Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

The “water-gazers” strolling Battery Park

March 30, 2015

“With its fine promenade and magnificent vista of the harbor, the Battery became a popular place for New Yorkers to visit in the early 18th century,” states the NYC Parks Department.

Batteryparklanding

Battery Park was so popular, in fact, New York native Herman Melville put it in the opening chapter of Moby Dick.

“There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf,” wrote Melville.

“Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.”

By the time this turn of the century postcard was produced, the Battery was still a popular promenade for “water-gazers” seeking cool breezes, as it is today.

What became of the Triangle factory owners?

March 23, 2015

The names Isaac Harris and Max Blanck probably don’t resonate with New Yorkers today.

Yet 114 years ago, everyone knew them: Harris and Blanck (below) owned the Triangle Waist Company on Greene Street, where a devastating fire killed 146 employees on March 25, 1911.

Blanckandharris

From that horrific tragedy rose a stronger workers’ rights movement and new city laws mandating safer workplaces.

But what happened to Harris and Blanck, both of whom were in the company’s 10th floor offices that warm Saturday afternoon and managed to survive the fire unscathed?

Like many of their “operators,” as the girls who worked the rows of sewing machines were known, they were Jewish immigrants.

BlanckandharrissoloBoth started as workers in the growing garment industry in the 1890s and then became business owners, making a fortune manufacturing ladies blouses and earning the nickname the Shirtwaist Kings.

They certainly were easy targets to blame, and both men were indicted on first and second degree manslaughter charges, thanks to evidence uncovered by detectives that a door on the 9th floor leading to a fire exit had been locked, a violation of law.

Protected by guards and represented by a big-name lawyer at their December 1911 trial, Harris and Blanck each took the stand, countering the testimony of surviving workers who claimed that the door was always locked to prevent theft.

BlanckandharrisfightingfireOn December 27, they were acquitted. “Isaac Harris and Max Blanck dropped limply into their chairs as their wives began quietly sobbing behind them,” wrote David Von Drehle in Triangle.

To avoid an angry mob of family members outside the courthouse demanding justice, the two men were smuggled through a side exit away from their waiting limousines. They went into the subway instead.

Immediately they relaunched the Triangle company on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street.

But their names made headlines again. “All of their revenue went into paying off their celebrity lawyer, and they were sued in early 1912 over their inability to pay a $206 water bill,” states PBS.org.

Blanckandharrisfactoryafterfire

“Despite these struggles, the two men ultimately collected a large chunk of insurance money—$60,000 more than the fire had actually cost them in damages. Harris and Blanck had made a profit from the fire of $400 per victim.”

In 1913, at a new factory on 23rd Street, Blanck paid a $25 fine for locking a door during working hours, and he was warned during an inspection that factory was rife with fire hazards.

Blanckandharris9thfloorafterfireA year later, the two were caught sewing fraudulent labels into their shirtwaists that claimed the clothes had been made under sound conditions.

By 1918, after agreeing to pay $75 per deceased employee to families that had brought civil suits against them, they threw in the towel and disbanded the company.

[Photos 1-3: Kheel Center, Cornell University; 4-5: Brown Brothers]

What remains of the East River’s long-gone slips

March 16, 2015

 Slipold2015Old maps of Lower Manhattan (like the one below, from 1842) list them: the many slips created along the East River to facilitate ship transportation in a city dependent on maritime trade.

 From Gouverneur Street to Whitehall Street, 12 slips offered “access to the shoreline by small craft such as ferries and farmers’ market boats,” states oldstreets.com. “There were markets at most of the slips at one time or another.”

Slipsmap1842

Today, some exist in name only. Eleven were gone by the middle of the 19th century, early victims of the city’s valuable real estate. The last one disappeared by 1900.

Slipmarket2015“It was the need for additional land that caused the passing of New York’s historic slips,” states a 1924 New York Times article.

“Those alleyways of water were two blocks long and as many wide, flanked about by rocking wharves at which tied up the small boats belonging to mother vessels further out, or the mother vessels themselves if not too large.”

“And with the passing of these slips passed also the romance of the clippers, our country’s first sailing vessels.”

What wonderful names they had! Some were derived from prominent Dutch-born landowners, like Coenradt and Antjie Ten Eyck (Coentje—later Coenties—Slip).

Slipsnyt1924

Others were named for the businesses nearby, like Coffee House Slip, once at the end of Wall Street where several coffee houses had popped up in the late 18th century (above, in a New York Times sketch).

Slipburling2015

There was also Fly Market Slip, a corruption of the Dutch vly, meaning valley, according to oldstreets.com.

The rest were Gouverneur, Rutgers, Pike, Market, Catherine, James, Peck, Burling, and finally, Old Slip.

Where New Yorkers met for coffee in the 1790s

February 23, 2015

Tontine Coffee House, meeting-place of New York brokers who formed the NY Stock ExchangeIn late 18th century New York, with a revolt against tea in place and plain water mostly undrinkable, coffee’s popularity surged.

And the city’s love affair with coffee beans began.

Coffee houses soon sprang up. Unlike the cafes of today, these were more like taverns, where the city’s political and merchant elite met to exchange ideas and do business while nursing a cup of joe (and probably stronger drinks as well).

One coffee house on the bustling corner of Wall and Water Streets, the Tontine (the second building on the left, above), bore witness to some of the events and the development of the booming city.

Tontinefrancisguy

First, the Tontine (above on the left, in 1797) doubled as the original site of the New York Stock Exchange, with trading going on in a second-floor room from the early 1790s until 1817.

On a more gruesome note, the Tontine was where a notice was posted in 1804 informing New Yorkers about the death of Alexander Hamilton, after his infamous duel with Aaron Burr.

Tontine4“When a handwritten notice of Hamilton’s death went up at the Tontine Coffee House, the city was transfixed with horror,” wrote Ron Chernow, by way of the Aaron Burr Association.

Also, it was a place where deals were made on all kinds of goods . . . and that included human beings.

“As soon as a ship’s captain reached the harbor, this is where he came to register his cargo,” explains Mapping the African American Past.

“The goods coming into New York in the 1790s included coffee, tea, sugar and molasses, fine furniture, cloth, cotton, and enslaved men, women, and children.”

Slavery gradually ended in the city between 1799 and 1827.

Coffeehouseslip

An Englishman who visited Tontine (up the street from Coffee House Slip, above) recalled it this way:

“[Y]ou ascend six or eight steps under a portico, into a large public room, which is the Stock Exchange of New York, where all bargains are made. . . . You can lodge and board there at a common table, and you pay ten shillings currency a day, whether you dine out or not.”

Sounds not unlike the 18th century equivalent of hanging out at a cafe today, ordering the minimum amount of coffee you can to partake in the free WiFi and comfy communal table.

Neglected subway signage from another New York

February 23, 2015

OldsubwaysignagechamberscloseupIt’s been decades since the MTA introduced the spiffy white-on-black subway station signs on platforms that clearly spell out the name of each station.

But they didn’t get rid of all the scruffy signage from decades past. Some 1970s-era examples can be found in some of the grungier corners of subterranean New York City.

Exhibit A: these long-neglected old-school signs at the Chambers Street 1, 2, and 3 train station.

Oldsubwaysignagechamberstreet

I guess someone made a half-hearted attempt to cover up the old “Chmb’rs” sign, then gave up after coating half of it in the blue paint used for the rest of the wall.

Oldsubwaysignstorplace

At Astor Place, it looks like someone souvenir-hunting tore off the newer Astor Place or Cooper Union signs, revealing this unglamorous one-word sign below.

A winter view of the Depression-era East River

February 9, 2015

“New York City goes about its varied daily businesses in [John] Cunning’s painting, despite the Depression,” explains the description of this evocative view of a wintry river and city, on the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Johncunningmanhattanskyline1934

“Whether or not their offices were full of workers, the Farmer’s Trust Building, 120 Wall Street, the Bank of Manhattan, 60 Wall Tower, and the Singer Building towered proudly against the gray sky,” states the site.

“Commuters who still had jobs had come from the outer boroughs in the ferry boats shown tied up at the Manhattan docks.”

“On the Brooklyn shore, cargo ships are tied up for loading or unloading. The men in the foreground are removing snow from the roofs of a coffee warehouse on Water Street near the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Cunning, a WPA artist, completed “Manhattan Skyline” in 1934.

The Manhattan Bridge’s two lost lovely ladies

February 9, 2015

Look closely: in this 1920s postcard depicting the grand Manhattan Bridge approach from Brooklyn, you can make out two statues inside the granite pylons flanking the roadway.

Manhattanbridgeapproach1925mcny

These heroic sculptures—created during the City Beautiful era, when art was meant to inspire and uplift—were known as “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn.”

Installed seven years after the bridge opened in 1909 and designed by Daniel Chester French, these 12-foot lovely ladies represented the attributes of each borough.

Manhattanbridgestatues

Impressive, right? But by the 1960s, they were gone—victims of bridge reconstruction in the age of Robert Moses and the automobile.

Luckily, Manhattan and Brooklyn didn’t end up in pieces in a Meadowlands dump, the sad fate of parts of the original Penn Station.

ManhattanstatueInstead, they were brought to the Brooklyn Museum, where they’ve guarded the entrance since 1963.

Interestingly, the attributes of each statue represent the way we view the boroughs today.

For Manhattan, that means hubris. “The pose of the figure of Manhattan typifies splendor and pride, of which the peacock at her side is the emblem,” says a 1915 article.

Brooklynstatue“The right foot of the statue rests upon a treasure-box and a winged ball in the statue’s hand suggests the City’s domination in world affairs.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has a softer, more artistic and educational vibe.

“Beside the figure of Brooklyn stands a church and the arm of the statue rests upon a lyre, symbolizing music.”

“A Roman tablet which the figure holds on its knee indicates study, and a child at its feet reading from a book typifies the Borough’s well-filled schools.”

[Statue photos: Brooklyn Museum]

New York’s 1849 skyline seen from Union Square

February 2, 2015

The square itself looks different—it’s oval, first of all, and that’s some water spray from the new Croton fountain.

Bachmannlithographunionsquare

But amazingly, the streets are instantly recognizable in this 1849 bird’s eye lithograph by Swiss immigrant printmaker John Bachmann.

There’s Broadway, with that slight bend at Grace Church (built just one year earlier), and Fourth Avenue, which still curves east at about 12th Street.

Steeples and ship masts dominate Lower Manhattan. The George Washington statue has yet to arrive in at the southeast corner of Union Square (that comes in 1856), and the theaters and music halls that made 14th Street the city’s entertainment district are a decade or so away.

The level of detail is amazing and inspiring. And look at how built up New York is compared to this same view in 1828.

The building designed to look like a punchcard

February 2, 2015

4NewYorkPlazaemporisDeep in the Financial District at the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets is a 22-story brick citidel known by its mailing address, 4 New York Plaza.

Fortress-like and impenetrable at the tip of Manhatan, it’s not the loveliest building downtown by any means.

But architectural firm Carson Lundin & Shaw, which designed it in 1969 for banking giant Manufacturers Hanover Trust, was apparently inspired by the data processing tool of the era: the punchcard.

You can see the resemblance in the the small windows along the facade, irregularly placed and slot-like.

Supposedly this punchcard design won awards.

4NewYorkPlazaPanoramio

The punchcard era is long over, but 4 New York Plaza remains, surviving massive flooding and damage thanks to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Here’s a more inspiring view of 4 New York Plaza, taken by Lucia M. in 2008, with the walkups on Pearl Street lending it some of their beauty and charm.

[Top photo: Emporis]

A gruesome prank sparks the city’s weirdest riot

January 12, 2015

DoctorsriotnyhospitalIt started with a doctor’s prank from the window of New York Hospital, then at Broadway and Pearl Street.

“In the spring [of 1788], some boys were playing in the rear of the hospital, when a young surgeon, from a mere whim, showed an amputated arm to them,” wrote J.T. Headley in The Great Riots of New York, published in 1873.

One boy climbed a ladder to get a closer look. The boy became convinced that it was recently deceased mother’s arm. His response set off one of New York’s weirdest events, known as the “Doctors’ Riot.”

The horrified boy ran and told his father, a mason working on Broadway. The father rushed to his wife’s grave in Trinity Churchyard, had it opened—and saw that the body was gone.

Doctorsriograverobbers

He concluded that the surgeon had stolen his wife’s corpse, and he immediately gathered a throng of working men to storm the hospital.

Now, it wasn’t farfetched at all for the father to assume the surgeon stole the body. Students at the city’s medical schools routinely did this (or hired others they politely called “resurrectionists” to do it) in the 18th century, as it was the only way they could study anatomy.

Doctorsriotharpers1882

“The fear of [grave-robbing] was so great, that often, in the neighborhood where medical students were pursuing their studies, persons who lost friends would have a watch kept over their graves for several nights, to prevent them from being dug up,” wrote Headley.

DoctorsriotmayorduaneUsually the med students robbed the graves of outcasts, or they went to the burial grounds of the city’s black population, where there was less of a chance they would attract the attention of city officials.

But lately they’d stolen corpses of more well-off citizens, angering many in the young city.

But back to the riot. The men tore down the hospital door, and when they found fresh bodies in various states of dissection, they attacked the students. Officials quelled the mob and locked the students in jail for their own safety.

The next day, 300 men showed up at the jail. “Bring out your doctors!” the angry crowd yelled, hurling stones and carrying muskets.

DoctorsriotnyhospitalnyplMayor James Duane brought in a militia, which killed four in the mob. They hustled doctors and students into carriages headed to the country, where they hid out until the riot blew over.

The next year, the city passed a law against grave robbing, and officials came up with another way med students could learn their trade: using the bodies of hanged criminals. Nobody seemed to complain.

[Top and bottom photos: NYPL Digital Gallery; second photo: Corbis]


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