Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

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.

Manhattan Island: best real estate steal ever?

June 3, 2013

PeterminuitheadshotThere’s a rock just outside Inwood Hill Park that marks the location where Peter Minuit (right), director general of New Netherland, supposedly bought Manhattan from Native Americans for the equivalent of $24 in 1626.

Best real estate steal ever—or enduring myth?

For starters, consider that the first account of the deal comes from a snippet of gossip.

“In a 1626 letter, a Dutch merchant reported he had just heard, from ship passengers newly disembarked from New Netherland, that representatives of the West India Company ‘had purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for a value of 60 guilders,'” wrote Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in their book Gotham: A History of New York to 1898.

Purchaseofmanhattanisland1909

In 1848, a New York historian translated that figure into $24. And in 1877, a second historian claimed with no evidence that the amount was paid in “beads, buttons, and other trinkets” (detailed in the 1909 illustration above).

Besides the fact that no deed of sale exists, it’s important to consider what “purchase” meant back in 1626. The way the Dutch defined it may have been quite different from how Native Americans saw things.

Shorakkopochrock2

Natives may have considered the 60 guilders a rental fee, not a sales exchange, giving the Dutch hunting and other use rights while also retaining them for themselves, according to an insightful piece in Mental Floss.

Also, “it appears from a later repurchase agreement that the people who made the original arrangement didn’t live in Manhattan and so were in no position to offer up even use-rights of visiting privileges,” wrote Burrows and Wallace.

Meanwhile the plaque marking the location of sale, on Shorakkopach Rock (above) in Inwood, remains.

A Harlem faded ad keeps 1970s radio alive

May 23, 2013

The 1970s Top-40 music scene lives on thanks to this almost perfectly preserved ad, on the side of a building at 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

77radiofadedad

I’m guessing it went up in the disco era, when radios all across the metro area were set to 77 AM, then a hugely popular station.

WABC is all talk today—it’s been that way since 1982.

The most elite apartment building in Harlem

May 15, 2013

Paulrobeson555EdgecombeavenueWhen the stately Beaux-Arts apartment building at 555 Edgecombe Avenue opened in 1916, it rented to white tenants only.

But the population of Harlem was already changing, from mostly Irish and Jewish residents to African-Americans.

By the 1940s, the building, located on 160th Street at the edge of the posh Sugar Hill neighborhood, was exclusively black.

Sitting high on a bluff and commanding gorgeous views of the treetops of Edgecombe Avenue and across the Harlem River, these 13 floors plus a penthouse were home to Harlem’s elite.

JoelouisThat included academics, entertainers, and athletes such as Count Basie, Joe Louis (below), Sonny Rollins, sociologist Kenneth Clark, and Paul Robeson (above).

And though today it’s officially within the borders of Washington Heights, 555 Edgecombe is historically identified as part of Harlem.

It’s not an especially distinctive building architecturally, but it is handsome and sturdy, an emblem of the neighborhood’s prime years as a center of artistic and activist achievement.

[Photo right: Property Shark]

Mysterious male names over tenement doorways

May 13, 2013

Ever notice that when a tenement building has a name, it tends to be female? Bertha, Florence, Rose, Sylvia—names popular at the turn of the last century, when so many tenements were built, are etched above doorways all over the city.

But a handful of tenements buck the trend and appear to be named for a man. Is it the developer himself, or just a random name that happen to appeal to circa-1900 ears?

Jerometenementname

I wonder if that’s the case with Jerome. It’s the name of a tenement in Morningside Heights, perhaps a nod to Leonard Jerome, a flashy 19th century financier whose name still graces a park and thoroughfare in the Bronx? He’s also the grandfather of Winston Churchill.

Theodoretenementname

Theodore, on the Upper East Side, could be a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt. Or the builder’s son or brother?

Rogertenementname

The Roger, on 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue in Washington Heights, is named for Roger Morris, a British army colonel who fought in the French and Indian War.

In the 1760s, he retired to an Upper Manhattan estate (now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion) that still stands today.

Edgarcourttenementname

I don’t know who Edgar was or why a tenement on West 125th Street was named for him. But instead of the name being carved above the door, it’s laid in tile on the floor.

A riot sparked by a rumor erupts on 125th Street

April 18, 2013

DailynewsharlemriotheadlineThere are differing accounts of the violence and mayhem. But one thing seems clear: it all started because of a rumor.

In March 1935, a Puerto Rican teen was caught shoplifting a pen knife at the Kress Five and Ten store (“known for its reluctance to hire black clerks,”) on West 125th Street.

“A Negro woman saw store employees search the thief; she became hysterical and shouted that the prisoner was being beaten by his captors, although he was not harmed, and soon the word got about that a Negro boy had been killed,” summarized The New York Times that week.

Police Officer Leading Injured ManBy evening, Communist organizations and a group calling itself the Young Liberators gathered outside the Kress store, handing out flyers that claimed the boy had been brutally beaten.

Crowds grew, and Harlem simmered with rage. Mayor La Guardia urged calm, but at about 6 p.m., rioting had begun.

“Roving bands of Negros, with here and there a sprinkling of white agitators, stoned windows, set fire to several stores, and began looting,” reported a separate Times story. “By 1:30 a.m., the worst of the rioting was ended, but sporadic outbreaks occurred up until 4 a.m.”

The next day, order was restored. “Overall, three African Americans were killed and nearly sixty were injured,” reports Blackpast.org.  “Seventy five people, mostly blacks, were arrested by the police. The riot caused over $200 million in property damage.”

Harlem1939125thstreet8thave

An investigation found that widespread discrimination, police aggression, and racial injustice contributed to the violence.

What’s called the Race Riot of 1935 was a forerunner of riots in 1943 and 1964, and has been deemed a sign that the “optimism and hopefulness of the Harlem Renaissance was dead.”

[Above photo by Sid Grossman: Eighth Avenue and 125th Street, that site of the riot, in 1939. Second photo: Bettmann/Corbis; the teenage shoplifter and the police. Top: New York Daily News newspaper headline]