Archive for the ‘Cool building names’ Category

An Avenue A artists enclave called Paradise Alley

June 27, 2016

Paradisealleycourtyard2016Perhaps the name Paradise Alley was meant as a joke.

This little East Village enclave consisted of several small tenement buildings sharing a courtyard on the hard-luck corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street.

Or maybe Paradise Alley was a truly heavenly place to live and work, especially for the painters and writers who made it an unofficial arts colony through the 1960s.

However it ended up with its illustrious name, Paradise Alley has had a long history.

Paradisealley11thstreetlookingnfromavea1933

Built in the 1860s, the walk-up buildings here were home to the waves of German, Irish, and then Italian immigrants who settled in a neighborhood known by turns as Mackerelville, Kleindeutschland, and the northern end of the Lower East Side.

ParadisealleybrooklyneagleThe Paradise Alley moniker supposedly came in the 1920s. By then, many artists and writers had moved in, renting rooms along with regular neighborhood folks for $17 to $25 per month.

That wasn’t small change for poor New Yorkers during the Depression. In January 1933, Paradise Alley residents went on a rent strike, insisting on a 25 percent reduction in rent and the mysterious demand of “proper sanitation facilities.”

PardisealleysubterraneanscoverThe strike led to a wild anti-landlord and anti-police riot after the landlord evicted several tenants, all artists or writers, and left their belongings on the sidewalk.

Paradise Alley’s next claim to fame came thanks to Jack Kerouac, who fell in love with Beat poet Alene Lee, a Paradise Alley tenant in the 1950s.

Kerouac wrote a thinly veiled description of the enclave (and moved it to San Francisco) in his 1958 novel The Subterraneans.

Paradise Alley was “a big 20-family tenement of bay windows . . . the wash hung out in the afternoon the great symphony of Italian mothers, children, fathers . . . yelling from stepladders, smells, cats meowing, Mexicans, the music of all the radios . . .” as Kerouac described it.

In the 1960s, Paradise Alley was renovated; 40 families were relocated and rents raised to $80-$135 a month.

Paradisealleyrenovatednyt1960sThe builder hoped it would be a Patchin Place of the East Village. He put in a fountain, gas-lit lamps, and brickface facades. Morgan Freeman and composer David Amram were tenants.

The end came in a 1985 fire. Today, the corner hosts a senior living complex.

Could the 19th century tenement on the other side of the complex’s gate (top photo) be a last fragment of this lost East Village enclave?

Bedford+Bowery has a more in-depth piece from 2013 on Paradise Alley (with terrific photos).

[Second image: Avenue A looking north from 11th Street in 1933, NYC Municipal Archives; third image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1933; fifth image: a renovated Paradise Alley in 1962, New York Times]

The beautiful apartment house hidden from view

May 9, 2016

1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory; third photo:

The Dakota, the Ansonia, the Chelsea, the Apthorp: most city residents recognize these as some of New York’s earliest and most magnificent apartment houses.

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But the Windermere? Hidden behind scaffolding for years, this Renaissance Revival beauty on Ninth Avenue and 57th Street (above, mostly scaffold-free) has been forgotten.

Still, imagine how lovely the romantically named Windermere must have been in 1881, when it was one of the first apartment houses on the rapidly developing West Side—home to well-off residents, then “bachelor girls,” and a century later, SRO tenants.

Windermere1940WSJ“The interior is separated into five divisions, which comprise 38 suites of apartments, each containing from seven to nine rooms, and each furnished with a buffet, sideboard, and pier glass,” the New York Times described it.

“For the convenience of tenants who do not wish to cook in their own apartments, large kitchens are situated in the basement.”

With the noisy, belching Ninth Avenue Elevated railroad so close, the Windermere wasn’t top-of-the-line luxurious.

WindermerelandmarksBut it had plenty of amenities: three resident elevators, steam heat, a telephone, electric bells that rang attendants, a fire alarm, an open-air inner courtyard, uniformed “hall boys,” and separate passageways for delivery wagons.

The rent? Between $600 and $1,000 yearly, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 2005.

By the 1890s, the Windermere advertised itself as an apartment house for the independent New Woman of the era, who was educated, employed, and desired a place of her own.

That often meant renting a room in one of the larger apartments. The Windermere offered single women “a congenial home where she can live at moderate cost,” reported the Times.

WindermeremichaelminnDuring the 1900s, the bachelor girls began moving out; the neighborhood’s slide into a more working-class enclave meant that tenants in what was now Hell’s Kitchen were now stenographers, chauffeurs, and waiters.

Fires plagued the building. Owners came and went. By the 1960s, drug users and prostitutes moved in . . . and a not-yet-famous Steve McQueen.

In 1985, the Windermere’s owner—who tried to harass the few remaining tenants into leaving—made the Village Voice‘s list of the city’s worst landlords.

The scaffolding and netting began wrapping the building at least a decade ago. Fire safety inspectors forced the remaining tenants out in 2007.

Windermere2016

A new owner came in (and was named to another worst landlord list) with plans to turn the Windermere into a boutique hotel.

Perhaps this diamond in the rough will emerge a beauty again.

[Top and fourth photos: Michaelminn.net; second photo: 1940s NYC Municipal archives photo via the Wall Street Journal; third photo: 1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory]

Mystery ship anchors on a Greene Street building

April 18, 2016

GreenstreetbuildingDeep in NYU territory in Greenwich Village, amid century-old lofts and postwar apartments, sits a handsome brick building at 262 Greene Street.

A closer look reveals something curious: small ship anchor emblems decorate the facade, each with the letters S/SH flanking them.

These are the giveaways hinting at 262 Greene Street’s seafaring past.

The building was once an administrative office for Sailors’ Snug Harbor, an institution founded in 1801 by a sea captain named Robert Richard Randall.

Randall, who became a wealthy landowner, wanted to use his fortune to create a retirement community for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out seamen.”

Greenestreetcloseup“At the time of his death, Randall’s estate, located north and east of modern-day Washington Square, was rural,” states nycgovparks.org.

“By the time a protracted challenge to his will was settled, the land around the estate had changed dramatically, the city being developed around the area.”

“Opting instead to maximize profits on the Manhattan property, Snug Harbor’s trustees relocated the proposed site to Staten Island, buying property around the harbor in 1831.”

The Greene Street building is no longer occupied by Sailors’ Snug Harbor employees; it’s unclear if the institution still owns the property.

Greenestreet2

In any case, ship anchors are a rare sight so far uptown and inland. These serve as hiding-in-plain-sight reminders that the city earned its riches off the backs of the sailors who came in and out of New York Harbor.

The mysterious Star of David on Upper Broadway

July 27, 2015

HispaniahallUpper Broadway above 150th Street is home to many lovely apartment residences, mostly built in the early 1900s.

That’s when the neighborhood where James Audubon’s farm, Minniesland, stood in the 19th century was transformed by real estate speculators into up-and-coming Washington Heights.

One hidden gem with a curved facade is the six-story apartment building at West 156th and Broadway.

Named Hispania Hall (perhaps a nod to the Hispanic Society of America museum, which opened a block away in 1908), it was billed as “artistic, comfortable, and substantially built” when it was completed in 1909.

Hispaniahallstarofdavid

It also contains an unusual symbol: a cast-iron fence that’s topped with a Star of David. Why a Star of David? It was likely added in or after the 1930s.

Hispaniahall2015“In the 1930s, many German and Jewish refugees found a new home in the neighborhood,” states the website for the Audubon Park Historic District.

“Within a few block of this corner were ten Jewish institutions, including the Prospect Unity Club, Lublo’s Palm Garden, and several synagogues.”

Today it’s an easy-to-miss reminder of the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup decades ago.

[Top image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

An apartment house evokes “memories of Paris”

May 4, 2015

Dorilton1902architecturalreviewWhen the Dorilton opened in 1902, the 12-story Beaux-Arts building at Broadway and 71st Street was one of many grand apartment houses designed to take advantage of all the new Upper West Side residents the coming subway system would bring.

With its curvy mansard roof and enormous arched entryway, it caught the eye of architectural critics, who generally loathed its florid, ostentatious details.

“[The Dorilton] was criticized as an ‘architectural aberration’ because of its grandiose scale and overly lavish ornament,” states Gwendolyn Wright’s Building the Dream.

Doriltonfemalefigures

But that didn’t stop people from moving in. Consider the amenities: filtered water, free electricity, separate servant and passenger elevators, soundproof walls and windows, and long-distance telephone service and refrigerators in every apartment.

DoriltonfloorplansnyplThere was even a charger for the electric automobiles hitting the streets at the time.

If flamboyant ornamentation is your thing, then the Dorilton is a dream. The iron gates at the limestone entryway look like they belong in a European palace.

And don’t forget the sculptures on the Broadway side, “two greater than life size female figures whose handsome draped clothing enhances the motion expressed in their bodies,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Committee.

The Dorilton wasn’t one of the few luxury buildings on Upper Broadway for much longer. But as the neighborhood declined after World War II, so did the Dorilton, with pieces of the cornices and other details falling off.

DoriltonupperfloorscloseupAfter it was landmarked in 1974—with the Landmarks Preservation Committee report describing it as evoking “memories of Paris”—the Dorilton rebounded, undergoing a renovation to return it to its glory.

Today, this “aberration,” as it was called, has some of the most sought-after co-op apartments in the city. And its pull-out-all-the-stops ornamental beauty stops pedestrians in their tracks.

Doriltonfacadebroadway

[Top photo: Architectural Review; third, NYPL; fourth: Wikipedia]

8 uses for Central Park’s second-oldest building

January 19, 2015

One of only two buildings in Central Park constructed when the park was just a gleam in city officials’ eyes (the other is this stone fort), the Arsenal opened in 1851 as a state-run storage place for munitions.

Arsenalmilitianypl

“It was considered at the time to be an ideally strategic position to deploy troops to the city, or to either shoreline,” notes centralpark.org.

Arsenalfrom5thavenypl

And in the ensuing 168 years (above, in 1862), this structure designed to resemble a Medieval castle on Fifth Avenue and 64th Street has been repurposed to serve a variety of city needs.

First, in 1857, it was purchased from the state by park administrators and used as an office and police precinct.

Arsenalmenagerie

In the 1860s, after many New Yorkers began dropping off exotic animals in the new Central Park, the Arsenal became the temporary menagerie, which was never part of the park’s original plan but proved to be a hugely popular attraction.

ArsenalrestaurantBy the 1870s, it housed the Museum of Natural History, whose quarters were under construction across the park. It was also home to the studio were a British artist created models of dinosaur bones.

An art gallery and weather station followed—the city’s weather instruments recorded the official temperature from the top of the Arsenal.

An Arsenal restaurant (right) appeared in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the building was falling apart, and after an overhaul reopened as offices for the Parks Department.

Arsenal2015

By the 1980s, the Arsenal assumed the role it still plays today: “as a gallery and space for public forums related to Parks’ mission and may be reserved for private and public functions,” states the Parks Department website.

It stands guard on the east side of Central Park, its Ivy gone, a testament to a changing city.

[Top two images: NYPL Digital Gallery]

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 spooky Gothic skyscraper next to Trinity Church

October 13, 2014

Well, skyscraper by 1905 standards. That’s the year the 21-story Trinity Building finished construction.

Designed as a Neo-Gothic complement to Trinity Church on Lower Broadway, it’s loaded with gargoyles and creepy human faces, as well as fanciful gables and moldings topped by a gorgeous cupola.

Trinitybuildingpostcard

This vintage postcard doesn’t reveal all the incredible detail on the facade, but it’s a nice look at Broadway in 1910, I’m guessing.

The cemetery next door is so tourist-free and green, it looks like a lawn. And hey, streetcars!

The mystery quote on the Daily News building

June 27, 2014

DailynewsfacadeThe (former) headquarters for the New York Daily News, on East 42nd Street, is a 1930 skyscraper masterpiece.

The enormous lobby, with its illuminated revolving globe and compass points set into the floor, is an impressive monument to wonder and the bigness of the universe, as well as a nod to the newspaper’s global perspective.

Then there’s the huge facade framing the 39-story building’s main entrance.

Dailynewsbuilding1931This bas relief features the newspaper name, an urban cityscape, and a crowd of people, with this inscription: “he made so many of them.”

What does it mean?

It’s part of a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “God must love the common people; he made so many of them.”

Sounds like an homage to the regular New Yorkers who made the Daily News, which got its start in 1919 as the city’s first tabloid, one of the nation’s biggest newspapers throughout the 20th century.

Dailynewsfacadequote

At the time of the building’s opening, the News had an impressive circulation of 1.3 million. Now it’s roughly half that.

The Skyscraper Daredevil dangles over Midtown

May 5, 2014

BendovacontortionistThe skyscraper age of the 1920s and 1930s didn’t just bring the city cloud-touching towers.

It also inspired stuntmen who performed acrobatic shows (or at least, the illusion of acrobatics) a thousand feet over Manhattan.

One of these stuntmen was Joseph Spah, a German-born contortionist and acrobat (left).

After immigrating to Queens, Spah adopted the name Ben Dova and hit the vaudeville circuit.

By the 1930s, he developed his signature act: the “convivial inebriate,” which had him stagger onstage in a tuxedo trying to light his cigarette with the lit flame of a gas street lamp.

That doesn’t sound too thrilling, except that he performed this act on the edge of the roof of the Chanin Building, the 56-story Art Deco skyscraper on East 42nd Street opened in 1929.

Bendovafourshots

Footage of his skyscraper act looks legit. But it’s actually the product of some trick photography, according to one historical blog.

“Spah’s lamp post was placed on the small, one-story brick structure on the roof of the Chanin Building, rather than on the edge of the roof itself,” explains the blog.

“The angle of the cameras make it look as though Spah were hanging over the edge of the Chanin Building’s roof, when in fact he was only facing a drop of perhaps ten or twelve feet to the building’s main roof had he lost his grip.”

Spah performed his act all over the States and Europe. His act has a certain magic, and Spah himself certainly had luck on his side.

On his way back from Europe to make it to a week-long run at Radio City in May 1937, he caught a ride on the Hindenburg . . . and survived the terrible fire that killed most of the passengers.


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