Posts Tagged ‘Jr.’

The meaning of a 200-year-old Central Park bolt

January 11, 2016

It’s easy to miss, just a gray iron rod hammered into a slab of gray Manhattan schist in Central Park. But this unassuming bolt is a relic with historical meaning.


It was put there more than 200 years ago by John Randel Jr., a surveyor and engineer. Randel had been hired by a state-appointed commission tasked with drawing up a street plan for the growing city of New York.

BoltcentralparkcuBeginning in 1808, Randel’s job was to map out a grid that would divide Manhattan into blocks formed by east-west streets and north-south avenues, few of which existed at the time (Gotham’s northern border was Houston Street back then).

He submitted his plan, famously known as the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan for the City of New York. Then the grunt work began.

“Randel spent the next 10 years staking out and marking the intersections from First Street to 155th Street with 1,549 three-foot-high marble monuments and, when the ground was too rocky, with 98 iron bolts secured by lead,” wrote Sam Roberts in a 2011 New York Times article.

As the city marched northward and the streets Randel mapped out were developed, the marble monuments and iron bolts disappeared.


In 2004, this one in Central Park—left undisturbed, as Central Park escaped the street grid plan—was discovered by surveyor Lemuel Morrison and geographer Reuben Rose-Redwood while researching the grid system.

Exact directions to this unassuming relic are hard to find, since no one wants it to fall into the hands of souvenir hunters. New York history fans should start looking in the park’s southern end.

The man who became the “father of Harlem”

February 9, 2011

Founded by Dutch settlers in 1658, the little community of Nieuw Haarlem consisted mostly of farmland estates for the next two centuries.

Then the elevated railroads arrived in the latter half of the 19th century, and speculators got greedy.

They urbanized Harlem, putting up blocks of apartments and townhouses in anticipation of a horde of white middle- and upper-class residents.

But white Harlem didn’t last. A real-estate crash in 1904 meant that developers could not find enough white tenants.

That’s when Philip A. Payton, Jr., stepped in. From New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders:

“That year, as the boom went bust, Payton approached Harlem’s landlords with a daring proposition. His firm, the Afro-American Realty Company, would rent empty apartments to select black tenants—above market value and with a monthly guarantee.

“Though Payton’s clients paid a premium—at least $5 more per month than white families paid for equivalent dwellings—after nearly three centuries on Manhattan Island, African Americans could finally enjoy well-built, well-maintained homes in a stable, established community.”

By 1930, 70 percent of Central Harlem’s residents were African American. And Payton’s own townhouse (in the photo above) at 13 West 131st Street still stands.

Radio City: “A must on every visitor’s list”

December 8, 2010

So states the back of this technicolor postcard, which has more to say about what was then the world’s biggest theater:

“On its huge stage are produced gigantic spectacles of great beauty and its screen provides the latest and best in motion picture entertainment. It has its own broadcasting studio atop the roof.”

And if John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s original plans didn’t go awry, it would be the home of the Metropolitan Opera. But then Wall Street crashed, the opera company bailed . . . and since 1932 Radio City has been serving up pop music and gaudy musicals.

The East River island you’re not allowed to visit

March 10, 2010

That would be U Thant Island (officially known as Belmont Island), a rocky spit of land just south of Roosevelt Island in the East River. It ranks as the tiniest of New York City’s dozens of little islets.

Doesn’t look like a bad place to catch some sun, right? Unfortunately, people aren’t allowed there. This half-acre is maintained by the parks department as a bird sanctuary.

So what’s with the odd and unofficial name? Originally called Man ‘O War reef, it was created with landfill from trolley tunnels dug under the East River. Augustus Belmont Jr., of Belmont Park and subway financier fame, completed the job and got naming rights.

In the 1970s, mostly forgotten, it was unofficially renamed U Thant Island (after the former U.N. Secretary General from Burma) by a group of U.N. employees who followed a mystic in Queens.