Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

Grand Central Station like you’ve never seen it

October 5, 2015

Looking strangely out of place on 42nd Street, this is Grand Central Station (formerly Terminal) in the early 1900s, after a renovation of the original 1871 structure—which had become too small for the growing metropolis.


Grandcentralterminal1871Cornelius Vanderbilt’s red brick terminal with its towering cupolas underwent a French Renaissance remodeling, which added three stories.

In the distance is the Queensboro Bridge, built in 1909. This version of Grand Central wouldn’t last long; it would be knocked down and replaced by the current Beaux-Arts beauty by 1913.

A faded toothpaste ad reappears on 43rd Street

September 14, 2015

Ever heard of Sozodont Toothpaste? Me neither, but in 1859, it was invented by a New Jersey druggist and manufactured by a firm on Washington Street called Hall & Ruckell.


And at some point in the early 1900s, this colorful Sozodont advertisement went up on the side of a stately building on 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal.

Toothpastedvanderbiltave2Hidden behind another building for decades, the remarkably well preserved three-story ad finally saw the light of day again thanks to that building’s recent demolition.

Sozodont fell out of favor in the early 20th century; apparently its high alcohol content destroyed enamel and turned teeth yellow.

The ad will probably go into hiding again soon, but what a relic of the early 20th century city!

[Thanks to Rick F. for alerting ENY to this beauty.]

The whispering gallery in Grand Central Terminal

September 7, 2015

Among the loveliness inside Grand Central Terminal—the starry-skied ceiling, the clocks, the chandeliers—are some wonderful architectural mysteries.


One that appears to have been an accident of design is the whispering gallery. It’s on the lower level outside the Oyster Bar, under beautiful original Gustavino tiles on a low domed ceiling.

Face the wall and whisper, and your words can be clearly heard on other side of the 50-foot space—thanks to the way sound waves travel across the vaulted ceiling.


No evidence exists that the whispering gallery was anything more than a “happy coincidence,” says one of the architects who helped restore Grand Central in the 1990s, states this New York Times piece.

But other sources say it must have been intentional.


Rafael Gustavino and his son designed this part of the terminal “based on architectural principles that have been used for centuries worldwide—from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing to the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, India,” according to New York Curiosities.

[Second image: postcard of the Whispering Gallery before the Oyster Bar was added; New York Times]

Art Deco beauty of an East Side subway entrance

September 3, 2015

Art Deco skyscrapers stand proud like shiny monuments across the Manhattan skyline. But Art Deco subway stations? Those are harder to find.


The lucky commuters who take the E or 6 train at Lexington Avenue and 51st Street get to pass this stylized Art Deco subway entrance.

Thanks to the sleek design and surrounding buildings, it’s always the end of the Jazz Age.


The sign is right outside the General Electric Building (formerly the RCA Victor Building) a 1931 Art Deco beauty, with its decorative bursts along the facade meant to represent the awesome power of radio waves and electricity.

And that wonderful clock, with forearms that stretch time!

The go-go bar of The Odd Couple’s closing credits

August 24, 2015

Remember the opening and closing credits of The Odd Couple? Those scenes serve as a tour of gritty 1970s New York.


Felix, just kicked out of the house by his wife, rests his bags on the sidewalk in front of a blue city bus. Oscar walks into wet cement after watching a girl in a miniskirt cross the street.

And at one point, Oscar looks in the window of topless go-go bar, only to be shooed away by a cop.


Could that topless bar in 1970 be this Toasties sandwich shop on 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues today?

It sure looks like it. In fact, there still is an Indian restaurant on the second floor, one that bills itself as the oldest Indian restaurant in New York City. Here’s a look at those entire closing credits.

[Hat tip to Dean at the History Author Show, which should definitely do an Odd Couple tour of New York City in an upcoming podcast.]

Studio 54 invites you to a party in the 1980s

August 17, 2015

Opened in 1977, Studio 54 continues to hold up as an emblem of late 1970s exclusivity and disco decadence.


After Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager sold the club in 1981, it still attracted crowds—though not quite the way it did during its heyday.


Instead of velvet ropes keeping people out, the club seemed to do everything they could to pack patrons in, apparently by hosting very mainstream events and giveaways.

It looks like anyone and their guest who could pay the $8-$12 gained entry.


A party for the premiere of The Search for Spock? It doesn’t sound like the movie is even part of the itinerary.


The club closed for good in 1991, long after its cache was over.

These party invites are part of the digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The appeal of a West Side parking garage sign

August 3, 2015

I couldn’t find any information on when this sign went up outside the parking garage on 43rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.


But the colors and the stylistic “garage,” not to mention its wear and tear, give it a vintage old New York feel.

It’s a strangely uplifting sight in an area once bookended by the super low-rent Hotel Carter and divey Smith’s Bar and is now home to sushi restaurants, a Westin Hotel, and the sleek offices of Yahoo.

The mystery name behind the Starbucks sign

July 6, 2015

BroadstreetsThe Starbucks Coffee at 334 Fifth Avenue, at 33rd Street, bit the dust earlier this year, reportedly a victim of the city’s insane commercial rents.

Now that the familiar green logo has been removed from the facade, the ghostly imprint of an older sign has come back into view.

Broadstreet’s, the faded outline reads on both sides of the corner storefront. But what was Broadstreet’s? It’s a mystery that needs solving.


A men’s clothing store chain called Broadstreet’s apparently existed in New York on Fifth Avenue from the 1940s to the 1960s, but this typeface doesn’t look like it goes back that far.

In any case, welcome back to Fifth Avenue, Broadstreet’s, albeit temporarily until a new retailer covers you up again.

Here’s another New York retail relic from the 1960s finally revealed when another Starbucks on Lexington Avenue closed up shop earlier this year.

What if the West Side Airport had been built?

June 29, 2015

Imagine if the entire stretch of Manhattan from West 34th Street to West 79th Street from Broadway to the Hudson River was an enormous airport runway.


It could have happened in 1946—if flamboyant real estate developer William Zeckendorf had his way.

That’s when Zeckendorf unveiled plans for his West Side Airport, the city’s “dream” airport that would obliterate Midtown West and part of the Upper West Side.


Handling 68 domestic commercial flights per hour, “the sprawling terminal, in effect, would bring air service right to the heart of New York City and eliminate the necessity of limousine travel to and from existing airports which are 10 miles outside the business districts,” states a May 1946 Life article.


“[Zeckendorf’s] plan included the building of thirty-five 10-story buildings for industrial purposes, terminals for buses and trucks, commercial and freight railroad lines, and an airport standing above the buildings and streets on a sizable deck,” states one book on urban renewal.

WestsideairportinsideIt’s not exactly a surprise that the airport idea died a quick death. Though Zeckendorf was a successful developer who helped piece together land to build the United Nations, some of his other ideas—a 102-story tower on top of Grand Central terminal, a boulevard of apartment houses on 42nd Street leading to the U.N.—also tanked.

They join so many other ideas for New York City that also never made it past the planning stage, such as a speedway in Central Park, a 100-story housing development in Harlem, and moving sidewalks to whisk pedestrians to their destinations.

[Photos: Life]

Art Nouveau beauty on a gritty Midtown corner

June 8, 2015

Beloved in European cities such as Paris and Prague at the turn of the century, the naturalistic Art Nouveau style of architecture—with its curvy lines and showy ornaments—never caught on with New Yorkers.


But one lovely example from 1903 survives at the gritty Garment District corner of Eighth Avenue and 38th Street.

West38thstreet1926mcnyThis three-story holdout building, originally an actor’s hotel, is currently dwarfed by the 20-story loft towers that went up around in 1926 (at left).

It’s also partially hidden by garish store signs advertising $1 pizza and sex DVDs.

But its stunning beauty still comes through, and it can take your breath away.

 The copper roof and cornice, blond brick, bay windows, and lovely female faces decorated with shells and garlands staring down pedestrians on Eighth Avenue—taking it all in transports you to another era.

300 West 38th Street was designed by Emery Roth just before his career took off. Roth is the creative genius behind the Eldorado, the San Remo, and the Hotel Belclaire.

Unlike those luxury residences, however, 300 West 38th Street was intended for more modest use.


“The building application, signed by Roth, describes it as a ‘dwelling and office’ but later accounts call it a hotel,” states a New York Times piece from 2002.

300West38thstreetdecoration“The 1910 census lists 14 lodgers living on the second and third floors, among them the widower London McCormack, 49, an actor; Philip Blass, 44, a shoe salesman; and John and Phyllis Ellis, 48 and 30, actors.”

More than 100 years later, 300 West 38th Street remains a diamond in the rough.

It’s a perfect example of a holdout building that’s somehow survived the passage of time, a little European flair amid the Garment District’s cavernous loft buildings and office towers.


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