Archive for October, 2010

The bronze wizard clock on Park Avenue South

October 28, 2010

It’s temporarily shielded by scaffolding. But the bronze clock sticking out from a building at 32nd Street is still a curious sight.

It features a silkworm and leaves motif is topped by a wizard with a wand and a blacksmith hammering a sword.

What story is the clock telling? Called the Silk Clock, it depicts a scene from King Arthur, according to a 1996 New York Times article.

On the hour, the wizard’s wand hits the blacksmith’s head. Then, another figure, The Lady on the Lake, briefly emerges.

The 1936 clock was built by the building’s original owner, Schwarzbock Looms—hence the silk in the name.

Things to see and do in New York in 1960

October 28, 2010

According to a partly shredded Texaco street map of the city, that is.

Sure, most of the streets are the same. But there’s no Soho or Tribeca, and Battery Park City is at least a decade away; West Street is the western border of Manhattan, the map reveals.

Texaco put together a few paragraphs on what do in New York. Some interesting bits:

The map suggests visiting “a great univeristy”—Columbia. NYU was still a middling commuter school at the time.

“Greet airliners at Idlewilde Airport.” Guess President Kennedy is still alive.

“Ferry your car over and tour the farmlands of Staten Island.” No Verrazano-Narrows Bridge yet; that isn’t open until 1964. Farmland?

Wooden phone booths tucked away in the city

October 28, 2010

Every once in a while you spot one, usually in the back of an outer borough drugstore or in an old-timey neighborhood pub.

Wherever you are, these relics from an older (and perhaps quieter) city instantly make you feel like you’ve traveled back to J.D. Salinger’s New York, or Mad Men–era Gotham.

A few recent finds include this booth downstairs at the Frick on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street. Too bad the phone itself is missing.

There’s also the wooden booths (separated by an open phone on the wall) near the entrance to the Park Avenue Armory at 66th Street.

These phones do work. And check out the seats! I don’t think they would support the butt size of today’s city residents.

Lost City kept a great running list of wooden phone booth sightings here. Ah, life before the endless chatter brought on by cell phones.

“Sixth Avenue North From 47th Street”

October 26, 2010

The old and new city collide in this 1936 dreamy depiction of two girls at the edge of the Sixth Avenue El by John J. Soble.

“Filled in the foreground with dark tenement buildings, rooftop life, and elevated train tracks, the painting gives way in the distance to Rockefeller Center’s soaring masses, rising from the older skyline,” reads the caption under the painting in New York: An Illustrated History.

New York’s costumed bicycle parade of 1896

October 26, 2010

It’s an event that sounds part Critical Mass–style ride on the newly elegant Upper West Side, part goofy Halloween costume party for the city’s emerging leisure class.

Sponsored by the Evening Telegram in June 1896, the hugely popular Saturday afternoon bike parade started at 66th Street and the Boulevard (Broadway).

Thousands of riders decked out in costume cycled up to 108th Street, then turned on to Riverside Drive. From there they went to Claremont Avenue, back to Riverside, and down to 66th Street to finish.

“The Evening Telegram has offered prizes for the best costumed and most graceful lady rider, the best costumed and most graceful gentleman rider, the best decorated costume, the most grotesque or fancy costume, and for the best appearing bicycle club,” reported The New York Times the day before the parade.

So who won? I vote for the guy in the cowboy hat and fake beard in the back.

The lost paper makers of the far West Village

October 26, 2010

The far western border of the West Village (or is it Hudson Square? Creeping Tribeca?) is a goldmine of faded and forgotten ads.

Several are for paper companies; with easy access to the Hudson River and an El chugging along Greenwich Street, the neighborhood became a hub for manufacturing and selling paper in the early 20th century.

This Beekman Paper Company ad is in pretty good shape, considering that it may date back to as early as 1926.

Beekman also had a location in the West 30s—and interestingly, that faded ad is still legible too.

The word paper in this ad on Washington Street is pretty clear—it’s the company name that’s too weathered to make out.

The U.S. Cordage Company Inc. made rope and twine.

Coy, Disbrow & Co. also made twine, in addition to paper, in their Greenwich Street factory.

This Greenwich Village Historic District Extension report, from 2006, sheds light on more of the neighborhood’s manufacturing and community life.

West 72nd Street before the Dakota

October 22, 2010

It was one of the first apartment houses in the city, a Gothic, Victorian, French Renaissance–inspired mix of lovely gables, dormers, railings, and moldings.

And if you were lucky enough to be able to afford a flat in the Dakota around 1884, the year the building opened, here’s what the view outside your window would have be like.

This 1890 photograph, published in New York: An Illustrated History, looks south from Central Park West and 72nd Street.

It’s an amazing contrast: the Dakota, an example of Gilded Age opulence, vs. the shacks and shanties of the surrounding blocks.

It wouldn’t look this way for much longer. The Upper West Side was fast transitioning from a collection of villages such as Harsenville and Bloomingdale into a neighborhood of brownstones and apartment houses.

When everybody shopped at Crazy Eddie

October 22, 2010

Were you living in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s? Then you probably shopped at Crazy Eddie—or at least you remember the prices-are-insane and Christmas-in-July commercials.

The chain, which started with one store in Coney Island, was the place to go for TVs, air conditioners, stereos, boom boxes, calculators, as well as records, tapes, and 8-tracks.

This ad comes from the December 10, 1980 New York Post. The logo looks so old-school; I guess it predates the prices-are-insane guy from the TV commercials.

Like so many other electronics chains, Crazy Eddie had a brief shelf life. There was the mid-1980s legal trouble: an SEC investigation, extradition, and prison sentence for the guy who ran the company.

But Crazy Eddie is remembered pretty fondly. The store even has its own tribute page.

A late traveler makes her way to the subway

October 20, 2010

A woman descends the subway stairs in “Late Traveler,” a 1949 drypoint etching by Martin Lewis.

It’s noirish and mysterious. I think we’ve all been this woman at some point or another, making our way through a quiet, lonely city in the dark.

“Late Traveler” is part of the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. View a close-up of the etching here.

The great New York tradition of slumming it

October 20, 2010

Of course, there’s nothing new about the rich and privileged partying it up in poor sections of the city: It’s been a popular activity since at least 1884.

That’s when The New York Times (arguably in one of its first Styles section–type pieces) wrote about this latest rage.

“Slumming in This Town,” the Times headline read. “A fashionable London mania reaches New-York.”

“‘Slumming,’ the latest fashionable idiosyncrasy in London—i.e. the visiting of the slums of the great city by parties of ladies and gentlemen for sightseeing—is mildly practiced here by our foreign visitors by a tour of the Bowery, winding up with a visit to an opium joint or Harry Hill’s.”

Harry Hill’s, (above sketch from the NYPL digital collection), was a renowned East Houston Street saloon that featured theater and bare-knuckle boxing.

“It is safe to conclude under the circumstances that “slumming” will become a form of fashionable dissapation this winter among our belles, as our foreign cousins will always be ready to lead the way.”

[Above, a photo from Valentine’s City of New York guidebook of the East Side’s “Italian Quarter”]