Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

An Avenue A artists enclave called Paradise Alley

June 27, 2016

Paradisealleycourtyard2016Perhaps the name Paradise Alley was meant as a joke.

This little East Village enclave consisted of several small tenement buildings sharing a courtyard on the hard-luck corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street.

Or maybe Paradise Alley was a truly heavenly place to live and work, especially for the painters and writers who made it an unofficial arts colony through the 1960s.

However it ended up with its illustrious name, Paradise Alley has had a long history.

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Built in the 1860s, the walk-up buildings here were home to the waves of German, Irish, and then Italian immigrants who settled in a neighborhood known by turns as Mackerelville, Kleindeutschland, and the northern end of the Lower East Side.

ParadisealleybrooklyneagleThe Paradise Alley moniker supposedly came in the 1920s. By then, many artists and writers had moved in, renting rooms along with regular neighborhood folks for $17 to $25 per month.

That wasn’t small change for poor New Yorkers during the Depression. In January 1933, Paradise Alley residents went on a rent strike, insisting on a 25 percent reduction in rent and the mysterious demand of “proper sanitation facilities.”

PardisealleysubterraneanscoverThe strike led to a wild anti-landlord and anti-police riot after the landlord evicted several tenants, all artists or writers, and left their belongings on the sidewalk.

Paradise Alley’s next claim to fame came thanks to Jack Kerouac, who fell in love with Beat poet Alene Lee, a Paradise Alley tenant in the 1950s.

Kerouac wrote a thinly veiled description of the enclave (and moved it to San Francisco) in his 1958 novel The Subterraneans.

Paradise Alley was “a big 20-family tenement of bay windows . . . the wash hung out in the afternoon the great symphony of Italian mothers, children, fathers . . . yelling from stepladders, smells, cats meowing, Mexicans, the music of all the radios . . .” as Kerouac described it.

In the 1960s, Paradise Alley was renovated; 40 families were relocated and rents raised to $80-$135 a month.

Paradisealleyrenovatednyt1960sThe builder hoped it would be a Patchin Place of the East Village. He put in a fountain, gas-lit lamps, and brickface facades. Morgan Freeman and composer David Amram were tenants.

The end came in a 1985 fire. Today, the corner hosts a senior living complex.

Could the 19th century tenement on the other side of the complex’s gate (top photo) be a last fragment of this lost East Village enclave?

Bedford+Bowery has a more in-depth piece from 2013 on Paradise Alley (with terrific photos).

[Second image: Avenue A looking north from 11th Street in 1933, NYC Municipal Archives; third image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1933; fifth image: a renovated Paradise Alley in 1962, New York Times]

A Village eccentric’s popular 1920s speakeasy

June 23, 2016

BarneyGallant1920s1930smetBarney Gallant (standing, at right) was many things.

He was a Latvian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1903; Eugene O’Neill’s first New York City roommate, sharing a rundown Sixth Avenue flat with the playwright for $3 a week; and manager of the Greenwich Village Inn in Sheridan Square (below left).

He was also a colorful rebel so convinced that Prohibition was idiotic, he became the first New Yorker ever prosecuted under the Volstead Act in 1919 when his waiters served booze to undercover cops (he spent 30 days in the Tombs for this misdeed).

After his stint behind bars, Gallant—now a hero and celebrity—decided he would keep serving liquor, but only to customers in the know.

BarneygallantgreenwichvillageinnSo he opened his speakeasy, Club Gallant, in 1922 at 40 Washington Square South.

It was a hit, attracting “youngsters with strange stirrings in their  breasts, who had come from remote villages on the prairie; women of social position and money who wanted to do things . . . businessmen who had made quick money and wanted to breathe the faintly naughty atmosphere in safety, and ordinary people who got thirsty now and then and wanted to sit down and have a drink,” stated Stanley Walker in 1933’s The Night Club Era.

BarneygallantwashsquarenorthClub Gallant moved to Edgar Allan Poe’s old digs at 85 West Third Street. Gallant then decamped to 19 Washington Square North (right), where he opened his ritzy speakeasy Speako de Luxe (below).

The key to his success, besides his eccentric personality and reputation for having more friends than party-loving mayor Jimmy Walker?

He made his speakeasies exclusive, and he asked customers to adhere to some rules. (Rule 10: “Please do not offer to escort the cloakroom girl home. . . . “)

After Repeal in 1933, the “mayor of Greenwich Village,” as he was dubbed by the press, opened a restaurant at 86 University Place.

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He wrote an article for Cosmopolitan in 1946 called “The Vanishing Village” and worked on his memoirs in the 1960s, supposedly.

What stories he must have had to tell! He died in a Miami retirement home in 1968.

[Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Alamy]

Reading the newspaper on the subway in 1914

June 20, 2016

Rather than hiding behind newspapers, riders stare into tablets and smartphones. Instead of actual straps overhead, strap hangers today have a stainless steel bar to grab.

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And could that really be a wood floor riders rest their feet on, unlike the one inside subway cars today?

But otherwise, the experience of taking the subway hasn’t changed much since Francis Luis Mora, a Uruguayan-born illustrator and instructor at William Merritt Chase‘s School of Art, painted “Evening News—Subway Riders” (top) in 1914.

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Colorful ads beckon riders’ attention. People sit crammed in close in a row against car windows. And most everyone looks away from each other, their eyes focused anywhere but their fellow commuters.

Mora’s “Morning News,” above, from 1912, gives us a different lineup of riders, also looking away or into newspapers, with one man doing that thing of reading over a fellow rider’s shoulder.

Capturing a dog’s life in 1940s New York City

June 16, 2016

Before his days as a legendary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick was a talented 17-year-old Bronx teenager who landed a gig as a photographer for Look magazine.

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During his five years at Look, Kubrick captured more than 15,000 poetic and powerful images of men and women, of the rich and the poor, all navigating life amid the beauty and tragedy of postwar New York.

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In the late 1940s, he was put on what probably seemed like a frivolous assignment at the time: a story eventually called “A Dog’s Life in the Big City.”

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The article “remains a surprisingly interesting social study” of what day-to-day life was like mainly for the pooches of the city’s “idle rich,” as one Kubrick biography stated.

Looking at these photos almost 70 years later, it seems that today’s upper-class pet parents spoiled their canines in the more elegant and formal late 1940s the same way they do today.

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The first photo shows a little guy relaxing in front of a bakery while his owner reads the paper. Next, a doorman is tasked with walking a boxer.

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The third image is captioned, “In the checkroom of New York’s smart 21 Club, four poodles, an Afghan and a camera-conscious Bedlington are cared for while their mistresses lunch.” What was this woman paid for that job?

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Pampered Afghans went for a ride in a convertible. Two lucky pooches got treats from the neighborhood butcher.

And homeless dogs ended up at institution-like shelters, seen here. “A lost mutt finds friends who take him to the ASPCA shelter,” the caption reads.

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“If owner does not claim him, he will be offered for adoption on payment of license fee.”

[All photos and others from Kubrick’s incredible body of work: MCNY Collections Portal]

Confusion and despair in the Tenderloin District

June 16, 2016

At night, the Tenderloin was the city’s red-light district during the turn of the century, a center of sex and sin that blazed with light and put high-rolling millionaires in proximity to lower-class drinkers, gamblers, showgirls, and prostitutes.

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During the day, with its veil lifted, the Tenderloin revealed its gritty despair. In “Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street,” John Sloan depicts a confused, distressed woman as others stare or pass her by with indifference.

Sloan seemed to have a fascination with the Tenderloin; the same year, he painted the neighborhood’s “loud and lurid” club, the Haymarket.

Three centuries, four views of a Village tavern

June 13, 2016

Once a country backwater of tobacco farms, Greenwich Village owes its urbanization to lethal disease outbreaks.

Oldgrapevine1851

Residents fleeing late-1700s cholera and yellow fever epidemics in the city center moved up to Grin’wich, as it was then called. By 1840, the population had shot up fourfold.

“Shrewd speculators subdivided farms, leveled hills, rerouted and buried Minetta Brook, and undertook landfill projects,” states the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

Oldgrapevine1905

Streets, businesses, and houses followed—including a three-story clapboard roadhouse at Sixth Avenue and 11th Street. Built in the 18th century as a home, it became a popular tavern by the 1820s called the Old Grapevine, for the vine that ran along the facade.

The first illustration depicts the Old Grapevine in 1851. West 11th Street looks like a rural road, thanks to the trees and paving stones.

Oldgrapevine1914

Two ash barrels are the only street furniture. The small fence at the far left surrounds the second cemetery of Shearith Israel, established here in 1805 by a synagogue of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

The Old Grapevine wasn’t just any tavern. “During the Civil War it was a popular hangout of Union officers and Confederate spies,” states the NYPL blog.

Oldgrapevine1915

“Later, when the Jefferson Market Courthouse was built the local lawyers and politicians would gather there to talk business. Artists and actors also met there. It was the ideal place to get news and information, or in the case of spies and politicians, the ideal place to spread rumors and gossip, leading to the popular phrase “heard it through the grapevine.”

[The origin of the saying might be a myth, as some comments below explain.]

The second image shows the Old Grapevine in 1905, from under the tracks of the elevated. The third image is from 1914.

The clapboard house is still standing, but 11th Street is paved and the ash barrels are gone, replaced by a Journal American newspaper box.

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One year later (as seen in the fourth photo), the Old Grapevine was about to be bulldozed, replaced by a six-story apartment building renting rooms for $12 a month.

A New York Times article from 1915 recalled the Grapevine wistfully: “it was not only a place to warm the inner man with the fermented juice of the grape, malted beers, and fine musty ale, but a place where good fellows met, as in the more palatial clubs today, to match their wits, tell the latest story, and discuss in a friendly way the political destinies of the nation.”

Here’s Sixth Avenue and West 11th Street today. The Old Grapevine is long gone; only the cemetery on the far left remains.

The “poet sisters” host a Gramercy literary salon

June 9, 2016

CaryaliceIf you were a writer or thinker of some renown in New York in the 1850s and 1860s, then you likely found yourself on Sunday evenings inside a small house at 53 East 20th Street.

This was the home of Alice (right) and Phoebe Cary, two siblings dubbed “strong minded” (a 19th century put-down for an independent woman) who hosted weekly Sunday salons in their Gramercy Park parlor for the city’s literary and cultural crowd.

Here, newspaper editors, authors, and some of the bohemians who had congregated at Pfaff’s on Bleecker Street came together to “meet and mingle,” according to one biography of the Carys.

“The poet sisters, as they were known, owned a wide, low, old-fashioned house on East 20th Street, near Fourth Avenue, and their informal Sunday receptions were always thronged,” wrote Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York.

Caryphoebe“They had come to New York from an Ohio farm as young women, without either money or formal education, determined to support themselves by writing.”

Alice Cary wrote poems, ballads, and “little idylls of country life,” stated Morris. Phoebe composed parodies of Longfellow and “astringent verses about love that made old-fashioned readers uncomfortable.”

Considering the guest list, conversation at the Carys’ salon must have been fascinating.

Regular invitees included P.T. Barnum, whose American Museum and the curiosities inside it thrilled the city; Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune; publisher and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and other cultural leaders of the day.

Carys50east20th“On Sunday evenings, you found the Carys in their parlor, a large room decorated in red and green, furnished with many comfortable, velvet-upholstered sofas and chairs,” described Morris.

“Later, everyone would cross the hall to have tea in the square, oak-paneled library.” Except Greeley, who drank two cups of sweetened milk and water and then took off to write his Monday newspaper editorial.

The famous male guests were joined by “strong-minded” movers and shakers, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

CarystreetaddressThese were women like the Carys, who pursued professional work and “asserted that women ought to think for themselves, ought to get their opinions at first hand—not because this was their right, but because it was their duty,” wrote Morris.

The Carys held their weekly salon for 15 years; both sisters, closer to each other than anyone else and just four years apart, died in 1871.

[Third photo: from MCNY, early 1900s; labeled the “Careys” home and the address is 50 East 20th Street, so it is perhaps the sisters’ home, which no longer exists]

Darkness and light in Central Park in 1905

June 6, 2016

Dark trees, pinkish city buildings, shadowy carriages and tribes of people, and a wide, warm lawn are all part of George Bellows’ interpretation of Central Park on a temperate day in 1905.

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This is one of Bellows’ earliest New York paintings; he left his native Ohio in 1904 to study art in the city under Robert Henri.

Escaping the day in the Bleecker Street Cinema

May 26, 2016

These days at 144 Bleecker Street, you’ll find a Duane Reade. But quite a different world existed there between 1960 and 1990.

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For 30 years, the two 1832 row houses at this address housed what used to be called a revival theater or art house theater—a place to catch offbeat, experimental, and foreign films before these categories were lumped together as independent cinema.

There was no surround sound or seats with cup holders. Yet the marquee in this 1960s photo looking toward LaGuardia Place hints at the treasures that awaited viewers who ducked inside to escape a dreary New York day.

[Photo: Robert Otter]

The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church

May 26, 2016

NormandieposterThe biggest bottle of champagne in the world helped christen the French luxury liner the S.S. Normandie when it first launched in 1932.

Too bad this nautical marvel and Art Deco beauty didn’t plough the Atlantic for long.

In 1941, after the Germans took over France and with the Normandie safely docked in New York, the U.S. Coast Guard seized control of the ship.

The plan was to renovate the 1,000-foot liner into a ship for troops and to rename it the USS Lafayette.

Workers were busily converting the 1,000-foot vessel when it caught fire and capsized in its berth on the Hudson in February 1942.

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The destruction of the Normandie—everyone thought it was sabotage, but that wasn’t the case—was major news in wartime New York City.

People lined up to view its remains, as Pete Hamill recalls in his memoir, A Drinking Life:

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“[His mother] took us there again and again, to gaze at its parched hull, more than a thousand feet long, its giant propellers high out of the water. In my memory, the ruined liner looks humiliated, like a drunk who has fallen down in public.”

After the Normandie was hauled away, its ruins were sold for scrap metal—with a few exceptions.

Normandiedoors2

NormandiechurchThe magnificent doors of the first class dining room from the Normandie’s luxury liner days were salvaged by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral (right) in Brooklyn Heights.

To this day, the doors—with their intricate medallions showing scenes and sights in Normandy and lovely carvings of trees and leaves—greet visitors to the church at two different entrances at Henry and Remsen Streets.

They’re a quiet remnant of New York during World War II, a time that fewer and fewer residents have any memory of.


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