Delivering blocks of ice to an overheated city

June 15, 2015

Thanks to many decades of home refrigeration, few New Yorkers remember what it was like getting a block of ice delivered by the iceman, and having to rely on that delivery to help keep cool on summer days.

[The iceman cuts a chunk of ice on the sidewalk, Photo: Museum of the City of New York]

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“These hot humdrum summer days bring to mind nostalgic memories of the old horse-drawn ice wagon coming down the street,” detailed one New York Times writer in 1960.

“This was the time, of course, before modern life was filled with newfangled machinery . . . memories of such things as ice boxes and drip pans come to mind when we think of the neighborhood iceman turning the corner into our block.”

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[Delivering his goods in a wagon with an engine, not pulled by horses. Photo: New York Public Library]

Like the milkman or coal delivery man, the iceman was a local fixture, delivering chunks of ice to apartments on his route that had an “ice today” card visible in the window.

“With a slicker-like black cape adorning his back, and a pair of heavy gloves to protect his hands from the load, the iceman would lift the block of ice with a pair of tongs, place it on his back over his shoulder, and perhaps walk up two, three, or even four tenement flights,” continued the Times.

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[The iceman typically delivered to apartments, but this block of ice was left on Mulberry Bend in 1897. MCNY]

“With a heavy sigh, he would drop the block—usually weighing from 20 to 40 pounds—into the bottom of the icebox.”

Icemanicetenement“It was at that moment that the woman of the house usually said to him: ‘I think I’ll need another chunk, about 10 pounds!’ And off he went to go through the entire process once more.”

Cooling off by stealing shards of ice was apparently a popular activity for kids, who would chase the ice wagon down the street and hop into the back without the iceman knowing.

“Once you reached it, the next problem was to climb up, pick up whatever chips of ice your probing fingers could find—and get off fast,” wrote the Times.

“The entire process had to be done quickly, and quietly, to avoid having the driver stop his horse, get off his wagon, and come around to catch the apprentice thief in the art of trying to cool off on a hot summer day.”

The ice delivery companies, though, weren’t necessarily on the side of their customers, as the actions of these greedy ice barons makes clear.

[A block of ice glistens in front of a row of West Side tenements. NYPL]

The man who dove off the Flatiron Building

June 15, 2015

Henri LaMothe was a showman by trade. Born in Chicago, he first made a living dancing the Charleston.

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“Then came the Depression, when jobs weren’t so easy to find,” LaMothe said in 1977, “and I started diving into the water for a living.”

LaMothe came up with a signature diving stunt he ended up doing thousands of times around the country: from a height of 40 feet, he’d do his “flying squirrel” dive into a pool filled with four feet of water.

HenrilemothedivemcnyIn 1952, he decided to celebrate his birthday by climbing 40 feet up the Flatiron Building and diving into a 4-foot pool on the sidewalk.

He repeated the birthday stunt for 20 years, decreasing the water in the pool every year. By 1974, at age 70, he was down to about a foot of water, states The New York Times.

How did he not crack open his skull?

“When I’m on the platform I go through yoga, stretching and limbering exercises,” he told a newspaper. “Then I wipe out all thoughts and concentrate on the circle and sense my aim, which is what zen is.”

LaMothe discontinued his yearly Flatiron birthday dive after 1974 but continued diving around the country until his death in 1987.

If a man like LaMothe tried that stunt in today’s New York, his arrest would be all over social media before he had time to dry himself off on 23rd Street!

[Top: New York Daily News; Bottom: Museum of the City of New York]

Getting out of the water at Rockaway Beach

June 8, 2015

Coney Island may be New York’s favorite seaside playground, but at the turn of the century (and for many decades afterward), Rockaway Beach rivaled Coney as the city’s premier beach destination.

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This 1907 postcard, from the Museum of the City of New York’s digital collection, shows us unspoiled sand, tents and hotels for guests, and a young girl in bathing attire that looks extremely uncomfortable by today’s standards.

Rockaway has been rediscovered again, supposedly by hipsters and surfers—but it’s doubtful that anyone will venture into the water in black tights.

Art Nouveau beauty on a gritty Midtown corner

June 8, 2015

Beloved in European cities such as Paris and Prague at the turn of the century, the naturalistic Art Nouveau style of architecture—with its curvy lines and showy ornaments—never caught on with New Yorkers.

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But one lovely example from 1903 survives at the gritty Garment District corner of Eighth Avenue and 38th Street.

West38thstreet1926mcnyThis three-story holdout building, originally an actor’s hotel, is currently dwarfed by the 20-story loft towers that went up around in 1926 (at left).

It’s also partially hidden by garish store signs advertising $1 pizza and sex DVDs.

But its stunning beauty still comes through, and it can take your breath away.

 The copper roof and cornice, blond brick, bay windows, and lovely female faces decorated with shells and garlands staring down pedestrians on Eighth Avenue—taking it all in transports you to another era.

300 West 38th Street was designed by Emery Roth just before his career took off. Roth is the creative genius behind the Eldorado, the San Remo, and the Hotel Belclaire.

Unlike those luxury residences, however, 300 West 38th Street was intended for more modest use.

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“The building application, signed by Roth, describes it as a ‘dwelling and office’ but later accounts call it a hotel,” states a New York Times piece from 2002.

300West38thstreetdecoration“The 1910 census lists 14 lodgers living on the second and third floors, among them the widower London McCormack, 49, an actor; Philip Blass, 44, a shoe salesman; and John and Phyllis Ellis, 48 and 30, actors.”

More than 100 years later, 300 West 38th Street remains a diamond in the rough.

It’s a perfect example of a holdout building that’s somehow survived the passage of time, a little European flair amid the Garment District’s cavernous loft buildings and office towers.

Congratulations to these old New York graduates

June 8, 2015

It’s commencement season, the perfect time to look back at images of long-ago graduates posing in class photos. What in the world became of them?

Gradutionps641915

The suited up boys in this 1915 photo, new graduates of P.S. 64 at 605 East Ninth Street, look like they’re going places in life.

P.S. 64 opened in 1906, not long after the consolidation of the city, a time of huge investment in new school facilities. “Organized around two courtyards, it was the first elementary school to have an auditorium with direct access to the street, allowing this structure to serve an expanded role in the community,” states the Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Graduationbrooklynfriends1943

Brooklyn Friends is a private school in downtown Brooklyn founded in 1867. This is the class of 1943, decked out in graduation suits and gowns.

Graduationbroadsthospital1885

Elementary and high schools aren’t the only institutions that hold a commencement ceremony. Meet the 1885 nursing school graduates from Broad Street Hospital, formerly at the end of Broad Street.

News photographer George Bain captured this image of the graduates of the “Cripple School” on the Lower East Side’s Henry Street in 1912.

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Officially known as the Crippled Children’s East Side Free School, the school intended to “provide the crippled children of the Lower East Side with facilities for securing an education and learning a trade, so that they may become self-supporting,” according to a 1920 guide.

“Workrooms maintained where older cripples fill orders for all kinds of needlework and hand stitching and paper boxes.”

The stillness and solitude of a New York rooftop

June 1, 2015

Few artists convey the disquieting solitude of city life like Edward Hopper, as he does here in “Untitled (Rooftops)” from 1926.

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Hopper, who worked out of his studio on Washington Square until his death in 1967, was fascinated by urban scenes: “our native architecture with its hideous beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump heaps.”

The Theater District’s 1982 Broadway Massacre

June 1, 2015

In the 1910s and 1920s, New York’s Theater District in the newly christened Times Square area was at peak popularity.

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“Close to eighty theaters were in operation, with as many as seven shows debuting on the same night,” wrote Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

BroadwaymasscrebijoumoroscoBut as movies and TV replaced live theater as an entertainment option, many of Broadway’s venerable theater houses were slated for the wrecking ball.

No year had as many demolitions as 1982, when five theaters were to be reduced to a pile of bricks, then replaced by a new luxury hotel.

The plan for the hotel, with a new theater housed inside it, was first announced in 1973.

It gained support from city officials, who felt that Times Square’s seediness was driving away theatergoers. A theater safely ensconced away from the street, however, could draw back crowds.

Broadwaymassacrekeepbwayalive

But that meant the Helen Hayes (built in 1911), the Bijou (1917), the Morosco (1917), the Astor (1906, above photo), and the Gaiety (1909), all on or between 45th and 46th Streets, had to be torn down.

Rallies were staged. One outside the Morosco on 45th Street and Broadway on March 4, 1982 was organized by Joseph Papp. Jason Robards, Christopher Reeve, Lauren Bacall, and James Earl Jones read from Pulitzer-winning plays, all making pleas for the Morosco and Helen Hayes to be saved.

BroadwaymassacreprotestThe “Save the Theaters” campaign ultimately failed. By late spring, what was deemed the “Broadway Massacre” or the “Great Theater Massacre of 1982″ had transpired.

In 1985, Times Square got its gleaming 45-story hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with a revolving restaurant at the top.

You could say the project was the first of many that redid the face of Times Square and gave the Theater District a different character.

[Third photo: Metropolismag.com; fourth photo: Skyscraper Museum]

A historic “sip-in” at a West Village bar in 1966

June 1, 2015

The Stonewall Riot on June 28, 1969 is often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement: As police arrested employees and patrons of Christopher Street’s Stonewall Inn for serving liquor without a license, crowds threw rocks at the cops, and the event set off days of protest.

Juliussipin

But three years earlier there was another, little-known protest one block over on Tenth Street, a precursor to Stonewall that challenged a state law about serving alcohol to gays.

It happened at Julius, the circa-1826 tavern at 156 West 10th Street. The place has operated as a bar since 1867, and it’s been called the longest-running gay bar in New York, though it’s unclear when it went from being a favorite of Longshoremen to a place favored by gay men.

Julius

This description of Julius from a 1966 guidebook has it that it’s been attracting “improper bohemians” since the 1930s, though the bar website says the 1950s. The “Dirty Julius” nickname came during its days as a speakeasy.

Juliusbar2008wikiIn any event, the protest came about because the Mattchine Society, an early national gay rights organization, decided to challenge a New York state law that prohibited bars from serving disorderly patrons.

At the time, simply being gay was considered grounds for being disorderly. So on April 21, 1966, a small group of men took action.

“With reporters in tow, four activists declared they were gay and asked to be served at Julius’,” states Off the Grid, the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation’s blog.

JuliusNYTheadline“While Julius’ was a historically gay bar, they had recently been raided, which meant they were under observation.”

“Their denial of service helped launch a court case, which declared that the New York State Liquor Authority could not stop service to gay patrons.”

Julius is still in the West Village, of course; an old-school time machine of a tavern with beer barrel tables stamped “Jacob Ruppert” (ostensibly from Ruppert’s turn of the century Yorkville brewery) and an unpretentious 1950s feel.

[Top image: Julius'; third: Wikipedia; fourth: New York Times headline April 1966]

A 1951 stamp explains the Battle of Brooklyn

May 25, 2015

This image of George Washington evacuating his troops illustrates the dramatic escape made by Patriot forces to Manhattan after the bruising Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776.

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The stamp was issued in Brooklyn in 1951, commemorating the battle’s 175th anniversary. This is Brooklyn Heights 239 years ago; the Fulton Ferry house is at right. Here’s the historical recap:

“On August 27, the Red Coats marched against the Patriot position at Brooklyn Heights, overcoming the Americans at Gowanus Pass and then outflanking the entire Continental Army,” states history.com.

“Howe failed to follow the advice of his subordinates and storm the redoubts at Brooklyn Heights, and on August 29 General Washington ordered a brilliant retreat to Manhattan by boat, thus saving the Continental Army from capture. At the Battle of Brooklyn, the Americans suffered 1,000 casualties to the British loss of only 400 men. On September 15, the British captured New York City.”

The day McSorley’s bar finally admitted women

May 25, 2015

Mcsorleys1940s“Is woman’s place at the bars?” asked a 1937 New York Times article.

This was several years after prohibition, and for the most part, drinking establishments in New York City, once for men only (respectable 19th century women wouldn’t want to enter a bar), had become coed. Some even welcomed women, or at least their business.

But one of the few taverns opposed was McSorley’s Old Ale House (above, in the 1940s), the East Seventh Street bar open since 1854 and believed to be the city’s oldest pub.

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“There are not many taverns so stoutly arrayed against the female invasion,” the Times wrote. “McSorley’s continues in the tradition that woman’s place is in the home, or, if she must take a nip occasionally, that her place is elsewhere, anywhere, but not at McSorley’s.”

This was the McSorley’s whose motto was “good ale, raw onions, and no ladies,” a place for mostly working-class men but also artists and writers.

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In 1925, e.e. cummings wrote his famous poem with the opening line, “i was sitting in mcsorleys.”

And John Sloan’s paintings (above) depicted a warm, old-time tavern with  mahogany bar, resident cats, and men drinking pitchers of ale in cheer.

McsorleyswithwomentoastingEven in the mid-1960s, the men-only rule stood. “Once in a while, a woman will enter and get as far as the pot-bellied stove,” Harry Kirwan, the present owner, says, “but they generally leave as quickly as they came,'” stated a Times piece from 1966.

But times change. Fast forward to 1969 (photo of two women outside McSorley’s, above). A lawyer from the National Organization of Women filed a federal sex discrimination case against McSorley’s. The judge ruled that this was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The final nail in the coffin came in 1970, when Mayor John Lindsay signed a bill prohibiting sex discrimination in public places, including bars.

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On August 10, 1970, they opened their doors to their first female customer (above photo, from the Times). The day before, many of the old timers at the bar bid good-bye to the all-male preserve.

“Dennis Cahill, who is 83 and has been a customer for the last 62 years ‘off and on,’ said: ‘Well, I don’t care. I don’t think they’ll come in much. A decent woman wouldn’t come into a place like this,'” wrote the Times.


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