Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The short life of a 1960s East Village rock venue

March 22, 2021

The unassuming building a 105 Second Avenue has a long history catering to popular entertainment.

In the 1920s, the venue served as a Yiddish Theater at a time when Second Avenue had so many similar theaters, the street was nicknamed the Jewish Rialto. By the 1940s, the space was turned into a movie palace known as the Leow’s Commodore (below in 1940).

And in the 1960s it was transformed once again for an entirely different audience: young rock fans flocking to the recently christened East Village eager to see bands like the Doors, the Allman Brothers, and other stars of the late 1960s music scene.

Named the Fillmore East by concert promoter Bill Graham and opened on March 8, 1968, it was the New York version of his San Francisco concert hall the Fillmore. With Graham at the helm, the place became legendary.

“Graham operated a tight ship, demanding nothing less than excellence from his staff and the artists who inhabited his stage,” wrote Corbin Reiff in a 2016 Rolling Stone article.

“To him, everything was about the fan experience, and he went out of his way to provide the best kind of atmosphere to take in a live performance, from the ornate, hand-rendered posters he printed up to announce the gigs…and even the barrel of free apples he left out for people departing at the end of the night.”

“As a result, the bands and artists who played the Fillmore East, as well as its San Francisco counterpart, typically went the extra mile,” continued Reiff. “For just $3, $4 or $5, you, as a ticketholder, were granted a pass to be taken to someplace truly magical.”

Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd all hit the stage. But it might have been the Doors who gave the most hypnotic performance.

In the audience for one of their shows was future star Patti Smith; Robert Mapplethorpe had worked there and gave her a free pass. She recounted the experience in her powerful memoir about their relationship amid the late 1960s and early 1970s city in Just Kids. While the audience was transfixed by Jim Morrison, she “observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness.”

“He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian,” wrote Smith, who right then realized she could do what Morrison was doing. “When anyone asked how the Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had responded to their concert.”

For a rock venue with such a hallowed reputation, it lasted a very short time—just three years. “At the time, Mr. Graham blamed the greediness of some top rock musicians who he, said would rather play a 20,000‐seat ball like Madison Square Garden (one hour’s work, $50,000) than the 2,600‐seat Fillmore East (about four hours’ work, roughly $20, 000),” stated the New York Times on the club’s closing night, June 29, 1971.

That wasn’t the end of 105 Second Avenue’s life as a music venue. In the 1980s it was resurrected as the dance club The Saint. Today, the ground floor is—what else?—a bank branch.

[Top photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; second image: ultimateclassicrock.com; third image: Yale Joel/LIFE Magazine]

The glam rock star who cleaned up Riverside Park

April 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.02 AMToday’s pop and rock royalty tend to get involved in headline-grabbing national and international causes.

But in August 1975, Alice Cooper lent a hand on a local level.

Cooper spent a summer day picking up trash in Riverside Park with a team of “Cooper Troopers,” with sun visors, arm bands, bags, rakes, and brooms provided by Atlantic Records.

“Alice Cooper himself appeared, in a chauffeur-driven sanitation truck,” an AP story explained.

Coopernewsarticle“After heaving filled garbage bags into the truck, Cooper said, ‘I think it would be a good idea for rock performers all over the world to take a few hours out of their schedule to involve themselves in community service-oriented programs.”

The mid-1970s was the height of Cooper’s fame—and it was also the peak of the anti-litter movement. Soda bottles, fast food wrappers, and cigarette butts were all over city parks and streets.

But did Cooper even live in New York at the time? And why Riverside Park?

Here’s how he explained it in his 2011 book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.22 AM“Sometimes I would do nice things, just to throw off my critics,” wrote Cooper. “In August of ’75 I grew a mustache and found time to assemble and join 300 volunteer Alice Cooper fans who worked for a day to clear away garbage out of Manhattan’s Riverside Park.

“I figured the deed would keep everyone off guard while at the same time emphasize that neither Alice Cooper nor his legions of young fans were necessarily rock monsters. We were capable of being Mr. Nice Guys too.”

[Photos: Waring Abbott/Getty Images]

Listening to the orchestra play in Central Park

November 9, 2015

A century before Summerstage and free shows by Diana Ross and Simon and Garfunkel, Central Park hosted free concerts.

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First given in the Ramble, “concerts soon moved to the Mall, where the tradition grew into the 20th century,” states nycgovparks.org.

“At the northern end of the Mall, an elaborate cast-iron bandstand once stood (on the present site of the bust of composer Ludwig von Beethoven). Thousands of people would attend open-air performances. To prevent the landscape from being damaged during musical performances, fences that also provided seating for concertgoers were cleverly designed by Calvert Vaux.”

The men in these crowds look like sitting ducks for the Straw Hat Riot instigators!

An East 10th Street townhouse inspired by India

November 2, 2015

The building materials of New York’s row houses don’t vary very much: brownstone, brick, mason, glass.

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But teakwood? This hearty wood native to South Asia is a rarity in the city, which makes the gorgeous 1887 townhouse at 7 East 10th Street so noteworthy.

TeakwoodhouseacrossstreetThe house itself isn’t remarkable, but the beautifully carved teakwood on the bay window and trim attracts many admirers.

Who made the house such a show stopper? Lockwood De Forest, an artist and decorator who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Asian-inspired artifacts were a popular design motif at the time, and De Forest himself was enamored with Indian woodcarving, arranging for craftsmen in India to make wood carvings that could be shipped to America.

While Asian decorative elements were often found inside late 19th century parlors, De Forest made the unusual decision to incorporate them outside on the facade.

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“His elaborately carved teakwood projecting bay and trim on the otherwise ordinary town house is one of this city’s marvels, both for its intricate artistry and for its having so heartily survived the elements all these years,” wrote Francis Morrone in Architectural Guidebook to New York City.

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For reasons lost to history, teakwood trim also ended up next door at 9 East 10th Street, built in 1888, a building called the Ava.

In 1900, House Beautiful magazine called it the “most beautiful Indian house in America,” according to nyc-architecture.com. These days, the dazzling and well-preserved home is owned by New York University.

Haunting desolation on South Street in the 1930s

October 26, 2015

South Street was a still and empty place of tenement dwellers overshadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge in “South Street Stoop,” painted in 1935 by O. Louis Guglielmi.

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“[Guglielmi’s] dreamlike works were critical commentaries on the social injustices of capitalism,” states Bruce Weber, author of Paintings in New York.

“The son of Italian immigrants, Guglielmi had grown up in Harlem and experienced  his own financial difficulties in the early 1930s and applied for federal relief. Beginning in 1935, he received a regular government paycheck as a member of the easel division of the Works Progress Administration.”

Hard times on Depression-era East 61st Street

October 12, 2015

Last week, Yale University launched an interactive digitized photo archive packed with 170,000 incredible photos taken during the Depression.

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The images, shot by various photographers, are also part of the Library of Congress. They cover faces and places across the nation—including ordinary residents of New York City working, playing, and rushing on their run.

But one subset of photos, shot by Walker Evans in 1938, is particularly haunting. These 40 or so images focus on one gritty tenement block on East 61st Street, and the unglamorous people who live there.

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This isn’t the East 61st Street of Bloomingdale’s or Fifth Avenue. This is the East 61st Street between Third and First Avenues, a poor neighborhood known at the turn of the century as Battle Row.

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In the middle of the Depression, East 61st Street looks like a regular workaday part of New York City—thanks in part to the corner cafeteria, an idling beer truck, and laundry-laden fire escape (below).

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The people seem ordinary too. Kids play on the stoop, men and women gather to talk, a lone woman hangs out a window. A solitary older gentleman sits on his stoop forlornly.

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Who were they? The photos reveal their quiet humanity, and their stony faces hint at hard times. They certainly don’t look like they enjoyed having Evans hang around with his camera.

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Above, a resident is moving in or out of one building—via a horse-drawn wooden cart. And are those Belgian blocks paving the road?

Evans and his camera lurked around other parts of Manhattan in the 1930s as well, like on the subway, where he surreptitiously shot random subway riders staring, reading, or lost in their daydreams.

This might be the spookiest house in Soho

October 5, 2015

With its boarded-up parlor windows, wispy lace curtains, and lone light coming from the attic dormer windows, the 1824 Federal-style house at 139 Greene Street certainly gives off a spooky vibe.

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Number 139 has an interesting history as a family home, brothel, factory, and longstanding renovation project. If any house in Soho is haunted by ghosts, this would be the one.

139GreenestreetnightIt all started in 1825, when the home was built by a merchant tailor named Anthony Arnoux, who ran a shop on Broadway and East Fourth Street.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Federal houses were all the rage, and the newly fashionable streets north of Canal Street on the west and east sides of Broadway were lined with similar residences built by the city’s elite.

Arnoux didn’t move in until the 1830s, but he and his five adult children (plus one female servant) occupied what must have been a lovely house at least through 1850, according to census data.

139GreenestreetsignSome of that loveliness remains: the arched dormer windows, red brick, marble stairs, and elegant front entrance.

The similar yet beautifully restored Merchant’s House Museum, across Broadway on East Fourth Street, is a Federal-style house that gives an idea of what the Arnoux house looked like in its prime.

As Greene Street became shabby, the Arnoux family didn’t stick around. By 1860, the neighborhood had become a bustling strip of hotels, shops, and brothels—lots of brothels.

Number 139 became a house of assignation, according to the Gentleman’s Companion, a guide to New York City’s premier red-light district in 1870.

Greene Street “has become a complete sink of iniquity,” the guide states, with 41 brothels luring in men between Canal and Bleecker Streets.

139Greenestreetnyt1867sept139 Greene Street was a third-class “disorderly house” with 7 “inmates” run by Patrick and Amelia Whalen. A fire broke out there in 1867, reported the New York Times.

After the prostitutes left, the millinery trade moved in, followed by light industry.

Perhaps the manufacturer of printers rollers (as advertised on the facade of the cast-iron loft building next door) had something to do with the bashing in of the front wall of the house, as well as the destruction of the marble front stairs.

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In 1968, with Soho’s fortunes rising, an art dealer bought it to use as a storage space, then sold it to an art conservationist—who has been restoring 139 Greene Street ever since . . . and perhaps allowing its 19th century ghosts free reign to haunt the premises.

[Third image: New York Times; fifth image: MCNY; 1970s]

The Greenwich Village vision of artist Alfred Mira

September 28, 2015

Alfred S. Mira and his realistic, gritty, intimate Greenwich Village street scenes should be better known.

[“Seventh Avenue, Greenwich Village”]

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Born in 1900 in Italy to a carpenter father, he left school and began working for an interior decorator, dreaming of going to art school but without the 50 cents a day it cost to attend.

[“Washington Square Rally,” 1942]

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He did make a career out of painting though; he listed his address as East 8th Street and his occupation as painter in the 1940 census. And he sold his work at the Washington Square outdoor art exhibit, a heralded event decades ago.

[“The El, View of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street,” 1940]

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Though he painted scenes from all over the city, Mira focused his work on the sites and monuments of Greenwich Village: the Washington Arch, MacDougal Street, and Seventh Avenue South.

His inspiration seems to come from the urban realists who made a name for themselves in the early 1900s, such as George Bellows and George Luks.

[Title unknown, but there’s Jefferson Market in the background]

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But his style is his own: honest, sometimes gritty, sometimes dreamy, and deeply atmospheric—a true street artist who captured the moods of the city.

[“Summer Morning”—anyone know what intersection this is?]

Alfredmirasummermorning

Alfredmiraselfportrait1934“Mira painted angled, bird’s eye viewpoints, thereby creating what one critic categorized as ‘moving camera eye impressions,’” explains gallery Questroyal Fine Art LLC.

He died in 1980 or 1981, depending on the source, and his work still inspires. It also still sells, with several paintings going for thousands of dollars at top auction houses.

[Self portrait, 1934]

Reading a 1960s Village writer’s “Lunch Poems”

September 21, 2015

Frankoharacedartavern“It’s my lunch hour, so I go for a walk among the hum-colored cabs.”

So begins Frank O’Hara in “A Step Away From Them,” one of his witty, observational Lunch Poems.

The name comes from the time of day when they were supposedly written: during O’Hara’s lunch hour in Midtown, when he worked as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

Born in Baltimore and a graduate of Harvard, O’Hara arrived in the city in the early 1950s, a time when abstract expressionist painters and Beat poets were hitting their stride.

FrankoharaapartmentAnd both were meeting and drinking at bars like the San Remo and the Cedar Tavern (top photo; O’Hara is in the center), next door to O’Hara’s apartment at 90 University Place (left), which he shared with then-partner Joe LeSueur.

The Lunch Poems were published in 1964, and they are of their time, with references to no-longer-there restaurants and long-gone starlets and sometimes a campy sensibility.

But the New York O’Hara writes about—the culture, the noise, the crowds, the way the Sixth Avenue bus “trunk-lumbers sideways” so full of people, is still the city of today.

In “Music,” he references Grand Army Plaza by Central Park and the statue of William Sherman on a horse, led by an angel:

Frankoharapoems“If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s

“The Day Lady Died” is about Billie Holiday:

“I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
Then go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfield Theater and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
Of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it”

O’Hara wrote other poems too, and he also made a name for himself as an art critic.

The Lunch Poems, though, were his last collected volume. He died prematurely after being hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island in 1966 when he was only 40.

FrankoharamomaPerhaps his most relatable verse, chronicling day-to-day life in a pre-Bloomberg city of smokers drinking coffee they made themselves, comes from “Steps”:

“oh god, it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much”

[Photo of O’Hara in front of MOMA: newyorkschoolpoets.wordpresscom]

Bits of Medieval France in the Joan of Arc statue

September 21, 2015

Jeanne d'ArcThe heroic, life-size bronze of Joan of Arc at 93rd Street and Riverside Park was created a century ago by a group of prominent city residents who wanted to commemorate the Maid of Orleans’ 500th birthday.

And incredibly, it was the first statue in the city that honored a real, nonfictional woman (as opposed to the Statue of Liberty or Mother Goose).

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But this monument to a Medieval martyr is distinguished and remarkable in other ways as well.

JoanofarcparksdeptSculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington sought to show not a warrior but a spiritual girl whose mission to defeat the British was inspired by the voices of saints.

“Well, the whole idea was that I remember reading before she went into battle she had acquired a new sword,” Huntington later explained.

“And when she went into battle, she unconsciously raised it to heaven to ask the blessing of the Lord on it before she went into battle.”

To invoke Medieval France, architect John Van Pelt made a granite base that contains actual stones from the cathedral in Rheims, where King Charles (who supported Joan’s fight before abandoning her) was crowned.

JoanofarcinscriptionHe also incorporated real limestone blocks from the Tower of Rouen, where Joan was imprisoned and tried for heresy and witchcraft before being burned at the stake.

“On December 6, 1915, the sculpture was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony, which included a military band and French Ambassador Jean J. Jusserand,” states nycgovparks.org.

JoanofarcdedicationThat Jusserand (left, at the ceremony, with Mrs. Edison) made it to the ceremony is impressive, considering that France was embroiled in the Great War at the time.

In front of a crowd of about 1,000, Thomas Edison’s wife unveiled the statue—a symbol of solidarity among America and France and one of the finest city sculptures.

Joan of Arc’s name lends itself to numerous city buildings—like these “French Flats” on 14th Street and this women’s hotel in Chelsea, formerly known as a home for “friendless French girls.”

[Second photo: nycparksgov.com]