Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

A traveler’s 1971 snapshot below Herald Square

August 12, 2019

The taxi-choked traffic hasn’t changed much in the 48 years since a Dutch traveler named Hans Ketel snapped this photo while on a road trip across the United States.

But 32nd Street and Sixth Avenue, just south of Herald Square, is a very different place than it was in summer 1971—and not just because coconut oil (and billboards featuring women in bikinis selling it) have fallen out of favor.

For starters, 32nd Street is now Koreatown. Gimbels, a major department store in New York before going bankrupt in 1987, would have been on the right. J.C. Penney is there now.

The area is no longer the upper reaches of what used to be known as the Photo District, vestiges of which can still be found on some Flatiron side streets. (See the Olden Camera building in the center and Camera Barn to the left.)

Notice the French Renaissance building to the left? It’s the Hotel Martinique (you can just make out the old red vertical sign on the facade), built in 1898 as an apartment house before being turned into a high-class hotel.

By 1971, the Hotel Martinique’s glory days were long over. Two years after this photo was taken, it would become a welfare hotel until 1988—a place so notorious and dangerous, former residents are still posting stories of survival there on an Ephemeral New York post from 2008.

These days, it’s a spiffy Radisson.

[Photo copyright © Hans Ketel]

Model tenements named for a forgotten bishop

August 5, 2019

Few modern-day New Yorkers recognize the name Henry Codman Potter. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Potter was a towering public figure.

Born in 1834, Potter (right) became the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in 1883. He served as a rector at Grace Church, the city’s elite house of worship, and laid the cornerstone at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1892.

In such a prominent position, his name was regularly in newspapers. Yet Potter made headlines not for proselytizing but for tackling the city’s social ills and assisting the “lowest and the least cared for classes.”

“Potter not only believed that the wealthy were responsible for using their resources to meet the needs of the poor; he also believed that they should do so in a way that decreased the dependence of the poor on help from others,” wrote Michael Bourgeois in his book about Potter, All Things Human.

Potter visited midnight missions and ministered to inmates on Blackwell’s Island.

He took on temperance by recognizing that the saloon was the “poor-man’s place of resort and recreation.” Rather than shutting down bars, he advocated reforming them so they served no alcohol. (That didn’t work, as his Subway Tavern experiment proved.)

He also addressed the problem of housing, leading the fight “of providing comfortable, healthful homes to the poor of the city,” according to the New York Sun.

So it makes sense, then, that four years after Potter’s death in 1908, “his friends raised money to erect the City and Suburban Homes Company’s Bishop Potter Memorial, a pair of model tenements on East 79th Street,” wrote Andrew Dolkart.

City and Suburban Homes was a housing company with prominent backers dedicated to building livable, affordable apartments for working-class families in the early 1900s—in contrast to the airless, cramped firetraps that passed for housing at the time.

The model tenements they built along with the Bishop Potter Memorial buildings stand between York Avenue and the FDR Drive. Each 2-4 room flat has windows in every room, fireproof walls and doors. The 6-story buildings feature wide, dignified courtyards that let in light and air. (Average weekly salary for each family who rented one of these apartments: $15.73.)

Codman may be forgotten, but these model tenements, now landmarked and perhaps simple and plain by our standards today, remain.

[Second photo: Wikipedia]

Mystery monuments on the “East River Drive”

July 29, 2019

It towers above the FDR Drive at about 93rd Street: a rectangular monolith facing the parkway.

A forgotten Yorkville war memorial or monument to a long-gone neighborhood leader? I went to the end of East 93rd Street on the grounds of the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses to take a look.

Composed of stone blocks and set inside a small garden, the monument reads, “East River Drive” and then “Triborough Bridge Approach.”

The East River Drive part makes sense; this was the original name of the FDR Drive, built in the 1930s to run along the length of Manhattan’s East Side.

The “Triborough Bridge Approach” is more of a question mark. The bridge, opened in 1936 under the auspices of legendary Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, connects Manhattan to Randalls Island via 125th Street.

So why a sign announcing the approach to the bridge at 93rd Street?

It might be because the Triborough (now called the RFK Bridge), was supposed to be built at 103rd Street and be a direct conduit to Queens, according to NYCRoads.

“Moses originally proposed that the Manhattan arm of the Triborough Bridge be constructed at East 103rd Street so as to avoid the mental institutions on Randall’s Island,” the site explains. “However, the East 125th Street location that was previously procured for the Triborough Bridge was used instead.”

Why? Because of William Randolph Hearst, according to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of Moses.

“William Randolph Hearst had owned deteriorating real estate there [at 103rd Street] and he had wanted the city to buy it,” Mr. Caro wrote. Not willing to tangle with Hearst or his newspaper empire, Moses “left the terminus at 125th Street.”

The FDR Drive monuments, then, may have been built with 103rd Street in mind.

Where is this rough rock wall in Central Park?

July 22, 2019

This is the story of an 1889 painting, a mysterious stone wall, and a religious institution that occupied part of today’s Central Park in the mid-19th century—before the park was even in the planning stages.

It starts with Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase. He was dubbed the “artistic interpreter” of Central Park and Prospect Park in an 1891 Harper’s Weekly article, owing to his many evocative landscapes of these and other city green spaces.

One Chase painting that stands out as darker and more mysterious than most of his park landscapes is this one (above) from 1889, “In the Park (a By-Path).”

A child under a watchful nanny wanders away from a park bench and follows a stone wall, “one of those sections of rough rock-work which give character to the many nooks and corners of the Park at the same time that they serve a useful end,” wrote Charles De Key in Harper’s Weekly.

Where was—or currently is—this “rough rock-work,” and what was its useful end?

According to various sources, this impressive stone wall is what remained of a convent and school called the Academy of Mount St. Vincent (above in 1861), the first institute of higher learning for women in New York.

Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, Mount St. Vincent had the misfortune of setting up shop East of Fifth Avenue at about today’s 105th Street, in what would become Central Park a decade later.

The school relocated in the 1850s to Riverdale, where it continues its educational mission today. The college buildings left behind in the park burned down in 1881.

That rough rock wall, apparently a retaining wall from one of the original buildings, still stands behind the Conservatory Garden not far from a stone that marks the former site of the college (above left).

I went looking for the wall in this hilly, rocky section of Central Park. The mosquitos and thick brush kept me from finding it.

Luckily some other intrepid New Yorkers did locate it, like Michael Minn, whose 2007 photograph of the retaining wall is above. It doesn’t look exactly like the wall in Chase’s painting—artistic license, or the effects of time?

The folks from Untapped Cities also have a photo of the wall from 2017.

[Second image: NYPL; fourth image: Copyright © Michael Minn]

A sweet remnant of a Lenox Hill ice cream shop

July 22, 2019

The northwest corner of First Avenue and 66th Street looks like an ordinary Manhattan intersection, with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside an old tenement building.

But what a treat to see that the entrance to the shop continues to say “Peppermint Park” in tile!

It’s all that remains of the Peppermint Park Cafe, once a kid-friendly restaurant serving crepes, ice cream, and other goodies and then in the 1980s just an ice cream parlor churning out its own additive-free flavors.

I couldn’t find any information about when Peppermint Park started or what year it closed up shop. I bet Upper East Side old timers know.

Of course, you can still get ice cream at the Baskin Robbins part of Dunkin’ Donuts…but I’m guessing it’s not quite the same.

These tile sidewalk signs at store entrances are fast disappearing in New York City; here are some others still marking their territory.

Other ice cream store ghosts remain around New York, too.

A glorious faded foundry sign in Long Island City

July 1, 2019

Before the Albra Metal Foundry began manufacturing aluminum and brass castings here in 1942, this red brick dowager of a building was home to a varnish factory in the 19th century.

The faded sign survives on 43rd Avenue in Long Island City, but Albra has been gone since 1978, according to faded sign aficionado Walter Grutchfield.

Today, it’s the event space known as The Foundry—a name that pays homage to Queens’ rapidly vanishing (or vanished entirely?) industrial past.

A mystery studio building in Washington Heights

June 24, 2019

The tan and brown walkup at Broadway and 153rd Street isn’t particularly eye-catching.

But around the corner on the facade is something curious. Carved into a decorative, ribbon-like banner over the entrance are the words “Trinity Studio.”

Trinity would be for Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, the sloping burial ground that borders 153rd Street and stretches all the way across Broadway to Riverside Drive and 155th Street.

Opened by Trinity Church in 1843, this Trinity cemetery is the final resting ground of the city’s famous and infamous, from John Jacob Astor to Eliza Jumel to Ed Koch.

But Trinity Studio (above, in 1910) presents a mystery.

Did the church or burial ground have anything to do with the studio building?

Dedicated work-living spaces for artists popped up around the turn of the century, like this studio building overlooking Bryant Park.

Trinity Studio appears to be independent of the church, and not for artists necessarily but for “refined people” looking for a 2-3 room uptown pad.

An article in the New York Sun in 1910 states that the building “will be erected from designs by Emery Roth as architect at the southeast corner of Broadway and 153rd Street.”

As this ad illustrates, the main draws were the “perpetual north light” and “magnificent view of Hudson and Palisades.”

Today it’s a coop, and 1-2 room studios are a lot pricier than the $35 (a month, I imagine) going rate in 1910.

[Third image: MCNY, 1910: X2011.34.1275; fourth image: New York Herald]

The ghostly flower shop sign in Carroll Gardens

June 10, 2019

How long ago did Vaccarino’s Flowers close up shop on Court and Sackett Streets in Carroll Gardens?

That’s the question I asked myself when I came across the former florist’s phantom faded sign—covered for many years until late 2018 by a Douglas Elliman real estate office, according to neighborhood blog Pardon Me for Asking.

Turns out Vaccarino’s was in the flower business since at least 1938, though in another location on nearby Hicks Street.

That’s according to this Christmas season ad from a newspaper called The Brooklyn Citizen. (Phone number: TR for Triangle!)

I’m not sure when the shop moved to Court Street, but it operated at this site by 1971, in a working class Carroll Gardens dominated by Italian immigrant families and the businesses they ran—a handful of which still thrive today.

[Second image: The Brooklyn Citizen, December 1938]

What a 70th Street coal hole cover has to say

June 3, 2019

New York streets are still dotted with 19th century manhole covers—decorative, sometimes artistic portals that lead to the gritty underground city of electrical wires, gas lines, and water pipes.

But you’re less likely to stumble upon coal hole covers. By popping the lid, a coal delivery company could easily get coal for heating into the basement of a home, then be on its way to the next house on the block.

This cover, by the former M.J. Dempsey Iron Foundry in the far West 50s on 11th Avenue, is embedded into the sidewalk on East 70th Street, a pristine monument to Manhattan’s departed foundries and how houses were heated before steam.

The mystery of an East Village lager beer sign

May 20, 2019

I’m not the first old sign enthusiast who came across this beauty of a beer sign on the tenement at 317 East Fifth Street.

Grieve wrote it up back in January, and I’m sure other fans walking along this quiet East Village block noticed the ancient signage, too.

“S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer” the faded outline reads on the left side of the store, over a large window supported by what appears to be a Corinthian-like column.

Looks like the same words appear on the right side of the storefront, which is divided by the building’s stoop.

Apparently workers who were recently renovating this ground floor storefront between First and Second Avenues uncovered evidence of this old East Village liquor store.

Or was Cort’s actually a bar—one that poured many a growler for locals as well cops from the Ninth Precinct a few doors down?

The tenement was constructed in 1867, but the basement-level store wasn’t put in place until 1893, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation via an update at EVG.

But it’s still a mystery when this establishment operated.

Considering the fact that Cort is a German name, it wouldn’t surprise me if S. Cort’s dates back to the turn of the century, when today’s East Village was 19th century New York’s Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany stronghold.