Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

These building corner street signs are fading fast

January 25, 2013

I love spotting these on random New York corners. But I’ve never seen one designed like the sign carved into a brick walkup at Hudson Street and St. Luke’s Place, with house numbers in the mix.

Crossstreetshudsonstlukes

East Harlem has lots of century-old tenements—and lots of corner carvings. Too bad “109th Street” was obliterated from this one at Third Avenue.

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A corner sign in Chelsea features stately lettering. It’s at Ninth Avenue and 19th Street and is in bad shape, but still doing its job of letting passersby know where they are—at least in part.

Crossstreets9thand19th

Some mysterious names carved into tenements

January 7, 2013

I love that even the lowliest tenements typically have names. A developer would complete his building, then carve a word or two above the entrance—such as the name of the street or a popular politician—to distinguish it from the pack.

Tenementclaremount

Some names are obvious, others more mysterious, such as this one in the East Village. The Claremount is a handsome building on East 12th Street. But why Claremount?

Claremont Avenue, named for an old New York family, is a short street in Morningside Heights, but I’m not aware of any connection between the Claremonts and the East Village. Perhaps it just sounded posh.

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The Nonpareil is a tenement on Edgecombe Avenue on the Harlem/Washington Heights border. It translates into “having no match” or “unrivaled.” Quite a boastful name for such a humble building!

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Minneola is reportedly a Native American word for “a pleasant place.” Hence this building, in the South Village. Or is it a misspelled homage to Mineola, Long Island?

Tenementhelencourt

Helen Court sounds like a soft, peaceful tenement. It’s in Harlem near 125th Street. Helen was a popular name about a century ago. Who was Helen—the developer’s wife or daughter?

Bridges and barracks in an East River postcard

January 4, 2013

This 1940s technicolor postcard shows the sturdy Triborough (aka the Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge in the foreground and the stunning Hell Gate Bridge, which carries rail traffic, behind it.

It’s only one leg of the Triborough though; the bridge connects the Bronx to Manhattan to Queens—leapfrogging over the joined-via-landfill Randall’s and Ward’s Islands.

Triboroandhellgatepostcard

I’m curious about the barracks-like white and red buildings in the background on what looks like Randall’s and Ward’s Islands. In the 1930s, the island became home to a psychiatric hospital that still operates today; it replaced an older insane asylum.

Are these barracks part of the psych hospital—or used as housing for some other group of people the city didn’t want in Manhattan or the the other boroughs?

Autumn reveals a huge East Harlem faded ad

December 3, 2012

With the tree limbs that obscure it for most of the year almost bare, this old painted ad comes into view at Second Avenue and 109th Street.

Fadedadsecondave109th

But what is the advertisement for—something about Stanton Street, which is more than 100 blocks south?

The cross streets carved into tenement corners

December 3, 2012

Hiding in plain sight in the city’s tenement districts are the names of streets that intersect at certain corners.

Stantonandessexsign

Chiseled into a cement plate, they’re the 19th and early 20th century solution to figuring out where you were a 100 or so years before the GPS on your phone could do it for you.

Thirdave109streetsign

Not always in the best condition, like this East Harlem example above, these corner carvings are charming and fun to come across.

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The best neighborhoods to find them: the Lower East Side, East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, East Harlem, and the brownstone enclaves of Brooklyn.

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Sometimes you only find one street name—Like Mott Street here at Broome Street, with a tiny T that looks like it was added by hand!

The remains of a grand Upper Manhattan theater

November 26, 2012

Decayed, dingy, and partly obscured by a bodega sign, it’s easy to walk right by the former Hamilton Theatre and not have any idea of its hidden grandeur.

Built in 1913 by renowned theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, the Hamilton opened as a vaudeville house, entertaining residents of the rapidly booming upper Manhattan neighborhood now known as Hamilton Heights.

It was a startling beauty. “At the time, vaudeville was the most popular form of theater in the United States,” states the 2000 Landmarks Preservation Commission report designating it a city landmark.

“The Hamilton’s two neo-Renaissance style facades, facing Broadway and West 146th Street, are dominated by large, round-arched windows with centered oculi.”

“The upper stories feature cast-iron and terra cotta details including caryatids, brackets, and Corinthian engaged columns.”

By the 1920s, motion pictures nudged out vaudeville, and the Hamilton became an RKO movie theater in 1928.

It projected its last film in 1958, after which the building served as a sports arena, church, and disco.

Today the lobby of this stately palace has been carved up into retail outlets. Its grand theater, however, lies empty, as this ghostly photo from Cinema Treasures reveals.

Harlem Bespoke has recent news that one of the stores leasing retail space at the Hamilton is vacating the building. Maybe it’s time to restore the entire theater to its original loveliness?

[Top photo: Museum of the City of New York]

A thanksgiving message on a Harlem church door

November 22, 2012

A church in Hamilton Heights greets visitors at its doors with this message, from Psalm 100:4, a reference to a different kind of thanksgiving than our contemporary turkey/football/parade holiday.

A remnant of the west side town of Carmansville

November 19, 2012

Carmansville (sometimes called Carmanville) was one of many small 19th century villages that sprang up along the Hudson River.

Centered around 155th Street and Broadway, it was named for Richard Carman, “a wealthy landowner in the area who made his fortune rebuilding much of New York City after the great fire of 1835,” states a Parks Department website.

Carmansville was absorbed into the city by the 20th century, its grocery store, school, and church long gone.

But one piece of the village remains: a playground on 151st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Called the Carmansville Playground, the name was chosen in 1913 to “preserve the former designation of this section of the city.”

Carmansville also lives on in the BBC America show Copper; a character in the show, set in the 1860s, relocates to the hamlet from downtown.

The 1930s Little Italy of a New York–born painter

October 11, 2012

Born in East Harlem’s Little Italy in 1902, Daniel R. Celentano studied with painter Thomas Hart Benton as a kid and later worked as an artist for the WPA.

He painted scenes all over New York but is perhaps best known for his depictions of sometimes raucous, sometimes solemn Italian-American neighborhood life during the Depression and World War II.

“Festival,” from 1934, features a “lively scene, evoking the scents of tasty Italian food, is overshadowed by the immense natural-gas tanks at the right that once blighted Manhattan’s immigrant slums,” states the Smithsonian website.

“Italian Harlem Street Scene” (I’m not certain of the exact date) is more foreboding.

The cross way in the distance on top of the tenement looks like it’s about to snap in the wind.

The bold street photography of Gordon Parks

September 24, 2012

Born in 1912, Gordon Parks excelled as a fashion photographer, composer, screenwriter, and director (he helmed the 1971 classic Shaft).

But it’s arguably his street portraits that really resonate—like the one above, “A Woman and Her Dog in Harlem New York 1943” and below, “Harlem Neighborhood, New York City” (1952).

Impressed by photos of migrant workers he saw when he was in his 20s, Parks bought a second-hand camera, taught himself to shoot, and soon set up a business doing portraits in Chicago.

He became one of the most prominent photographers of the 20th century, depicting workers and servicemen for government agencies, doing fashion spreads for Vogue, and chronicling race relations and the Civil Rights movement on staff at Life magazine.

Below: “Three Boys Who Live in the Harlem Area,” 1943

His ordinary images of the men, women, and children of Harlem and other city neighborhoods still pack an emotional punch. They freeze in time moments of triumph, uncertainty, and loneliness.

Above: Fulton Fish Market, 1943

Two current exhibits celebrate Parks: one at the International Center for Photography and the other at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.