Archive for the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Category

Faded outlines of long-gone Manhattan buildings

January 12, 2015

Ghostbuildingwest30sSigns for long-departed stores, retaining walls no longer in use, trolley tracks peeking out from asphalt streets: New York’s past leaves its imprint everywhere.

The sides of buildings give us glimpses of the city’s history too. The faded outlines of tenements and other buildings long gone often remain, at least until new construction comes along and obscures them again.

On a lonely block in the far West 30s is this classic city walkup, with a roof on a slant–a modest place to make a home in what was once a modest neighborhood.


Hebrew Union College put up this building in 1979, at Mercer and West 4th Streets, almost covering the two chimneys from the building that previously occupied the spot. A tenement perhaps?


Considering the pace of construction in a luxury-building crazed New York, these remains of a 43rd Street walkup might already be sealed out of view.


Same with this former home—maybe a brownstone?—on 86th Street, on a stately block near Fifth Avenue.


Also in the far West 30s near the Javits Center is this outline of a humble tenement on the side of another humble tenement, the people who once lived and worked there and their stories lost to the ages.

More faded building outlines—dormer windows too!—can be seen here.

A serial killer stalks Times Square in the 1970s

October 6, 2014

Timessquare1984mcnyfeiningerThe first two women were found on separate twin beds in a hotel room in flames in December 1979.

A firefighter at the scene, inside the then-seedy Travel Inn at 515 West 42nd Street, grabbed one of the women and brought her outside to a hallway. He was about to administer CPR before realizing she had no head or hands.

Neither did the other woman. Police determined that both had been killed, their bodies set on fire with lighter fluid, by a man who had arrived at the hotel using a fake name and phony New Jersey address.

TravelinnThen in May 1980, another woman’s body was found in a room at the low-rent Seville Hotel on East 29th Street after a fire had been set there.

The body was mutilated but mostly intact, and police identified her as a 25-year-old prostitute (one of the women from the Travel Inn had been as well, while the other was never officially ID’d).

CarltonhotelwikiThe similarities between the two crime scenes led law enforcement to dub the killer the “Times Square Ripper.”

The Ripper targeted vulnerable sex workers in an area so sleazy, a stretch of it was nicknamed “The Minnesota Strip” for all the teenage runaways from Middle America who ended up there.

It wasn’t long before police caught the Times Square Ripper. He was nabbed by New Jersey police later that month in a North Jersey motel, where he had tortured a teenage runaway.

After matching his fingerprints, comparing handwriting samples to his signature on the motel registry, and finding a “trophy room” in his home of items belonging to the dead women, the police had their man.

RichardcottinghamRichard Cottingham (left) was a mid-30s computer programmer who worked in Manhattan and lived in New Jersey with his family.

By all accounts a clean-cut guy, he was convicted of the murders of five women and sentenced to life in a New Jersey prison.

[Top photo: by Andreas Feininger, 1984; middle photo: the Travel Inn today; third photo: The Seville Hotel today, renamed the Carlton; fourth photo: Richard Cottingham]

Ghostly reminders of New York’s old buildings

June 12, 2014

Every building in New York has a story—even the ones that no longer exist, except as phantom remnants of an older, forgotten city.


I’m drawn to the faded outline of this little walkup in Chelsea. Once pressed against the side of a grand turn of the century warehouse or department store, it hung on for years, crooked and stooped.


I don’t know when this building, a perfect square with a tall chimney on East 31st Street, met the bulldozer. But I love that it refuses to be erased from the block.


This Allen Street tenement reveals the remains of maybe three separate smaller structures, probably taken down at different times.


How many people once lived and worked in this squat building in the West 40s, and what did they see when they looked out their windows? I wonder if they would recognize the cityscape of today.


On the side of a brownstone in the East 20s are at least two building impressions—two layers of another New York.

Check out more phantom buildings and their remains here.

The ghosts that haunt a Hell’s Kitchen tavern

September 26, 2013

Landmarktavern2When the Landmark Tavern opened in 1868 at 11th Avenue and 46th Street, the Hudson River was just one block over (no 12th Avenue in those days).

The modest saloon catered to hungry and thirsty dockworkers and merchant seaman in what used to be a mostly Irish immigrant neighborhood.

Through the 1980s it was a favorite of the Westies, a violent Irish gang.

Now, it’s a hangout for locals and tourists. And ghosts, apparently. Rumor has it that three in particular rattle around the old mahogany bar and the upstairs rooms.

Landmarktavern1936One is the spirit of George Raft, “the Hollywood tough guy who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen,” wrote John Strausbaugh in a wonderful 2007 New York Times article.

“His ghost is said to haunt the bar, along with that of a Confederate Civil War veteran who, knifed in a fight, staggered up to the second floor to die in a bathtub that’s still there.”

A 19th century child haunts the Landmark as well. “The ghost of an Irish immigrant girl who died in her bed wanders the third floor,” wrote Strausbaugh.

A 2000 writeup in New York magazine adds even more detail: that the little girl came to New York during the potato famine and died of cholera.

The Landmark isn’t the only old-school tavern haunted by dead 19th century New Yorkers. A sailor named Mickey supposedly knocks around this Soho saloon.

[Bottom photo: Landmark Tavern in 1936, from the NYPL Digital Gallery]

Madison Square Garden moves to Eighth Avenue

March 4, 2013

This 1930ish postcard shows what was then the “new” Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue and 49th Street.

It’s the third incarnation of New York’s iconic arena, and the first one located no where near Madison Square.


It moved here in 1925, and for the next four decades hosted boxing matches, circuses, rodeos, Billy Graham revivals, ice shows, and of course the Rangers and the Knicks.

Was this a good place to watch a game? It looks awfully cramped and crowded from outside.

In 1968 the Garden moved again, this time to its current home at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. In its place we have the office tower Worldwide Plaza, which looks strangely similar to the old MSG.

Some great old photos of the Garden and its very cool marquee can be found at Wired New York.

Sleet and snowy stoops on a West Side street

February 4, 2013

Australian-born Martin Lewis’ “Stoops in the Snow” dates to 1930—and it perfectly balances the still beauty of a New York snowfall with the miserable struggle that ensues while trying to navigate it.

This scene could depict almost any residential New York block, with its uniform brownstone steps and elevated train platform in the distance.


Luckily Lewis’ original title for the etching, “Stoops in the Snow, West 40s,” narrows down the neighborhood for us.

Lewis tends to keep the locations of his etchings vague, as he did with this piece depicting a busy workday morning somewhere in the city.

Frozen-in-time stores from 1970s Hell’s Kitchen

December 6, 2012

Back in August, an Ephemeral reader emailed me some photos he had taken in the early 1970s on Ninth Avenue from the West 30s to the 50s as part of a college sociology class.

Hellskitchen1970sa&pI posted four of these wonderful moments of a vanished time: scenes of unglamorous shoppers and neighborhood folks going about their day.

These photos are from the same reader. They focus less on people and more on the storefronts fading fast or gone forever, a small A&P food market (they used to be all over Manhattan) and a no-name barbershop that could never make it today because it has no gimmick and capitalizes on no trend.

[Wait, update: According to readers, the barber shop is still there. A different facade, but they’re still cutting hair!]


If you look at the stores on either side, you can see that one is a Borden’s Ice Cream shop, the other a meat market.

I love the little kid on skates playing hockey in the street. No helmet!

The cross streets carved into tenement corners

December 3, 2012

Hiding in plain sight in the city’s tenement districts are the names of streets that intersect at certain corners.


Chiseled into a cement plate, they’re the 19th and early 20th century solution to figuring out where you were a 100 or so years before the GPS on your phone could do it for you.


Not always in the best condition, like this East Harlem example above, these corner carvings are charming and fun to come across.


The best neighborhoods to find them: the Lower East Side, East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, East Harlem, and the brownstone enclaves of Brooklyn.


Sometimes you only find one street name—Like Mott Street here at Broome Street, with a tiny T that looks like it was added by hand!

A 1959 teenage gang murder rocks the city

September 10, 2012

It all seems quaint now, but violent teenage street gangs were a new phenomenon to 1950s New Yorkers.

Among the most notorious of the estimated 150 gangs were the Mau Maus, Bishops, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings.

They terrified residents, who felt threatened by the rumbles and sporadic killings that took place in tightly packed postwar neighborhoods.

But no gang-related murder got as much newspaper ink as that of the Capeman—aka Salvador Agron, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican kid who had joined an Upper West Side gang called the Vampires.

On August 29, 1959, Agron and his crew met at midnight at May Matthews playground on 45th Street off of Ninth Avenue.

They were looking to fight members of the Norsemen, a mostly white gang. Instead they came across some local teenagers.

Mistaking them for gang members, Agron, dressed in a black satin cape, stabbed two 16-year-olds each in the heart. They staggered to nearby doorways before dying (right).

Part of the media uproar had to do with Agron’s dismissive, cocky attitude toward the crime.

Anti–Puerto Rican sentiment among city residents didn’t help either.

In 1960, he got the electric chair, but then had his sentence commuted in 1962.

Released from prison in 1979 (after escaping two years earlier), he became a youth counselor and died in 1986 at age 42 from pneumonia.

Paul Simon turned Agron’s life story into a Broadway musical in 1998—but it closed to poor reviews a few months after opening.

“Moments of a vanished time” in Hell’s Kitchen

August 23, 2012

Inspired by the 1972 Helen Levitt photo “Kids With Laundry” that was posted here last week, Ephemeral reader Paul Mones sent me these snapshots he took in the early spring of 1973.

Born in the Bronx, Mones was a college student then; the photos were part of an essay for an urban sociology class he took at SUNY Buffalo.

They chronicle some seemingly ordinary street scenes from 33rd Street to 50th Street or so: the merchants, shoppers, pedestrians, and storefronts of a typical stretch of Manhattan in the early 1970s.

I imagine that Mones didn’t think he captured anything remarkable when he developed the film. But he did: They’re lovely, unposed glimpses into little moments of a vanished time, as he put it.

Check out the hand-painted bar signage, pre-Korean deli vegetable dealer, metal garbage can, and messy bargain bins outside a discount store that’s now probably the home of a fusion restaurant or upscale cocktail lounge.

And a shoeshine stand/umbrella repair place! So many relics of another era.

[All photos copyright Paul Mones]


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