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

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.

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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]

A Riverside Drive mansion and monument

October 18, 2012

The gentle bend at Riverside Drive and 89th Street, seen here in an early 1900s postcard, is host to the majestic Soldiers and Sailors Monument—dedicated in 1902 to Union Army veterans.

On the opposite corner is something interesting: another view of the Isaac L. Rice mansion, built in 1903 by a wealthy lawyer when Riverside Drive was lined with grand free-standing homes and rivaled Fifth Avenue in luxury.

The Isaac L. Rice mansion is still there today, but maybe not for much longer unless it gets the maintenance it needs.

The female names carved into tenements

September 20, 2012

Used to be that ships and hurricanes were typically named after women.

And it seems that tenement and prewar developers used the same tradition when they named New York’s residential buildings.

The surviving monikers are a glimpse into the favored female names of the era.

The Sylvia is a six-story building at 59 West 76th Street. So who was Sylvia?

No one knows for sure, but one theory is that the name comes from Shakespeare’s heroine in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

Anastasia Court, built in 1926, is on Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge.

The Florence is another old-world beauty out in Bay Ridge. It’s not the only Florence in the city.

There’s a Florence walk-up tenement at 128 Second Avenue at St. Marks Place and another on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

And this Morningside Heights tenement, The Bertha, isn’t the only Bertha in Manhattan. There’s another in Harlem.

Bertha and Florence: Clearly two very popular chick names back in 1900!

A hospital moves to pastoral Morningside Heights

August 13, 2012

It’s only the early 1900s in this penny postcard of St. Luke’s Hospital on Amsterdam Avenue and 114th Street, probably no more than a decade after the hospital moved there in 1896 from its original home on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street.

Morningside Heights is practically the country: wide avenues, few pedestrians, and a peek at the Hudson River in the back of the facility.

When the Straw Hat Riots rocked 1920s New York

August 13, 2012

Senseless riots have always broken out in the city: Astor Place, the Draft Riots, Tompkins Square.

But a riot that started over a silly male fashion rule about not wearing straw hats past September 15? It’s probably the most pointless of all.

It began on September 13, 1922, two days before the end of straw-hat season. Donning straw after this date made you the target of street kids, who would steal your hat and stomp on it.

Eager kids living near Mulberry Bend decided to get a jump on this weird tradition, grabbing hats off factory workers’ heads and smashing them.

Some men fought back, and brawls began by the Manhattan Bridge. Police broke them up, but only temporarily. For the next few nights, mobs of youths across the city roamed the streets, stealing hats and beating victims.

“A favorite practice of the gangsters was to arm themselves with sticks, some with nails at the tip, and compel men wearing straw hats to run a gauntlet,” states The History Box.

“Sometimes the hoodlums would hide in doorways and dash out, 10 or 12 strong, to attack one or two men. Along Christopher Street, on the Lower West Side, the attackers lined up along the surface car tracks and yanked straw hats off the heads of passengers as the cars passed.”

A mob a thousand roamed Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, reported The New York Times, while more gangs came out on the Lower East Side and East Harlem.

Incredibly, no one was killed—though riots broke out again over the next few years that did claim at least one victim.

[Above photo: Men in straw hats on William Street, about a decade before the 1922 riots.]

Faded outlines of phantom Manhattan buildings

August 6, 2012

Many of these ghost buildings, remnants from an older New York, are visible for just a short period of time—between the bulldozing of the old structure and the construction of a new one.

One that’s been viewable for at least a couple of years now is this sloped-roof house on Eighth Avenue in the 40s.

The best part is the faded ad above it, actually one ad for a cheap hotel superimposed over an older one advertising cigars.

Here’s another, with construction boards in place, near East 50th Street.

The painted rooms where people once lived their lives and the staircase they went up and down thousands of times are eerily outlined.

What kind of home was here once, on Riverside Drive around 100th Street? Maybe a stable or two-story house, with a little chimney sticking up.

This building near the South Street Seaport reveals a phantom outline, plus ghostly 18th-century looking windows and a tall ghost chimney.

A country mansion once on the Upper West Side

July 30, 2012

Picture today’s Upper West Side as it was in the late 18th century, when it was known as the rural village of Bloomingdale and filled with acres of meadows, streams, and wildflowers.

And towering over the landscape on a hill near Columbus Avenue and 91st street was the Apthorp Mansion (below, how it looked in 1790, according to a 1907 drawing).

Constructed in 1764 by wealthy Loyalist Charles Apthorp, the mansion, called Elmwood for its gorgeous trees, was conceded to be “the finest house on the island,” writes Peter Salwen in Upper West Side Story.

A newspaper ad for the property from 1780, reprinted in Upper West Side Story, reveals its loveliness:

“…about 300 acres of choice rich land, chiefly meadow, in good order, on which are two very fine orchards of the best fruit. . . . An exceedingly good house, elegantly furnished, commanding beautiful prospects of the East and North-Rivers, on the latter of which the estate is bounded.”

The house survived the Revolutionary War (it was in the middle of a battleground, after all) and Apthorp was charged with treason. After his 1797 death, his 10 children divided and sold off the land.

In the 19th century, some of the grounds became a popular picnic area called Elm Park. Finally the house itself met its end in 1891 (above), torn down to make way for 91st Street, as the village of Bloomingdale became part of the modern city.

The mansion is commemorated by the beautiful circa-1909 apartment building the Apthorp, on Broadway between 78th and 79th Streets.


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