Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive

September 20, 2021

Central Park was a work in progress when Winslow Homer produced this richly detailed scene in 1860. But that didn’t stop New York’s fashionable set from coming out to the park in stylish carriages to see and be seen in a daily ritual known as the “carriage parade.”

Every afternoon between 4-5 p.m., the east side carriage drive from 59th Street to the Mall came alive, explained Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York. “In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Perhaps Homer isn’t capturing just the carriage parade but the various ways Gotham’s wealthy and their horses used new park. Take the woman in the foreground, for example. Thanks to the carriage drive, riding was now socially acceptable for ladies, according to Morris.

“The fashionable hour for equestriennes was before breakfast,” he wrote. “You could see them elegantly togged out in silk hat draped with a flying veil, tight buttoned bodice and flowing skirts….A lady riding alone was invariably attended by a liveried groom or a riding master.”

Men in positions of power indulged in the trotting fad, riding expensive fast horses to Harlem Lane and back to the park. “When General Grant visited the city at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to be taken out to Harlem Lane,” stated Morris. “He shared New York’s passion for trotters, and agreed that ‘the road’ of a late afternoon was one of the most thrilling sights in the country.”

[Lithograph: up for auction at Invaluable]

The 18th century farm lane preserved in a Riverside Drive courtyard

August 30, 2021

The mostly unbroken line of elegant apartment buildings along Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side appear from afar like early 20th century residential fortresses.

But look closely past the black iron fence at one building on the corner of 92nd Street. You’ll catch a glimpse of a sliver of colonial-era Manhattan that isn’t on modern-day maps and doesn’t adhere to the circa-1811 street grid.

The 7-story residence is 194 Riverside Drive (below), completed in 1902 and designed by Ralph Samuel Townsend, an architect who lived on 102nd Street and designed buildings all over the city—including the richly detailed Kenilworth on Central Park West.

“The wide alleyway on the south side of the building is the remnant of a path or lane that once led from the old Bloomingdale road (slightly off line with Broadway) to Twelfth Avenue,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in their 1989 report designating this stretch of Riverside Drive a historical district.

The unnamed lane, which runs on the north side of 190 Riverside next door, “separated the farms of Brouckholst Livingston to the south and R.L. Schieffelin to the north.”

These farms and others were part of the village of Bloomingdale (image above), a once rural swatch of today’s Upper West Side that served as farmland, then the site of estates and institutions, and by the late 19th century was absorbed into the larger city.

An 1890s map of the neighborhood (below, click the link to zoom in) shows us exactly where this farm lane once ran.

Between 91st and 92nd Streets, you can see faintly outlined blue lines going from the river to the former Bloomingdale Road—which opened in 1703 and offered access to and from the rest of Manhattan to this beautiful part of Gotham. (Bloomingdale came from the Dutch Bloemendaal, which meant “valley of flowers.”)

Today, the lane would extend from the courtyard on the south side of 194 Riverside Drive, through the backyards of row houses past West End Avenue. Google maps allows us to trace the path, and then imagine the colonial-era farmers and estate owners who traversed it centuries ago.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL; fourth image: LOC]

A tenement sign high up at the corner of First Street and First Avenue

July 19, 2021

The corner of First Street and First Avenue is roughly the borderline of the East Village. And what better than an old-school address sign like this one affixed to a handsome brick building to welcome you to the neighborhood as you leave the Lower East Side behind?

These early 20th century address markers can be found on many tenement corners throughout New York City. In some cases, they may have served to let elevated train riders know exactly where they were passing.

Or perhaps these signs—sometimes raised and embossed, other times carved into the building—simply let pedestrians know where they stood in an era when reliable street signs had not yet arrived to ever corner in poor neighborhoods.

The story of the twin former horse stables of Great Jones Street

July 5, 2021

If you walk down Great Jones Street between Lafayette and the Bowery, you’ll come across these handsome Italianate-style red buildings with almost identical black cornices.

Built by separate developers in 1871, the sign in the center of each cornice indicates that both buildings were used as stables. Like so many other former stables throughout New York, they were converted to residences with ground floor commercial space once automobiles replaced equines in the early 1900s.

True, both of these buildings originally did house horses. But while the sign on the cornice of one is authentic, the signage on the other was only put up in the 1970s.

The Great Jones Street stables in 2011, without scaffolding

Let’s start with Number 33, on the left. The slightly damaged letters on the cornice read “Beinecke & Co’s Stables.”

Who was Beinecke? Johann Bernhard Georg Beinecke immigrated from Germany at arrived at Castle Garden in 1865, according to the website Immigrant Entrepreneurship.

His is a rags to riches story. “Bernhard signed on as a wagon driver for a meat concern; within a few short years he bought the company and appropriately renamed it Beinecke & Company,” the website continues. Later, he branched out into banking and the hotel business, buying the original Plaza Hotel and other luxury hotels.

From 1890 into the 20th century, the horses that pulled the delivery wagons for the Beinecke meat company were stabled here, states the Landmark Preservation Commission’s NoHo Historic District Extension Report.

And what about Number 31 on the right? This building was originally the home of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, and the LPC Report says the Underwriters board moved its Fire Patrol No. 2 here from 1873 to 1907. (At the time, of course, a fire patrol needed fire horses.)

“Following the departure of the Fire Patrol, the building was converted to other uses,” states the LPC report. One of those was home base for the Joseph Scott Trucking Company. This business established itself at 59 Great Jones Street in 1966 before relocating to Number 31 in the 1970, and then moved a third time to Number 33 until 1997, according to Walter Grutchfield.

Numbers 33 and 31 in 1980, by Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY

At some point, the trucking company added their own signage—copying the late 19th century look of Beinecke & Sons. “This is a modern cornice/pediment inscription meant to immulate its neighbor at 33 Great Jones Street,” Grutchfield writes.

Two 19th century former stables, but only one authentic stable sign.

[Second photo: Wikipedia; fifth photo: Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY 2013.3.2.1790]

Two mystery gargoyles on a 57th Street building

June 27, 2021

When you walk along New York City streets, you never know who is looking down at you. And on a busy corner at West 57th Street and Broadway, you’re getting the evil eye from two mysterious grotesques.

These stone figures are affixed to what was once the main entrance for the Argonaut Building—a terra cotta beauty with Gothic touches that opened in 1909.

Back then, the building was the showroom for the Peerless Motor Car Company, a long-defunct carriage and car manufacturer that vacated the premises in the 1910s.

This stretch of Broadway near Columbus Circle was known as Automobile Row, thanks to all the car showrooms that popped up there in the early 20th century.

After Peerless (above, in a 1909 ad) left, General Motors took it over. Eventually the building was renovated and converted to office use. The Hearst company bought it and based many of their consumer magazines here through the 2000s.

When it was important to have a presence in this car-showroom neighborhood, Peerless made sure they occupied prime real estate.

But they also designed the building to fit into the corner, which explains why it has the Gothic look of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, which held court on Broadway and 56th Street (above photo, likely from the 1940s).

But back to the grotesques. Spooky and sly, laughing or crying out, they’re either holding up the building or hiding under it with sinister intentions. Shrouded in what looks like robes and slip-on shoes, they’ve been with the building since the beginning…and are apparently here to stay.

[Third image: New-York Tribune, December 12, 1909; fourth image: NYPL Digital Collection]

The steam pipe repair crew fixing New York at night

June 14, 2021

Born in New York City in 1901, painter Dines Carlsen made a name for himself as a still life and landscape painter. Here he made nighttime New York City his landscape, focusing on the men called out to do the rough work of fixing steam pipes while most of the city sleeps.

“Steam Pipe Repair Crew” is undated, and I’m not sure where it’s set. Though the scene takes place likely in the first half of the 20th century (based on the clothes and truck), it depicts a situation that occurs multiple times every night, night after night, somewhere in New York—people doing their jobs out of sight under darkness, when most of us are unaware.

[Cavalier Galleries]

The Brooklyn Bridge is celebrating its birthday

May 17, 2021

Work began in 1870 and was finally completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths). Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday on May 24.

What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and procession of 150,000 pedestrians walking across this engineering marvel for the first time on May 24, 1883? After politicians, including President Chester A. Arthur, gave speeches, the bridge was opened to the public just before midnight.

“From high water to roadway 120 ft—from high water to centre of span 135 ft—from roadway to top 158 ft—width of Bridge 85 ft—with tracks for steam cars, roadway for carriages, and walks for foot passengers, and an elevated promenade commanding a view of extraordinary beauty and extant,” the caption reads.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

The two most romantic street names in old Manhattan

May 17, 2021

New York has always been a city that encourages love and passion, with plenty of lush parks, quiet corners, and candlelit cafes lending privacy and romantic ambiance.

Couples living in 18th and early 19th century Manhattan didn’t have these places at their disposal when they wanted some alone time, of course. But they did have options—like the two now-defunct streets named “Love Lane.”

The first Love Lane began at the foot of the Bowery, called Bowry Lane on John Montresor’s 1775 map (above, and in full via this link). This map laid out the small city center at the tip of Manhattan and along the East River.

Love Lane off the Bowery (referenced in an 1818 New-York Evening Post ad, above) was a “road on the Rutgers Farm, running on or near the line of the present Henry Street,” states oldstreets.com, a site that explains the history of city street names.

Thomas Allibone Janvier’s In Old New York, published in 1893, mentions this “primitive” Love Lane, which he also places on the former Rutgers Estate near present-day Chatham Square. Valentine’s Manual of Old New York, from 1922, states that Love Lane was the original name for today’s East Broadway; it was a lane that led to the Rutgers Farm.

Exactly what colonial-era New Yorkers did on the Love Lane of the Rutgers Estate wasn’t specifically recorded by these authors. But we do have a better idea of what lovers (or would-be lovers) did on the city’s other Love Lane—which ran along West 21st Street in today’s Chelsea. Apparently, they went for long, secluded carriage drives.

“Before this area became incorporated into an expanding New York City, 21st Street was a rural lane known as the Abingdon Road, which connected Broadway with Fitzroy Road, as 8th Avenue was then called,” explains nysonglines.com.

“Abingdon was nicknamed Love Lane, because carriage rides out to the country (i.e. Midtown) were apparently the main form of dating, and coming back by Abingdon was taking the long way home.”

Different sources have Chelsea’s Love Lane taking various routes. But it seems to have begun at Broadway (then called Bloomingdale Road) and followed 21st Street west before intersecting with Fitz Roy Road, following today’s 22nd to 23rd Street, and running to Tenth Avenue beside the Hudson River.

“There is no record to show where the name came from,” wrote Charles Hemstreet in Nooks and Corners of Old New York. “The generally accepted idea is that being a quiet and little traveled spot, it was looked upon as a lane where happy couples might drive, far from the city, and amid green fields and stately trees confide the story of their loves.”

Valentine’s Manual agrees that this Love Lane followed Abington Road up the West Side to Fitz Roy and 21st Street, but has it turning east to Third Avenue and 23rd Street.

Chelsea’s Love Lane (above, in an 1807 map by William Bridges and Peter Maverick) was “swallowed up,” Hemstreet wrote in 1899, with the opening of West 21st Street in 1827.

Both of these Love Lanes have long disappeared from the urbanscape. But if you’re wishing you could live on a street with such a romantic name, head on over to Brooklyn.

Love Lane, a sweet one-block former mews in Brooklyn Heights, is quiet, tucked out of the way, and intimate. How this street got its name is something of a mystery, which the Brooklyn Daily Eagle explores in a 2019 article. It may have been a romantic path down to the East River; it could have something to do with the women’s college once located around the corner.

[Top image: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps; second image: New-York Evening Post; third image: unknown; fourth image: New-York Evening Post; fifth Image: NYPL]

What remains on a Hell’s Kitchen block from an 1883 painting

April 26, 2021

Louis Maurer immigrated to New York from Germany in 1851 when he was 19 years old (second image below). He first worked as a cabinetmaker in the antebellum city—but within a few years he became a painter and lithographer working for Currier & Ives and then his own lithography firm from an office on William Street.

As an artist, his subjects ranged from firefighters to racehorses. But in 1883 he painted what might be one of his few urban landscapes, “View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue.”

Maurer didn’t have to go far to paint this Manhattan street scene. His longtime home where he lived with his wife and children (including Modernist painter Alfred Maurer) was at 404 West 43rd Street, according to his New York Times obituary from 1932. (You can see what were probably his front steps with cast iron handrails on the far right of the painting.)

Maurer would only have to look out his parlor window to capture the action: children playing in the Belgian block street, adults in the background going about their day on the sidewalk, and the man whose job it was to empty ash barrels pouring the contents of one into his horse-drawn wagon (while a black scaredy cat runs off).

What’s special about the painting is how ordinary it is—depicting what was likely an average unglamorous city block, with red brick tenements on three corners, horses and carriages traversing the streets, and the steam train sending belching smoke along Ninth Avenue.

What else is unique about this piece of visual poetry? The corner doesn’t look entirely unrecognizable now, 138 years later. (Or even a half-century later in the above photo of the same block in the 1930s.)

Sure, the Belgian blocks are now asphalt; the ash barrels have been replaced by garbage and recycling bins. It’s been decades since kids played in New York City streets, and parked cars have replaced a waiting horse and wagon. The Ninth Avenue El met its bitter end in 1940. Times Square, just a few avenues away, was sparsely settled Longacre Square, at the time the center of New York’s carriage trade.

But see the tenement building with the side entrance on the northwest corner—today it looks almost identical. And across Ninth Avenue on the northeast corner is another red-brick building looking strangely similar to the one in Maurer’s painting.

[Second Image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL]

The curious el train in the nocturnal 1930s city

April 5, 2021

When this lithograph was made by Leonard Pytlak in 1935, Manhattan’s elevated train lines were still screeching and lurching up and down the city’s major avenues.

Already made obsolete by subways and buses and soon to be dismantled, the el trains were noisy pieces of machinery that operated high above sidewalks yet helped transform late 19th century Gotham from a horse-powered town to a mighty metropolis of steel tracks.

But if the trains were emblems of the modern machine age, why is the lone figure crossing the nighttime street below the tracks so much larger than the train itself? And why is the street no wider than an alley?

My guess is that Pytlak might be trying to humanize the el train, giving us a Modernist scene of out of proportion shapes with the soft light of Post-Impressionism. There’s also the influence of Ashcan social realism here: a Belgian block city street lined with a hotel and tenements.

Born in 1910, Pytlak was a lithographer who studied at the Art Students League and worked for the New York City WPA Graphics Program from 1934 to 1941, according to the Illinois State Museum. The museum has this strangely alluring lithograph, titled “Uptown,” in its collection.