Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

The Gilded Age elite strolling old Fifth Avenue

February 23, 2015

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a sea of elite New Yorkers dressed in their Sunday best, drivers of carriages delicately navigating the crowds, and look at those lovely lampposts with the quaint street sign!

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This gorgeous Gilded Age postcard of New York’s most famous avenue needs no explanation.

Churchill’s all-night restaurant in Times Square

February 16, 2015

When Times Square became the city’s premier entertainment district at the turn of the century, palatial “lobster palaces” like Churchill’s was a big part of the fun.

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This incarnation of Churchill’s, launched by a former police captain, opened in 1910 at the corner of Broadway and 49th Street.

On opening night, “fully 2,500 guests dined either in the main dining room or the balcony,” noted the New York Times. These guests were the “leading lights of the city’s political and theatrical circles.”

By 1921 it had shut down, a victim of the Volstead Act. This might be a piece of a menu from Churchill’s in 1917, with quite a meat list!

A Times Square neon sign through the years

January 19, 2015

Bondtimessquare1950sFans of old-school New York neon know the Bond Clothes billboard and sign, the enormous and spectacular signage that lit up Broadway and 45th Street in different forms from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Captured in countless photos (at left, on New Year’s Eve 1950), the sign that stood from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s—with a clock in the O of the Bond name—has become an emblem of Times Square’s postwar glory years.

“This sign was 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide, spanned two streets, and featured a 50,000 gallon waterfall,” states this page from the Sign and Billboard Blog.

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“Surrounding this waterfall were two classical-style figures of a man and woman who were nude during the day, but clothed in neon togas and dresses at night.” (Electric lights turned on at night gave the impression the figures were wearing clothes.)

Bondtimessquare1979By the late 1950s, Bond began leasing the billboard space to other brands, like Pepsi, which turned the two human statues into giant soda bottles.

As Times Square slid into decay (above, in 1979), part of the Bond sign continued to live on—even after the store went out of business in 1977.

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The venue became the Bond’s International Casino, a nod to the International Casino, a 1930s-era nightclub that existed on the site.

Bond’s was a short-lived disco and rock venue that featured dancing and live acts, most famously the Clash.

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The Clash played 17 shows in 15 nights there in 1981 (opening acts: Grandmaster Flash and the Dead Kennedys, among others).

This made the news because concert promoters oversold tickets, which led to the fire department getting involved, as Channel 7 reported live from the scene the night of one of the planned shows.

Today the site is the location of the restaurant Bond 45, which continues the neon sign tradition. (Second photo: Wikipedia; third photo: Bow Tie Partners)

Faded outlines of long-gone Manhattan buildings

January 12, 2015

Ghostbuildingwest30sSigns for long-departed stores, retaining walls no longer in use, trolley tracks peeking out from asphalt streets: New York’s past leaves its imprint everywhere.

The sides of buildings give us glimpses of the city’s history too. The faded outlines of tenements and other buildings long gone often remain, at least until new construction comes along and obscures them again.

On a lonely block in the far West 30s is this classic city walkup, with a roof on a slant–a modest place to make a home in what was once a modest neighborhood.

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Hebrew Union College put up this building in 1979, at Mercer and West 4th Streets, almost covering the two chimneys from the building that previously occupied the spot. A tenement perhaps?

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Considering the pace of construction in a luxury-building crazed New York, these remains of a 43rd Street walkup might already be sealed out of view.

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Same with this former home—maybe a brownstone?—on 86th Street, on a stately block near Fifth Avenue.

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Also in the far West 30s near the Javits Center is this outline of a humble tenement on the side of another humble tenement, the people who once lived and worked there and their stories lost to the ages.

More faded building outlines—dormer windows too!—can be seen here.

Times Square at night, as 1941 becomes 1942

December 29, 2014

Wartime New Yorkers still took the time to celebrate the new year, crowding into a Times Square ablaze with light in this Life magazine image.

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Life put together a slideshow of other photos that capture New Year’s Eve 1941: military policemen, soldiers and sailors dancing and drinking, and NYPD horses herding the crowd.

Lining up for Salvation Army Christmas baskets

December 22, 2014

Ever wonder exactly where your money goes when you drop bills or coins into a Salvation Army kettle?

In the early 1900s, the cash in those kettles helped fund Christmas dinner for New York’s less fortunate—include a takeaway dinner basket with enough food to feed six people.

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The line to receive one of these baskets stretched down the block on 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue on December 25, 1908.

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“A crowd of 5,000 eager men, women, and children formed a long line early yesterday morning outside the Grand Central Palace, waiting for the annual Christmas basket distribution of the Salvation Army,” wrote The New York Times the next day.

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“There was not only dinner waiting, but staff Capt. Welde, from a large basket, distributed nickels for carfare, while further along the needy were provided with clothing.

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“The staff brass band provided music and Police Capt. Landtry of the East 51st Street Station kept order. There was also a stereopticon exhibition and later in the day children received presents from a mammoth Christmas tree.”

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Photographer George Bain captured these images of the Christmas Day wait in line, and then the faces of recipients as they took their goods home.

He also had the foresight to take a photo of the contents of the basket, above.

[Photos: LOC]

The Commodore: “New York’s Newest Hotel”

December 15, 2014

Recognize this stately building? Probably not, though it still stands today, a commanding presence next to Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street.

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Opened in 1919, it’s the Commodore, billed on the back of this postcard as “New York’s newest and most up-to-date hotel . . . containing 2,000 rooms with baths and circulating ice water in every room.”

CommodorehotelmcnyAfter the hotel’s owner (the New York Central Railroad, owner of Grand Central too) went bust in the late 1970s, Donald Trump came along.

He remodeled the exterior in reflective glass and gave it a more contemporary name, the Grand Hyatt—erasing the reference to Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon and owner of the original Grand Central Depot.

It’s been the Grand Hyatt since reopening in 1980. Here’s another view of it and the rest of what became of Pershing Square.

[Left: The Commodore in 1926, from the MCNY Digital Gallery]

The 1913 Lincoln Highway began in Times Square

December 15, 2014

LincolnhighwaytimessquareIn 1913, before Times Square became the crossroads of the world, its streets were known for another milestone: the starting point for the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway.

Called the Lincoln Highway, this 3,389-mile interstate linking New York and San Francisco has been mostly forgotten.

But its eastern terminus was Broadway and 42nd Street (below, in a 1914 postcard). “The route proceeded west for one mile along 42nd Street to a ferry that took travelers across the Hudson River to New Jersey,” states the website of the Lincoln Highway Association.

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From there, the highway went through New Jersey, crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania, and wound its way through nine more states before reaching California.

This was a pretty big deal at the dawn of the automobile age, when most roads were unlikely to be paved.

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Traveling by train was the only way to get from one city to another, until Carl Fisher (below), an Indianapolis businessman who made a fortune producing carbide-gas headlights, had an idea.

He convinced the heads of car companies to donate money to build a transcontinental road crossing the United States, deciding on the Lincoln moniker to give it a patriotic flair.

CarlfisherlincolnhighwayThe Lincoln highway was dedicated on October 31, 1913. At the time, highway officials figured that a trip from New York to California would take 20 to 30 days . . . at 18 miles per hour!

The highway’s glory days were over after World War II, with parts of it absorbed into other interstates.

But in 2009, amid a wave of Lincoln Highway nostalgia, a contemporary street sign marking the highway’s New York beginning went up at Broadway and 42nd Street.

[Images: Wikipedia; Times Square postcard stamped 1914, from the NYPL Digital Gallery; New York Times headline, 1913; Carl Fisher]

Granite remains of the 1842 Croton reservoir

December 8, 2014

It’s always a treat to see bits of New York’s past hidden within the contemporary city.

Case in point: sections of a granite wall once part of the four-acre receiving reservoir at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, filled in 1842 and lasting through the Gilded Age.

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These walls are visible along a staircase in the south wing of the main branch of the New York Public Library, which took the reservoir’s place on that stretch of Fifth Avenue and opened in 1911.

Granitereservoir4Imagine what the city was like in the 1840s, when the Croton Aqueduct was completed, and the growing metropolis finally had a ready supply of fresh upstate water.

“Chosen for its location at the highest point of Murray Hill to increase water pressure to densely populated downtown districts, the reservoir was an odd symbol of urban accomplishment,” wrote David Soll in Empire of Water.

“When completed in 1841, it had few neighbors and towered over the handful of scattered structures in the surrounding area.

Across Fifth Avenue lay ‘an open field, upon which stood a single country house.'”

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By the 1860s, New York’s elite promenaded on the reservoir’s walkway, and Fifth Avenue became prime real estate.

In 20 years, calls for the reservoir’s destruction appeared and grew louder; it was obsolete, critics charged, and its Egyptian revival architectural style an eyesore, even after the city planted ivy to cover the Fifth Avenue side.

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By 1898, the wrecking ball came. The granite walls in the library are all that remain.

[Third image: the reservoir in 1850; fourth image: in the 1880s; NYPL Digital Collection]

Christmas shopping in New York 100 years ago

December 1, 2014

True, the streets don’t look as festive, and store facades aren’t as decked out as they are today (where are all the usual wreaths and tinsel?).

But in terms of the crowds, the vendors, and all the kids captivated by toy displays, holiday shopping in New York City hasn’t really changed much in the past century, as these photos from abut 1910 reveal.

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Then and now, there’s lots of action at the fancy, exclusive department stores, such as the old B. Altman building on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (above).

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Street peddlers put out their wares on the sidewalk, just as they do today (above, selling stuffed toys on Sixth Avenue).

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Kids were drawn to toys, naturally. This audience of little ones seems quite taken with the doll and furniture display at the shop above.

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I have no idea what this gadget is, but I wonder if this vendor managed to unload it on any of these boys.

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Even in an age without web shopping and next-day delivery, Christmas delivery truck drivers were still kept very busy.

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And of course, fake-bearded Santas stood at their posts on Midtown streets, soliciting change for charity. This Kris Kringle is raising money for holiday dinners for the needy.

[Photos:  The George Bain Collection of the Library of Congress]


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