Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

The men on the riverfront overshadowed by the modern city

January 17, 2022

Martin Lewis made this etching, “From the River Front,” in 1916. What a turning point in New York City history: skyscrapers have started going up in Lower Manhattan, changing the scale and feel of the streets beside the East River.

But on Belgian-block South Street, the low-rise buildings don’t overshadow the men working and congregating there. This horse-powered part of Manhattan is doing business as it always has. Meanwhile, the 20th century looms.

Here’s more of Martin Lewis’ enchanting and haunting etchings of New York’s pockets and corners.

[Source: Invaluable]

The 19th century remains of a fabled Grand Street department store

December 13, 2021

Standing across the street at Grand and Orchard, you just know this unusual building with the black cornice and curvy corner windows has a backstory. Though it’s a little rundown and has a strange pink paint job, this was once the home of a mighty 19th century department store known as Ridley’s.

Ridley’s story begins in the mid-1800s. Decades before Ladies Mile became Gilded Age New York’s premier shopping district, browsing and buying fashionable goods meant going to Grand Street, which was lined with fine shops and dry goods emporiums east of Broadway in the antebellum city.

The best known of these dry goods emporiums and a rival to neighbor Lord & Taylor (located on Broadway and Grand) was Ridley’s.

Founded by English-born Edward A. Ridley as a small millenary store at 311 Grand Street in 1848, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) report, Ridley’s expanded by buying many of the former residential buildings on the block. Ridley then built a new mansard-roof structure at the corner of Grand and Allen Streets accessible to street car lines and the ferry to Grand Street in Brooklyn.

In the 1880s, Grand Street was still a shopping district but no longer elite. Lord & Taylor had already relocated uptown to a prime Ladies Mile site at Broadway and 20th Street. But Ridley’s sons, who had taken over the business, commissioned a new building at the corner of Grand and Orchard Streets.

Five stories tall with a cast-iron facade, the new Ridley’s opened in 1886. The space featured a “curved, three-bay pavilion that may have been originally crowned by a squat dome, or a flagpole,” the LPC report stated.

Inside, 52 “branches of trade” sold everything from clothes to furniture to toys and employed approximately 2,500 people. Stables behind the store “provided parking for horses and carriages,” according to The Curious Shoppers Guide to New York City, by Pamela Keach.

The amazing thing is, the new block-long Ridley’s would only occupy the space for 15 years. In 1901, Ridley’s went out of business, according to an Evening World article that year—partly a victim of its increasingly unappealing location on the crowded Lower East Side.

After Ridley’s departed, the space was chopped up into smaller retail outlets. Above is the building in 1939-1941 with a housewares store on the ground floor. Today, a men’s clothing store exists there.

[Second image: LPC; third image: MCNY 261260; fourth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue

December 13, 2021

If you’ve ever passed the Sherman monument at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park, then you’ve seen her likeness before—she’s the Greek goddess Victory, with wings and sandals, leading General Sherman astride his horse to Civil War triumph.

But who was the real-life woman who lent her image to this Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture, which has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1903?

Researchers, including her own descendants, have pieced together some of her story as a sought-after model in Gilded Age New York, and it holds some surprises.

With Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor of the Sherman monument, in an 1897 sketch by Anders Zorn

She was born Harriette Eugenia Dickerson in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873. “Research, including findings by her cousin Amir Bey, shows that before the Civil War the government designated Anderson’s family ‘free colored persons’; they owned land and earned wages,” stated the New York Times in August 2021.

“But the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South and financial hardship eventually drove Anderson and many of her relatives northward,” the Times continued.

She and her mother moved to New York, probably the 1890s. They settled into a “sepia-colored brick building on Amsterdam Avenue at Ninety-Fourth Street,” wrote Eve M. Kahn in an October 2021 article for The Magazine Antiques. (Below, Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910)

Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910, a block from where Anderson lived in the 1890s

Going by the name Hettie Anderson, she began working as a seamstress “and occasionally as a store clerk, while modeling and likely studying at the then-new Art Students’ League on West Fifty-Seventh Street,” stated Kahn.

Anderson was soon in demand as an artist’s model, and she was lauded for her looks. “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H.E. Anderson,” wrote the New York Commercial in 1896, referring to the artist model in the George du Maurier novel. “She is a charming young woman, whose beauty of form and face make her in constant demand among artists.”

Those artists included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John La Farge. “Miss Anderson’s coloring is quite as exquisite as her shapeliness,” the Commercial stated. “She is richly brunette in type, with creamy skin, crisp curling hair, and warm brown eyes.”

Whether the artists who she posed for knew she was African American is unclear. “New York census takers listed her as ‘white,’ wrote Kahn. “But she definitely did not ‘pass’ or ‘cross the line’—that is, she did not hide her ethnicity by cutting off family members.”

After the turn of the century, she continued modeling, and Saint-Gaudens used her likeness on $20 coins and also gave her the portrait bust he used when working on the Sherman monument.

“Anderson’s likeness can be seen in French’s sculptures at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; in cemeteries in northern New Jersey and Concord, Mass.; and in entryways to the St. Louis Art Museum and Boston Public Library,” wrote the Times.

She might also be the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “Civic Fame,” on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building (above)—though Audrey Munson, another top model of the era, is often credited for that 1914 sculpture.

In the 1910s, modeling jobs became harder to come by. French and sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman helped her find work as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote Kahn, and by the 1920s, her health was failing.

Daniel Chester French’s “Spirit of Life,” in Saratoga Springs, based on Anderson

According to [her brother] Charles’s granddaughters, she suffered a breakdown after seeing a lover killed in traffic on Amsterdam Avenue,” stated Kahn. “Every evening, she would inexplicably open and shut a window, shouting the name of a cousin, Sarah ‘Sallie’ Wallace Arnett, a church leader who likely disapproved of modeling careers.”

Like many models then and now, her name was mostly forgotten as the decades went on. She died in 1938, and “her death certificate listed ‘model’ as her profession,” wrote Kahn, adding that she and her mother are buried in her hometown of Columbia.

For any readers interested in learning more about Hettie Anderson, Landmark West! is hosting a Zoom event featuring author and scholar Eve Kahn. The event is on December 15 from 6-7 p.m., and Ephemeral readers can get a complementary ticket by contacting ephemeralnewyork @ gmail or via DM.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth, fifth, and sixth images: Wikipedia]

The honorific street name near City Hall that commemorates a plague

November 29, 2021

Unless you know where to look, it’s hard to find. But on the east side of City Hall Park is a spot that honors people living with a disease considered a plague when it emerged in the early 1980s.

“People With A.I.D.S Plaza,” as the street sign reads, spans Park Row between Beekman and Spruce Streets, near the approach for the Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s technically an honorific street or a co-named street; both terms are used to described streets that have an official name but also a second one to commemorate a person or event. New York has over a thousand of these, such as “Rivera Avenue” for Mariano Rivera in front of Yankee Stadium, or the 3-block stretch of Worth Street co-named “Avenue of the Strongest” to honor city sanitation workers.

Clues about the backstory of People With A.I.D.S. Plaza aren’t easy to come by. The street may have been co-named in 1997, according to the Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition, but the wording isn’t clear. It’s not on a list of honorific street names compiled by a researcher named Gilbert Tauber.

Why City Hall? Possibly to mark the location where AIDS activists and allies held protests—like this one in 1989 organized by ACT UP, with more than 3,000 people protesting Mayor Koch’s handling of the disease.

Since People With A.I.D.S. Plaza was added to the map, New York has created more prominent memorials to the thousands of city residents living with AIDS or HIV, or who have died of the virus.

The New York City AIDS Memorial, dedicated in 2016 (above), is a pyramid-like steel sculpture at St. Vincent’s Triangle on Seventh Avenue and West 11th Street. Now the site of a small park, St. Vincent’s Triangle is across the street from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital—which in 1984 established the first AIDS ward in New York City, according to NYC Parks.

An earlier AIDS memorial, unveiled in 2008, is in Hudson River Park near Bank Street.

[Third photo: NYC Parks]

Life and humanity on the “wonderful roofs” of John Sloan’s New York

November 28, 2021

If you’re familiar with John Sloan’s Lower Manhattan paintings and illustrations from the first half of the 20th century, then you’ve probably noticed a running theme among them: tenement rooftops.

“Rain Rooftops West Fourth Street,” 1913

Like other Ashcan and social realist artists of his era, Sloan was captivated by what he saw on these roofs—the people he surreptitiously watched; their mundane activities; their delight, despair, and sensuality; and the exquisite vantage points roofs offered of a city on the rise.

“Sunday Paper on the Roof,” 1918

“These wonderful roofs of New York City bring me all humanity,” Sloan said in 1919, about 15 years after he and his wife left his native Philadelphia and relocated first to Chelsea and then to Greenwich Village, according to the Hyde Collection, where an exhibit of Sloan’s roof paintings ran in 2019. “It is all the world.”

“Roof Chats,” 1944-1950

“Work, play, love, sorrow, vanity, the schoolgirl, the old mother, the thief, the truant, the harlot,” Sloan stated, per an article in The Magazine Antiques. “I see them all down there without disguise.”

“Pigeons,” 1910

His rooftop paintings and illustrations often depicted the city during summer, when New Yorkers went to their roofs to escape the stifling heat in tenement houses—socializing, taking pleasure in romance and love, and on the hottest days dragging up mattresses to sleep.

“I have always liked to watch the people in the summer, especially the way they live on the roofs,” the artist said, according to Reynolda House. “Coming to New York and finding a place to live where I could observe the backyards and rooftops behind our attic studio—it was a new and exciting experience.”

“Red Kimono on the Roof,” 1912

Rooftops were something of a stage for Sloan. From his seat in his Greenwich Village studio on the 11th floor of a building at Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street, Sloan could watch the theater of the city: a woman hanging her laundry, another reading the Sunday paper, a man training pigeons on top of a tenement and a rapt boy watching, dreaming.

Sloan described his 1912 painting, “Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” as “another of the human comedies which were regularly staged for my enjoyment by the humble roof-top players of Cornelia Street,” states the caption to this painting at the Addison Gallery of American Art.

“Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” 1912

Of course, roofs also meant freedom. In the crowded, crumbling pockets of Lower Manhattan filled with the poor and working class New Yorkers who captured Sloan’s imagination, roofs conveyed a sense of “escape from the suffocating confines of New York tenement living,” wrote the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“Sunbathers on the Roof,” 1941

In the early 20th century, many progressive social reformers preferred to see these roof-dwelling New Yorkers in newly created parks and beaches, which were safer and less private.

But “Sloan embraced what he called ‘the roof life of the Metropolis’—as he did its street life—as a means to capture the human and aesthetic qualities of the urban everyday, a defining commitment of the Ashcan School,” wrote Nick Yablon in American Art in 2011.

Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at Washington Market in the 1870s

November 22, 2021

“Washington Market, New York, Thanksgiving Time” is the straightforward name of this hand colored wood engraving. Drawn by French artist Jules Tavernier, the richly detailed image ran in Harper’s Weekly in 1872.

What does Tavernier’s image tell us? Basically, food shopping at Thanksgiving time was just as crowded and harried in the 1870s as it is today.

Instead of visiting Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, New Yorkers could head to the shoddy wood stalls and wagons at the massive old Washington Market, in today’s Tribeca—where produce sellers hawked their goods from 1812 until the 1960s, when it gave way to redevelopment.

[Image: Philographikon.com]

What life was like with the elevated train roaring outside your window

November 15, 2021

“The elevated railroad, perpetually ‘tearing along’ on its stilted, aerial highway, was ‘an ever-active volcano over the heads of inoffensive citizens,” wrote one Australian visitor who came to New York in 1888.

38 Greenwich Street in 1914

That description gives us an idea of the feel of Gotham in the late 19th century, when steam-powered (later electric) elevated trains carried by trestles and steel tracks ran overhead on Ninth, Sixth, Third, and Second Avenues.

The upside to the elevated was obvious: For a nickel (or a dime during off hours), people could travel up and down Manhattan much more quickly than by horse-drawn streetcar of carriage. New tenements, row houses, and entertainment venues popped up uptown, slowly emptying the lower city and giving people more breathing room.

Bronx, undated

The downside? Dirt and din. The trains and tracks cast shadows along busy avenues, raining down dust and debris on pedestrians. (No wonder Gilded Age residents who could afford to changed their clothes multiple times a day!) And then there was the deafening noise every time a train chugged above your ears.

Now as unpleasant as the elevated trains could be in general, imagine having the tracks at eye level to your living quarters. Life with a train roaring by at all hours of the night was reality for thousands of New Yorkers, particularly downtown on slender streets designed for horsecars, not trestles.

Allen Street north of Canal Street, 1931

“The effect of the elevated—the ‘L’ as New Yorkers generally call it—is to my mind anything but beautiful,” wrote an English traveler named Walter G. Marshall, who visited New York City 1878 and 1879.

“As you sit in a car on the ‘L’ and are being whirled along, you can put your head out of the window and salute a friend who is walking on the street pavement below. In some places, where the streets are narrow, the railway is built right over the ‘sidewalks’…close up against the walls of the houses.”

Second Avenue and 34th Street, 1880s

Maybe these unfortunate New Yorkers lived in a tenement before the trains came along, and they couldn’t find alternative housing after the elevated was built beside their building. Or perhaps in the crowded city teeming with newcomers at the time, a flat next to a train was the best they could find with what little they had to spend.

Wrote Marshall: “The 19 hours and more of incessant rumbling day and night from the passing trains; the blocking out of a sufficiency of light from the rooms of houses, close up to which the lines are built; the full, close view passengers on the cars can have into rooms on the second and third floors; the frequent squirting of oil from the engines, sometimes even finding its way into the private rooms of a dwelling-house, when the windows are left open—all these are objections that have been reasonably urged by unfortunate occupants of houses who comfort has been so unjustly molested….”

Allen Street, 1916

Eye-level elevated trains continued into the 20th century, with above ground subway tracks as well as older els making it more likely that New Yorkers could find themselves with a train rattling and shaking their windows.

And it’s still an issue today, of course, even with those original el lines long dismantled. Tenements and apartment buildings near bridge approaches, tunnel entrances, and above ground subway tracks are still at the mercy of mass transit in a city still of narrow streets, single pane windows, and rickety real estate.

Convergence of the Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue Els, 1938

[Top photo: MCNY x2010.11.2127; second photo: New-York Historical Society; third photo: MCNYx2010.11.4; fourth photo: CUNY Graduate Center Collection; fifth photo: MCNY MNY38078; sixth photo: MCNY MN11786]

A moment in time somewhere on the Bowery

November 1, 2021

An abandoned street cleaning cart. Men in hats walking alone. A streetcar traveling on dusty Belgian block pavement, an elevated train overhead, a succession of store signs and advertisements.

It’s just a glimpse in time around the turn of the century on the Bowery. But where, exactly? One of the buildings has 57 on it, suggesting 57 Bowery. That address no longer exists; it would have been near the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge.

There’s another sign that might give us a clue: the ad propped against a pole at the edge of the sidewalk. It looks like the first word is “London.” A theater with that name existed at 235 Bowery, where the New Museum is today between Stanton and Rivington Streets.

Whatever the exact address is, you can practically feel the energy and vitality—the pulse of a street now synonymous with a lowbrow kind New York life.

Gazing at the Twin Towers from the Staten Island Ferry in the 1970s

September 6, 2021

It’s easy to understand why these ferry riders were so captivated by the Twin Towers, which were almost completely built at the edge of Lower Manhattan when they took this trip crossing New York Harbor. (No antenna yet on the roof of the North Tower; that would come in 1978.)

This photo, by Morris Huberland and part of the Morris Huberland Collection in the NYPL Digital Collection, must have been taken in the early 1970s.

It’s quiet and contemplative, reflecting the tone many New Yorkers will take on this week as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches.

A painter’s evocative look at an empty street beside the Manhattan Bridge

August 16, 2021

Anthony Springer was a lawyer-turned-artist who painted the energy and vitality of various downtown New York City neighborhoods until his death in 1995.

His work has been featured on this site before—rich, colorful images of quiet streets and empty stretches of Greenwich Village before the 1990s revitalization breathed new life into fading storefronts and forgotten corners…and in many cases changed the fabric of the neighborhood.

Here’s a Springer painting that offers a look at a slender street alongside the Manhattan Bridge. It calls up a time when you could find deserted streets like this downtown—populated by pigeons, a lone parked car (or stolen one ditched?), an industrial building not turned into lofts, a glorious bridge empty of the pedestrians and bikers seen today.

I’m not sure if we’re on the Manhattan or Brooklyn side, but it’s an evocative reminder of a different city.

[Invaluable]