Posts Tagged ‘Downtown Alleys NYC’

The sordid past of the East Village’s Extra Place

September 14, 2020

The downtown alleys of old New York tended to be unsavory. So it’s not exactly a surprise that the East Village alley called Extra Place experienced its share of the social ills of the 19th century city.

Gangs, domestic violence, fires, and disease all touched this obscure dead end off First Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue, a look through various newspaper archives shows.

How Extra Place got its name is a bit of a mystery. But Forgotten New York has it that the street dates back to 1800, when a landowner named Philip Minthorne divvied up his 110-acre farm equally among his children. A small “extra” piece of land was left over.

Extra Place may have been a respectable, more middle class place to live at first, just like the surrounding neighborhood. New York newspapers of the 1860s and 1870s contain ads from Extra Place addresses looking for chambermaids and other household workers.

 By the 1880s, Extra Place was making headlines. The story of two Extra Place residents who stabbed and billy clubbed each other at 2 a.m. one night appeared in the major papers the next day. One was a truckman and the other a watchman residing at a lodging house at 6 Extra Place; they were arrested and brought to Essex Market Police Court.

Reports of fights and drunkenness on Extra Place became more common. Fires too. One 1887 blaze that broke out in a bar fixtures factory running from the Bowery to Extra Place displaced many residents and killed two horses in a stable, reported the New York Times.

In 1888, domestic violence was reported at 4 Extra Place. In one case, two brothers stabbed each other, and one assaulted the other’s wife with a hammer. (They too were brought to Essex Market, per the Evening World.

Then there was cholera. In 1892, a woman came down with the deadly disease, and some residents were quarantined to prevent a wider outbreak. (Not an uncommon sequence of events in New York at the time.)

Reporters wrote stories about the “queer” alley and its tenements. “Peddlers rarely venture into the street,” one stated. “Crooked lampposts and ugly fire escapes are in sight, but the east side eye has been educated up to that sort of thing and the straight and dignified lamppost is regarded with as much suspicion as the bare walls of a tenement.”

Extra Place receded from headlines in the 20th century. (See the alley in the 1930s, photo at left and below.) But a renaissance for this alley located in a down and out part of Manhattan was not yet in the cards.

“Extra Place is a narrow little dead-end street, dark even by day and marked off by rusty iron warehouse doors and shuttered windows, with week-old newspapers blowing along the gutters,” wrote Brendan Gill in The New Yorker in 1952 (via the AIA Guide).

In the 1970s, Extra Place made an appearance on the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia LP cover. In gritty, broke New York City, Extra Place was still under the radar. I’m not sure it even had a street sign.

Fast forward to the 2000s, when the developers behind a new luxury apartment building wanted to turn Extra Place into a pedestrian walkway lined with boutiques and restaurants.

Judging by how quiet it was on Extra Place a few weeks ago, I don’t think the plan worked. You can luxurify this alley with trendy brands and pave over the Belgian blocks with concrete, but Extra Place’s 19th century feel doesn’t disappear so easily.

[Map: NYPL; seventh photo: NYPL]

A downtown alley’s Belgian block paving stones

May 6, 2019

Franklin Place is another one of those delightfully hidden alleys you stumble upon in Lower Manhattan—a one-block thread connecting Franklin and White Streets between Church Street and Broadway.

 Somehow, a new luxury condo managed to get an address on Franklin Place.

But no other business or residence opens onto this former 19th century lane, known as Scott’s Alley until the early 1850s, according to the Tribeca Citizen.

Long lined with loft buildings used for manufacturing, Franklin Place is actually a private street, owned by the property owners whose buildings run along either side of the alley, the Citizen reported in 2017.

Franklin Place is an evocative place to stand and imagine what today’s Tribeca was like almost 200 years ago. (Above, looking toward Franklin Street today; at right, the same view shot between 1970-1990.)

One aspect of the street that makes it even more redolent of the post-colonial, antebellum city?

The Belgian block paving stones, which nearby alleys like Cortlandt Alley and Benson Street don’t have.

The blocks are appropriately worn down and broken in some places, a testament to the industry Franklin Place (below, looking toward Franklin Street) has seen.

That’s not to mention the horse hoofs, wagon wheels, and foot traffic pounding the blocks day after day after day.

New York City still has roughly 15 miles of granite block streets, according to a 2017 Historic Districts Council report.

It’s unclear why these paving stones are called Belgian block, but the city began laying them down as early as the mid-1850s.

“The surviving stone we refer to as Belgian block began to be used in the 1870s,” notes the HDC report.

“Belgian blocks were hard, durable, and offered a much smoother and more regular surface than cobblestones—’a very solid and impervious roadbed,’ according to an 1895 report in The City Record,” the report explains.

“Such qualities made them particularly suited for use along waterfronts and other areas with heavy commercial traffic.”

“By 1900, the stones used for such purposes were shaped to a relatively uniform width of between 4 and 5 inches, apparently proportioned to the size of a horseshoe.”

Still, Belgian blocks had their problems. In the rain, they became slick and slippery. And they were especially noisy, according to the HDC.

Asphalt came into use in the 1890s, and slowly, Belgian blocks disappeared from the cityscape. You can still find them downtown, though, and Franklin Place contains a treasure trove of them.

[Third photo: MCNY, 2013.3.1.285; Fifth image: NYPL, 1925]