Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The sea motifs of the East Side co-op River House

August 20, 2018

River House, the white-glove Art Deco co-op built in 1931 at the eastern end of 52nd Street, has a lot going for it.

There’s the appealing prewar design, rare privacy behind an iron fence and long driveway, and airy apartments with many rooms.

And of course, the biggest selling point might be the extraordinary views of the East River and beyond for the wealthy and famous who live there.

But you don’t have to be a shareholder to be enchanted by the co-op, built on the site of a former cigar factory.

That’s because anyone can walk down 52nd Street past First Avenue and see the whimsical sea motifs built across the facade on along doorways.

Seahorses are abundant on the building (and have actually been found in New York’s waters, amazingly). Two gilded seahorses decorate the entrance to what might have been the River Club, the co-op’s exclusive club overlooking the water.

Anchors decorate the facade too. They’re the perfect symbols for this luxury dwelling, which once boasted that residents could dock their yachts behind the building, so they had easy access to depart the city via the East River.

The creation of the FDR Drive a decade later unfortunately put an end to this perk.

Even this fountain built into the side of the building along the driveway appears to be designed like a shell. And is that Neptune or Poseidon, gods of the sea, guarding it?

[Top photo: MCNY 1931, 88.1.1.2083]

The church wall that protected Irish immigrants

June 11, 2018

Manhattan has no shortage of beautiful and historic houses of worship.

But walking by St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which spans Prince Street between Mulberry and Mott Streets in what was once working-class Little Italy and is now a neighborhood of boutiques and coffee spots, makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the early 19th century.

The Gothic Revival church building, the weathered tombstones, the black cast-iron fence surrounding a yard of grass and trees all give off a quiet, ghostly feel.

And then there’s the 10-foot brick wall surrounding the churchyard, which doesn’t say keep out as much as it feels like a protective moat around the church and the worshippers inside.

Apparently that protective function is exactly why the wall was built.

In the decades after the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral was completed in 1815 (it was the city’s second Catholic church), an orphanage and parochial school opened as well.

Soon, a tide of Catholic immigrants fleeing poverty and later famine across the Atlantic made their way to the city.

It wasn’t as if Catholics were welcomed to New York with open arms before then. But the multitudes of Irish coming to the city in the 1830s and 1840s spurred on a nativist movement against them that resulted in lethal gang brawls and the burning of Manhattan’s third Catholic church on (now defunct) Sheriff Street by arsonists.

In response, church leaders built the 10-foot brick wall that still stands today.

“Although the exact date of construction is unknown, stories suggest that in 1835, Bishop John Hughes was compelled to station parishioners on already-extant walls so as to protect the cathedral from a fire-wielding anti-Catholic mob,” stated Place Matters.

Bishop Hughes was John Joseph Hughes, an Irish-born priest who was consecrated as a bishop at St. Patrick’s in 1838—and eventually became the first archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York.

wall

“In the following years, nativist mobs had advanced on St. Patrick’s several times but were turned back after receiving reports that armed Irish defenders—posted by Bishop Hughes—were stationed along Prince Street and behind those brick walls which had been specifically constructed to protect the Cathedral,” proclaimed the church website.

After the Civil War, the Irish were still scorned, but the nativist movement lost steam. The inside of old St. Patrick’s burned in an accidental fire in 1866; it was rebuilt two years later.

The church walls were undamaged, so the same walls we walk by today, where vendors park their wares and fashionable people stroll and window shop, are the ones that helped protect vulnerable immigrants 175 years ago.

[Second image: NYPL, 1880; fourth image, NYPL, 1850s; fifth image, NYPL 1862]

The past lives of a modest 1809 house in Tribeca

February 5, 2018

Houses have stories. And the Dutch-style unassuming home at the corner of White Street and West Broadway can tell some fascinating tales.

The story of 2 White Street (or 234 West Broadway) begins in 1809, when a New Yorker named Gideon Tucker built this home, most likely the last in a row that stretched down White Street.

Tucker ran a successful plaster factory. He was also assistant alderman of the Fifth Ward and a school commissioner, according to a Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 1966.

Tucker’s house certainly wasn’t showy. But a man of his stature would build a place with some flair.

“Number Two White Street is one of those very rare brick and wood houses in New York which still retain its gambrel roof and original dormer windows,” explains the LPC report.

“Although it was completed in 1809, this house is eighteenth century in its feeling and style,” states The Landmarks of New York.

Almost no homes from the 18th century survive in the city of today, thanks in part to fires—like the great fire of 1835.

Two White Street can give us a good idea of where and how New Yorkers lived in the decades following the Revolutionary War.

How long Tucker and his family resided there is unclear, or if it remained a one-family home. But by 1842, there was a different occupant: Reverend Theodore S. Wright.

Wright was born a free African-American in 1797. He was educated at the city’s African Free School, a one-room schoolhouse for the children of free and enslaved black New Yorkers. (Slavery wouldn’t officially end in the state until 1827.)

Wright became the first black man to earn a degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, then helped lead the rising abolitionist movement in the antebellum city.

As a minister at the First Colored Presbyterian Church on Frankfort Street, he spoke out against the evils of slavery and founded abolitionist organizations, including the New York Vigilance Committee—which aimed to prevent black residents from being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.

“In the 1840s, the Reverend Wright may have written speeches denouncing white prejudice by the light from the gabled windows of this very house,” states the New-York Historical Society.

Wright did more than write speeches; he may have used 2 White Street as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The house wouldn’t have been far from the Lispenard Street home of abolitionist David Ruggles, an Underground Railroad stop that over two decades sheltered about 600 runaway slaves, including Frederick Douglass.

Wright died in 1847. Photos from the early 20th century show that the ground-floor retail space hosted a cigar shop, a barber shop, and at some point a liquor store.

Today it’s a J. Crew selling menswear, but the windows are still etched with the words “cordials” and “cognacs.” No trace of Tucker or Wright remain.

[Second photo: MCNY/33.173.221; third and sixth photos: NYPL]

Park Avenue’s terra cotta tapestry of grotesques

January 15, 2018

Sometimes you come across an apartment building with a facade that takes your breath away.

That was my experience recently on a walk past 898 Park Avenue. This 14-story Romanesque beauty on the corner of East 79th Street finished in 1924 is a medley of terra cotta detailing, figures, and faces.

The design is described as “Tuscan-style terra cotta ornamentation” by Andrew Alpern in his book, Luxury Apartment Houses in Manhattan. It’s also been called “Lombardy Romanesque” or “Tuscan Tapestry,” Alpern says.

Whatever the style is called, it’s delightful, as Alpert also points out. The facade belies the reputation Park Avenue has as a stretch of New York with staid, fortress-like residences.

There’s a playfulness at 898 Park. The cerulean and tan arches on the second story contain bas relief images of men sleeping, eating, and what appears to be inventing. (Newyorkitecture.com has closeups.)

And the grotesques affixed to the ground floor arched entryway—they have disturbingly weary faces. But then again, they have been watching passersby for 94 years.

[Top photo: Streeteasy.com]

Where was the original WPIX yule log filmed?

December 24, 2017

WPIX Channel 11’s strangely mesmerizing Yule Log is a Christmas tradition for New Yorkers from the 1960s to the 1980s.

So it was quite a disappointment to discover that the yule log so many of us grew up on was actually shot in a fireplace in California.

The original 16mm footage, a 17-second loop first shown on Christmas in 1966, was actually and appropriately filmed in a fireplace at Gracie Mansion, where Mayor John Lindsay lived at the time.

But when Channel 11 wanted to upgrade the deteriorating film to 35mm in 1970, they got a definitive no from the Lindsay administration.

“Unfortunately, when WPIX shot the original Gracie Mansion footage, to capture the log in all its flaming glory, the crew decided to remove the protective screen and a stray spark damaged a valuable antique rug,” explains a story on WPIX’s website, pix11.com.

“Needless to say, the Mayor’s office was not receptive to the idea of letting WPIX come back and re-shoot the footage.”

A fireplace was located in Palo Alto, California and new footage shot—but really, there wasn’t one townhouse owner who could lend his or her fireplace to the film crew so the Yule Log could be from New York, for New York?

[Photos: Wikipedia]

A spooky Gothic mansion in Upper Manhattan

October 30, 2017

If only New York didn’t tear down the William A. Wheelock House—a glorious, eclectic confection of Victorian porches, bay windows, lace-like ironwork, and a bow-shaped mansard roof crowning off a central tower.

But because this Addams Family–esque mansion and its grounds reminiscent of Grey Gardens near Riverside Drive and 158th Street bit the dust in the 1940s, this post will be a memorial to what could have been the most perfect place to celebrate Halloween in Manhattan.

William A. Wheelock graduated from New York University in the 1840s and become a successful merchant who made enough money to retire at age 37, according to the New-York Tribune.

He moved his family to the wilds of Upper Manhattan, where painter and Birds of America author James Audubon owned acres of pristine forested land far from the urban center in today’s West 150s.

After Audubon died, Wheelock—by all accounts a decent, philanthropic-minded guy—helped Audubon’s wife, Minnie, handle her dwindling finances.

 That necessitated selling off some of her land, typically to wealthy city residents who wanted to build great homes far from the city.

Wheelock himself bought a parcel of property in 1870.

He then built his family this house on the north side of 158th Street, according to the Audubon Park Historic District website.

This painting by Gustave Wolff, “Approaching the Wheelock Mansion,” gives an idea just how remote the area was in the late 19th century.

But of course, the city would begin encroaching on the neighborhood in due time.

Change came not long after the turn of the century—after William Wheelock’s death in 1905.

Paved roads, subway access, and the northern extension of Broadway would all bring development to Audubon’s former property and encroach upon the Wheelock House.

 

The mansion managed to survive into the 1930s, a relic of another era. Berenice Abbott found it such a curiosity, she took photos of it while working for the Federal Art Project in 1938.

In 1940, the city purchased the property outright and called in the bulldozers not long afterward. Today this quiet sliver of northern Manhattan hosts a storage building and nondescript apartments—the elms, tulip trees, hills, and streams of Audubon’s land long gone.

[First, second, and fifth photos: Berenice Abbott; third photo: Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill, by James Renner; fourth image: Wichita Art Museum; sixth photo: Ephemeral New York]

Buffalo Bill’s wild west show thrills 1894 Brooklyn

July 17, 2017

Part circus, part vaudeville act, part patriotic celebration of a mythic American frontier, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a huge summer draw when this traveling extravaganza booked time in New York in the late 19th century.

The show first visited Erastina, a park on the north shore of Staten Island, in 1886. “The festivities began with an elaborate parade through the streets of Manhattan on June 26,” states the blog for the Museum of the City of New York.

“Quickly, the entertainers’ camp became as popular as the scheduled performances. Families from Manhattan and Queens chatted with cowboys and marveled at Native Americans who sat in hammocks and roasted hotdogs for supper.”

After a turn at Madison Square Garden, the show moved to Brooklyn for the summer of 1894, thrilling audiences at Ambrose Park, a 24-acre parcel of land on Third Avenue and 37th Street in today’s Sunset Park.

And while it might seem corny to New Yorkers today, this kind of spectacle was great family fun for the growing middle class of the Gilded Age, when ferries and elevated trains made day trips to Ambrose Park easier.

William Cody “truly did establish himself as a talented marksman and scout on the frontier before he transformed into a charming showman,” states the MCNY blog.

“His Wild West show subsequently relied on his knowledge of the West to gain popularity, but he also depended on urban environments, like New York, which allowed his spectacle to flourish.”

Get a load of the map of Greater New York in the poster! Whoever drew it managed to get the Brooklyn Bridge in there, but the city seems to stop at Chambers Street. And what’s the rectangle land mass off Brooklyn?

[Second image Brooklyn Eagle ad, 1894; third photo: Green-Wood Cemetery]

A Little Italy sign reveals an old phone exchange

July 10, 2017

They’re hiding in plain sight all over New York: faded ads and signs with the old-school two-letter phone prefixes phased out in the 1960s in favor of 7-digit phone numbers.

Usually they stand for something in the neighborhood, if not the neighborhood itself, such as MU for Murray Hill; RA for Ravenswood, once a separate Village in Queens but now absorbed by Astoria.

But what to make of this sign high above a restaurant on Mott Street in Little Italy, noting a BA prefix? The guide I usually consult to find out where BA is and what it means is no longer online. The elevator company could have been located anywhere in the city.

ENY has many posts on old-school prefix sightings, but no BA, unfortunately.

This rundown building was once a posh mansion

June 26, 2017

If you stood outside 67 Greenwich Street, you’d never think this shell of a building was anything special: just another decrepit 19th century walkup in Lower Manhattan, now part of a construction site.

Yet behind the scaffolding and broken windows lies the ruins of a Federal–style mansion built from 1809 to 1810—making it one of the city’s oldest houses, even predating the New York City street grid of 1811.

67 Greenwich Street, with its splayed stone lintels and fashionable bowed facade seen on the Trinity Street side of the mansion (below), was built by Robert Dickey, a prominent merchant who amassed his fortune trading tea, coffee, rice, and spices in China, India, and Europe.

A man of such wealth would be expected to live in a grand home on the city’s poshest street. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Greenwich Street was the “Millionaire’s Row” of the era.

Imagine what it must have been like then: an elegant thoroughfare hugging the shoreline of Manhattan, lined with new Federal–style homes occupied by families with last names like Livingston and Roosevelt.

In 1809, “two 3-story houses were under construction” on Greenwich Street, along with two stables and coach house and storehouse on Lumber Street (renamed Trinity Place in 1843), “separated from the houses by courtyards,” says the Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

Dickey, his wife Anne (above left), and his family (the Dickeys reportedly had 10 kids) moved into the larger one. They lived there until 1820.

At that time, Dickey’s fortunes took a dive, and he was forced to sell. In 1823, the house was purchased by Peter Schermerhorn, a ship chandler and builder.

The Schermerhorns were of course an old Dutch colonial family; they built the counting houses of Schermerhorn Row at today’s South Street Seaport.

After the 1820s, Greenwich Street was no longer the richest residential area in New York. As the decades passed, what is now called the Robert and Anne Dickey Mansion went through a variety of uses.

It was leased to socially prominent families, took a turn as the French consulate, then became a boardinghouse, ship ticket office.

Like so many New York homes, it even spent time as a house of “ill-fame”—aka a brothel “of the lowest character,” as this frothy New York Times article from 1871 reports.

Incredibly, 67 Greenwich Street remained in the Schermerhorn family until 1919. A fourth floor had been added by then, and most of the remaining Federal–style houses built on Greenwich Street were demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, according to the LPC report.

Somehow the Dickey mansion survived the 19th century commercialization of the Lower West Side, the construction of elevated rail lines on Greenwich Avenue and Trinity Place, the building of the tunnel, and then the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan in the late 20th century.

Why is 67 Greenwich behind scaffolding today? It’s slated to be incorporated into this project, which calls for a 35-story tower to cantilever over what remains of the 217-year-old mansion.

[Second image: Evening Post, 1823; fourth image: Anne Brown Dickey by John Wesley Jarvis, Metropolitan Museum of Art; fifth image: 1940, Library of Congress via LPC report; sixth image: 1965, John Barrington Bayley via LPC report; seventh image: Department of Records Tax Photo 1980s]

The most beautiful old warehouse is in Tribeca

June 12, 2017

Gables, turrets, arched windows, weather vanes: what can you say about this spectacular former warehouse building but wow?

Built in 1891 on Watts and Washington Streets for the Fleming Smith company (see the monogrammed initials in the close-up below), it’s a jaw-dropping Romanesque Revival beauty with neo-Flemish touches—a style popular at the end of the 19th century, as the city looked back on its Dutch colonial roots.

Once a neighborhood of warehouses, the grocery trade, and food processors, Tribeca got its new name in the mid-1970s, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, when New Yorkers began moving into the area’s colossal lofts and warehouses.

The Fleming Smith warehouse was the first in Tribeca to be turned into a residence. Got $3 million? You might be able to score one of the building’s co-ops. Take a peek at recent listings.