Archive for February, 2010

Beauty in Boerum Hill: a 1960s faded ad

February 27, 2010

This vintage beauty ad, for Monique hair and skin products, is still readable outside a Dean Street building.

Faded ad blog has some cool info about the company and its Brooklyn roots.

New York City’s roller skating fad of 1884

February 24, 2010

Ice skating had already swept the city in the mid-1800s. But a few decades later, city residents took up a new recreational craze: skates on wheels.

They skated in newly built roller rinks, like the Cosmpolitan on Broadway in midtown, as well as on the street—as this 1893 illustration of girls skating on Park Avenue shows.

“Throughout the eighteen-eighties and much of the nineties roller skating was the principal pastime of citizens of every age and condition—business men went to work on skates, and skating parties were much in vogue among the fashionable,” writes Herbert Asbury in his 1929 book All Around the Town.

But it wasn’t just fun—some New Yorkers thought skates could fight crime.

“Several leading citizens and public officials seriously advocated equipping the police force with roller-skates, contending that a patrolman could then easily overtake a criminal,” Asbury states.

What’s playing at the 8th Street Playhouse

February 24, 2010

Famous for its midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday and Saturday, the 8th Street Playhouse featured a great roster of revivals, cult classics, and foreign films. 

This ad is from the March 1982 issue of the now-defunct East Village Eye.

They had some great double bills too: in the early ’90s I saw Duck Soup and Animal Crackers, as well as A Streetcar Named Desire followed by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I believe they closed their doors in 1992. The video store that then occupied the circa-1929 theater went bust several years ago. I think a “Store For Rent” sign is up where the marquee used to be.

An Art Deco clock on Lexington Avenue

February 24, 2010

The forearms of time stretch out above this sleek corner clock, which adorns the General Electric building at 570 Lexington Avenue.

Completed in 1931, the 50-story building was originally meant to be the headquarters for RCA.

But GE moved in a few years later, making some design changes—such as turning what was supposed to be a globe with an electric bolt running through it into one very cool clock.

The “cliff dwellers” of Manhattan’s slums

February 22, 2010

“Cliff Dwellers” is the name Ash Can School painter George Bellows gave his 1913 depiction of lower Manhattan tenement life.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which owns the painting, describes Cliff Dwellers this way: 

“The people are poor, living in cramped apartments, with too many children to feed; the children have the character of untrustworthy street urchins. Yet scenes such as this were not intended to be critical of foreigners of their living conditions; indeed, the activity has a lighthearted, almost circuslike quality.”

Atlantic Avenue: the “Swedish Broadway”

February 22, 2010

Today, the harbor end of Brooklyn’s main drag has a mix of bars and restaurants, high-end boutiques and antique stores, and Middle Eastern shops.

But in the late 19th century, it was the home base of Scandinavian immigrants in Brooklyn, known as the “Swedish Broadway.”

(Photo of Atlantic and Third Avenue, from the NYPL)

A search through the pre-1902 Brooklyn Eagle archives turns up a Swedish press (Svenska Amerikanska Presson) at 563 Atlantic, a banquet hall (Tura Verein Hall) at 351 Atlantic, and a notice that the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. now prints signs in Swedish in street cars going through the “Swedish Colony.”

And an 1891 Eagle article describes the estimated 20,000 Swedes centered around Fourth Avenue as “frugal, industrious, and very well behaved.”

(Atlantic and Henry Street building, from the NYPL)

Bay Ridge’s Eighth Avenue soon took over as home to a large concentration of Scandinavian Brooklynites (mostly Norwegian) during the 20th century.

But back on Atlantic, one of the few surviving remnants of the old neighborhood is Bethlehem Lutheran Church (below photo), at Third and Pacific, established in 1874.

Another (now Episcopalian) church, at 424 Dean Street, began in the 1870s as Immanuel Swedish Methodist Church.

How sparrows got their start in Brooklyn

February 21, 2010

The New York Post has an interesting piece today about the origin of lowly New York City pigeons: They were brought here as food in the 17th century by French settlers.

Soon they escaped their confines and eventually adapted to urban areas, where only they occasional falcon or pigeon shoot worker prey on them.

The ubiquitous house sparrow, the most common bird in New York, was never meant to be dinner. But like the pigeon, it isn’t a native American bird.

About 100 were brought over by Brooklyn scientists in 1854, released in Green-Wood Cemetery and along the Narrows to get rid of inchworms that were destroying trees. They ate some—but they also thrived on fruit, seeds, and oats spilled in the streets from horse feed.

Within a few decades they were everywhere, regarded as an “unmitigated nuisance” by a 1889 New York Times article, which urged that they all be poisoned. Clearly that didn’t happen. But as horses disappeared from the streets, their numbers fell.

Today there are only about 100 million in the city, happily chattering away and fighting starlings (above photo), among other birds, for tossed bagels, pizza crusts, and hot dog buns.

Seeking cheap thrills at Coney Island

February 19, 2010

Old photos of Coney Island in the early 1900s tend to give the impression of it as a wholesome, family-friendly kind of place, sideshow freaks notwithstanding.

But Coney Island was one of the few places middle class New Yorkers could go to feel sexually free and loose—by the standards of the time, that is. 

Compared to what people generally wore in the summer, those bathing-suit-and-bloomers combos were pretty revealing.

Single men and women met up and flirted on the boardwalk and beach, breaking free from rigid Victorian-era dating codes.

And the rides at the great amusement parks afforded a couple privacy and intimacy. They were kind of the hook-up spots of turn-of-the-century New York City.

“Various amusements contrived to lift a women’s skirts and reveal their legs and underclothing while numerous others provided opportunities for intimate physical contact,” explains Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, by John F. Kasson.

“Slow, scenic rides through tunnels and caves offered abundant occasions for ‘spooning’ and ‘petting,’ to use the language of the day. 

“One ride, the ‘Cannon Coaster,’ articulated the appeal of many similar attractions in advertising: ‘Will she throw her arms around your neck and yell? Well, I guess, yes!’ 

The cloth cutters of Ludlow Street

February 19, 2010

Jacob Riis took this photo inside a Ludlow Street tenement apartment circa 1905. Looks like the entire extended family was running its own mini sweatshop.

Notice the little pup under the chair at left. I’d never seen a pet dog in a Lower East Side tenement interior photo before.

He looks pretty content there, with all his people around him.

Faded ad: The infamous Village Plaza Hotel

February 19, 2010

This almost-gone ad, seen from Sixth Avenue, is like a time capsule from the gritty, druggie Village of the 1960s and 1970s.

Judging by the few accounts of it I could find, the Village Plaza Hotel, at 79 Washington Place, was a squalid mess. Yes, as the ad says, it was air conditioned. But a 1972 New York Times article describes it as a dumping ground for criminally inclined welfare recipients. 

And a Times article from 1967 cites it as the final home of Linda Fitzpatrick, the Greenwich, Connecticut teenager who was one half of the “Groovy Murders”—killed along with her hippie boyfriend, Groovy Hutchinson, on Avenue B that year.

According to the article, Linda Fitzpatrick’s wealthy family had no idea she was living in a filthy SRO hotel:

“The Fitzpatrick’s minds were eased when Linda assured them she had already made respectable living arrangements. ‘She told us that she was going to live at the Village Plaza Hotel, a very nice hotel on Washington Place, near the university, you know,’ her mother said.

“The Village Plaza, 79 Washington Place, has no doorman. A flaking sign by the tiny reception desk announces ‘Television for Rental’ amidst a forest of other signs; ‘No Refunds,’ ‘All, Rents Must be Paid in Advance,’ ‘No Checks Cashed,’ ‘No Outgoing Calls for Transients.'”