Archive for September, 2010

The glorious East Side midtown skyline in 1935

September 28, 2010

It’s a gleaming mix of old and new in this postcard. There’s the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, and in the forefront an old brewery and tenements.

They look like they’re soon to meet the wrecking ball.

Where 1980s cool kids got their hair cut

September 28, 2010

Second Avenue’s Industrial Hair specialized in “ultrashort, severe, androgynous styles” reported an August 1984 New York magazine piece on where to shop in the East Village.

“Local residents consider Industrial Hair one of the best of these salons,” the writer states in an item about creative and avant-garde hair cutting spots.

“It’s high-tech, with rubber-tile floors and Pirelli garbage cans. A whip (for clients who fidget?) hangs ominously from an iron bar near the ceiling.”

This Industrial Hair ad comes from the October 1983 East Village Eye.

Deciphering some extremely faded ads downtown

September 28, 2010

I’ve probably walked down 11th Street in the East Village a million times without seeing this ad for Knickerbocker Boarding on a parking garage.

This goes back to when horses were New York’s main mode of transportation.

Over on the West Side is this one for Umberto Brothers Storage. Looks like it says “record storage.” Records like LPs, or where school files and government documents go to die?

“Upholstery” says this supremely faded ad on a 14th Street building, visible from Sixth Avenue and 13th Street.

The rest is too faded to make out. Once upon a time, there must have been an upholsterer on the block.

The coolest album cover of 1950s New York City

September 25, 2010

I’d never heard of the Norman Luboff Choir before finding this gem of an album cover. It captures the energy and magic of Times Square in 1958, just before the area started to slide.

There’s the Capitol Theatre, now the Paramount Plaza office tower, at 1645 Broadway; it showed its last movie in 1968. The Astor Theater is at front left.

The “Howard” sign must be for Howard Johnson’s. And the Brass Rail, at right, on Seventh Avenue and 49th Street, had a popular cocktail lounge.

The East Village’s Yiddish Hall of Fame

September 25, 2010

So what’s a Hollywood Walk of Fame–style memorial to Yiddish theater stars of the 19th and early 20th centuries doing in front of a Chase bank branch on Second Avenue and 10th Street?

It was created by the Second Avenue Deli in 1984, which occupied this site for decades until 2006. 

About 30 plaques are embedded in the sidewalk, each bearing the name (or in some cases two names) of some of the biggest celebrities who graced the theaters and vaudeville houses that lined Second Avenue.

There’s a plaque for Abraham Goldfaden (left), billed as the founder of Yiddish theater and the “Yiddish Shakespeare,” according to his 1908 obituary in The New York Times.

Fyvush Finkel, Bruce Adler, and Molly Picon, above right, also have stars. Many of the others, unfortunately, are too worn down to read. 

When the Met’s home was West 14th Street

September 23, 2010

The stately Metropolitan Museum of Art has anchored Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street for so long, it’s hard to imagine the museum and its collections anywhere else.

Especially 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues—home to discount storefronts, social services agencies, and seen-better-days apartment buildings of varying styles.

But in 1873, when the Met was a mere three years old and it needed new digs following a first stint at 681 Fifth Avenue, the museum moved here, a stretch of the city that then featuring mansions and wealth.

The Met took up residence at 128 West 14th Street, in what’s referred to as the Douglas mansion. 

It didn’t last long there. By 1880, the growing museum had decamped far uptown to its present site at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Here it is in a postcard dated 1928.

And the Douglas mansion? It burned down in 1918. The Salvation Army had been leasing it as a training school; they rebuilt their headquarters on the site, and are still there today.

Stripping the grand Ansonia Hotel of its cornices

September 23, 2010

This website is a big fan of New York City building ornamentation: statues, grotesques, lanterns, and other eye-catching decorative elements. 

So it was quite a shock to come across this 1942 photo (published in Over Here: New York City During World War II, by Lorraine B. Diehl) showing workmen removing a cornice from the roof of the Upper West Side’s Ansonia Hotel.

But there was a reason: a World War II scrap metal drive. By the 1940s, the once-grand Beaux Arts gem on Broadway and 72nd Street had fallen into disrepair.

Apparently management did not think the building, which would eventually become luxe condos on the again-fashionable Upper West Side, would miss its cornices.

Traces of old phone exchanges of Queens

September 23, 2010

This frozen-in-time faded ad—complete with 1980s-style graffiti—remains on the side of a warehouse along 31st Street in Astoria.

The RA comes from Ravenswood, an enchantingly named hamlet that once existed along the East River and was home to many old-money mansions in the 19th century.

The neighborhood was absorbed into Long Island City toward the end of the 1800s, but the name lives on in the form of the nearby Ravenswood Houses and the Ravenswood Generation Station.

This Millionaire Realty sign, on Astoria Boulevard, doesn’t look very old. But it must date back to the 1960s at least, when telephone numbers still had the two-letter prefix.

“Under Brooklyn Bridge” in 1931

September 21, 2010

This drypoint etching by William C. McNulty—described as a “romantic-realist” in a 1963 obituary in The New York Times—depicts an industrial city under stormy skies.

The lamps and lanterns at Con Ed headquarters

September 21, 2010

The Con Ed building’s handsome limestone 26-story tower, completed in 1929, sports some very appropriate ornamental elements.

Decorating the facade are images of candles and oil lamps—which makes sense for the former headquarters of a huge power company.

“At the base of the tower these include torches, lamps, and urns on the original canopy at the main entrance on Irving Place and torches, suns, candelabra, Jupiter heads, and lightning bolts on the frieze over the first-story shop windows,” states the Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 2009.

And of course, there’s the incredible 38-foot bronze lantern capping the top of the tower.

“This tower was planned to be dramatically lighted at night, advertising the wonders of the electricity that the company sold,” reports New York Architecture Images. “Known as the ‘Tower of Light,’ this was memorial to the company’s employees who had died in World War I.”