Posts Tagged ‘East Village Tenements’

A garden rises where a fireman died by arson

July 6, 2020

In 1977—with city coffers empty, crime rising, and residents fleeing at historically high rates—more than 13,000 New York City buildings were intentionally set on fire.

One of these arson fires happened on July 2 at 358 East Eighth Street, an abandoned tenement between Avenues C and D. The blaze, set with diesel oil, broke out on the fifth floor at about 3:10 pm.

Firefighters from Engine 15 saw the smoke while heading back to their station house on Pitt Street after responding to a false alarm. They detoured to the burning tenement to take on the four-alarm blaze, according to the New York Daily News on July 7, 1977.

With the firefighters on the fifth floor, the arsonist allegedly came back and set a second fire on a lower floor, reported the Daily News. (At right, the six-story building in 1940)

“When the new outburst of flames surged upward, the firemen crawled to a window where Ladder Company 11 had extended its cherry picker,” stated the Daily News.

One fireman made it to the cherry picker; three were overcome by smoke inhalation and had to be rescued inside.

Firefighter Martin Celic, 25, a Staten Island native who was to be married later that year, tried to get in the cherry picker. He tripped and fell 70 feet to the sidewalk.

Celic spent a week at Bellevue with massive head injuries before dying on July 10, his fiancee at his bedside.

A 17-year-old was arrested for setting the fire; he allegedly told officials that he did it to prevent winos and junkies from getting inside the building. In 1978 he was ordered to stand trial for arson and murder.

In 1978, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting that he set the fire, according to the Daily News on July 7 of that year. He received 8-25 years.

This tragic story would be just a footnote of 1970s New York City history if not for the efforts of community members.

“Longtime neighborhood residents Ansley and Kelly Carnahan had begun gardening in the lot adjacent to the abandoned building in 1975,” states NYC Parks. “After the burnt-out building was condemned and torn down, the Carnahans and other local residents expanded their garden to the new lot.”

They named it the Firemen’s Garden (or Fireman’s Garden; it’s spelled both ways), “in honor of those who risk their lives daily in every borough and district,” continues NYC Parks. “Marty Celic’s family donated benches made of cedar and wrought iron.”

The garden became a nonprofit in 1989, then was transferred to the New York City Parks Department control in 1999. Shady, leafy, and with brick paths inside, it’s one of many firefighter tributes throughout the city.

For many New Yorkers, the Firemen’s Garden is a little off the beaten path. A “special ceremony is held in mid-July in remembrance of the sacrifices of all New York City firemen,” NYC Parks says, might be worth making the trek for.

[First and second photo: New York Daily News; third photo: New York City Department of Records and Information Services]

Fancy flats—or low-rent tenement apartments?

February 22, 2011

In the late 19th century, could you class up a typical city tenement building by calling it a flat?

Looks like some developers thought so.

“French flats”—distinguished from tenement houses by modern luxuries such as parlors, dining rooms, servants’ rooms, and indoor plumbing—caught on in the city after 1870.

But considering that neither Williamsburg nor the East Village were upper-class neighborhoods, I doubt the residents who ended up in the Havemayer Flats, on Havemayer Street, or the Mascot Flats, at 6th Street near Avenue D, had servants.

Mascot Flats has an interesting recent history. Abandoned and then torn apart by thieves and drug addicts by the early 1980s, it was renovated in 1986 with help from Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity.

Check out photos of the pre-renovated interior here. A 1990 documentary, The Rebuilding of Mascot Flats, chronicles its rebirth.

The pugs of East Seventh Street

March 8, 2010

I’ve seen New York tenement stoops flanked by carvings of lions, dragons, grotesques, even topless women.

But I haven’t seen many dogs—like this little pug (and his buddy on the left side of the stairs, not pictured), both in repose outside a tenement in the East Village.

Someone give him a new coat of paint….

Why name a tenement after the U.S. Senate?

October 3, 2008

It must have been a less politically cynical age: In 1903, developers built two 6-story tenement-style apartment buildings on Second Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets. They named one the W.M. Evarts, after a respected senator from New York. The other was called The U.S. Senate, again after Evarts.

So what did Evarts do to merit two buildings in his honor? He was President Andrew Johnson’s Attorney General, represented Johnson during his impeachment trial in the 1860s, served as Rutherford B. Hayes’ Secretary of State, then bid his time as a Senator until 1891. 

Plus, Evarts was a neighborhood guy; his home was on Second Avenue and 11th Street.