Archive for the ‘East Village’ Category

A tenement sign high up at the corner of First Street and First Avenue

July 19, 2021

The corner of First Street and First Avenue is roughly the borderline of the East Village. And what better than an old-school address sign like this one affixed to a handsome brick building to welcome you to the neighborhood as you leave the Lower East Side behind?

These early 20th century address markers can be found on many tenement corners throughout New York City. In some cases, they may have served to let elevated train riders know exactly where they were passing.

Or perhaps these signs—sometimes raised and embossed, other times carved into the building—simply let pedestrians know where they stood in an era when reliable street signs had not yet arrived to ever corner in poor neighborhoods.

Beat writers and bohemians: One woman’s memoir of 1950s Greenwich Village

July 19, 2021

“When I got back to New York after my divorce came through there was never any question that Greenwich Village was where I wanted to be,” recalled Helen Weaver in her 2009 autobiography, The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties.

Helen Weaver and Jack Kerouac, undated

It was 1955 and Weaver was in her early 20s. Her brief marriage to her college boyfriend was behind her, and she looked forward to moving to a “patchwork crazy quilt” section of Manhattan filled with “artists, would-be artists, and oddballs like myself.”

“To the overprotected little girl from Scarsdale that I was, the very dirt of the streets and the subway and the stairs of tenements was exciting,” she wrote. “It represented freedom from everything I had escaped: parents, marriage, academia.”

Sullivan Street and West Third, 1950s

Little did Weaver know that she’d find herself part of the fabric of bohemian Village life in the 1950s and early 1960s: a love affair with Jack Kerouac, dalliances with poet Gregory Corso and Lenny Bruce, and a witness to the Village’s transformation from quirky and artsy to a neighborhood with rougher edges.

He story at first sounds like that of any young adult who arrives in the Village on their own. First, Weaver had to get an apartment: a third-floor walkup on Sullivan Street.

“E.B. White wrote that New York City ‘bestows the gift of privacy, the jewel of loneliness,’: she wrote. “That first apartment was a magical place for me because it was there that I learned the art—and the joy—of solitude.” To pay for her space, she secured a position as a “gal Friday” at a publishing house.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso

A college friend also on Sullivan Street showed her how to live, getting furniture at the Salvation Army, dressing like a Village bohemian (“long skirts, Capezio ballet shoes, and black stockings”), and going to dinner at the Grand Ticino on Thompson Street. They also visited Bagatelle, a lesbian bar on University Place.

A new friend—Helen Elliott, a free spirit who had attended Barnard—became her roommate in her next apartment at 307 West 11th Street, “an old brownstone with a small paved courtyard just west of Hudson Street and kitty-corner from the White Horse Tavern of Dylan Thomas fame.”

So thrilled to have a bigger apartment, it wasn’t until after she moved in that Weaver realized there was no kitchen sink. No matter, they would do the dishes in the bathtub.

White Horse Tavern in 1961, across from Helen Weaver’s West 11th Street apartment

Helen Elliott had become friendly with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac while at Barnard, and one November morning in 1956 the two not-yet-famous Beat writers showed up at Weaver and Elliott’s apartment. They had just returned to New York after hitchhiking from Mexico.

Elliott and Ginsberg went off to see fellow Beat Lucien Carr, who lived on Grove Street. Back on West 11th Street, Weaver and Kerouac began their tumultuous year-long relationship, which was marked by Kerouac’s drinking, long absences, and then the 1957 publication of On the Road, which made him a celebrity.

Upset that Kerouac wasn’t the man she wanted him to be, Weaver had a one-night stand with poet Gregory Corso before breaking things off for good.

Villagers at Cafe Wha?

“The pain of my disappointment in Jack and the pain of rejecting him was compounded by the pain of rejecting the part of myself that felt most alive,” wrote Weaver.

As the 1950s slid into the early 1960s, Weaver moved to a third apartment on West 13th Street. She smoked her first joint with a boyfriend and began campaigning for the legalization of marijuana.

She also became a fan of rising comic Lenny Bruce, attending his show at the Village Theater on Second Avenue (later it would become the Fillmore East) eight days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1964, when Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Village’s Cafe Au Go Go, Elliott and Weaver started a petition in support of Bruce’s right to free speech. When Bruce heard about it, he got Weaver’s number and thanked her…then came to her apartment, where the two went to bed together.

“All those hours Helen and I had spent listening to his voice on the records: that was our foreplay. And his gig at the Village Theater back in November: that was our first date,” Weaver wrote. In the end, Bruce was convicted of obscenity. (Bruce died two years later of a heroin overdose before his appeal was decided.)

In the 1960s, Weaver moved a final time to West 10th Street. But rising crime drove her to leave the neighborhood she loved.

MacDougal Street, 1963

When she first came to the Village, she recalled being able to walk around at any hour of the night and feel safe. Not so anymore: “Near Sheridan Square I saw a big bloodstain on the sidewalk. Another time in the subway a man punched me in the breast. I started taking cabs home instead of riding the subway. It got so I was afraid to walk to the corner deli after dark for a quart of milk. New York was getting scary.”

In 1971, she sublet her apartment and relocated to Woodstock, where she worked as a translator and astrology writer. Except for short trips back to New York City to see old friends and be part of Beat Generation events, Weaver never lived in the city again.

Helen Weaver in the 1950s

She began her memoir in the 1990s. By the time it was published in 2009, the main characters—Helen Elliott, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso—had all passed away. Weaver died in April of this year at 89. She was perhaps the last of a group whose sense of adventure and artistic leanings defined a certain time and feel in Greenwich Village.

[Top photo: from The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties; second image: oldnycphotos.com; third image: unknown; fourth image: LOC; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: Village Preservation; seventh image: Robert Otter; eighth image: The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties]

A painter captures the last years of these East Village tenements

July 12, 2021

A New Yorker since his birth in 1928, Arthur Morris Cohen studied at Cooper Union from 1948 to 1950, according to askart.com. So he knew the neighborhood when he decided to paint what looks like the southeast or southwest tenement corner at Third Avenue and 9th Street in 1961.

Cohen’s version of the corner would be similar to what it probably actually looked like in the early 1960s. The East Village was not even the East Village yet; it would be a few years before the tenement neighborhood was rebranded from the Lower East Side, which was on the decline economically.

1941 tax photo of 111-113 East Ninth Street

None of these walkups exist today. In fact, all four corners at Third and Ninth are occupied by postwar buildings. On the southwest corner is a 1960s-era white brick apartment building called the St. Mark, which likely took the place of these low rises in 1965, when the building was completed. Or maybe the row stood where a huge NYU dorm has been since the 1980s, with Stuyvesant Place running alongside it.

This 1941 tax photo from the NYC Department of Records and Information Services at the southwest corner gives some idea of what Cohen painted.

The story of the twin former horse stables of Great Jones Street

July 5, 2021

If you walk down Great Jones Street between Lafayette and the Bowery, you’ll come across these handsome Italianate-style red buildings with almost identical black cornices.

Built by separate developers in 1871, the sign in the center of each cornice indicates that both buildings were used as stables. Like so many other former stables throughout New York, they were converted to residences with ground floor commercial space once automobiles replaced equines in the early 1900s.

True, both of these buildings originally did house horses. But while the sign on the cornice of one is authentic, the signage on the other was only put up in the 1970s.

The Great Jones Street stables in 2011, without scaffolding

Let’s start with Number 33, on the left. The slightly damaged letters on the cornice read “Beinecke & Co’s Stables.”

Who was Beinecke? Johann Bernhard Georg Beinecke immigrated from Germany at arrived at Castle Garden in 1865, according to the website Immigrant Entrepreneurship.

His is a rags to riches story. “Bernhard signed on as a wagon driver for a meat concern; within a few short years he bought the company and appropriately renamed it Beinecke & Company,” the website continues. Later, he branched out into banking and the hotel business, buying the original Plaza Hotel and other luxury hotels.

From 1890 into the 20th century, the horses that pulled the delivery wagons for the Beinecke meat company were stabled here, states the Landmark Preservation Commission’s NoHo Historic District Extension Report.

And what about Number 31 on the right? This building was originally the home of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, and the LPC Report says the Underwriters board moved its Fire Patrol No. 2 here from 1873 to 1907. (At the time, of course, a fire patrol needed fire horses.)

“Following the departure of the Fire Patrol, the building was converted to other uses,” states the LPC report. One of those was home base for the Joseph Scott Trucking Company. This business established itself at 59 Great Jones Street in 1966 before relocating to Number 31 in the 1970, and then moved a third time to Number 33 until 1997, according to Walter Grutchfield.

Numbers 33 and 31 in 1980, by Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY

At some point, the trucking company added their own signage—copying the late 19th century look of Beinecke & Sons. “This is a modern cornice/pediment inscription meant to immulate its neighbor at 33 Great Jones Street,” Grutchfield writes.

Two 19th century former stables, but only one authentic stable sign.

[Second photo: Wikipedia; fifth photo: Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY 2013.3.2.1790]

The solitary pleasures of browsing books in New York City

May 24, 2021

Is there anything more irresistible than stopping to browse the outdoor tables of castoffs and curiosities at a New York City bookstore?

It’s an activity that city residents have enjoyed probably since books became mass market products. And unlike many things New Yorkers do, this one is generally solitary.

The highest concentration of book stores would have been along Book Row, on Fourth Avenue between Astor Place and Union Square. This stretch became the bibliophile center of Manhattan in the early 1900s and continued for decades. (Above, a second-hand bookstore on Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street in 1940).

New and used bookstores sprang up in this quarter-mile strip (above, Mosk’s at Astor Place in 1935), allowing literary-minded New Yorkers to spend a few minutes, a lunch hour, or an entire afternoon flipping through pages.

Of course, Book Row has pretty much vanished except for the Strand. And bookstores like these exist across Manhattan, supported by book lovers even in an era when reading generally means downloading onto a screen.

The last two bookstore images are also part of Book Row, but their names are either hard to make out or lost to history.

But even seeing the photos of books and browsers on a random city sidewalk brings on excitement. Wouldn’t you love to go back in time and see what treasures await in those outdoor shelves?

[Top image: MCNY 80.102.136; second image: MCNY 2003.25.101; third and fourth images: NYPL]

Look hard to see this vintage Hershey’s sign on the Bowery

April 25, 2021

You might need a pair of readers to really see the Hershey’s brand name in this weathered sign hanging from the facade of 354 Bowery, between East Third and Fourth Streets.

But there it is embossed on both sides, advertising Hershey’s Ice Cream—which despite the similar lettering apparently has nothing to do with Hershey’s Chocolate.

How long has the sign been there? No earlier than 1940, as it doesn’t appear in the tax photo from that year archived by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. This stretch of the Bowery back then was all hardware stores, sign makers, and a low-rent hotel called the Gotham.

However old it is, this it’s a charming relic of a time when the Bowery made room for a deli or luncheonette with ice cream on the menu. It might qualify as a “privilege” sign—a store sign featuring a brand’s name and logo, and typically the name of the store. The store owners didn’t have to pay for the sign because it was free advertising for the brand.

To see a clearer image of the sign, visit the Facebook group Ghost Signs—this snap was taken by Tori Terazzi back in January.

The tiny historic district on an East Village block

March 29, 2021

From its Dutch colonial beginning as Peter Stuyvesant’s bouwerie to its later incarnation as a haven for immigrants and artists, the East Village is steeped in history.

Several historic districts acknowledge this rich backstory. But one of the most overlooked is the East 10th Street Historic District, perhaps because it’s so small. The entire district is merely a one-block stretch of 26 row houses and tenements that got its start when Tompkins Square, just across the street, was in the idea stage.

The beginning of East 10th Street goes back to the 1820s, when the heirs of Peter Stuyvesant, former governor-general of New Amsterdam, started selling off parcels of land from his estate.

The growing city of New York at that time was pushing its boundaries beyond Houston Street, and fine row houses for the wealthy were going up on Bond Street, Lafayette Street, and the newly created St. Marks Place.

In 1833, the Stuyvesant descendants sold all the lots on East 10th Street between Avenues A and B to a respected residential developer named Thomas E. Davis—the man who turned St. Marks Place into a stylish enclave, according to the East 10th Street Historic District Designation Report. (Below, an 1833 map with St. Marks Street already on it, while East 10th Street is undeveloped.)

“It was a savvy business move,” states the report, “for that same year the state legislature passed an act creating a public square just across the street on the blocks between East 7th Street and East 10th Street from Avenues A to B.”

Then and now, building in New York City is never easy. While the city was laying out and fencing in Tompkins Square in the 1830s, Davis was figuring out how to shore up the swampy ground under East 10th Street. (He likely didn’t want the homes that would eventually be built here to suffer the fate of the new houses that went up around the Bowery in the 1820s, which soon began sinking into the ground.)

Finally in the 1840s, with the city recovering from the Panic of 1837, the first houses were finished in this much-anticipated new residential district. Number 301, on the far right in the photo above, was completed in 1844, notes the designation report. Within the decade, several others would go up as well, designed in the popular Italianate style as well as Greek Revival.

The first residents of the row houses, however, may not have been the prominent New Yorkers their designers had hoped for. The report explains that in the 1840s and 1850s they were occupied by a ship joiner, a merchant, a butcher, a Rabbi, and a purveyor of artificial flowers. By this time, the city’s elite were moving northward to Union Square and Gramercy Park.

“The elegant row houses of East 10th Street were built at the beginning of a radical demographic shift in New York City that would swell the city’s population and completely transform entire neighborhoods, including the still-developing area around Tompkins Square,” states the report.

Their time as single-family row houses overlooking a peaceful square was ending. The East 10th Street homes were subdivided into separate apartments in the coming decades of the later 19th century; on the eastern end of the street, tenement-style buildings, like the ones above, would be constructed.

“By 1860 the block on East 10th Street facing Tompkins Square was nearly complete, with almost every lot improved with a substantial brick building that survives to this day,” notes the report. One exception: the Tompkins Square Branch of the New York Public Library, an elegant Classical Revival building designed by McKim, Mead, and White and completed in 1904 (below photo, middle).

Through the 20th century, many of the buildings have had facelifts, and demographic changes once again influenced the type of residents living inside them.

East Tenth Street’s development mirrors the development of the neighborhood, and as you walk past these lovely buildings, you can feel that adrenaline rush of potential and possibilities that continues to draw people to the East Village.

[Third image: Hooker’s New Pocket Plan of the City of New York; sixth image: “Tompkins Park, N.Y. City,” Saul Kovner, 1934]

The short life of a 1960s East Village rock venue

March 22, 2021

The unassuming building a 105 Second Avenue has a long history catering to popular entertainment.

In the 1920s, the venue served as a Yiddish Theater at a time when Second Avenue had so many similar theaters, the street was nicknamed the Jewish Rialto. By the 1940s, the space was turned into a movie palace known as the Leow’s Commodore (below in 1940).

And in the 1960s it was transformed once again for an entirely different audience: young rock fans flocking to the recently christened East Village eager to see bands like the Doors, the Allman Brothers, and other stars of the late 1960s music scene.

Named the Fillmore East by concert promoter Bill Graham and opened on March 8, 1968, it was the New York version of his San Francisco concert hall the Fillmore. With Graham at the helm, the place became legendary.

“Graham operated a tight ship, demanding nothing less than excellence from his staff and the artists who inhabited his stage,” wrote Corbin Reiff in a 2016 Rolling Stone article.

“To him, everything was about the fan experience, and he went out of his way to provide the best kind of atmosphere to take in a live performance, from the ornate, hand-rendered posters he printed up to announce the gigs…and even the barrel of free apples he left out for people departing at the end of the night.”

“As a result, the bands and artists who played the Fillmore East, as well as its San Francisco counterpart, typically went the extra mile,” continued Reiff. “For just $3, $4 or $5, you, as a ticketholder, were granted a pass to be taken to someplace truly magical.”

Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd all hit the stage. But it might have been the Doors who gave the most hypnotic performance.

In the audience for one of their shows was future star Patti Smith; Robert Mapplethorpe had worked there and gave her a free pass. She recounted the experience in her powerful memoir about their relationship amid the late 1960s and early 1970s city in Just Kids. While the audience was transfixed by Jim Morrison, she “observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness.”

“He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian,” wrote Smith, who right then realized she could do what Morrison was doing. “When anyone asked how the Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had responded to their concert.”

For a rock venue with such a hallowed reputation, it lasted a very short time—just three years. “At the time, Mr. Graham blamed the greediness of some top rock musicians who he, said would rather play a 20,000‐seat ball like Madison Square Garden (one hour’s work, $50,000) than the 2,600‐seat Fillmore East (about four hours’ work, roughly $20, 000),” stated the New York Times on the club’s closing night, June 29, 1971.

That wasn’t the end of 105 Second Avenue’s life as a music venue. In the 1980s it was resurrected as the dance club The Saint. Today, the ground floor is—what else?—a bank branch.

[Top photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; second image: ultimateclassicrock.com; third image: Yale Joel/LIFE Magazine]

Why “Houston Street” is pronounced that way

March 22, 2021

You can always spot a New York newbie by their pronunciation of wide, bustling Houston Street—as if they were in Texas rather than Manhattan.

But the way New Yorkers pronounce the name of this highway-like crosstown road that serves as a dividing line for many downtown neighborhoods begs the question: Why do we say “house-ton,” and what’s the backstory of this unusual street name, anyway?

It all started in 1788 with Nicholas Bayard III, owner of a 100-acre farm located roughly in today’s SoHo (one boundary of which is today’s Bayard Street).

Bayard was having financial difficulties, so he sold off parcels of his farm and turned them into real estate in the growing young metropolis, according to a 2017 New York Times piece. “The property was converted into 35 whole or partial blocks within seven east-west and eight north-south streets, on a grid pattern,” explained the Times.

Bayard decided to name one of those east-west streets after the new husband of his daughter Mary, William Houstoun (above)—a three-time delegate to the Continental Congress from Georgia. Houstoun’s unusual last name comes from his ancient Scottish lineage, states Encyclopedia of Street Names and Their Origins by Henry Moscow.

The street name, Houstoun, is spelled correctly in the city’s Common Council minutes from 1808, wrote Moscow, as well as on an official map from 1811, the year the grid system was invented. (It’s also spelled right on the 1822 map above).

In the 19th century, the city developed past this former northern boundary street. East Houston Street subsumed now-defunct North Street on the East Side and extended through the West Side (above photo at Varick Street in 1890). At some point, the spelling was corrupted into “Houston.”

The Times proposes a possible reason why the “u” was cut: Gerard Koeppel, author of City on a Grid: How New York Became New York, thought it could have to do with Sam Houston emerging in the public consciousness in the 1840s and 1850s as senator and governor of Texas.

Whatever the reason, the new spelling stuck—with the original late 18th century pronunciation.

[Top Image: Danny Lyon/US National Archives and Records Administration via Wikipedia; Second image: Wikipedia; third image: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.; fifth image: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: MCNY 1971 by George Roos x2010.11.763]

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.