Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

Taking a “century ride” with the city’s wheelmen

August 22, 2016

In the 1890s, huge numbers of New Yorkers donned new riding suits, bought or rented a bike, and took part in the cycling craze—peddling along park paths or roads newly paved with smooth asphalt.

Centuryridewilliamsburghwheelmen

Leisurely rides were fine for the masses. But for hardcore wheelmen (and sometimes wheelwomen) looking for a real challenge, nothing beat the exhilaration of a new kind of competition: the century ride.

CenturyrideticketA century ride clocked in at 100 miles. It wasn’t a race but a feat of personal endurance. Each rider had 14 hours to get from start to finish and prove their cycling prowess.

“Bicycling clubs were formed all over the city,” reminisced future governor Al Smith in his 1929 autobiography, Up to Now.

Centuryrideticketnj1895“You acquired full membership when you belonged to what was called the Century Club. That meant you had ridden 100 miles in a single day.”

Every neighborhood had a club, among them the Kings County Wheelmen (known as “scorchers” for their speed), the Riverside Wheelmen (bottom photo, 1888), and the Williamsburgh Wheelmen (top photo, in 1896).

Century rides were popular with young, athletic men. “With a number of young men from my neighborhood, I left Oliver and Madison Streets at nine o’clock on Sunday morning and wheeled to Far Rockaway,” wrote Smith.

Centuryridewhanderson1897“We went in swimming, had our dinner, and wheeled back.”

Century rides often went round trip from Brooklyn to Eastern Long Island, as the ticket at the top right shows.

Another ticket from of an 1895 century ride lists each stop on the route from New York City to New Brunswick and back.

Century rides still take place today, and they sound like a lot of (very exerting) fun.

But their heyday remains the turn of the 20th century, when safer, more accessible bikes hit the market just as leisure time began to rise and a trend toward physical fitness gained popularity.

Centuryclubriversidewheelmen

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverAnd street pavements improved—thanks to the invention of asphalt, which was put down on an increasing number of city roads that were once paved with blocks, stones, even wood.

The cycling craze wasn’t the only sports trend to hit New York in the 1890s. Baseball, tennis, boxing—find out more in Ephemeral New York’s upcoming book, The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Top photo: MCNY, unknown photographer, 1896, accession number 49.300.7; second image: MCNY, 1897, in the Collection on Sports, accession number 49.300.14; third image: MCNY, 1897, in the Collection on Sports, accession number 49.300.16; fourth photo: W.H. Anderson, New York State Century Club winner; fifth photo: MCNY, Riverside Wheelmen Bicycle Club, 1888, X2010.11.13347]

A peek inside Grand Central Terminal in 1939

August 15, 2016

From the New York Central Railroad comes this cool cutaway poster into Grand Central Terminal circa 1939, when train travel reigned supreme.

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The zodiac ceiling in the main concourse looks beautifully blue. There’s the main waiting room, now called Vanderbilt Hall, as well as a restaurant concourse, plus various lower levels connecting passengers to commuter trains and subways.

What happened to the art gallery on the third floor above the main waiting room?

Manhattan street names on tenement corners

August 12, 2016

If there’s an actual name for these cross streets carved or affixed to the corners of some city buildings, I don’t know what it is.

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But they’re fun to spot anyway. I’ve never seen one quite like this decorative sign on an otherwise unremarkable tenement at 169th Street and Broadway.

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Fancy, right? This one at Horatio and Washington Streets is also a notch above the usual corner address sign, which is typically carved into the facade in a plain font.

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A good example of the traditional style is this one below, worn and so faded it’s hard to see the letters, at Mott and Bleecker Streets.

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I’ve heard that these street signs are up high because they were meant to be seen from elevated trains. But there were no trains running on Mott and Bleecker, or Horatio and Washington.

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Or West End Avenue and 82nd Street, for that matter. This is a beauty of a sign that’s survived the elements on the circa-1895 facade of former Public School 9, now strangely called the Mickey Mantle School.

Some of my favorites are carved into tenements in the East Village. And of course, the loveliest in the city is at Hudson and Beach Streets.

Two enchanting views of New York’s High Bridge

August 8, 2016

It’s New York’s oldest bridge—a Roman-inspired graceful span completed in 1848 as a crucial link of the Croton Aqueduct, the engineering marvel that brought fresh upstate water to city spigots.

Highbridgelawson

At 140 feet above the breezy Harlem River, it was (and is—it’s now open to the public) a favorite place for strollers as well as artists.

Ernest Lawson was one of those artists. “High Bridge—Early Moon” (above) from 910 “dates from Lawson’s early period . . . when he lived for a time in Washington Heights, at the northern tip of Manhattan,” states the website for the Phillips Collection, which owns the painting.

Highbridgeharlemriver

“Having left the area in 1906 when he moved to Greenwich Village, the artist often returned to paint his favorite sites until about 1916.”

“High Bridge—Early Moon” looks toward the Bronx side of the bridge. In the more somber “High Bridge, Harlem River,” Lawson looks toward Upper Manhattan, the site of the circa-1872 High Bridge Water Tower.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcover“The motif of the bridge . . . takes on added significance in American art as a symbol of movement and change. As cities grew, bridges were often among the first structures built, their spare designs helping to transform the face of the American landscape from rural to urban.” continues the Phillips Collection caption.

“Lawson’s carefully observed paintings documenting this change conveyed his delight in commonplace views and objects—an old boat, a frail tree, grasses growing along the river’s edge.”

Read more about the High Bridge and how the bridge and the riverfront below it became a favorite recreation area in the late 19th century in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

Discount store Korvettes lives on in the subway

August 8, 2016

Remember the faded and forgotten Gimbels sign inside the 33rd Street PATH station? Turns out another relic of New York’s department store past is hidden away there as well.

Korvetteswiki

Inside a closed-off construction area along a walkway connecting the PATH to the Herald Square subway station is this sign for the underground entrance to Korvettes.

Korvettes1980alamy

What was Korvettes? New Yorkers who lived in the metro area anytime between the 1950s and the early 1980s know: it was a popular discount retailer with several locations in the city, including one at Sixth Avenue and 34th Street (top photo).

Korvetteschristmasgettyimages

Korvettes went bust in 1980—but this Reagan-era sign was never taken down, even as new retailers moved into its former site, now called the Herald Center.

saks34thstreet1920sThe Herald Center has quite a retailing history. Before Korvettes moved there in the 1960s and the building was sheathed behind a Brutalist facade, it was a lovely Beaux-Arts building constructed in 1902 for Saks’s Herald Square store (left).

(Part of the old Saks facade came back into view last year during construction—a sweet site to behold.)

Korvettes had a strong run—I’d put it above Crazy Eddie but below its Herald Square neighbors like Gimbels and Abraham & Straus in the rankings of defunct city department stores.

This 1970s TV commercial will take you back to the days when Korvettes was big. Thanks to ENY reader B.R. for alerting me to the sign!

[Top photo: John J. Meola/Wikipedia; second photo: Alamy; third photo: Getty Images; fifth image: Staten Island Advance, 1971]

Moving the Brighton Beach Hotel was amazing

July 11, 2016

When the Hotel Brighton opened in the new seaside resort of Brighton Beach in 1878, this three-story, 174-room Victorian-style hotel became an upper middle class paradise.

Brightonbeachhotelmcny1905

An elegant pavilion led guests to the sandy beach and rolling surf. The hotel’s restaurants and banquet halls served an incredible array of seafood and shellfish. The Brighton Beach Music Hall hosted famous performers and bands.

Amid all of this seaside fun and frolic, there was one problem.

Brightonbeachhoel1888westland

The hotel was built a little too close to the ocean. Ten years later, the Atlantic Ocean was practically lapping at the Brighton’s fanciful piazzas.

“The sea has steadily encroached upon the land at Brighton Beach for years . . . Old Neptune has gobbled up a nice bit of real estate with a 500-foot sea frontage and a depth of 500 feet, to which the hotel people hold a title deed,” quipped the Evening World in April 1888.

The decision was made to move the hotel. Considering that it weighed an estimated eight million pounds, relocating the massive structure was going to take some thought.

Brightonbeachhotelmoveloc1888

The plan the hotel adopted was to put it on wheels—the wheels of 112 rail cars, that is.

On April 3, after months of preparation, the big move began. “The first step taken was to drive piles under the entire front of the hotel,” stated one architectural publication.

Brightonbeachhotel1893nypl

“As already mentioned, the waves had torn away the sand, so that the building literally hung half way over the water.”

Brightonbeachhotelaftermove“It was no small undertaking to build 24 railroad tracks on those piles and to lift the structure, so as to make it rest intact and absolutely level on the flat cars.”

It took 10 days for six locomotives to slowly drag the hotel about 600 feet inland.

In June, the hotel opened for the season. “The contrast between the hotel on its present site and the building resting upon piles with the ocean flowing beneath it, as it did last summer, is decidedly striking,” commented the Evening World on June 27.

[First image: MCNY; second image: westland.net; third image: LOC; fourth image: NYPL; fifth image: arrts.arrchives.com]

The lost Gimbels sign in a Midtown train station

June 30, 2016

Gimbelscloseup2016It’s not easy to see against the grimy tile wall.

Yet as you exit the PATH station beneath 33rd Street, you can just make out the letters G, L, and S.

It’s one of the last reminders of the Gimbels store, which for 76 years occupied its Herald Square spot on Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street.

Gimbels, of course, was a retail giant during the city’s 20th century department store era.

Gimbels1920mcny

A little more downmarket than Macy’s across the street, the two behemoths had a fabled rivalry for decades until Gimbels gave up the ghost in 1986.

A major selling point for Gimbels were the underground passageways that took 34th Street subway and PATH riders right to the store’s entrances.

Gimbelssign2016

Gimbels is long gone, but the building, extensively revamped, is still there—it’s now the Manhattan Mall with a JC Penney as its flagship store.

Gimbels1905-1914mcnyA few other remnants of Gimbels continue to haunt Midtown. A faded Gimbels ad on a building on West 31st Street should still be there.

And though it has no Gimbels signage, this enchanting copper skybridge linking an upper floor of the Gimbels store to an annex over 32nd Street is a lovely site.

Hat tip to the eagle-eyed History Author Show!

[Images: MCNY]

The 1904 horse auction house in the East Village

June 30, 2016

Lets say you’re a Vanderbilt, a Belmont, or a Delano, or a member of one of New York’s other super rich families at the turn of the century.

13thstreethorses2

You have your mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, and for fancy dinners, only Delmonico’s will do. But when it come to transportation, polo, and racing, where do you get your horses and carriages?

The Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart was one option.

13thstreethorsesmcny1910Formed as a general auction house in the 1870s, the company began specializing in show horses and fine carriages for the city’s elite, operating several equine auction buildings along East 13th Street.

With the era of the horse still in swing in 1903, Van Tassell and Kearney commissioned a new showroom and auction building at 126-128 East 13th Street.

After knocking down three row houses, the architects were tasked with creating a lovely structure roomy enough to show and stable horses but so elegant that it attracted the city’s wealthiest clientele.

The new building, completed in 1904, was an unusual beauty. “The central arched window is set within a wide coved band that widens and becomes more three-dimensional near the top,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its 2012 report deeming it a city landmark.

13thstreethorses

“Crowned by a prominent cartouche and keystone, this feature may have been influenced by the dramatic forms associated with the Art Nouveau style, or perhaps, the padded oval collars worn by horses.”

13thstreethorsesadThe horse auctions were short-lived. The building hosted its last one in 1916, a victim of the automobile age. The Vanderbilts and their brethren were now racing cars, not equines.

In subsequent years it housed a candy factory, a vocational school, and from 1978 to 2005 the studio of painter and sculptor Frank Stella, who cleaned and restored the facade.

Today it’s a dance center, I believe, and one of the last remaining buildings in New York intended for staging horse auctions, a necessity when horses powered the city.

[Second image: MCNY, 1910; fourth image: The Rider and Driver, 1893]

An early city bus motors down Fifth Avenue

June 27, 2016

It doesn’t look very sturdy or comfortable. And an awful lot of people seem packed into that upper deck.

But if you needed to travel along Fifth Avenue between Washington Square and 59th Street in the early 1900s, this was your mode of transportation.

Double Decker2

New York was the first city to use “motor omnibuses” for public transit, and the earliest fleet hit the streets in 1902, according to The Wheels That Drove New York. In 1905, the Fifth Avenue Coach Company invested in 15 French DeDion Bouton double deckers, like the one in the postcard.

Motor buses for commuters were a hit, and even sightseeing buses popped up, the precursors to today’s big red tourist haulers. Within a few years, Fifth Avenue’s horse-drawn omnibuses were history.

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.

Subwayridersinnyc1914francisluismora

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.

Subwaymorningnewsmora

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.


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