Archive for the ‘Cool building names’ Category

The past lives of the “bunker” on the Bowery

May 1, 2017

The first people to hang out at the red brick, Queen Anne–style building that opened in 1885 at 222 Bowery were working-class men.

At the time, the Bowery was a cacophonous circus of vaudeville theaters, beer gardens, pawnbrokers, rowdies, and streetcars all under the screeching rails of the Third Avenue elevated train.

Much of New York loved this, of course, and lots of men flocked there, living in the five-cent hotels or in doorways. Reformer Jacob Riis estimated their numbers at more than nine thousand.

But this was the 1880s, and to keep young men who were “not yet hardened” from getting sucked into sin, the YMCA built their first New York branch at 222 Bowery and called it the Young Men’s Institute.

It was actually a novel idea and an example of Gilded Age uplift. The institute was to promote the “physical, intellectual, and spiritual health of young working men in the densely crowded Bowery,” states Landmarks of New York.

Instead of bars and dance halls, men ages 17 and 35 who joined could attend lectures by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Ward Beecher.

They could borrow books from a circulating library (this is before the New York Public Library was established), work out in the gym or pool, or use the bowling alley. Classes in mechanical drawing, architecture, penmanship, and bookkeeping were offered—and Bible reading too, on Sundays.

After the turn of the century though (above, in 1910), as the Bowery’s fortunes fell even further, membership declined.

The Y sold the building in 1932 and it became a residence on the mid-century Bowery, less a raucous zone of fun and vice and now a strip of forgotten men and bars (1930s Bowery at right).

That’s when the artists arrived—like Fernand Leger. After fleeing the Nazis in Normandy, the French surrealist painter landed in Manhattan and lived and worked at 222 Bowery, even after it was sold to a dental manufacturing company.

By the time 222 Bowery was  turned back into a residence in the late 1950s, more artists and writers came, like Mark Rothko, who painted his Seagram murals in the former gymnasium.

Fellow abstract artists James Brooks and Michael Goldberg (his “Bowery Days” painting, at left) moved in too, as did poet John Giorno. Andy Warhol held parties there. Allan Ginsberg and Roy Lichtenstein spent time at 222 as well.

It was William S. Burroughs (right, with Joe Strummer inside 222 Bowery in 1980) who dubbed the building the Bunker.

Burroughs arrived in 1974 and officially stayed until his death in 1997, though he lived his last years in Kansas.

Patti Smith recalled visiting Burroughs there in the 1970s. “It was the street of winos and they would often have five cylindrical trash cans to keep warm, to cook, or light their cigarettes,” she wrote in Just Kids.

“You could look down the Bowery and see these fires glowing right to William’s door.”

Burroughs’ nickname for this gorgeous survivor of the Bowery’s past life remains.

The building, now co-op lofts, “is still affectionately called by that name,” states the 1998 Landmark Preservation Commission report that gave 222 Bowery landmark status.

[Second photo: Alamy/King’s Handbook of NYC 1893; fifth image: Artnet; sixth image: unknown]

This skyscraper lobby will take your breath away

May 1, 2017

You’ve heard the phrase “cathedral of commerce,” which is used to describe lots of beautifully designed skyscrapers in New York City.

But the term really applies best to the Trinity Building, opened in 1907 beside Trinity Church at Broadway, with its 21-story Gothic silhouette covered in Indiana limestone.

And if the gargoyles, grotesques, and other Gothic details of the outside of the building (along with its twin next door, the U.S. Realty Building) make your eyes pop, then take a look at the inside lobby.

Here, gilded grotesques adorn the elevators like guardians.

The colored stained-glass exits and elaborate arched ceiling make you feel like you’re in a European house of worship . . . until the security guard asks you where you’re going, and you remember that you’re actually waiting for the elevator in a 20th century Lower Manhattan office tower.

As in many city architectural treasures that still function as office buildings, photos are probably not permitted officially.

But next time you’re in Lower Manhattan, sneak in and let the Gothic wonder around you take your breath away.

Cornelia Street has barely changed in a century

January 9, 2017

Okay, Cornelia Street today is a little different—the Sixth Avenue El no longer rattles by and casts a dark shadow over the northern end of the street.

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But otherwise, doesn’t this one-block lane, tucked between West Fourth and Bleecker Streets, still look the same as it does in this John Sloan painting from 1920?

Sloan had a studio in the Flatiron-style tower in the center, officially called the Varitype Building. He often painted Sixth Avenue and Cornelia Street—like this scene of three women drying their hair on a Cornelia Street rooftop.

Before a playground came to Bleecker Street

August 26, 2016

Our local parks and playgrounds become such neighborhood fixtures, it’s difficult to imagine that they weren’t always part of the cityscape.

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That’s why it’s so jarring to see this 1959 photo of the junction of Bank, Bleecker, and Hudson Streets—but no Bleecker Playground, the cheery place of swings and sand always crowded with happy kids and captive parents.

Anchoring that corner in the early 20th century was the formidable Henry I. Stetler brick warehouse. (Beside it is a bandstand-turned-comfort station.) It fits right into the far West Village of the time, an area of warehouses and light industry.

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In 1927, a spectacular fire raged through the Stetler warehouse, injuring dozens of firefighters and causing the city to condemn the building. A changing West Village came up with a reason to raze it in the 1950s.

Bleeckerplaygroundsignwallygobetzflickr“In 1959, demand for a safe play space for neighborhood children prodded the city to acquire the Stetler Warehouse south of historic Abingdon Square to make way for a playground, the first in the area,” states nycgovparks.org.

Seven years later, Bleecker Playground opened (above, in 2010, and at right). It feels like it’s been in the neighborhood far longer.

[Top photo: New York City Parks Photo Archive; second photo: Jonathan Kuhn via New York City Parks Photo Archive; third photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr]

The sad fate of these Lafayette Street columns

August 1, 2016

You could call it one of New York’s first luxury developments: a nine-building stretch of magnificent marble row houses on the recently laid out cobblestone cul-de-sac of Lafayette Place.

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The new, two-block street was uptown in the late 1820s, when construction, spearheaded by John Jacob Astor, began. Land that had recently been forests and fields was about to become the young city’s most fashionable quarter.

Sing Sing inmates quarried the white marble used to build what would be named LaGrange Terrace (above, in 1895), after the name of the Marquis de Lafayette’s estate in France.

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(Lafayette fever was running high in the city; the Revolutionary War hero had just made a rock star-like return visit to the grateful metropolis in 1825).

Completed in 1833 (above) with amenities like running water, central heating, and bathrooms, LaGrange Terrace was occupied by Delanos, Vanderbilts, and Gardiners, as well as short-term residents Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Washington Irving.

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“Society liked the seclusion of the street, and houses were soon built on every side of the terrace,” wrote the New-York Tribune in 1902.

But fashions change, and Manhattan was on a steady march northward. By the end of the 19th century, the marble row—sandwiched in the light industry district on renamed Lafayette Street—was faded and forlorn.

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After they were acquired by department store magnate John Wanamaker (whose store was on 9th Street), five of the buildings had a date with the wrecking ball in 1902. The columns were reportedly salvaged by a builder who intended to use them in another project.

In the ensuing years, LaGrange Terrace, known also as Colonnade Row, has had its ups and downs. A mansard roof was added, and the grimy columns began disintegrating. But earning landmark status gave the row historic recognition.

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And what about the marble columns bulldozed a century ago?

They turned up decades later outside a boys’ school in Morristown, New Jersey—on property that was once the estate of the builder who salvaged them.

[Top photo: MCNY; second and third images: NYPL; fifth photo: Wikipedia]

The curious fireplace in McSorley’s back room

July 11, 2016

Mcsorleys2016McSorley’s Bar on East Seventh Street in the East Village is the keeper of wonderful old New York relics.

There are framed newspaper clippings from the 19th century, Harry Houdini’s handcuffs, a collection of wishbones left by soldiers who never returned from World War I, and of course, that pot-bellied stove that has kept generations of drinkers toasty.

In the back room is another curious artifact: a fireplace that spells out “Bible House” in gold capital letters under the wood mantel.

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What was Bible House? In the late 19th and early 20th century, you wouldn’t have to ask.

This six-story building at Astor Place and East Ninth Street between Third and Fourth Avenues was the imposing headquarters of the American Bible Society, an organization devoted to printing and distributing millions of bibles.

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Bible House, the city’s first cast-iron building, went up in 1853, replacing the group’s older headquarters on Nassau Street.

Along with the Astor Library (now The Public Theater) and the newly formed Cooper Institute, Bible House helped make Astor Place a hub of intellectual and literary activity.

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Because of its size and appearance, Bible House became a tourist attraction of its own in the late 19th century. The printing rooms inside ultimately cranking out 77 million bibles. Yet as the neighborhood’s fortunes slipped in the ensuing decades, so did the building.

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In 1956, after Bible House was torn down and replaced by a Cooper Union building, McSorley’s apparently salvaged this artifact, preserving it amid the sawdust floors and dusty frames in the bar’s back room.

Hat tip again to Dean at the History Author Show for this story! [Third image: King’s Handbook of New York via the Village Alliance; fifth image: MCNY]

Four ghost store signs in the Village and Brooklyn

July 7, 2016

In a city that changes as rapidly as Gotham, ghost signs abound. You know these phantom signs, left behind by a building’s previous tenant and never replaced by the new one—if there even is a new tenant.

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That seems to be the case with this wonderfully preserved Meier & Oelhaf Marine Repair sign on Christopher and Weehawken Streets. The company occupied 177 Christopher from 1920 to 1984.

It’s been an empty and eerie presence for 30 years, a clue to Christopher Street’s maritime past. Maybe it won’t be unoccupied for long; a different sign says the ground floor is for rent.

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Around the corner on a lonely stretch of West Street, this coffee sign remains high above two empty, rundown storefronts—one of which was presumably a lively coffee shop not long ago.

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A store solely devoted to school supplies? The old-school signage can be seen behind the new awning for the Pure Perfection Beauty Salon on Utica Avenue in Crown Heights.

You don’t come across these too often anymore, a store name spelled out in tile amid a geometric design at the entrance. But it’s a charming old-timey New York thing.

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The people who ran Hecht’s, once at 363 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, must have agreed. The antique store there now, Sterling Place, luckily didn’t do away with it.

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.

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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.