Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

Two 19th century slums known as “Battle Row”

May 25, 2015

BattlerowheadlinebattleroweastnytOld New York’s slums had some illustrious names: Murderers’ Alley, Bandits’ Roost, and the Dead End (an Irish district off First Avenue overlooking the East River).

But one descriptive name was used for two poverty rows, one on the east side of Manhattan and one on the west: Battle Row.

Battlerow39thand10thavenyplThe east side Battle Row marked a stretch of First Avenue around 63rd Street. The Battle Row Gang ran this neighborhood of old-law tenements and belching riverfront factories.

Lawlessness ruled even without the gang’s influence. “The destructive pastimes of the Battle Row tenants were largely informal,” according to a 1924 New York Times piece. “They were most congenial as they rifled the wagon of an unfortunate peddler who ventured into their street.”

“In the decade between 1902 and 1912, the Row obtained its peak of pugnacity,” explained a 1926 New York Times article.

“An ever-popular diversion of the Row’s tenants was cop-sniping,” stated the Times. “Men, women, and children would peep from roofs and windows and drop rocks and decrepit vegetables upon passing policemen.”

Battlerow40thstreetjacobriisOne longtime cop recalled in the Times piece a holiday tradition in Battle Row:

“Groups of [residents] would go over to First or Second Avenue and toss a rock through the window of a butcher store and in a minute or two the nice collection of turkeys, ducks, and chickens would have disappeared.”

Meanwhile, the west side Battle Row, on West 39th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, was part of Hell’s Kitchen, then known as “probably the lowest and filthiest of the city.”

BattlerowwestsidenytheadlineThis slum of “gas-works, breweries, and rum shops,” which reportedly got its name due to all the street fights among the packed-like-sardines population, was the territory of the Gophers and other gangs.

These gangs of Irish immigrants raided the train yards at 30th Street, among other criminal enterprises. Battle Row seems to have also been the name of a saloon on that block operated by Mallet Murphy, one of the “Lady Gophers” and a notorious female criminal.

Battlerow61ststmodeltenementsmcnyBoth Battle Rows disappeared in the reform-minded city after the turn of the century.

The east side’s Battle Row became the site of model tenements, then a neighborhood of luxury apartment towers with river views.

The West Side Battle Row held out as a working-class neighborhood. It’s now on prized land made trendy by the revitalized Far West Side.

[Images: headline, NYT; tenement on West 39th Street, NYPL; Hell’s Kitchen tenement similar to what Battle Row would have looked like, Wikipedia; headine, NYT; model tenement that replaced Battle Row on First Avenue, MCNY Digital Collection]

Faded outlines of long-gone Manhattan buildings

January 12, 2015

Ghostbuildingwest30sSigns for long-departed stores, retaining walls no longer in use, trolley tracks peeking out from asphalt streets: New York’s past leaves its imprint everywhere.

The sides of buildings give us glimpses of the city’s history too. The faded outlines of tenements and other buildings long gone often remain, at least until new construction comes along and obscures them again.

On a lonely block in the far West 30s is this classic city walkup, with a roof on a slant–a modest place to make a home in what was once a modest neighborhood.

Ghostoutlinemercerstreet

Hebrew Union College put up this building in 1979, at Mercer and West 4th Streets, almost covering the two chimneys from the building that previously occupied the spot. A tenement perhaps?

Ghostlybuilding43rdstreet

Considering the pace of construction in a luxury-building crazed New York, these remains of a 43rd Street walkup might already be sealed out of view.

Ghostoutline86thstreet

Same with this former home—maybe a brownstone?—on 86th Street, on a stately block near Fifth Avenue.

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Also in the far West 30s near the Javits Center is this outline of a humble tenement on the side of another humble tenement, the people who once lived and worked there and their stories lost to the ages.

More faded building outlines—dormer windows too!—can be seen here.

Harpo Marx on Yorkville’s corrupt Election Days

November 3, 2014

HarpomarxchildIf you think elections are corrupt these days, listen to what Adolph “Harpo” Marx remembers about Election Day in turn of the 20th century New York City.

It was “the one supreme holiday held every two years,” recalled Harpo in his autobiography Harpo Speaks . . . About New York. (Until 1906, mayors were elected to two-year terms.)

“The great holiday used to last a full thirty hours,” wrote Harpo. “On election eve, Tammany forces marched up and down the avenues by torchlight, with bugles blaring and drums booming. There was free beer for the men, and free firecrackers and punk for the kids, and nobody slept that night.”

Schools and business closed for the day. “Around noon a hansom cab, courtesy of Tammany Hall, would pull up in front of our house.

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Frenchie (Harpo’s tailor father) and Grandpa, dressed in their best suits (which they otherwise wore only to weddings, bar mitzvahs, or funerals), would get in the cab and go clip-clop, in tip-top style, off to the polls.”

After the cab brought them back to the Marx family tenement on East 93rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, Harpo’s father and grandfather (who wasn’t even a U.S. citizen) would wait . . . until the hansom cab came back to take them to the polls a second time.

Marxbrotherskids“About a half-hour later, the hansom cab would reappear, and Frenchie and Grandpa would go off and vote again. If it was a tough year, with a Reform movement threatening the city, they’d be taken to vote a third time.”

Festivities began on election night.

“The streets were cleared of horses, buggies, and wagons. All crosstown traffic stopped. At seven o’clock fireworks began to go off, the signal that the polls were closed.

Whooping and hollering, a whole generation of kids came tumbling down out of the tenements and got their bonfires going. By a quarter after seven, the East Side was ablaze.

“Grandpa enjoyed the sight as much as I did. . . .He pulled his chair closer to the window and lit the butt of his Tammany stoogie.

“‘Ah, we are lucky to be in America,’ he said in German, taking a deep drag on the cigar he got for voting illegally and lifting his head to watch the shooting flames. ‘Ah yes! This is a true democracy.'”

[Middle illustration: “Election Night Bonfire,” Glenn O. Coleman, date unknown]

Four beauties in a row an Upper East Side block

September 2, 2014

East67thstnyplEveryone has their most beautiful street in the city. I’m always stunned by East 67th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Situated one after the other on his quiet block are four distinct Gilded Age institutional buildings with lovely design features and architectural grace.

First from the Third Avenue side is Park East Synagogue, a circa-1890 Moorish building with asymmetrical towers, stained glass windows, a stunning rose window, and arcades. Considering the ethnic mix of this rough-edged neighborhood at the time, it must have been a crowded congregation.

“The Orthodox congregation at the Park East Synagogue was largely German, but included many Polish, Russian, and Hungarian Jews as well,” states The Landmarks of New York: Fifth Edition.

East67thstsynagogue

Next down the line is the Fire Department Headquarters at 157 East 67th. Constructed in 1886-1887 and designed by Napoleon LeBrun, the architect who standardized the look of New York City firehouses in the late 19th century.

This Romanesque beauty was built to house the telegraph operations and offices.

East67thstfireheadquarters

Too bad the top of the 150-foot lookout tower was lopped off in the 1940s (it’s visible in the first photo). Here at the pinnacle of Lenox Hill, firemen in the tower could supposedly see flames all the way down to the Battery.

East67thstpoliceheadquarters

Third in the row is the 1887 19th Precinct Station House. There’s a lot of architectural styles here, according to the AIA Guide to New York City: “A Victorian palazzo: brownstone and red brick borrowing heavily from the Florentine Renaissance.”

East67thstmtsinai

Like all precinct houses, this one has two green lights flanking the doorway—a tradition established by the men of the “rattle watch” of New Amsterdam, who carried green lanterns with them while on patrol.

Last but not least at 151 East 67th Street is this handsome brownstone opened in 1890 by Mount Sinai Hospital, then around the corner on Lexington Avenue at 66th Street, as a dispensary and clinic. It’s now called the Kennedy Child Study Center.

A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids

July 28, 2014

I’m not sure exactly when the first New York City fire hydrant was wrenched open so neighborhood kids could play in the cool rush of water on a hot summer day.

Citykidslotharstelterhotday1952

But this very New York way to chase away the heat may have caught on and been officially sanctioned in the late teens, when John Hylan was mayor (below, in 1921, in a NYC Municipal Archives photo).

“The mayor is particularly good to children,” the Queens borough president was quoted saying in a New York Times article from 1925.

Mayorhyland192140s8thave

“It was his great heart that ordered the streets closed so that children could have a safe place in which to play, and it was his heart that ordered the policemen and firemen in summer to give the children baths from fire hydrants so that they might keep cool.”

Bowery1919nypl

Since then, the spray—or trickle, as this NYPL photo of some boys on the Bowery in 1919 shows—from fire hydrants has cooled off millions of little New Yorkers, legally or otherwise.

Mulberrystreet1936

This AP photo was taken on Mulberry Street in 1936, the year of an exceptionally brutal heat wave.

Summerheat1920lex85thcrotonsurf

Turning Mulberry Street into a river looks a lot more exciting than hanging out under a giant shower at Lexington and 85th Street of “Croton surf,” as the caption to this 1920 NYC Municipal Archives photo calls it.

Brucedavidsoneast100thst1966

New York in the 1960s could be pretty gritty, but at least the hydrants worked. Photographer Bruce Davidson captured this photo in 1966 of a boy on 100th Street.

A 10-day heat wave gripped the city in 1953, and Life magazine photographers captured some wonderful images of kids opening a hydrant (and then a police officer putting a stop to the fun).

[Top photo: “Hot Day,” Lothar Stelter, 1952 ©Lothar Stelter]

Swingset and sandbox on the East River in 1901

July 17, 2014

Ashcan School painter Maurice Prendergast was known for his bold, colorful depictions of leisure and play in European and American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This view of the East River looks like a tapestry or a mosaic.

Mauriceprendergasttheeastriver1

Is it showing Carl Schurz Park, on the Upper East Side? The way the land across the river looks, plus the small houses, could be Queens.

Update: David Patrick Columbia over at New York Social Diary took a look at the painting and wondering if this was Carl Schurz Park too. Here’s his investigation, with photos that seem to make the case.

East Side kid Harpo Marx recalls his tailor father

June 12, 2014

Young Groucho and Harpo Marx with a DogBefore he and his brothers hit comic paydirt, Adolph “Harpo” Marx (left, with Groucho) spent his early 1900s childhood in a tenement on East 93rd Street.

Though his family of 10 struggled, he credits his parents for not letting poverty make “any of us depressed or angry,” he wrote in 1961’s Harpo Speaks…about New York.

While his mother, Minnie, set out to make her boys stars, it was father Sam “Frenchie” Marx, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, who helped keep the family together.

With Father’s Day approaching, here’s Harpo recalling his father’s warmth and magic in their tenement kitchen:

“Frenchie was the family housekeeper and cook. He was also the breadwinner. Frenchie was a tailor by trade. He was never able to own his own shop, and during the day his cutting table and sewing bench took up the whole dining room with lengths and scraps of materials overflowing in the kitchen.”

Marxfamily1915

“At six o’clock he quit whatever he was working on, in the middle of a stitch, and stashed his profession in the hall, materials, tools, tables and all, and turned to the task of making dinner for ten or eleven or sixteen people.”

Sammarxheadshot“With food he was a true magician. Given a couple of short ribs, a wilting cabbage, a handful of soup greens, a bag of chestnuts and a pinch of spices, he could conjure up miracles.”

“God, how fabulous the tenement smelled when Frenchie, chopping and ladling, sniffing and stirring and tasting, and forever smiling and humming to himself, got the kitchen up to full steam!”

Frenchie Marx (above in 1915, third from right) died in 1933 at age 73. He watched his sons become big stars, and he even had a cameo role in 1931’s Monkey Business.

Manhattan’s lonely little holdout buildings

May 31, 2014

These walkups were once the sought-after modern buildings of the block.

Now, they’re the holdouts—sometimes well-kept, often shabby reminders of an earlier New York that refuse to bow to the wrecking ball.

Holdoutswestmidtown

Without these low-rise survivors, many more city streets would be a boring canyon of uniform buildings.

The two tenement holdouts in the top photo, on West 36th Street, have had their side exteriors raked over by developers. Yet these 19th century stalwarts refuse to go.

Holdoutbldgupper5thave

Nestled between two limestone apartment houses is this Upper Fifth Avenue beauty, holding its own across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Holdout39theighthave

On Eighth Avenue at 39th Street is this blue former townhouse, now a commercial building. It makes the block resemble a gap-tooth smile.

Holdout7thavebarneys

This three-story sliver on lower Seventh Avenue in Chelsea is a bit of a mystery. It’s architecturally the same as the building next door, which houses the Rubin Museum.

Yet it’s painted the same color as the former Loehmann’s store on the other side, being renovated into Barneys once again.

Check out more holdout buildings here, and of course, the most famous of all the holdouts—the one in the middle of Macy’s.

Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea?

April 7, 2014

The iconic New York brownstone, with its high stoop and decorative cornice, made its appearance in the early 19th century and quickly became a stylish, single-family home favorite.

15thstreetbrownstones

Over the decades, some have been updated, their facades altered and made over to suit their owners’ tastes.

206west15thstreet

There’s this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East 70s.

But what explains the refrigerator unit-like redesign of this home, part of a beautiful stretch of three-story row houses dating back to the turn of the last century?

Perhaps its super comfy inside. And a garage—that can be convenient.

Here’s the price (and photos) of the upper duplex, courtesy of a Corcoran listing.

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.

Acepumpsign

Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.

20thcenturygaragesign

I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?

Jeromefloristsign

Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.

Capitalelectronicssign

Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.

Vernonavepharmacysign

Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.


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