Archive for the ‘Chelsea’ Category

Vintage signs from 1960s and 1970s New York

October 5, 2015

They’re an endangered species, these 1960s and 1970s store signs, with their old-school cursive lettering and often sporting a kaleidoscope of colors.


The sign for Murray’s Sturgeon Shop is a gorgeous example.

Short, sweet, and stylized, the sign looks very 1960s, though Murray’s has been in the smoked fish business on Broadway and 89th Street since 1946.


The Weinstein & Holtzman Hardware sign bursts with magnificent color on Park Row near City Hall. They’ve been selling paint and tools sine 1920.

Hardware stores all over New York have some wonderful vintage signs.

I can’t find any information on when Truemart Discount Fabrics, on Seventh Avenue and 25th Street, opened.


But that old-school sign! It’s a relic of lower Seventh Avenue’s low-rent past, influenced by the Fashion Institute of Technology across the street.


The sign for Anthony Liquors, Inc. on Spring Street in Nolita isn’t splashy, but the typeface is unique. I wonder if other store signs in what once was Little Italy had the same type.


I’ve always liked the sturdy, simple sign for John’s Shoe Repair on Irving Place, and the confident line underscoring the name John, done in script.

I hope they can keep going in a city that doesn’t have much use for neighborhood shoe repair places.

Visiting the 1884 original Gansevoort Market

September 28, 2015

Gansevoort Street sure looked a lot different in 1884, the year the original Gansevoort Market made its official debut. This photo was taken a little later, dating to 1907.


Opened after Washington Market in today’s Tribeca became too crowded, Gansevoort Market was an open-air produce market bound by Gansevoort, Little West 12th, West, and Greenwich Streets.

In other words, the heart of today’s ultra-trendy Meatpacking District.


The market was a big deal at the time; Harper’s Weekly even wrote about it in 1888.

“During the dark hours of early morning, as hundreds of wagons of all descriptions converge upon the market regions, pandemonium reigns as traffic chokes the thoroughfares for blocks around,” an article stated.

Gansevoortmarket1890sOver the next decade, the city built the West Washington Market, for dairy farmers and meat sellers. The WPA Guide to New York City described the scene this way in 1939.

“Activities begin at 4 a.m. Farmers in overalls and mud-caked shoes stand in trucks, shouting their wares. Commission merchants, pushcart vendors, and restaurant buyers trudge warily from one stand to another, digging arms into baskets of fruits or vegetables to ascertain quality.”


“Trucks move continually in and out among the piled crates of tomatoes, beans, cabbages, lettuce, and other greens in the street,” the Guide continues.

Gansevoortmarketkings1893“Hungry derelicts wander about in the hope of picking up a stray vegetable dropped from some truck, while patient nuns wait to receive leftover, unsalable goods for distribution among the destitute.”

Over the decades, produce moved out to the more accessible Hunts Point in the Bronx, and meat purveyors moved in.

West Washington Market burned down in a 1954 fire. The Gansevoort Meat Market building put up by the city in the 1940s remained in use.


That is, until the Meatpacking District, as it was now known, emptied of meatpackers and began hosting fashion designers and faux French restaurants.

Today Gansevoort Market lives on in a very 2015 incarnation—as a trendy food hall.

Top photo: Museum of the City of New York; second image:; third photo:; fourth photo: MCNY; fifth photo:]

107 colorful years at a Meatpacking District motel

September 7, 2015

Today’s gleaming, touristy Meatpacking District has no room for low-rent motels. But the Liberty Inn, at 51 Tenth Avenue, which famously charges by the hour, is still hanging in there.


This flatiron-shaped building is a remnant of the days when 14th Street west of Eighth Avenue was a commercial and ship-docking district, home to a produce market, meatpacking plants, sailors’ dives, and sex clubs.

LibertyinndelamatersquareThe hotel had a dicey reputation from the start.

It first opened in 1908 as a sailor’s boardinghouse called the Strand on a patch of land known as Dalamater Square (right, 1938).

“It is a three-story structure, on the ground floor of which is a saloon and the upper part of which contains 28 rooms,” stated a court document from 1914.

“[The Strand] accepts only men as roomers,” the document added, and caters “to the class of trade that has business at the river front.”

In other words, it was a rough place–which might be why it had its “all-night license” revoked in 1910.

Its waterfront location came in handy after the Titanic sank in 1912. To cover the story, the New York Times rented a floor of rooms at the Strand (below, at Pier 54).


“The editors sent reporters to the pier with orders to buttonhole survivors and then run into the Strand and dictate their notes on one of the telephone lines, which were connected to the newsroom in Times Square,” the Times recalled in a 2012 article.


There’s no reason to think the Strand—or whatever it was called as the decades went on—ever changed its seamy vibe.

And why would it, since the Meatpacking District became the haunt of sex workers and the site of sex clubs from the 1970s through the 1990s.

mp0271The Anvil operated out of the ground floor of the building from 1974 to 1986, where “drag queens and naked go-go boys danced upstairs and those looking for a more hands on experience wandered the dark passageways below ground,” recalled the Daily News.

[Above: Photo by Brian Rose]

Today’s Liberty Inn, which limits rooms to 2 guests each and charges $80 for two hours, is a far cry from the debauchery of the Anvil.


But it’s the most unsavory place you’ll find in a neighborhood that’s scrubbed its down and dirty past clean.

[Third and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Collection. Fifth Photo: Brian Rose.]

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.


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.”


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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


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.


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.


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!


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


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