Archive for the ‘Animals with jobs’ Category

The long tradition of New York City’s ice cream man

June 16, 2022

Today we have Mister Softee parked all day at playgrounds. In the 1970s, a man with an Italian Ice cart waited beside school bus stops offering small white cups of cherry, raspberry, or lemon for 10 cents. In the midcentury city, the Good Humor truck made the rounds of New York neighborhoods.

And in 1885, the ice cream man was a peddler with a wagon that looked as rundown as the streets he visited. “A summer scene in the streets of New York” the caption reads.

Almost 140 years have passed since the image was published, and the enthusiastic response from city kids after spotting an ice cream vendor hasn’t changed one bit.

[Image: NYPL Digital Collection]

How an East Village alley was renamed for a Ukrainian poet hero

April 4, 2022

From the city’s earliest days, streets were named after local bigwigs, typically a landowner. So in 1830, when it came time to name the one-block alley between today’s East Sixth and Seventh Streets (part of an early 18th century enclave called Bowery Village), the tradition continued.

The little slip between Third and Second Avenues became Hall Street, after Harlem landowner Charles Henry Hall, who sold the property to the city in 1828, according to a New York Times piece by Michael Goldman from 1999.

Hall Street didn’t always make it onto 19th century street maps, and it was changed in 1855 to Hall Place for unknown reasons. For 148 years, as Bowery Village morphed into the Lower East Side and then broke off to become the East Village, the Hall name stuck.

Hall Street, between Seventh Street and Tompkins Market on an 1840 map

Then in 1978, Charles Henry Hall was replaced by Taras Shevchenko, and the street officially bore the name Taras Shevchenko Place. Who is Taras Shevchenko, and what prompted the name change?

Hall Place made it on the map in 1903

“Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a Ukrainian writer, painter and political activist whose novels and poems, written in Ukrainian, gave forceful expression to his countrymen’s nationalist sentiment at a time when aspects of the culture, including the language, were being suppressed by the Russian czar,” Goldman wrote.

Taras Shevchenko in 1859

Considered a hero to many Ukrainians, the name change was pushed by the Ukrainian immigrants who settled around East Seventh Street after World War II and built a community dubbed “Little Ukraine” that topped 60,000 people in the years following the war, according to Village Preservation.

The site of Tomkins Market in its Hall Street days, Taras Shevchenko Place ends at McSorley’s to the north and borders St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on one side.

It also borders a newish Cooper Union building. Back in 2001 as plans for the new building unfolded, Cooper Union wanted to “demap” Taras Shevchenko Place and create a pedestrian walkway. Thanks to community pushback, that never happened.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Wikipedia]

A painter captures humanity amid the dirt and darkness of a New York alley

March 28, 2022

Canada-born Impressionist artist Ernest Lawson made his name at the turn of the 20th century as a landscape painter—often depicting the still-rural Washington Heights neighborhood where he lived from roughly 1898 to 1908.

Yet when he turned his eye to the grit of city streets, he captured something equally evocative.

The 1910 painting he called “New York Street Scene” reveals the dirt and darkness of a narrow lane or alley, the discolored backs of buildings made uglier by the fire escapes hanging off them.

But we also see horse-pulled carts, vendor stalls, and vague figures on the sidewalk on the left—bits and pieces of humanity in the hidden pockets of the urban, industrial city.

[Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]

Springtime in New York City once meant horse-drawn flower carts

March 21, 2022

If you want potted flowers in contemporary New York City, you head to a garden center or farmers market. In an earlier Gotham, however, you waited for the flower carts to come, laden with petunias and begonias and other beautiful varieties for replanting in front yards, back yards, and on terraces.

Artist Henry Ives Cobb Jr. was moved enough to capture this scene, somewhere on Fifth Avenue. The date is unclear, but it looks like the flower cart is the only vehicle still pulled by a horse.

[Kaminski Auctions]

The teens who found splendor on the gritty East Side docks of the 1940s

March 7, 2022

The smokestacks and storage tanks of the East River waterfront of the 1930s or 1940s should be an unappealing place to meet friends. But painter Joseph Lambert Cain has captured a group of teenagers gathered on a pier here to sunbathe, talk, and pair off.

For these teens, perhaps from the Lower East Side or the Gas House District in the East 20s, the waterfront is an idyllic location—away from the critical eyes of adults and into the warm embrace of the working class city they likely grew up in.

Cain titled his painting “New York Harbor.” I’m not sure of the date, but my guess is about 1940. The riverfront industry surrounds them, but the modern city of skyscrapers is within sight and reach.

A lost East Village alley on a 1963 downtown map

February 28, 2022

Old maps tell us a lot about the subtle changes to New York’s streetscape. Take this illustrated map of the Village that’s almost 60 years old, for example.

Published in August 1963 by the Village Voice, the map covers not just Greenwich Village but a portion of the Meatpacking District (see “Little West 12th Street” in very small print), a slice of Chelsea, and a bit Gramercy Park, with that sliver of Irving Place at the top right.

The map extends all the way east to First Avenue. Makes sense; the newly christened East Village was at the time becoming a hipster alternative to pricey Greenwich Village, with its own clubs, bars, theaters, and head shops. The new, young residents here would likely be Village Voice readers.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” by Armin Landeck, 1940

Much of the Village Voice map aligns with the streetscape today. But there’s something missing in the contemporary East Village—it’s a place name on the map between Third and Second Avenues and East 11th and 12th Streets.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” the map says, marking a slender lane in the middle of the block. Okay, but there’s no Stuyvesant Alley anymore. So what happened to it?

Stuyvesant Alley, not named on this 1868 map

First, let’s see what the backstory is. The “Stuyvesant” name is obvious; the alley was created on land once part of the farm Peter Stuyvesant established for himself and his descendants in the 17th century. Parcels of his “bouwerie” were sold off for development in later centuries, but the Stuyvesant name stuck.

Stuyvesant Alley appears in several 19th century neighborhood maps, like the one above, from 1868. The alley isn’t named, but it runs through East 11th to East 12th Street. It also seems to have some small buildings lining it—perhaps stables?

By 1879, the alley’s name made it on the map (above), along with other places in the heavily developed neighborhood, like the Astor Place Hotel and Tivoli Theatre.

In the 1920s, Stuyvesant Alley showed up in an article in the New York Herald. An art exhibit was to be held at One Stuyvesant Alley in November 1922, the paper reported, hosted by a group of painters who called themselves the Co-Arts Club.

“The Co-Arts Club has established themselves in Stuyvesant Alley, the last frontier of Bohemianism on the East Side,” the Herald stated wistfully. “The ruthless march of tenements and factories has left only the alley untouched and the light bathes the studios there with an undimmed purposefulness.”

The painting of the alley as a narrow driveway surrounded by red brick and stone buildings (second image above) is the work of Armin Landeck in 1940. Whether Landeck’s depiction was true to life is hard to know; it’s also unclear which end of the alley he’s looking down.

His view is different from that of this 1934 photo of Third Avenue and East 11th Street (above), which shows the buildings on either side of the entrance to Stuyvesant Alley.

The alley made it into the 1960s, since it’s on the Village Voice map. But the trail goes cold after that.

To explain its undocumented disappearance, I’m going with what the Village Preservation’s Off the Grid blog concluded in 2014, when they took a closer look at Stuyvesant Alley: “The alley appears to have been wiped from the map in the 1980s when NYU built their large dorm on the corner of Third Avenue and East 11th Street.”

Thanks to Mick Dementiuk for sending the link to the map my way.

[Top image: Village Voice map via The Copa Room; second image: Brooklyn Museum; third image: fourth, fifth, and sixth images: NYPL]

A piece of the cut-rate Lower East Side remains on Orchard Street

December 20, 2021

Hidden behind scaffolding and weathered by the elements, the sign is not easy to see. But when you do make it out, you’ll feel like a time machine has delivered you back to the 1920s Lower East Side—when Orchard Street meant cut-rate shopping, not pricy cocktails.

“Ben Freedman Gent’s Furnishings” (such an old-timey way to describe clothes and hats!) got its start on Orchard Street in 1927, when Mayor Jimmy Walker was partying at Manhattan speakeasies and the Woolworth Building qualified as the city’s tallest skyscraper.

The sign may be faded, but the business is still going. Sounding feisty, Freedman was quoted in a 1977 Daily News story about the poor prospects of Orchard Street. “Oh it’s changed for sure, so what?” he told a reporter, who added that Ben had been at his store peddling bargains for 50 years. “It’s still a great street.”

The Lo-Down has more on Ben’s business.

The 19th century remains of a fabled Grand Street department store

December 13, 2021

Standing across the street at Grand and Orchard, you just know this unusual building with the black cornice and curvy corner windows has a backstory. Though it’s a little rundown and has a strange pink paint job, this was once the home of a mighty 19th century department store known as Ridley’s.

Ridley’s story begins in the mid-1800s. Decades before Ladies Mile became Gilded Age New York’s premier shopping district, browsing and buying fashionable goods meant going to Grand Street, which was lined with fine shops and dry goods emporiums east of Broadway in the antebellum city.

The best known of these dry goods emporiums and a rival to neighbor Lord & Taylor (located on Broadway and Grand) was Ridley’s.

Founded by English-born Edward A. Ridley as a small millenary store at 311 Grand Street in 1848, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) report, Ridley’s expanded by buying many of the former residential buildings on the block. Ridley then built a new mansard-roof structure at the corner of Grand and Allen Streets accessible to street car lines and the ferry to Grand Street in Brooklyn.

In the 1880s, Grand Street was still a shopping district but no longer elite. Lord & Taylor had already relocated uptown to a prime Ladies Mile site at Broadway and 20th Street. But Ridley’s sons, who had taken over the business, commissioned a new building at the corner of Grand and Orchard Streets.

Five stories tall with a cast-iron facade, the new Ridley’s opened in 1886. The space featured a “curved, three-bay pavilion that may have been originally crowned by a squat dome, or a flagpole,” the LPC report stated.

Inside, 52 “branches of trade” sold everything from clothes to furniture to toys and employed approximately 2,500 people. Stables behind the store “provided parking for horses and carriages,” according to The Curious Shoppers Guide to New York City, by Pamela Keach.

The amazing thing is, the new block-long Ridley’s would only occupy the space for 15 years. In 1901, Ridley’s went out of business, according to an Evening World article that year—partly a victim of its increasingly unappealing location on the crowded Lower East Side.

After Ridley’s departed, the space was chopped up into smaller retail outlets. Above is the building in 1939-1941 with a housewares store on the ground floor. Today, a men’s clothing store exists there.

[Second image: LPC; third image: MCNY 261260; fourth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

What life was like with the elevated train roaring outside your window

November 15, 2021

“The elevated railroad, perpetually ‘tearing along’ on its stilted, aerial highway, was ‘an ever-active volcano over the heads of inoffensive citizens,” wrote one Australian visitor who came to New York in 1888.

38 Greenwich Street in 1914

That description gives us an idea of the feel of Gotham in the late 19th century, when steam-powered (later electric) elevated trains carried by trestles and steel tracks ran overhead on Ninth, Sixth, Third, and Second Avenues.

The upside to the elevated was obvious: For a nickel (or a dime during off hours), people could travel up and down Manhattan much more quickly than by horse-drawn streetcar of carriage. New tenements, row houses, and entertainment venues popped up uptown, slowly emptying the lower city and giving people more breathing room.

Bronx, undated

The downside? Dirt and din. The trains and tracks cast shadows along busy avenues, raining down dust and debris on pedestrians. (No wonder Gilded Age residents who could afford to changed their clothes multiple times a day!) And then there was the deafening noise every time a train chugged above your ears.

Now as unpleasant as the elevated trains could be in general, imagine having the tracks at eye level to your living quarters. Life with a train roaring by at all hours of the night was reality for thousands of New Yorkers, particularly downtown on slender streets designed for horsecars, not trestles.

Allen Street north of Canal Street, 1931

“The effect of the elevated—the ‘L’ as New Yorkers generally call it—is to my mind anything but beautiful,” wrote an English traveler named Walter G. Marshall, who visited New York City 1878 and 1879.

“As you sit in a car on the ‘L’ and are being whirled along, you can put your head out of the window and salute a friend who is walking on the street pavement below. In some places, where the streets are narrow, the railway is built right over the ‘sidewalks’…close up against the walls of the houses.”

Second Avenue and 34th Street, 1880s

Maybe these unfortunate New Yorkers lived in a tenement before the trains came along, and they couldn’t find alternative housing after the elevated was built beside their building. Or perhaps in the crowded city teeming with newcomers at the time, a flat next to a train was the best they could find with what little they had to spend.

Wrote Marshall: “The 19 hours and more of incessant rumbling day and night from the passing trains; the blocking out of a sufficiency of light from the rooms of houses, close up to which the lines are built; the full, close view passengers on the cars can have into rooms on the second and third floors; the frequent squirting of oil from the engines, sometimes even finding its way into the private rooms of a dwelling-house, when the windows are left open—all these are objections that have been reasonably urged by unfortunate occupants of houses who comfort has been so unjustly molested….”

Allen Street, 1916

Eye-level elevated trains continued into the 20th century, with above ground subway tracks as well as older els making it more likely that New Yorkers could find themselves with a train rattling and shaking their windows.

And it’s still an issue today, of course, even with those original el lines long dismantled. Tenements and apartment buildings near bridge approaches, tunnel entrances, and above ground subway tracks are still at the mercy of mass transit in a city still of narrow streets, single pane windows, and rickety real estate.

Convergence of the Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue Els, 1938

[Top photo: MCNY x2010.11.2127; second photo: New-York Historical Society; third photo: MCNYx2010.11.4; fourth photo: CUNY Graduate Center Collection; fifth photo: MCNY MNY38078; sixth photo: MCNY MN11786]

A moment in time somewhere on the Bowery

November 1, 2021

An abandoned street cleaning cart. Men in hats walking alone. A streetcar traveling on dusty Belgian block pavement, an elevated train overhead, a succession of store signs and advertisements.

It’s just a glimpse in time around the turn of the century on the Bowery. But where, exactly? One of the buildings has 57 on it, suggesting 57 Bowery. That address no longer exists; it would have been near the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge.

There’s another sign that might give us a clue: the ad propped against a pole at the edge of the sidewalk. It looks like the first word is “London.” A theater with that name existed at 235 Bowery, where the New Museum is today between Stanton and Rivington Streets.

Whatever the exact address is, you can practically feel the energy and vitality—the pulse of a street now synonymous with a lowbrow kind New York life.