Posts Tagged ‘Little Italy’

When Sullivan Street had a “Murderers’ Row”

August 30, 2012

Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time and poke around the city’s old alleys and courtyards, the remnants of pre-street grid Manhattan?

Murderer’s Row in today’s West Soho was one.

No trace of this colorfully named nook exists there, amid Sullivan’s tenements and Federal-style homes. Luckily Charles Hemstreet recalls it in his 1899 book Nooks & Corners of Old New York.

“‘Murderers’ Row’ has its start where Watts Street [the top street on the map at left] ends at Sullivan, midway of the Block between Grand and Broome Streets.

“It could not be identified by its name, for it is not a ‘row’ at all, merely an ill-smelling alley, an arcade extending through a block of battered tenements.

“After running half its course through the block, the alley is broken by an intersecting space between houses—a space that is taken up by push carts, barrels, tumble-down wooden balconies and lines of drying clothes.

“‘Murderers’ Row’ is celebrated in police annals as a crime centre. But the evil doers were driven out long years ago and the houses given over to Italians. . . .

“Constant complaints are made that the houses are hovels and the alley a breeding-place for disease.”

If you wander down to look for the intersection of Sullivan and Watts Streets, you won’t find it. When Sixth Avenue was extended to Tribeca in the 1920s, the corner was obliterated—along with several tiny blocks.

But the NYPL Digital Collection has a 1916 street map of the corner.

Right: Watts and Sixth Avenue near Sullivan, about where the characters of Murderers’ Row plied their trade.

A posh Nolita alley’s rough and tumble past

April 19, 2012

Centre Market Place is a charming New York alley that’s easy to miss.

It’s just a one-block sliver of pavement behind the old Police Headquarters (now a luxurious residence) on Centre Street.

The alley is all very contemporary Nolita, with brightly painted townhouses topping expensive boutiques. But for the past 150 years or so, it was just another crowded strip in a poor stretch of the East Side.

It’s a block now mostly scrubbed clean of its rougher edges, which included a public bath at number nine on the Broome Street end.

Called the People’s Bath House and built by a private charity in the 1890s, it used to be crowded with mostly Italian immigrant tenement dwellers.

The site where it once stood is now an empty lot.

Centre Market Place also had an illustrious resident in the 1930s: crime photographer Weegee.

His one-room apartment, perfectly located near all the police action, was at number five.

A gritty industry thrived on the street as well: guns. Several gun shops were located there through much of the 20th century, fueled by the NYPD.

The gun dealers are gone, but the sign (below) still exists at number seven for Sile, a gun distributor with a branch in Brescia, Italy.