Posts Tagged ‘Little Germany East Village’

The terra cotta beauty of the German Dispensary

February 26, 2018

If you walk by it on a weekly basis, as I usually do, you might start to take the red brick loveliness at 137 Second Avenue for granted.

But stop one day and behold its beauty: the rich detailing, the bas relief sculptures, and the arched portico entrance that in 1884 welcomed sick residents of what was then Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany.

This is the former German Dispensary, kind of a walk-in clinic for neighborhood folks who didn’t have the means to see a private doctor. Dispensaries not quite as striking as this one served the poor all over New York until after the 20th century.

The German Dispensary building was a gift from Anna and Oswald Ottendorfer, immigrant publishers of Staats-Zeitung, the leading German newspaper in the 19th century city (it still exists today).

The Ottendorfers were heavily into philanthropy in the city. They funded a German school, a women’s wing of the German Hospital (renamed Lenox Hill in 1918 due to anti-German sentiment), and a home for indigent German women in Astoria called the Isabella.

They hired German-born architect William Schickel to design the dispensary and a library next door, according to the Landmarks Preservation Committee report from 1976. (The photo above is from 1975.)

The library (at left) was the city’s first free public library, and Mr. Ottendorfer personally picked out the books, half in German and half in English.

Mrs. Ottendorfer didn’t live to see the dispensary or library completed. And the dispensary itself didn’t last very long; by 1905 it had decamped for another building closer to the hospital.

A dispensary run by the German Poliklinik took over 137 Second Avenue, and eventually that was bought by Cabrini Medical Center, the old hospital near Stuyvesant Square.

Little Germany is long gone. But if you stand in front of the fiery red building, with its busts of famous doctors and floral friezes, you can feel the ghosts of what was one a thriving, self-contained New York neighborhood.

[Fourth photo: Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY, 1975: 2013.3.2.33; fifth photo: NYPL]

Inside a rathskeller in New York’s Little Germany

February 1, 2016

In 1936, a man named Joe King opened a restaurant serving “moderately priced German dishes and imported beers”  in a German Renaissance Revival building on Third Avenue and 17th Street.


This was once the outskirts of New York’s enormous German immigrant enclave, Kleindeutschland. By the 1930s, Little Germany had mostly decamped to Yorkville (Luchow’s remained as well on 14th Street until the 1980s.)

But it would have been worth it to come down to this place in the old neighborhood. The beer steins, the lights, the tin ceiling, the piano installed for communal singalongs. . . . It closed in the 1960s, but I wish it were still around.


An 1880s shooting gallery on St. Mark’s Place

May 23, 2013

Stmarksshootingclub1893kingsNo, not that kind—an actual shooting gallery.

It’s a remnant of Kleindeutschland, the “Little Germany” that encompassed the East Village from the 1840s through the early 1900s.

The shooting gallery was at 12 St. Mark’s Place, east of Third Avenue. A bas relief carved into the facade gives away the building’s original purpose: it depicts an eagle, crossed guns, and a symbolic target, with the words Einigkeit Macht Stark (“unity is strength”) carved above.

This was the home of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schuetzen Gesellschaft, or German American Shooting Society.

Built in 1888, it housed a saloon, lodge rooms, bowling alley, and a small shooting range in the basement (club members did most of the actual shooting in Queens).


“By the 1880s, shooting became a middle class pastime, and most halls had moved to the suburbs along with many residents of Kleindeutschland,” states a Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

Stmarksshootingclub2013“However, the German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse remained an important link to the old neighborhood despite the migration.”

“It served as a headquarters for meetings of twenty-four such groups, and was the site of fund-raisers for the construction of rifle ranges and travel to Germany for international shooting contests.”

The Shooting Society owned it until 1920, and in subsequent decades, it served as a Ukrainian Culture Center and St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Today it’s a yoga studio . . . of course!

[Top photo: King’s Handbook of New York City, 1890s]

Where was New York’s “German Play Ground?”

November 24, 2010

While browsing the Museum of the City of New York’s Byron collection online archive, I came across the photo from 1903.

Interestingly, instead of going by the park’s real name, it’s mysteriously labeled the “German Play Ground.”

Must be Tompkins Square Park, which was heavily German at the time—so much so that the neighborhood was known as “Kleindeutschland,” or Little Germany.

Of course, lots of neighborhoods were German, such as Bushwick, known for its breweries. But here, I think the winding paths and benches give it away.

Who was General Slocum?

June 5, 2010

June 15th marks the 106th anniversary of the General Slocum disaster, when a paddle steamer packed with mothers and children on a church trip caught fire in the East River. 

More than 1,000 people, mainly residents of the East Village’s huge German community, perished.

Most New Yorkers know of the S.S. General Slocum. But who was General Slocum the man, and why did his name land on excursion boat associated with the greatest loss of life in city history, aside from  9/11?

Henry Warner Slocum was a Union general during the Civil War who fought in Gettysburg. Prospect Park is home to a heroic bronze statue of Slocum on horseback in battle.

After the war, he became a congressman from New York, then served as commissioner of public works for the city of Brooklyn.

When he died in 1894, thousands of Brooklynites paid their respects by lining the streets to watch his funeral procession go from his home on Clinton Avenue to Lafayette Street, South Oxford, Hanson Place, and then Fourth Avenue.

He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery unaware of the horror that occurred aboard his namesake ship.