Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

What remains of the other end of the High Line

April 24, 2017

High Line Park stretches along the West Side from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, following the original tracks of the 1934 elevated railway — which trucked raw materials and finished goods in and out of Manhattan’s once-bustling factories.

Then at Gansevoort Street, right beside the gleaming new Whitney Museum, the park suddenly ends in a steep drop.

But the High Line itself never ended here. It continued south to Spring Street, zipping in and out of factories along Washington Street until it reached St. John’s Terminal at Pier 40.

What happened to this southern end of the High Line — which could have extended the park another mile or so?

As Manhattan’s manufacturing base shrank and rail shipping declined, the steel trestle was demolished starting in the 1960s bit by bit. Most of the factories that relied on the line were bulldozed to make way for the West Village Houses.

(A shame, sure, but it would have been inconceivable to New Yorkers back then that anyone would want to keep the rundown elevated railway and turn it into a beautiful park overlooking Tenth Avenue).

More than three decades since the entire line ceased in 1980, almost nothing of the southern end of the High Line survives.

But take a walk down Washington Street, where a few of the surviving factories have been turned into housing. You can easily see where the rail cars went in and out of 812 Washington Street, once part of the Manhattan Refrigerating Company (top two photos).

Same with the enormous, block-long building a few blocks down the street at Bethune Street (above).

Before it was transformed into the artists’ housing complex known as Westbeth in 1971, this handsome building was part of Bell Laboratories.

Bell Labs was established here in the late 19th century; the company refitted their second floor to accommodate the High Line in the 1930s.

[Second photo: GVSHP; fourth photo: Friends of the High Line]

What if this actually happened to Trinity Church?

April 17, 2017

Early 20th century New York was a lot like the city of today.

The skyscraper era was dawning, business was booming, and development was rampant. Many of the city’s low-rise buildings were being bulldozed in favor of steel-frame office towers topping 20 stories.

On Lower Broadway, new office buildings were going up up up. This real-estate madness is the likely inspiration for this Puck illustration from 1907, by Albert Levering.

Levering gives us a Trinity Church — until 1890 the tallest structure along the city’s skyline, which welcomed ships coming into New York Harbor — almost entombed in glass and steel, its graveyard chopped away.

I wonder how many developers took this cartoon seriously?

[Image: Library of Congress]

Tiny Jewish cemeteries hidden in busy Manhattan

April 10, 2017

They’ve been there for centuries, just steps away from traffic lights and the rush of crowds: three small burial grounds tucked behind iron fences and shaded by untended trees.

They’re not in the best shape. Some of the headstones are broken or knocked askew, as this photo of a cemetery on 21st Street and Sixth Avenue shows. The Hebrew lettering on the stones has been worn down by the elements. Graffiti marks a brick wall.

But the story behind how these cemeteries came to be starts with the story of the first Jews to live in New York City.

That means going back to the 17th century. In 1654, a ship carrying 23 men, women, and children docked in Lower Manhattan. They were refugees fleeing Brazil, which the Portuguese had just recaptured from the Dutch.

This little group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews felt that New Amsterdam might be a more welcoming place.

Eh, not exactly. Peter Stuyvesant tried hard to throw them out. The refugees wrote letters to Holland to solicit support so they could stay.

A year later, the Dutch West India Company gave them the go-ahead to remain as long as they “do not become a burden.”

Free to build new lives here, the group quickly founded the continent’s first synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel. And though the synagogue had no permanent space until 1730, space for the deceased was established in 1656.

That original burial ground has disappeared. But what’s considered the first Jewish cemetery in the city still remains in Chatham Square (above), in a pocket facing St. James Place behind several tenements (below right, in a 1900 photo).

This cemetery opened in 1683. It once contained 256 graves, including those of Jewish Revolutionary War veterans. The above sketch of what Chatham Square looked like marks the “Jews Burying Ground” at the top right.

Speaking of the Revolution, the cemetery made an important appearance. In 1776, Major General Charles Lee wrote to George Washington:

“The East River, I am persuaded, may be secured in such a manner that [British] ships will scarcely venture into it…A battery for this purpose is planned at the foot of the Jews’ burying ground.”

An expansion of the Bowery cut the burial ground down in size to closer to 50. Some of the lead epitaph plates are missing because during the Revolutionary War, British soldiers melted them down to make bullets.

In 1805, a second cemetery opened on the outskirts of the city, at Sixth Avenue and what was then Milligan Place (below). The expansion of the city grid chopped its size as well to a tiny triangle.

“Initially, this graveyard was the burial site for victims of communicable diseases like yellow fever and malaria, for recently immigrated Jews who did not have strong ties to Shearith Israel, and for those who died at their own hand through suicide,” states the Shearith Israel website.

After the city banned burials below Canal Street in 1823, the Sixth Avenue cemetery became the main Jewish burial ground — until a third cemetery opened in what was then the bucolic country fields of Chelsea and is now a big-box shopping mecca (below).

“The lot for the Third Cemetery was purchased in 1829 for the then-princely sum of $2,750,” wrote Tablet magazine. “The cemetery operated until 1851, after which a law was enacted forbidding burial anywhere south of Manhattan’s 86th Street.”

Shearith Israel operates out of a majestic synagogue building on Central Park West with some spectacular history of its own; the wood floorboards under its reader’s desk are the same floorboards from the first permanent synagogue built in 1730 on Mill (now South William) Street.

The congregation maintains these three burial grounds, and near Memorial Day, members hold a ceremony at the Chatham Square cemetery, honoring the Jewish Revolutionary War veterans interred there.

Each cemetery has a story to tell about Jewish life in the city and the development of New York as a whole. Look for these ghostly reminders of Gotham’s first residents next time you’re nearby.

Manhattan is a necropolis of other little-known burial grounds, especially in the East Village.

[Fourth photo: NYPL; Sixth photo: MCNY: 93.91.359; Tenth photo: NYPL]

Old subway signage of a less complicated city

April 10, 2017

It’s always fun to come across vintage subway signs at stations across New York—and often they can tell us something about how people got around underground in a very different 20th century city.

Take a look at this entrance at the Fulton Street Station downtown. The contemporary signage is functional and color-coded.

But it’s so much lovelier the old-school way, when the sign above the stairs simply tells you this will take you “down town.”

At the Lorimer Street stop in Williamsburg you can switch to the “crosstown line,” a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use when they say they’re about to jump on the G train.

It makes Brooklyn sound like one big town (or city, as it once was, of course) rather than collection of very different neighborhoods it is today.

“Subway Entrance” above this stairwell attached to the Trinity Building on Lower Broadway is done up in wonderful serif style. No train names or letters; its simplicity tells you everything you need to know.

Here’s one modern touch to get a kick out of: the stairs first lead you to a Subway sandwich shop.

Vintage matchbooks of defunct city restaurants

April 6, 2017

Now this is what I call an old New York eatery: Ye Olde Chop House began its run in 1800 on Cedar Street before moving to the Trinity Building on Lower Broadway next door to Trinity Church.

The matchbook could be as old as the 1960s or 1970s, when New York addresses still used single-digit ZIP codes.

Apparently the food was quite good, the atmosphere old school. In 1946, when the chop house was still on Cedar Street, the New York Times called out the “mutton chops as thick as your fist” and “split chickens and lamb kidneys with bacon.”

The Times also noted the host, Harry Kramer. “Happily, Mr. Kramer is antiquarian and, except for introducing air-conditioning, has done little in the way of modernization. The original bar, worn almost white with shrubbing, still stands; the floors are the same old pine boards covered with sawdust and upstairs there are two fireplaces with carved mantles that were constructed when the house was built.”

Does anyone remember Asti? This West Village restaurant was famous for 75 years for its opera-singing waiters and theater-world customers.

Shuttered in 1999, Asti now only lives on in vintage ads, like this matchbook cover from 1975. Look at the old two-letter phone exchanges: AL for Algonquin, according to this guide, and CH for Chelsea or Chickering.

In June 1972, New York announced that the Upper East Side restaurant Camelot not only had “sumptuous buffet brunches on Saturdays and Sundays ($5.50 for all you can eat and all the Bloody Marys, champagne and rose you can drink), but now there’s a sumptuous buffet dinner every Monday night for $6.95.”

Looks like a Dallas BBQ is in this space now.

A piece of pizza history inside a Nolita restaurant

April 3, 2017

Is Lombardi’s really the first pizzeria in the entire United States, as a sign above their storefront at 32 Spring Street claims?

Pizza historians agree: yes.

“Lombardi’s can trace its history back to 1897, when Neapolitan immigrant Genarro Lombardi opened an Italian grocery and provisions shop (below) at 531/2 Spring Street,” states Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Guide to New York City.

Lombardi’s grocery “soon became a popular stop for workers looking for something to take to work for lunch,” says Tom Boyles of Pizza Magazine (yes, this exists).

“Gennaro started selling cheese pies, which were wrapped in paper and tied with a string, and the many workers of Italian descent would take them to the job site.”

In 1905 Lombardi’s applied for a license to sell what was known as pizza back in Italy. We can credit Genarro with introducing America to the glory of coal-oven pies (traditionally wood ovens were used, but coal in New York was easier to come by).

The original Lombardis shut its doors and now dishes out its piping hot cheesy, bubbly, thin-crust goodness down the block.

Hiding in the steaming hot kitchen, where several pizzaiolas shuck uncooked pies into the 800-degree oven, is a relic of Lombardi’s old Little Italy past.

The door to the coal oven is the same door from the original restaurant, with “1905 Lombardi” spelled out in black and white tiles to mark its importance.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second photo: Lombardi’s/firstpizza.com]

This Canal Street sign might be older than SoHo

March 27, 2017

I can’t be the only person in New York in love with the Canal Rubber sign—a can’t-miss yellow, red, and black throwback to Canal Street’s days as an industrial and art supply center.

Canal Rubber has been in business here near Greene Street since 1954.

That year, Ellis Island closed its doors, On the Waterfront hit movie theaters, teen gangs were making news headlines, and the desolate neighborhood not yet known as Soho was called Hell’s Hundred Acres (for all the fires in the cast-iron buildings used for manufacturing).

Or it went by no name at all, because no one wanted to be there.

A glorious 1914 tower symbolizes the united city

March 27, 2017

Manhattan in the late 19th century was running out of space—government office space, to be precise.

City Hall, which had been home to New York’s officials and agencies since 1812, was bursting at the seams by the middle of the Gilded Age.

In the 1880s, it was clear that the expanding city of more than one million residents needed bigger quarters if New York’s government was going to grow and function properly.

After 30 years of planning—selecting the site at One Centre Street, holding design contests (McKim, Mead, and White won out), and then constructing the new office tower—the Manhattan Municipal Building opened for business.

Officially a skyscraper at 40 stories high, the building’s design was inspired by the 12th century Giralda Tower in Spain, with its central arch (once open to cars) borrowed from Rome’s Arch of Constantine.

There’s much to love about this triumphant work of architecture: the vaulted entrance with Guastavino ceiling tiles, the bas relief panels, and the gilded copper statue, “Civic Fame” (modeled by Audrey Munson), perched at the top of the central tower.

And amid these and other beautiful features are two hidden symbols of the recently united metropolis.

The united city theme certainly made sense. After all, in the time between the building’s conception and completion, Greater New York was born—an “Imperial City” of five boroughs that doubled Gotham’s population and increased its size sixfold on January 1, 1898.

The first is above the middle section (left), where “there are three tiered drums on top of another, flanked by four smaller pinnacle turrets, symbolizing the four boroughs joined to Manhattan,” states nyc-architecture.com.

The second is the crown Civic Fame is holding up with her left hand.

This is a “mural” crown—”a crown with five crenellations as of a city wall, representing the five boroughs of the city,” according to nyc.gov. “Also on the crown are dolphins, symbolizing New York’s maritime setting.”

Since 2015, the Manhattan Municipal Building has been renamed the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building.

No disrespect to the former mayor, but like the Queensboro Bridge becoming the Ed Koch Bridge, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

[Top photo: MCNY 1913: X2010.28.683; second photo: NYPL; third photo: MCNY 1910: X2010.11.1682; fourth image: unknown; fifth image: MCNY, 1913: 2001.37.1R

A Tribeca spaghetti sauce ad returns to view

March 20, 2017

Ragu has been mass producing its popular tomato sauces since the 1940s. But I’d guess this wonderfully preserved full-color ad for Ragu spaghetti sauce dates to the 1970s.

It’s on the side of a restaurant on Sixth Avenue just below Canal Street. What a visual treat, coincidentally near the once-thriving Little Italy in Soho and Greenwich Village, where store-bought sauce might be considered an insult!

13 stories of Art Nouveau beauty in Manhattan

March 13, 2017

The magnificent boulevards of Prague and Vienna are resplendent with Art Nouveau building facades, lobbies, and public transit entrances.

But the sinuous lines and naturalistic curves characteristic of this artistic style never caught on in turn-of-the-century New York, where architects seemed to prefer the stately Beaux Arts or more romantic Gothic Revival fashion.

It’s this rarity of Art Nouveau in Gotham that makes the 13-story edifice at 20 Vesey Street so spectacular.

Completed in 1907, this is the former headquarters for the New York Evening Post—the precursor to today’s New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton.

The building is across the street from the graveyard behind St. Paul’s Chapel off Broadway, a wonderful place to look up and linger.

Architect Robert D. Kohn designed the limestone structure with three rows of wavy windows and crowned it with a copper roof.

At the 10th floor, Kohn added a playful touch for a media company: four figures meant to represent the “Four Periods of Publicity“: the spoken word, the written word, the printed word, and the newspaper.

Note the “EP” insignia decorating the iron railings that link the four figures.

The Evening Post moved out in 1930, and today 20 Vesey is known as the Garrison Building, which houses a fairly typical mix of businesses behind its European-like facade.

Art Nouveau–inspired buildings are scattered in different pockets of New York, such as this former department store on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

Plans for an Art Nouveau hotel around the corner on Church Street drawn up in 1908 by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, unfortunately, never panned out.

[Third photo, 1910, MCNY x2010.7.1.887]