Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

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.

Broadstreetscloseup

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.

Westsideairportlife

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.

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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.

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“[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.

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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.

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“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.

The Theater District’s 1982 Broadway Massacre

June 1, 2015

In the 1910s and 1920s, New York’s Theater District in the newly christened Times Square area was at peak popularity.

Astorthetaer1936

“Close to eighty theaters were in operation, with as many as seven shows debuting on the same night,” wrote Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

BroadwaymasscrebijoumoroscoBut as movies and TV replaced live theater as an entertainment option, many of Broadway’s venerable theater houses were slated for the wrecking ball.

No year had as many demolitions as 1982, when five theaters were to be reduced to a pile of bricks, then replaced by a new luxury hotel.

The plan for the hotel, with a new theater housed inside it, was first announced in 1973.

It gained support from city officials, who felt that Times Square’s seediness was driving away theatergoers. A theater safely ensconced away from the street, however, could draw back crowds.

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But that meant the Helen Hayes (built in 1911), the Bijou (1917), the Morosco (1917), the Astor (1906, above photo), and the Gaiety (1909), all on or between 45th and 46th Streets, had to be torn down.

Rallies were staged. One outside the Morosco on 45th Street and Broadway on March 4, 1982 was organized by Joseph Papp. Jason Robards, Christopher Reeve, Lauren Bacall, and James Earl Jones read from Pulitzer-winning plays, all making pleas for the Morosco and Helen Hayes to be saved.

BroadwaymassacreprotestThe “Save the Theaters” campaign ultimately failed. By late spring, what was deemed the “Broadway Massacre” or the “Great Theater Massacre of 1982″ had transpired.

In 1985, Times Square got its gleaming 45-story hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with a revolving restaurant at the top.

You could say the project was the first of many that redid the face of Times Square and gave the Theater District a different character.

[Third photo: Metropolismag.com; fourth photo: Skyscraper Museum]

Two 19th century slums known as “Battle Row”

May 25, 2015

BattlerowheadlinebattleroweastnytOld New York’s slums had some illustrious names: Murderers’ Alley, Bandits’ Roost, and the Dead End (an Irish district off First Avenue overlooking the East River).

But one descriptive name was used for two poverty rows, one on the east side of Manhattan and one on the west: Battle Row.

Battlerow39thand10thavenyplThe east side Battle Row marked a stretch of First Avenue around 63rd Street. The Battle Row Gang ran this neighborhood of old-law tenements and belching riverfront factories.

Lawlessness ruled even without the gang’s influence. “The destructive pastimes of the Battle Row tenants were largely informal,” according to a 1924 New York Times piece. “They were most congenial as they rifled the wagon of an unfortunate peddler who ventured into their street.”

“In the decade between 1902 and 1912, the Row obtained its peak of pugnacity,” explained a 1926 New York Times article.

“An ever-popular diversion of the Row’s tenants was cop-sniping,” stated the Times. “Men, women, and children would peep from roofs and windows and drop rocks and decrepit vegetables upon passing policemen.”

Battlerow40thstreetjacobriisOne longtime cop recalled in the Times piece a holiday tradition in Battle Row:

“Groups of [residents] would go over to First or Second Avenue and toss a rock through the window of a butcher store and in a minute or two the nice collection of turkeys, ducks, and chickens would have disappeared.”

Meanwhile, the west side Battle Row, on West 39th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, was part of Hell’s Kitchen, then known as “probably the lowest and filthiest of the city.”

BattlerowwestsidenytheadlineThis slum of “gas-works, breweries, and rum shops,” which reportedly got its name due to all the street fights among the packed-like-sardines population, was the territory of the Gophers and other gangs.

These gangs of Irish immigrants raided the train yards at 30th Street, among other criminal enterprises. Battle Row seems to have also been the name of a saloon on that block operated by Mallet Murphy, one of the “Lady Gophers” and a notorious female criminal.

Battlerow61ststmodeltenementsmcnyBoth Battle Rows disappeared in the reform-minded city after the turn of the century.

The east side’s Battle Row became the site of model tenements, then a neighborhood of luxury apartment towers with river views.

The West Side Battle Row held out as a working-class neighborhood. It’s now on prized land made trendy by the revitalized Far West Side.

[Images: headline, NYT; tenement on West 39th Street, NYPL; Hell’s Kitchen tenement similar to what Battle Row would have looked like, Wikipedia; headine, NYT; model tenement that replaced Battle Row on First Avenue, MCNY Digital Collection]

Easter menus from New York’s restaurant past

March 30, 2015

EasterdinnermenufrontwindsorEaster dinner was a feast at the luxurious Hotel Windsor in 1893, once on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street.

Judging by the cover of the menu (left), the day’s religious significance was front and center.

Starting with “Easter eggs,” this Gilded Age menu details more than seven hefty courses, ending with a delicious strawberries and cream option.

Mutton kidneys and frizzled beef, on the other hand, sound less than appetizing.

Easterdinnerwindsor1893

Fast-forward to 1955. We’re at the Park Lane Hotel (located on Park Avenue and 48th Street until 1971), and Easter Dinner is now Easter Sunday Brunch, its religious significance not referenced.

The menu is a lot smaller and features brunch favorites New Yorkers indulge in today, such as Eggs Benedict and pancakes (okay, wheat cakes) and sausage.

Easterbrunchhotelparklane1955

Looks like only hot buns, filet of sole, and sausage appear on both menus, which are part of the New York Public Library’s fantastic Buttolph Collection of American menus.

If the Park Lane Hotel still hosts an Easter Brunch, I bet it’s no longer $4.50 a person!

Enchanting rainy evenings in the Gilded Age city

March 23, 2015

Impressionist painter Charles Constantin Hoffbauer, born in 1875, must have loved the rain.

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He painted many scenes of streetlights and roadways and cable cars and black-clad people slick with rain, some depicting his native Paris but many of New York, where he arrived just before 1910.

His New York is an evening or nighttime city on the move, one of melancholy skies illuminated by billboards and store windows.

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The exact location of each scene isn’t always clear, but the first image could be close to Times Square, with the Times building in the back.

Next up is the very recognizable New York Public Library main building, an El station off in the distance.

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The third might be Madison Square Park’s Met Life Tower, flanked by the second version of Madison Square Garden in dark shadows.

More images of a stormy, moody city can be found here.

Meet the shiny new Port Authority Bus Terminal

March 23, 2015

It’s long been considered one of the city’s ugliest buildings, an “iron monstrosity” and the center of 1970s and 1980s sleaze that just can’t escape its sketchy reputation.

Portauthorityopeningphoto

In 1950, when the gleaming, efficient-looking Port Authority Bus Terminal at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street opened, the place was on the receiving end of lots of love.

Just listen to this promotional newsreel on the new terminal, which raves about the escalators, the shops, the 31 bus ticket windows you can visit for a ticket to “any city of town in the United States.”

According to the reel, the bus terminal stands “among the milestones of the century.”

Well, that’s stretching it. But at the time, the idea was pretty good—up until then, Manhattan had eight smaller bus terminals scattered around Midtown.

[Top photo: PANYNJ; Newsreel: Historic Films via YouTube]

A wood telephone booth hides on 54th Street

March 9, 2015

After an 88-year run in a townhouse on East 54th Street, Bill’s Gay Nineties closed in 2012.

Billsphonecloseup

The shuttering of the former speakeasy turned saloon and restaurant was a big loss for New Yorkers who love a time warp and a mahogany bar.

BillsphoneboothReopened and rechristened Bill’s, it’s a cleaned-up version of the old place, with much of the same decor, framed old photos, and finishings (and the silver dollars long embedded into the floor).

And luckily, the old wood telephone booth (with a phone with separate coin slots for quarters, dimes, and nickels!) off to the side of the front doors is still in place as well.

Sightings of wood phone booths are rare in Manhattan, so it’s a relief that this one wasn’t turned into a coat check or closet.

But why in the world does the staff keep one of those yellow wet-floor warning signs in there?

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What the Fifth Avenue bus looked like in 1920

March 2, 2015

The bus is the red-headed stepchild of New York City transportation options. While yellow taxis and gritty subways have earned iconic status, city buses slog along, functional but unloved.

Fifthavenuebuspostcard

Which is why it’s great to see a vintage postcard celebrating one bus line. Here’s a rickety-looking vehicle (is that a Mercedes logo?) stopped at the corner of 42nd Street, beside the then-new New York Public Library.

It appears to be part of the fleet of the Fifth Avenue Coach Company, which charged 10 cents to ride. In 1921, Mayor Hylan was committed to running city buses with a fare of only five cents—a rare public transit price cut!


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