Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

The brick and mortar ghosts all over Manhattan

January 16, 2017

The history of New York City is written on its walls—the walls of apartment houses and commercial buildings still standing, bearing the faded outline of those that met the bulldozer long ago.

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These phantom buildings are on every block (above, Fourth Avenue and 1oth Street), especially in today’s city with its constant renovation and rebuilding—what Walt Whitman called “knock down and pull over again spirit.”

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The roofs of these faded ghosts are often slanted and peaked—hints that a Federal-style house or stable once existed there. I’m guessing this outline on 11th Avenue in the west 20s, above, was a stable.

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Many of the outlines resemble the shells of tenements. This phantom at Rector Street, above, is likely all that remains of an anonymous tenement where generations of New Yorkers lived and raised families.

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The ghost building on Great Jones Street near Lafayette Street above, with what appears to be the outline of three chimneys, looks too short to be a tenement. Probably just a walk-up with a couple of flats per floor.

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The painted-white outline here on Third Avenue in Gramercy could have been a single family home, similar to the one on the left side of the photo hidden behind scaffolding.

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On West 57th Street a lonely tenement bears the remains of its neighbor, which had what looks like a central chimney or rooftop exit door.

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Is this the ghost of another stable or carriage house? It’s on the far West Side around 42nd Street, where the city’s last remaining working stables are.

Now this is a subway station worth celebrating

January 5, 2017

I’m as thrilled as any other New Yorker about the opening of the first leg of the Second Avenue Subway last weekend.

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And while the three new stations on the line are bright, clean, and easy to navigate, they just don’t hold a candle to the sublime and triumphant City Hall subway station, opened to an excited and celebratory public in October 1904.

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Though the tile-and-chandelier station closed to commuters in the 1940s, you can still view it.

Either sign up for an official tour sponsored by the New York Transit Museum (here’s a peek at what you’ll see) or look hard out the window of the 6 train as it turns around after the Brooklyn Bridge stop to head back uptown.

[Postcards: NYPL]

Everyone in 19th century New York loved oysters

January 5, 2017

oysters1900mcnyx2010-11-10037Oysters in the booming 19th century city were kind of like pizza today: sold in exclusive restaurants and lowly dives, prepared in countless styles, and devoured by rich and poor alike.

“Oysters were the great leveler,” wrote William Grimes in his book Appetite City. “At market stands, the New Yorker with a couple of nickels rubbed shoulders with the gay blades known as ‘howling swells.'”

“In humble cellars and lavish oyster palaces all over the city, oysters were consumed voraciously for as long as the oyster beds held out.”

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Oyster saloons popped up near theaters. Fisherman sold them off boats on the rivers. Fancy oyster houses fed the wealthy. Vendors at curbside stands sold them on the cheap, often adhering to what was called the “Canal Street plan”:

oystersmcdonaldsbowerynypl1907“All the oysters you could eat for six cents, usually sprinkled with vinegar and lemon juice, or perhaps just a little salt,” wrote Grimes. “By the 1880s, ketchup and horseradish were standard as well.”

As the ultimate democratizing food, oysters were enjoyed on Fifth Avenue the same as they were in Five Points (see illustration below).

Even Charles Dickens was amazed by their abundance and popularity at cheap Bowery dives during his visit to New York in 1842, which he famously chronicled.

“Again across Broadway, and so—passing from the many-coloured crowd and glittering shops—into another long main street, the Bowery. . . .” he wrote in American Notes.

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“These signs which are so plentiful, in shape like river buoys, or small balloons, hoisted by cords to poles, and dangling there announce, as you may see by looking up, ‘oysters in every style.’

“They tempt the hungry most at night, for then dull candles glimmer inside, illuminating these dainty words, and make the mouths of idlers water, as they read and linger.'”

[Top image: MCNY, 1900, x2010.11.10037; second image: NYPL, 1870; third image: NYPL menu collection; fourth image: NYPL, 1873]

Who passed through Ellis Island a century ago

January 2, 2017

ellisislanddutchwomenOn January 1, 1892, seven hundred immigrants from three ships waited in New York Harbor to board barges that would take them to Ellis Island.

These newcomers were the first to be processed at the brand-new, federal government-run facility, where a total of 12 million immigrants over 62 years were registered and then given medical and legal checks before being allowed onto the mainland.

(This was only for third-class passengers, of course—those in first and second class were given a quick inspection on the ship, then allowed to proceed to New York City.)

ellisislandgreeksoliderAfter arriving at Ellis Island, immigrants spent an average of two to five hours before getting the go-ahead to embark on a new life in the United States.

Two percent, however, were turned back across the pond for a variety of reasons: bad health, mental issues, anti-American sentiment.

Capturing the faces of many of these new arrivals in their native dress was chief registry clerk Augustus Sherman, who was also an amateur photographer.

Sherman took about 250 photos of people he encountered between 1905 and the 1920s.

ellisislandromanianshepherd“The people in the photographs were most likely detainees who were waiting for money, travel tickets or someone to come and collect them from the island,” stated The Public Domain Review.

Sherman took the photos for his own enjoyment. “Augustus Sherman was fascinated by where the immigrants were coming from and their traditional clothing,” states the National Park Service.

“He usually photographed immigrants that were detained briefly and used mostly dull backgrounds so the immigrants themselves were the main focus.”

ellisislanditalianwoman“Though originally taken for his own personal study, Sherman’s work appeared in the public eye as illustrations for publications with titles such as ‘Alien or American,’ and hung on the walls of the custom offices as cautionary or exemplary models of the new American species,” explained a summary of a book that collected Sherman’s Ellis Islands photos.

Regardless of how they were used a century ago, these photos are incredible portraits of what some of the people who made it to Ellis Island looked like.

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Dressed in folk outfits from their native countries, they have unsmiling yet hopeful faces.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverFor more about what it was like to arrive in New York City as an immigrant in the 19th and early 20th centuries—first at Castle Garden, then at Ellis Island—check out The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Countries of origin: 1. The Netherlands; 2. Greece; 3. Romania; 4. Italy; 5. “Hindu” is how the boy is described]

Peek into a travel diary of colonial New York

December 27, 2016

sarahkembleknightNew York in 1704 was barely a city at all.

Under British rule for only 40 years, about 5,000 people called it home. Not much existed past Maiden Lane. Industry focused on the harbor. The original Trinity Church had just been built. Yellow fever was epidemic.

And in autumn of that year a boardinghouse keeper named Sarah Kemble Knight (at left) set out on horseback from her hometown of Boston to journey to Manhattan and back, helping a friend handle legal issues.

Traveling via horse through colonial New England’s primitive roads and bunking in public houses would be rough for anyone, let alone a 38-year-old woman (she did have the help of a guide).

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But what makes the trip extraordinary is that Knight kept a journal, which was published as a book in 1825.

“The Cittie of New York is a pleasant well compacted place, situated on a Commodius River [which] is a fine harbor for shipping,” Knight wrote on her arrival in December 1704.

sarahkembleknighthouses1700She only stayed in the city for a “fortnight”—two weeks. Yet some of her impressions of New York as a place of fashion, stately houses, flowing alcohol, and high-speed fun might sound familiar.

“[New Yorkers] are not strict in keeping the Sabbath as in Boston and other places where I had bin,” she writes. “They are sociable to one another and courteous and civill to strangers and fare well in their houses.”

“The English go very fasheonable in their dress. [But] the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women, in their habitt go loose. . . .” Knight says, explaining that the Dutch women wear a caplike headband that leaves their ears sticking out “which are sett out with jewels [with] jewells of a large size and many in number.”

sarahnyin1700Dutch women also have fingers “hoop’t with rings.”

New Yorkers are great entertainers, she says, and taverns “treat with good liquor liberally, and the customers drink as liberally and generally pay for’t as well….”

The 18th century city knew how to have a good time. “Their diversions in the winter is riding sleys about three or four miles out of town,” Knight writes, “where they have houses of entertainment at a place called the Bowery, and some go to friends houses who handsomely treat them.”

sarahfrauncestavernnyplWhile out with friends, “I believe we mett 50 or 60 sleys that day—they fly with great swiftness and some are so furious that they’d turn out of the path for none except a loaden cart.”

Sounds like modern city traffic and bad taxi drivers!

[Top image: National Women’s History Museum; second image: New York in 1695; NYC Tourist; third image: NYC in 1700, Wikipedia; fourth image: Fraunces Tavern, built by Samuel DeLancey in 1719 on Pearl and Broad Streets; NYPL]

Shopping for Christmas dinner in the 1870s city

December 24, 2016

Most New Yorkers today get their holiday roasts and chops all nicely packaged from a refrigerated counter.

Not so in the 1870s. Hitting up one of the city’s huge (and typically filthy) outdoor markets so you could pick out a main course for your holiday meant looking Christmas dinner in the eye.

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“The neighborhood of Fulton Market, and all the passages of the market itself, were thronged yesterday with holiday buyers, who elbowed each other about in the snow and slush as if their lives depended upon the celerity with which they made their tour of the meat shops and poultry stands,” wrote the New York Times two days before Christmas in 1876.

Fulton Market—not just for fish but meat and game as well, as seen in the 1878 illustration above—was one of New York’s biggest. Washington Market on the West Side (below in 1879), also supplied New Yorkers with fresh game.

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A 1901 Harper’s Weekly article paid tribute to the “market men” who ran these venues and supplied the city with fare for holiday banquets.

“The city is awake and ravenous. In all the river streets the sidewalks are blockaded with great heaps of things to eat. Inside and outside the markets, as far as you can see, are butter and eggs, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, ducks and wild game, fat geese and chickens, grouse, quail, and woodcock, the staple meats in amazing quantity, fish, lobster, scallops,  and mussels, and turkeys, turkeys, turkeys, until one is convinced that the gobbler and not the eagle should be stamped on all the coin in the realm.”

[Illustrations: NYPL]

Slumming it with the 1898 Bowery Burlesquers

December 12, 2016

If only we could go back in time and buy tickets for this musical theater number, which poked fun at the new pastime of slumming—upper class New York curiosity seekers checking out the Bowery and other down-and-out city neighborhoods.

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The Bowery Burlesquers performed way off-Broadway theater in the 1890s, and audiences couldn’t get enough of it.

[Poster: LOC]

An odd 1848 building known as Odd Fellows’ Hall

November 21, 2016

Sometimes a building you’ve passed a thousand times in New York suddenly stops you in your tracks.

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That’s what happened on a walk to Grand and Centre Streets, when I took a hard look at the curious fortress-like rectangle on the southeast corner.

oddfellowshallnypl1863Its handsome brownstone facade, Queen Anne mansard roof, and many decorated chimneys looked out of place in an area of mostly tenements and low-rise lofts.

The building came off like a visitor from another New York. And in a way, it was.

It was constructed way back in 1848 as the New York headquarters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that aided the poor.

[Why the term “odd fellows”? When the group first formed in 17th century Europe before spreading to various cities in America, it was considered odd that people would come together to help the disadvantaged in their community, according to the Odd Fellows website.]

Designed by Trench and Snook, the architects behind retail king A.T. Stewart’s Marble Palace at Broadway and Chambers Street and many of New York’s cast iron edifices, this “Corinthian pilastered palace,” as the AIA Guide to New York City described it, originally had just four stories and a domed roof.

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Still, it was celebrated for its beauty and uniqueness. At a dedication of the building in 1849, a large procession marched down Broadway, blocking all omnibus traffic, until it reached Grand Street amid cheering and music, according to The Evening Post on June 5.

oddfellowshall1975mcnyInside was just as lovely, according to Miller’s New York as It Is, from 1866. “It contains a series of highly ornamented lodge-rooms, richly furnished and in different styles of architecture,” the guide noted.

Odd Fellows’ Hall only served as the organization’s home base in Manhattan until the 1880s.

The group moved uptown, and an extensive renovation—two more stories, the mansard roof—was done to make it more appealing to new commercial and industrial tenants.

Photos from the 1970s show the building to be rundown and vacant. Today, this odd reminder of a pre–Civil War architectural loveliness seems to have been restored.

[Second and third images: Odd Fellows’ Hall in the 19th century; fourth image: the building in 1975, MCNY 2013.3.1.32]

The most delicious ad on a Little Italy building

October 10, 2016

What’s left of Little Italy these days has been described as a tourist trap of restaurants, pastry shops, and knickknack stands.

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But something about this two-story ad makes me pine to go back 100 years, when Mulberry Street was the center of an enormous neighborhood stretching from Houston Street to Columbus Park, busy with specialty food shops, peddlers, vendors, crime family social clubs, and 10,000 people at its peak.

Caffe Roma was there in those storied days; the place has been serving espresso and treats since 1891.

The Art Deco health clinic sign off Worth Street

October 7, 2016

I’ve always admired the building at 125 Worth Street, which houses the Departments of Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation (or at least did at some point since the building opened in 1935).

clinicdeptofsanitationEnormous Art Deco–inspired lanterns and bronze grillwork flank the entrances, and health-themed ornamentation decorate the facade.

Then there’s this small sign above an unremarkable flight of stairs descending to a basement door on the side of the building.

It reads “Clinic Department of Sanitation.” The lettering is lovely and eye-catching.

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But I wonder who lined up outside this door decades ago when a clinic existed here, and what they came here to treat.