Archive for the ‘Chelsea’ Category

This is the coolest coffee sign in New York City

April 14, 2017

In a city with almost as many coffee places as bank branches and most of them bearing chain store logos, it’s hard to believe that this wonderfully generic plastic sign hasn’t been replaced . . . or fallen off.

It’s on West 21st Street west of Fifth Avenue, advertising a slender coffee house that consists of basically a long counter and chairs—the kind a different New York used to have on almost every block.

Except for the ATM machine by the door, nothing about this storefront seems to have changed in half a century; it’s a sliver of the city frozen in time.

Tiny Jewish cemeteries hidden in busy Manhattan

April 10, 2017

They’ve been there for centuries, just steps away from traffic lights and the rush of crowds: three small burial grounds tucked behind iron fences and shaded by untended trees.

They’re not in the best shape. Some of the headstones are broken or knocked askew, as this photo of a cemetery on 21st Street and Sixth Avenue shows. The Hebrew lettering on the stones has been worn down by the elements. Graffiti marks a brick wall.

But the story behind how these cemeteries came to be starts with the story of the first Jews to live in New York City.

That means going back to the 17th century. In 1654, a ship carrying 23 men, women, and children docked in Lower Manhattan. They were refugees fleeing Brazil, which the Portuguese had just recaptured from the Dutch.

This little group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews felt that New Amsterdam might be a more welcoming place.

Eh, not exactly. Peter Stuyvesant tried hard to throw them out. The refugees wrote letters to Holland to solicit support so they could stay.

A year later, the Dutch West India Company gave them the go-ahead to remain as long as they “do not become a burden.”

Free to build new lives here, the group quickly founded the continent’s first synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel. And though the synagogue had no permanent space until 1730, space for the deceased was established in 1656.

That original burial ground has disappeared. But what’s considered the first Jewish cemetery in the city still remains in Chatham Square (above), in a pocket facing St. James Place behind several tenements (below right, in a 1900 photo).

This cemetery opened in 1683. It once contained 256 graves, including those of Jewish Revolutionary War veterans. The above sketch of what Chatham Square looked like marks the “Jews Burying Ground” at the top right.

Speaking of the Revolution, the cemetery made an important appearance. In 1776, Major General Charles Lee wrote to George Washington:

“The East River, I am persuaded, may be secured in such a manner that [British] ships will scarcely venture into it…A battery for this purpose is planned at the foot of the Jews’ burying ground.”

An expansion of the Bowery cut the burial ground down in size to closer to 50. Some of the lead epitaph plates are missing because during the Revolutionary War, British soldiers melted them down to make bullets.

In 1805, a second cemetery opened on the outskirts of the city, at Sixth Avenue and what was then Milligan Place (below). The expansion of the city grid chopped its size as well to a tiny triangle.

“Initially, this graveyard was the burial site for victims of communicable diseases like yellow fever and malaria, for recently immigrated Jews who did not have strong ties to Shearith Israel, and for those who died at their own hand through suicide,” states the Shearith Israel website.

After the city banned burials below Canal Street in 1823, the Sixth Avenue cemetery became the main Jewish burial ground — until a third cemetery opened in what was then the bucolic country fields of Chelsea and is now a big-box shopping mecca (below).

“The lot for the Third Cemetery was purchased in 1829 for the then-princely sum of $2,750,” wrote Tablet magazine. “The cemetery operated until 1851, after which a law was enacted forbidding burial anywhere south of Manhattan’s 86th Street.”

Shearith Israel operates out of a majestic synagogue building on Central Park West with some spectacular history of its own; the wood floorboards under its reader’s desk are the same floorboards from the first permanent synagogue built in 1730 on Mill (now South William) Street.

The congregation maintains these three burial grounds, and near Memorial Day, members hold a ceremony at the Chatham Square cemetery, honoring the Jewish Revolutionary War veterans interred there.

Each cemetery has a story to tell about Jewish life in the city and the development of New York as a whole. Look for these ghostly reminders of Gotham’s first residents next time you’re nearby.

Manhattan is a necropolis of other little-known burial grounds, especially in the East Village.

[Fourth photo: NYPL; Sixth photo: MCNY: 93.91.359; Tenth photo: NYPL]

The World War I doughboys of New York City

April 6, 2017

No one quite knows where the term “doughboy” originated.

Coined in the 19th century, it may have come from the doughnut-like buttons on soldier uniforms, or it might stem from their doughy rations.

But this nickname for the millions of American infantrymen (and thousands of New Yorkers) who fought in World War I endures—as do the bronze doughboy statues that were funded by veterans’ groups and ordinary citizens after the war’s end in November 1918.

With April 6 marking the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into what was then known as the European War, take a look at a few of the nine doughboy statues standing in city parks and corners.

At the top right is the doughboy of DeWitt Clinton Park in Hell’s Kitchen—an excerpt from war poem “In Flanders Fields” carved in granite below him.

The Abingdon Square doughboy, pistol at the ready above, has graced this West Village pocket park since 1921.

The money for the statue was raised by the Jefferson Democratic Club, whose headquarters across the street at 299 West 12th Street were replaced by a handsome apartment building.

In Bushwick’s Heisser Triangle (above) stands a statue honoring the 156 men from the neighborhood who died in the war. Charles Heisser was a local kid who lived two blocks away and was killed in action in France in 1918.

The Red Hook Memorial Doughboy (left) is proud and triumphant; he commemorates the approximately 100 residents of this corner of Brooklyn who gave their lives to the war.

About 2,400 Brooklyn residents made the ultimate sacrifice, reports a 2001 New York Times piece on crumbling memorial statues.

Chelsea has its own doughboy as well, and hey, it’s the same guy who modeled the Abingdon Square doughboy (below right).

“To the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea” the granite behind him says at Chelsea Park on Ninth Avenue, as he holds his rifle protectively.

Doughboy statues aren’t the only way city residents commemorated the end of the war, of course.

In Central Park and Brooklyn, memorial trees were planted and plaques laid down—like these hiding in plain site on Eastern Parkway, which honor individual soldiers who never made it back from Europe.

[Third photo: NYC Parks; Fifth photo: Alamy]

The many lives of two Chelsea carriage houses

April 3, 2017

Certain old buildings in New York are so enchanting, they hijack your imagination. Who lived in them, you wonder as you pass by, and what stories can they tell us about their neighborhood?

This is what happens to me whenever I walk by 461 and 463 West 18th Street, just off Tenth Avenue.

These twin carriage houses were built in the 1880s, when the area known today as West Chelsea was a working-class industrial district of low-rise flats and factories.

The earliest image I could find of the twin stables dates to 1932 (above). You can see them tucked behind a corner restaurant. Cyrus Rheims, the name on a building sign on Tenth Avenue, rented and sold draft horses. Maybe the stables were built for Rheims.

Or perhaps the stables housed the horses used by the West Side Cowboys. These were the men hired to ride in front of the street-level freight trains that roared up Tenth Avenue from the 1850s to the mid-1930s, warning pedestrians out of the way (not always successfully; hundreds were killed over the years).

By 1938, when Berenice Abbott took this photo of the carriage houses for her exhibit and subsequent book Changing New York, number 463 “was attached to a corner liquor store at 130 Tenth Avenue,” the book notes in an updated index.

With curtains in the windows of number 461, it was likely a residence—maybe the man and woman on the right made it their hideaway. “These businesses, and the junk shop at number 461, served the seamen and dockworkers of the still-active West Side waterfront.”

Here’s a 1941 photo of the corner, with the two carriage houses (now painted white, along with 130 Tenth Avenue) in the center. Deliverymen unload their trucks; a tire business has taken over three tenements.

The freight trains on Tenth Avenue are gone, replaced in 1934 by elevated trains running along the new High Line. The gleaming New York of modernity, symbolized by the Empire State Building, appears far away.

By the 1970s, with industry in decline and the Hudson River waterfront all but abandoned, Tenth Avenue and 18th Street was a desolate place, judging from this 1975 photo by Edmund V. Gillon.

The shipping industry on the waterfront was gone, though the freight trains on the High Line were still running. Small businesses like Congo Tires, however, continued to hang on.

By 2000, twenty years after the High Line’s abandoned rail tracks were reclaimed by weeds, the carriage houses were looking better.

French restaurant La Lunchonette had opened on the corner in 1988, taking over the ground floor at number 463. But note the bars on the door of number 461—a holdover of a more crime-ridden West Chelsea.

Here we are in 2017, and the two carriage houses are prime real estate (take a peek inside the second-floor former hay loft at number 461, courtesy of these listing photos from 2012) in a revitalized, wealthier West Chelsea—thanks in part to the new High Line Park.

La Lunchonette is gone, though. This locals favorite was a casualty of a suddenly trendy neighborhood where landlords can command the kind of sky-high rents no one who lived on West 18th Street when a freight train belched up the avenue could have ever imagined.

[Second photo: NYPL; third photo: Berenice Abbott, Changing New York; fourth photo: NYPL; fifth photo: MCNY by Edmond Gillon; 2013.3.2.141; sixth photo: mrjumbo.com]

The unusual art in the Old Chelsea post office

January 23, 2017

chelseapostofficewikiPost office branches in New York can be drab and cramped, and the vibe inside not exactly inviting.

But the Old Chelsea station on West 18th Street off of Seventh Avenue is a lovely relic.

Built in 1934, it’s wide and drafty, with carved eagles and doric columns. The facade has a colonial feel—connecting the building back to its colonial-era Old Chelsea neighborhood, when the streets were mostly farmland.

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But what to make of these cast stone panels of woodland creatures above the main entrance inside? Created by an artist named Paul Feine, perhaps they’re supposed to remind letter mailers of the way Chelsea looked before Manhattan was chopped down and paved over.

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I hope they stay through the post office’s renovation—reports say the USPS is selling the air rights to developers to build condos.

[Top photo: Wikipedia]

The brick and mortar ghosts all over Manhattan

January 16, 2017

The history of New York City is written on its walls—the walls of apartment houses and commercial buildings still standing, bearing the faded outline of those that met the bulldozer long ago.

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These phantom buildings are on every block (above, Fourth Avenue and 1oth Street), especially in today’s city with its constant renovation and rebuilding—what Walt Whitman called “knock down and pull over again spirit.”

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The roofs of these faded ghosts are often slanted and peaked—hints that a Federal-style house or stable once existed there. I’m guessing this outline on 11th Avenue in the west 20s, above, was a stable.

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Many of the outlines resemble the shells of tenements. This phantom at Rector Street, above, is likely all that remains of an anonymous tenement where generations of New Yorkers lived and raised families.

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The ghost building on Great Jones Street near Lafayette Street above, with what appears to be the outline of three chimneys, looks too short to be a tenement. Probably just a walk-up with a couple of flats per floor.

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The painted-white outline here on Third Avenue in Gramercy could have been a single family home, similar to the one on the left side of the photo hidden behind scaffolding.

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On West 57th Street a lonely tenement bears the remains of its neighbor, which had what looks like a central chimney or rooftop exit door.

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Is this the ghost of another stable or carriage house? It’s on the far West Side around 42nd Street, where the city’s last remaining working stables are.

All that remains of the Flatiron Novelty District

January 12, 2017

noveltyshackmansignIs this cast-iron plaque outside a trendy clothing store on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street really all that’s left of Manhattan’s once-thriving Novelty District?

I think it must be. B. Shackman & Co. began selling cheap toys, costumes, and gag gifts in 1898—one of several novelty stores that popped up in the early 20th century between Union and Madison Squares.

Jeremiah has a treasure of photos of the store from 1980, before the space was taken over by Anthropologie in the 1990s.

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An entire neighborhood devoted to party favors, decorations, jokes, games, and magic tricks? It made it into the 1980s, but it couldn’t possibly survive in a more luxurious city and a digital commerce world.

The Novelty District went the way of Flatiron’s former Photo District and Chelsea’s Fur District and Sewing Machine District. The Flower District on Sixth Avenue in the 20s might be next.

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Gordon Novelty, with its 1930s storefront lettering and facade painted in explosive blue, was the last holdout of the Novelty District, located on Broadway and 22nd Street. [Second photo in 2007; third in 2010, from Greenwich Village Daily Photo.]

The place went down in 2007, Jeremiah reported.

The bums and barflies on a 10th Avenue corner

December 27, 2016

“Well-bred people are no fun to paint,” Reginald Marsh once reportedly said.

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Known for his exaggerated, carnival-like paintings of crowds of showgirls, shoppers, and Coney Island beach-goers, Marsh was deeply taken by the forgotten men of 1930s New York—casualties of the Depression who gathered at bars and on breadlines.

reginaldmarshcorner2016His 1931 etching, “Tenth Avenue at 27th Street,” gives us a detailed look at a crowd of anonymous men lined up along the side of a shadowy saloon in a rough-edged neighborhood.

The men either look away, leaning against the bar like it’s a lifeboat, or leer at a lone woman.

Hmm . . . what would Marsh think of this same corner 86 years later, with the High Line and art galleries drawing the well-bred people who never made it into his sketchbook?

[Second image: Google]

Shopping for Christmas dinner in the 1870s city

December 24, 2016

Most New Yorkers today get their holiday roasts and chops all nicely packaged from a refrigerated counter.

Not so in the 1870s. Hitting up one of the city’s huge (and typically filthy) outdoor markets so you could pick out a main course for your holiday meant looking Christmas dinner in the eye.

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“The neighborhood of Fulton Market, and all the passages of the market itself, were thronged yesterday with holiday buyers, who elbowed each other about in the snow and slush as if their lives depended upon the celerity with which they made their tour of the meat shops and poultry stands,” wrote the New York Times two days before Christmas in 1876.

Fulton Market—not just for fish but meat and game as well, as seen in the 1878 illustration above—was one of New York’s biggest. Washington Market on the West Side (below in 1879), also supplied New Yorkers with fresh game.

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A 1901 Harper’s Weekly article paid tribute to the “market men” who ran these venues and supplied the city with fare for holiday banquets.

“The city is awake and ravenous. In all the river streets the sidewalks are blockaded with great heaps of things to eat. Inside and outside the markets, as far as you can see, are butter and eggs, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, ducks and wild game, fat geese and chickens, grouse, quail, and woodcock, the staple meats in amazing quantity, fish, lobster, scallops,  and mussels, and turkeys, turkeys, turkeys, until one is convinced that the gobbler and not the eagle should be stamped on all the coin in the realm.”

[Illustrations: NYPL]

Christmas sidewalk vendors of Sixth Avenue

December 5, 2016

Sixth Avenue along Ladies Mile was a prime shopping district during the 1902 holiday season, with enormous emporiums like Siegel Cooper, Hugh O’Neill, and Macy’s offering Christmas windows, in-store Santas, and deals galore.

A smart vendor could make some cash selling his wares there, as this tree or wreath vendor appears to be doing.

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Hey, isn’t that the house of worship once known as the Limelight? These New Yorkers would have called it the Church of the Holy Communion.

Christmas shopping is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago, as these additional photos reveal.