Archive for the ‘Upper West Side/Morningside Hts’ Category

The luxe apartment building with a rooftop farm

June 9, 2016

Ansonia1904When the Ansonia Hotel (later an apartment building) was going up in frontier territory on Broadway and 73rd Street in the early 1900s, no expense was spared.

The goal was to make it the “most perfectly equipped house in the world,” as colorful and combative developer W.E.D. Stokes proclaimed.

The 340 suites had hot and cold running water, message tubes so staff and guests could communicate, and primitive AC in the form of frozen brine pumped through flues hidden inside walls, states Steven GainesThe Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan.

Ansonialookingnorthnypl1911

The lobby contained a fountain with live seals. The basement held the world’s largest swimming pool. A sweeping interior staircase led to an enormous glass skylight. A curator was on hand to help shape the hotel’s art collection.

But the Beaux-Arts beauty (nicknamed the Upper West Side’s “wedding cake” because of its mansard roof and decorative touches) had an amenity no other luxury apartment house in New York could boast of.

AnsoniaN-YTributeApril121908

It was a rooftop farm—complete with ducks, geese, six goats, a bear, a pig named Nanki-Poo, and roughly 500 chickens, from which bellhops collected fresh eggs every day and delivered them to tenants.

 Ansonia1970mcnyThis “farm in the sky” capped off Stokes’ vision for the Ansonia as kind of a self-sufficient utopia, wrote Gaines.

And while a roof farm would definitely be a plus for today’s well-heeled locavore co-op dweller, the Board of Health back then wasn’t too pleased.

In 1907, officials threatened to raid the farm. It’s unclear what happened to most of the animals.

But Nanki-Poo and the geese, pets that belonged to Stokes’ young son, were safely rounded up before the inspector arrived.

These critters were eventually moved to the Central Park Menagerie. The Ansonia’s roof farm, like other parts of the Ansonia’s long and storied past (its stint as the site of a notorious sex club, for example) passed into history.

Now, what happened to the live seals in the lobby fountain?

Ansoniafrombooknypl1910

[Top photo: Ansonia, 1904; second photo: looking north from the Ansonia roof, 1911, NYPL; third image: New-York Tribune, 1908; fourth photo: Ansonia in 1970, MCNY; fifth image: 1910, NYPL]

A creepy bat on a West End Avenue row house

May 23, 2016

BattownhouserowHorses, dogs, cats, squirrels—New York building facades are decorated with a huge variety of animal figures.

Yet I’m pretty sure this is the first bat I’ve ever come across.

He’s enjoying the warm evening on a playfully ornamented Queen Anne row house on West End Avenue at about West 76th Street.

Often a particular animal symbolizes something. Honeybees adorn bank buildings because they stand for industry and thrift. Owls convey knowledge, which is why they tend to be built on schools and libraries.

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But a bat? I think it’s just the architect with a dark sense of humor.

Among the other animals adorning the row house or its neighbors are rams, owls, and somethings that look to be inspired by sea horses.

A rocky West Side knoll inspires Edgar Allan Poe

May 23, 2016

 

PoedaguerreotypeIn 1844, Edgar Allan Poe had a lot on his mind.

Though he’d already published some short stories and newspaper pieces, Poe was still a struggling writer working on a poem called The Raven and editing articles for the Evening Mirror.

He also had his young wife to worry about. Virginia Clemm was sick with tuberculosis.

Instead of living downtown or in Greenwich Village, as the couple had in 1837, they moved to a country farmhouse roughly at today’s Broadway and 84th Street.

 At the time, this was part of the bucolic village of Bloomingdale. Fresh air, the thinking was, might help ease Virginia’s illness.

Poebrennanfarmhouse1879mcny

When Poe needed to get away from the farmhouse (above, in 1879) and seek inspiration, he went to a rocky knoll of Manhattan schist in the woods overlooking the Hudson River, on the border of the not-yet-created Riverside Park.

He named it Mount Tom, after young Thomas Brennan, the son of the farmhouse’s owner. This outcropping still exists at the end of West 83rd Street (below).

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“It was Poe’s custom to wander away from the house in pleasant weather to ‘Mount Tom,’ an immense rock, which may still be seen in Riverside Park, where he would sit alone for hours, gazing at the Hudson,” states this 1903 Poe biography.

“Poe and Virginia enjoyed sitting on [Mount Tom] and gazing across the then-rural riverland north of the city,” according to this collection of Poe’s work.

Poemounttom2016Poe himself wrote about Manhattan’s rocky topography in an 1844 dispatch to a Pennsylvania newspaper, finding the city’s “certain air of rocky sterility” to be “sublime.”

In the same dispatch, he bemoaned Manhattan’s development and the end of its rural, spacious charm.

“The spirit of Improvement has withered [old picturesque mansions] with its acrid breath,” he wrote.

“Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them. . . . In some 30 years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous facades of brown-stone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.”

PoestreetnamePoe didn’t last long on West 84th Street. After The Raven was published in 1845 and turned him into a literary sensation, he and Virginia moved to a cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx.

Tuberculosis took Virginia in 1847; Poe left the Bronx and found himself in Baltimore, where he died, perhaps from alcoholism, in 1849.

I wonder what he would think of contemporary West 84th Street bearing his name?

[Second image: MCNY.org Greatest Grid exhibit]

The beautiful apartment house hidden from view

May 9, 2016

1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory; third photo:

The Dakota, the Ansonia, the Chelsea, the Apthorp: most city residents recognize these as some of New York’s earliest and most magnificent apartment houses.

Windermeremichaelminn2

But the Windermere? Hidden behind scaffolding for years, this Renaissance Revival beauty on Ninth Avenue and 57th Street (above, mostly scaffold-free) has been forgotten.

Still, imagine how lovely the romantically named Windermere must have been in 1881, when it was one of the first apartment houses on the rapidly developing West Side—home to well-off residents, then “bachelor girls,” and a century later, SRO tenants.

Windermere1940WSJ“The interior is separated into five divisions, which comprise 38 suites of apartments, each containing from seven to nine rooms, and each furnished with a buffet, sideboard, and pier glass,” the New York Times described it.

“For the convenience of tenants who do not wish to cook in their own apartments, large kitchens are situated in the basement.”

With the noisy, belching Ninth Avenue Elevated railroad so close, the Windermere wasn’t top-of-the-line luxurious.

WindermerelandmarksBut it had plenty of amenities: three resident elevators, steam heat, a telephone, electric bells that rang attendants, a fire alarm, an open-air inner courtyard, uniformed “hall boys,” and separate passageways for delivery wagons.

The rent? Between $600 and $1,000 yearly, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 2005.

By the 1890s, the Windermere advertised itself as an apartment house for the independent New Woman of the era, who was educated, employed, and desired a place of her own.

That often meant renting a room in one of the larger apartments. The Windermere offered single women “a congenial home where she can live at moderate cost,” reported the Times.

WindermeremichaelminnDuring the 1900s, the bachelor girls began moving out; the neighborhood’s slide into a more working-class enclave meant that tenants in what was now Hell’s Kitchen were now stenographers, chauffeurs, and waiters.

Fires plagued the building. Owners came and went. By the 1960s, drug users and prostitutes moved in . . . and a not-yet-famous Steve McQueen.

In 1985, the Windermere’s owner—who tried to harass the few remaining tenants into leaving—made the Village Voice‘s list of the city’s worst landlords.

The scaffolding and netting began wrapping the building at least a decade ago. Fire safety inspectors forced the remaining tenants out in 2007.

Windermere2016

A new owner came in (and was named to another worst landlord list) with plans to turn the Windermere into a boutique hotel.

Perhaps this diamond in the rough will emerge a beauty again.

[Top and fourth photos: Michaelminn.net; second photo: 1940s NYC Municipal archives photo via the Wall Street Journal; third photo: 1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory]

The glam rock star who cleaned up Riverside Park

April 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.02 AMToday’s pop and rock royalty tend to get involved in headline-grabbing national and international causes.

But in August 1975, Alice Cooper lent a hand on a local level.

Cooper spent a summer day picking up trash in Riverside Park with a team of “Cooper Troopers,” with sun visors, arm bands, bags, rakes, and brooms provided by Atlantic Records.

“Alice Cooper himself appeared, in a chauffeur-driven sanitation truck,” an AP story explained.

Coopernewsarticle“After heaving filled garbage bags into the truck, Cooper said, ‘I think it would be a good idea for rock performers all over the world to take a few hours out of their schedule to involve themselves in community service-oriented programs.”

The mid-1970s was the height of Cooper’s fame—and it was also the peak of the anti-litter movement. Soda bottles, fast food wrappers, and cigarette butts were all over city parks and streets.

But did Cooper even live in New York at the time? And why Riverside Park?

Here’s how he explained it in his 2011 book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.22 AM“Sometimes I would do nice things, just to throw off my critics,” wrote Cooper. “In August of ’75 I grew a mustache and found time to assemble and join 300 volunteer Alice Cooper fans who worked for a day to clear away garbage out of Manhattan’s Riverside Park.

“I figured the deed would keep everyone off guard while at the same time emphasize that neither Alice Cooper nor his legions of young fans were necessarily rock monsters. We were capable of being Mr. Nice Guys too.”

[Photos: Waring Abbott/Getty Images]

The story behind three faded ads in Manhattan

April 11, 2016

If you look up enough while walking through the city, you see a fair number of these weathered ads, partly erased by rain and grime.

Fadedadeast20scloseup

Deciphering what they say isn’t always easy. Take this ad at 23 East 20th Street. “Furs” is still legible, but the name of the company is tricky.

It looks like M. Handin & Grapkin—which is close, as sure enough a company with the name Drapkin appears to have gone into the furrier business as early as 1909.

The wonderful faded sign site 14to42.net says that M. Handin and Drapkin were located in this building around 1909, and the faded ad could be more than a century old.

Fadedadeast12thst

This building on East 12th Street and University Place is a faded sign spotter’s dream. “Student Clothes” up top is easy enough to read.

Walter Grutchfield’s photo is better than mine, and his caption explains that the company occupied this building from 1924 to 1929.

Fadedadwest84thstreet

To get this view of this faded ad at 324 West 84th Street, you have to stand inside the 15th floor apartment of the building next door.

The address is barely legible—and though 324 is an apartment house today, as early as 1918 it was the Hotel Ramsby.

The left side of the ad must have listed room rates, forever lost to the ages.

The oldest street scene photos of New York City

March 7, 2016

France’s Louis Daguerre perfected the earliest form of commercial photography in 1839. It didn’t take long for others to seize the new technology and create daguerreotypes of New York City street scenes.

Daguerreotypechurch

These surviving early photographs offer a fascinating (if faded) glimpse into the city during an era when images were generally recorded with paint or ink, not copper plates.

At top is the Unitarian Congregational Church of the Messiah, which once stood on the east side of Broadway at the end of Waverly Place, surrounded by small free-standing houses.

Daguerreotypechathamsquare

The photo was taken in 1839 or 1840 from the rooftop studio of Samuel F.B. Morse and John Draper, who worked together at New York University. (Draper also took what might be the first daguerreotype portrait in 1840—of his sister, Dorothy.)

The second daguerreotype captures Chatham Street (now Park Row) northeast of Chatham Square. It dates back to 1853-1855 and shows a commercial, working-class section of the city known for its shops, taverns, and dance halls.

nycoldestdaguerreotype

“Unlike the period’s printed views, which were generally designed for clarity and filled with drafting table anecdote, this photograph shows the city as an inelegant confusion of traffic, commercial signs, and pedestrians,” explains the link to the photo (which can be enlarged for careful study) on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

And though it doesn’t necessarily count as a street scene because the street at the time was rural farmland, the third daguerreotype is an 1839 image of a lovely house and white fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a part of today’s Upper West Side.

The Eskimo boy who lived in a New York museum

February 15, 2016

Miniknyc

It’s a story that seems incredulous to modern sensibilities.

On September 1897, American explorer Robert Peary and his crew docked their steamer under the Brooklyn Bridge after returning from a long expedition to Greenland.

It was one of several trips Peary took to the Arctic beginning in the 1880s in his quest to become the first Westerner to reach the North Pole.

Peary didn’t reach his goal on this voyage. But he did bring back some curious cargo, which he displayed a few days later at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for thousands of New Yorkers who turned out for a glimpse.

Minikwallacefamily

On deck was a 100-ton meteorite—and six Inuits, including a father and his 7-year-old son, Mene, but called Minik.

It’s unclear why Peary brought the Inuit people, who were dressed in sealskin coats trimmed with polar bear fur and appeared somewhat distressed in the early autumn sun, reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Apparently he thought experts he knew at the American Museum of Natural History would like to study them.

Abandoned by Peary and with no where to go, the Inuits were housed in the museum basement and “treated as specimens and spectacles,” according to pbs.org. They were not part of an official exhibit but were on view for some museum guests.

MuseumofnaturalhistoryThe Inuits didn’t stay at the museum long. Their next stop was Bellevue.

With no immunity, all six became ill. In the fall, Minik’s father and three others died; one returned to Greenland. Minik survived but was now on his own.

Although he found New York at first to be “like a land that we thought to be just like heaven,” and he laughed when he saw bicycle riders in Central Park, he was now an orphan.

“Alone and out of place in New York, Minik benefited from the benevolence of one person—William Wallace, the superintendent at the Museum of Natural History,” stated pbs.org.

RobertpearyThe Wallace family (with Minik, above) educated him; he even attended Manhattan College. “But despite being adopted and raised as part of the Wallace family, Minik never really felt at home in this foreign land.

“One newspaper described him as a “virtual prisoner.”

To make matters worse, he discovered that museum officials never gave his father the proper burial they claimed. Instead, his body became part of the museum collection.

In 1909, the same year Peary (at right) claimed to have reached the North Pole (a claim that has long been in doubt), Minik was finally able to leave New York and sail back to Greenland.

Menewallace“The appeal of the Eskimo, Mene Keeshoo, brought here by Commander Peary and left on the lee shore of New York, to be returned to his native North Greenland again proves that home is a lodestone’s attraction for the most uncivilized of God’s creatures,” wrote the Eagle.

It wasn’t the homecoming he’d hoped. Minik didn’t feel as if he belonged in Greenland either. In 1916 he returned to America, where he found work in a New Hampshire lumber camp.

There, he contracted influenza during the epidemic of 1918 and died.

Minik is not the only human who lived in the museum. In 1906, a Congolese pygmy named Ota Benga also spent time there—before being put on exhibit in the Bronx Zoo. Really.

[Second photo: PBS American Experience; Fifth photo (the birthdate is said to not be accurate): Findagrave.com]

Album covers from the 1970s shot in New York

February 1, 2016

Sometimes it’s obvious an album cover was shot in New York City—like Physical Graffiti, Billy Joel’s Turnstiles, or that wonderful New York Dolls cover of the band decked out in front of Gem Spa in the East Village.

NYCalbumcoverswho

Other times it’s not so easy to tell. Take the cover for the Who’s The Kids Are Alright, photographed in 1968 by Art Kane.

With the band wrapped in a Union Jack flag, you’d never know they were leaning against the base of the statue of German revolutionary and New York reformer Carl Schurz, located at Morningside Drive and 116th Street.

NYCalbumcoversneilyoung

Neil Young doesn’t come across as a New York kind of guy; he’s more California or Canada. But here he is walking past NYU’s law school building on Sullivan and West Third Streets on the cover of 1970’s After the Gold Rush, captured by Joel Bernstein.

The website popspotsnyc.com has some incredible photos and backstory on After the Gold Rush and other New York–centric albums.

NYCalbumcoversfoghat

Foghat—does anyone remember Foghat? In any case, the English band shot the front of their 1975 LP Fool for the City in the middle of 11th Street between Second and Third Avenues in the East Village.

The block hasn’t changed much, and the back of St. Mark’s Church is recognizable. Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation, has a nice post covering the then and now.

Rock albums shot on New York streets must have been a thing in the 1960s and 1970s—like these here. Maybe it all started with The Freewheeling Bob Dylan on Jones Street?

What remains of a 1930 Upper West Side automat

January 4, 2016

The first Horn & Hardart automat opened in New York City in 1912. Over the next decades, 40 automats popped up in the city.

One of them was at 2710 Broadway, between 103rd and 104th Streets, seen here in a 1942 photo.

Automat1942nypl

Everyone who remembers these glass and chrome egalitarian eateries, with their walls of food compartments, recalls them with huge affection. Automats were the “Maxim’s of the disenfranchised,” said playwright Neil Simon.

Drop a nickel or two into the slot, and the compartment door opened, dispensing the object of your desire—like an egg salad sandwich, macaroni, baked beans, lemon meringue pie, or just black coffee.

Tables and chairs in the center of the tile room offered a place to sit and eat into the night. Behind the walls, employees restocked the compartment for the next hungry patron.

Automat1970s

The last automat hung in there until 1991. But the era of the automat had started to end in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to the rise of fast food.

The one at Broadway and 103rd Street (above in 1980) stuck around until 1955, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Automat2015

Since then, 2710 Broadway has hosted a variety of businesses, like a supermarket and a Rite-Aid (above photo, 2015). It’s now a CityMD.

AutomatjeanarthurBut much of the facade hasn’t changed. It’s easy to visualize all the New Yorkers of decades past who nursed cups of coffee and slices of pie there, between auditions or jobs or on bad dates, or killing time, before continuing on their way.

A big thumbs up to the History Author Show for sharing these images and showing love for the city’s most iconic restaurant.

The automat made it into several movies shot in New York over the years. Watch Jean Arthur in 1931’s Easy Living, or Doris Day and Audrey Meadows in That Touch of Mink from 1962.

[Top photo: NYPL; Second photo: Landmarks Preservation Commission report]


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