Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

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]

Elizabeth Street’s old-school meat market signs

March 6, 2017

On trendy Elizabeth Street in the Little Italy rechristened Nolita, two vintage meat store signs harken back to the days when Sicilian-owned businesses lined the streets and butchers did a good trade in live chickens and rabbits.

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Albanese Meats & Poultry looks abandoned, while Moe’s Meat Market across the street has been transformed into gallery space.

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The 1960s and 1970s-esque signs remain, just like this ghostly Italian bakery sign (over an antiques store) farther down the block.

The colossal failure of a 1905 Bleecker Street bar

March 6, 2017

subwaytaverngettyimagesNew York is a city rich with bars: corner bars, dive bars, gay bars, sports bars.

Bar culture is so ingrained here, a tavern functioned as the colony’s makeshift city hall through the end of the 1600s.

But imagine a bar that downplayed its beer and liquor menu and hoped to lure patrons by offering soda, hot chocolate, ice cream sodas—and a dose of religious sermonizing?

That was the idea behind the Subway Tavern, which opened in 1905 in a Federal-style row house on Bleecker and Mulberry Streets near the new subway system’s Bleecker Street stop.

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Dubbed by a snickering Newspaper Row as a “moral bar,” the Subway Tavern was the brainchild of Bishop Henry Codman Potter (below), leader of New York’s Protestant archdiocese.

subwaytavernbishoppotterAt the turn of the century, saloons were under siege, with the temperance movement bearing down hard.

It didn’t help that in the 1890s, reform-minded police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt began enforcing the excise laws that forbid the sale of booze on Sundays.

Potter thought that outlawing alcohol was a terrible idea, because “the workingman,” needed a place to drink “without hypocrisy.”

“When the day is done,” remarked Potter in a magazine article of the era, “what is to become of those persons whose lives are given over to laborious toil?”

subwaytavernnytimes8311905“I belong to the Century and the Union League and other clubs, and can go to them. But where are these people going?”

“By inevitable necessity to the saloon, and if you place the saloon under the ban you make it one of the most tragic or comic failures in history,” he explained.

So Potter launched his family-friendly tavern. The business plan had it that the manager would make money off the sale of non-alcoholic drinks yet receive nothing for liquor sales. The thought was that he would push the sale of soda—and fewer men would stumble home drunk.

subwaytavernmcny“In the front men, women, boys, and girls are invited to buy soda, and the place has the appearance of an ordinary soda water store,” wrote the New-York Tribune.

“A curtain in the rear leads to a saloon, where liquors and free lunch abound.” There was also a restaurant on a lower level.

Even in a reform-minded city, the Subway Tavern was a flop. Temperance leaders and clergymen denounced Bishop Potter for supporting an establishment that served evil alcohol. Few patrons showed up.

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Thirteen months after the Subway Tavern earned national attention as a way to clean up tavern culture without shutting bars down totally, it was shuttered. (Here’s the site today, after the building was razed).

In a city that revels in the ritual of drinking as well as alcoholic debauchery, this saloon was doomed to fail.

[Top photo: Getty Images; second photo: MCNY, 1905, x1905.34.2181; third photo: Wiki; fourth image, 1905 New York Times headline; fifth photo: MCNY, x2011.34.2169]

The mystery man in a rowboat on the East River

February 27, 2017

The Hudson has its beauty. But New York owes its financial power to the East River—not really a river of course but a 16-mile tidal estuary that for most of the city’s history was one of the busiest ports in the world.

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This late 19th century painting of a pale blue East River thick with ships on both sides and a lone man in a rowboat apparently struggling in the current is credited by one source to Impressionist William Merritt Chase.

I haven’t been able to confirm Chase as the artist. But as a Brooklyn resident in the 1880s, he often focused on the city’s physical beauty as well as scenes of day-to-day life that suggest a bit of mystery.

A Village hotel, a suicide, and a haunting painting

February 17, 2017

Since opening in 1887, the Albert Hotel on University Place and 11th Street has been a magnet for creative souls.

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Author Robert Louis Stevenson booked a room in this lovely Victorian Gothic building, receiving Augustus St. Gaudens as a guest.

albertpinkhamryderWalt Whitman and Mark Twain spent time at the Albert, as did Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s. Jackson Pollack, Robert Lowell, and folk rock bands like the Mamas & the Papas all made the hotel their home base.

But one late 19th century painter who gained notoriety for his moody landscapes and eccentric habits was so taken aback by an experience he had in the hotel’s restaurant, it inspired one of his darkest, most haunting works.

The painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (left), was a near-recluse. Totally devoted to his art, he often walked from his downtown flat to the Battery late at night to observe the effect of clouds passing over the moon.

alberthoteltheracetrack

“But a roof, a crust of bread and an easel,” was all he needed in life, Ryder reportedly wrote.

alberthotel1907mcny93-1-1-5311Ryder’s brother was the manager of the Albert, so he often took his meals there. One evening, he talked up a waiter about an upcoming horse race, the Brooklyn Handicap, and a favored thoroughbred named Hanover.

“The day before the race I dropped into my brother’s hotel and had a little chat with this waiter, and he told me that he had saved up $500 and that he had placed every penny of it on Hanover winning the race,” Ryder recalled years later.

“The next day the race was run, and as racegoers will probably remember, Hanover came in third. I was immediately reminded that my friend the waiter had lost all his money.”

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“That dwelt on my mind, as for some reason it impressed me very much, so much that I went around to my brother’s hotel for breakfast the next morning and was shocked to find my waiter friend had shot himself the evening before.”

alberthotelfrom11thst“This fact formed a dark cloud over my mind that I could not throw off, and ‘The Race Track’ is the result.”

Subtitled “Death on a Pale Horse,” the painting was completed between 1896 and 1908.

It belongs to the Cleveland Museum of Art—a work of art whose connection to a Bohemian hotel in Greenwich Village and a horse race in Brooklyn is not obvious yet runs deep.

[Fourth image: MCNY 93.1.1.5311; fifth image: The Sun headline, two weeks after Ryder died in 1917]

A downtown restaurant with pillars from Pompeii

February 17, 2017

delmonicostheepochtimesYou could say that New York’s pricey restaurant culture all started with Delmonico’s.

Opened by two Swiss brothers in 1827 as a cafe serving “cakes, ices, and fine wines” and expanded in 1831 into a restaurant serving European-style cuisine, this luxury eatery pioneered a la carte ordering, wine lists, and multi-page menus.

By the turn of the century, several Delmonico’s operated in prime city neighborhoods: Union Square, Madison Square, and soon uptown on 44th Street.

delmonicosmenu1880sBut today, only one still stands—a circa-1890 beauty at the juncture of Beaver and South William Streets.

This Delmonico’s pays tribute to earlier incarnations by featuring dishes supposedly invented by the restaurant like Delmonico steak, eggs Benedict, and baked Alaska.

The building itself is also a homage to Delmonico’s history and the continent that inspired its cuisine.

How? Look at the two white pillars at the restaurant entrance. They were reportedly excavated from the ruins of Pompeii and brought to New York by one of the Delmonico brothers to flank the entrance of an earlier Delmonico’s on this site in the 1830s.

delmonicosstaff931-1-18421“On July 7, 1891, the new Delmonico’s Restaurant at South William Street opened to the public,” states one history of the restaurant.

“The new structure was eight stories tall and featured, for the first time, electric lights. It also kept several touches from the original structure, including the Pompeii pillars and cornice that framed the entrance.”

delmonicos1890sThe Sun noted the pillars as well when describing the new 1891 building. “Out of the wreck of the old building the two white marble pillars . . . which Lorenzo imported from Pompeii have been retained and form part of the entrance. . . . “

Perhaps it’s just legend. But if the pillars really are from Pompeii, it would make them one of the oldest artifacts in the city.

[Top photo: theepochtimes; second image: MCNY 97.41.293; third photo: MCNY 93.1.1.18421; fourth photo: King’s Handbook of New York, 1892]

A Bowery tinsmith paints his city of memory

February 13, 2017

Born in 1801, William Chappel was a Manhattan native who made a modest living as a tinsmith and resided with his wife and kids at 165 Bowery opposite the Bowery Theatre.

[“The Buttermilk Peddler,” location unknown]

chappelbuttermilkpeddler2

He was also an amateur painter (and the father of a more renowned artist, Alonzo Chappel). The elder Chappel’s depictions of day-to-day street life offer a fascinating peek at New Yorkers at work and at play in the city of approximately 1810.

At that time, Gotham’s population stood at less than 100,000, most residents lived in 2- or 3-story wooden houses, the urban core barely stretched past Canal Street, and conveniences such as clean water and mass transit were still pipe dreams.

[“The Baker’s Wagon,” Hester Street]

chappelbakerswagon

Even without the amenities New Yorkers are long used to, life in the 1810 city isn’t so far off from the metropolis of today.

Peddlers sell food—buttermilk, strawberries, baked pears, bread. A watchman, one of the leather-helmeted patrolmen who predate the city’s first police force, walks his beat. Boats ferry people to Brooklyn from a dock at the end of Catherine Street.

[“City Watchman,” Elizabeth Street]

chappelnightwatchman

Well-dressed women head to a tea party. Bathers wade into the cool water at Dandy Point, at today’s 13th Street. Shoppers buy meat and fish at a marketplace called the Fly (from the Dutch “Vly”) Market. Volunteer firemen attract admirers as they wash their engines on the Bowery.

[“Firemen’s Washing Day,” The Bowery]

chapellfiremenswashingday

Chappel’s work in currently on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which notes that the 27 small oil paintings on display were all done in the 1870s, decades after the time period they depict.

[“Tea Party,” Forsyth and Canal Streets]

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“Chappel’s images defy easy categorization because his practice and motivation remain elusive,” states a summary of the exhibit mounted beside the paintings.”

“Did Chappel produce these works, in all their minute detail, from older sketches or from youthful memories?”

[Bathing Party, 13th Street at East River]

chappelbathingparty

“One thing is certain: Chappel’s scenes offer a rare glimpse of early nineteenth-century New York and its diverse working-class communities as it began its tumultuous ascent to the United States’ financial capital.”