Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

Down on his luck at the Brooklyn docks in 1938

April 11, 2016

Reginald Marsh painted the city’s extremes: gaudy, seedy Coney Island, sex at burlesque shows, Bowery revelry, and the might and strength symbolized by ships and industry.

Reginaldmarshdocksbrooklyn1938

But his solemn forgotten man (and a second man, lying down on the left) perched at the edge of a dock in 1938’s “Docks, Brooklyn” reveals a loneliness and despair unlike anything depicted in his other paintings and illustrations.

And it just sold for more than $6,000.

New York’s most charming holdout buildings

March 21, 2016

Amid New York’s soaring skyline are some lilliputian-size gaps—the low-rise, 19th century buildings whose owners refused to sell when a developer had plans to bulldoze and rebuild next door.

Holdoutbuildingupperwestside

These holdout buildings, now in the shadows of giants, are fun to come across—especially when the architectural style is so vastly different from its newer neighbor.

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That’s what I love about this photo of a Romanesque Revival former soap shop on Thomas Street in Lower Manhattan, dwarfed by a contemporary high rise.

HoldoutbuildingsSuttonplace

Same goes for these two stately townhouses on Sutton Place. Perhaps they were mansions in their day, but now clearly overwhelmed by the two pre- and post-war luxury apartment houses were built on either side.

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This townhouse on Lexington and 57th Street looks like it’s being subsumed. The bigger building is the former Allerton Hotel for Women, built in 1923.

The banner advertisement on the townhouse suggests it’s the property of the larger hotel.

Holdoutbuildingflatiron

A lovely three-story remnant of old New York has withstood the test of time in the East 20s off Broadway, sandwiched between two 1920s loft-style buildings. What stories it must have to tell!

The oldest street scene photos of New York City

March 7, 2016

France’s Louis Daguerre perfected the earliest form of commercial photography in 1839. It didn’t take long for others to seize the new technology and create daguerreotypes of New York City street scenes.

Daguerreotypechurch

These surviving early photographs offer a fascinating (if faded) glimpse into the city during an era when images were generally recorded with paint or ink, not copper plates.

At top is the Unitarian Congregational Church of the Messiah, which once stood on the east side of Broadway at the end of Waverly Place, surrounded by small free-standing houses.

Daguerreotypechathamsquare

The photo was taken in 1839 or 1840 from the rooftop studio of Samuel F.B. Morse and John Draper, who worked together at New York University. (Draper also took what might be the first daguerreotype portrait in 1840—of his sister, Dorothy.)

The second daguerreotype captures Chatham Street (now Park Row) northeast of Chatham Square. It dates back to 1853-1855 and shows a commercial, working-class section of the city known for its shops, taverns, and dance halls.

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“Unlike the period’s printed views, which were generally designed for clarity and filled with drafting table anecdote, this photograph shows the city as an inelegant confusion of traffic, commercial signs, and pedestrians,” explains the link to the photo (which can be enlarged for careful study) on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

And though it doesn’t necessarily count as a street scene because the street at the time was rural farmland, the third daguerreotype is an 1839 image of a lovely house and white fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a part of today’s Upper West Side.

The old city along the East River waterfront

February 8, 2016

Everett Longley Warner’s “Along the River Front” captures the city in 1912 on the cusp of change.

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The old New York waterfront, one of horse-drawn wagons loaded with packages heading to small commercial fish dealers and the office of a steamship line, have been dwarfed by the modern city’s enormous bridges and the traffic they carry.

Pier201900This photo, from 1900, gives an idea of what Warner was looking at. He changed the name of the steamship line from the New Haven Line to the Maine Line, for unknown reasons.

Warner was an impressionist painter who lived in New York in the early 1900s. Despite early notoriety, his lovely depictions of industry and commerce in the city haven’t made him a household name.

Unemployed men shoveling New York’s snow

January 25, 2016

Heavy snowfall, while lovely as it is to look at, creates a headache for most New Yorkers. But all that white stuff presents an opportunity for workers looking for extra cash.

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“12,000 Find Work in the Streets,” announced the headline for a New York Times story on February 15, 1914.

After 10 inches of snow had fallen, thousands of men lined up at “unemployment stations” established “in the lodging house districts” by the “cleaning department,” which sounds like it may have been part of the Department of Sanitation.

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In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, “116 gangs of men were put to work in the streets in those boroughs,” wrote the Times, using old-fashioned shovels, horse carts, and 19 “automobile trucks.”

The pay? In 1902, it was 25 cents per cubic yard of snow. By the 1930s, workers racked up an easier-to-calculate 50 cents an hour.

While thousands of men were getting paid to haul the snow, a side industry popped up outside the lodging houses: men with pushcarts selling “strips of burlap and bagging,” so the pickers and shovelers could keep their feet warm.

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“Practically every ’emergency man’ at work in the street cleaning gangs last night had his feet incased [sic] in overshoes and leggings made of burlap bound with rope and twine,” reported the Times.

[Top and bottom photos: New York Times; middle: LOC/Bain Collection]

New York is a brick and mason wall ghost town

January 18, 2016

The construction boom across the city has this upside: after an old building has been flattened by the wrecking ball, its faded outline remains behind for a little while, before something new and shiny covers it up.

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These building phantoms give city streets an eerie vibe; they’re red brick and mason wall palimpsests of another New York. Look at the little chimneys that warmed what looks like a former Federal-style home on Bond Street?

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In Downtown Brooklyn, traces of a two-story tenement on the right hint at what kind of residences lined the streets of the independent city in the 19th century.

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On East 17th Street in is a reminder of what this Flatiron block looked like when it was all low-rises, not tall lofts.

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This corner building in Chelsea must have cut a handsome, sturdy profile. The rooms of the second floor are still outlined too.

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Back when Jane Street was just a tiny lane in the village of Greenwich, there was a little house under this steep little roof.

The one-cent coffee stands for poor New Yorkers

December 28, 2015

StAndrewsonecentcoffee1933The first booth opened on Ann Street off Broadway in 1887, close to City Hall and the high-octane newspaper offices of Park Row.

Called St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stand, it served a half-pint of coffee (plus milk, sugar, and a slice of bread) for a penny.

Within months, four more one-cent coffee stands appeared on busy downtown intersections.

The menu included hearty fare like beef soup, pork and beans, fish cakes, and fish chowder—with no item costing more than a cent.

The concept sounds like a 19th century version of today’s sidewalk coffee and donut cart. But St. Andrew’s wasn’t catering to busy commuters.

StAndrewscoffeejacobriisThe clientele was the city’s down and out—the “newsboys, emigrants, poor families, and street waifs,” as one writer put it in Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine.

Founded by Clementine Lamadrid, the stands helped feed struggling residents who might be too proud to accept free meals.

“Meal tickets are sold at the booths and the headquarters for one cent each, so that every charity disposed person may carry a supply,” explained the Frank Leslie’s article.

In a city that offered almost no public relief of any kind, one-cent coffee and food was a pretty good deal for a street kid or jobless adult.

StAndrewsonecentcoffeebainNot everyone agreed. The Charity Organization Society, a proponent of aiding the poor in exchange for work, charged that St. Andrew’s “encourage idleness and make industry unnecessary. They draw into the city crowds of tramps and beggars,” reported the New York Sun.

Lamadrid was also accused of using the stands to enrich herself, which she denied.

The stands only appear to have survived through the 1930s—but not before making a small bit of difference for thousands of hungry New Yorkers.

[Top photo: 1933, Getty Images; middle: Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives; bottom photo: Bain Collection/Library of Congress]

What’s a warplane doing on this office tower?

December 21, 2015

Unless you live or work at least 26 stories above the Financial District, you’ve probably never seen this British World War I fighter plane perched on the roof of the office tower at 77 Water Street.

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But it’s been there for more than 45 years, and it was the idea of the building’s owner, the William Kaufman Organization.

The company decided to put this unusual “crowning jewel” on the top of the building, complete with an Astroturf runway and landing lights, just before it was completed in 1970.

Waterstreetwarplane1969The aircraft “serves as an endless source of delight and fascination for visitors who catch a glimpse of the unusual object adorning the roof.”

And though it looks authentic in photos, it’s actually a “sculptured steel replica” of a World War I Sopwith Camel fighter plane.

77 Water Street sounds like a fun place to be a desk jockey. Inside the lobby is a “wood-framed, turn-of-the-century-style” candy store.

[Top photo: Rob Bennett for the Wall Street Journal; bottom: William Kaufman Organization]

A New Yorker in “Little Syria” tells his story

December 7, 2015

LittlesyriashopkeeperThe late 19th century city was home to a massive tide of new immigrants: Russian, Italian, Hungarian, Chinese.

Amid the lower Manhattan neighborhoods these newcomers settled in was Little Syria.

Also known as the Syrian Quarter, it was a vibrant enclave along Washington Street near the Battery where thousands of Syrian Christians, Armenians, Greeks, and others from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean communities lived.

Here, they resided in tenements and operated dry goods stores, textile factories, and cafes selling pastries and coffee.

The following account of arriving in Little Syria and making a home in the neighborhood comes from a 1906 book about the immigrant experience.

Syrianquarterdrinks1916bain

The account is based on a composite of “three young Syrians of Washington Street, New York.” The composite grew up in Lebanon, but the political situation there at the time made life difficult.

SyrianquarterwomenHe and his family decided to take a steamship to New York with just $60 in their pockets. “We knew that that was in the United States, and we heard that poor people were not oppressed there,” he stated.

“My uncle had a friend who met us at Ellis Island and helped to get us quickly out of the vessel, and ten hours after we had come into the bay we were established in two rooms in the third story of a brick house in Washington Street, only three blocks away from Battery Park.”

“Two minutes’ walk from us was roaring Broadway, seven minutes’ walking brought us to the Bridge entrance. . . . [T]here was so much that was strange and new and suggestive of life and power that I never got tired of looking at the buildings on the land and the vessels of all sorts that shot about through the waters.”

Syrianquarterkids

Because he knew English, “I had no difficulty securing work as a clerk at an Oriental goods store, where some other Syrians were employed.” His uncle and mother, who kept house for them, also found work.

Syrianquartershoemaker“Between us we earned $22 a week, and as our rent was only $10 a month and food did not cost any more than $6 a week, we saved money.”

“I remained a clerk for three years and then became a reporter for a Syrian newspaper, as I thought that my education entitled me to aspire,” he continued. A year later, he started a printing business “in Washington Street, which is the center of our quarter. Soon I had a newspaper of my own.”

“The little Syrian city which we have established within the big city of New York has its distinctive life and its distinctive institutions.”

“It has six newspapers printed in Arabic, one of them a daily; it has six churches conducted by Syrian priests, and many stores, whose signs, wares, and owners are all Syrian.”

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“There are two Syrian drug stores and many dry goods, notions, jewelry, antiques, and French novelties, and manufacturers of brooches, kimonas, wrappers, suspenders, tobacco, cigarettes, silk embroidery, silk shawls, Oriental goods, rugs, arms, etc.”

“A Syrian restaurant recently established in Cortlandt Street is the best in the city. Our people are active and doing well in business here, as any one may know by looking at the number of advertisements in the newspapers.”

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“When we first came we expected to return to Syria, but this country is very attractive and we have stayed until we have put out roots. Two-thirds of our men now are American citizens, and the others are fast progressing along the same lines.”

 “Still we feel friendship for the old country and a desire to secure her welfare and especially her freedom.”

SyrianquarterpeddlersLittle Syria thrived for a few more decades. But by the 1940s, when the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel demolished much of the neighborhood, it mostly disappeared, with many residents decamping for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue.

St. George’s Church on Washington Street appears to be the last remnant.

[Photos: LOC]

Touring Manhattan’s 19th century French Quarter

November 16, 2015

FrenchquarterboulangerieThe Germans had Kleindeutschland in the East Village. The Chinese had Mott Street. Eastern European Jews settled on the Lower East Side.

And from the 1870s to 1890s, approximately 20,000 French immigrants lived and worked in today’s Soho, roughly between Washington Square South and Grand Street and West Broadway and Greene Street.

Bakeries, butchers, cafes, shops, and “innumerable basement restaurants, where dinner, vin compris, may be had for the veriest trifle” occupied the short buildings and tenements of this expat enclave.

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An 1879 article in Scribner’s Monthly took readers on a wildly descriptive sojourn through the Quartier Francais, as the writer calls it.

FrenchquarterrestaurantIt’s not always so flattering. “The Commune has its emissaries and exiles here. There are swarthy faces which have gladdened in mad grimace over the flames of the Hotel de Ville and become the hue of copper bronze under the sun of New Caledonia.”

The writer of the article walked readers past tenements, with young girls fabricating fake flowers inside, to cafes where patrons drink absinthe.

A shop run by an old woman features this sign: “sabots et galoches chaussons de Strasbourg.” A restaurant called the Grand Vatel (right) “has some queer patrons.”

FrenchquartertavernealsacienneOn Greene Street is the Tavene Alsacienne (left), with its “impoverished bar” and worn billiards table, and groups of coatless men absorbed in their games.

Table d’Hote restaurants abound. “In the French Quarter in the vicinity of Bleecker Street, and elsewhere downtown, are several unique and low-priced establishments of this character,” according to King’s Handbook of New York, published in 1892.

Frenchquarter2015Like so many ethnic neighborhoods, this French Quarter didn’t last. By the turn of the century, the city’s small French colony relocated to West Chelsea.

“Twenty-sixth Street west of Sixth Avenue begins to take on the air of the old French Quarter,” reported The Sun in 1894.

“It has several French restaurants, three or four French shoemakers . . . a French grocer or two, and several French bushelling tailors.”

[Top image: NYPL Buttolph Collection of menus; sketches from Scribner’s Monthly, November 1879]


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