Posts Tagged ‘New York City in 1901’

Faded outlines of an infamous Flatiron love nest

November 16, 2015

Stanford White was one of New York’s great architects. He was also a notorious womanizer known for seducing teenage girls, preferably showgirls.

Stanfordwhite22west24thst

To facilitate this, the married White kept a secret apartment at 22 West 24th Street, just off Madison Square Park. From the outside, it was plain and unspectacular.

StanfordwhitephotoInside, however, was a seducer’s love nest, complete with mirrored walls, velvet couches, colored lights, a four-poster bed, and of course, a red velvet swing.

It was the same swing he pushed 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit in, not long before he lowered her defenses with champagne and raped her in 1901.

Nesbit wasn’t the only girl he took to 22 West 24th Street. But she was the only one who ended up telling the world about what happened there, after she took the stand during a murder trial that had the entire city’s attention.

Five years after White assaulted her, Nesbit’s new husband, Harry Thaw, took out a pistol and shot and killed White in the rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden.

Thaw was unstable, wildly jealous of White, and obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor.

Evelynesbit1901At Thaw’s trial in 1907, Nesbit recalled the events of the night White raped her and what the inside of his multi-level seduction lair was like.

[As a reader points out below, Nesbit’s take has to be looked at through a gimlet eye. She had her own interests (and reputation) to protect, and White was not around to counter her testimony. But here is her story.]

The first time she visited, she was with a girlfriend; White and another man convinced the two girls to get in the swing, and they pushed them from behind.

“Their toes struck the crisp paper covering of a great Japanese fan swung from the ceiling, ripping the fan to tatters,” wrote the New York Times in an article chronicling the trial.

The second time, with her mother out of town, White invited Nesbit to a party he said he was having at 24th Street. When she arrived, she was the only one there.

EvelynnesbitnytimesWhite “asked her to let him show her his antiques and beautiful things, and disclosed a narrow stairway leading from the studio upward,” stated the Times.

“She followed him to a room in which there was a piano and many objects of art. She thrummed the piano for a moment, then White bade her to go into the next room with him.”

“The room was chintz covered. It was a bedroom, and there was a table and chair beside the bed in it.”

Evelynnesbit22west24thstphoto2007White poured her a glass of champagne and made her drink it, she told the court. Then, “there was the sound of thumping in her head, she said, and the chintz bedroom began to whirl about.”

Next thing she knew, she woke up in the bed surrounded by mirrors. She screamed and went home, and the next day, White “praised her beauty and her youth, told her how he liked girls, and said he would do a great many things for her,” wrote the Times.

After two trials, Thaw got off on an insanity defense. White’s former love nest on 24th Street fell into disrepair and collapsed in 2007 (right). All that remains is its faded outline.

[Bottom photo: Don Hogan Charles/New York Times]

One painter’s dreamy scenes of New York at play

September 22, 2014

Though he spent much of his life in his beloved Paris, Alfred Henry Maurer was a New Yorker from beginning to end.

Maurerrockawaybeach1901

Born in the city in 1868, he was the son of a German immigrant who worked as a talented lithographer for Currier and Ives.

After studying with William Merritt Chase, Maurer took off for Paris, the center of the art world at the time, where he worked in a mostly realist style, depicting beautiful women and cafe life in the city of light.

Maurercarrousel19011902

Briefly, Maurer returned to New York at the turn of the century. He won acclaim and awards, and in 1901 and 1902 he painted these enchanting scenes of New York’s Gilded Age leisure class at play.

Two paintings depict Rockaway Beach, the popular amusement playground developed in the early 1900s.

Maurerrockawaybeachwithpier1901

Another painting shows us a carousel in Brooklyn, with mothers and children watching the painted wooden horses under darkening skies.

MaurerselfportraitMaurer (in a self-portrait, right) didn’t stay in New York long—nor did he stick to his usual realist style.

Back in Paris again, he abandoned realism in favor of Matisse-influenced Modernism, doing abstract portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. Examples of his later works can be seen here.

World War I forced him back to his family apartment in New York City, where he continued to paint and take part in exhibitions, but garnered little of the critical acclaim he’d had as a younger man.

He died in Manhattan in 1932, committing suicide by hanging in his father’s West 43rd Street home.

The rocking-chair riot that riled up New Yorkers

August 11, 2014

OscarspateOscar Spate (right) was a shady British businessman with a crazy plan in spring 1901.

He’d pay the parks commissioner $500 for the right to put 200 green rocking chairs in Central Park and Madison Square Park.

He’d charge 5 cents a seat to park attendees who wanted to sit in his cane-bottomed chairs rather than a stiff park bench. Hired attendants would make sure sitters paid up.

This idea actually got the go-ahead from the parks commissioner. It may have been because Spate claimed that the great parks in Europe had chairs for rent. Or perhaps the commissioner was worried about the homeless who had increasingly begun occupying city parks, scaring away many visitors.

Madisonsquarepostcard1900s

Paying for seating, he may have reasoned, was the only way to clear derelicts from these two parks and bring back residents, according to The Flatiron, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou.

While the placement of these rocking chairs for hire in Central Park didn’t appear to ruffle many feathers, the chairs in Madison Square Park ticked people off.

Madisonsquareparkfountain

Newspapers picked up the story of two-tiered seating, and New Yorkers made a point of purposely sitting in the rocking chairs and refusing to pay attendants, arguing that it was a free country.

When a heat wave struck in July, tempers really flared. “The parks still had free benches, but the privately operated chairs seemed to occupy all the shady areas,” wrote Michael Pollan in the New York Times in 2006.

Madisonsquareparkingfbruno:wikiIn Madison Square Park, “an estimated 1,000 men and boys chased Thomas Tully, a chair attendant, into the Fifth Avenue Hotel with cries of ‘Lynch him!’ after Mr. Tully upended a nonpayer from his rocker and slapped a boy who was heckling him.”

Two days later, Spate’s permit was revoked. Ten thousand people crowded into Madison Square Park to celebrate the decision—and sit in his chairs.

Ever the businessman, Spate eventually sold them to Wanamaker’s and billed them as historic artifacts!

The above photo shows the modern Madison Square Park, with egalitarian benches [ingfbruno/wiki]