Archive for March, 2011

“Spring Night, Greenwich Village”

March 31, 2011

Martin Lewis created this shadowy etching of an ordinary Village street in 1930. According to

“At the time Lewis made Spring Night, Greenwich Village he lived at 111 Bedford Street (which may be the street depicted in the print), in the Village, and was immersed in the intellectual and artistic life of the neighborhood.”

“His exhibit at Kennedy Galleries in 1929 had been a great success, and he discontinued the commercial art work he had been doing.

“But of course the Great Depression changed everything; Lewis and his wife gave up their house in the Village and moved to Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

“He set up a short-lived printmaking school in the Village in 1934 (with Armin Landeck and the printmaker George Miller), and moved back to the Village in 1936.”

The pinkest houses in New York City

March 31, 2011

The color pink symbolizes many things: femininity, love, youth, happiness, joy.

It’s about passion without aggression, and pink roses are given to convey gratitude and appreciation.

It’s an unusual color to paint a brownstone or tenement. Yet pink buildings are all over New York.

With cherry blossom season upon us and parts of the city about to be draped in fragile pink leaves for a few weeks, it’s a good time to highlight some of the pinkest houses on the streets of New York.

Like the sweet little brownstone (top left) with the red trim on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights.

Or the pink rowhouse near the Bedford Park 4 station in the Bronx (top right).

I love this pale pink tenement at left, on Grand and Orchard.

The Lower East Side can look kind of grim; it gives the neighborhood a jolt of color.

The three-story pink brownstone on the right is part of the Mott Haven Historic District in the South Bronx.

And finally, twin hot pink residences on Prince Street near West Broadway.

Who killed the Upper East Side career girls?

March 30, 2011

On August 28, 1963, a 23-year-old Time-Life staffer named Patricia Tolles came home from work to find her apartment at 57 East 88th Street a ransacked mess.

That was the least of it. In a blood-soaked bedroom were the bodies of her roommates, 20-year-old Newsweek editorial researcher Janice Wylie (below) and 23-year-old teacher Emily Hoffert (right).

Wylie (who had been sexually assaulted) and Hoffert were bound, naked, and each brutally stabbed dozens of times.

The horrific murders shook the city, especially the thousands of young “career girls”—as they were called in the 1960s—who came to New York to share apartments and find jobs.

For months, cops had no leads, until April 1964, when a 19-year-old Brooklyn resident named George Whitmore was arrested.

Police were certain they had their man. But his confession was soon discredited, and investigators were back on the hunt for the real killer.

He finally emerged in October 1964. Heroin addict and convicted burglar Richard Robles, 20, who had grown up near the East 80s apartment where the three career girls lived, was charged in January 1965.

After a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison, he told the judge he didn’t do it.

But during a parole hearing two decades later in 1986, Robles confessed to butchering the girls in a robbery-gone-wrong after Hoffert told him she was going to report him to the police. He was denied parole.

A lovely view of Union Square, 1905

March 28, 2011

On any given day, this corner of Union Square is packed with pedestrians and choked with buses and taxis.

But this 1905 postcard depicts a quiet, sparsely populated square. Maybe it’s early in the morning, and the social justice protests that often took place here aren’t scheduled to start until later.

And the dance halls and cheap theaters lining Broadway did brisk business the night before.

Mysteriously, it looks like Union Square East is cordoned off from Broadway by rope. And what about that bronze George Washington equestrian statue in the middle of the street?

The oldest sculpture in any city park, it was unveiled in 1856, then moved inside the park in 1930 to protect it from traffic.

Here’s an equally lovely view of Union Square from the same decade.

An 18th century slave market on Wall Street

March 28, 2011

Slavery in New York City? It thrived from Dutch days through British rule. By the 1720s, one out of every five residents was owned by another.

The first slaves, 11 African men, came to New Amsterdam in the 1620s.

Along with other enslaved men and women who arrived from Africa or the Caribbean after them, they cleared fields, built roads, and toiled as domestics.

The Dutch (shown in this Howard Pyle painting at a 17th century slave auction) extended liberties, such as the right to own property and even win partial freedom, explains New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders:

“Under the much harsher conditions of English rule, however, even these slender prerequisites disappeared. Henceforth, all slaves were considered chattel—forever—and the few that were freed, permanently barred from owning land or houses.”

By 1711, a slave exchange (the gazebo-like structure at right) was built on Wall Street at the East River.

“Each morning, African slaves could be seen making their way to the market at the foot of Wall Street, where while waiting to be rented out as day laborers and domestic servants they exchanged news with free blacks, and looked for every chance they could to break free,” write Burns and Sanders.

Throughout the 18th century, slave revolts kept tensions high. The British promised freedom to any slave who fought for the crown during the Revolutionary War, and the practice was officially outlawed in 1827.

Old-school subway signs hiding in plain sight

March 28, 2011

The MTA obscures them with ongoing construction, cheap tiles, and ugly pipes and wires. But vintage subway infrastructure remains in many stations . . . if you look closely enough.

Most of the original detail in the 6 station at Lexington Avenue and 103rd Street, opened in 1918, disappeared after a renovation. But somehow this Downtown Trains mosaic survived.

The lovely Ionic columns and “exit to street” sign framing this exit from the IRT Fulton Street station are like archeological ruins from another era, hard to detect among the construction walls and modern turnstiles.

Imagine all the magazines and newspapers sold over the years at what was once a newsstand at the 77th Street R station in Bay Ridge.

The station—and presumably the newsstand—opened in 1916, but it’s long since been tiled over.

The billboard eye candy of Columbus Circle

March 24, 2011

Okay, so it was no rival to Times Square.

But in its 20th century heyday, the former Grand Circle (laid out in the 1860s; the Columbus monument didn’t arrive until 1892) boasted an impressive number of eye-catching signs and landmark billboards.

Here’s the West side of Columbus Circle in a 1907 Library of Congress photo, where the Time Warner Center is today. Ads for cigars, booze, and Uneeda Biscuits dominate.

A slightly different camera angle in the teens or 1920s reveals more billboards: for cigarettes and cars.

The famous Coca-Cola ad, photographed in 1938 by Berenice Abbott (through another alcohol ad), stood for decades until the building supporting it was bulldozed in 1966.

The site then hosted the Gulf & Western Building, which was remodeled into the Trump International Hotel in the 1990s.

The cut-rate beginning of Barneys New York

March 24, 2011

Like Saks and Henri Bendel, Barneys New York has long been the epitome of a high-end fashion retailer.

Which makes these unabashedly low-end ads, found on a matchbook from the 1930s or 1940s, all the more interesting.

Seems that luxury department store Barneys was once bargain basement Barney’s, a menswear store openly hawking factory rejects, auction stocks, and showroom models.

Launched by Barney Pressman in 1923, the store began as a 200-foot hole in the wall on Seventh Avenue at 17th Street.

Barney may have been gimmicky, but he also sold quality—soon luring devoted clients to a part of Manhattan known more for its Irish pubs than clothing stores.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Barney’s son edged the store into the luxury realm.

In the 1970s, Barney’s added a women’s department; in the 1990s, the store (without the apostrophe) decamped the now-blocklong 17th Street store for the Upper East Side, where Barneys holds court today.

A remnant of “Little Ukraine” in the East Village

March 24, 2011

A handful of Ukrainian storefronts and signage are still hanging on along lower Second Avenue.

There’s Ukrainian soul food standby Veselka and the Ukrainian National Home, both off of East Ninth Street. Taras Shevchenko Place and St. George’s Church are around the corner on East Seventh.

But the East Village’s Ukrainian presence is a shadow of what it was in post–World War II New York, when Ukrainian immigrants poured in, reportedly topping 60,000 in the 1950s.

Here’s a piece of ephemera from that once-thriving community. Stephan Kowbasniuk was a well-known lawyer in Little Ukraine; in this ad he offers to handle passports, shipping, real estate transactions, and citizenship papers.

It’s tough to date the ad, but considering the vintage Algonquin phone exchange, it must be pre-1960s.

[Thanks to frequent Ephemeral commenter Mick Dementiuk for the Ukrainian translation]

“Evening Rain” on the elevated tracks

March 21, 2011

Artist Daniel Hauben captures twilight on a rain-slicked, empty subway platform in this color intaglio print.

It’s a timeless glimpse—is it 1938? 1958? The print actually dates to 1998, according to a wonderful book called Impressions of New York: Prints From the New-York Historical Society.

Anyone know which subway platform this is? I’m guessing the Bronx, but I’d love to know exactly where. Find out more about the artist here.