Archive for August, 2009

Where Bob Dylan got his start in the Village

August 27, 2009

In April 1961, Dylan played his first paying gig at Gerde’s Folk City, an early folk music venue in the Village and a launching pad for Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and other 1960s folkie legends.


A very enthusiastic review in the New York Times that September helped make him a household name:

“A bright new face in folk music is appearing at Gerde’s Folk City,” write reviewer (and eventual Dylan biographer) Robert Shelton. “Although only 20 years old, Bob Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.

“Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair . . . . His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica, and piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.” 


A review of Gerde’s from The New Inside Guide to Greenwich Village, 1965

Gerde’s was at West Fourth Street, at Mercer. The club moved to West Third Street in the 1970s, closing up shop in the 1980s. The West Fourth Street building in the photo above was torn down, replaced by a structure housing Hebrew Union College.

The timeless falconer of Central Park

August 27, 2009

Central Park is enchanting on a lush summer afternoon. One of the most magical spots is at The Falconer statue, on the south side of 72nd Street drive.

Situated on top of a large rock formation, The Falconer is a sweet place to stop for a bit and view the park. Because it’s high up, passersby won’t always realize you’re there.


The bronze statue itself is pretty captivating. Designed by British sculptor (and falconer) George Blackall Simonds, it’s a replica of the original, which was on display in Italy in the 19th century.

An Irish merchant who later lived in New York admired it and commissioned a copy for his adopted city. It was dedicated in 1875.

The statue seems so fitting, considering the peregrine falcons known to make the park their hunting ground.

“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you”

August 27, 2009

So goes the title of this 1909 hit, about a man stuck in the sticks one summer, wishing he were back in New York City with his girl:

Oldbroadwaysheetmusic“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you, dear

where life is gay and no one seems to care;

This shady lane and summer sky so blue, dear

Does not appear to me like Herald Square.”

That must be rain-slicked 42nd Street on the cover of the sheet music, with theaters and the old crosstown trolley in the distance.

The publisher, Joseph W. Stern, was a lyricist himself who launched his own music publishing company, first on 14th Street, capitalizing on the popularity of ragtime  at the turn of the 20th century.

Time traveling to Henry and Pike Streets

August 25, 2009

Berenice Abbott took this 1936 photo. What wonderful details: the old street lamp far off on the right, the corner drugstore sign on the left, rubbish (or mud?) beside the curb, and a horse being lead down Madison Street a block away.

And of course, there’s the Manhattan Bridge, looming like an apparition. 


With the exception of the bridge, this corner looks very different today.

The rickety tenements casting all those noirish shadows have been knocked down, partially replaced by the institution-like Rutgers Houses. Pike Street is much wider and has a few trees. 


The Bowery’s bare-knuckle boxing champ

August 25, 2009

Irish immigrant Owen “Owney” Geoghegan wasn’t a big guy—he stood just 5′ 6” and weighed less than 140 pounds. But as a teenager working in the gasworks on 21st Street and the East River, he earned a rep as one tough fighter. 

OwneygeogheganEventually he began fighting in local sporting clubs for money. And by fighting, we’re talking bare fists, no gloves. Really rough stuff.

By the time he hit his 20s, he was a champion, holding the U.S. lightweight title from 1861 to 1863. 

Geoghegan left the ring soon after. He opened his own sporting club at 21st Street and First Avenue, which became a fighter’s hangout, and then opened another at 103 Bowery.

He also entered local politics, was arrested for a variety of crimes ranging from letting a minor frequent his Bowery club to murdering a local thug. 

After a stint in prison and bankruptcy, he died in 1885, only 45 years old. He was “permanently broken down,” as his obituary in the New York Times stated.

Smut on the big screen in 1970

August 25, 2009

Before Times Square theaters (and others scattered around the city) began routinely showing triple-X flicks, they pushed the envelope with low-rent, R-rated fare—like these two movies advertised in a December 1970 edition of the New York Post


In the pre-Internet, pre-cable, pre-VCR days, this was about as much skin as you could possibly see on screen. Looks almost romantic compared to what’s available today!

An Ephemeral reader sent in this link to the very soft-core, surprisingly action-packed trailer for The Student Nurses

Manhattan’s lost village of Harsenville

August 22, 2009

Some of New York’s old village names survive today: think Chelsea, Yorkville, New Utrecht, and Gravesend. Others get unceremoniously wiped off the map, with not even a train station bearing the old name. 

That’s what happened to Harsenville. In the late 1700 and 1800s, this little hamlet spanned 68th Street to 81st Street between Central Park West and the Hudson River. It got its name from Jacob Harsen, a farmer who settled there in 1763.

This is his house below, at today’s Tenth Avenue and 70th Street, in an 1888 New-York Historical Society photograph.


Other farm families followed, and soon, a real town formed. Harsenville Road went through what is now Central Park; schools, churches, and shops opened.

By 1911, however, Harsenville was kaput, reports a 1911 New York Times piece on old-timers reminiscing about their ‘hood. The blocks of brand-new brownstones and apartment houses were soon to be known collectively as the Upper West Side.

Interestingly, one new condo building on West 72nd Street capitalizes on the Upper West Side’s small-town history: The developers named it Harsen House.

Who watches you on the streets of New York

August 22, 2009

Faces and grotesques are all over the city’s buildings, smiling or frowning at passersby through the years. It’s rarer to see a full-length sculpted figure looking down from a tenement to the street below, which is why these two are so eye-catching.


The woman above, who adorns a tenement on a Lexington Avenue corner in the 80s, looks like Botticelli’s Venus flipped around—with the shell on her head instead of at her feet. Her hand clutches what looks like a weapon, not her hair.


Partly obscured by the support bracket of an old fire escape, this figure, on a West Fourth Street and 10th Street walkup, strikes roughly the same pose. I wonder what is at its feet.

The Gophers: Hell’s Kitchen’s most brutal gang

August 22, 2009

Given the name because of their penchant for hiding in cellars, the Gophers formed in the 1890s and went on to rule the West Side between Ninth and Eleventh Avenues around 42nd Street through the 00’s and teens.

Their main target: the  New York Central Rail Yards, which ran up the far West Side. 


One Lung Curran, Happy Jack Mulraney (who always looked like he was smiling but supposedly had some kind of facial paralysis), Stumpy Malarkey, and Goo Goo Knox. Gang leaders back then had some colorful names.

They also had a female auxiliary gang, the Lady Gophers, headed by notorious tough chick Battle Annie—the “Queen of Hell’s Kitchen.” Reportedly she was “the most feared brick hurler of her time.”

UK-born Owney Madden, fourth from left in this 1910 gang photo, earned a rep as one of the most brutal Gopher leaders. Nicknamed The Killer, he’s responsible for numerous deaths of other gang members, especially from the rival Hudson Dusters.

After serving time in Sing Sing, he became a bootlegger and co-owner the Cotton Club, Harlem’s flashy club in the 1920s.

Stained glass beauty in Bronx subway stations

August 19, 2009

Every borough has at least a few subway stations that feature stained glass. But the Bronx seems to have more than any other, especially in the little stations at local stops for the 2 and 5 trains.

From “Latin American Stories” by George Crespo at the Jackson Avenue station:


One of several panels from the Prospect Street’s “Bronx, Four Seasons,” by Marina Tsesarskaya:









Part of Daniel Hauben’s The El, at the Freeman Street stop: