Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

New York City’s other Washington Bridge

March 31, 2014

There’s no scandal surrounding this lovely, smaller-scale steel-arch bridge, which links Washington Heights to the Bronx.

This postcard is undated, but it depicts a very sleepy Upper Manhattan.

Washingtonbridgepostcard

The Washington Bridge isn’t very well known and gets little love by New York residents.

But it should. It opened to pedestrians in 1888 and vehicles in 1889, making it older than its similarly named, much bigger counterpart by a good 40-odd years!

An anarchist bomb explodes on Lexington Avenue

March 31, 2014

Lexington103rdstreetsignIn 1914, labor leaders and anarchist groups had John D. Rockefeller Jr. in their sights.

They blamed Rockefeller, head of U.S. Steel and one of the world’s richest men, for the Ludlow massacre—the deaths of striking workers and their families at a Rockefeller-owned mine in Ludlow, Colorado in April.

LexingtonavebombAnarchist leader and New Yorker Alexander Berkman ( below), who had served time for attempting to murder industrialist Henry Frick in 1892, called for Rockefeller’s assassination.

Other anarchists and labor leaders, roughed up during a subsequent protest at Rockefeller’s Tarrytown estate, also felt that a bomb left at Rockefeller’s estate would be appropriate payback.

So out of a top-floor apartment in a tenement house on Lexington Avenue at 103rd Street, several men armed with dynamite and batteries set to work.

Alexanderberkman

On July 4—Independence Day, oddly enough—the bomb exploded prematurely, killing three anarchists, the girlfriend of one, and injuring other residents of the otherwise unremarkable tenement in working-class Italian East Harlem.

“Lexington Avenue and the thickly populated intersecting streets in the neighborhood were crowded with men, women, and children on their way to seashore or park to spend the holiday, when suddenly there was a crash like that of a broadside from a battleship,” wrote The New York Times.

“Simultaneously the roof of the tenement house at 1626 Lexington Avenue was shattered into fragments and the debris of it and the three upper floors showered over the holiday crowds, some of it falling on roofs two and three blocks away.”

Lexingtonavenuebombsite2014Four mostly mangled bodies were eventually found. The dead were IWW (International Workers of the World) leaders or followers with “anarchist leanings,” as the Times put it.

A week later, about 5,000 people came to Union Square to hear a tribute to the would-be bombers.

As officials investigated, Berkman first denied any involvement. He later admitted that he was aware that the bomb was destined for Rockefeller’s estate.

Here’s the tenement at 1626 Lexington Avenue today; its anarchist past long obscured.

The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York

January 6, 2014

Rapid transit in early to mid-19th century New York consisted of horse-pulled “omnibuses” that could seat a dozen or more passengers and followed fixed routes up, down, and across the city.

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And after a winter snowfall, omnibus lines often used sleighs to navigate snowy or icy streets. This illustration depicts some jovial riders on an omnibus sleigh heading downtown on a Broadway line.

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Maybe a sleigh ride through freezing-cold Manhattan wasn’t always so cheery.

In his diary, lawyer George Templeton Strong described commuter sleighs as “insane vehicles” that “carry each its hundred sufferers, of whom about half have to stand in the wet straw with their feet freezing and occasionally stamped on by their fellow travelers, their ears and noses tingling in the bitter wind, their hats always on the point of being blown off.”

Sleighcentralpark19thcentury1

Having your hat blown off—not much fun. A sleigh ride was a form of winter recreation too, especially on a vehicle that that glided through Central Park or flew through semi-rural Harlem.

Sleighinginharlem18721

Speed freaks liked to race each other’s sleighs as well, as the above Currier and Ives image of a part of the park then called McGowan’s Pass, near East 106th Street, shows.

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On snowy days, city parks were also filled with kids soaring down hills on sleds . . . or enjoying being pulled along a flat snowy surface, like these little ones.

[Images: New York Public Library Digital Collection; last image MCNY]

A Harlem park named after two famous hoarders

October 7, 2013

It’s not as if their Harlem neighbors were close to Homer and Langley Collyer.

The two brothers seemed to want nothing to do with local residents—and the feeling appeared to be mutual.

Collyerbrothersstreet

Born in the 1880s, Homer and Langley resided in a once-elegant brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street since 1909 with their well-off parents, a physician and a former opera singer.

Homercollyer1939The brothers were always eccentric. But once their parents passed away in the 1920s, they retreated from the world and lived behind locked doors, “hiding from the eyes of curious neighbors,” The New York Times stated.

The 1920s passed, then the 1930s.

Neighbors never saw them, so rumors spread: they were rich, they owned half the city waterfront, they had 20 grand pianos in their basement. No one had been inside, so no one knew the truth.

[Homer, above in 1939, makes a rare appearance on his stoop to fight eviction]

Langleycollyer1946Their phone and gas had been shut off. The brothers had money, they preferred to live in seclusion among thousands of hoarded items: bundles of newspaper, old pianos, car parts, and mountains of other worthless possessions.

[Langley, right, forced to leave the house in 1946 for a court date to battle a condemnation order.]

They met their end in 1947. Langely appeared to die first, felled by one of the booby traps he’d created amid piles of trash to block thieves.

But police found Homer’s body first. The medical examiner determined that he died of malnutrition. Blind and paralyzed, he starved to death days after Langley was caught in his own trap.

Over the next weeks, about 130 tons of garbage were removed from the rotting house, which was bulldozed.

Collyerbrothersparkwiki

Considering how Homer and Langley had nothing to do with their neighbors, it’s curious that the pocket park occupying the site of their old brownstone bears the name Collyer Brothers Park.

I wonder what they would think of the honor?

[Photos: New York Daily News, Wikipedia]

Is this the first McDonald’s in New York City?

September 8, 2013

[Update: Thank you to everyone who ID'd this as Boston, not NYC. My apologies; post will be deleted]

Look closely at the left side of the 1905 postcard photo, and you can see the sign: “McDonald’s Restaurant.”

Hmm, could this humble-looking eatery have any idea that in less than seven decades, a different McDonald’s would start taking over the city?

72ndstreetpostcard

The first McDonald’s franchise opened at 215 West 125th Street in 1973, reports this New York magazine piece, and now, there are more than 74 just in Manhattan.

72ndstrestaurantcropWhat I’m calling the original first McDonald’s, the one in the 1905 photo, appears to be on Upper Broadway; according to the store owner who sold it to me, it’s 72nd Street and Broadway.

But the kiosk looks so different. Can anyone positively ID it?

A dazzling relic of an old city school building

August 19, 2013

Not only did the city used to construct light, airy, inspiring school houses a century ago, but they installed pretty sweet brass doorknobs, like this one.

Publicschoolnydoorknob

I imagine having these in every hallway gave school buildings a little extra specialness, which fed school spirit and pride.

PS177marketmonroests.jpg1922Remnants like this of demolished schools pop up for sale online occasionally. And Olde Good Things on West 24th Street just got some in.

A pair might run you a couple hundred bucks, but they are enchanting. How many little kid hands touched this one over the years?

I wish I knew which school it came from—perhaps one of these two beauties, PS 177 formerly on Market and Monroe Streets or PS 103, once at 49 East 119th Street.

PS103east119thst1920

Both photos were shot in the 1920s, and both are part of the NYPL Digital Collection.

An apartment house called the “Harlem Dakota”

July 18, 2013

Grahamcourt1900sThe Dakota, the Apthorp, and the Astor regularly top the list of the most incredible apartment houses on the Upper West Side.

A bit farther north on West 116th Street is a lesser-known building that belongs in that group: Graham Court.

It’s a box-like eight-story structure containing 100 apartments that spans the block to 117th Street at Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.

Grahamcourtcloseup

Designed by the men behind the Apthorp and Astor, Graham Court opened in 1901 and was considered Harlem’s first luxury apartment house, thanks to its limestone facade, Gustavino tiles, and servants’ quarters on the top floor.

Grahamcourtarchway(Though I doubt 116th Street counts as Harlem today, apparently it did 100 years ago.)

“Graham Court’s residents, all of whom were rich and white, entered the building through a gracious arch that led into a grand inner courtyard built over an underground stable,” wrote Jonathan Gill in Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History From Dutch Village to Capital of Black America.

Like a lot of developers who rushed to cash in on the growth of Harlem at the turn of the century, the people behind Graham Court probably thought it would remain rich and white forever.

Grahamcourt2013But a 1904 real-estate crash left blocks of empty buildings. African-American New Yorkers began relocating uptown, filling those buildings. In 1928, the first black resident moved into Graham Court, according to a New York Times article.

Graham Court hit hard times in the 1960s and 1970s. But the facade was landmarked in 1984, and though I don’t know what the apartments inside look like, from the street this remnant of Gilded Age New York appears to be well cared for.

A Harlem mother saves the city’s fragile babies

July 11, 2013

ClarahalephotoThe first baby came to her in 1969.

That’s when Clara Hale’s adult daughter, Lorraine, was driving down 146th Street and noticed a woman on the street nodding off with her infant slipping out of her arms.

Lorraine convinced the woman to temporarily give the baby to her mother, a 63-year-old Harlem widow who had raised her own three kids plus 40 foster children.

Word spread that “Mother” Hale was taking in babies. A stream of kids, born to addicts who could not care for them, were placed in her home, some sleeping in cribs in her bedroom.

Halehouse2013With city officials’ help, she bought a five-story brownstone on West 122nd Street (left)—and Hale House was born.

“Aided by donations, a growing staff and volunteers, Hale House took in nearly 1,000 infants, many still trembling from withdrawal pangs after becoming addicted to drugs in the womb,” stated The New York Times in her 1992 obituary.

One donor was John Lennon, according to a Daily News article; in 1979 he gave Hale a $20,000 check and sent food and gifts the Christmas before his murder.

By the 1980s, Mother Hale had gained national recognition. And as the crack epidemic took hold in Harlem, she cared for even more infants, saving them from languishing in city hospitals.

“We hold them and touch them,” she once said about her approach to handling such fragile souls. “They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow, even at a young age, they understand that. They’re happy, and they turn out well.”

Motherhalestatue

Until her death at age 87, she was still nurturing children in need. After she died, Lorraine took over Hale House, continuing its mission before pleading guilty to stealing donations in 2002.

Under new leadership, Hale House still exists, helping children and families through a learning center and transitional housing program. A statue of Mother Hale out front reminds us of her calling.

A century before Mother Hale, New York’s foundlings were taken care of in a different setting.

Could a major earthquake strike 125th Street?

June 20, 2013

125thstreetsignOkay, so it doesn’t pose the same level of threat as California’s San Andreas fault.

But Manhattan does have a fault line under layers of schist along Harlem’s main drag.

The 125th Street fault “runs from New Jersey to the East River, skirting the northern tip of Central Park and running southeast to Roosevelt Island,” explains a 2002 New York Times article.

125thstreetbridgeIRTBecause of the fault, the 1 train rises above ground and goes over a trestle bridge at 125th Street (left). The fault also forms the natural boundary between Manhattanville and Harlem.

And it’s not the only one within city borders. Another fault runs beneath Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and a third under Dyckman Street in Inwood.

So how worried should you be about the potential for a serious tremor?

Well, the last major city quake happened in 1884 and was centered around Coney Island.

“The New York City metro area is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 once a century,” reported the Daily News in 2011. We might be due for one soon.

Two beautiful bridges of an older New York

June 10, 2013

Most New Yorkers have never crossed either of these beauties.

Hell Gate Bridge, which has connected Queens and Randalls/Wards Island since 1916, is used by railroads only.

Hellgatebridgepostcard

High Bridge, built in 1848 and spanning the Harlem River between Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, has been closed since 1970.

It’s supposed to reopen to pedestrians in 2014 after a lengthy renovation—fingers crossed!

Highbridgepostcard

In the meantime, there are ways to experience them up close though. To really absorb the loveliness of the Hell Gate, head to Astoria Park, particularly the enormous public pool there. The bridge looms large in the background.

High Bridge is a little trickier. Highbridge Park in the Bronx affords wonderful views, and you can get close to the iron bars that blocks access to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.


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