Posts Tagged ‘Berenice Abbott’

Time traveling to Henry and Pike Streets

August 25, 2009

Berenice Abbott took this 1936 photo. What wonderful details: the old street lamp far off on the right, the corner drugstore sign on the left, rubbish (or mud?) beside the curb, and a horse being lead down Madison Street a block away.

And of course, there’s the Manhattan Bridge, looming like an apparition. 


With the exception of the bridge, this corner looks very different today.

The rickety tenements casting all those noirish shadows have been knocked down, partially replaced by the institution-like Rutgers Houses. Pike Street is much wider and has a few trees. 


“I was sitting in McSorley’s . . . “

March 16, 2009

“outside it was New York and beautifully snowing. Inside snug and evil . . .”

So begins e.e. cummings’ 1923 poem about drinking a beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street, contemplating the seedy life inside the bar and the world outside it.

The poem has some great lines, such as the “slobbering walls,” “luscious jigs dint of ripe silver,” and “both paws slowly loved a dinted mug.” This 1937 Berenice Abbott photo of McSorley’s gives a good idea of what cummings was trying to describe.


The story of McSorley’s is pretty well-known: serving drinks since 1854 (or 1862, according to some); closed to women until 1970; still selling liverwurst and onion sandwiches long after most pubs decided to stick to cheese fries and wings.

It’s now known more as a bridge-and-tunnel attracting, frat-boy hangout. But when East Seventh Street was low-rent, so was the clientele.

Huddling by the stove at the 72nd Street El

February 19, 2009

Berenice Abbott took this February 6, 1936 photograph of subway riders warming up in the El station at 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. El tracks lined Columbus from 1879 to 1940.


The paneled windows, wooden turnstiles, and decorative border along the interior wall are some rather old-fashioned touches for a public train station. And when was the last time you saw a pot-bellied stove in the subway? Gives the photo quite a homey feel.

The Brooklyn pots-and-pans peddler

January 23, 2009

Berenice Abbott photographed this vendor and his giant wooden wagon of kitchenware on May 22, 1936, probably in the downtown/DUMBO area. 


Berenice Abbott: Changing New York commented:

“Once the lifeblood of New York’s poorer neighborhoods, vendors like this traveling pots-and-pans salesman were a disappearing breed when Abbott took this photograph in 1936. . . . The location of Abbott’s photograph is not specified, but the neighborhood resembles Talman and Jay Streets, which she photographed the same day.”

So what happened to Talman Street? Once a small road that followed the remnant of a cow path, it got wiped out when the BQE was built in 1950.

Taking a walk down the Village’s Charles Lane

October 22, 2008

Charles Lane, a narrow alley from Washington to West Street in the West Village, is all that remains of the northern boundary of Newgate State Prison, which stood at the foot of the Hudson here from 1797 until the 1820s. Also known as Pig Alley, Charles Lane was later paved with unique stones not seen elsewhere in the city, according to the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

Here’s Charles Lane in the 1930s, photographed by Berenice Abbott. Is that the old Ninth Avenue El that ran along Greenwich Street, or is it a remnant of the High Line?

Charles Lane today is surrounded by pricey West Village real estate, but it doesn’t look all that different, and the paving stones remain the same. Amazing it wasn’t bulldozed and turned into the Charles Lane Condos: