Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

Feel the nostalgia for these Manhattan store signs

November 28, 2016

Maybe we’ve hit the commercial real estate saturation point, or maybe it’s just a coincidence.

But a lot of vintage store signs seem to have come back into view this year…and have yet to be covered up again by the signage of a new store tenant.

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Holiday shopping season is the perfect time to view the above sign for 1980s Upper West Side store The Last Wound-Up, which specialized in new and retro toys and gadgets powered by a wind-up knob.

The shop was located on Columbus Avenue and 73rd Street. (Thanks to ENY reader Amy for the snap.)

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Before Duane Reade colonized Manhattan, there were pharmacies like this one, spotted on Eighth Avenue in Midtown.

It has no name and no frills—but look at that wonderful 1970s-yellow pestle and mortar icon above the entrance!

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Speaking of no frills, you’ve got to love this sign, on First Avenue in the East Village. The store recently housed an eatery called Tree. But “restaurant” is better, no?

This is the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

November 28, 2016

It made its debut on Christmas Eve 1931, in the muddy pit that would one day become Rockefeller Center.

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A group of mostly Italian immigrant hardhats knocking down the brownstones on the eventual site of 30 Rock chipped in to buy it—a very humble 18-foot balsam.

rockefellercenter1945edwardratcliffx2010-11-8801They put up the skinny tree inside the construction site and draped it in tin cans, paper, and tinsel—as well as traditional cranberry garlands and foil from blasting caps used during dynamiting, according to a 2015 New York Times piece.

Public Christmas trees in parks had been a thing since the first one graced Madison Square Park in 1912.

But the workers in the pit were honoring more than just the holiday (and the fact that they had jobs during this Depression year).

They were celebrating because it was payday, with each man receiving his wages in an envelope beside their tree.

Two years later, with Rockefeller Center completed, the owners decided to erect and decorate a real Christmas tree, a 65-footer that went up outside the then–RCA building.

rockefellercentertree1972c2010-11-8796Every year since, the holiday tree has delighted national crowds during its annual lighting ceremony and has been visited by hordes of thousands.

In its 85-year history, the tree has had its disruptions. Thanks to a war-mandated blackout, the two trees at 30 Rock weren’t lit in 1944.

In 1979, in an effort to bring attention to the American hostages held in Iran at the time, two men climbed the tree. One hung on for 80 minutes chanting “Free the 50.” (He was given a summons for trespassing.)

In 1971, with recycling catching on, the tree was turned into mulch for the first time—a tradition that continues once the tree has completed its duty come January.

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[Top photo: AP, 1931; second photo: MCNY 1945, x2010.11.8801; third photo: MCNY, 1973, x2010.11.8796; fourth image: MCNY, 1945, F2011.33.2122Q]

Times Square used to be a festival of neon light

November 24, 2016

Behold Times Square when it was New York’s premier entertainment district, a festival of neon lights emanating from billboards and theaters.

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The postcard carries a 1945 postmark, but it appears to depict Times Square in 1940. Two films released that year, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and The Westerner, with Gary Cooper, blaze across movie marquees.

Loveliness in turn of the century Bryant Park

October 24, 2016

Here’s Bryant Park in 1913, just a few years after the New York Public Library building opened on the site where the Croton distributing reservoir once stood (hence the park’s original name, Reservoir Square).

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But whose bust is that in the foreground?

It’s Washington Irving‘s, according to the Bryant Park Blog. Apparently the city placed this sculpture here because Irving once served on the park’s advisory council.

Removed during a 1930s park renovation, the bust is now part of Washington Irving High School near Gramercy Park.

Electric lights in the rain at Columbus Circle

October 3, 2016

Doesn’t New York become more magical in the rain? William A. Frazer, who took this enchanting photo titled “Wet Night, Columbus Circle” at the dawn of the 20th century, would likely agree.

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His image reveals the rainy nighttime city and marble Columbus monument cast in the soft glow of artificial light. When the photo was shot in 1900, electric streetlights extended up Broadway from 14th Street to the newly named Columbus Circle at 59th Street.

More images of the growing city bathed in electric light can be found in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, on sale now.

[Photo: MOMA]

The meaning behind Grand Central’s chandeliers

September 19, 2016

grandcentralchandeliervanderbilthallDropping from Vanderbilt Hall and other parts of Grand Central Terminal like heavenly jewels are spherical chandeliers—each with its light bulbs bare and exposed.

There’s a reason for this, and it stretches all the way back to the building’s construction and design at the turn of the last century.

The Vanderbilt family, which built this third version of Grand Central at 42nd Street, were “immensely proud of Grand Central’s status as one of the world’s first all-electric buildings,” states History.com.

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Previously, train stations and the engines that went in and out of them were smoky and sooty, making them unpleasant—not to mention unsafe.

“In fact, their pride greatly influenced the station’s interior designs. When it first opened, every one of the stations chandeliers and lighting fixtures featured bare, exposed light bulbs—more than 4,000 of them.”

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The chandeliers have changed over time; in 2008, the incandescent glow was replaced by fluorescent bulbs. But they continue to pay homage to the forward-thinking vision of the Vanderbilts and the era of quieter, cleaner, unadorned electricity.

Grand Central Terminal (never call it Station!) is a treasure of beautiful interiors. If you’ve ever noticed an acorn and leaf motif, that’s the Vanderbilt family again.

A peek inside Grand Central Terminal in 1939

August 15, 2016

From the New York Central Railroad comes this cool cutaway poster into Grand Central Terminal circa 1939, when train travel reigned supreme.

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The zodiac ceiling in the main concourse looks beautifully blue. There’s the main waiting room, now called Vanderbilt Hall, as well as a restaurant concourse, plus various lower levels connecting passengers to commuter trains and subways.

What happened to the art gallery on the third floor above the main waiting room?

Discount store Korvettes lives on in the subway

August 8, 2016

Remember the faded and forgotten Gimbels sign inside the 33rd Street PATH station? Turns out another relic of New York’s department store past is hidden away there as well.

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Inside a closed-off construction area along a walkway connecting the PATH to the Herald Square subway station is this sign for the underground entrance to Korvettes.

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What was Korvettes? New Yorkers who lived in the metro area anytime between the 1950s and the early 1980s know: it was a popular discount retailer with several locations in the city, including one at Sixth Avenue and 34th Street (top photo).

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Korvettes went bust in 1980—but this Reagan-era sign was never taken down, even as new retailers moved into its former site, now called the Herald Center.

saks34thstreet1920sThe Herald Center has quite a retailing history. Before Korvettes moved there in the 1960s and the building was sheathed behind a Brutalist facade, it was a lovely Beaux-Arts building constructed in 1902 for Saks’s Herald Square store (left).

(Part of the old Saks facade came back into view last year during construction—a sweet site to behold.)

Korvettes had a strong run—I’d put it above Crazy Eddie but below its Herald Square neighbors like Gimbels and Abraham & Straus in the rankings of defunct city department stores.

This 1970s TV commercial will take you back to the days when Korvettes was big. Thanks to ENY reader B.R. for alerting me to the sign!

[Top photo: John J. Meola/Wikipedia; second photo: Alamy; third photo: Getty Images; fifth image: Staten Island Advance, 1971]

What lunch looked like on Fifth Avenue in 1950

August 4, 2016

It’s the weekday, probably noon, and thousands of city workers are unleashed on the sidewalks, looking for a quick bite before it’s back to the 1950s nine-to-five office world.

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Paris-born photographer Andreas Feininger, who worked for Life through the early 1960s, captures the Midcentury madness and a sea of straw hats in Lunch Rush, shot in 1950.

Pickets and protests at a New York Woolworth’s

July 28, 2016

It all started in 1960. On February 1, four black college students sat at the lunch counter of a Woolworth’s store in North Carolina, “where the official policy was to refuse service to anyone but whites,” explains history.com.

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They weren’t served, of course. But their sit-in sparked a movement. Thanks to national TV coverage, segregation foes showed their support by picketing Woolworth stores around the country.

WoolworthsheadlinenytThat included stores in New York City. Segregation was not legal here, of course.

But that didn’t stop protesters from gathering at more than 100 Woolworths across the city to urge support for the North Carolina students and call for the end of the South’s Jim Crow laws.

The New York–based Congress of Racial Equality “mounted a 30-member picket line in front of the F.W. Woolworth & Co. store at 208 West 125th Street,” (above) reported the New York Times on February 14.

Picketers continued demonstrating through the spring. On April 3, while 100 people protested outside the store, 30 young adults held a sit-in at a Woolworth’s counter on 34th Street near Seventh Avenue.

Woolworthstimessquare“The sit-down demonstrators at the Herald Square store, Negro and white, included two clergymen,” continued the Times. “They ordered no food, but sat at the counter near the 33rd Street entrance, reading newspapers and doing crossword puzzles.”

“Neither the store’s personnel nor the police tried to oust them. They soon dispersed.” More protests, like this one at a Woolworth’s in Times Square, followed.

Officially, lunch counters in the South desegregated that summer.

[Top photo: Getty Images; second and third images: New York Times]