A posh Nolita alley’s rough and tumble past

Centre Market Place is a charming New York alley that’s easy to miss.

It’s just a one-block sliver of pavement behind the old Police Headquarters (now a luxurious residence) on Centre Street.

The alley is all very contemporary Nolita, with brightly painted townhouses topping expensive boutiques. But for the past 150 years or so, it was just another crowded strip in a poor stretch of the East Side.

It’s a block now mostly scrubbed clean of its rougher edges, which included a public bath at number nine on the Broome Street end.

Called the People’s Bath House and built by a private charity in the 1890s, it used to be crowded with mostly Italian immigrant tenement dwellers.

The site where it once stood is now an empty lot.

Centre Market Place also had an illustrious resident in the 1930s: crime photographer Weegee.

His one-room apartment, perfectly located near all the police action, was at number five.

A gritty industry thrived on the street as well: guns. Several gun shops were located there through much of the 20th century, fueled by the NYPD.

The gun dealers are gone, but the sign (below) still exists at number seven for Sile, a gun distributor with a branch in Brescia, Italy.


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8 Responses to “A posh Nolita alley’s rough and tumble past”

  1. Les Says:

    On the Sile sign…do you know anything about the Jim/Joe lettering? I love the font!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    No idea. But I love the font too!

  3. S.S. Says:

    One of the gun dealers simply moved around the corner to Kenmare Street. The reason, of course, that the NYPD fueled the gun trade there was because the old police headquarters building was on the other side of Centre Market Street.

    I was told there is a tunnel connecting the Police Building to that bar on the corner of Grand and Centre Market Streets that the cops used during Prohibition. The Police Building also gained notoriety again in the 80s when the heroin stored there from the French Connection bust simply disappeared.

    Btw, IMHO, this is not really NoLiIta, a real estate broker’s concoction, but in what is left of Little Italy.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks SS. I read about that tunnel connecting NYPD headquarters to the bar, now called O’Nieals. And yes, Nolita is a ridiculous 1990s concoction, but one that has stuck, like Soho and Tribeca, for better or for worse.

  5. db Says:

    I used to live on that block in the early 90s, it was still Little Italy.Jovino was my landlord!
    In addition to Weegee, supposedly Johnny Thunders also lived on Centre Market

  6. “The most complete police headquarters in the world” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] I wonder if the police force of a century ago could have ever imagined that their headquarters would become the Police Building co-op apartments in 1988, and that the neighborhood would go from Little Italy to a posh enclave known as Nolita. […]

  7. The beautiful saloon ceiling on Grand Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] corner, at Centre Market Place, was the location of a polling place in the 1860s, a church in the 1870s, and a deadly jewelry […]

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