Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Decorative New Year’s babies of Gramercy Park

January 9, 2014

Cute little sculptures such as these seem to be prevalent above doorways and entrances on and around Gramercy Park brownstones and townhouses.

Gramercyparkbaby

The top one comes from a townhouse across from the park; the one below shows two cherubs guarding a doorway on Irving Place.

Irvingplacebaby

They’re nice to see at the start of a new year!

A sinful side street in 19th century New York City

November 28, 2013

SoubretterowsignAside from the Bowery, no neighborhood in late–19th century New York packed in as many saloons, music halls, gambling dens, and brothels—lots and lots of brothels—as the Tenderloin.

“The Tenderloin was the most famous sex district in New York City history,” wrote Timothy J. Gilfoyle in his book City of Eros. “Sandwiched between wealthy Gramercy Park and Murray Hill on the east and working-class Hell’s Kitchen on the west, the Tenderloin stretched north from 23rd Street between Fifth and Eighth Avenues.”

Metoperahouse39thbway1904Amid all this sex openly for sale, one street stood out: 39th Street west of Seventh Avenue, nicknamed “Soubrette Row.” (a Soubrette is a saucy, flirtatious girl.)

Here, around the corner from the elite new Metropolitan Opera House (left, in 1904), the bordellos were run by French madams.

The girls they managed specialized in some, um, scandalous practices for the era.

By the 1890s, the houses on West 39th Street, “‘were known all over the country,’ according to one observer.

West39thstreetnypl1934“‘The French girls in these houses,’ wrote another investigator, ‘resort to unnatural practices and as a result the other girls will not associate or eat with them,’” wrote Gilfoyle. As the Tenderloin grew, another Soubrette Row popped up by 1901, along West 43rd Street, states Gilfoyle.

The brothels on these Soubrette Rows eventually moved uptown and dispersed, as the the city crept northward and Progressive-Era officials cracked down on sex and sin.

Today, West 39th Street contains the ghosts of the neighborhood that replaced the Tenderloin—the Garment District.

[Right: West 39th Street in 1934, long after Soubrette Row had moved on]

New York City’s free-roaming, trash-eating pigs

November 18, 2013

NicolinocalyopigFrom its earliest colonial days, New York produced lots of trash.

What wasn’t dumped in the rivers by private carting companies or scavenged by rag-pickers piled up on streets, producing a terrible stench described as  “a nasal disaster.

The image above, by Italian painter Nicolino Calyo, shows trendily dressed Bowery Boys in the 1840s, unfazed by a pig beside them.

In an era before street cleaners and a real sanitation department, the metropolis relied on one tactic: free-roaming pigs, who fed on household food scraps tossed into the gutters.

Fivepoints1827Swine didn’t just eat trash in poor neighborhoods, like Five Points (above in 1827, with fat sows mixed into the crowds). Pigs could be found on more upscale streets as well.

Charles Dickens made much of their presence when he was touring Broadway in American Notes, a book about his travels in 1842:

“Two portly sows are trotting up behind this carriage, and a select party of half-a-dozen gentlemen hogs have just now turned the corner,” wrote Dickens. “Here is a solitary swine lounging homeward by himself. He has only one ear, having parted with the other to vagrant-dogs in the course of his city rambles. . . . They are the city scavengers, these pigs.”

In 1849, the city drove thousands of them toward the northern reaches of the city, and by 1860, swine had been banished above 86th Street—where there were still sparsely populated enclaves of shantytowns and rural villages.

Garbage1897aliceausten

By the 1870s, the city stopped dumping refuse in the rivers, and a decade later, the first garbage incinerators are built. In the 1890s, George Waring’s “White Wings” finally cleaned the city up.

Above: no more pigs, but New York still needed horses to cart away trash and ashes, now kept curbside in barrels, as this 1897 Alice Austen photo shows.

Manhole covers that left their mark on the city

November 4, 2013

Looking up at New York’s buildings isn’t the only way to get a sense of the city’s past.

Cast your eyes down on the sidewalk and street, and you’ll start seeing an incredible variety of manhole covers—many from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Jacobmarksmanholetribeca

These iron lids serve a utilitarian purpose. But the men who made them at Ironworks across the city imbued them with a sense of pride and craftsmanship.

Charlesfoxmanholecover

Jacob Mark created his signature covers with colored glass, which look like glistening jewels. The one at top of the page was discovered in Tribeca.

Johnweldonmanholecover

Charles H. Fox’s Hudson River Ironworks made the manhole cover above, with its lovely decorative stars. It’s in the ground in the West Village, not far from the Ironworks’ headquarters at 369 West 11th Street.

The big star in the center of this next cover must be the signature of John P. Weldon, who plied his trade down on Stone Street, when “New York” was still hyphenated.

Emilnickironworksmanholecover

This manhole cover made by Emilnick Ironworks is on Vernon Avenue in Long Island City. It certainly has seen better days, but it’s holding its own.

Some especially beautiful covers can be found here.

A Hudson River yacht club gets the boot

May 30, 2013

The clubhouse for the Columbia Yacht Club, on the Hudson River at 86th Street since the 1870s, looks like a breezy little summertime spot for boating and dining by the water in this penny postcard from about 1910.

Columbiayachtclub

I especially like the old-timey bridge that goes over the railroad tracks to the clubhouse.

The club’s days were numbered though. In 1934, park commissioner Robert Moses abruptly notified members that they were getting the boot because the premises were in the way of “West Side improvement.”

They left after a legal battle, relocating first to Riverdale and then to a site off Long Island Sound.

The horsecars and gas lamps of West 42nd Street

May 20, 2013

Fabled 42nd Street has long epitomized New York’s bright lights, glamour, and energy.

But not the 42nd Street at the turn of the last century, as this circa-1900 photo, from New York Then and Now, demonstrates.

42ndstreetfifthavenue1900

That year, the midtown block of 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was a still-residential stretch of muddy Belgian blocks, a single gas lamp, and horse-pulled streetcars.

“The horsecars were run by the 42nd Street, Manhattanville and St. Nicholas Avenue Railway as a crosstown line between the Weehawken ferries at the west terminal and the Hunters Point Ferry to Long Island City at the east end,” the caption tells us.

The church on the right is the West Presbyterian Church, and the el tracks on the left won’t be torn down until the 1930s.

42ndstreetfifthavenue1974

By 1974, almost nothing remains, and West 42nd Street looks much more familiar to contemporary eyes.

“The building with the curved front is the Grace Building, built 1970-1972 on the site of Stern Brothers Department Store, which stood here from 1913 to 1969, having previously operated on West 34th Street for 36 years,” reads the caption.

42ndstreetfifthavenue2013

Today, 42nd Street looking toward Sixth Avenue reveals more glass office buildings, a replica of an old street lamp, plus many of the same buildings from 1974—such as the Grace Building and the Gothic-like entrance to 11 West 42nd Street.

It’s not in the photo, but I imagine Bryant Park, which would be on the left, looks very different—this park had a bad reputation until the 1980s.

No one was taking there lunch break or watching movies on the lawn then!

Lovely fountains for city horses and other animals

December 8, 2012

New York is a city of enchanting water fountains. Some of the most beautiful were intended for horses, thousands of which packed the streets daily for three centuries, doing the labor needed to build the city.

Hamiltonfountain

All these horses needed places to rehydrate, like the Hamilton Fountain at Riverside Drive and 76th Street. Funds to build the fountain were bequeathed to the city by Alexander Hamilton’s great-grandson, a rich property owner, who died in 1890.

Hamiltonfountainfish“Crafted from Tennessee marble, the lavishly carved fountain, composed of separate masonry units, is surmounted by an eagle with wings spread, beneath which are decorative motifs, a coat of arms, a dolphins’ head spray feature, a shell-shaped spill basin, and a larger foliate catch basin,” writes the New York City Parks and Recreation Department.

“Created for ‘man and beast,’ the fountain was evidently intended primarily as a drinking fountain for horses, and was erected during an era when the streets of Manhattan were frequented by thousands of horses on a daily basis.”

Horses working uptown in Washington Heights could get a long drink from the Hooper Fountain, at 155th Street and Edgecombe Avenue.

When businessman John Hooper died in 1889, his will indicted that two fountains should be built “whereat man and beast can drink,” the Parks Department website states.

Hooperfountain

A trough constructed in Bedford-Stuyvesant disappeared long ago. Yet this 1894 beauty survives; it “consists of a large round horse trough, carved pedestal drinking fountain, and a central Ionic column topped by an ornamental globe-shaped lantern.”

HooperfountaindogAt the back is a drinking fountain meant for humans (no spout; it might be the kind that had a communal metal cup attached to it that everyone had to share!)

Even better, on the bottom on both sides are dog fountains, a nice touch that could accommodate today’s canine-obsessed city.

Here are a few other old horse troughs around Manhattan, one in Central Park and another hiding in the East 50s.

How New York’s Blarney Stones got their start

March 12, 2012

Dimly lit, very smoky, and smelling like cheap beer, Blarney Stones used to be all over New York City—hideaways for working men who wanted to drink, and maybe catch a ball game and have a corned beef sandwich.

They were the brainchild of Irish immigrant Daniel Flanagan, whose first Blarney Stone opened on Third Avenue and 44th Street in 1952.

“Mr. Flanagan would generally bring in a new partner in each bar and grill, share in the development, and then move on to another,” reported The New York Times in Flanagan’s 1991 obituary. “At his death, he was directly involved in the ownership and management of three Blarney Stone restaurants.”

At one time, there were 34 Blarney Stones in Manhattan, according to this AMNY article.

“Generally blue-collar, working man’s bars, the Blarneys were known for their traditional Irish food, cheap prices and tight-knit community,” writes Tim Herrera. “Most patrons were tradesmen, and few women entered.”

“But as the leases on the original Stones ended in the 1980s and ’90s, the owners sold them off, and today there are about five left in the city,” he adds.

This one, on Ninth Avenue in the 20s, appears to be going strong, as is the Blarney Stone on Eighth Avenue near Madison Square Garden, sporting the neon sign at the top.

And a few of its imitators—Blarney Cove on East 14th Street, I’m looking at you—are also still pulling in drinkers.

Harpo Marx: a poor street kid on East 93rd Street

November 21, 2011

As many New Yorkers know, the Marx Brothers, including Adolph “Harpo” Marx, grew up in a crowded tenement at 179 East 93rd Street, off Third Avenue.

That’s in upscale Carnegie Hill today. But in the 1890s, during Harpo’s childhood, it was “a small Jewish neighborhood squeezed in between the Irish to the north and the Germans to the South in Yorkville,” he writes in 1961′s Harpo Speaks…About New York.

His recollections offer a glimpse into life as a poor Manhattan street kid circa 1900, when ethnic background determined everything.

“If you were caught trying to sneak through a foreign block, the first thing the Irishers or Germans would ask was “Hey kid! What Streeter?” he recalls. “I learned it saved time and trouble to tell the truth. I was a 93rd Streeter, I would confess.”

“The worst thing you could do was run from Other Streeters. But if you didn’t have anything to fork over for ransom you were just dead.”

“I learned never to leave my block without some kind of boodle in my pocket—a dead tennis ball, an empty thread spool, a penny, anything.”

Life in New York at that time wasn’t all about being bullied. After quitting P.S. 86 when he was eight, Harpo watched tennis games in Central Park, went sledding with a dishpan, and swam off the East River docks.

He also dodged the ticket takers on trolley cars so he get around without paying the fare, and he watched Giants games for free at Coogan’s Bluff above the Polo Grounds near 155th Street.

And he learned to tell time by “the only timepiece available to our family, the clock on the tower of Ehret’s Brewery (above) at 93rd and Second Avenue, which we could see from the front window, if Grandpa hadn’t pulled the shade.”

[Image of Ehret's Brewery: Beerhistory.org]

A gruesome mob hit at a Midtown Starbucks

April 4, 2011

Next time you’re waiting for your latte at the Starbucks in the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue and 55th Street, imagine the place as it was on October 25, 1957: a blood-splattered barber shop with a mob boss’s body on the floor.

That was the scene there that autumn morning, when the hotel was known as the Park Sheraton. Albert Anastasia, head of Murder Inc., was inside, sitting in a chair awaiting a haircut.

Suddenly two men, their faces covered, burst into the shop, pushed the barber out of the way, and pumped a volley of bullets into Anastasia.

He lunged toward his killers, then hit the ground.

Officially, his murder remains unsolved. But it’s believed that Vito Genovese ordered the hit, carried out by Crazy Joey Gallo and one of his brothers.

Joey Gallo’s murder, outside Umberto’s Clam House, was just as gruesome.


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