Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

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.

10thave52ndstreetsign2

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

Mottstreetsign

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.

Futuristic housing never built in 1960s Harlem

September 13, 2012

Nuclear power plants? Landing pads for spaceships? Board game pieces?

Actually, they’re apartment buildings—and if visionary designer (some would say futuristic crackpot) Buckminster Fuller had his way, they may actually have been built in Harlem.

Fuller drew up these plans in 1964: His idea was to build 15 100-story structures spanning the entire width of Upper Manhattan, with each tower capable of housing 45,000 people.

It’s an intriguing idea—unless you had to live there.

But it wasn’t as crazy as Fuller’s 1960 plan, which was to cover Manhattan in a two-mile dome.

The point was to help control the weather and air pollution while keeping energy costs down.

Neither plan, of course, made it past fantasy stage.

Three ways of viewing a Lexington Avenue corner

September 3, 2012

In 1915, when this photo was taken, Lexington Avenue at 116th Street was firmly in the Little Italy of East Harlem, hence the Italian in the signs on the far right above a chemist’s office.

“This section of East Harlem was developed  during the 1880s with the familiar New York brownstone residences and walk-up apartments,” states New York Then and Now, where the photo and the one below appear.

“One block west is the elevated crossing of the New York Central and New Haven Railroads on Park Avenue. The Subway Cafe, on the right-hand corner, anticipates the opening of the Lexington Avenue subway by three years.”

By 1975, the Italian neighborhood is mostly gone; Puerto Rican New Yorkers have moved in. The buildings themselves haven’t changed much—and the Bloomingdale’s ad from 1915 is visible 60 years later.

In 2012, the streetscape still looks similar. The corner building that went from saloon to Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is now home to a taco shop, a sign of the neighborhood’s Mexican population.

And though the Bloomingdale’s ad on the corner has been painted over, next to it out of view, a second Bloomingdale’s ad is still legible! Here it is from an earlier Ephemeral post.

Where home plate once was at the Polo Grounds

September 3, 2012

The bathtub-shaped stadium known as the Polo Grounds, on Eighth Avenue and 155th Street in Harlem, met the wrecking ball in 1963 (here it is being dismantled at right).

In its place, the city built the Polo Grounds Towers, a public-housing complex with four 30-story red-brick buildings.

Maybe these projects were okay in 1968, but today, they’re as isolated and decrepit as the Polo Grounds were crowded and inspiring.

Inside the complex is one small reminder of the location’s former glory: a very faded plaque affixed to one of the red-brick buildings.

The plaque commemorates the Polo Grounds—home not just to the Giants but also the Yankees in the 1910s and the pre-Shea Stadium Mets in the early 1960s.

It’s supposedly placed at the approximate location of home plate, where greats like Willie Mays scored runs and Bobby Thompson hit his “shot heard round the world” in 1951.

The plaque is rusted and old—a faded bit of New York baseball history, like this secret staircase that once led to the Polo Grounds.