Posts Tagged ‘downtown New York’

A downtown couple runs an errand—and vanishes

February 27, 2012

The last time anyone saw Camden Sylvia and her boyfriend, Michael Sullivan (left), the couple was returning a video to a rental store near City Hall.

It was the evening of November 7, 1997. After that, they pretty much vanished into thin air.

Sylvia, 36, and Sullivan, 54, both artists, shared a loft in a shabby 1840s fifth-floor walk-up at 76 Pearl Street for years.

Neighbors suspected their disappearance may have had to do with the fact that earlier in the day, Sylvia gave the building’s owner, Richard Rodriguez, a letter stating that unless he turned up the heat, tenants were going on a rent strike.

Rodriguez and the couple were embroiled in an ongoing battle over building conditions and rent, which was stabilized at $300 a month.

Police focused on Rodriguez. They searched the Hudson River, and they brought scent-sniffing dogs to his property upstate. But there was nothing to link him to their disappearance.

Rodriguez served a few years in state prison for tax evasion. But he was paroled in 2002, and though Sylvia and Sullivan are long presumed dead, no trace of them has ever been found.

[Right: 76 Pearl Street today, no longer owned by Rodriguez]

New York City: the capital of the United States

February 20, 2012

It lasted little more than one year.

But between April 1789—when George Washington was sworn in as the first president (at left)—and July 1790, New York was the nation’s capital.

What was the city, with a population of just 28,000, like back then? Rich and crude.

“Men and women of the upper class dressed in the latest fashion from London or Paris and attended balls,” explains a 1989 New York Times article.

“But the streets were unpaved, narrow and crooked, often unlighted at night and frequently impassable because of wandering pigs.”

Despite these problems, many citizens, as well as brand-new secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted New York to be the permanent capital.

The city’s advantages: it was equidistant between New England and the South and had all the hotels, restaurants, and other amenities a proper capital needed.

Problem was, Thomas Jefferson, the new secretary of state, hated New York. He thought the nation’s capital should be located in “a new rural setting on the Potomac, across from his native Virginia,” write Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.

Jefferson and Hamilton were deadlocked on the issue—until Jefferson agreed to acquiesce to Hamilton’s demand for the Federal government to assume states’ Revolutionary war debts.

In turn, Hamilton abandoned the dream of keeping the city the nation’s capital.

[Illustration at left: View of Broad Street by George Holland, 1797. Federal Hall, where Washington was sworn in, is in the center; above, the George Washington statue at the modern-day Federal Hall, commemorating his inauguration]

“New York Riverfront at Night”

December 27, 2011

By day, the turn of the century waterfront must have looked industrial and gritty, the air choked with smoke.

But at night, as this vintage postcard shows, it’s another world. The city is enchanting—lit up by the glow of the moon and electric lights inside and outside buildings.

How Pearl Street supposedly got its name

November 9, 2011

Pearl Street—called Paerlstraet by the Dutch—was one of the earliest roads laid out in the fledgling colony of New Amsterdam. And how it really got its name just might be an enduring mystery.

One story has it that the street was named after its abundance of oysters, “for the pearly shells left there by tides,” according to Edward Robb Ellis’ The Epic of New York City.

In The Big Oyster, however, author Mark Kurlansky says that Indians left piles of oyster shells at the water’s edge, which Pearl Street used to run alongside—before landfill extended the shoreline of Manhattan Island.

The theory that New Yorkers seem to repeat most, however, is that Pearl Street earned its moniker because it was paved with oyster shells, which glistened like pearls in the sun.

Perhaps there’s some truth to each story—and just how much may be lost to the ages.

[Pearl Street illustration: from the NYPL digital collection]

A lovely view of City Hall in 1912

September 6, 2011

Hard to believe that New York’s city hall building was already a century old at the time this vintage card was stamped with a postmark.

It’s also strange to think that when it was completed, New Yorkers thought City Hall was located too far north of the center of the city.

Construction was delayed for decades, thanks to some minor calamities like the Revolutionary War, labor disputes, and a yellow fever outbreak.

But for workers who stuck it out, the take-home pay was $1.50 a day.