Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

A rat attack near City Hall in 1970s New York

July 13, 2015

AnnstreetsignThe number one nightmare scenario of every New Yorker: coming into close physical contact with rattus norvegicus, or the typical city street and sewer rat.

Now imagine being attacked by a horde of these greasy creatures. That’s what actually happened to one woman while heading to her car parked on a street near city hall, where an empty lot that once held a tavern was now home to hundreds of rats.

It happened in the summer of 1979, during a tugboat strike that left trash and garbage rotting on city streets.

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At about 9 p.m., a woman described by witnesses as being in her 30s was walking on Ann Street near Theatre Alley (above), south of City Hall.

“Judging from the various accounts, she seems to have been approached by the rats as she was walking toward her car,” wrote Robert Sullivan in Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.

NYCgarbagestrike1981“She also seems to have noticed the rats coming near her, their paws skittering on the street. Witnesses said the rats swarmed around the woman. One climbed her leg and appeared to bite her.”

The woman understandably began screaming; a man tried to help her by waving his jacket in front of the rats, but unafraid, they simply climbed up the coat.

The hysterical woman finally made it to her car and closed the door, with the rats climbing all over it.

Theatrelley1999nyplWhen police arrived, “the rats were still there, scurrying through the streets and into Theatre Alley and into nests on a lot on Ann Street around the corner,” wrote Sullivan.

The unnamed victim of the rat attack was reported to city papers the next day. New Yorkers accustomed to living among rats shuddered.

Only the police doubted the story because nobody went to a hospital within 50 miles of the city for injuries consistent with a rat attack, wrote Jerry Langton in Rat: How the World’s Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top. Sullivan’s book and newspaper accounts. however, take the story to be true.

[Third photo: garbage strike in a pre-gentrification New York City; NY Times; fourth photo: Theatre Alley in grittier days in 1999; NYPL/Dylan Stone]

An early photographer’s shadowy, soft-focus city

June 29, 2015

Born in 1886, Karl Struss distinguished himself as a cinematographer in early black and white movies, working with Cecil B. Demille and Charlie Chaplin, among others.

But before his film career took off, he worked as a commercial photographer in his native New York City. His moody, atmospheric images capture the lights and shadows of a horse-powered, low-rise city as it enters the modern, mechanized 20th century.

[West Street, 1911]

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As a child, Struss became entranced by his brother’s wooden folding camera. He then learned his way around the darkroom and taught himself printmaking. Later he took classes at Columbia University with Clarence White, a member of the Photo-Secessionists, a group of artists who argued that photography wasn’t about merely recording an image but capturing something artistic and creative.

Through White he met Alfred Stieglitz, who invited Struss to exhibit his work in a 1911 show.

[Manhattan Bridge, 1910]

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“Any portfolio of his work from 1909 until 1916 alternates Old World scenic and pastoral vistas with the harder-edged urban lines of New York City, especially its long, ominous night shadows and brilliant source lights,” states a profile of Struss on the American Society of Cinematographers website.

“For several years Struss had been working assiduously to promote himself as a commercial as well as an art photographer; his personal goal was to demonstrate that the two kinds of work were not incompatible.”

[Herald Square, 1911]

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His print photography days were numbered. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army but never left America because of rumors reportedly spread by his photography world colleagues that he was disloyal to his country.

[Mercedes Autobus, Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, New York, 1912]

Strussmercedesautobusfithand38thny1912

Struss1912clarencewhite“This ugly episode may have been the catalyst that led him to leave the chummy world of New York art photography for the freewheeling film scene in Hollywood,” states a New York Times article from 1995.

Struss remained in the movie industry, earning awards and working through the 1950s. He died in 1981, in time for his own resurgence as a leading photographer who helped elevate photographer to an art form—along with other pioneering picture-takers, like Paul Strand and the more abstract Langdon Coburn.

[Right: Karl Struss in 1912, by Clarence White

Something beautiful hiding under City Hall

June 22, 2015

No turnstiles, no token or MetroCard machines, no posters or maps—just a lovely vaulted-ceiling platform with an oak ticket booth at City Hall.

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This City Hall station, with its chandeliers and skylights, had a short life span, from 1904 to 1945. You can catch a glimpse of it if you stay on the 6 train as it uses the City Hall station to loop back uptown again.

The ticket booth is long gone, but the station itself remains, sometimes open for tours, as seen in these recent photos.

Congratulations to these old New York graduates

June 8, 2015

It’s commencement season, the perfect time to look back at images of long-ago graduates posing in class photos. What in the world became of them?

Gradutionps641915

The suited up boys in this 1915 photo, new graduates of P.S. 64 at 605 East Ninth Street, look like they’re going places in life.

P.S. 64 opened in 1906, not long after the consolidation of the city, a time of huge investment in new school facilities. “Organized around two courtyards, it was the first elementary school to have an auditorium with direct access to the street, allowing this structure to serve an expanded role in the community,” states the Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Graduationbrooklynfriends1943

Brooklyn Friends is a private school in downtown Brooklyn founded in 1867. This is the class of 1943, decked out in graduation suits and gowns.

Graduationbroadsthospital1885

Elementary and high schools aren’t the only institutions that hold a commencement ceremony. Meet the 1885 nursing school graduates from Broad Street Hospital, formerly at the end of Broad Street.

News photographer George Bain captured this image of the graduates of the “Cripple School” on the Lower East Side’s Henry Street in 1912.

Graduationcrippleschool1915

Officially known as the Crippled Children’s East Side Free School, the school intended to “provide the crippled children of the Lower East Side with facilities for securing an education and learning a trade, so that they may become self-supporting,” according to a 1920 guide.

“Workrooms maintained where older cripples fill orders for all kinds of needlework and hand stitching and paper boxes.”

A Tribeca eyesore built to withstand nuclear war

May 11, 2015

LonglinesbuildingTribeca is a wonderland of 19th century buildings, from brick warehouses to Federal-style homes.

But one 550-foot Brutalist building that looms over Thomas Street, a hulk of pink windowless granite that looks like a giant Lego block, harkens back to the height of the Cold War.

This is the AT&T Long Lines Building, built in 1974 to house crucial telecommunications equipment.

LonglinesbuildingDesigned with disaster in mind, the structure was built like a fortress to withstand a nuclear blast and be self-sufficient for two weeks, in the event of a nuclear attack on New York City.

“The interiors were designed with high ceilings and large floor plates, spaces where telephone-switching equipment is housed and can be easily maintained,” wrote the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

“Aesthetic choices were, in part, also shaped by security concerns.”

“Not only is the Thomas Street entrance raised far above the sidewalk (similar to the plan of One World Trade Center), but this critical communications facility was also reportedly planned to withstand a nuclear blast.”

Longlinesbuildingsky

Unlike other former telecommunications buildings, the Long Lines building, quite imposing and with no windows, is probably never destined to be turned into co-ops.

[Second photo: Andrew St. Clair/Flickr; third photo: nyc-architecture.com]

A close-up look down Cortlandt Street in 1908

April 27, 2015

“Cortlandt Street, New York, showing the Singer Building,” reads the caption of this postcard.

Cortlandtstreetpostcard1

What a time capsule we’re looking at from what appears to be West Street. Not only is there no more Singer Building (brand new in 1908, demolished in 1968), but the small-scale walkups on the right were obliterated to make way for the World Trade Center in the early 1970s.

Cortlandt Street at this time had not yet earned its wonderful nickname, “Radio Row.”

Cortlandtstreet1908bandw

That’s the platform for the Ninth Avenue El, which ran up Greenwich Street. Compare the postcard to the actual photo it comes from.

Shorpy has the enlarged image here, so you can gaze at old New York in incredible detail.

A tough painter depicts a tender New York

April 27, 2015

George Luks arrived in New York from Philadelphia in 1896.

Passionate and energetic, he was one of many young painters (along with artist friends he met in Philly, like Everett Shinn and William Glackens) whose work focused on the tenderness of the city’s underbelly.

[“The Bread Line”]

766px-'The_Bread_Line'_by_George_Benjamin_Luks,_Dayton_Art_Institute

“One of the dynamic, young group of American Realists known as the Ashcan School, [Luks] was a tough character who in art and life embraced the gritty side of turn-of-the-century New York,” states the Brooklyn Museum.

Macho and combative, he first worked as an illustrator at the New York World, honing his skills outside of his newspaper job by painting peddlers, poor older women, street kids, and other down and out New Yorkers—as well as impressionist-like scenes of the city at play and at street markets.

[“Madison Square,” 1915]

Luks_madison-square

In 1908, he’d gained notoriety as a member of the Eight, a group of social realist painters whose dark, gripping work attracted controversy.

Artistic styles change fast, and soon, Luks’ urban realism was out of fashion.

“Ironically perhaps, by the time Luks exhibited at the Armory Show in 1913, his formerly radical subject matter and style were overshadowed by the developing abstract movement,” states one gallery site.

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[“Spring Morning in New York,” 1922]

220px-George_Luks_I“Luks would teach at the Art Students League in New York from 1920 to 1924 and go on to establish the George Luks School of Painting in New York,” on East 22nd Street.

His death in 1933, at age 66, was characteristically dramatic. On October 29, Luks (at left) was found in the early morning hours slumped in a doorway, beaten to death after a barroom brawl.

Glowing beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge at night

April 13, 2015

Now this is enchantment: the globes of light from the bridge deck, the boat lights illuminating the East River, the twinkling skyline of lower Manhattan.

Brooklynbridgenightpostcard

“This view shows the well known Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground, and the most prominent of New York’s skyscrapers in the distance,” reads the back of this postcard.

“This scene is probably more familiar than any other to the multitude of people living in Greater New York.”

Is this really the shortest street in Manhattan?

April 6, 2015

EdgarstreetsignManhattan has no shortage of dead-end alleys and one-block streets.

But at 63 feet long, Edgar Street, way down beside Battery Park City off of Greenwich Street, just might hold the title of the borough’s shortest thoroughfare.

It’s named after a shipping magnate whose mansion fronted Greenwich Street around the turn of the 19th century, when lower Greenwich was the Millionaire’s Row of the era.

Edgarstreet

Edgar Street’s title come from an insightful post from the folks at Curbed, who relied on data from Property Shark. The Street Book, which explains the origins of all of Manhattan’s street names, also cites Edgar Street as the shortest.

weehawkenstreetsignThing is, other sources have it that Mill Lane should get shortest-street honors.

“[T]iny Mill Lane in the financial district appears to be the shortest of them all, coming in a few feet shorter than Edgar Street,” stated Michele and James Nevius, authors of Inside the Apple, in a New York Times Q and A.

EdgarstreetoldOver in the West Village, an ancient sign nailed to a wall on slender Weehawken Street names this one-block lane between West 10th and Christopher Streets as Manhattan’s smallest (above left).

Gay Street, Moore Street, Jones Street, and St. John’s Lane are also contenders for the title.

So which is really the shortest street?

Since Mill Lane doesn’t appear to allow traffic through it anymore, I’m going with Edgar (right, in an undated NYPL photo . . . is that the Ninth Avenue El overhead?).

A bit of the London Blitz adorns a downtown gate

April 6, 2015

CherubgateThe front entrance to Trinity Church (and its 17th century burial ground) faces Broadway.

It’s a fascinating, haunting place to lose yourself in early New York history and read the faded gravestones of city founders.

But it’s on a lonely gate at the back of the churchyard (at left), on Trinity Place, where a curious relic—a stone cherub head—can be found.

What’s it doing there?

The head comes from St. Mary-le-Bow church in London’s East End, founded in 1080 and built in 1680 by Christopher Wren.

CherubgatecloseupDuring the Blitz in May 1941, St. Mary-le-Bow, along with thousands of other homes and buildings in London, was leveled by German air raids.

After the war, Trinity Church, a sister church to St. Mary-le-Bow (below, in the 1890s) since Trinity was founded in 1697, pledged $50,000 to help the parish rebuild.

Found in the rubble during construction, the cherub head was gifted to Trinity Church by the people of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1964 as a thank you.

Stmarylebow1890sThe strangely undamaged cherub head now adorns what Trinity has renamed “Cherub Gate” on Trinity Place.

It’s not the only bit of the Blitz to make it to New York City. The landfill used to create the FDR Drive contains pieces of bombed out buildings from Bristol.

And many New Yorkers, including Mayor La Guardia, feared the arrival of German bombers on our side of the Atlantic, so much so that they commissioned this public service poster to alert residents of what to do if a devastating attack on the city actually happened.

 Cherubgateplaque


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