Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

What remains of downtown’s “College Place”

April 16, 2018

On the side of a red brick walkup on West Broadway and Warren Streets is a gem of an old New York street sign: College Place.

It’s two stories up, visible from the street as well as the elevated train that ran up and down this stretch of West Broadway from 1878 to the 1930s.

What was College Place? This part of Lower Manhattan was the first home of King’s College, chartered in 1754 and renamed Columbia College after the Revolutionary War.

College Place became the name of the southern end of what was then known as Chapel Street in 1830; eventually Chapel Street merged with another road called Laurens Street to become today’s West Broadway in 1896.

Columbia relocated to the eventual site of Rockefeller Plaza in 1857; by the turn of the century, what was now called Columbia University occupied its present-day campus on Broadway in Morningside Heights.

The little street sign hiding in plain sight above a dry cleaners isn’t the only remnant of Columbia’s colonial-era downtown days.

A 1918 subway tile in the nearby Chambers Street Station, hard to see thanks to grime and soot, depicts the school’s first building.

[Third image: 1835 David Burr Map of New York City]

The end of a one-screen East Side movie theater

April 2, 2018

On a walk along East 59th Street between Second and Third Avenues, something caught my eye—a former movie marquee fronting a row of tenements.

Was this little space, now a high-end workout studio, once a theater?

A quick investigation showed that it was the site of the former D.W. Griffith Theatre, a single-screen movie house that appears to have opened in the 1960s. At some point underwent a name change and became the 59th Street East Cinema.

“The 59th Street East Cinema, originally called the D.W. Griffith Theatre, was an art house theater located in midtown Manhattan,” explains Cinema Treasures.

“It belonged to a cluster of single, twin, and triplex movie theaters; all of which were within two blocks of each other.”

“One of many subterranean venues around the city, this single screen theater was reached through a small entrance that originates on E. 59th Street,” continued Cinema Treasures.

“The entrance continued past a modest concession area and then ended at a staircase, descending to theatre level.”

The 59th Street East Cinema looked like a wonderful place to hide away for a few hours in a pre-multiplex era.

It seems like the kind of theater that felt like a secret, transporting you to a cinematic world of thoughtfulness and reflection, and perhaps exposed you to new artists.

Alas, the art-house thing didn’t last. By the 2000s this little jewel box was renamed ImaginAsian (at right), showing Asian films, according to Cinema Treasures.

In 2010 it became Big Cinemas Manhattan, playing Bollywood flicks. Today, the theater is an exercise studio run by workout star Tracey Anderson with motivational wisdom rather than movie titles on the marquee.

It’s a transformation similar to what’s happened to other small city theaters, like this one in Greenpoint that now has Starbucks on the marquee!

[Third image: Cinema Treasures; fourth image: Yelp]

Girls’ High School is a Gothic dream in Bed-Stuy

March 26, 2018

“It is the ambition of every Brooklyn girl after graduating from the public schools to enter the Girls’ High School, where she may enjoy the advantages of advanced education, and be prepared for college or for more immediate concerns of life.”

That was the lead in a New York Times story about Girls’ High in 1895, when Brooklyn was a separate city known for its strong support of public schools.

The postcard at the top of the page gives us Girls’ High as a Victorian Gothic dream building, opened in 1886 at Nostrand Avenue and Halsey Street.

So proud of the school was the newly unified city that they put it on a postcard.

Today the combined Boys and Girls High School is on Fulton Street, and the old Girls’ building is an adult learning center.

[First image: NYPL; second image: 6tocelebrate.org]

Rushing by the relics of the Union Square subway

March 26, 2018

The concrete maze that is the Union Square/14th Street subway stop is a patchwork of what was once three subway stations built in 1904, 1918, and 1930.

It doesn’t have a lot of charm, but it does have subway history—especially in the form of the six crumbling pieces of masonry, tile, and terra cotta all in a line on the mezzanine level that bridges the various train lines.

These are the remnants of the original walls of the 1904 IRT station. Long thought to have been lost to the ages, they were unearthed during a 1997 renovation and then incorporated into a permanent art exhibit the following year.

Next time you’re rushing from the L to the 6, stop and take a look at them, and behold subway history.

“Artist Mary Miss created standalone panels using historic architectural elements recovered during the renovation of the 14th Street/Union Square station complex,” states the always-informative nycsubway.org.

“The six ’14’ eagles were original elements of the 1904 station construction but most were hidden in disused side platforms along the Contract One IRT route.”

The photo above, from Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site (originally included in the Board of Rapid Tansit Railroad Commissioners’ year-end report for 1903), shows the eagles against a station wall.

Miss’ urban archeology exhibit includes dozens of other subway remains scattered across the staircases, passageways, and platforms of the station, all of which have the same red border as the subway walls.

These relics, “offer a sense of intimate engagement: to look into one of the framed spaces is as though a secret is being sought and slowly revealed,” states Miss on her website. It’s something to think about next time you’re transferring trains.

[Third Photo: Abandoned Stations by Joseph Brennan]

The lion and unicorn clock above William Street

March 26, 2018

New York needs more street clocks, those lovely public time pieces that people in a pre-smartphone world relied on to let them know they were late for an appointment.

Or maybe we just need to refurbish the ones that already exist—like this lion and unicorn themed clock four stories up above the entrance to 84 William Street, at Maiden Lane.

In 1907, this breathtaking 17-floor building—a confection of Georgia marble, red bricks, and terra cotta—was the brand-new headquarters of the Royal Life Insurance Company.

An article that year in American Architect and Building News reported that the clock reproduced, “the lion and unicorn which form a part of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, and replacing the shield by a marble and bronze clock-face eight feet in diameter.”

Lion heads decorate a ribbon of trim around the facade on the third floor. The image of a crown on the clock is a nice royal touch too.

At left is the building and clock as they originally looked; it’s virtually unchanged today in this shadowy corner of Lower Manhattan.

It’s unclear how long the company lasted here, but today, 84 William Street is an extended stay hotel.

Street clock hunting in New York can turn up some beauties, like this colorful terra cotta clock space on Avenue C and this cast-iron clock at an old shoe store on Duane Street.

And of course, no avenue in the city has more street clock loveliness than Fifth Avenue.

[Third Photo: MCNY]

What remains of two downtown colonial streets

March 19, 2018

The financial firms of Lower Manhattan help fuel the global economy of the 21st century.

But in the middle of their cathedrals of commerce, the remains of some humble streets that were instrumental in powering the economy of the 17th century still linger.

Take Marketfield Street, for example. You can just make it out on the circa-1797 map below; “market” is on the far left and “field” picks up on the right.

This narrow stretch between today’s Beaver and Broad Streets is anglicized from its original colonial Dutch name, Markveldt (which loosely translates into “market field”).

Almost 400 years ago, here stood New Amsterdam’s cattle market, opened in the 1650s—and there’s still a cowpath-like bend in the middle of today’s Marketfield Street, harkening back to its livestock days.

Marketfield Street once extended farther west, as this colorful 1642 map below also shows. It’s unclear how long the cattle market survived the city takeover by the British in 1664.

By 1695 the street went by a racier name: Petticoat Lane: “for it was here that, at the western end of the street near the fort which guarded the harbor, New York City’s prostitutes gathered,” states a Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 1983.

Every country town has a Mill Lane, and Manhattan does too. This slender alley hides between South William and Stone Streets. (On the map at the top, it’s just a faint curvy footpath with what could be a mill illustrated beside it.)

“It was in existence by 1657; the present name dates from after 1664,” states the LPC report. “Mill Lane ran from a mill built in 1628 to grind bark used by tanners.”

Mill Lane today, thought to be one of the city’s shortest streets, is unfortunately covered by scaffolding. Lets hope it survives this latest wave of development in the oldest part of New York City.

[Second map: Keren Wang’s Personal Website; third map: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.]

A lonely newsstand at an empty subway entrance

March 12, 2018

“Read The Sun,” the banner across this shack-like newsstand states, of the stories 19th century newspaper that met its demise in 1950.

It’s 1933 in the photo. I like to think that it’s early in the morning, and these two news sellers are all ready for a new day, waiting for people to come out of the tenements and grab a paper on their way into the subway.

I just wish I knew where this newsstand was, and if these two vendors made a decent living.

[MCNY: 93.1.1.17720]

An old Bronx phone number on a wood milk crate

March 5, 2018

It was up for sale at a New Jersey antiques market: a vintage wood milk crate stamped “Hygrade Milk,” a Bronx milk company founded in 1914, according to data from Bloomberg.

But the best part of the crate is the phone number beneath it, with the old two-letter phone exchange “LY.” But what’s LY?

The Hygrade Milk and Cream Company apparently existed at 2350 Hermany Avenue, in the southeast Bronx.

This in depth guide to old phone exchanges only lists a LY in Manhattan; it stood for “Lyceum” and covered part of the Upper West Side.

Longwood? That’s a nearby Bronx neighborhood. Or Lafayette Avenue, a street not far from Hermany? Someone must be able to solve this vintage phone exchange mystery.

In the meantime, here are more of these old timey two-letter phone exchanges spotted on signs and in ads around the city, which were all replaced by digits in the 1960s.

A lonely Bronx monument to a World War I battle

January 22, 2018

The Bronx Supreme Court Building is an enormous Art Deco totem of justice—a limestone and copper fortress with a magnificent terrace featuring marble figures representing law, victory, and sacrifice.

But off to a corner on the terrace near the Grand Concourse and in sight of Yankee Stadium is a humble monument commemorating a century-old battle.

It’s a keystone marking a crucial episode during the Great War—the July 1918 battle of Chateau Thierry. In this French village northeast of Paris, American forces helped the French beat back the German offensive.

The keystone “is from an arch of the old bridge at Chateau Thierry, gloriously and successfully defended by American troops,” the plaque on the granite base reads.

The monument looks like many other modest, mostly forgotten memorials around the city. But there’s a story behind how it ended up here, and it has more to do with the threat of World War II than honoring bravery in World War I.

“In 1938, the French government feared the intentions of Nazi Germany and gave the keystone as a gift to the United States in an attempt to gain American sympathy,” writes Lloyd Ultan and Shelley Olsen in The Bronx: The Ultimate Guide to New York’s Beautiful Borough.

“Using the auspices of a New York City American Legion post, this was ultimately decided to be the site of the gift. It was installed with parade, pomp, and ceremony in 1940, but by that time, World War II had begun and the French Republic was in great jeopardy.”

But why the Bronx? Perhaps it had to do with the World War I hospital and Army training camp then located farther north in the borough, on the site of today’s Montefiore Medical Center.

The hospital and camp was called Chateau Thierry, after the famous battle, according to Northwest Bronx by Bill Twomey and Thomas X. Casey.

Interestingly, there’s also the Chateau Thierry apartments on Union Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn—built in 1923.

The forgotten men waiting on a Bowery breadline

January 15, 2018

Bowler hats, thin shoes, and shabby coats that need a good washing—what the men on this Bowery breadline in 1910 are wearing tells us everything we need to know about them.

The bars they’ve lined up next to are advertising Ehret’s and Schaefer beer, both once manufactured in Manhattan (Schaefer eventually relocated to Brooklyn.)

[George Bain Collection/LOC]