Posts Tagged ‘Little Italy NYC’

All the reasons to love this Mott Street school

July 15, 2017

The gabled roof, the arched windows, the Victorian flourishes—there’s a lot to love about 256 Mott Street, the former Fourteenth Ward Industrial School between Prince and Houston Streets.

And it’s not just the lovely aesthetic or the fact that it’s across the street from the beautiful Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The school’s mission gets a thumbs up as well.

Built by the Children’s Aid Society in 1889, the funds were supplied by John Jacob Astor, who constructed it as a memorial to his wife (the Astors were big donors to the CAS, one of Gilded Age New York’s most prominent charities).

The lovely new school replaced an older industrial school not far away on Crosby Street. (Above, the school “playground” in 1890.)

If this Gothic red-brick style looks familiar, it may be because the architect was Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park.

Vaux was also the creative mind behind Jefferson Market Courthouse and some of the Children’s Aid Society other buildings, like the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys on East Eighth Street and Avenue B, which also served as an industrial school and has the same Gothic feel.

So what’s an industrial school? It’s a school intended to teach poor, usually immigrant kids to be “self-supporting,” as a New York Times article covering the dedication ceremony on February 8 put it.

Think of it as a school that mixed the usual academic lessons with trade and life skills classes and a heavy dose of patriotism.

“On the basement floor are a kitchen and dining rooms for teachers and pupils; on the floor above, kindergarten and primary schoolrooms, and the second floor two schoolrooms,” stated the Times. “The fourth has rooms for primary and industrial school work.”

The pupils at the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School were heavily Italian, the Times wrote—the children of newcomers who were rapidly recolonizing the tenement district that would soon be known as Little Italy.

“The memorial to Mrs. Astor will form an attractive center of industry, thrift, and cleanliness in a region which is noted for none of those characteristics,” the Times commented.

In the 1920s, the Industrial School was closed, and 256 Mott Street became Mulberry House, kind of a community center with a library and playground that offered “Americanization” classes and social opportunities.

Today of course, Mott Street is quite posh, and there’s no need for an industrial school or community center. What’s going on with number 256 today? It’s a co-op.

[Second photo: Jacob Riis. MCNY, 1890; 90.13.1.299; fifth photo: Gillon, MCNY, 1975; 2013.3.2.2061; sixth photo Jacob Riis, MCNY, 1890; 2008.1.21]

The most delicious ad on a Little Italy building

October 10, 2016

What’s left of Little Italy these days has been described as a tourist trap of restaurants, pastry shops, and knickknack stands.

littleitalycafferoma

But something about this two-story ad makes me pine to go back 100 years, when Mulberry Street was the center of an enormous neighborhood stretching from Houston Street to Columbus Park, busy with specialty food shops, peddlers, vendors, crime family social clubs, and 10,000 people at its peak.

Caffe Roma was there in those storied days; the place has been serving espresso and treats since 1891.

The old men playing bocce on First Avenue

February 13, 2014

Bocce1940firstaveroyperryBocce is a rare sight in the city today.

But this bowling-like game used to be huge in neighborhoods populated by Italians, who brought it to New York during the great wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th century.

One popular bocce spot was near Peretz Square, the sliver of a park near First Avenue and East Houston Street.

Ephemeral reader Rich L. sent in this fascinating color photo below, snapped in 1970, of some older gentlemen engrossed in a game.

Boccecourts

“These bocce courts were just outside the subway entrance (F train, ‘Second Ave’ station) on the northwest corner of Houston St and 1st Avenue,” wrote Rich. “I lived in Flushing, and my future wife lived on 2nd St, so it was quite the trip to see each other.”

“I’d see these same men playing bocce week after week on these two impeccably kept courts. They were absolutely fascinating to watch. Shame they’re now paved over.”

Bocce1940firstavefedartprojectThe First Avenue/East Houston bocce court existed in 1940, the date of two wonderful photos (at top and left) from the photo collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

However, Ronald Sanders, author of 1979’s The Lower East Side, says they were built when Houston Street was widened in the 1950s.

These photos show the court attracted bocce players at least until 1975, the date the fourth photo was taken.

“Although bocce itself is a continuing reminder of the Italian presence on First Avenue, the inclusion of a growing number of Hispanics among the players and watchers shows another of the instances of ethnic succession on the Lower East Side,” wrote Sanders.

Bocce1975edmundgillonfirstave

Today, Peretz Square has no more bocce courts; it’s the gateway to Hell Square!

[Top photo: Roy Perry/MCNY; second photo: Rich L.; third: Federal Arts Project/MCNY; fourth: Edmund Gillon/MCNY]

A long-shuttered bakery haunts Elizabeth Street

March 7, 2013

LaRosabreadco2The first sign, the very plain and almost hidden “209 Bakery,” comes into view as you walk north on Elizabeth Street, past the outdoor sculpture yard between Prince and Spring Streets.

On the facade of the building (next door to luxury condo 211 Elizabeth), the name of the old store reveals itself: “G. La Rosa & Son Bread Co. Inc.”

I couldn’t find any info on when G. La Rosa & Son closed their doors. The space has been occupied by the Elizabeth Street Gallery, an architectural ornament and antiques shop, for years.

Here it is in a 1995 photo with what looks like different graffiti on a roll-down gate covering the windows and doors.

LaRosabreadco

The gallery there today has some ridiculously high-priced objects for wealthy collectors. They probably do a good business.

But could anything for sale there could be as gratifying as the scent of fresh-baked bread wafting out the windows of an old-school Italian bakery?

The 1930s Little Italy of a New York–born painter

October 11, 2012

Born in East Harlem’s Little Italy in 1902, Daniel R. Celentano studied with painter Thomas Hart Benton as a kid and later worked as an artist for the WPA.

He painted scenes all over New York but is perhaps best known for his depictions of sometimes raucous, sometimes solemn Italian-American neighborhood life during the Depression and World War II.

“Festival,” from 1934, features a “lively scene, evoking the scents of tasty Italian food, is overshadowed by the immense natural-gas tanks at the right that once blighted Manhattan’s immigrant slums,” states the Smithsonian website.

“Italian Harlem Street Scene” (I’m not certain of the exact date) is more foreboding.

The cross way in the distance on top of the tenement looks like it’s about to snap in the wind.