Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fierce tigers and eagles on a 58th Street co-op

January 4, 2021

Midtown East is the land of elegant 1920s-era apartment houses: handsome buildings of 10, 11, maybe 12 stories that usually feature understated brick and limestone facades.

But 339 East 58th Street has something else going on: fierce creatures in cast stone above Medieval columns and decorative Romanesque arches.

Adorning this co-op, built in either 1920 or 1929 depending on the source (I’m betting on 1929), are two eagle figures standing ramrod straight like soldiers high above the canopied entrance.

Between these avian sentries are two tiger heads emerging from the brickwork just beneath the second floor windows.

I couldn’t find much information about the building and the backstory of the figures as well as the columns and arches surrounding the entrance.

Perhaps there’s no more significance than an architect tasked with creating yet another standard New York City apartment building while dreaming of Medieval Europe’s soaring cathedrals and castles and taking inspiration from illuminated manuscript pages.

A food vendor’s Christmas on 14th Street in 1904

December 14, 2020

Ashcan school painter Everett Shinn gravitated toward New York’s underdogs: the lonely, the lost, the dreamers, and those who appear to be battered by life’s elements.

This food vendor pushing his flimsy wood cart during the holiday season appears to fall into the latter category. Painted in 1904, “Fourteenth Street at Christmas Time” gives us a blustery, snowy street crowded with Christmas tree buyers and other shoppers beside the lights from store window displays.

Our vendor, however, stands away from everyone, his body crouched to avoid the frightful weather. His cart glows with the warmth of hot food cooking…but he has no buyers.

A Waverly Place smoke store sign returns to view

September 28, 2020

Oren’s Daily Roast departed from 28 (or 31, depending on the source) Waverly Place before 2019, so we can’t blame the closure of this coffee place across from Washington Square Park on Covid.

But the fact that a new occupant for the ground-floor space in this lovely 1930 apartment building hasn’t moved in yet might be coronavirus-related. (It’s not the best time to open a business, unfortunately.)

In the meantime, the faded lettering of a previous tenant’s sign has come back into view—the Waverly Smoke Shop.

The name has an old New York ring to it; I can imagine cigar store Native American statues guarding the door. (Alas, I don’t see any in this 1940 tax photo of the corner of the building.)

But the shop existed until at least 1991, when the New York Daily News noted that the store had become popular because it carried the NYU tank top Ellen Barkin’s character wore in the movie Switch.

Now, if only I could make out the faded outline of the store sign next door. It looks like “Eing—” and then I just can’t figure out the letters.

[Third image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

What the White Horse Tavern meant in the 1950s

June 22, 2020

The rough edges are long gone from the White Horse Tavern, the corner bar at Hudson and West 11th Streets that’s been serving drinks (not always under that name) since 1880.

Originally this dark, old school bar (above, in 1961) catered to longshoremen and locals. Today, it’s spiffed up for a sidewalk cafe kind of crowd.

But for a moment in time in the 1950s, this saloon with the white horse heads in the windows became a place for writers.

These writers, mostly young men, gathered in the wood-paneled back room to talk books, culture, and politics with others from across the political spectrum.

The White Horse’s postwar literary crowd were drawn to Dylan Thomas (right), the Welsh poet who became a regular, reportedly because it reminded him of the bars in Wales.

It was also where he had his last drinks, having collapsed on the sidewalk after downing 18 shots of whiskey on November 3, 1953. Thomas died at St. Vincent’s Hospital three days later.

His death enhanced the White Horse’s rep (above in 1940), and young writers made the place their own, according to Dan Wakefield, at the time a 23-year-old freelance writer living on Jones Street.

“We regulars in the back room thought of ourselves as underdogs and rebels in Eisenhower’s America,” recalled Wakefield in his 1992 memoir, New York in the 1950s.

“Most often when I went to the White Horse I was waved to a table by Mike Harrington, the author and activist who served as the informal host of an ongoing seminar on culture and politics, dispensing information and opinion interspersed with great anecdotes about left-wing labor leaders and colorful factional fights of political splinter groups I could never keep straight….”

The writers of the White Horse weren’t just left-wing. “Adding to the social life and political repartee in the back room of the Horse were fresh young righties,” noted Wakefield, who wrote that they “turned out to be perfectly pleasant, witty, intelligent people, and we lefty liberals and right-wing conservatives found we had more common ground of conversation and interest with one another” then with those who wee apolitical.

It’s hard to imagine in our polarized social media era, but people really used to get together in person at bars and engage in free-ranging conversations about books, politics, and culture.

Art D’Lugoff, who opened the Village Gate nightclub, recalled in Wakefield’s book: “I used to make the rounds of the bars—Julius’s for those fat hamburgers on toast, then the San Remo, the Kettle of Fish, and the White Horse. Booze was a social thing. The bar scene wasn’t just to get drunk. It was like the public square in a town or a sidewalk cafe in Paris—comradely meeting and talking.”

At the White Horse, Wakefield mixed with Norman Mailer, Seymour Krim, and James Baldwin (above in 1955), who lived on Horatio Street and was often targeted by the working-class Irish and Italians in the neighborhood.

Baldwin wasn’t the only one, Wakefield wrote, explaining that local Villagers “regarded all bohemians as suspicious interlopers. The hostility toward all nonconformists was heightened during the McCarthy fervor of the fifties, when mostly Irish kids from the surrounding area made raids on the Horse, swinging fists and chairs, calling the regulars ‘Commies and faggots.'”

The White Horse (above in 1975) was something of a neighborhood respite, and the bar’s literary reputation continued even after Wakefield left New York City in 1962.

At some point decades later, the vibe changed. These days, under new ownership, the White Horse (above, 12 years ago) is more neighborhood pub than literary hangout. But for a short time in postwar Greenwich Village, a crowd of young writers mingled with one another and volleyed ideas and opinions around that back room with passion, energy, and excitement.

[Top image: LOC; second image: Bunny Adler; third image: Danwakefield.com; fourth image: Carl Van Vechten; fifth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; sixth photo: MCNY 2013.3.1.613]

The curious figures on a Park Avenue facade

June 22, 2020

Whoever designed the entrance of 55 Park Avenue South, an elegant building completed in 1923, had a sense of the curious and whimsical.

Walk to the front door of this 16-story Murray Hill apartment residence, and you’ll be greeted by what look like two squirrels overhead.

Two gargoyle-like male figures are tucked into the doorway as well, facing each other with their hands together, legs crossed.

Most interesting are the robed male figures carved into the building facade away from the entrance.

One holds a broom and a dustpan, though he’s resting and not using it. Another reads. One appears to have a pail or lamp at his side, plus something I can’t make out in his hand.

And one figure is holding something square on a string or rope, perhaps, touching it with the other hand, almost in contemplation.

How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village

April 27, 2020

Epidemics have shaped the growth and geography of New York. And one 19th century epidemic changed a neighborhood’s name, too.

That’s what happened with the Brooklyn enclave formerly known as Yellow Hook. This farming village overlooking New York Bay was originally part of the town of New Utrecht. It was located south of Red Hook, that other hook-shaped piece of land jutting into the water.

Yellow Hook was named by 17th century Dutch settlers for the “peculiar yellowish tint of the land,” according to a 1930 article in the Brooklyn Times Union.

But the name became something of a problem two centuries later, when outbreaks of yellow fever hit Brooklyn in the decade before the Civil War.

The disease was possibly carried to Brooklyn shores by the ships quarantined at Staten Island, according to Mrs. Otto Heinigke, a lifelong resident who was interviewed by the Times Union in 1929 and remembers the epidemic and the “dying shore-dwellers.”

Hundreds of people from Yellow Hook and neighboring Fort Hamilton perished, she said. After the outbreak died down, the “leading men” met at the Yellow Hook schoolhouse, which stood at today’s Third Avenue and 73rd Street, according to the newspaper.

A name change, they felt, would get rid of the negative associations Yellow Hook could have with the deadly, dreaded disease.

The group liked the name Port Lafayette, explained  Mrs. Heinigke, who was described by the Times Union as an “alert little lady” descended from a prominent local family and still living in a gas-lit mansion.

Mrs. Heinigke’s father was the one who came up with the official new name: Bay Ridge. “And so it was that when my father suggested the name ‘Bay Ridge,’ because the section overlooked the bay from a wooded ridge, they all seized upon it at once,”  she explained. “That is how the section got its name.”

As far as I know, the only remnants of the Yellow Hook name in today’s Bay Ridge is a restaurant called the Yellow Hook Grille. And I also heard that the local library has a historical marker explaining the abrupt name change.

[Top image: NYPL Map of the Battle of Brooklyn, 1776; second and third images: NYPL; fourth image: MCNY 58.84.2; fifth image: Brooklyn Times Union, 1929]

The red fire alarm relics on New York streets

April 29, 2019

They used to sit on so many city street corners, these red cylinder-like posts with an inside compartment for calling the fire department. In a pre-iPhone era, this was how New Yorkers let the FDNY know they were needed to put out a fire.

Over the years, the style has changed—but I’m specifically talking about these torch-topped beauties, more pale pink in color, with early 20th century ornamentation on what’s basically a piece of street furniture.

I’m not sure how many are still on city curbs. I spotted this one at First Avenue and 58th Street, and it felt like a relic from another era, defaced with stickers and graffiti.

As of a few years ago, approximately 15,000 street fire alarms of all kinds remained on city streets, reported Crain’s New York Business in 2017.

“The boxes were used 11,440 times to call the Fire Department last year,” wrote Crain’s. “That is less than once per box, on average.”

“Only 13% of those calls were for actual emergencies, and less than 1.5%, or 167, were about fires, including just 10 for serious structural fires.”

No surprise, the city would like to get rid of them—and both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations failed to do so, after an organization that advocated for the deaf sued the city to keep the alarms.

They won’t last forever, felled by either city administrators or new construction.

Take a moment to admire their artistry, and that these once-ubiquitous artifacts served a noble purpose.

The eerie facade of a Yorkville orphanage chapel

January 14, 2019

It’s a phantom relic of 19th century New York: the hauntingly preserved facade of an orphan asylum chapel built in 1898 at 402 East 90th Street.

Facing York Avenue to the east, the chapel facade rises several stories and is embedded into the side of a 12-story condominium.

And it’s in view for contemporary New Yorkers to marvel at thanks to a construction project that bulldozed the parking garage in front of it—which for decades had shielded so much of it from sight.

The chapel was once on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum, founded in 1859 by a German Catholic religious order called the Redemptorists, “for destitute children of German parentage, writes David Dunlap in a 2008 New York Times article.

Yorkville was the country at the time, an ideal place for an orphanage, of which there were many in the city at the time, typically run by a religious sect.

St. Joseph’s “occupied several buildings between 89th and 90th Streets and York and First Avenues,” states Daniel B. Schneider in a 1998 piece in the New York Times.

As Yorkville grew in the second half of the 19th century and eventually replaced the East Village as the city’s Little Germany neighborhood, a parish called St. Joseph’s was formed in 1873—borrowing the name of the orphan asylum and soon building its own church and school.

The orphan asylum remained, as this late 19th century images show. it was described in King’s Handbook of 1892 as “a large and cheerful edifice with accommodations for nearly 300 inmates.”

The asylum stood until about 1918, when land values rose and parts of the property was parceled out for sale.

Layers of New York development obscured it, and now the chapel facade is slated to be covered up entirely when the construction project—an athletic center for the Spence School—is finished.

[Third and fourth photos: NYPL] Thanks to Charlie J. and the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District for bringing this to my attention]

Join Ephemeral NY for a night of Edgar Allan Poe!

November 2, 2018

Edgar Allan Poe only spent a short time living in New York City in the 1830s and 1840s. But this author and poet was clearly inspired by Gotham.

Like many city residents today, he had a hard time making a living; he eased his mind with long walks near the Hudson River and over the High Bridge, and he bemoaned the “spirit of improvement” that was turning Manhattan into a modern metropolis.

On Thursday, November 8, Ephemeral New York will be taking a look at Poe’s life in New York.

 

In a presentation at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College at 35 West 67th Street, we’ll discover Poe’s start in Manhattan, his journey from Greenwich Village to the fields of the Upper West Side to Fordham in the Bronx.

We’ll explore how this “shy, solitary, taciturn sort of man” would walk down through the woods to the not-yet-created Riverside Park and his observations on Manhattan’s development and the end of its rural, spacious charm.

This presentation, from 6:30 to 7:45 pm, is a partnership with Landmark West! There’s a special discount price for Ephemeral New York readers, who can sign up via the link below.

Edgar Allan Poe is a favorite of mine, and this site has many posts covering how New York inspired him and the imprint he left on the city. Hope to see many Ephemeral readers there!

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]