Archive for the ‘East Village’ Category

Two elite addresses on 1830s Bleecker Street

October 5, 2020

Named for the family whose farm once surrounded it, Bleecker Street between the Bowery and Sixth Avenue became one of New York’s most fashionable addresses in the 1830s.

Leroy Place, drawn by architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1831

But for rich New Yorkers, it wasn’t enough to just live on Bleecker Street. Two developments in particular were built to cater to the cream of the crop.

The first was Leroy (or LeRoy) Place, above. Spanning the south side of the block between Mercer and Greene Streets, Leroy Place emulated the “terraces,” or terraced houses, popular in London—essentially a group of identical attached townhouses with harmonious front yards.

Isaac G. Pearson hired architect Alexander Jackson Davis to design Leroy Place, which he built out of granite, according to Luther S. Harris’ Around Washington Square. Once it was finished, Pearson managed to get the city to rename the block after his development.

Leroy Place on an 1835 map of New York City, by Henry Schenk Tanner

“Christened LeRoy Place in honor of the Knickerbocker merchant Jacob LeRoy, its Federal-style row houses sold for a hefty twelve thousand dollars,” states Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New Yorkers with names like Clinton and Beekman took up residence here.

Impressed with the way Pearson attracted Clintons, Beekmans, and other affluent New Yorkers, Francis DePau completed DePau Row between Thompson and Sullivan Streets in 1830.

DePau Row, in what’s described as a proposed illustration, from MCNY (32.159.1)

DePau Row had just six houses. “All were unified by their identical height, a seamless finish, and common detailing, including a long ornamental iron verandah—the first in the city—extending across all six fronts,” states Around Washington Square.

A.T. Stewart, dry goods mogul, lived at DePau row, as did Valentine Mott, one of the city’s most esteemed surgeons.

While Leroy Place and DePau Row had status in their day, their wealthy residents decamped for more spacious homes uptown as soon as commercialism (and lower class people) crept in. “By 1853, the Builder observed that ‘Bond and Bleecker Streets, that were then the ultima thule of aristocracy, are now but plebian streets,’ per the NYPL.

Depau Row, 1896, from the New-York Historical Society

Leroy Place in the 1850s and beyond hosted an oyster house, furniture warehouse, and saloon. Long after it lost its luster, it was demolished in the mid-20th century.

DePau Row also fell into disrepair; it was bulldozed in 1896 to make way for Mills House No. 1, a home for single men funded by banker and philanthropist Darius Ogden Mills.

The sordid past of the East Village’s Extra Place

September 14, 2020

The downtown alleys of old New York tended to be unsavory. So it’s not exactly a surprise that the East Village alley called Extra Place experienced its share of the social ills of the 19th century city.

Gangs, domestic violence, fires, and disease all touched this obscure dead end off First Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue, a look through various newspaper archives shows.

How Extra Place got its name is a bit of a mystery. But Forgotten New York has it that the street dates back to 1800, when a landowner named Philip Minthorne divvied up his 110-acre farm equally among his children. A small “extra” piece of land was left over.

Extra Place may have been a respectable, more middle class place to live at first, just like the surrounding neighborhood. New York newspapers of the 1860s and 1870s contain ads from Extra Place addresses looking for chambermaids and other household workers.

 By the 1880s, Extra Place was making headlines. The story of two Extra Place residents who stabbed and billy clubbed each other at 2 a.m. one night appeared in the major papers the next day. One was a truckman and the other a watchman residing at a lodging house at 6 Extra Place; they were arrested and brought to Essex Market Police Court.

Reports of fights and drunkenness on Extra Place became more common. Fires too. One 1887 blaze that broke out in a bar fixtures factory running from the Bowery to Extra Place displaced many residents and killed two horses in a stable, reported the New York Times.

In 1888, domestic violence was reported at 4 Extra Place. In one case, two brothers stabbed each other, and one assaulted the other’s wife with a hammer. (They too were brought to Essex Market, per the Evening World.

Then there was cholera. In 1892, a woman came down with the deadly disease, and some residents were quarantined to prevent a wider outbreak. (Not an uncommon sequence of events in New York at the time.)

Reporters wrote stories about the “queer” alley and its tenements. “Peddlers rarely venture into the street,” one stated. “Crooked lampposts and ugly fire escapes are in sight, but the east side eye has been educated up to that sort of thing and the straight and dignified lamppost is regarded with as much suspicion as the bare walls of a tenement.”

Extra Place receded from headlines in the 20th century. (See the alley in the 1930s, photo at left and below.) But a renaissance for this alley located in a down and out part of Manhattan was not yet in the cards.

“Extra Place is a narrow little dead-end street, dark even by day and marked off by rusty iron warehouse doors and shuttered windows, with week-old newspapers blowing along the gutters,” wrote Brendan Gill in The New Yorker in 1952 (via the AIA Guide).

In the 1970s, Extra Place made an appearance on the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia LP cover. In gritty, broke New York City, Extra Place was still under the radar. I’m not sure it even had a street sign.

Fast forward to the 2000s, when the developers behind a new luxury apartment building wanted to turn Extra Place into a pedestrian walkway lined with boutiques and restaurants.

Judging by how quiet it was on Extra Place a few weeks ago, I don’t think the plan worked. You can luxurify this alley with trendy brands and pave over the Belgian blocks with concrete, but Extra Place’s 19th century feel doesn’t disappear so easily.

[Map: NYPL; seventh photo: NYPL]

This Second Avenue sign is a visual time capsule

September 7, 2020

Unfortunately the sign doesn’t date to 1885. But that’s okay.

The gorgeous double-decker Block Drug Stores (is there more than one?) sign, at Second Avenue and Sixth Street, has been hanging for decades on this East Village/Little Ukraine corner—a magnificent visual time capsule from an earlier New York.

New York’s vintage drugstore signs are disappearing on us. I know the first one in this post is gone; the other two I hope still exist.

 

A garden rises where a fireman died by arson

July 6, 2020

In 1977—with city coffers empty, crime rising, and residents fleeing at historically high rates—more than 13,000 New York City buildings were intentionally set on fire.

One of these arson fires happened on July 2 at 358 East Eighth Street, an abandoned tenement between Avenues C and D. The blaze, set with diesel oil, broke out on the fifth floor at about 3:10 pm.

Firefighters from Engine 15 saw the smoke while heading back to their station house on Pitt Street after responding to a false alarm. They detoured to the burning tenement to take on the four-alarm blaze, according to the New York Daily News on July 7, 1977.

With the firefighters on the fifth floor, the arsonist allegedly came back and set a second fire on a lower floor, reported the Daily News. (At right, the six-story building in 1940)

“When the new outburst of flames surged upward, the firemen crawled to a window where Ladder Company 11 had extended its cherry picker,” stated the Daily News.

One fireman made it to the cherry picker; three were overcome by smoke inhalation and had to be rescued inside.

Firefighter Martin Celic, 25, a Staten Island native who was to be married later that year, tried to get in the cherry picker. He tripped and fell 70 feet to the sidewalk.

Celic spent a week at Bellevue with massive head injuries before dying on July 10, his fiancee at his bedside.

A 17-year-old was arrested for setting the fire; he allegedly told officials that he did it to prevent winos and junkies from getting inside the building. In 1978 he was ordered to stand trial for arson and murder.

In 1978, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting that he set the fire, according to the Daily News on July 7 of that year. He received 8-25 years.

This tragic story would be just a footnote of 1970s New York City history if not for the efforts of community members.

“Longtime neighborhood residents Ansley and Kelly Carnahan had begun gardening in the lot adjacent to the abandoned building in 1975,” states NYC Parks. “After the burnt-out building was condemned and torn down, the Carnahans and other local residents expanded their garden to the new lot.”

They named it the Firemen’s Garden (or Fireman’s Garden; it’s spelled both ways), “in honor of those who risk their lives daily in every borough and district,” continues NYC Parks. “Marty Celic’s family donated benches made of cedar and wrought iron.”

The garden became a nonprofit in 1989, then was transferred to the New York City Parks Department control in 1999. Shady, leafy, and with brick paths inside, it’s one of many firefighter tributes throughout the city.

For many New Yorkers, the Firemen’s Garden is a little off the beaten path. A “special ceremony is held in mid-July in remembrance of the sacrifices of all New York City firemen,” NYC Parks says, might be worth making the trek for.

[First and second photo: New York Daily News; third photo: New York City Department of Records and Information Services]

Let the Brooklyn Bridge show you the way

June 8, 2020

The Brooklyn Bridge (or the East River Bridge, as this 1920 postcard charmingly calls it) is many things.

It’s a display of engineering might, a graceful web of wire over water, a symbol of New York’s unity, the embodiment of promise and possibility. Let it be a source of inspiration during this time when our city has been tested.

[MCNY F2011.33.1882]

The pioneering clinic of NYC’s first ‘lady doctor’

April 6, 2020

Elizabeth Blackwell wasn’t just New York City’s first female medical doctor—she was the first woman to practice medicine in the entire country.

But mid-19th century Gotham is where she decided to open a pioneering dispensary and then an infirmary, and the growing city benefited enormously.

Born in England in 1821 and raised in Cincinnati, Blackwell first became a teacher. She felt a strong calling toward medicine, however, especially after she watched a female friend die of a cancer of the reproductive organs.

“If I could have been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me,” the friend told her, an anecdote Blackwell included in her 1895 autobiography.

In 1847, she applied to 20 medical colleges, all of which denied her admission.

Of course, the idea of a “lady doctor” was ridiculous at the time. A woman couldn’t be a doctor because studying anatomy—specifically of the reproductive system—could upset her morals, wrote Leo Trachtenburg in an article about Blackwell in City Journal in 2000.

Finally, one school did agree to take her: Geneva Medical College in upstate New York. (At left, an illustration of Blackwell in anatomy class.)

After postgraduate studies in Paris, she settled in New York City—which was then a city of elites, a merchant class, and an ever-growing population of poor people, including many who came to the city during the first wave of Irish and German immigration.

Blackwell opened an office at 44 University Place and put an ad in the New-York Tribune (above), but she had few patients, as people were not interested in receiving medical care from a woman, with some being hostile. “My pecuniary situation was a constant source of anxiety,” she recalled in her autobiography. She also admitted to being deeply lonely.

The 1850s proved to be a turning point for Blackwell.

“Her career instead took the direction it was to have for the rest of her life: the promotion of hygiene and preventive medicine among both lay persons and professionals and the promotion of medical education and opportunities for women physicians,” states a National Institutes of Medicine page.

Reaching out to wealthy and notable New Yorkers for financial backing, she opened a dispensary on East Seventh Street near Tompkins Square Park in 1853.

Unlike other dispensaries in the city that served all poor residents in a given ward, this one exclusively treated the women and children of the 11th Ward.

Back then, the ward was populated by German immigrants, many hungry and desperately ill. “The design of this institution is to give to poor women an opportunity of consulting physicians of their own sex,” she wrote.

In 1856, Blackwell—along with her newly minted physician sister, Emily Blackwell, and another female doctor opened The New York Infirmary for Women and Children at 64 Bleecker Street. (A plaque, below left, marks the site today.)

It would be the first female-run hospital in the city. A house once occupied by members of the Roosevelt family was renovated and outfitted with a maternity center and surgical ward.

“In addition to the usual departments of hospital and dispensary practice, which included the visiting of poor patients at their own homes, we established a sanitary visitor,” wrote Blackwell. This would be “one of our assistant physicians, whose special duty it was to give simple, practical instruction to poor mothers on the management of infants and the preservation of the health of their families.”

Considering the conditions many families lived in—shut off in dark, unventilated tenements where disease easily spread and infants didn’t often make it to their first birthday—this information was vital.

“Blackwell aimed to use the Infirmary not only to treat needy patients but also to train women doctors and nurses, so that other women could follow in her path more easily,” wrote Trachtenberg. “The Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary officially opened at 126 Second Avenue in November 1868.”

While Blackwell’s infirmary continued to operate and fulfill its mission of treating women and children and training women for medical professions, Blackwell herself left New York in the 1860s. She spent the rest of her life in England, famous for her medical lectures and books.

She died in 1910. The infirmary she launched before the Civil War moved to Stuyvesant Square (above right), where it remained for 90 years, according to Town & Village, before moving into a new building in the 1950s. After a series of mergers it became part of today’s New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.

[First image: Biography.com; second image: New-York Presbyterian; third image: New-York Tribune; fourth image: NYPL digital collection; fifth image: New-York Presbyterian; sixth image: King’s Handbook of New York City 1892 via Wikipedia; seventh image: readtheplaque.com; eighth image, Wikipedia]

Beauty and humanity in a Third Avenue El film

December 9, 2019

In 1955—before the shutdown of the Third Avenue El between Chatham Square and East 149th Street in the Bronx—a filmmaker named Carson Davidson took his camera up to a lonely platform and into one of the mostly empty trains.

With just weeks to go before the train and this main portion of the elevated would be trucked to the scrapyard, Davidson and a group of actors shot a haunting Impressionist short film.

The El may have been destined for the wrecking ball, yet Davidson’s film brings it alive—the iron spine of a city snaking between the tenements of Lower and Upper Manhattan and then over the Third Avenue Bridge into the Bronx.

The voiceless characters feel familiar, but they’re not cliches. A man sleeps, a couple plays cards. A stumblebum gets on near the Bowery and tries to wring one last drop out of a bottle of liquor. A little girl excitedly takes a seat.

Out the train windows we see the geometrical shadows of the railings on platforms. The camera turns to the train itself, a metal machine screeching and lurching high above sidewalks while a harpsichord plays as a soundtrack.

During the ride Davidson captures a street cleaner, faded ads, puddles on paving stones, the Chrysler Building, laundry lines, the Harlem River, and a tugboat belching smoke as a swing bridge aligns itself so the train can keep going.

The Third Avenue El threads the characters’ stories, as does a coin caught in the floor of the train car. Each character tries and fails to grab it.

Finally at night, a young couple boards. Amid glimpses of a Horn and Hardart Automat sign and a movie marquee, the male half of  the couple picks up and pockets the coin.

A director and artist I know had this to add about Davidson’s Oscar-nominated short:

“Although the filmmaker is fascinated with mechanics and shapes, it is always softened by humanity, the sympathetic characters. It’s literally a day in the life of the El which ends, after all those geometrically composed images, romantically with the lovers getting the coin.”

Veniero’s has the East Village’s best neon sign

November 25, 2019

On dark, chilly fall nights, Veniero’s neon sign glows with warmth and possibilities—of cannoli, tiramisu, pignoli, or any of this pasticceria’s other heavenly cakes, cookies, and Italian pastries tempting hungry customers from the long glass counter.

The shop, on East 11th Street between Second and First Avenues, has a familiar history. In 1885, Antonio Veniero left his Southern Italy hometown and sailed to America.

After working in a candy factory for eight years, he’d saved enough money to open a social club at 342 East 11th Street—then an enclave of Italian immigrants amid a larger neighborhood of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, and other newcomers.

“He served homemade candy and roasted espresso,” states the store’s website. “Not too long after, he started baking biscotti. In 1894, Veniero’s was born.”

The current Veniero’s sign might be the most spectacular in the East Village. It’s old-school vertical and horizontal, and it reminds passersby that the place has been serving the neighborhood for an astonishing 125 years.

I have no idea what the original Veniero’s storefront signage looked like. Yet this photo, from the NYC Department of Records and Information Services tax photo collection, offers a peek at the sign circa 1940—not quite the same, but similar enough.

[Second image: Veniero’s in 2013; third image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]

The lasting power of an East Village war memorial

November 11, 2019

The bronze plaque is at eye level, affixed to the facade of a handsome red-brick walkup built in 1833 at 33 East Seventh Street.

Still, it’s easy to miss. Dark and weathered with age, it’s a subtle, powerful memorial to the brothers, sons, and husbands who lived on this East Village block and died as soldiers in World War II.

East Seventh Street is the heart of the East Village’s Little Ukraine, populated by Ukrainians who immigrated before the war as well as thousands who came after, displaced from their homes and resettled around Cooper Square.

“The plaque on the wall was placed long ago by the Saint George Catholic War Veterans Post No. 401, a local Ukrainian-American veterans organization which then owned the building, later ceding it to the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church down the block,” stated Jonathan Kuhn, NYC Parks director of art and antiquities, in a 2014 New York Times story.

Ukrainian names are listed on the plaque, along with Italians, Irish, German, and Jewish names. In total, 180 men from the block are immortalized in metal. (At left, the building in 1940, before the war.)

It’s one of more than 270 war memorials all over the city. Some are grand while others, including this one, are quite understated, commemorating military men and women who served and died from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan.

Considering the Ukrainian banner and flag under it, the memorial seems to be cared for and not forgotten. (East Village native and author Mick Dementiuk, care to translate?)

[Third photo: NYC Tax Photo 1940, Department of Records and Information Services]

7 mystery photos of downtown New York in 1968

November 4, 2019

For a couple of months in 1968, one New Yorker walked around the East and West Villages, aiming a camera loaded with black and white film at the people and buildings encountered on the street.

This New Yorker captured scenes that would be familiar to city residents today. Above is Sixth Avenue looking south toward Jefferson Market, a year after it became a library branch (but before six years before the fortress-like Women’s House of Detention behind it was demolished).

Here’s Gem Spa at Second Avenue (are those Belgian paving blocks on the street?) and St. Mark’s Place. Apparently in 1968 it was Gems Spa.

I’m not sure what block this is, taken from a roof or terrace across the street; I think it’s LaGuardia Place, without the community gardens on the east side of the street, which didn’t come until the 1970s.

Is that a volleyball net in Washington Square Park? It’s set up in the southern end of the park, with Judson Memorial Church and its iconic bell tower in the background.

Back in the East Village again looking down St. Mark’s Place, with the St. Mark’s Theater marquee advertising a Bette Davis film (it was a second-run house at the time).

The park benches at St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue are still popular—but you don’t see men in hats and overcoats like this anymore. These folks are old-school East Villagers, and their younger neighbors are hanging out by the church fence near the Biafra sign.

Below, a sidewalk artist displays his work, though it’s hard to know where we are. Soho barely existed at the time; perhaps it’s part of the Greenwich Village art show?

Since most of the images here are easily identifiable, what’s the mystery? That would be who it was who decided to shoot some film of random ordinary street scenes and hang onto the photos for the next 50 or so years. I don’t have an answer…but I know the photographer stashed them in a drawer and basically forgot about them.

[All photos © Ephemeral New York]