Archive for June, 2009

Just another busy day on Park Avenue

June 29, 2009

North of 42nd Street, Park Avenue is a pretty, orderly street practically glowing in vibrant shades of green, pink, yellow, and blue, according to this postcard from the 1930s. 


Notice the lack of crosswalk signs and traffic lights. The reason? Metro-North tunnels directly underneath made it difficult for these structures to be properly anchored into the ground.

Why are tenements mainly named after girls?

June 29, 2009

Or maybe the question should be why unremarkable five- and six-story apartment buildings have names at all. Sometimes you see one with a male name, but mainly they’re named after women.

I guess it was a way for the builders to honor their wives, mothers, and daughters. I wonder who Henrietta was, and why her name graces this tenement on Madison Street:


The Bertha, with this lovely flower motif, is in Harlem:


Here’s more on the women who gave their names to New York City buildings.

Stickball on the streets of Brooklyn

June 29, 2009

Like egg creams and nickel subway rides, stickball is one of those long-gone cultural touchstones that New York City old-timers often wax nostalgic about. But you know, the game sure looks like a lot of fun.

No coaches. No expensive gear. No adults. All you needed was a car-free side street (not hard to find before the 1950s, when few city residents had cars), a broom handle, and a “spaldeen”—a small pink rubber ball made by the Spalding sporting goods company—and you were good to go. Chalk to outline bases or the strike zone was optional.


This photo, by Arthur Leipzig, was taken in Brooklyn in 1950. Bed-Stuy? Brownsville? East New York? The black and white players as well as the kosher market tell us it was an ethnically mixed neighborhood.

Stickball is still played by kids in some neighborhoods; there’s also an adult league, the New York Emperors Stickball League. To commemorate the game, a Bronx street was given the moniker Stickball Boulevard.

Tompkins Square Park’s first dog run

June 26, 2009

In a city obsessed with dogs, it’s hard to imagine that there were no dog runs in city parks until one was established in 1990 in Tompkins Square Park. Now, dog runs exist in about 60 parks across the five boroughs.


At Tompkins Square Park, the amenities aren’t bad. The privately funded “First Run” has a granite sand surface, wading pools, and separate sections for the big dogs and little guys.

These two shaggy pups are loving the picnic table—it brings them closer to the squirrels in trees.

Tompkins Square Park has a pretty colorful history going back a century and a half. 

The brutal murder of a Chinatown wife

June 26, 2009

The vicious killing of a Chinese “slave girl” named Bow Kum shocked New York City in 1909 and sparked a year-long Tong war and hard-won truce that required intervention from the Chinese government. 

Born in China in 1888, Bow Kum was sold for a few dollars by her father and brought to San Francisco, where she was sold again for $3,000 to Low Hee Tong, a leader of the Hip Sing and Four Brothers Tongs.

Mottstreet19202When Low Hee Tong was arrested four years later, Kum was taken in by Christian missionaries who helped Chinese girls escape the brutal life of gangs. 

A man named Tchin Len promised to make her his wife, so the missionaries handed her over, and Len brought Kum to New York City. Len was a member of On Leong Tong, a bitter rival of Hip Sing and Four Brothers.

Pellstreet1900They settled at 17 Mott Street. By this time, Low Hee Tong was out of jail. He tracked Kum down and demanded that Len repay him $3,000. Len refused; the Hip Sing and Four Brothers tongs got involved and told Len to pay up. He didn’t.

On August 15, Kum was found on the floor of her Mott Street room, stabbed multiple times in the heart with some fingers cut off. Two Tong henchmen were tried for her murder, but they were acquitted.

The top photo shows Mott Street around 1910; the bottom photo is Pell Street at the turn of the last century. 

A fine day for a swim at Coney Island

June 26, 2009

And a pretty crowded day too. I’d guess this photo was taken in the final years of the male one-piece, chest-covering swimsuit.

Bathing suits for men and women back then were made of wool. Supposedly this was because it would reveal less of a person’s body shape when wet. It just sounds soggy.


Any idea why this part of the beach is roped off? The water doesn’t appear to be any deeper or have more wave action than the rest of the beach in the background.

Fight night in New York: “Stag at Sharkey’s”

June 23, 2009

Until 1920, boxing was mostly outlawed in New York state. A loophole allowed fights to take place in athletic clubs, so many bars became on-the-fly athletic clubs in order to host matches. One of these bars-turned-clubs was Sharkey’s, a saloon on Columbus Avenue near West 67th Street. 

Owned by heavyweight fighter Sailor Tom Sharkey, it’s the setting for this dark, raw 1909 painting by George Bellows. Bellows was part of the Ashcan School—a group of artists bent on depicting realistic, gritty scenes of daily life.


Bellows had a studio close to Sharkey’s; it was in the Lincoln Arcade building, then on Broadway and 65th Street. “Stag at Sharkey’s” remains one of his most popular works.

The Little Church Around the Corner

June 23, 2009

Officially known as the Church of the Transfiguration since its founding in 1848, the lilliputian Episcopal parish at 29th Street off Fifth Avenue got its nickname because it welcomed actors during a time when acting was considered a disreputable profession.

In 1870, when another church nearby at 28th and Madison refused to host an actor’s funeral, the Church of the Transfiguration stepped in. “God bless that little church ’round the corner,” a friend of the dead actor supposedly said. And the name stuck.


The Little Church also hosted the 1893 funeral of actor (and brother of a presidential assassin) Edwin Booth. It was and still is a popular places to get married in the city.

Set back from the street (which, needless to say, no longer looks as pristine as it does in the 1910 postcard above) with pretty gardens and an ornate entryway, it’s a captivating spot to break away from the rush of city life.

Taking a steamer from the Franklin Street pier

June 20, 2009

This 1920s or 1930s poster—check out the ancient four-digit phone prefix!—advertises a day trip up the Hudson, “On the river of myriad beauties” indeed.


The Franklin Street pier was also known as Pier 22, popular site to catch a ferry to New Jersey or Coney Island in the late 1800s.

The 129th Street pier, built in 1875, featured ornamental ironwork and a bright red roof. It became a popular place for New Yorkers to catch a breeze and watch the boats in the water. The pier met the wrecking ball in the 1960s, deemed a hazard to ships in the Hudson at the time.