Posts Tagged ‘long-gone New York neighborhoods’

When Audubon settled in Upper Manhattan

August 8, 2011

After Birds of America earned him success and money, ornithologist and painter John James Audubon bought an estate for himself and his family in 1842 roughly around today’s West 150s.

Nine miles north of the city center, he called it Minniesland, after his wife.

“Audubon’s original purchase was a fourteen-acre right triangle that began on the flat land at the crest of the Heights just north of Carmansville and slightly west of the Kingsbridge Road, at a point in the center of the intersection of present-day Amsterdam Avenue and 155th Street,” states the Audubon Park Historic District website.

It sounds like paradise, which makes it all the more unfortunate that after Audubon’s death in 1851, his widow was forced to sell the land.

In the 1850s, Minniesland (above, in 1864, from the Audubon Park Historic District website), was carved up into Audubon Park, a neighborhood of villas. At the turn of the century, row houses and apartment buildings came in. The Audubon house disappeared by the 1930s.

Today, the neighborhood “bears no resemblance to the wooded vale that John James Audubon bought in 1841 and deeded to his wife, Lucy,” reports the Audubon Park Historic District website.

“The ancient elms and oaks that towered above dogwood and tulip trees on the hillside and the tall pines nearer the water, the streams that flowed through ponds and over a waterfall before joining the river, the enclosures where deer and elk mingled with domestic animals are long gone, displaced in stages of development and progress that culminated in the cityscape that exists today.”

Upper Manhattan hasn’t forgotten its famous resident (at left). Audubon Avenue and Audubon Terrace memorialize him, and Audubon himself is buried in Trinity Cemetery at 155th Street.

The East Side’s long-gone Gas House District

June 20, 2011

“The gas-house district is not a pleasant place in the daytime, much less at night,” explained a 1907 article in Outlook magazine.

That’s partly because the neighborhood, centered in the teens and 20s on the far east side of Manhattan, looked pretty grim: dominated by giant gas storage tanks lining the East River.

The streets didn’t smell so great either, considering that the tanks sprang leaks occasionally.

The grittiness of the Gas House District kept tenement rents low and made it a magnet for poor immigrant Irish in the mid-19th century, then Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Armenians by the 1920s.

But it also attracted a bad element. Crime was high, and it was home base of the Gas House Gang, which committed a reported 30 holdups every night on East 18th Street alone around the turn of the century.

Change was coming though. By the 1930s, most of the storage tanks were gone, and the development of the then-East River Drive opened up the ugly streets to development.

Soon, it was deemed the perfect place to put Met Life’s new middle-class housing developments, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.

In 1945, 3,000 families were moved out of the Gas House District, their homes bulldozed. By 1947, the neighborhood was paved over and lost to the ages.

[Right photo: East 20th Street looking toward First Avenue by Berenice Abbott, 1938]