Archive for the ‘Upper East Side’ Category

A Gilded Age mansion goes down in the 1960s

June 16, 2016

Wealthy clothier Isaac Vail Brokaw lived a more under-the-radar life than his fellow stupendously rich New Yorkers in the late 19th century.

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But Brokaw did have at least one thing in common with Gilded Age titans with names like Frick, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie: he too built himself a sumptuous mansion on Fifth Avenue.

Brokaw1927mcnyBrokaw’s French Renaissance palace, modeled after a 16th century chateau in France’s Loire Valley, went up in 1887 at 1 East 79th Street.

It had all the trappings of a multimillionaire’s home from the Age of Elegance: four stories, stained glass windows, a staff of seven, even its own moat.

“Its grandiose entrance hall is of Italian marble and mosaic and huge murals line the walls,” wrote the New York Times decades after it was built.

“The ceilings are paneled in stone and wood and no two of them are alike. The library has a seven‐foot‐tall safe concealed behind a panel opened by press­ing a hidden catch in the mould­ing,” the Times continued.

Brokawmansion1960sBy 1911, three more modest mansions adjoined the chateau, built by Brokaw for his two sons and daughter.

After he died, squabbling family members occupied all four Brokaw mansions. Three were eventually sold off to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers between the 1940s and early 1960s, which used them as office space.

Gilded Age chateaus with skyrocketing upkeep costs had long since gone out of favor; dozens of the more than 70 mansions constructed along Fifth Avenue in its Millionaires’ Mile heyday had been razed in favor of stately apartment houses.

BrokawmansionIEEE

In 1964, the Brokaw mansion was headed toward the same fate. But it wasn’t going down without a fight.

BrokawmansionprotestNYPAPNewspaper editorials denounced the demolition. More than 100 people (including Ed Koch, then a city councilman) attended a rally in front of the original chateau to persuade officials to protect this remnant of a fast disappearing older city.

“However, in spite of the best efforts of preservation campaigns, demolition scaffolding went up on February 5, 1965,” reports The New York Preservation Archives Project.

Brokawmansion2016The wreckers came the next day. A year later, the Brokaw mansion’s successor, a 26-story apartment co-op, was completed.

It stands today, across 79th Street from one of the last remaining Gilded Age palaces—the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, occupied by the Ukrainian Institute of America.

[Top photo: 1920s, LOC; second photo: 1927, MCNY; third photo: Getty Images, 1960s; fourth photo: 1960s, IEEE; fifth photo: The New York Preservation Archives Project]

The never-built East River bridge at 77th Street

June 2, 2016

As the Brooklyn Bridge began rising to the south in the 1870s, plans for a second bridge linking Manhattan to Long Island were getting off the ground.

Eastriverbridge77thst1877nypl

“The projectors of this proposed bridge over the East River, between New York and Brooklyn at 77th Street, by way of Blackwell’s Island, have, in response to the invitation sent out, received ten separate designs and estimates from as many engineers,” an 1877 newspaper story stated.

“Ground will be broken as soon as a plan shall be decided on.”

Eastriverbridgearticle1881Of course, there is no East 77th Street bridge (and Queens is just across the East River, not Brooklyn).

So why didn’t the project go forward?

It started to, tentatively. In 1881, a caisson was sunk into the river on the Queens side, off the outpost of Ravenswood, according to the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s The Queensboro Bridge.

But it was the future Brooklyn Bridge that captured New York’s fancy.

With less money and interest, the company chartered to build a bridge to Queens put a stop to construction.

EastriverbridgethumbnailAlmost two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and only a few years since Brooklyn and Queens became part of greater New York City, plans for a bridge were drawn up again . . . resulting in the graceful cantilever span known as the Queensboro Bridge in 1909.

New York is a bridge proposal graveyard, as these images of other bridges never built attest.

[Top photo: NYPL; second image: Arkansas City Weekly Traveler; third image: Greater Astoria Historical Society]

 

A relic of a 1920s theater on East 80th Street

August 3, 2015

The remains of some of New York’s loveliest buildings can sometimes be found in the most unlikely places.

Ziegfeldgoddesshead

Take this carved stone head of a goddess. For decades, it’s sat outside the parlor floor window (between the garbage cans and coal hole cover) of the 1883 brownstone at 52 East 80th Street.

Ziegfeld19272The goddess head’s original home? The facade of the Ziegfeld Theater, an Art Deco gem that stood on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street for 39 years.

The theater, financed by William Randolph Hearst, opened to great fanfare; Florenz Ziegfeld’s renowned Follies were staged there.

But within six short years, it became a second-run movie house. By 1966, it met the wrecking ball.

Yet the goddess head survived the demolition—and it ended up on East 80th Street (below, with the copper bay window) because the owner of the home, a theater producer named Jerry Hammer, asked the right person for it.

Ziegfeldhousegoogle“Mr. Hammer said that in the 1960s he was riding in a limousine with the developer Zachary Fisher, who motioned to the old Ziegfeld Theater, at 54th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, and said he was going to demolish it for a new office building,” stated the New York Times in 2004.

Hammer asked Fisher jokingly if he could have it. About four months later,  ”’I hear noises outside, and it’s a truck with a crane, and a head, and they ask me where I want it,'” wrote the Times.

Hammer moved out, but the goddess head remains, a glorious relic of Roaring ’20s New York City.

[Second photo: Cinema Treasures; third photo: Google]

“Eclectic elegance” of a Madison Avenue building

August 3, 2015

When the Parkview opened at 777 Madison Avenue in 1908, the Upper East Side was still known for opulent single family mansions, not French flats.

Parkview2015

But apartment living was catching on among the rich, particularly on the Upper West Side with the Dakota and similar buildings.

The architecturally diverse Parkview, which mixes Flemish, French, and English Gothic styles to create what one contemporary critic calls “eclectic elegance,” therefore had no trouble finding renters.

Parkviewad1908

And why not? Behind the elaborate facade of arches, multi-paned windows, and a rounded corner that slightly resembles a Medieval tower were luxurious and spacious apartments, just two per floor.

“The public areas of each included a room-sized windowed foyer, a music room, a dining room (plus a small conservatory), a living room, and a large salon, all totaling about 1600 square feet,” states Andrew Alpern’s Luxurious Apartment Houses of Manhattan.

ParkviewlayoutDon’t forget the 3-4 bedrooms, rooms for household help, and the bedroom for the lady of the house’s maid.

Wealthy and prominent New Yorkers flocked to the building, which shows up frequently in what was once known as the “society” pages of the newspaper, filled with announcements of weddings, new babies, and other milestones people with money wanted everyone to know about.

Dwarfing the rows of brownstones that surrounded it, the Parkview underwent slight alterations as the neighborhood became more commercial.

Parkviewcloseup

A protective railing around the ground floor was removed to make way for business tenants. The Parkview name was ditched too; the residence was then known as 777 Madison, and later, 45 East 66th Street.

Parkview1920sAfter World War II, many of the grand apartments were carved into smaller units, and in 1977, the building achieved landmark status.

Now a collection of pricey co-ops, this lovely building with incredible detail and ornamentation is a monument to a turn-of-the-century apartment living.

It’s arguably the most eye-catching residence on Upper Madison Avenue, and it even has a celebrity tenant: Rudy Giuliani.

[Images: second, NYPL Digital Gallery; third, NYPL Digital Gallery; fifth, MCNY Collections Portal]

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.

Ghostbuildingwest30s2

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.

Electionbonfireglenncoleman

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.


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