Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

Manhattan street names on tenement corners

August 12, 2016

If there’s an actual name for these cross streets carved or affixed to the corners of some city buildings, I don’t know what it is.

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But they’re fun to spot anyway. I’ve never seen one quite like this decorative sign on an otherwise unremarkable tenement at 169th Street and Broadway.

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Fancy, right? This one at Horatio and Washington Streets is also a notch above the usual corner address sign, which is typically carved into the facade in a plain font.

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A good example of the traditional style is this one below, worn and so faded it’s hard to see the letters, at Mott and Bleecker Streets.

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I’ve heard that these street signs are up high because they were meant to be seen from elevated trains. But there were no trains running on Mott and Bleecker, or Horatio and Washington.

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Or West End Avenue and 82nd Street, for that matter. This is a beauty of a sign that’s survived the elements on the circa-1895 facade of former Public School 9, now strangely called the Mickey Mantle School.

Some of my favorites are carved into tenements in the East Village. And of course, the loveliest in the city is at Hudson and Beach Streets.

The New Yorker who captured John Wilkes Booth

August 4, 2016

BoothdohertyphotoAfter news of President Lincoln’s assassination reached the Metropolis on April 15, the city was heavy with grief.

Plans were in the works for a two-day viewing and funeral procession that would take Lincoln’s casket from City Hall up Broadway.

Meanwhile, one city resident was scouring the Virginia countryside, leading the detail of soldiers sent to capture on-the-run assassin John Wilkes Booth.

His name was Edward P. Doherty (right). A Canadian immigrant born to Irish parents, Doherty moved to New York in 1860.

When the war between the states began, he joined the 71st New York Volunteers. He spent all four war years in the military, distinguishing himself by escaping capture during the first Battle of Bull Run and earning officer status with the 16th New York Cavalry.

Boothdohertyhome144thsttruliaYet Doherty’s most important assignment came on April 24, after South had surrendered.

Summoned to gather 25 military men on horseback, he was then told by a colonel “that he had reliable information that assassin Booth and his accomplice were somewhere between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers,” Doherty said later in a report.

He was instructed to take his men south toward Fredericksburg, Virginia, and hunt down Booth and his accomplice, David Herold.

(Herold was part of the unsuccessful plot to kill Secretary of State William Seward, a New Yorker, on the same night Lincoln was shot.)

With the help of locals, Doherty and his soldiers tracked the men to a barn on April 26. There, they tried to negotiate a surrender with a defiant and injured Booth.

Booth wouldn’t let that happen. Ultimately one of the men in Doherty’s detail set the barn on fire, and another shot Booth fatally through the neck. (Herold was brought out alive and later hanged.)

Boothdohertygrave“Chance has connected my name with a great historical event,” Doherty said in 1866.

After resigning from the Army, Doherty made his way back to New York City in 1886, snagging an appointment as Inspector of Street Pavings and living at 533 West 144th Street (above, the building on the site today).

Doherty died in 1897 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; his gravestone makes light of his most famous military assignment.

Lincoln’s assassination was felt profoundly in New York, especially considering the ties Booth had to the city, where he had performed Shakespeare with his actor brothers only months earlier.

thegildedageinnewyorkcover-1The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, delves into it the city’s grief as well as Booth’s connections to New York City.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second image: Trulia; third image: Getty Images; fourth photo: Findagrave.com]

Once again, hat tip to Dean at the History Author Show!

Pickets and protests at a New York Woolworth’s

July 28, 2016

It all started in 1960. On February 1, four black college students sat at the lunch counter of a Woolworth’s store in North Carolina, “where the official policy was to refuse service to anyone but whites,” explains history.com.

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They weren’t served, of course. But their sit-in sparked a movement. Thanks to national TV coverage, segregation foes showed their support by picketing Woolworth stores around the country.

WoolworthsheadlinenytThat included stores in New York City. Segregation was not legal here, of course.

But that didn’t stop protesters from gathering at more than 100 Woolworths across the city to urge support for the North Carolina students and call for the end of the South’s Jim Crow laws.

The New York–based Congress of Racial Equality “mounted a 30-member picket line in front of the F.W. Woolworth & Co. store at 208 West 125th Street,” (above) reported the New York Times on February 14.

Picketers continued demonstrating through the spring. On April 3, while 100 people protested outside the store, 30 young adults held a sit-in at a Woolworth’s counter on 34th Street near Seventh Avenue.

Woolworthstimessquare“The sit-down demonstrators at the Herald Square store, Negro and white, included two clergymen,” continued the Times. “They ordered no food, but sat at the counter near the 33rd Street entrance, reading newspapers and doing crossword puzzles.”

“Neither the store’s personnel nor the police tried to oust them. They soon dispersed.” More protests, like this one at a Woolworth’s in Times Square, followed.

Officially, lunch counters in the South desegregated that summer.

[Top photo: Getty Images; second and third images: New York Times]

A spooky old house on traffic-free Riverside Drive

June 9, 2016

Here is a peaceful and placid Riverside Drive at 155th Street around 1910, well before the George Washington Bridge ushered in residential development and crazy car traffic.

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On the left, you can clearly see Trinity Church Cemetery uptown through the trees. On the right is an incredible old house that looks like a country mansion.

Do the signs say it’s for sale—or slated for demolition? Imagine the stories of another New York its walls could tell.

Update: thanks to sharp ENY readers, this house has been ID’d as that of Birds of America author John Audubon, who owned an estate here, called Minniesland, since 1842. The house made it to the 1930s before the tear down.

Here’s a fascinating article from the Audubon Park Alliance on the last person to occupy the Audubon house, via Dean at the wonderful History Author Show podcast.

The mysterious Star of David on Upper Broadway

July 27, 2015

HispaniahallUpper Broadway above 150th Street is home to many lovely apartment residences, mostly built in the early 1900s.

That’s when the neighborhood where James Audubon’s farm, Minniesland, stood in the 19th century was transformed by real estate speculators into up-and-coming Washington Heights.

One hidden gem with a curved facade is the six-story apartment building at West 156th and Broadway.

Named Hispania Hall (perhaps a nod to the Hispanic Society of America museum, which opened a block away in 1908), it was billed as “artistic, comfortable, and substantially built” when it was completed in 1909.

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It also contains an unusual symbol: a cast-iron fence that’s topped with a Star of David. Why a Star of David? It was likely added in or after the 1930s.

Hispaniahall2015“In the 1930s, many German and Jewish refugees found a new home in the neighborhood,” states the website for the Audubon Park Historic District.

“Within a few block of this corner were ten Jewish institutions, including the Prospect Unity Club, Lublo’s Palm Garden, and several synagogues.”

Today it’s an easy-to-miss reminder of the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup decades ago.

[Top image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The claw hammer murder rocks 1930s New York

May 18, 2015

PhelanleavingcourtEarly on New Year’s Eve 1933, the battered body of a 68-year-old retired stockbroker was found in his five-room apartment at the Grinnell (below), a luxurious building at 800 Riverside Drive.

Douglas Sheridan’s corpse was slumped in the bathtub with scalding water from the shower pouring down over it.

His head had been bashed in, once in his face and once in the back of the skull.

The scene was grisly, but it offered detectives immediate clues.

“In the courtyard below they discovered a hammer which they believe to have been the murder weapon,” wrote the New York Times on January 1, 1934.

Detectives also noticed that Sheridan’s housekeeper, 52-year-old “gray haired” Catherine Phelan (left), had bloodstains on the lenses of her glasses.

Phelan, who had worked for Sheridan for 28 years, had called police to the apartment and led them to Sheridan’s body.

She told police she had the night off, and that she left the apartment to see a movie after two guests of Sheridan’s arrived.

Phelanmurdergrinnell“Later in the evening, she was quoted as saying, she became vaguely uneasy because Mr. Sheridan had been drinking, and she started back toward the apartment,” stated the Times.

Soon after, she discovered her employer’s body—his two guests gone, she claimed. Hours later, she called police.

Detectives cast doubt on her story, but they didn’t arrest her immediately. It took a day to check out her version of events and look into Sheridan’s personal and financial life.

PhelanmurderheadlineThey soon learned that Phelan stood to gain $8,000 from Sheridan’s will, and that Sheridan was about to fire her, according to apartment building employees.

In addition to that, Sheridan apparently had a “fondness for young women friends.” One of his guests the evening he died was a young female, and police believed Phelan killed Sheridan out of jealousy.

After her arrest on January 1, she insisted she was innocent. Charged with murder, she stood trial in November.

A month later, she was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. “Thank you for the Christmas present, your honor,” she told the judge, before heading off to Auburn state prison.

The old-school store signs of Washington Heights

May 18, 2015

Fans of store signage dating back generations should take a stroll along upper Broadway between 168th and 181st Streets.

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Here remain some vintage signs—like this classic Cafe/Bar sign for Reynold’s, an Irish workingman’s bar that opened 50 years ago and closed its doors for good in March.

DNAinfo has a terrific story about the backstory of Reynold’s and the bar’s closing.

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The colorful sign for Victor’s Bicycle makes the place look like a party store. If only it wasn’t partly obscured by scaffolding.

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Discount Wines and Liquors says it all: cheap booze in a gritty New York shop with display windows that haven’t been cleaned off in years.

Check out more vintage store signs, this time in Brooklyn.

When the Yankees were on top (of 168th Street)

May 11, 2015

Hilltoppark1912Broadway and 168th Street, with its rocky terrain, isn’t exactly the best place for a baseball stadium.

Which partially explains why in 1903, New York’s newest baseball team, the appropriately named Highlanders, only played in a ball park at the site for the next 10 years.

Called American League Park and nicknamed Hilltop Park, it was hastily built in six weeks, just in time for the start of the spring season.

Hilltoppark1912entranceA New York Times piece summed up the challenge of turning a hilly nine-acre trapezoid of land into a worthy stadium:

“From Broadway looking west, the ground starts in a low swamp. It rises into a ridge of rocks perhaps twelve to fifteen feet above the level of Broadway. From the top of the ridge the land slopes off gradually to Fort Washington Road.”

“As the property is today it will be necessary to blast all along the ridge, cutting off a slice eight feet or more. … There are about 100 trees to be pulled up by the roots.”

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With the help of Tammany insider Thomas McAvoy, construction on the park began. Five hundred men (paid $2 a day) set to work digging, blasting and carting away 12,000 cubic yards of bedrock.

“In a remarkable six weeks, the McAvoy construction crew had converted a picturesque but forbidding mesa into a serviceable, if unfinished, venue for major-league baseball,” states the Society for American Baseball Research.

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“Fans would be accommodated in three grandstand sections ringing the home-plate area and extending along the baselines. Single-deck bleacher areas extended from the grandstands to the outfield fences while an adequately sized scoreboard was erected near the left-field foul line.”

Over the decade, the Highlanders didn’t win many games. But they attracted big crowds to the 16,000 person venue, especially with the help of the new subway system.

DSCN5324-copyThe 1912 season was their last at Hilltop Park, which was constantly beset by flooding and other problems.

The team now known as the Yankees shared the nearby Polo Grounds with the Giants, then moved into their own stadium in the Bronx in 1923.

Nothing appears to remain of Hilltop Park, bulldozed to make way for a tabernacle and then Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1925, which occupies the hilltop today.

hilltopplaqueBut there are a few interesting remnants. First, the lone tenement apartment building that stood out so prominently in early photos of the park still exists on 168th Street, long surrounded by other apartment houses.

And a small base-shaped plaque in a hospital courtyard marks the site of home plate.

[Top photos: Library of Congress; fifth photo: copyright David B. Stinson; bottom photo: Uptown Collective]

A settlement of shacks on upper Fifth Avenue

March 9, 2015

Recognize this block, which is less of a block and more of a hilly, rocky lot?

It’s Fifth Avenue at 101st Street in 1894, when this stretch of the future Museum Mile was still the province of the poor and vulnerable.

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“A semi-rural hilly area with modest row houses and shanties at the end of the 19th century, Carnegie Hill was really discovered by the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who purchased land on Fifth Avenue around 90th Street in 1898 and built a 64-room mansion,” states the New York Times in a 1994 article.

A Times article from 1905 appears to describe one of these shanties.

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“Within a stone’s throw of Andrew Carnegie’s mansion . . . stands a gabled shanty within 20 feet of Fifth Avenue of such scant dimensions and poverty-stricken appearance that it would be despised among the hovels that house some of the poorest of the city’s residents.”

Upperfifthave2015Shanty settlements like these seemed to dot Fifth Avenue farther north, like the ones seen in this photo, dated 1895.

A cross street is not listed on the photo, unfortunately. But note the lamppost; it wouldn’t be long before developers rush in, ushering in an upper Fifth Avenue of hospital buildings and stately apartment residences that still exist today.

[Top two photos: MCNY]

Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

February 2, 2015

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.

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This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.

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Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.

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His work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]


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