The appeal of a West Side parking garage sign

August 3, 2015

I couldn’t find any information on when this sign went up outside the parking garage on 43rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Parkinggaragesign

But the colors and the stylistic “garage,” not to mention its wear and tear, give it a vintage old New York feel.

It’s a strangely uplifting sight in an area once bookended by the super low-rent Hotel Carter and divey Smith’s Bar and is now home to sushi restaurants, a Westin Hotel, and the sleek offices of Yahoo.

A relic of a 1920s theater on East 80th Street

August 3, 2015

The remains of some of New York’s loveliest buildings can sometimes be found in the most unlikely places.

Ziegfeldgoddesshead

Take this carved stone head of a goddess. For decades, it’s sat outside the parlor floor window (between the garbage cans and coal hole cover) of the 1883 brownstone at 52 East 80th Street.

Ziegfeld19272The goddess head’s original home? The facade of the Ziegfeld Theater, an Art Deco gem that stood on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street for 39 years.

The theater, financed by William Randolph Hearst, opened to great fanfare; Florenz Ziegfeld’s renowned Follies were staged there.

But within six short years, it became a second-run movie house. By 1966, it met the wrecking ball.

Yet the goddess head survived the demolition—and it ended up on East 80th Street (below, with the copper bay window) because the owner of the home, a theater producer named Jerry Hammer, asked the right person for it.

Ziegfeldhousegoogle“Mr. Hammer said that in the 1960s he was riding in a limousine with the developer Zachary Fisher, who motioned to the old Ziegfeld Theater, at 54th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, and said he was going to demolish it for a new office building,” stated the New York Times in 2004.

Hammer asked Fisher jokingly if he could have it. About four months later,  ”’I hear noises outside, and it’s a truck with a crane, and a head, and they ask me where I want it,'” wrote the Times.

Hammer moved out, but the goddess head remains, a glorious relic of Roaring ’20s New York City.

[Second photo: Cinema Treasures; third photo: Google]

“Eclectic elegance” of a Madison Avenue building

August 3, 2015

When the Parkview opened at 777 Madison Avenue in 1908, the Upper East Side was still known for opulent single family mansions, not French flats.

Parkview2015

But apartment living was catching on among the rich, particularly on the Upper West Side with the Dakota and similar buildings.

The architecturally diverse Parkview, which mixes Flemish, French, and English Gothic styles to create what one contemporary critic calls “eclectic elegance,” therefore had no trouble finding renters.

Parkviewad1908

And why not? Behind the elaborate facade of arches, multi-paned windows, and a rounded corner that slightly resembles a Medieval tower were luxurious and spacious apartments, just two per floor.

“The public areas of each included a room-sized windowed foyer, a music room, a dining room (plus a small conservatory), a living room, and a large salon, all totaling about 1600 square feet,” states Andrew Alpern’s Luxurious Apartment Houses of Manhattan.

ParkviewlayoutDon’t forget the 3-4 bedrooms, rooms for household help, and the bedroom for the lady of the house’s maid.

Wealthy and prominent New Yorkers flocked to the building, which shows up frequently in what was once known as the “society” pages of the newspaper, filled with announcements of weddings, new babies, and other milestones people with money wanted everyone to know about.

Dwarfing the rows of brownstones that surrounded it, the Parkview underwent slight alterations as the neighborhood became more commercial.

Parkviewcloseup

A protective railing around the ground floor was removed to make way for business tenants. The Parkview name was ditched too; the residence was then known as 777 Madison, and later, 45 East 66th Street.

Parkview1920sAfter World War II, many of the grand apartments were carved into smaller units, and in 1977, the building achieved landmark status.

Now a collection of pricey co-ops, this lovely building with incredible detail and ornamentation is a monument to a turn-of-the-century apartment living.

It’s arguably the most eye-catching residence on Upper Madison Avenue, and it even has a celebrity tenant: Rudy Giuliani.

[Images: second, NYPL Digital Gallery; third, NYPL Digital Gallery; fifth, MCNY Collections Portal]

Sipping cool water from a city fountain in 1900

July 27, 2015

Drinking fountains began showing up in New York City parks in the 1880s, often paid for by wealthy private citizens and supported by temperance groups, reports this Huffington Post article.

Madisonsquareparkwaterfountain

Providing cool refreshing water to passersby and park-goers was a wonderful idea. But yikes, look at the communal cups everyone had to drink out of!

This photo dates to about 1900, right about when people were realizing that sharing cups was a good way to spread germs. Pretty soon, the cups were replaced by bubbling, cup-free fountains.

The mysterious Star of David on Upper Broadway

July 27, 2015

HispaniahallUpper Broadway above 150th Street is home to many lovely apartment residences, mostly built in the early 1900s.

That’s when the neighborhood where James Audubon’s farm, Minniesland, stood in the 19th century was transformed by real estate speculators into up-and-coming Washington Heights.

One hidden gem with a curved facade is the six-story apartment building at West 156th and Broadway.

Named Hispania Hall (perhaps a nod to the Hispanic Society of America museum, which opened a block away in 1908), it was billed as “artistic, comfortable, and substantially built” when it was completed in 1909.

Hispaniahallstarofdavid

It also contains an unusual symbol: a cast-iron fence that’s topped with a Star of David. Why a Star of David? It was likely added in or after the 1930s.

Hispaniahall2015“In the 1930s, many German and Jewish refugees found a new home in the neighborhood,” states the website for the Audubon Park Historic District.

“Within a few block of this corner were ten Jewish institutions, including the Prospect Unity Club, Lublo’s Palm Garden, and several synagogues.”

Today it’s an easy-to-miss reminder of the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup decades ago.

[Top image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The luxury power center of the Gilded Age city

July 27, 2015

When the white marble Fifth Avenue Hotel was set to open in 1859, it was mocked as “Eno’s Folly,” after the developer who built it.

Fifthavenuehotelpostcard

With the city’s hotel district farther south on Broadway, why would anyone pay to stay on the outskirts of the city’s center, as Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was at the time?

But after its grand opening, the Fifth Avenue Hotel became the city’s premier luxury residence and made Madison Square the focal point of post–Civil War New York.

Fifthavenuehotelreadingroom

Among the amenities: rooms with private baths and fireplaces and the first “vertical railway”—aka, elevator—ever installed in a hotel.

Presidents and kings stayed there, attended to by a staff of 400. The city’s richest men, like Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, congregated in the drawing rooms. Local politicians held court.

In 1908 it was demolished; its demise serves as a bookend of the Gilded Age. Today the building occupying this spot houses the Italian dining emporium Eataly.

[Bottom image: the hotel’s reading room, a decidedly all-male place. NYPL]

What Brooklyn looked like in summer 1820

July 20, 2015

Landscape artist Francis Guy painted “Summer View of Brooklyn” in 1820 from the vantage point of 11 Front Street in today’s DUMBO.

That means this collection of tidy barns and houses would be located under the Brooklyn Bridge. That even looks like a nascent Manhattan skyline, with steeples, in the distance.

Francisguysummerscene

Things have changed a lot in 195 years. A summer view of today’s Brooklyn from Front Street would look more like this, with crowds sweltering on line at Grimaldi’s pizza.

Frontstreetbrooklyn

Guy painted the same scene from Front Street in winter 1820 as well. The winter scene is more detailed, with various residents working and going about their day.

Who were the hardy Brooklynites he depicted? This key from the Brooklyn Museum decodes their names and which house belonged to who.

The short life of Strangers’ Hospital on Avenue D

July 20, 2015

Strangershospital2015Built in 1827, the brick building at 143-145 Avenue D, at Tenth Street, is the oldest structure in Alphabet City.

The many-times-remodeled building served first as the Dry Dock Banking House, then as a laundry, cigarette factory, clothing store, even a squat.

But for three years, from 1871 to 1874, it was the Strangers’ Hospital, an institution built by John Keyser, a manufacturer turned philanthropist who had already funded a lodging house called the Strangers’ Rest on Pearl Street.

In a benevolent-minded, Gilded Age city, he established a home “for the relief of suffering” for the “deserving sick poor.”

Strangershospitalbook

It was not intended, “for the benefit of the wealthy, who in times of sickness can command the comforts of a well-ordered home and the attendance of a skillful physician of surgeon,” said the president of the Strangers’ Hospital on opening day in February 1871.

“Nor yet for the beggar who leads a life of dissolute idleness . . . . It is intended for the succor and restoration of the deserving sick poor, and in an especial manner for that sadly numerous class of people in this great city who have seen better days.”

BereniceabbottavenueDFour stories high, the Strangers’ Hospital had space for 180 beds, plus a reading room, chapel, and mineral baths.

Keyser, however, ran into some trouble in 1873. That’s the year the city finally indicted politico Boss Tweed and his ring for a host of crimes.

Keyser was exposed as as member of the Tweed Ring; the implication was that his “philanthropy” was in fact funds from city coffers.

The Strangers’ Hospital shut its doors, and Keyser declared bankruptcy.

Off the Grid put together a wonderful 4-part series on 143-145 Avenue D’s long, fascinating history.

[Middle image: from New York and Its Institutions: 1609-1872; bottom photo: 145 Avenue D in 1937, by Berenice Abbott]

The piece of Plymouth Rock in a Brooklyn church

July 20, 2015

PlymouthchurchBrooklyn’s Plymouth Church, on Hicks Street, is a 168-year-old Congregational church with a long and impressive history.

Founded by transplanted New Englanders, it reportedly was a stop on the Underground Railroad and was visited by President Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth.

Pastor Henry Ward Beecher’s fiery abolitionist sermons and mock slave auctions made him famous.

(Beecher later gained infamy for having affairs with congregation members as well as for his 1875 adultery trial, but that’s another post).

Plymouthrockbrooklynnycgo.com

But the church has something else to boast about: it houses a football-sized chunk of the original Plymouth Rock, on display in a part of the church called the Arcade.

The backstory? Apparently the piece of rock came from a parishioner at neighboring Church of the Pilgrims.

Plymouth_Church,_Brooklyn,_New_YorkWhen Plymouth Church merged with Church of the Pilgrims in 1934 (and changed its name until 2011 to Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims), it acquired this artifact of colonial history.

Of course, no one knows for sure if Plymouth rock really was the landing place of the Mayflower in 1620. Real or fake, a fragment of this symbol of religious freedom has found a home in Brooklyn Heights.

[Second image: nycgo.com/Myrna Suarez; third image: Plymouth Church in 1866]

A rat attack near City Hall in 1970s New York

July 13, 2015

AnnstreetsignThe number one nightmare scenario of every New Yorker: coming into close physical contact with rattus norvegicus, or the typical city street and sewer rat.

Now imagine being attacked by a horde of these greasy creatures. That’s what actually happened to one woman while heading to her car parked on a street near city hall, where an empty lot that once held a tavern was now home to hundreds of rats.

It happened in the summer of 1979, during a tugboat strike that left trash and garbage rotting on city streets.

Annstreettheateralley

At about 9 p.m., a woman described by witnesses as being in her 30s was walking on Ann Street near Theatre Alley (above), south of City Hall.

“Judging from the various accounts, she seems to have been approached by the rats as she was walking toward her car,” wrote Robert Sullivan in Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.

NYCgarbagestrike1981“She also seems to have noticed the rats coming near her, their paws skittering on the street. Witnesses said the rats swarmed around the woman. One climbed her leg and appeared to bite her.”

The woman understandably began screaming; a man tried to help her by waving his jacket in front of the rats, but unafraid, they simply climbed up the coat.

The hysterical woman finally made it to her car and closed the door, with the rats climbing all over it.

Theatrelley1999nyplWhen police arrived, “the rats were still there, scurrying through the streets and into Theatre Alley and into nests on a lot on Ann Street around the corner,” wrote Sullivan.

The unnamed victim of the rat attack was reported to city papers the next day. New Yorkers accustomed to living among rats shuddered.

Only the police doubted the story because nobody went to a hospital within 50 miles of the city for injuries consistent with a rat attack, wrote Jerry Langton in Rat: How the World’s Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top. Sullivan’s book and newspaper accounts. however, take the story to be true.

[Third photo: garbage strike in a pre-gentrification New York City; NY Times; fourth photo: Theatre Alley in grittier days in 1999; NYPL/Dylan Stone]


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,404 other followers