New York’s last remaining soda fountain signs

May 2, 2016

Soda sales are down—and so are the number of soft drink–branded signs fronting the diners and newsstands on New York’s streets.

Labonbonniere

I don’t think anyone is officially keeping track of how many privilege signs—as these signs are technically called—disappear every year from the city’s dwindling number of independent diners, luncheonettes, and newsstands.

Though their numbers weren’t great 10 years ago, more signs are biting the dust (like two out of the three photographed in this post from 2008).

Eddiessweetshop

Luckily two stalwarts seem to be safe: the signs atop the West Village’s delightfully named greasy spoon diner La Bonbonniere and Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a 107-year-old ice cream parlor in Forest Hills.

Let’s hope the rest of the remaining signs scattered around the five boroughs hang on.

[Second photo: Google]

Beautiful ruins of a Brooklyn ketchup factory

April 25, 2016

It’s a haunting relic of New York’s manufacturing glory days, and it sits less than half a block past the corner of Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street in Crown Heights.

Heinzfactory

The H.J. Heinz Company moved into this handsome red brick plant around 1920.

HeinzfactorynyplThey purchased it from the Nassau Brewing Company, which had a long beer-making run under various names in a complex of buildings beginning in the 1860s until 1914.

This 1941 photo from the New York Public Library offers a glimpse of the factory, looking from Franklin Avenue, on the far left.

“57 Varieties” and “Food Products” can still be read on the facade, a reminder that the laborers in this building produced a lot more than ketchup.

I’m not sure when Monti Moving and Storage came in to the picture, but they decamped in 2001, leaving their own fading imprint behind.

Today, the factory appears to be occupied by different kinds of makers: furniture designers, artists, and other light manufacturing and design groups, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

Heinzfactorycropped

And cheese makers too, who use the deep underground vaults leftover from the building’s brewery days as cheese caves, reports a fascinating article in Edible Brooklyn.

Tracing a Village writer through her apartments

April 25, 2016

Dawnpowell1914Dawn Powell might be the most popular unknown writer to come out of Greenwich Village.

Born in Ohio, she moved to New York after college in 1918, hungry to make it in the literary world.

Dawnpowell106perrystcityrealtyHer output included more than a dozen novels as well as short stories and plays, plus countless magazine articles and book reviews.

Yet Powell (above, in 1914) never gained the kind of fame that friends like Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley enjoyed.

Like her artistic crowd, though, she indulged in boozy evenings at haunts like Cafe Lafayette, did stints at writer’s colonies, and lived in a series of Village apartments that reflect the ups and downs of a struggling writer’s life.

She and her husband, Joe, an alcoholic ad exec, and their young son (who had an unnamed disorder, perhaps autism) lived at 106 Perry Street, above left, in 1930.

teakwoodhouseacrossstreetA year later they relocated to 9 East 10th Street (right), with its intricately carved teakwood facade.

“[I] love it passionately,” Powell wrote in her diary, published in 1995. “So quiet—calm, spacious, one’s soul breathes deep breaths in it and feels at rest.”

 Making the rent wasn’t easy, Powell noted. In 1942, the family moved to a duplex at 35 East 9th Street (below).

“[It is] considerably cheaper but much more deluxe looking in a sort of modern-improvement Central Park West way,” she wrote, later calling it “a dreary dump” except for her live-in maid’s room on the roof.

Dawnpowell35east9thstreet

She lived here for 16 years before she and Joe were thrown out, with their belongings strewn on the sidewalk, for not paying rent—Joe had retired and had no income, she wrote.

In 1958, the couple moved from hotel to hotel, first at the Irving on Gramercy Park South and then to the Madison Square Hotel.

Of that hotel, she wrote, “The halls reek of old people—the elevator and lobby smell of brown envelopes (unemployment and social security checks)….”

In 1959 they put $250 down for a four-room place at 23 Bank Street. which she called “beyond belief perfect.”

Dawnpowell43fifthaveHer time there, however, didn’t last. By 1960, she and Joe moved to 43 Fifth Avenue (right).

She then took up in an office at 80 East 11th Street and back to an apartment again at 95 Christopher Street.

Christopher Street (below) appears to have been her last home.

Joe died of cancer in 1962. In the next few years, Powell’s diary lists her own many hospital visits.

On November 14, 1965, Powell died penniless at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Her final resting place isn’t in or near her beloved Greenwich Village but is on Hart Island—where she was interred in the city’s potter’s field.

Dawnpowell1952[Second photo: City Realty; fifth photo: Powell in the 1950s]

What an 1895 photo of a Midtown shop tells us

April 25, 2016

This is Charles Westphalen and his wife, Anna, with their two young boys outside their German specialty food store on Seventh Avenue and 31st Street.

Charles Westphalen and Co

It’s 1895. Charles, in his 30s, is the son of German immigrants who arrived in New York in the 1830s—part of the first great wave of German immigration that reshaped the city.

The specialty food shop the couple ran was their livelihood for many years. Tea and coffee must have been big items; they’re named on the store awning.

Pennstation1911Jars with cloth tops, canned goods, what looks like fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a crate of soap powder can be seen.

It’s something like the corner bodega of today’s New York but aimed at Germans looking for a taste of their homeland.

You won’t find a trace of Charles Westphalen’s store today, however.

He was forced to move, along with other businesses occupying the block, in the early 1900s to make way for Penn Station.

[Thanks to H.W. for sending this photo of his great-grandfather, great-grandmother, and grandfather (the tow-headed toddler) and sharing his family history.]

A Village church’s secret presidential wedding

April 18, 2016

ChurchoftheascentionwikiThe beautiful Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, has a long history in New York. It started in 1829 in a Canal Street building, where the city’s growing Evangelical population gathered.

After the original church was destroyed by fire a decade later, the parish moved to a Gothic Revival cathedral designed by Richard Upjohn in 1841 in what was then the outskirts of town.

In 1844, it earned fame as the site of a small wedding for a very prominent groom: United States President John Tyler.

And amazingly, the entire ceremony was pulled off without the press or public finding out until after the couple said their vows.

ChurchoftheasensionjuliaTyler (of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” fame) had ascended to the White House when his Whig party running mate, William Henry Harrison, died one month after taking office.

After meeting her at a Washington reception, Tyler fell hard for Julia Gardiner, a beautiful 24-year-old from a wealthy New York family.

Following the death of Tyler’s first wife in 1842, the president was determined to win Julia’s hand.

The independent-minded Julia (who shocked society when she posed on the arm of a man who was not related to her in a store ad) eventually accepted.

The wedding was set for June 26, and the goal was to keep the press from finding out—and making a big to-do about the short time between Tyler’s first wife’s death and his second marriage, as well as the couple’s 30-year age difference.

Churchoftheascensionjohntyler“Tyler was so concerned about secrecy that he did not discuss his plans with his other children until after the wedding,” stated one source.

Tyler, 54, did tell his son John Tyler, Jr., who arrived in New York for the wedding with his father. They stayed at Howard’s Hotel on Lower Broadway, where the staff were kept on lockdown so no one would find about about the famous guest.

The secret ceremony was pulled off successfully, with only one newspaper reporting the nuptials. “The bride is a very beautiful and elegantly formed woman of apparently 20 years of age,” wrote The New York Morning Express.

Churchoftheascension1840“She was robed simply in white, with a gauze veil depending from a circlet of white flowers wreathed in her hair.” Less than 10 people attended, and afterward “the party departed for the residence of the bride in Lafayette Place (below)…the wedding cortege consisted of five carriages.”

After a wedding dinner, the couple boarded a steamer. Apparently Tyler was recognized, because people on passing ships “cheered most heartily” and presidential salutes were fired from “various ships of war.”

Julia was only First Lady for a short time. After Tyler’s term ended, he moved back to his Virginia plantation.

Churchoftheascensionlagrangeterrace1886There, the couple had seven kids—in addition to the seven Tyler fathered with his first wife.

On another note, incredibly, two of Tyler’s grandchildren—children born of a son Tyler had with Julia—are still alive today.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; fourth image: Church of the Ascension; fifth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The glam rock star who cleaned up Riverside Park

April 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.02 AMToday’s pop and rock royalty tend to get involved in headline-grabbing national and international causes.

But in August 1975, Alice Cooper lent a hand on a local level.

Cooper spent a summer day picking up trash in Riverside Park with a team of “Cooper Troopers,” with sun visors, arm bands, bags, rakes, and brooms provided by Atlantic Records.

“Alice Cooper himself appeared, in a chauffeur-driven sanitation truck,” an AP story explained.

Coopernewsarticle“After heaving filled garbage bags into the truck, Cooper said, ‘I think it would be a good idea for rock performers all over the world to take a few hours out of their schedule to involve themselves in community service-oriented programs.”

The mid-1970s was the height of Cooper’s fame—and it was also the peak of the anti-litter movement. Soda bottles, fast food wrappers, and cigarette butts were all over city parks and streets.

But did Cooper even live in New York at the time? And why Riverside Park?

Here’s how he explained it in his 2011 book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.22 AM“Sometimes I would do nice things, just to throw off my critics,” wrote Cooper. “In August of ’75 I grew a mustache and found time to assemble and join 300 volunteer Alice Cooper fans who worked for a day to clear away garbage out of Manhattan’s Riverside Park.

“I figured the deed would keep everyone off guard while at the same time emphasize that neither Alice Cooper nor his legions of young fans were necessarily rock monsters. We were capable of being Mr. Nice Guys too.”

[Photos: Waring Abbott/Getty Images]

Mystery ship anchors on a Greene Street building

April 18, 2016

GreenstreetbuildingDeep in NYU territory in Greenwich Village, amid century-old lofts and postwar apartments, sits a handsome brick building at 262 Greene Street.

A closer look reveals something curious: small ship anchor emblems decorate the facade, each with the letters S/SH flanking them.

These are the giveaways hinting at 262 Greene Street’s seafaring past.

The building was once an administrative office for Sailors’ Snug Harbor, an institution founded in 1801 by a sea captain named Robert Richard Randall.

Randall, who became a wealthy landowner, wanted to use his fortune to create a retirement community for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out seamen.”

Greenestreetcloseup“At the time of his death, Randall’s estate, located north and east of modern-day Washington Square, was rural,” states nycgovparks.org.

“By the time a protracted challenge to his will was settled, the land around the estate had changed dramatically, the city being developed around the area.”

“Opting instead to maximize profits on the Manhattan property, Snug Harbor’s trustees relocated the proposed site to Staten Island, buying property around the harbor in 1831.”

The Greene Street building is no longer occupied by Sailors’ Snug Harbor employees; it’s unclear if the institution still owns the property.

Greenestreet2

In any case, ship anchors are a rare sight so far uptown and inland. These serve as hiding-in-plain-sight reminders that the city earned its riches off the backs of the sailors who came in and out of New York Harbor.

Down on his luck at the Brooklyn docks in 1938

April 11, 2016

Reginald Marsh painted the city’s extremes: gaudy, seedy Coney Island, sex at burlesque shows, Bowery revelry, and the might and strength symbolized by ships and industry.

Reginaldmarshdocksbrooklyn1938

But his solemn forgotten man (and a second man, lying down on the left) perched at the edge of a dock in 1938’s “Docks, Brooklyn” reveals a loneliness and despair unlike anything depicted in his other paintings and illustrations.

And it just sold for more than $6,000.

St. Marks Place was once a posh New York street

April 11, 2016

StmarksstreetsignIn the 1820s, New Yorkers of wealth began leaving the crowded commercial section of the city.

Where to? The new residential drives going up above Houston Street, specifically on the growing city’s East Side.

StmarkshamiltonhollyBond Street, Washington Square North, Bleecker Street, Fourth Street, La Grange Terrace (today’s Lafayette Place) all became elite addresses.

And for a brief period of time, so did St. Marks Place.

St. Marks Place’s rise began in 1831, when developer Thomas E. Davis purchased property on the south and north sides of Eighth Street between Second and Third Avenues.

This stretch of Eighth Street was recently part of Peter Stuyvesant’s Bouwerie. It had only been an open street since 1826, inside the loose boundaries of a small enclave known as Bowery Village.

But New York was marching northward, and Davis intended to capitalize on it. His plan was to build “superior class” homes that would be set back from the street on large lots.

Stmarksplaceadeveningpost1832

And to give the block some pizzazz (and copy fashionable street names like Astor Place), he renamed it after nearby St. Marks Church.

Stmarks271890s“Grand, 3-1/2-story Federal style marble-and-brick-clad town houses with balconies were constructed here in 1831,” states this Landmarks Commission Report.

Soon, noteworthy residents followed. In 1833, 4 St. Marks Place was purchased by Col. Alexander Hamilton, son of the founding father.

Among other family members, he moved his widowed mother, Eliza Hamilton, into the house.

Daniel LeRoy, a member of the Fish family, bought number 20 (top right). Writer James Feinmore Cooper occupied number 6.

St. Marks retained its cachet through the 1840s. But as always in Manhattan, the rich fanned north. The street, as well as the neighborhood, slid out of fashion.

Stmarkschildrensaidsociety1890“The neighborhood of St. Marks Place has become of late a much less desirable location that it was formerly….” wrote the New York Times in 1852, referring to frequent cattle drives passing the corner at Third Avenue.

As the wealthy left, and then the cattle drives disappeared, thousands of German immigrants replaced them.

They remade St. Marks Place into a main street in the city’s teeming Little Germany, or Kleindeutschland.

Eastern Europeans, charity workers, gangsters, bohemians, punk rockers, tourists, and college kids all followed.

Stmarksplacetrashvaudeville2Today, just three of Davis’ Federal-style dwellings remain, including what’s now known as the Hamilton-Holly House—where Eliza Hamilton was foreclosed on in the 1840s (right).

The Daniel LeRoy House, in similar not-so-great shape as the Hamilton-Holly abode, is also still standing.

[Newspaper ad: The Evening Post, April 1832; fourth image: 27 St. Marks Place, a Girls’ Temporary Home operated by the Children’s Aid Society, from King’s Handbook of New York; fifth image: 24 St. Marks Place, a group of boys pose for Jacob Riis in 1890 before heading off on an orphan train sponsored by the Children’s Aid Society, MCNY.]

The story behind three faded ads in Manhattan

April 11, 2016

If you look up enough while walking through the city, you see a fair number of these weathered ads, partly erased by rain and grime.

Fadedadeast20scloseup

Deciphering what they say isn’t always easy. Take this ad at 23 East 20th Street. “Furs” is still legible, but the name of the company is tricky.

It looks like M. Handin & Grapkin—which is close, as sure enough a company with the name Drapkin appears to have gone into the furrier business as early as 1909.

The wonderful faded sign site 14to42.net says that M. Handin and Drapkin were located in this building around 1909, and the faded ad could be more than a century old.

Fadedadeast12thst

This building on East 12th Street and University Place is a faded sign spotter’s dream. “Student Clothes” up top is easy enough to read.

Walter Grutchfield’s photo is better than mine, and his caption explains that the company occupied this building from 1924 to 1929.

Fadedadwest84thstreet

To get this view of this faded ad at 324 West 84th Street, you have to stand inside the 15th floor apartment of the building next door.

The address is barely legible—and though 324 is an apartment house today, as early as 1918 it was the Hotel Ramsby.

The left side of the ad must have listed room rates, forever lost to the ages.


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