the British during the Revolutionary War.

The DeLancey farm supposedly had a cherry grove on what is now Orchard Street. After the war the farm was confiscated and divided up among smaller landowners. Somewhere along the way, the cherry grove met the ax as well.

Legendary Lüchow’s on East 14th Street

January 23, 2009

I’m not aware of any New York City eatery with an umlaut in its name. But for a century, there was Lüchow’s—the German restaurant that served wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, and other old-world, heavy-duty delicacies since 1882.


Lüchow’s opened when Union Square was New York’s theater and music hall district. It consisted of seven separate dining rooms, a beer garden, a bar, and a men’s grill. One room was lined with animal heads; another displayed a collection of beer steins. Must have been a serious dining experience.

Of course, when the city’s fortunes turned in the 1970s, so did Lüchow’s. The restaurant shut its doors for good after a mysterious 1982 fire. It’s now the site of a New York University dormitory.

Check out this review from Knife and Fork in New York, a 1949 guide to the city’s best eateries:


The Brooklyn pots-and-pans peddler

January 23, 2009

Berenice Abbott photographed this vendor and his giant wooden wagon of kitchenware on May 22, 1936, probably in the downtown/DUMBO area. 


Berenice Abbott: Changing New York commented:

“Once the lifeblood of New York’s poorer neighborhoods, vendors like this traveling pots-and-pans salesman were a disappearing breed when Abbott took this photograph in 1936. . . . The location of Abbott’s photograph is not specified, but the neighborhood resembles Talman and Jay Streets, which she photographed the same day.”

So what happened to Talman Street? Once a small road that followed the remnant of a cow path, it got wiped out when the BQE was built in 1950.

“There’s a UFO Over New York…”

January 23, 2009

On the night of August 23, 1974, John Lennon and May Pang were hanging out in their small penthouse apartment at 434 East 52nd Street, a 1928 Art Deco building that’s part of the Southgate complex just before the East River.

After walking out on the balcony to catch a breeze from the river, Lennon suddenly shouted for Pang to come see something in the sky—a flying saucer.



As Pang recounted in her 1983 book, Loving John: “My eye caught this large, circular object coming toward us. It was shaped like a flattened cone and on top was a large, brilliant red light. . . . When it came a little closer, we could make out a row or circle of white lights that ran around the entire rim of the craft.

“It was, I estimate, about the size of a Lear jet and it was so close that if we had something to throw at it, it probably would have hit it quite easily.”


Pang said that she and John called the police, who told them to relax—other New Yorkers called in the UFO sighting too.

Did Lennon and Pang really see a spaceship? The object zipped out of view and was apparently never spotted again or explained by authorities. So who knows? Strange days indeed.

Luigi Kasimir’s New York City etchings

January 20, 2009

Luigi Kasimir was an Austrian-born painter and printmaker, born in 1881, who was one of the first artists to use a technique called colored etching. In the mid-20th century he came to the U.S. to etch famous sites, including the bridges, skyscrapers, and parks of New York.

This Brooklyn Bridge etching reveals a dark, smoky waterfront of ships and industry, vastly different than the East River of today:









Kasimir’s take on Central Park and the skyscrapers looming outside it looks like it could have been etched just yesterday: