Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

There is no beach anywhere near Beach Street

August 19, 2017

Beach Street—the name of this little strip of a road in Tribeca conjures up images of a sandy shoreline and gentle waves.

And while the Manhattan shore did used to lap at Greenwich Street, which Beach Street intersects, it’s apparently just a geographical coincidence.

So did Beach Street get its name from a colonial settler homesick for Liverpool or the West Indies?

It’s actually a corruption of Bache, named for Paul Bache, the son-in-law of Leonard Lispenard, who himself (or an older family member) was the namesake of nearby Lispenard Street.

The original Lispenard was a French Huguenot who arrived in Manhattan in the 17th century and eventually owned the swampy land south of Canal Street, which was known for a century at least as Lispenard’s Meadows (above), according to Henry Moscow’s The Street Book.

Beach Street has undergone as much transformation as any city block has over time.

Lispenard’s Meadows was a desirable area, as this ad in the Evening Post from 1807 shows. (No yellow fever!) After the swamp was drained, the neighborhood became exclusive St. John’s Park (above, in 1866).

When the railroad came in and the wealthy moved uptown, Beach Street was part of a warehouse district.

At some point, for one block, it was renamed Ericsson Place—after former street resident John Ericsson, a Swedish-born inventor, designer of the USS Monitor (built in Greenpoint), and a popular hero after the Civil War.

Today it’s a quiet stretch in a posh-again area. Apparently Beach Street did extend to the Hudson River at one time, one last chance for the name to actually make sense.

Alas, a modern office building cuts it off from the river, and Beach Street is forever landlocked.

[Second, fourth, and fifth images: NYPL; third: Evening Post 1807]

New York’s hustle and bustle down at Park Row

August 7, 2017

Here is Park Row at the turn of the century. Why the crowds, which the caption on the back of the postcard says numbers 50,000 commuters, workers, and idlers every day? Think of all the worlds that collide at this juncture.

The statue of Ben Franklin, with its Victorian lampposts, is a nod to New York’s printing and publishing industry, still centered here at Printing House Square.

A treeless City Hall Park is mostly out of view on the left. But centered on the northern end are government buildings, courts, and City Hall, which employ politicians and big staffs that serve them.

Factor in the transit hub known then as the Park Row Terminal, which ferried people across the Brooklyn Bridge so they can pick up streetcars on either side and continue on their way.

And of course, at this time Park Row is still the center of the newspaper trade.

See the delivery wagons lined up in front of various newspaper buildings, ready to bring the latest edition of the news of the world to the city. (Here they are in a closer view from a black and white photo.)

[Photo: Teamster.org]

Hudson River vs. North River: which is right?

July 31, 2017

Anyone familiar with old New York maps and guidebooks has probably seen it: the river running along the western side of Manhattan is referred to as the North River, not the Hudson, as we know it today.

I always believed that North River was an old-school name for this body of water that fell out of favor after the turn of the 20th century.

But then I came across this plaque from 1960, affixed to Pier 40, the massive site built as a terminal for the Holland America cruise ship line that now serves as a recreational facility for Hudson River Park.

The plaque refers to the “Pier 40 North River.” As far as I can tell, most people by 1960 were calling it the Hudson. So which name is right?

Turns out the part of the Hudson parallel to Manhattan is actually the North River.

“The North River is that section of the mighty Hudson River which runs from the tip of Manhattan Island, at the Battery, northward to approximately beneath the George Washington Bridge—a distance of 11.3 miles,” states one 2008 book, Railroad Ferries on the Hudson.

“It is always called the North River by people in the shipping industry, with the name Hudson generally reserved for that stretch above Yonkers where Hudson River pilots are taken on board.”

The Dutch apparently named the river the North River to distinguish it from other rivers in the fledgling New Netherlands colony, like the East River and the South River (today’s Delaware River).

Nevertheless, a century later, there must have been some confusion over what to call it. Both names were in use even in colonial times—as this 1781 British map on the left shows.

The tenement between two elevated train lines

July 24, 2017

In the late 19th and early 20th century, thousands of New Yorkers lived in tenements bordered by elevated train tracks.

Trains thundered so close to living rooms and kitchens, one observer in the 1880s described the elevated as “so near to the houses you might shake hands with the inhabitants and see what they had for dinner.”

Having a train outside one window was one thing. But what in the world was it like living in a slender building at the juncture of two elevated lines, with trains lurching and screeching day and night on both sides of your home?

The curtains in the windows of this tenement, at the Battery Place stop where the Sixth Avenue El and Ninth Avenue El meet in Lower Manhattan, tell us people did make their homes here.

Both elevated lines were dismantled in the late 1930s. At some point, the Flatiron-like tenement had its date with the wrecking ball as well; I haven’t been able to locate it anywhere in the downtown streetscape.

[Photos: MCNY/Wurtz Bros.]

All the reasons to love this Mott Street school

July 15, 2017

The gabled roof, the arched windows, the Victorian flourishes—there’s a lot to love about 256 Mott Street, the former Fourteenth Ward Industrial School between Prince and Houston Streets.

And it’s not just the lovely aesthetic or the fact that it’s across the street from the beautiful Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The school’s mission gets a thumbs up as well.

Built by the Children’s Aid Society in 1889, the funds were supplied by John Jacob Astor, who constructed it as a memorial to his wife (the Astors were big donors to the CAS, one of Gilded Age New York’s most prominent charities).

The lovely new school replaced an older industrial school not far away on Crosby Street. (Above, the school “playground” in 1890.)

If this Gothic red-brick style looks familiar, it may be because the architect was Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park.

Vaux was also the creative mind behind Jefferson Market Courthouse and some of the Children’s Aid Society other buildings, like the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys on East Eighth Street and Avenue B, which also served as an industrial school and has the same Gothic feel.

So what’s an industrial school? It’s a school intended to teach poor, usually immigrant kids to be “self-supporting,” as a New York Times article covering the dedication ceremony on February 8 put it.

Think of it as a school that mixed the usual academic lessons with trade and life skills classes and a heavy dose of patriotism.

“On the basement floor are a kitchen and dining rooms for teachers and pupils; on the floor above, kindergarten and primary schoolrooms, and the second floor two schoolrooms,” stated the Times. “The fourth has rooms for primary and industrial school work.”

The pupils at the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School were heavily Italian, the Times wrote—the children of newcomers who were rapidly recolonizing the tenement district that would soon be known as Little Italy.

“The memorial to Mrs. Astor will form an attractive center of industry, thrift, and cleanliness in a region which is noted for none of those characteristics,” the Times commented.

In the 1920s, the Industrial School was closed, and 256 Mott Street became Mulberry House, kind of a community center with a library and playground that offered “Americanization” classes and social opportunities.

Today of course, Mott Street is quite posh, and there’s no need for an industrial school or community center. What’s going on with number 256 today? It’s a co-op.

[Second photo: Jacob Riis. MCNY, 1890; 90.13.1.299; fifth photo: Gillon, MCNY, 1975; 2013.3.2.2061; sixth photo Jacob Riis, MCNY, 1890; 2008.1.21]

A Little Italy sign reveals an old phone exchange

July 10, 2017

They’re hiding in plain sight all over New York: faded ads and signs with the old-school two-letter phone prefixes phased out in the 1960s in favor of 7-digit phone numbers.

Usually they stand for something in the neighborhood, if not the neighborhood itself, such as MU for Murray Hill; RA for Ravenswood, once a separate Village in Queens but now absorbed by Astoria.

But what to make of this sign high above a restaurant on Mott Street in Little Italy, noting a BA prefix? The guide I usually consult to find out where BA is and what it means is no longer online. The elevator company could have been located anywhere in the city.

ENY has many posts on old-school prefix sightings, but no BA, unfortunately.

A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979

July 3, 2017

In 1979, Peter van Wijk was a radio officer in the Dutch Merchant Marine. That summer, his ship docked a couple of times in New York Harbor, giving him the opportunity to visit Manhattan and wander the streets.

Like all curious newcomers to New York, he brought a camera along with him, and he took photos of iconic tourist spots like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and Times Square.

But he also captured the seemingly ordinary street scenes that offer fleeting glimpses into the heart and soul of the late 1970s city: shoppers going in and out of mom and pop stores, musicians and vendors drawing crowds, and taxis navigating traffic-choked streets.

Thirty-eight years later, van Wijk decided to share his previously unseen images, and Ephemeral New York has the wonderful privilege of posting them.

It goes without saying that the Gotham of 1979 was a vastly different place. These days, everyone wants to live in New York; in the 1970s, residents couldn’t get out fast enough. The city’s population dipped an incredible 10 percent from 1970 to 1980, to just over 7 million.

Ed Koch had been elected mayor a year earlier on a law and order platform. The city’s nickname, Fear City (or more ironically, Fun City), was a nod to rising crime and rampant graffiti.

Cuts in city services left garbage on the streets, and shells of buildings sat empty in the South Bronx, East Village, and the Lower East Side, among other neighborhoods.

You wouldn’t know any of this from looking at these photos. The city in this collection of images is animated and colorful, with life and energy.

It’s a New York that feels almost small scale compared to the contemporary city—more a collection of neighborhoods rather than an island of cookie-cutter stores and development.

The gritty, street-smart New York of the 1970s is often hailed as a more authentic version of the city. How true that is has been up for debate lately.

These photos don’t take a side. They’re simply fascinating portals into the past that bring memories back of the city in the late 1970s, before crowded subways, a critical mass of Starbucks and Duane Reade stores, and an army of residents wearing white earbuds as they go about their day.

[All photos:copyright Peter van Wijk]

Turtle soup: the hottest dish on New York menus

July 3, 2017

In 1783, George Washington feasted on it (washed down with punch, according to later accounts) at Fraunces Tavern during his farewell banquet for Continental Army officers.

Early 19th century tavern owners took out newspaper ads letting the public know when a fresh pot would be whipped up.

And it was on the menu at New York’s biggest and best restaurants until the early 20th century, when it almost entirely disappeared from bill of fares all across the city.

What dish was such a delicacy? Green turtle soup, and New Yorkers of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn’t get enough of it.

“In 19th century New York, the only dish that could rival a juicy beefsteak or a dozen plump oysters on the half shell was turtle soup, and it’s partisans were legion,” writes William Grimes in Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

Two restaurants vied for turtle soup supremacy: the Terrapin Lunch on Ann Street and Broadway and Bayard’s, at 11-13 State Street.

Bayard’s turtle soup was recalled by an old New Yorker, Charles Haynes Haswell, in his Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, published in 1896.

“Here turtle soup was dispensed which was worthy of the animal of which it was made; not the puree of this time, which is served at some of our leading restaurants and clubs; not a thin consomme of that which might be calves’ head or veal, but bona fide turtle, with callipash, callipee, and forced-meat balls.”

It stands to reason that the first turtles and terrapins who ended up in New Yorkers’ soup bowls came from the waters around the city (like Turtle Bay, perhaps). Into the 19th century, however, they arrived here from the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean.

Why did turtle soup fall out of fashion? Maybe it had to do with the fact that turtles themselves were almost harvested to extinction, says Leslie Day in Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City.

Or perhaps it was just a food fad that lost its buzz.

[Top photo: Saveur magazine; second image: Evening Post, 1807; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Evening Post, 1812]

All that’s left of a Pearl Street Chinese restaurant

June 26, 2017

Thousands of restaurants have come and gone in New York over the years, and this is one of them: Pearl de Orient, an interestingly named but otherwise ordinary sounding Chinese restaurant in the Financial District.

Aside from an ad in New York from 1993, I couldn’t find a trace of the place. The corner of Pearl Street and Maiden Lane looks like it’s been renovated and modernized since then.

All that’s left of Pearl de Orient is this matchbook. Remember restaurant matchbooks?

This rundown building was once a posh mansion

June 26, 2017

If you stood outside 67 Greenwich Street, you’d never think this shell of a building was anything special: just another decrepit 19th century walkup in Lower Manhattan, now part of a construction site.

Yet behind the scaffolding and broken windows lies the ruins of a Federal–style mansion built from 1809 to 1810—making it one of the city’s oldest houses, even predating the New York City street grid of 1811.

67 Greenwich Street, with its splayed stone lintels and fashionable bowed facade seen on the Trinity Street side of the mansion (below), was built by Robert Dickey, a prominent merchant who amassed his fortune trading tea, coffee, rice, and spices in China, India, and Europe.

A man of such wealth would be expected to live in a grand home on the city’s poshest street. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Greenwich Street was the “Millionaire’s Row” of the era.

Imagine what it must have been like then: an elegant thoroughfare hugging the shoreline of Manhattan, lined with new Federal–style homes occupied by families with last names like Livingston and Roosevelt.

In 1809, “two 3-story houses were under construction” on Greenwich Street, along with two stables and coach house and storehouse on Lumber Street (renamed Trinity Place in 1843), “separated from the houses by courtyards,” says the Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

Dickey, his wife Anne (above left), and his family (the Dickeys reportedly had 10 kids) moved into the larger one. They lived there until 1820.

At that time, Dickey’s fortunes took a dive, and he was forced to sell. In 1823, the house was purchased by Peter Schermerhorn, a ship chandler and builder.

The Schermerhorns were of course an old Dutch colonial family; they built the counting houses of Schermerhorn Row at today’s South Street Seaport.

After the 1820s, Greenwich Street was no longer the richest residential area in New York. As the decades passed, what is now called the Robert and Anne Dickey Mansion went through a variety of uses.

It was leased to socially prominent families, took a turn as the French consulate, then became a boardinghouse, ship ticket office.

Like so many New York homes, it even spent time as a house of “ill-fame”—aka a brothel “of the lowest character,” as this frothy New York Times article from 1871 reports.

Incredibly, 67 Greenwich Street remained in the Schermerhorn family until 1919. A fourth floor had been added by then, and most of the remaining Federal–style houses built on Greenwich Street were demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, according to the LPC report.

Somehow the Dickey mansion survived the 19th century commercialization of the Lower West Side, the construction of elevated rail lines on Greenwich Avenue and Trinity Place, the building of the tunnel, and then the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan in the late 20th century.

Why is 67 Greenwich behind scaffolding today? It’s slated to be incorporated into this project, which calls for a 35-story tower to cantilever over what remains of the 217-year-old mansion.

[Second image: Evening Post, 1823; fourth image: Anne Brown Dickey by John Wesley Jarvis, Metropolitan Museum of Art; fifth image: 1940, Library of Congress via LPC report; sixth image: 1965, John Barrington Bayley via LPC report; seventh image: Department of Records Tax Photo 1980s]