Archive for May, 2010

The war memorials lining Eastern Parkway

May 29, 2010

Eastern Parkway, the grand boulevard that cuts through Crown Heights from Prospect Park, was conceived in 1866 as the nation’s first parkway.

Flanked by pedestrian malls for riding and strolling, this two-mile road features lovely towering elms lining the malls.

Eastern Parkway took on a more somber tone, however, after World War I, when Brooklyn residents began putting up plaques and planting trees honoring the borough’s war dead.

Today, these plaques aren’t always easy to find. Many were removed over the years because they damaged trees. Others became victims of the elements.

But after a restoration a few years ago, some are visible in the grass again—ghostly reminders of Brooklyn’s sacrifice and valor.

When Williamsburg was a separate city

May 29, 2010

In 1827, long before it became home to hipsters and Hasidic Jews, Williamsburg was established as the Village of Williamsburgh (note the old-school “h”).

In 1851, its independent streak surfaced. A charter was passed, and it became the City of Williamsburgh—an urban enclave home to shipbuilders, sugar companies, breweries, and other industries.

But Williamsburgh’s time as a city didn’t last long.

By 1855, to escape financial woes, it let itself be annexed to the city of Brooklyn.

Not only did the neighborhood lose its independence, Williamsburg also lost the “h” at the end of its name.

A Brooklyn welterweight’s final, deadly fight

May 29, 2010

Raised in the mostly Jewish Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the 1920s, Albert Abraham Davidoff was a hotheaded kid who had a fierce left hook.

A couple of his brothers were part of Murder Incorporated, but he became a welterweight, changing his name to Bummy Davis and fighting some of the top boxers of the 1930s.

He was a colorful, volatile guy who was kicked out of boxing for life in 1940—though later reinstated—for delivering a bunch of below-the-belt punches to an opponent.

In 1945, the 25-year-old was drinking at Dudy’s Tavern, which he had once owned, in Canarsie. Armed robbers burst in and announced a holdup.

Davis used his left hook to fight back against the robbers and managed to chase a few away. But in the chaos he was shot three times. He died sprawled outside the bar.

When bocce ruled New York City parks

May 25, 2010

The Italian game of bocce has a surprisingly long history in New York. Its ancestor, lawn bowling, was played by Dutch colonists at Bowling Green, the city’s first park.

Mayor LaGuardia established the first official bocce courts in East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park in 1934, when the neighborhood was mostly Italian.

By 1958, 27 parks across the city had bocce courts, including Washington Square Park, J. J. Walker Park on Hudson Street, and St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx, where a group of guys play in the above Parks Department photo.

And though you don’t see so many old-timers gathering for a game anymore, it still has its fans; there’s still a citywide bocce tournament held every year. 

More cross streets carved into buildings

May 25, 2010

These often faded and forgotten street signs are always fun to come across, especially when the lettering is offbeat—like here at Third Avenue and 61st Street.

This one at Boerum Place and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn looks rather new actually.

The cross streets aren’t carved in here at Smith and Douglass Streets, but they sure seem to have been there a long time.

The futuristic hotel never built in New York

May 25, 2010

Architect Antoni Gaudi designed fantastical, colorful, Art Nouveau-style buildings and churches in his native Spain in the late 19th century. 

There’s nothing like them here in New York. But if Gaudi had his way, there would be—a hotel, topped by a giant star, he intended to build on Church Street.


Plans were drawn up in 1908. At 1,250 feet, the proposed Hotel Attraction would have been the tallest building in the city.

It never went up, of course, and the sketches were mostly forgotten for decades after Gaudi’s death in 1926.

Now, a group of Spanish artists are reportedly entering Gaudi’s design in the World Trade Center memorial design competition.

The crazy thing is, ground zero is exactly where Gaudi had intended the Hotel Attraction to go up—102 years ago.

At right, Gaudi’s 1908 sketches for the hotel

The East River “great suspension bridge” opens

May 22, 2010

May 24 marks the 127th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, celebrated in 1883 with a “grand display of fireworks and illuminations” according to this newspaper account.

The Brooklyn Bridge was hailed as an engineering marvel; schools closed for the day as politicians gave speeches and thousands of pedestrians were charged one cent to cross it.

But the festivities didn’t last. A few days later, after a staircase gave way, tragedy struck and 12 pedestrians were killed.

Where the hippies hung out in Prospect Park

May 22, 2010

Back in the late 1960s, long-haired, Dylan-loving Brooklyn kids gathered at a place they called Hippie Hill, described as “a long grassy knoll just up from the Totem Poles,” in a 2008 Daily News column by Denis Hamill.

The “Totem Poles,” below, are Stanford White-designed Grecian columns marking the entrance to the park near the 15th Street subway station.

“On some summer nights in the late ’60s, the crowds would exceed a thousand, young wanna-be troubadours strumming guitars and singing Dylan tunes, which was an instant hippie chick magnet,” writes Hamill.

“Eight-track tape decks boiled with angry Dylan songs. Even returning Vietnam veterans joined the scene, love beads dangling with their dog tags on Hippie Hill, where Dylan provided the soundtrack for our war-torn generation.”

The Lonely Hearts Killers of the 1940s

May 22, 2010

Ex-con Raymond Fernandez had a sociopathic way of meeting women: He would answer lonely hearts ads—the 1940s version of JDate and Craigslist—gain a single woman’s trust, and then rob her.

In 1947, he answered an ad placed by Florida resident Martha Beck, who promptly fell in love with him, abandoned her kids, and moved into his West 139th Street apartment.

She became his common-law wife and accomplice. Posing as his sister, she helped Fernandez romance and rob vulnerable single women via the lonely hearts ads around the country.  

Problem was, she’d become jealous, and that led her to start killing the women in a rage. 

From 1947 to 1949 she and Fernandez killed 20 women, police suspected. They were finally nabbed by police in Michigan when a young widow’s family became suspicious.

Extradited to New York, they stood trial for three murders. It was a sensational case in the summer of 1949, with lurid tabloid tales of sexual depravity and cracks about Beck’s weight.

Fernandez and Beck were convicted of all charges. Before being executed at Sing Sing in 1951, Fernandez’s last words were supposedly, “I love Martha! What do the public know about love?”

“Huge punk selection” at Trash and Vaudeville

May 20, 2010

Skinny ties, black jeans, beatle boots, and other punk/new wave must-haves were up for grabs at Trash and Vaudeville, which has occupied the same St. Mark’s Place address since 1975.

An Ephemeral reader clipped this cool vintage ad out of a March 1980 issue of Trouser Press, a New York-based music magazine. Check out back issues from the 1970s and 1980s.