Posts Tagged ‘New York Streets’

Why New York taxis are (almost all) yellow

May 5, 2014

For about a year, the city’s 12,000 or so yellow taxis have been joined by a small new lime-green fleet. The new cabs are only allowed to pick up fares in Manhattan’s northern neighborhoods and the outer boroughs.


Seeing them raises the question: why are New York taxis generally supposed to be yellow, anyway?

The first automobile taxis weren’t painted any color at all. Powered by 800-pound electric batteries, about 100 of them trolled the streets in 1899. The two below are operating beside the Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street and Broadway.


In 1908, 600 gasoline-fueled, red and green paneled taxis were imported to New York from France. The name “taxi” comes from their innovative new “taximeters” that recorded mileage.

The color change apparently began in 1915, when John Hertz, of Hertz rental car fame, opened a taxi company in Chicago.


Hertz reportedly read a study showing that yellow was the most visible color from a distance.

“It became an industry trend, which of course was continued when he and his partner, Walden Shaw, branched out to other cities, including New York City,’ explained New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesperson, in a New York Times column from 1996.


In 1967, the city finally made it illegal for a taxi to be any color but yellow. That changed with the introduction of the official wasabi-colored taxis in 2013, increasingly more common among their bumblebee-yellow counterparts.

[Top: 1970s yellow cab awesomeness, Everett Collection; third: the last Checker Cab in New York City, from the New York Daily News; bottom: Berenice Abbott captures yellow taxis in traffic in 1936]

Holdout tenements dwarfed by towering giants

October 24, 2013


Every so often on New York City streets you come across a faded old walkup or tenement that’s holding its own beside a gleaming tower or tall office building.

It’s hard not to be charmed by these little underdogs, whose owners likely turned down a hefty buyout offer for the property.

I love these two buddy tenements on Third Avenue and 22nd Street, once probably part of a late 19th century row of tenements that looked just like them.

New York is all about change, and lovely buildings are always being torn down to make way for something new.

Yet there’s something strangely satisfying about a massive 20-story co-op being forced to build around these two stragglers.


On East 59th Street sits the well-maintained walkup below—squeezed between handsome 1920s residences that are at least six times the little building’s height.


Also in the East 50s is this little guy—a fire-engine red old-school walkup wedged against a 20+ story apartment building, with other apartment residences casting cold shadows over it on its right and from behind.


What’s it like to live in an architectural relic—left behind from an older, smaller-scale New York—that refused to budge as the city marched forward?

What horses left behind in the 19th century city

June 8, 2011

Without the estimated 170,000 horses pulling street cars and delivery wagons at any given time in the late 1800s, the city would never have become an economic powerhouse.

But all those equines created a filthy mess. Each horse produced several pounds of manure and more than a quart of urine a day—much of it deposited on city streets and sidewalks.

“Despite the presence of animals, the city had no systematic street-cleaning efforts,” wrote Columbia University professor David Rosner in an article called Portrait of an Unhealthy City: New York in the 1800s.

“During winter, neighborhoods sometimes rose between two and six feet in height because of the accumulation of waste and snow.”

“Dirt carters” would pick up the manure from the streets and haul it to specially designated “manure blocks,” where the waste attracted massive numbers of disease-transmitting flies.

Then there was the problem of working horses dropping dead in the street. “When a horse died, its carcass would be left to rot until it had disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces,” wrote Rosner. “Children would play with dead horses lying in the street.” (As seen above, in an uncredited photo from 1900.)

In 1880, the city picked up 15,000 abandoned horse carcasses off the streets. With that in mind, the noise and pollution from vehicular traffic doesn’t seem so bad.

[photo at right: the last horsecar run in the city, July 1917, on Bleecker Street at Mercer]

Addresses carved into East Village corners

August 24, 2010

Tenements on street corners all over New York City have the cross streets carved into the facade.

But it seems like the East Village, particularly First and Second Avenues, has more of these carvings than any other neighborhood. 

I love the typeface of the one above, on Seventh and Second.

First and Ninth is ex-elementary school, now performance space P.S. 122.

Second Avenue and Sixth Street: a solid block featuring the century-old Block’s Drugstore.

The East Village may be filled with these address carvings. But I still think the loveliest one in all of New York is this, in Tribeca.