Archive for December, 2010

When subway cars almost became women-only

December 29, 2010

They were called “suffragette cars” when they were introduced in March 1909 on trains of the Hudson Tubes, which took passengers from Manhattan to Hoboken (today’s PATH).

And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway.

One women’s group, the Women’s Municipal League, supported the idea, while a host of others opposed it, stating that it was impractical and unnecessary.

After months of debate, the idea was abandoned. Officials decided that the Hudson Tube women-only cars weren’t that successful after all, and that women didn’t want them anyway.

Said one official in an August 1909 New York Times article:

“Almost an equal number of people (to the advocates of women’s cars) stated that men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car, and that they prefer to ride in cars where men and women are together, that while there are rare occasions when some brute will take advantage of the situation to insult a lady, on the other hand the gentlemen are the best protection the ladies want against such conduct.”

And subway pervs all over the city continued rubbing up against chicks in crowded cars. . . .

[1909 Hudson Tubes photo from Photographs of Old America]

Neptune’s trident on the 11th Street public baths

December 29, 2010

When city officials began opening public baths in poor neighborhoods all over New York, they could have put up cheap, purely functional structures.

Instead, architects designed lovely, dignified bath buildings, like this Beaux-Arts treasure on 11th Street between Avenues A and B.

Built in 1906 and used as a public bath until the 1950s, it has some enchanting ornamental touches—like the fish framing Neptune’s trident.

Landmarked in 2008, the building is now a photo studio.

The LaGuardia Airport Christmas bomb of 1975

December 29, 2010

It was mostly forgotten in time and overshadowed by 9/11. Thirty-five years later, the case remains unsolved.

It happened on December 29, 1975. A bomb with an equivalent force of 25 sticks of dynamite had been placed in a locker adjacent to a luggage carousel.

At 6:30 pm, as LaGuardia bustled with travelers, the bomb went off, collapsing the floor and ceiling and hurling shrapnel from the lockers into the air.

Eleven people were killed, mostly by shrapnel wounds, and 79 injured.

So who could have been responsible? Investigators initially suspected the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN, which took credit for the lethal bombing at Fraunces Tavern earlier that year.

The PLO and JDL were also on the short list. But nothing led police back to these groups.

Then in 1976, after a hijacking from LaGuardia by a Croatian nationalist, investigators thought they finally had a suspect.

But after the hijacker was arrested in Paris, he didn’t take responsibility. Law enforcement officials consider him the strongest possible suspect, but to this day, he maintains his innocence.

Sleighs and snowball fights on Ann Street

December 27, 2010

With lots of snow, a six-horse sleigh, and a brass band in the mix, downtown Manhattan appears lively and festive in Thomas Benecke’s lithograph “Sleighing in New York” from 1855.

“This boisterous scene of a sleigh collision and snowball fight may have been a staged spectacle, given that it occurred in front of P.T. Barnum’s museum at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street,” states the caption of Impressions of New York, by Marilyn Symmes.

Inside Barnum’s Museum at about this time, it was a very different scene—one featuring these and other “living curiosities.”

The black-caped horseman of West Fourth Street

December 27, 2010

A bank branch, yogurt shop, tanning salon…. The two-story building at 220 West Fourth Street, put up in 1931, is pretty nondescript.

Except for the cool little plaque above the door of a spy store on the first floor.

It depicts a horseman clad in black, rearing his horse and lifting a sword over his head in defense.

So who is he? Must be General Philip Henry Sheridan—namesake of the nearby intersection of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue.

Sheridan was the Union general who decimated Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War and then prosecuted the wars against the Plains Indians.

A huge hero in the late 19th century, Sheridan probably wouldn’t get a square named after him today.

Hollywood tough guys raised in Manhattan

December 27, 2010

Both acting legends were born in 1899, but under very different financial circumstances.

James Cagney started life in a tenement on Avenue D and East Eighth Street but grew up on East 96th Street in mostly German Yorkville.

“Yorkville was then a street-brawling neighborhood, and Jimmy became a champion battler,” stated his 1986 New York Times obituary.

“As a catcher for a Yorkville amateur baseball team, he played a game in 1919 at Sing Sing prison, where five former schoolmates were serving terms.”

Young Cagney went to Stuyvesant High School, then a semester at Columbia. He had jobs at the New York Sun, the New York Public Library, and Wanamaker’s department store on Astor Place.

Good thing he learned tap dancing as a kid. He was able to pick up extra cash doing vaudeville, which led to roles on Broadway and in movies.

Meanwhile, on West 103rd Street, Humphrey Bogart was growing up affluent, a descendant of the Bogaert family, who came to New Amsterdam from Holland in 1652.

Son of a doctor and suffragette, Bogart attended Trinity School, then Phillips Andover academy, where he was expelled.

His family money slowly draining away, he went into the Navy, then tried his hand at screenwriting before turning to acting.

“I was born to be indolent,” he reportedly said. “And this was the softest of rackets.”

[Photo: Bogart at age nine, from Upper West Side Story by Peter Salwen]

Two New York streets named after Santa Claus

December 23, 2010

Well, in kind of a roundabout way. St. Nicholas Avenue and St. Nicholas Terrace in Harlem both honor the original St. Nick, a Fourth century bishop and the patron saint of New Amsterdam.

“These streets honor New Amsterdam’s patron saint, whose image adorned the masthead of the New Netherland that brought the first Dutch colonists to these shores,” explains a Parks Department sign at adjacent St. Nicholas Park in the 130s.

“St. Nicholas of Myra is also known as the patron saint of children, sailors, bankers, pawnbrokers, travelers, and captives—as well as the inspiration for Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

“Legend claims that he gave his considerable inheritance to charity and often made secret and anonymous gifts to the desperately needy.”

Here’s more on why New Yorkers can claim Santa as one of our own.

“Emigrant Landing” at Ellis Island

December 23, 2010

Is the E on emigrant a typo, or is this really the last stop for Americans seeking to relocate to other countries?

Sometimes the manufacturers of these vintage postcards shaved off details, but the building looks significantly smaller and less ornate than the main immigrant landing station on Ellis Island.

The bridges never built over the Hudson River

December 23, 2010

Five bridges cross the East River connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn or Queens. Yet there’s only one bridge crossing the Hudson.

More would have been built if certain plans panned out. Like those for a suspension bridge linking 23rd Street to Hoboken.

Designed in 1887 by Gustav Lindenthal, who helped build the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro Bridges, it would have been twice as long as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The plans fell apart when funding never materialized.

In the 1920s, Lindenthal had a new idea: a 57th Street Bridge.

This one also died. Instead, a bridge connecting 181st Street to Fort Lee went forward, opening in 1931. (The GWB of course, above and below)

Next up in 1954 was the proposed 125th Street Bridge, a double-deck suspension bridge spanning the Hudson.

That plan was shelved too. The Port Authority had so many projects cooking then, like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, they lacked the cash.

The lovely nymphs of 704 Broadway

December 20, 2010

While hordes of Christmas shoppers weave through the sidewalks below, these two figures, several floors up at gorgeous and ornate 704-706 Broadway, watch silently.

Guess how much the penthouse in this building went for in 2007.