Posts Tagged ‘Mayor George McClellan’

The faded cornerstone of the old police building

September 17, 2018

At the turn of the last century, when the newly consolidated New York needed a bigger, more modern police headquarters, city officials pulled out all the stops to build something glorious.

The result was a Beaux Arts beauty dominating slender Centre Street in what used to be Little Italy: a granite central pavilion and Corinthian columns topped by a gilded dome and an allegorical statue representing the five boroughs.

Completed in 1909, the new building was designed to “impress both officer and prisoner…with the majesty of the law,” according to a 1978 Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

The NYPD moved out of 240 Centre Street into newer, much uglier headquarters in the 1970s. But if you walked by the former police building today, you’d probably have no idea of its history.

Since 1988, 240 Centre Street has been a luxury condo, and it seems as if the developers did everything possible to erase anything relating to the police department on the facade.

Only the cornerstone, unveiled in May 1905 by Mayor George McClellan in a grand ceremony that featured a police band and mounted troops, provides a faded, chipped-away clue to the building’s former use.

[Second photo: Streeteasy]

An Allen Street tenement fire rages in 1903

August 19, 2013

Allenstreetfire1903The fire started on the windy morning of March 14 in a basement restaurant.

Isidore Davis, a tenement resident who ran a wine-making business also in the basement, was returning home at about 3:45 a.m. when he saw flames coming from a funnel in the restaurant’s sink.

“He tried to put it out, as it was already licking the woodwork,” a New York Times article stated the next day. The small fire quickly became a blaze that sent smoke rising through hallways.

Within 10 minutes, engines and a hook and ladder company were on the scene. But already the fire had spread to every floor of the building.

“Men, women, and children were on the fire escapes screaming,” a newspaper wrote. “Quickly the hook and ladder companies extended ladders to the escapes in the rear and front of the building.”

After wind gusts fueled the flames, some of the 150 residents began to jump. “Persons crowding on the fire escapes dropped like flies or plunged into the arms of the waiting firemen.”

AllenstreetsignBy the time the fire was put out (above left photo), 20 residents—all Jewish immigrants—had perished.

Fires in crowded, unsanitary tenements weren’t rare in 1905. But the heavy death toll made the Allen Street fire front page news.

“The great loss of life in what was merely a two-alarm fire is ascribed by firemen to the fact that escapes were blocked with boxes and rubbish, while nearly every opening to allow a free passage from one escape to the other was boarded over,” the Times wrote.

105allenstreet2013“On the top floor 10 bodies were found huddled together under a closed scuttle. The coroner declared that this showed neglect on the part of some one to have the exits clear.”

After an investigation, the Tenement House Department ended up taking the blame. Inspectors reportedly didn’t keep 105 Allen Street’s fire escapes clear and the roof skylight unlocked.

The head of the department, however, insisted his men did the best they could, but after every inspection, residents would lock the roof and clutter up the escapes once again.

[Lower left: 105 Allen Street today]

A bronze tablet celebrates a subway milestone

October 22, 2012

When the first stretch of the New York City subway opened in 1904—from the old City Hall Station to 145th Street and Broadway—the fanfare was incredible.

A ceremony was held downtown, Mayor George McClellan played motorman on the first trip, excited New Yorkers gathered outside newly built stations, and 25,000 riders per hour packed the trains.

But when the subway reached another milestone four years later—the IRT line was extended to Brooklyn—there was no celebration.

Instead, a bronze tablet was put up inside the Borough Hall Station commemorating the underground uniting of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

It’s still there, grimy and easy to miss, on a mezzanine-level wall before the staircases leading to the 4 and 5 platforms.