Posts Tagged ‘Horses in New York City’

The 1904 horse auction house in the East Village

June 30, 2016

Lets say you’re a Vanderbilt, a Belmont, or a Delano, or a member of one of New York’s other super rich families at the turn of the century.

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You have your mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, and for fancy dinners, only Delmonico’s will do. But when it come to transportation, polo, and racing, where do you get your horses and carriages?

The Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart was one option.

13thstreethorsesmcny1910Formed as a general auction house in the 1870s, the company began specializing in show horses and fine carriages for the city’s elite, operating several equine auction buildings along East 13th Street.

With the era of the horse still in swing in 1903, Van Tassell and Kearney commissioned a new showroom and auction building at 126-128 East 13th Street.

After knocking down three row houses, the architects were tasked with creating a lovely structure roomy enough to show and stable horses but so elegant that it attracted the city’s wealthiest clientele.

The new building, completed in 1904, was an unusual beauty. “The central arched window is set within a wide coved band that widens and becomes more three-dimensional near the top,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its 2012 report deeming it a city landmark.

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“Crowned by a prominent cartouche and keystone, this feature may have been influenced by the dramatic forms associated with the Art Nouveau style, or perhaps, the padded oval collars worn by horses.”

13thstreethorsesadThe horse auctions were short-lived. The building hosted its last one in 1916, a victim of the automobile age. The Vanderbilts and their brethren were now racing cars, not equines.

In subsequent years it housed a candy factory, a vocational school, and from 1978 to 2005 the studio of painter and sculptor Frank Stella, who cleaned and restored the facade.

Today it’s a dance center, I believe, and one of the last remaining buildings in New York intended for staging horse auctions, a necessity when horses powered the city.

[Second image: MCNY, 1910; fourth image: The Rider and Driver, 1893]

New York’s mounted police go out on patrol

June 21, 2014

I don’t know where this postcard image was taken, but it shows us a squad of mounted police ready to hit the streets and keep the peace.

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It’s dated 1905, about when automobiles are beginning to drastically change street traffic and police patrolling. [MCNY photo gallery]

A Village monument to a 19th century blacksmith

June 17, 2013

HallananinitialsLots of vestiges from the years when horses powered New York still remain: stables, horse drinking fountains, and the handsome nine-story loft built in 1897 as a monument to work horses and one Greenwich Village man who shoed them.

The clues are on the facade. Below the fourth floor, fancy insignias bearing the initials “MH” appear.

Hallananhorseshoe

Who is MH? The letters stood for Michael Hallanan, a Galway-born blacksmith who came to the Village in the 1860s to open a horseshoe shop around the corner on Barrow Street.

HallananbuildingNo ordinary blacksmith, Hallanan invented a rubber horseshoe pad that prevented horses from slipping on ice.

That earned him kudos from the newly formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as big profits, which he used to buy nearby real estate.

Nine Barrow Street was built by Hallanan—it’s hard to see, but the very top says “Hallanan Building” in green letters—and it “covers the plot where he had his original horseshoeing shop 60 years ago,” noted The New York Times in Hallanan’s 1926 obituary.

On the West 4th Street side, there’s an enormous bas relief of the horseshoe he invented, as well as its patent number.

Once a police precinct, now a West Village condo

April 22, 2013

How cool would it be to find out that your apartment was once a holding cell?

Some residents of 135 Charles Street can answer that question. This stately limestone and granite building is the former Ninth Precinct, a circa-1890s station house that since the late 1970s has been a residence near Greenwich Street called Le Gendarme (“the policeman”).

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Dedicated in 1897 by police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, the precinct was the real deal, complete with holding pens, cell blocks, and stables for police horses.

Charlesstreetstation1928nyplApparently no notorious criminals were booked there. But over the years, several officers associated with the station were killed in the line of duty—not surprising, as this was a gritty, industrial area near the waterfront that probably saw its fair share of crime.

After the precinct closed in 1969, a developer “added a floor and created 42 apartments out of the police locker and meeting rooms and arraignment areas,” explained a 1978 New York Times article.

“But his imagination was really tested in figuring out how to convert the 32 holding pens into ‘luxury’ living quarters.”

Charlesstreetstationpolicepatrol

 

Today the station, with a facade that’s changed very little over the years (see the photo above, from 1928), blends right into the upscale far West Village.

But signs of its police past abound: from the Ninth Precinct lettering carved above the entrance to the figures representing the city of New York seal to the plaque in the hallway marking is dedication in 1897 by police commissioner Roosevelt.

And then there’s the charming “police patrol” window on the building’s wing, a spot that reportedly held troughs for police horses, according to a longtime resident.

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[Plaque photo: Ward Kelvin; 1928 photo: NYPL]

Le Gendarme isn’t the only police station repurposed into apartments. The former police headquarters on Centre Street is now a luxury residence.

The “horse walks” hiding in Greenwich Village

January 24, 2012

Anyone who has strolled down a Greenwich Village side street has probably seen a horse walk door—an unadorned, mysterious entrance without a stoop that opens to the sidewalk.

The horse walk door is the brown one to the left at this house at 7 Leroy Street, a Federal-style beauty built in 1831.

Behind this door is the horse walk, a narrow passageway through which a homeowner’s horse was led from the street to a separate carriage house or stable behind the main house.

Of course, it’s been a good century or so since anyone has used a horse walk for their own equine. Those back carriage houses are now sought-after private residences.

Here’s a listing for the carriage house behind 7 Leroy Street—yours for $16,000 a month.

This horse walk door to the right of the main entrance is part of another lovely Federal-style house built in 1819 at 83 Sullivan Street near Spring Street.

You can just imagine a horse being led to and from the door every day to what was probably a very muddy street, so his owner can use him as transportation to get around the growing city.

What horses left behind in the 19th century city

June 8, 2011

Without the estimated 170,000 horses pulling street cars and delivery wagons at any given time in the late 1800s, the city would never have become an economic powerhouse.

But all those equines created a filthy mess. Each horse produced several pounds of manure and more than a quart of urine a day—much of it deposited on city streets and sidewalks.

“Despite the presence of animals, the city had no systematic street-cleaning efforts,” wrote Columbia University professor David Rosner in an article called Portrait of an Unhealthy City: New York in the 1800s.

“During winter, neighborhoods sometimes rose between two and six feet in height because of the accumulation of waste and snow.”

“Dirt carters” would pick up the manure from the streets and haul it to specially designated “manure blocks,” where the waste attracted massive numbers of disease-transmitting flies.

Then there was the problem of working horses dropping dead in the street. “When a horse died, its carcass would be left to rot until it had disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces,” wrote Rosner. “Children would play with dead horses lying in the street.” (As seen above, in an uncredited photo from 1900.)

In 1880, the city picked up 15,000 abandoned horse carcasses off the streets. With that in mind, the noise and pollution from vehicular traffic doesn’t seem so bad.

[photo at right: the last horsecar run in the city, July 1917, on Bleecker Street at Mercer]

Ghosts of 19th century New York horses

February 9, 2010

Reminders of the city’s horse-powered past are all over the place. Sometimes a horse head is mounted on the gate of a mews, a tribute to the creature who made his home there.

This one above is at the entrance to Sniffen Court—the pretty, circa-1860s mews-turned-private homes on 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. 

Or the head of an equine sticks out of the facade of an old stable. That’s where this Charles Street beauty keeps watch. Below the head is a faded sign featuring the name of the stable owner, H. Thalman.

Plenty of stable signage can still be found on old buildings, such as this Greenwich Street garage.

What would happen if a resident of Strivers’ Row in Central Harlem (above) decided to ride, not walk, his horse on the path behind the brownstone houses there?