Archive for March, 2010

Ellis Island’s joyful “kissing post”

March 31, 2010

Getting through Ellis Island after arriving in America took some time.

After disembarking and taking a ferry to the main building, every immigrant went through the same process.

They would leave their belongings in a baggage room, undergo a medical exam, and be interviewed by agents to make sure they were legally able to come to the U.S.

The routine took hours, days, or weeks, and not everyone was given the go-ahead to enter New York City.

But if they did, America’s newest arrivals were free to move on.

They went to a money-exchange area, collected their bags, and waited at the foot of the stairs of the Great Hall to reunite with family already in New York.

One pillar in the room was the location of so many emotional family reunions, it became known as the kissing post. It’s marked with a plaque today.

The tortoise and the hares on Park Avenue

March 31, 2010

1040 Park Avenue, at 86th Street, is a stately Upper East Side co-op. It doesn’t crack a smile—except when it comes to the tortoise and hare friezes that wrap around the third floor facade.

The penthouse was the longtime home of magazine publisher Conde Nast, who invited guests such as George Gershwin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edward Steichen for a housewarming party in 1925, a year after the building opened.

The stunning roof garden of the Hotel Astor

March 31, 2010

Times Square’s Hotel Astor, opened in 1904 on West 45th Street, was an opulent 500-room palace boasting luxurious banquet halls, terraces, tea parlors, and a Louis XV–decorated ballroom.

It also had a huge, elaborate roof garden where Gilded-Age New Yorkers dined, danced, and entertained themselves, catching cool river breezes in a pre–air conditioned era.

It’s been gone since 1967, replaced by an office tower. But back in the day, a New York Times article from 1920 had this to say:

“Down near Times Square the Hotel Astor Roof Garden and Belvedere Restaurant make it possible for the wayfarer to leave the torrid stretches of Seventh Avenue and in a few moments find himself in a real garden surrounded by flowers.

“There is the open-air dancing floor and the restaurant is conspicuous for dangling ferns and trailing vines. A unique feature of the restaurant is the gabled-glass roof over which flows a miniature Niagra.”

The crime behind the best tabloid headline ever

March 29, 2010

“Headless Body in Topless Bar,” the New York Post‘s April 15, 1983 front page headline, is regarded as a work of headline-writing art.

But the story that inspired it is truly gruesome. And the guy convicted of the murder still denies any involvement.

After drinking heavily at a club called Herbie’s Bar in Jamaica, Charles Dingle, 23, shot the owner in the head.

Drunk and high on coke, he took four women hostage, raping one and robbing the bar manager.

In her purse he found a card indicating that she was a mortician.

Hoping to avoid being tied to the murder, he forced her to dig the bullet out of the owner’s head. That didn’t work. So he made her decapitate him with a steak knife.

Dingle later hijacked a gypsy cab, took two hostages with him plus the severed head, and drove to Broadway and 168th Street, where he passed out and was arrested.

Convicted of murder, rape, and robbery, Dingle got 25 years to life. His next parole hearing: 2011.

Where is Manhattan’s highest natural point?

March 29, 2010

Sure, at 265 feet above sea level, it’s not exactly very high.

But when earthquake–triggered waves crash over Manhattan and you have no idea where to go, head to Bennett Park.

It’s a sweet little park—the borough’s highest ground—in Washington Heights on Fort Washington Avenue and 183rd Street.

The nearby area played a crucial role in American history.

Called Long Hill by early Dutch settlers, it became George Washington’s operations base during the Revolutionary War, thanks to its vantage point. 

Fort Washington was the site of a major defeat by British and Hessian troops. But hey, our side won the war.

An impressive monument on the Fort Washington side of the park commemorating the Battle of Fort Washington was put up in 1901.

East Harlem’s faded Bloomingdale’s ad

March 29, 2010

Lexington Avenue at East 116th Street is a crowded shopping corner of mom and pop and local chain shops—and the site of a weathered old advertisement for Bloomingdale’s flagship store 56 blocks south.

The vintage typeface looks nothing like the one Bloomingdale’s uses on their ads today. Does anyone know when it might date to?

A penny postcard of Madison Square

March 26, 2010

Looks like a sweet spring day at the crossroads of 24th Street, Fifth Avenue, and Broadway.

The neighborhood was extremely fashionable around the turn of the 20th century, when this card dates to. 

That’s Madison Square Garden, the Moorish-looking tower on the right. The billboard ad above the red building in the center is a gem—it’s for White Horse Scotch Whiskey.

The proud knights of Waverly Place

March 26, 2010

At the corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place is a 16-story apartment house, appropriately named The Waverly.

It has the beige-brick prewar elegance of many Village residences, but what stands out is the ornate two-story entrance.

Carved into the facade are reliefs of knights with swords on horseback, soldiers in helmets, and unicorns.

Why all the Medieval imagery?

It’s a nod to Waverley, the 1814 historical novel by Sir Walter Scott set in the Scotland Highlands that features lots of chieftains and castles.

The novel was extremely popular in the early 19th century. After Scott died in 1832, the street was named for him at the insistence of local residents.

Strange that they misspelled it though!

Second Avenue’s old-school store signs

March 26, 2010

Lower Second Avenue’s East Village stretch has had a rep as an NYU-infested, bridge-and-tunnel attracting street for years now.

But some great old neighborhood shops are still around—and they sport cool old-school signage.

J. Baczynsky’s Meat Market off of Ninth Street is a reminder that the East Village once had a strong Polish presence. Where else can you get jellied pig feet?

Then a few blocks down, between sixth and seventh streets, is Moishe’s.

Block Drug Stores might be the oldest business on the block, dating to 1885. If you like your prescriptions compounded by a mortar and pestles the old-fashioned way, this is your place.

Inside is like a step back in time. The store itself appears unrenovated and mysteriously says “Second Ave Chemists Inc” in the window above the door.

Three ways of looking at Delancey Street

March 24, 2010

This 1919 photo of Delancey Street at the approach to the Williamsburg Bridge shows a messy stretch of tenements, shops, trolleys, and walkers crossing the bridge on foot.

At the time, the bridge was a mere 16 years old.

In 1975, the trolleys and subway stations are gone, as are the crowds. The approach still looks like a mess.

Some of the tenements on the left at Clinton Street are still there, but many have been demolished and replaced by housing projects.

Here’s the same stretch in 2010. It’s still mostly a mess of cars, bargain stores, and a confusing juncture of streets.

But that block of tenements on the left at Clinton Street is still hanging in there.

The first two photos are from New York Then and Now.