Archive for the ‘Flatiron District’ Category

Faded outlines of an infamous Flatiron love nest

November 16, 2015

Stanford White was one of New York’s great architects. He was also a notorious womanizer known for seducing teenage girls, preferably showgirls.


To facilitate this, the married White kept a secret apartment at 22 West 24th Street, just off Madison Square Park. From the outside, it was plain and unspectacular.

StanfordwhitephotoInside, however, was a seducer’s love nest, complete with mirrored walls, velvet couches, colored lights, a four-poster bed, and of course, a red velvet swing.

It was the same swing he pushed 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit in, not long before he lowered her defenses with champagne and raped her in 1901.

Nesbit wasn’t the only girl he took to 22 West 24th Street. But she was the only one who ended up telling the world about what happened there, after she took the stand during a murder trial that had the entire city’s attention.

Five years after White assaulted her, Nesbit’s new husband, Harry Thaw, took out a pistol and shot and killed White in the rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden.

Thaw was unstable, wildly jealous of White, and obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor.

Evelynesbit1901At Thaw’s trial in 1907, Nesbit recalled the events of the night White raped her and what the inside of his multi-level seduction lair was like.

[As a reader points out below, Nesbit’s take has to be looked at through a gimlet eye. She had her own interests (and reputation) to protect, and White was not around to counter her testimony. But here is her story.]

The first time she visited, she was with a girlfriend; White and another man convinced the two girls to get in the swing, and they pushed them from behind.

“Their toes struck the crisp paper covering of a great Japanese fan swung from the ceiling, ripping the fan to tatters,” wrote the New York Times in an article chronicling the trial.

The second time, with her mother out of town, White invited Nesbit to a party he said he was having at 24th Street. When she arrived, she was the only one there.

EvelynnesbitnytimesWhite “asked her to let him show her his antiques and beautiful things, and disclosed a narrow stairway leading from the studio upward,” stated the Times.

“She followed him to a room in which there was a piano and many objects of art. She thrummed the piano for a moment, then White bade her to go into the next room with him.”

“The room was chintz covered. It was a bedroom, and there was a table and chair beside the bed in it.”

Evelynnesbit22west24thstphoto2007White poured her a glass of champagne and made her drink it, she told the court. Then, “there was the sound of thumping in her head, she said, and the chintz bedroom began to whirl about.”

Next thing she knew, she woke up in the bed surrounded by mirrors. She screamed and went home, and the next day, White “praised her beauty and her youth, told her how he liked girls, and said he would do a great many things for her,” wrote the Times.

After two trials, Thaw got off on an insanity defense. White’s former love nest on 24th Street fell into disrepair and collapsed in 2007 (right). All that remains is its faded outline.

[Bottom photo: Don Hogan Charles/New York Times]

A rainy September evening at Madison Square

September 21, 2015

It’s just after the turn of the century in this enchanting postcard of the Fifth Avenue side of Madison Square Park.


The Flatiron Building is there, so it must be at least 1902. But carriages and drivers still line the street opposite the park, likely waiting for the city’s wealthy and powerful to emerge from the Fifth Avenue Hotel, demolished in 1908.

The postcard itself is postmarked 1910, and the writer has scribbled, “I am loving New York and having a great time.”

A bomb goes off at a Union Square rally in 1908

August 17, 2015

Labor Day parades, rallies in favor of birth control and suffrage—Union Square in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was ground zero for demonstrations that advocated progressive causes and reform.


But only one rally turned deadly, thanks to a police-hating anarchist who brought a crude homemade bomb to the park in March 1908.

UnionsquarebombcrowdSelig Silverstein (also known as Selig Cohen), a Russian-born cloak maker and anarchist living on Van Brunt Street in Brooklyn, was attending the Socialist Conference of the Unemployed.

The gathering attracted 7,000 participants to Union Square. But the city had refused the group’s permit to hold a public demonstration.

So hundreds of policemen were called in to help disperse the crowds, reported the New York Times on March 29.

At about 3 p.m., just as the crowds had mostly been cleared out of the park, Silverstein, standing by the fountain, raised his arm to toss the bomb at a policeman—but instead it exploded in his hands, blowing his face and fingers off and mortally wounding him.


“In a moment all was pandemonium,” wrote the Times, adding that windows a block away rattled and shook, and pedestrians were “thrown to their knees.”

An innocent bystander lay dead, and parkgoers were driven to the surrounding streets by mounted officers.


Cops used their bully clubs on the crowd, and “the fleeing throng started in to sing the ‘Marseillaise’ and jeer at the police.”

UnionSquarebomberCar traffic was stopped, visitors to the theaters that still existed on Union Square stumbled out the exits to find out what had happened. Rumors circulated that dozens of cops had been killed.

Silverstein, a member of the Anarchist Federation of America, ultimately died of his injuries at Bellevue Hospital two weeks later.

Before he did, however, he supposedly proclaimed, “I came to the park to kill the police . . . I hate them,” states New York at War, by Steven H. Jaffe.

[Photos: LOC; Find a Grave]

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.

Sipping cool water from a city fountain in 1900

July 27, 2015

Drinking fountains began showing up in New York City parks in the 1880s, often paid for by wealthy private citizens and supported by temperance groups, reports this Huffington Post article.


Providing cool refreshing water to passersby and park-goers was a wonderful idea. But yikes, look at the communal cups everyone had to drink out of!

This photo dates to about 1900, right about when people were realizing that sharing cups was a good way to spread germs. Pretty soon, the cups were replaced by bubbling, cup-free fountains.

The luxury power center of the Gilded Age city

July 27, 2015

When the white marble Fifth Avenue Hotel was set to open in 1859, it was mocked as “Eno’s Folly,” after the developer who built it.


With the city’s hotel district farther south on Broadway, why would anyone pay to stay on the outskirts of the city’s center, as Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was at the time?

But after its grand opening, the Fifth Avenue Hotel became the city’s premier luxury residence and made Madison Square the focal point of post–Civil War New York.


Among the amenities: rooms with private baths and fireplaces and the first “vertical railway”—aka, elevator—ever installed in a hotel.

Presidents and kings stayed there, attended to by a staff of 400. The city’s richest men, like Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, congregated in the drawing rooms. Local politicians held court.

In 1908 it was demolished; its demise serves as a bookend of the Gilded Age. Today the building occupying this spot houses the Italian dining emporium Eataly.

[Bottom image: the hotel’s reading room, a decidedly all-male place. NYPL]

The man who dove off the Flatiron Building

June 15, 2015

Henri LaMothe was a showman by trade. Born in Chicago, he first made a living dancing the Charleston.


“Then came the Depression, when jobs weren’t so easy to find,” LaMothe said in 1977, “and I started diving into the water for a living.”

LaMothe came up with a signature diving stunt he ended up doing thousands of times around the country: from a height of 40 feet, he’d do his “flying squirrel” dive into a pool filled with four feet of water.

HenrilemothedivemcnyIn 1952, he decided to celebrate his birthday by climbing 40 feet up the Flatiron Building and diving into a 4-foot pool on the sidewalk.

He repeated the birthday stunt for 20 years, decreasing the water in the pool every year. By 1974, at age 70, he was down to about a foot of water, states The New York Times.

How did he not crack open his skull?

“When I’m on the platform I go through yoga, stretching and limbering exercises,” he told a newspaper. “Then I wipe out all thoughts and concentrate on the circle and sense my aim, which is what zen is.”

LaMothe discontinued his yearly Flatiron birthday dive after 1974 but continued diving around the country until his death in 1987.

If a man like LaMothe tried that stunt in today’s New York, his arrest would be all over social media before he had time to dry himself off on 23rd Street!

[Top: New York Daily News; Bottom: Museum of the City of New York]

A tough painter depicts a tender New York

April 27, 2015

George Luks arrived in New York from Philadelphia in 1896.

Passionate and energetic, he was one of many young painters (along with artist friends he met in Philly, like Everett Shinn and William Glackens) whose work focused on the tenderness of the city’s underbelly.

[“The Bread Line”]


“One of the dynamic, young group of American Realists known as the Ashcan School, [Luks] was a tough character who in art and life embraced the gritty side of turn-of-the-century New York,” states the Brooklyn Museum.

Macho and combative, he first worked as an illustrator at the New York World, honing his skills outside of his newspaper job by painting peddlers, poor older women, street kids, and other down and out New Yorkers—as well as impressionist-like scenes of the city at play and at street markets.

[“Madison Square,” 1915]


In 1908, he’d gained notoriety as a member of the Eight, a group of social realist painters whose dark, gripping work attracted controversy.

Artistic styles change fast, and soon, Luks’ urban realism was out of fashion.

“Ironically perhaps, by the time Luks exhibited at the Armory Show in 1913, his formerly radical subject matter and style were overshadowed by the developing abstract movement,” states one gallery site.


[“Spring Morning in New York,” 1922]

220px-George_Luks_I“Luks would teach at the Art Students League in New York from 1920 to 1924 and go on to establish the George Luks School of Painting in New York,” on East 22nd Street.

His death in 1933, at age 66, was characteristically dramatic. On October 29, Luks (at left) was found in the early morning hours slumped in a doorway, beaten to death after a barroom brawl.

Step into the remains of a Gilded Age hotel

April 20, 2015

Hollandhouse“Every window in the Holland House, at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, was glowing with light last night when the doors were opened to hundreds of visitors bidden to see the beauties of the new hostelry,” wrote the New York Times in a gushing review of the newest kid on a luxury block on December 6, 1891.

In a Gilded Age city resplendent with so many sumptuous hotels, the Holland House quickly became the place to live, dine, and enjoy a stretch of Fifth Avenue lined with the mansions of wealthy New Yorkers.

And former mansions, as New York’s richest residents were steadily relocating their residences uptown.


“The Holland House presents many novelties—and extremely attractive ones too . . .” stated the Times.

“In the main hall, leading from the Fifth Avenue entrance, the walls and the carved staircase are of Sienna marble.”

Hollandhousestaircase“There are 350 guest rooms in the hotel, and from the bridal suites down are all beautifully furnished and decorated,” wrote the Times.

The writer of the article also noted the novel wine cellar, the banquet and drawing rooms, the restaurant, and the staff of 180 employees.

Holland House offered sumptuous accommodations through the teens, hosting president Taft (and an army of Secret Service guards) in 1912.

HollandhouseornamentationBut the hotel was eclipsed not long after it opened when the Waldorf and the Astoria Hotels went up a few blocks north on 34th Street.

In 1897, the two joined forces to become the city’s premier hotel, turning the area into kind of a luxury hotel row which played host to the most exclusive balls and parties, like the legendary Bradley Martin Ball.

Today, unlike the original Waldorf-Astoria, Holland House still stands.

Hollandhouse2015Its facade is remarkably unchanged, and mysteriously there is a marble staircase and ornamental motifs in marble visible in the lobby.

The building manager says they are originals.

If so, they’re some of the last remnants of Gilded Age glamour on this once exclusive stretch of Fifth Avenue.

Enchanting rainy evenings in the Gilded Age city

March 23, 2015

Impressionist painter Charles Constantin Hoffbauer, born in 1875, must have loved the rain.


He painted many scenes of streetlights and roadways and cable cars and black-clad people slick with rain, some depicting his native Paris but many of New York, where he arrived just before 1910.

His New York is an evening or nighttime city on the move, one of melancholy skies illuminated by billboards and store windows.


The exact location of each scene isn’t always clear, but the first image could be close to Times Square, with the Times building in the back.

Next up is the very recognizable New York Public Library main building, an El station off in the distance.


The third might be Madison Square Park’s Met Life Tower, flanked by the second version of Madison Square Garden in dark shadows.

More images of a stormy, moody city can be found here.


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