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

Strolling through Riverside Park to Grant’s Tomb

April 24, 2013

A few solitary, turn-of-the-century New Yorkers took advantage of the quiet, lovely paths of the upper portion of Riverside Park in this vintage postcard.

Grant’s Tomb, opened to much fanfare in 1897, looms ahead.

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The road beside the Hudson River looks more like the Henry Hudson Parkway, not Riverside Drive, no?

Up ahead, north of Grant’s Tomb, lies another little-known tomb of a child that still exists today.

The Titanic love story of Isidor and Ida Straus

April 15, 2013

IsidoridastrausIf you’ve seen the movie, you might remember this tragic side story. But on the 101st anniversary of the demise of the unsinkable liner in the Atlantic, it bears another telling.

Germany-born Isidor Straus came to the U.S. in 1854. He got started in the dry-goods business, and by 1902, he and his brother co-owned Abraham & Straus and Macy’s, opening the famous Herald Square store that year.

Isidor and his wife, Ida, also a German immigrant, married in 1871. Successful and wealthy thanks to Isidore’s business efforts, they became generous philanthropists.

In 1912, after a trip to Germany, they were booked to return to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. In the early morning hours of April 15, with the fate of the ship sealed and women and children getting into lifeboats, Ida Straus refused to leave Isidor.

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“Mrs. Straus almost entered lifeboat 8 but changed her mind, turned back, and rejoined her husband. Fellow passengers and friends failed to persuade her otherwise,” states Stuart Robinson in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: the Titanic.

Strausparksign“She is reputed to have told Isidore: ‘We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.'”

Passengers reported seeing the couple “standing alongside the rail, holding each other and weeping silently,” according to a 2012 New York Post article.

Isidor’s body was recovered, but Ida’s was never found. A memorial service for the two held at Carnegie Hall a month later drew thousands, including Mayor Gaynor, Andrew Carnegie, and other notable New Yorkers.

In 1912, the city renamed a park at 106th Street and Broadway Straus Park in honor of the couple, who had lived on 105th Street.

A monument dedicated three years later featured the biblical inscription, “lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”

Vintage Coca-Cola signs hiding on city corners

April 12, 2013

This one is pretty tricky to spot, as the old-school red and white sign blends in with the new sign below and the similarly colored building.

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But look at the 7Up and Coca Cola logos—beauties! They were spotted on the corner of Hester Street and the Bowery. Anyone want to wager a guess as to the decade the sign went up?

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An Ephemeral reader tipped me off to this torn and tattered deli awning and very weathered vintage grocery sign underneath on Manhattan Avenue and 116th Street. Thanks, I. A.

More vintage Coca-Cola signage on city storefronts can be found here.

The long-gone ironworks of an older Manhattan

March 29, 2013

You don’t always notice them underfoot as you walk down New York’s sidewalks. But these old manhole and coal chute covers—the ones with the name and address of the ironworks company that created it—provide clues about an older, vanished city.

IClamanstoverepairscover

Take this one above, made by the homey-sounding I. Claman Stove Repairs company. It was spotted on Washington Place in the West Village.

I. Claman was located at 94 Orchard Street, an address now occupied by a craft brewery that caters to a young, social, moneyed crowd.

BMasormanholecover

B. Masor & Co. used to make manhole covers like this one, found off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, at 721-31 East 133rd Street.

I’m not sure if the address is for Manhattan or for the Bronx. Either way, the business is kaput.

Abbotthardwaremanholecover

Abbott Hardware, once at Columbus Avenue in the West 90s, created this coal hole cover. It’s still part of the sidewalk on St. Luke’s Place off Seventh Avenue South.

But the days of upper Columbus Avenue housing an ironworks company are long over. The old tenements there were razed decades ago to make way for big-box apartments—strangely all in the same shade of beige.

The Phantom of the Opera murder at the Met

March 4, 2013

HelenhagnesIt happened during a performance of the Berlin Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on July 23, 1980.

Helen Hagnes, a gifted 31-year-old violinist (left), left her instrument on her chair in the orchestra pit during an intermission at about 9:30 pm.

When the performance resumed, Hagnes’ seat was still empty. After the show, police were called in.

Following an all-night search, Hagnes’ naked body was found inside a six-story air shaft. She’d been tied up, gagged, and thrown from the roof.

As brutal as the crime was, it didn’t take police long to solve what had been dubbed the “Phantom of the Opera” murder.

MetoperahouseoutsideFirst, there was the partial palm print found on the roof. And because the knots used to bind her limbs were the same knots used by stagehands, investigators figured the killer was employed by Lincoln Center and knew the opera house’s layout.

That led police to question a 21-year-old stagehand named Craig Crimmins. Eventually, Crimmins confessed: He told cops that he was drunk when he encountered Hagnes in an elevator.

He tried to rape her in a stairwell, and when she resisted, he forced her to the roof and kicked her into the air shaft.”Something snapped in my brain,” he told a judge in 1981, who sentenced him to 20 years to life.

[Top photo: New York Times. Bottom photo: Blehgoaway]

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.

Tenementnonpareil

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?

The musical history of 72nd Street’s Verdi Square

December 19, 2012

These days, Verdi Square, a tiny triangle between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue north of 72nd Street, seems mainly to be a safe traffic island for pedestrians dodging the rush of cars.

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It’s served a few other functions over the years. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was Needle Park, populated by drug dealers and users (and memorialized in the 1971 Al Pacino flick The Panic in Needle Park).

EnricocarusoArturotoscaniniAnd in the early 1900s, it was a meeting place for musicians such as tenor Enrico Caruso (at left; he lived nearby at the Ansonia) and conductor Arturo Toscanini (right), according to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

George and Ira Gershwin also hung out there, reports DNAinfo.com.

The history of Verdi Square—acquired as a park in 1887 but not named for Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi until 1921—makes it an ideal place to listen to music. Fittingly, a series of summer concerts have been held there in recent years.

Verdisquareluminaire

Verdi Square also hides a gem from the city’s past: this 1913 luminaire once stood at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, at the Fireman’s Memorial there. It was reinstalled here and recast when the park was renovated in 2004.

The oldest photo ever taken of New York City

November 16, 2012

It looks more like a Southern plantation mansion than a house in Manhattan.

But historians believe this daguerreotype shows a private home and country-like white sloping fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a main thoroughfare extending from Broadway on today’s Upper West Side.

The daguerreotype is thought to date to October 1848 or earlier (that’s just a few generations before the Dakota came along!), making it the oldest known photographic image of New York City.

Found in New England, the image was traced to Manhattan with the help of a curiously written note tucked behind the daguerreotype plate, wrote Jennifer 8. Lee in a 2009 New York Times article:

“This view, was taken at too great a distance, & from ground 60 or 70 feet lower than the building; rendering the lower Story of the House, & the front Portico entirely invisible. (the handsomest part of the House.) The main road, passes between the two Post & rail fences. (called, a continuation of Broadway 60 feet wide.) It requires a maganifying glass, to clearly distinguish the Evergreens, within the circular enclosure, taken the last of October, when nearly half of the leaves were off the trees.
—May 1849. L. B.”

It was sold by Sotheby’s for $62,500 in 2009—a fascinating glimpse of a pre-urbanized Upper West Side.

Beautiful curves on two Riverside Drive buildings

November 16, 2012

New York is a city of rectangles and squares.

No wonder the circular facades of two opposing 1910 apartment buildings at 116th Street and Riverside Drive seem so extraordinary.

On the south side is the 12-story Colosseum (left), the smaller of the two.

Talk about amenities: “The building boasts mahogany dining rooms, wall safes, and a ground-floor lounge for chauffeurs.”

Across the street at Claremont Avenue is the Paterno, 14 cylinder-shaped floors topped by a faux mansard roof and window that hides a water tank. “Through a spacious gateway one can drive directly into the building,” notes an ad from 1910.

Together the two residences, built by the same developer, the Paterno Brothers, form a grand gateway to Morningside Heights.

At the time, stately apartment houses were going up all over the neighborhood, which was then billed as the city’s Acropolis because of the cluster of colleges (like Columbia and Barnard) that put down stakes there.

Were the curvy facades purely for design, perhaps to mimic the gentle curves of newly fashionable Riverside Drive?

[Paterno ad: NYPL Digital Collection]

Where was the West Side town of Strycker’s Bay?

October 22, 2012

Until the late 19th century, the Upper West Side consisted mainly of the suburb of Bloomingdale and some smaller villages, such as Carmanville (or Carmansville), Manhattanville, and Harsenville.

Another long-gone village was Strycker’s Bay, spanning present-day 86th Street to 96th Street. It took its name from an inlet at 96th Street that’s since been filled in.

“The elevated area of Bloomingdale that included Oak Villa was generally called Striker’s Bay, and was the heart of the wealthy suburb,” wrote Peter Salwen in Upper West Side Story.

“It reached roughly from merchant John McVickar’s sixty-acre estate at modern 86th Street, with its winding drive and large Palladian house, to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Bloomingdale’s second church, which stood above a pretty stream at 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.”

The name and its many spellings came from Gerrit Striker, who built a farm at 97th Street and Columbus Avenue.

What kind of hamlet was Strycker’s Bay? Probably a sleepy one, though there was a ferry to take residents downtown.

Later in the 19th century, the farmhouse became the Striker’s Bay Tavern, a “‘secluded little snuggery’ at the foot of a steep lane with a dock and, in later days, a small station of the Hudson River Railroad,” writes Salwen.

It sounds like quite a party spot. “The lawn by the river made a fine dance floor, and behind the house there were targets for shooting parties.”

Today the hamlet is gone, but the name survives as part of the Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council, which supports affordable housing, and the Strycker’s Bay Apartments on 94th Street.

[Maps: Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council]


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