Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

New York mourns Lincoln, the martyr president

April 21, 2014

News of President Lincoln’s assassination made it to New York City on the morning of April 15. A city that for four years had been divided in its loyalty to the President was now awash in gloom.

Lincolncityhallmourning

“All Broadway is black with mourning—the facades of the houses are festooned with black—great flags with wide and heavy fringes of dead black give a pensive effect. . . ” wrote Walt Whitman.

LincolnlynginstateWhile Lincoln’s body remained in Washington, the grieving continued. “An Easter Sunday unlike any I have seen,” wrote lawyer George Templeton Strong in his diary.

“Nearly every building in Broadway and in all the side streets, as far as one could see, festooned lavishly with black and white muslin. Columns swathed in the same material.”

“Rosettes pinned to window curtains. Flags at half mast and tied up with crape. I hear that even in second and third class quarters, people who could afford to do no more have generally displayed at least a little twenty-five cent flag with a little scrap of crape.”

Nine days after his death, Lincoln’s corpse arrived in New York, one of many stops his funeral train would make before reaching Illinois, where the “martyr president” would be buried.

Lincolnfuneralunionsquare

A ferry brought the funeral rail car from Jersey City to downtown New York. An enormous procession viewed by thousands wound its way from the ferry landing at Desbrosses Street to City Hall, where the open casket would lie in state for 24 hours.

An estimated 120,000 New Yorkers waited to pay their respects. “Thousands passed reverently before the remains throughout the day and night, and thousands more were turned away, unable to gain admittance,” wrote The New York Times.

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By one o’clock the next day, April 25, a second procession of 50,000, with thousands more watching from the sidewalks and building windows (including a young Teddy Roosevelt, seen here), accompanied the funeral hearse up Broadway to Union Square.

Lincolnunionsquare2

The procession continued to a train depot at 30th Street and Tenth Avenue. There, Lincoln’s body was loaded onto a train to continue its journey to Illinois. New York was left to deal with its grief.

Waiting for word about the Titanic survivors

April 7, 2014

On the morning of April 15, 1912, at least one New York newspaper carried the grim announcement: the Titanic had sunk. What wasn’t clear for several days, though, was how great the loss of life was.

Whitestarlineofficestitanic

So anxious New Yorkers with friends and relatives aboard the unsinkable ship went down to the Bowling Green Offices Building at 9 Broadway, which housed the headquarters of the White Star Line.

Whitestarlineofficebowlinggreen

A crowd outside the building soon grew, spilling over onto the sidewalk and then across Bowling Green. At first, a White Star spokesman assured everyone that the ship was safe.

Whitestarlineofficestoday

Then wireless reports began to trickle in. But only when the Carpathia docked on the rainy night of April 18 did people really learn whether their loved ones were safe or if they had gone down with the ship.

The White Star Line is long gone, but their former headquarters remains—now home to a Subway.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.

Acepumpsign

Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.

20thcenturygaragesign

I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?

Jeromefloristsign

Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.

Capitalelectronicssign

Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.

Vernonavepharmacysign

Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.

New York’s high-school student strike of 1950

March 24, 2014

StudentstrikebrooklynpubliclibraryIt all started with a proposed teacher pay raise.

In 1950, New York City high school teachers called on Mayor William O’Dwyer to increase their 2-5K yearly salaries by $600.

O’Dwyer balked, offering no more than $200. In response, teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities. So O’Dwyer’s administration suspended sport teams, clubs, and other school groups.

With their extracurriculars gone, students were angry.

To protest O’Dwyer, they staged a student strike over three days in late April, ditching their morning classes or not showing up at all.

SchoolstrikeheadlineInstead, thousands of high-school kids (mostly from Brooklyn) marched to City Hall in Lower Manhattan, with the number of strikers swelling on the third day.

“Carrying banners on which their pro-teacher sentiments were scrawled in lipstick, they held up subway trains, wrecked automobiles, and dared police to break them up and were prevented only by hasty police action from forcing their way into the office of Mayor O’Dwyer, who had refused to discuss higher salaries,” wrote Life on May 8.

Studentstrikelifemagazine

Of the strikers, The New York Times reported, “The vast majority of the youngsters were laughing and good-natured, and moved when they were asked. A few tried to stand their ground and spoke sharply to the police about ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s rights.’”

Studentstrikelifemagazine2By that third afternoon, the police had cleared out the students, and most returned to class the next morning.

School officials claimed the strikes were organized by “subversive elements,” according to Life. The teachers insisted they had nothing to do with it and denounced the striking students.

Was it worth it? Well, it took another 18 months for the city and the teachers to reach a pay compromise, and extracurriculars didn’t resume until September 1951, according to an excellent piece on the strike from Brooklynology.

[Top photo: Brooklynology/Brooklyn Public Library; Life magazine]

Why are these Dutch-style houses on 37th Street?

March 22, 2014

West 37th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is a gritty, mostly sunless stretch of Manhattan in the heart of what’s left of the old Garment District.

Dutchstylehouse37thstreet

So what in the world are these two houses that look like they belong in Amsterdam doing sandwiched between tall loft buildings and rickety old walkups?

Dutchstylehouse37thstreet2

The top one, at 18 West 37th Street, is actually quite charming—a stepped gabled gem masked by a tacky storefront.

Dutchhouseswallstreet1746The second one closer to Sixth Avenue looks like a poor man’s version of the first.

No original Dutch buildings from the 17th century survive in New York. But this 1880s sketch gives an idea of the kind of Amsterdam-like architecture that existed on Wall Street centuries ago.

These two replicas on 37th Street must be leftovers from a faddish 1890s revival of Dutch-style architecture.

The world’s tallest building for one year only

March 17, 2014

Opened in 1908, the slender, elegant Singer Tower, headquarters of the sewing machine company, rose more than 40 stories over Broadway and Liberty Street.

A marvel in its day, it spent one year as the tallest building in the world, only to be usurped by the Metropolitan Life Tower on 23rd Street in 1909.

Singertowerpostcard

Tourists paid 50 cents to visit its 40th floor observation deck. It was prominently featured in postcards, like this one above.

SingertowerLOCSixty years later, it met the wrecking ball.

“High above the intersection of Broadway and Liberty Street yesterday, a demolition torch blazed against the hazy sky as a steelworker cut into a beam on the tallest building ever to be demolished,” reported The New York Times on March 27, 1968.

“Yesterday the lobby looked as if a bomb had hit it. The Italian-marble surfacing and the bronze medallions with the Singer monogram were stripped from many columns and were being offered for sale.

“Holes pocked the elaborately sculptured pendentives that support the series of domes forming the ceiling. Plaster flaked onto a floor strewn with wood, shattered brick and discarded coffee cups.”

A downtown street once called “Newspaper Row”

February 27, 2014

In the late 19th century—before media companies concentrated in Midtown and the Chelsea/Flatiron area—the short stretch of Park Row next to City Hall was New York’s media neighborhood, dubbed Newspaper Row.

Newspaperrow

Newspaper Row was home to major dailies such as the domed New York World, the New York Tribune, and the Sun (the little building between the World and the Tribune). The New York Times‘ headquarters stood on the other side of the Tribune.

Why Park Row? To be near the action at City Hall and close to NYPD Headquarters and the courts.

As the city marched northward, so did the newspaper headquarters: to new enclaves named for them, like Herald Square and Times Square.

A 19th century painter’s moody, snowy New York

February 27, 2014

His impressionist paintings, veiled in twilight-like shades of blue and gray, reveal city’s beauty and enchantment.

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls him “the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century.”

Childehassamwinterdaybrooklynbridge

["Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge"]

But you may never have heard of Frederick Childe Hassam—a popular and prolific painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work is still acclaimed, but perhaps not to the degree it deserves.

Childehassamnewyorkstreet1902

["New York Street," 1902]

Born to a well-off family in Boston, Hassam worked as an illustrator and then began exhibiting his paintings, earning accolades for his lovely cityscapes of Boston and Paris.

After moving to New York in 1889, he fell in love with the city. It certainly shows. His depictions of the Gilded Age city may be his most striking, illuminating city streets, parks, and people with radiant strokes of color and light.

Childehassamcalvarychurchinthesnow

["Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square"]

Hassam was not without critics. Some admonished him for not showing the struggle and hardship brought on by industrialization, while others questioned his so-called pedestrian subject matter.

“The man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Hassam said in 1892.

Childehassamfifthaveinwinter1892

“Fifth Avenue in Winter,” above, was reportedly one of his favorites. It was painted from the studio space he rented on Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

Childehassamsnowstormmadsq1902

["Snowstorm, Madison Square," 1890]

Hassam’s moody, magical scenes of New York covered by snow show us a city very similar to the wintry New York of today.

Cabs wait for passengers, confident, fashionable young women stroll unescorted, and weary pedestrians in black hats and lace-up boots trudge through the snow on their way to and from Brooklyn.

Hassam painted wonderful scenes of rainy day New York too, like this one near Madison Square.

The noisy, gritty Bowery north of Grand Street

February 20, 2014

Imagine the constant, ear-splitting roar of the Third Avenue elevated trains, the grimy shadows cast by steel tracks, the sounds of horse hoofs, wagon wheels, and streetcars traveling up and down the street.

Bowerypostcard

It’s the legendary turn-of-the-century Bowery, the seedy main drag memorialized in the refrain of the 1891 hit “The Bowery”:

“They say such things
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry!
The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there any more!”

A book of “tenement tales” on the city’s poor

February 6, 2014

When I first came across this vintage ad (or part of a cover?) for J.W. Sullivan’s 1895 book Tenement Tales of New York, I wasn’t sure if it was serious-minded fiction or pulpy stories filled with stereotypes and lurid drama.

Apparently it’s the former—a slim volume chronicling with sensitivity the lives of street kids, factory girls, and immigrant laborers.

Tenementtales

James W. Sullivan was a journalist and union organizer active in the growing labor movement of the late 19th century.

His Tenement Tales, one of many books Sullivan wrote about the city’s slum dwellers, “constitute a landmark literary achievement,” stated a chapter in The Irish Voice in America, edited by Charles Fanning.

Amazingly, Tenement Tales of New York is a free download available here. (Its “companion volume, 1895′s Slum Stories of London, is online too.)

[Ad: NYPL Digital Collection]


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