Archive for September, 2012

Futuristic housing never built in 1960s Harlem

September 13, 2012

Nuclear power plants? Landing pads for spaceships? Board game pieces?

Actually, they’re apartment buildings—and if visionary designer (some would say futuristic crackpot) Buckminster Fuller had his way, they may actually have been built in Harlem.

Fuller drew up these plans in 1964: His idea was to build 15 100-story structures spanning the entire width of Upper Manhattan, with each tower capable of housing 45,000 people.

It’s an intriguing idea—unless you had to live there.

But it wasn’t as crazy as Fuller’s 1960 plan, which was to cover Manhattan in a two-mile dome.

The point was to help control the weather and air pollution while keeping energy costs down.

Neither plan, of course, made it past fantasy stage.

When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade

September 13, 2012

I’m not so sure that the thousands of horses tasked to pull wagons day after day in New York’s pre-auto era were treated very well.

But for several years in the early 1900s, they were treated to their own parade.

The Work Horse Parade, sponsored by the ASPCA, was meant to “induce the owners and drivers of work horses, and the public generally, to take more interest in their welfare,” states a New York Times article on the first-ever parade, dated May 19, 1907.

About 1,200 horses were expected to participate, and “all of the express companies, many coal companies, confectionery houses, and co. will send entries,” reported the Times.

Equines that worked for the FDNY, police force, and other city workers marched too.

So did hundreds of truck horses, who spent their days making deliveries for “wholesale grocers, breweries, butchers, milk companies, laundries, and, in fact, almost every branch of business.”

The parade started at Washington Square, with horses and drivers going up Fifth Avenue to Worth Square at 23rd Street.

There, judges awarded various prizes. This Borden’s milk truck team in the above photo won the “obstacle test” in 1908.

Looks like the parade ran for eight years; I can’t find a reference to it after 1914, when it expanded to include dogs, ponies, and even two mules.

After 1914, automobiles began eclipsing horsepower—which had served New York well for close to three centuries.

[Photos: Bain Archive, Library of Congress]

A lovely day in Brooklyn’s Tompkins Park in 1887

September 10, 2012

William Merritt Chase depicts late 19th century Brooklyn parks in several of his paintings.

He lived with his family on Marcy Avenue at the time, so it’s no surprise that he painted scenes like this one from Tompkins Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Tompkins, named after a local abolitionist, was the first park established by the city of Brooklyn and laid out by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Opened in the 1870s, it’s now called Herbert Von King Park, after a Bed-Stuy community leader.

New York’s skinny little holdout buildings

September 10, 2012

Meet the holdout buildings—small, slender structures owned by residents who refused to sell to a developer.

As a result, developers simply constructed taller, wider building around them, making these little homes look like dollhouses.

These in-between buildings are leftover remnants of an older New York, one not dominated by skyscrapers and towering loft buildings.

Often neglected and not in the best shape, they’re treasures hiding in plain site all over the city.

This Chelsea home, above, with the lovely shutters, is surrounded by two postwar apartment buildings. I wonder what it’s like to live there.

I have no idea when this drab little house went up on the Bowery. It looks like a placeholder between its two neighbors.

This itty bitty building on Lexington Avenue in the 50s sits between two giant office structures, and it looks like it predates both.

I imagine it was once part of a row of functional, not particularly distinctive brownstones, before this stretch of Midtown turned corporate.

Below is another teeny garage, probably a former stable, in Chelsea.

The ceiling is sinking in, and it looks long-neglected. But it’s hanging on, still part of the streetscape.

You can’t help but root for them, right? Check out more holdout buildings here.

A 1959 teenage gang murder rocks the city

September 10, 2012

It all seems quaint now, but violent teenage street gangs were a new phenomenon to 1950s New Yorkers.

Among the most notorious of the estimated 150 gangs were the Mau Maus, Bishops, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings.

They terrified residents, who felt threatened by the rumbles and sporadic killings that took place in tightly packed postwar neighborhoods.

But no gang-related murder got as much newspaper ink as that of the Capeman—aka Salvador Agron, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican kid who had joined an Upper West Side gang called the Vampires.

On August 29, 1959, Agron and his crew met at midnight at May Matthews playground on 45th Street off of Ninth Avenue.

They were looking to fight members of the Norsemen, a mostly white gang. Instead they came across some local teenagers.

Mistaking them for gang members, Agron, dressed in a black satin cape, stabbed two 16-year-olds each in the heart. They staggered to nearby doorways before dying (right).

Part of the media uproar had to do with Agron’s dismissive, cocky attitude toward the crime.

Anti–Puerto Rican sentiment among city residents didn’t help either.

In 1960, he got the electric chair, but then had his sentence commuted in 1962.

Released from prison in 1979 (after escaping two years earlier), he became a youth counselor and died in 1986 at age 42 from pneumonia.

Paul Simon turned Agron’s life story into a Broadway musical in 1998—but it closed to poor reviews a few months after opening.

New York’s memorial street murals to 9/11

September 6, 2012

While the official 9/11 memorial is now open downtown, some unofficial street murals in neighborhoods across the city continue to commemorate the day in their own small ways.

These are some of the first memorials that went up, visceral responses to the city’s darkest hour. This one above, in Gravesend, is gathering grime under the F train tracks.

Graffiti just beneath it mars this commemorative mural on West Broadway.

I think this one is in the East Village, but I didn’t record the neighborhood correctly. Can anyone confirm? The Daily News has a slideshow of more street murals here.

What’s on the menu at the Brighton Beach Hotel?

September 6, 2012

At the turn of the last century, the sprawling Brighton Beach Hotel served as a more upscale seaside resort than its neighbor, Coney Island.

And if you were wrapping up your summer vacation there in 1906, you’d probably make dinner plans at the hotel restaurant.

So what kind of food and drink would be available to you?

We’re talking about a mind-boggling array of seafood (clear green turtle soup! fried eels!), poultry, caviar, steak, chops, pastries, and ice cream, not to mention a pretty big wine and drink list.

The entire hotel restaurant menu from that year (the front cover is at left) has been preserved as part of the New York Public Library’s menu collection.

It’s a fantastic reference that gives us a peek at the city’s culinary preferences over the years.

The massive menu selection can be viewed here. But for just the seafood, check out this excerpt from it above. I wonder what exactly was in clam chowder Brighton?

A 1906 postcard of the lovely and genteel Brighton Beach Hotel, once at the foot of Coney Island Avenue. Thanks to Kevin P. for suggesting this menu.

The hand-painted store signs of the Bowery

September 6, 2012

Neon signs bursting with color are New York icons. But there’s another type of signage that deserves recognition: the hand-painted kind.

Some of the best examples can be found along the Bowery. But they may not be there for long, considering the rapid boutique-ization of Manhattan’s oldest street.

Globe Slicers has been selling kitchen gear since President Truman was in office, and the sign seems to have served them well, and the mismatched lettering gives it a real DIY feel.

Max Maged & Sons, another restaurant supplier, is just south of Grand Street. I love the mix of print and cursive.

National Cash Registers, at 159 Bowery, has neon signage in its window. But this swinging sign with the stenciled-in letters has old-school appeal.

Three ways of viewing a Lexington Avenue corner

September 3, 2012

In 1915, when this photo was taken, Lexington Avenue at 116th Street was firmly in the Little Italy of East Harlem, hence the Italian in the signs on the far right above a chemist’s office.

“This section of East Harlem was developed  during the 1880s with the familiar New York brownstone residences and walk-up apartments,” states New York Then and Now, where the photo and the one below appear.

“One block west is the elevated crossing of the New York Central and New Haven Railroads on Park Avenue. The Subway Cafe, on the right-hand corner, anticipates the opening of the Lexington Avenue subway by three years.”

By 1975, the Italian neighborhood is mostly gone; Puerto Rican New Yorkers have moved in. The buildings themselves haven’t changed much—and the Bloomingdale’s ad from 1915 is visible 60 years later.

In 2012, the streetscape still looks similar. The corner building that went from saloon to Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is now home to a taco shop, a sign of the neighborhood’s Mexican population.

And though the Bloomingdale’s ad on the corner has been painted over, next to it out of view, a second Bloomingdale’s ad is still legible! Here it is from an earlier Ephemeral post.

The mysterious working men on a Soho building

September 3, 2012

It’s Labor Day weekend, an appropriate time to showcase some lovely and mysterious bas reliefs.

They’re of artisans and workmen, and they decorate a Lower Sixth Avenue building at Watts Street.

The images line the facade. They depict men using pre-machine age tools to measure, mix, and sharpen.

Each one is certainly a testament to humanity’s ingenuity. But why here?

A little digging reveals some background. Designed by architect Ely Jacques Kahn in 1928, the 14-floor Art Deco loft was originally known as the Green Building.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any record of previous early tenants that would shed light on why the bas reliefs were carved there.

A chemistry company? Toolmakers? Fabricators? Tthe images are striking and inspiring, especially in this no-man’s-land of West Soho.