Archive for the ‘Chelsea’ Category

A Spanish dancer captivates 1890s New York

August 10, 2015

Her nickname was the “Pearl of Seville,” but she was known to audiences in Europe and America by the one-name moniker Carmencita.

This “Spanish Gypsy Dancer” first blew away audiences at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. A theatrical agent arranged for her to come to New York, making her debut at Niblo’s Garden on Prince Street later that year.

LacarmencitasingersargentThe New York Times wasn’t impressed with the musical Carmencita had been cast in. But they called out the “novelty and witchery” of her dance moves.

She developed a following, and by 1890 was appearing at Koster and Bial Music Hall on Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.

Koster and Bial’s, in the middle of the lowlife Tenderloin district, was a leading vaudeville house that often showcased the kind of bawdy performers New Yorkers loved.

Carmencita was a sensation. “Some of her admirers feel that their enjoyment of her piquant dancing is increased by the sense that they are doing something naughty by going to a concert-hall,” stated The Illustrated American in 1890.

“This is true particularly of the female sex and of church-members.”

KosterbialsnyplIt was also true of painter John Singer Sargent, who met Carmencita in Paris and called her a “bewildering superb creature.”

He painted a portrait of her (above) and titled in “La Carmencita.” William Merritt Chase and John Beckwith painted her as well.

Carmencita made a name for herself in another art form: she is considered the first female star to be filmed by Thomas Edison.

A clip of her in motion survives, giving us a glimpse at the dance moves that thrilled her fans and gave her such a following in the 1890s city.

[Second image: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Third image; NYPL Digital Collection]

Madison Square’s sensuous “throbbing fountain”

August 10, 2015

When painter John Sloan arrived in New York City in 1904, he first settled in Chelsea, not far from Madison Square Park.

Throbbingfountain

The park soon became one of his favorite haunts, partly because of the diverse mix of people he could observe there, but also due to a 30-foot fountain at the south end of the park.

In his diary he called it the Throbbing Fountain. “Sat in Madison Square,” he wrote on September 9, 1906. “Watched the Throbbing Fountain.”

Throbbingfountainnight

“Think I’ll soon tackle a plate on this subject,” he continued. “The sensuous attraction of the spurts of water is strong subconsciously on everyone.”

Sloan painted two views of the fountain, one in 1907 and one at night in 1908 (painted from memory, as it was apparently dismantled by then), and both show a fountain with its own hypnotic pull.

Holdout buildings that survived the bulldozer

February 16, 2015

They’re the survivors of New York City real estate—the walkups and low-rise buildings now dwarfed by shiny office towers and more contemporary residences.

Holdoutbuildinggreenwichvillage

Each building probably has a different backstory that explains how the wrecking ball was avoided.

Maybe an owner refused to sell for sentimental reasons. This lovely Greenwich Village brownstone, sandwiched between two tall apartment houses above, looks like it could have been one person’s longtime romantic hideaway.

 Holdoutbuildingchelsea

Or perhaps an owner tried to hold out for a bigger offer, until a developer realized it wasn’t worth the payout anyway. That might have been in the case of this one-story space wedged between a 19th century tenement and 21st century box on Tenth Avenue.

 Holdoutbuilding19thstreet

And thanks to real estate rules governing landmark structures and historic districts, some of these buildings probably couldn’t be torn down, like the gorgeous carriage house on a Gramercy side street.

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It’s hard not to root for these underdogs. This ivy-covered walkup on East 60th Street gives bustling 59th Street near Bloomingdale’s the feel of a smaller-scale city.

Holdoutbuildnigsantander

Doesn’t this stately red townhouse do a good job breaking up the monotony of a block of Murray Hill terraced high-rise apartment buildings?

Holdoutbuildinguws

I can’t be the only New Yorker happy to see a Gilded Age limestone mansion holding its own in the middle of a stately Upper West Side block.

From Gothic-style church to infamous nightclub

December 29, 2014

Recognize this solitary Gothic Revival church, set on what looks like the countryside of an older New York City?

Churchoftheholycommunionnypl

It’s the Church of the Holy Communion, an Episcopal church built between 1844 and 1846 on Sixth Avenue and 20th Street.

Churchoftheholycommunionwiki2010But it might be better known as the church that from 1983 to 2001 housed the Limelight, the notorious nightclub famous for its celebrities, club kids, and bridge and tunneler crowd (and a link to a gruesome murder in 1996).

This sketch, from the New York Public Library, isn’t dated. But it appears to depict the church during its early years, when 20th Street was at the outskirts of the city.

Churchoftheholycommunion1907mcnyDesigned by Richard Upjohn (he also built Trinity Church in 1846, among others), Holy Communion was architecturally groundbreaking at the time.

“Holy Communion was the first asymmetrical Gothic Revival church edifice in the United States and was the prototype for hundreds of similar buildings erected all across the country,” states Andrew Dolkart’s Guide to New York City Landmarks.

“Upjohn designed the building to resemble a small Medieval English parish church; the rectory and other additions complement the church in style and massing.”

Churchoftheholycommunion1933nyplAs the area developed, the church blended into the urbanscape.

Here it is in 1901, in a photo from the Museum of the City of New York, and again in 1933 in another New York Public Library shot.

Since the Limelight shut its doors, the space had been configured as an upscale Limelight-branded shopping mall.

It now serves as a gym, a monument to the preservation of the physical over the spiritual.

[Second photo: Wikipedia]

The bears and foxes in a Garment District lobby

December 1, 2014

224west30thstreetskyscrapermuseumA little south of the main Garment District, in the West 30s and 40s at Seventh Avenue, is one of its apparel-related offshoots, the dwindling Fur District.

And in the small lobby at handsome 224 West 30th Street, the animals who gave the skins off their backs to this industry are celebrated in art.

Walk through the front entrance, and the decorative foyer contains what look like two small bear heads flanking each side.

Farther inside, along a wall above the security desk, are two larger fox sculptures in front of bas reliefs of fox heads and the heads of what might be otters or beavers.

224west30thstreetthreefoxes

This is a building that the attendant told me was still home to many furriers, along with a mix of other businesses.

224west30thstreettwofoxes

224west30thstreetfoyerbearcuThe animal images probably date back to the building’s opening in 1926, when the fur industry was thriving and well before wearing animal fur became a fashion faux pas.

This other Fur District building down the block also pays homage to the animals who built its financial success.

[Top photo: Collection of Andrew S. Dolkart via the Skyscraper Museum]

A 30th Street memorial to a martyred president

November 27, 2014

LincolnplaquecornersignNinth Avenue at 30th Street is a noisy corner, thanks to recent High Line–inspired construction and idling tunnel traffic.

But on the facade of the hulking Morgan Postal Facility on the southwest corner is a little piece of history, a hard-to-see plaque that traces the trail of a martyred president.

The plaque marks the spot as the former site of the Hudson Railroad Depot, where Abraham Lincoln arrived when he visited the city in February 1861 en route to his inauguration as president.

Lincolnplaque2It was also the place of his final departure from New York, on April 25, 1865.

That’s when Lincoln’s casket was lifted into the special car of what was termed his funeral train. This followed 24 hours of public viewing of his open casket at City Hall, and then a solemn funeral procession up Broadway to Union Square.

The day before, on April 24, Lincoln’s body arrived in New York via a ferry from New Jersey to Desbrosses Street.

A crowd of thousands greeted his casket as it was loaded onto a horse-drawn carriage to City Hall.

The next day, as this illustration shows, another crowd sent his casket off by rail, where it would travel to Albany, then cities in Ohio and Indiana before stopping in Chicago and finally Springfield, Illinois for burial.

HRrailroaddepotillustration

Perhaps this is how the Lincoln Tunnel was named, thanks to its proximity to the depot torn down in 1931? A quick check of Lincoln Tunnel historical sites doesn’t mention anything about it though.

A faded ad hangs on in the Meatpacking District

September 22, 2014

From the 1890s to the 1960s, grocers Middendorf & Rohrs operated a wholesale store out of this red-brick building at One Little West 12th Street.

Meatpackingfadedad

The grocers are long-gone, of course, like the rest of the wholesale markets (including Gansevoort Market down the block) that once called this grimy stretch of Manhattan home.

But what a treat to see that the name of the place is still visible on the facade!

Meatpackingfadedadcloseup

Hmm, could this Rohrs be the same Rohrs who opened the beloved (and recently shuttered) coffee emporium on the Upper East Side in 1896?

Gilded Age nightlife venues live on in today’s city

September 13, 2014

Hippodrome1900sApartment buildings in the city do it all the time: they take their name from a previous structure that once occupied the site in an older New York.

There’s the Lafayette apartment building on East Ninth Street, which harkens back to the old Lafayette Hotel that attracted artists and writers in the early 1900s.

And Harsen House, on West 72nd Street, got its name from the 19th century West Side village of Harsenville.

Hippodrome2014

But it seems like fewer commercial structures take the name of the building they’ve replaced—which is why it’s refreshing to see that a 1950s office tower at 1120 Sixth Avenue calls itself the Hippodrome.

Hippodromewiki2014What’s the Hippodrome? Built in 1905 by the creators of Coney Island’s Luna Park, it was a 5,200-seat theater of vaudeville stars and spectacular exhibits, many with animals.

New Yorkers flocked to the Hippodrome to see operas, the circus, and even a famous 1918 show where Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear.

Tastes and neighborhoods change, and by the 1930s, the Hippodrome was hosting Jai Alai and wrestling before being demolished in 1939.

An even more illustrious spot in New York’s entertainment graveyard is the Haymarket, the notorious dance hall that was the center of the Tenderloin.

thehaymarket1

This was the late 19th century city’s vice and sin neighborhood, the subject of a famous John Sloan painting from 1907 (above).

050 Headlines se FINAL.inddThe Haymarket, which featured risque can-can dances and female customers who were actually prostitutes, was situated at 66 West 30th Street from 1878 to 1911.

The building is gone, of course; right now, the site remains unoccupied. But not far away at 135 West 29th Street, a loft building rose earlier in the 20th century.

Haymarketbuilding2014The owners officially dubbed it the Haymarket Building and installed a nice plaque with some interesting backstory, a nod to one of the most famous nightlife venues in New York history.

[Hippodrome building today: from Wikipedia]

A long-gone Chelsea alley called Franklin Terrace

September 8, 2014

West26thstreetsignWhile flipping through a book of New York City street maps from 1996, I noticed a section of West 26th Street off Ninth Avenue marked as “Franklin Terrace.”

It’s nowhere near Franklin Street in Tribeca. And it doesn’t seem related to nearby London Terrace, developed in 1845 as a residential stretch on Ninth Avenue at 23rd Street and now the name of the famous apartment complex on the same site.

FranklinterracemapFranklin Terrace was new to me. But a little research revealed that old New York did have a tiny courtyard off the south side of West 26th Street with this name.

“Here is a whole community of five or six houses with a little yard and a fence around it, all its own, in one of the most congested sections of the city, and the best part of it all is that a whole house of eight or nine rooms may be had for $30 t o $35 a month!” states a 1915 article in the New York Press.

Franklinterraceheadline

The piece puts Franklin Terrace at number 364 West 26th Street, and describes it as a “blind street.”

Franklinterracenyt1912

“An ordinary gateway with a small iron gate leads to it. There is a paved yard with a row of old-time dwellings one one side and a couple of old-time trees that persist in bloom” (below left).

Franklinterracemcny1900Franklin Terrace dates to the 19th century, as the article makes note of the lack of “modern” conveniences. “Gas and hot and cold water, perhaps, but no electric lights, steam heat, or furnace,” the writer adds.

When did it fade into history? It’s unclear.

A 1925 New York Times short mentions that the houses here were being redeveloped and modernized “with  exteriors of old English type architecture with court and gardens (below right).”

Franklinterracenypl

Within four decades, Franklin Terrace was gone. Since 1962, the 10-building Penn South cooperative, from 23rd to 28th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, with its lawns and playground, has occupied the site.

Why a book of tourist street maps from 1996 lists long-demapped Franklin Terrace is a mystery.

[Third image: New York Press article, 1915; fourth image: New York Times, 1912; fifth image: MCNY Collections Portal; sixth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

Ghostsignliquorsavenuea

The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

Ghostsignjewelry14thstreet

I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!


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