Archive for the ‘West Village’ Category

The gritty appeal of a 14th Street liquors sign

October 16, 2017

The low-rise, rundown buildings on the south side of 14th Street at Eighth Avenue have slowly emptied out—the liquor store moved down the block a few years back, a restaurant closed and nothing reopened, and now a candy store and corner deli are gone as well.

What will become of this wonderful discount liquors sign—bumblebee yellow, two stories tall!—when the building it’s attached to inevitably falls to the developers?

The beauty of 10th Street’s English Terrace Row

October 16, 2017

Shared balconies stretching across several buildings in a row aren’t the norm in New York City.

But a graceful cast-iron communal balcony ties together the brownstones at numbers 20 to 38 West 10th Street. It’s one of the many features that make what used to be called “English Terrace Row” on this Greenwich Village block so harmoniously beautiful.

English Terrace Row, known these days as Renwick Row, was built between 1856 and 1858 by James Renwick Jr., the architect behind circa-1846 Grace Church three blocks east down 10th Street.

Renwick left his stamp all over the mid–19th century the city; he designed banks and brownstones, charity hospitals on East River islands, and other Gothic-style churches, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

While he brought Gothic-style architecture back into vogue, he was also forward-thinking.

The houses of English Terrace Row are the first brownstones built without the customary high Dutch-style stoop, “placing the entry floor only two to three steps up from the street in the English manner,” states the AIA Guide to New York City.

“Terrace” is also borrowed from the British.”Terrace does not refer to the handsome balcony that runs the length of these houses; it is the English term for rows of houses, such as found in the Kensington and Paddington districts of London in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s.”

“New Yorkers who visited England were impressed with this style and saw good reason to adopt it upon their return.”

Apparently one of those New Yorkers was a banker named James F.D. Lanier, who commissioned Renwick to build the row at a time when spacious brownstones with winding inside staircases and enormous windows were all the rage among well-to-do city residents.

Wide and elegant, and shrouded by trees and swathed in amber light in the evening, they stand 159 years later and make this stretch of 10th Street one of the most spectacular in the city.

The photo archive at the GVSHP site has some interior shots as well. For more on the Gilded Age city’s brownstone craze and James Renwick’s architectural gems, take a look through The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

The gritty history of an 18th century Village lane

October 2, 2017

Prison inmates, slaughterhouse workers, runaway pigs, and unlucky sailors are some of the New Yorkers who tread the paving stones of Charles Lane—a Greenwich Village alley between Perry and Charles Streets that has a colorful history.

The prisoners walked here first. The lane was laid out in 1797, states the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. It formed the northern border of Newgate State Prison (below), built at the foot of the Hudson River that same year.

Newgate was supposed to be a new kind of prison a mile or so from the city downtown; it gave rise to the saying “sent up the river.” The novel idea was to provide moral instruction rather than just harsh corporal punishment.

But it quickly became overcrowded, and inmates frequently rioted.

Prisoners sentenced to death likely had to walk past Charles Lane to get to Washington Square Park, where execution awaited, according to Mike Wallace, coauthor of Gotham, per a New York Times article.

After Newgate was shuttered in 1828, the lane became “Pig Alley,” thanks to “the slaughterhouse which formerly graced the middle of it,” explains a 1913 Evening World article.

“There were always stray pigs about the place then, without sense enough to leave the spot where they were to meet their certain dooms.”

Men who worked the ships met terrible fates here too. “It was a wicked place of nights,” the Evening World continued, rather illustriously.

“Many a poor sailor or longshoremen has been carried out from under its yellow lanterns never to wake again except among the company of harped and winged saints who came by way of the Potter’s Field. . . . “

By 1893, Charles Lane got its current name and was officially mapped, states GVSHP.

When photographer Berenice Abbott shot Charles Lane in 1938 (left), the view looking north toward Washington Street shows us an unkempt alley filled with debris—but oh, those beautiful old blocky stones!

Today the alley is cleaned up, and the West Street end buts up against luxury glass co-ops. I don’t know if those co-op owners ever walk through Charles Lane, but I hope they do. I hope they tread lightly and feel its ghosts.

[All Photos © Ephemeral New York except photo 2, from the NYPL, image 3, from the NYPL, and image 5, from MOMA]

This is the oldest house in Greenwich Village

October 2, 2017

Imagine New York in 1799: the entire population numbered about 60,000. The British had only vacated 16 years earlier.

State Street near Bowling Green was lined with posh mansions, and the city was riveted by the murder of a young woman whose body was found at the bottom of a well near Spring Street.

And in a leafy suburb called Greenwich north of the city center, a house was built by a merchant named Joshua Isaacs. It still stands—and it’s thought to be the oldest home in Greenwich Village.

The Isaacs-Hendricks House, as it’s called today, sits solidly on the corner of Bedford and Commerce Streets.

Why Isaacs built his home here isn’t known, but perhaps like other New Yorkers, he was fleeing the yellow fever epidemic that hit the post-colonial city hard.

Isaacs didn’t live at 77 Bedford Street for long though. A year later, he gave up the house to creditors, and his son-in-law Harmon Hendricks (right) bought it in 1801, according to the Greenwich Village Historic District Report.

Hendricks owned a copper mill, and he was a leader of New York’s small Sephardic Jewish community.

For the next three decades, Hendricks (and then his daughter Hettie Gomez, who inherited the house) had this stretch of the Village all to himself.

“Old records clearly indicate that the house was a free-standing building with its own yard,” explains the report. “A map of 1835 indicates no other buildings standing on Hendricks-Gomez land.”

That changed in 1836, when a builder put up 73 and 75 Bedford Streets. (75 and 1/2 Bedford, the former home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, has the distinction of being the city’s skinniest townhouse.)

Other homes were built in the 1840s and beyond, turning Bedford Street into a residential enclave of red brick and wood frame beauty.

The Isaac-Hendricks house changed with the times.

“Originally the building was a simple frame structure with a gambrel roof,” states the report. “A brick front was probably added in 1836.”

Amazingly, the house—still in the Hendricks family—didn’t get its third floor until 1928. Windows were switched around, and a basement entryway was built in the back of the house. (Fourth and fifth photos, in the 1920s and 1930s)

How did the Isaacs-Hendricks house make it into the 21st century? (above left, in 1975).

In the 1920s, “it was purchased by a group of Villagers to preserve the character of the block and to prevent the erection of an apartment house on the site,” reads the report.

Thanks to these history-minded residents, this lovely home (from the back on the far left of the photo here) is here to delight and inspire New Yorkers.

[Photos one and two: Ephemeral New York; third photo: American Gallery 19th; fourth photo: MCNY; fifth photo: NYPL; sixth photo: MCNY; seventh photo: NYPL]

The nautical loveliness of a Jane Street hotel

August 21, 2017

Today’s it’s The Jane, a pricey boutique hotel a stone’s throw from the well-manicured Hudson River waterfront and the tourist-friendly nightspots of the Meatpacking District.

But a century ago this red brick fortress with the lighthouse-like tower (“whose light flashes a welcome up and down the river”) was the New York headquarters of the American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailor’s Home and Institute.

This benevolent organization founded in 1828 was “one of a number of 19th century religious organizations concerned with improving the social and moral welfare of seamen throughout the U.S. and abroad,” explains this 2000 Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) report.

Built in 1908 on what was once a bustling stretch of docks teeming with ships, the building served as a hotel with amenities like a library, swimming pool, bowling alley, restaurant, lecture hall, and chapel, “an alternative to the waterfront ‘dives’ and sailors’ boardinghouses,” states the LPC.

The place has a rich history. After the Titanic sunk in 1912, surviving crew who arrived in New York on the Carpathia lodged there.

When the YMCA built a new seamen’s home on West 20th Street, the organization dedicated itself to providing free room and board to destitute sailors.

Closed in the 1940s, the beacon that shone from the lighthouse tower forever dimmed, it changed names and hands through the 2000s as a transient hotel. (It was the Riverview in the 1990s—as seen on the old-timey hotel sign on the facade).

The rooms once designed to resemble ship cabins may go for hundreds of dollars a night now (as opposed to 25 cents a night in 1908). Yet the building’s past as a seamen’s retreat still resonates, thanks to the lovely ornaments like anchors, rope, wreaths, and the heads of sea creatures.

Think of them as homages to a city that built its fortunes on its waterfront—as well as to the men who worked its docks and ships.

[Second image: NYPL]

Identifying an eerie drugstore in a 1927 painting

August 14, 2017

The “eerie nocturnal view” of this corner apothecary painted by Edward Hopper in 1927 is easy to get lost in.

At first glance, Silbers Pharmacy looks like an ordinary city storefront, whose bright electric lights and colorful window display on a dark night feels inviting.

Here is a place city residents can turn to for late-night prescriptions, or even for an emergency laxative (Ex-Lax was invented in 1906 and manufactured in Brooklyn, hence the Ex-Loft lofts on Atlantic Avenue).

Yet the more you look at the painting (simply titled “Drug Store”), the more ominous it becomes, strangely devoid of any sign of humanity. It’s classic Hopper, of course, an artist whose work reflects the isolation and alienation of modern urban life.

So where was Silbers Pharmacy? Hopper apparently never identified the street corner; he was known to obscure identifying details of many of the storefronts he painted, as he famously did with his late-night diner masterpiece, Nighthawks.

But it was likely near his studio on Washington Square. One guess comes from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which put forth the possibility that Silbers occupied the Waverly Place building where Three Lives & Company bookstore is today.

Three Lives’ official address is on West 10th Street. But the door to the left is 184 Waverly, just like the “184” on the Silbers sign. And hmm, doesn’t the cast-iron column outside the door looks quite similar?

[Second photo: Alamy]

Revisiting 10 shops from 1979 Greenwich Village

August 7, 2017

Last month, Ephemeral New York ran a post featuring some never-before-seen downtown street photos taken in the summer of 1979.

They were taken by a Dutch sailor whose ship was docked in New York Bay.

Whenever he could take a day off and visit Manhattan, he brought along his camera, capturing the energy and excitement of a city he had no idea was at its supposed nadir, facing bankruptcy and with residents fleeing fast.

These photos are from the same collection. Rather than random street shots revealing glimpses of the magic and beauty of day-to-day life downtown, they focus on stores—the kind of small, local businesses that are becoming an endangered species in today’s Manhattan.

Some of these businesses still exist, like Rocco’s, still the best pastry shop on Bleecker Street.

Ottomanelli’s meat market also remains on Bleecker; you can see part of the old-school sign in the photo below (though unfortunately the antique store and children’s store next door are both kaput).

The other shops have vanished. Something Special Cakes and Pies? What looks like a charming bakery seems to have disappeared without a trace. Can anyone identify the block the little shop is on?

Joe’s Dairy, the wonderful Italian cheese store on Houston and Sullivan Streets, hung on until 2013. The workers behind this tiny store made the most heavenly balls of mozzarella. See the cheese hanging in the windows.

Greenwich Village still has plenty of antique stores, but not quite as homey as the Village Oaksmith.

Where was this antiques store? And for that matter, does anyone recognize this colorfully painted tenement with the former Bazaar shop on the ground floor?

According to the sign in the window, it had already gone out of business. I wish I knew what the landlord was asking in rent.

[All photos: copyright Peter van Wijk]

Going back in time at the Village’s Corner Bistro

July 10, 2017

The wooden table tops with generations of names scratched into them have been replaced, and signs posted on the back brick wall remind patrons that smoking is forbidden.

But the two little rooms of the Corner Bistro maintain that time-traveling Village taverny feel.

Maybe it’s the pressed tin ceiling that could date back to 1875, when the tiny space on the first floor of 331 West Fourth Street was a saloon run by a man named John Ebers (the site of an interesting crime, below).

Or perhaps it’s the old-timey clock in the corner or the long carved mahogany bar, which could have been installed in the early 20th century, when the Corner Bistro says they began serving customers (above, in 1933).

But the Corner Bistro resounds with what I imagine as the feel of the Village of the 1950s and 1960s, when locals and poets and artists and the men who worked the Hudson River docks went there for alcohol and camaraderie in a neighborhood that hosted lots of corner bars with the same mix, like the Lion’s Head and the White Horse.

To get a sense of what the place must have been like back then, read what the former longtime owner, Bill O’Donnell, had to say about the heyday of the Bistro, as regulars called it.

O’Donnell gave this interview to WestView News in 2012. After college and time spent at sea on board a ship, O’Donnell became a bartender at a place on Greenwich Avenue called Jack Barry’s.

“A few years later, one of the two owners of the Corner Bistro—his name was Curtis—wanted to sell his interest,” he told WestView.

“I scrambled together some money from my brothers and me and that’s how I began at the Corner Bistro. I took over 50 percent interest in February 1967 and ten years later bought the other 50 percent.”

The Bistro back then was “a mixed clientele and an eclectic crowd. You had neighborhood people, beatniks, some longshoremen, and tourists. You also had aspiring actors, writers, poets and the intellectual types. So it was a collision of cultures and sometimes it didn’t mix so well!”

“There seemed to be a lot more drinking then. Today you can’t do anything in a bar because, as soon as someone belches too loudly, people are on their cell phones!”

O’Donnell created the iconic Bistro burger, which Mimi Sheraton gave a rave review in the New York Times in 1978.

“The Bistro still represents something of the past and people like that,” he said. “It’s reminiscent of old New York and it’s maintained its integrity.”

[Second photo: 1933, NYPL; third image: 1875, New York Times]

A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979

July 3, 2017

In 1979, Peter van Wijk was a radio officer in the Dutch Merchant Marine. That summer, his ship docked a couple of times in New York Harbor, giving him the opportunity to visit Manhattan and wander the streets.

Like all curious newcomers to New York, he brought a camera along with him, and he took photos of iconic tourist spots like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and Times Square.

But he also captured the seemingly ordinary street scenes that offer fleeting glimpses into the heart and soul of the late 1970s city: shoppers going in and out of mom and pop stores, musicians and vendors drawing crowds, and taxis navigating traffic-choked streets.

Thirty-eight years later, van Wijk decided to share his previously unseen images, and Ephemeral New York has the wonderful privilege of posting them.

It goes without saying that the Gotham of 1979 was a vastly different place. These days, everyone wants to live in New York; in the 1970s, residents couldn’t get out fast enough. The city’s population dipped an incredible 10 percent from 1970 to 1980, to just over 7 million.

Ed Koch had been elected mayor a year earlier on a law and order platform. The city’s nickname, Fear City (or more ironically, Fun City), was a nod to rising crime and rampant graffiti.

Cuts in city services left garbage on the streets, and shells of buildings sat empty in the South Bronx, East Village, and the Lower East Side, among other neighborhoods.

You wouldn’t know any of this from looking at these photos. The city in this collection of images is animated and colorful, with life and energy.

It’s a New York that feels almost small scale compared to the contemporary city—more a collection of neighborhoods rather than an island of cookie-cutter stores and development.

The gritty, street-smart New York of the 1970s is often hailed as a more authentic version of the city. How true that is has been up for debate lately.

These photos don’t take a side. They’re simply fascinating portals into the past that bring memories back of the city in the late 1970s, before crowded subways, a critical mass of Starbucks and Duane Reade stores, and an army of residents wearing white earbuds as they go about their day.

[All photos:copyright Peter van Wijk]

New York’s old public bath buildings still inspire

May 29, 2017

The public bath movement got its start in New York in 1849. A wealthy merchant established the “People’s Bathing and Washing Association” and funded a public bath and laundry on Mott Street for anyone who paid a small fee, states the Landmark Preservation Commission.

The Mott Street facility went out of business in a few years. Yet the idea of establishing public bathing facilities gathered steam.

A campaign in 1889 convinced New York to build a network of free or low-cost bath houses that would offer visitors a “rain bath”—or a shower, as we call it today.

Public baths with showers were long overdue. Only the rich had private indoor plumbing.

New York City’s thousands of tenement dwellers might have been lucky enough to rely on a spigot in the hall for water, but few had a place to bathe.

Meanwhile, the idea of bathing for hygiene and to stop the spread of disease was gaining traction.

A city committee in 1897 decided that “cleanliness of person is not only elevating in its effects upon the mind and morals, but also necessary to health and to the warding off of disease.”

So the city went on a bath-building frenzy. A public bath (with a five-cent fee) had already gone up on Centre Market Street in 1891.

In the next two decades, more would be built in the tenement districts: East 11th Street (second photo), Rivington Street, Allen Street, Clarkson Street, East 23rd Street (third photo), East 38th Street, West 54th Street (fourth photo) and West 60th Street (fifth photo) among them.

How popular were the baths? During the hot summer months, riots practically broke out, according to one account in the New York Times in 1906.

But the rest of the year, they weren’t well used. As bathrooms with showers became standard features in apartments, the public baths’ popularity took another dive.

By the late 1950s, only three still operated, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Though all the baths have long been shuttered, what’s amazing is how many of them still exist—and how lovely they are, despite their varied architectural styles.

They were constructed during the “City Beautiful” movement, when public buildings were supposed to inspire. And the surviving bath houses, all long-ago converted for some other use, still do that, especially with touches like ornamental fish and tridents on the facade.

[First photo: MCNY x2010.11.11413; third photo: Wikipedia; fourth photo: New York Times; fifth photo: Michaelminn.net