Posts Tagged ‘St. Marks Place’

Stand here and feel the ghosts of Bowery Village

October 9, 2017

Stand at Cooper Square looking toward St. Marks Place: this honky-tonk corner in today’s East Village was once the center of a 19th century outpost known as Bowery Village.

Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Bowery Village sprang up around Petrus Stuyvesant’s estate. (Petrus Stuyvesant was a great-grandson of Peter, the director-general of New Amsterdam in the 17th century.)

It’s hard to imagine the concrete and brick East Village of today as a struggling farming community. The illustration above gives an idea, though it depicts Union Square, where the Bowery (now Fourth Avenue) and Broadway meet.

In the late 1790s, this area was part of a “rugged belt of land, with here and there a garden and a solitary house, to diversify the bareness of the stunted pasture lots with their dilapidated fences,” states an 1864 history of the Bowery Village Methodist Church. This church was a centerpiece of the community and was located at Seventh Street between Second and Third Avenues.

Early on, Bowery Village “consisted chiefly of a long unpaved street of struggling houses . . . dreaming little, as  yet, of the Russ pavement and car track,” the church historical document recalled.

After Stuyvesant laid a street grid—while keeping diagonal Stuyvesant Street, which lead from the Bowery to St. Mark’s Church (above right in the 1820s)—people moved in, driven from the city downtown by heat and disease.

“Throughout the 18th century it remained sparsely settled—a few houses plus blacksmith, wagon shop, general store, and tavern—partly from fear of highwaymen lurking in the Bayard Woods,” wrote Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in Gotham.

Like other villages across Manhattan, Bowery Village functioned as something of a suburb. “Because Bowery Village lay just outside the city limits, farmers could sell there without paying a market tax,” wrote Burrows and Wallace.

“Wagon stands soon flourished along Sixth and Seventh Streets, along with a weigh scale for Westchester hay merchants. Comfortable residences went up along the upper Bowery, still a country road edged with blackberry bushes. . . . “

“Artisan house-and-shops arrived too; so did groggeries, a brothel, and a post office (in truth an oyster house where the postrider left mail for the village). From 1804 the community even had its own (short-lived) newspaper, the Bowery Republican.”

The enclave also had its own graveyard between First and Second Avenues and Eleventh Street, possibly this one, noted on later 19th century maps.

Not much remains of Bowery Village. The city quickly marched northward and subsumed it by the 1850s, as it did Greenwich Village to the west.

One remnant is St. Mark’s Church itself, still on Second Avenue and Tenth Street. Built on Stuyvesant family land, it was consecrated in 1799.

Another survivor is the Stuyvesant Fish House (above left), a wedding present for Stuyvesant’s daughter and her husband, Nicolas Fish (parents of Hamilton Fish, New York governor and senator), at 21 Stuyvesant Street.

This wide Federal-style house was built in 1804, predating Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamboat.

“Bowery Village’s cohesion appeared to be short-lived,” wrote Kenneth A. Scherzer in The Unbounded Community.

“With the development of the surrounding wards it rapidly broke down, and with the settlement of “newcomers” who replaced the established residents in the late 1830s, Bowery Village ceased to exist in both reality and in name.”

That’s the East Village to this day: a constant push-pull between old timers and newcomers. Find out more about both in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Top photo: Ephemeral New York; second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Evening Post 1819; fifth image: Edward Lamson Henry; fifth and sixth images: Ephemeral New York]

St. Marks Place was once a posh New York street

April 11, 2016

StmarksstreetsignIn the 1820s, New Yorkers of wealth began leaving the crowded commercial section of the city.

Where to? The new residential drives going up above Houston Street, specifically on the growing city’s East Side.

StmarkshamiltonhollyBond Street, Washington Square North, Bleecker Street, Fourth Street, La Grange Terrace (today’s Lafayette Place) all became elite addresses.

And for a brief period of time, so did St. Marks Place.

St. Marks Place’s rise began in 1831, when developer Thomas E. Davis purchased property on the south and north sides of Eighth Street between Second and Third Avenues.

This stretch of Eighth Street was recently part of Peter Stuyvesant’s Bouwerie. It had only been an open street since 1826, inside the loose boundaries of a small enclave known as Bowery Village.

But New York was marching northward, and Davis intended to capitalize on it. His plan was to build “superior class” homes that would be set back from the street on large lots.

Stmarksplaceadeveningpost1832

And to give the block some pizzazz (and copy fashionable street names like Astor Place), he renamed it after nearby St. Marks Church.

Stmarks271890s“Grand, 3-1/2-story Federal style marble-and-brick-clad town houses with balconies were constructed here in 1831,” states this Landmarks Commission Report.

Soon, noteworthy residents followed. In 1833, 4 St. Marks Place was purchased by Col. Alexander Hamilton, son of the founding father.

Among other family members, he moved his widowed mother, Eliza Hamilton, into the house.

Daniel LeRoy, a member of the Fish family, bought number 20 (top right). Writer James Feinmore Cooper occupied number 6.

St. Marks retained its cachet through the 1840s. But as always in Manhattan, the rich fanned north. The street, as well as the neighborhood, slid out of fashion.

Stmarkschildrensaidsociety1890“The neighborhood of St. Marks Place has become of late a much less desirable location that it was formerly….” wrote the New York Times in 1852, referring to frequent cattle drives passing the corner at Third Avenue.

As the wealthy left, and then the cattle drives disappeared, thousands of German immigrants replaced them.

They remade St. Marks Place into a main street in the city’s teeming Little Germany, or Kleindeutschland.

Eastern Europeans, charity workers, gangsters, bohemians, punk rockers, tourists, and college kids all followed.

Stmarksplacetrashvaudeville2Today, just three of Davis’ Federal-style dwellings remain, including what’s now known as the Hamilton-Holly House—where Eliza Hamilton was foreclosed on in the 1840s (right).

The Daniel LeRoy House, in similar not-so-great shape as the Hamilton-Holly abode, is also still standing.

[Newspaper ad: The Evening Post, April 1832; fourth image: 27 St. Marks Place, a Girls’ Temporary Home operated by the Children’s Aid Society, from King’s Handbook of New York; fifth image: 24 St. Marks Place, a group of boys pose for Jacob Riis in 1890 before heading off on an orphan train sponsored by the Children’s Aid Society, MCNY.]

Caring for the East Village’s babies and derelicts

February 3, 2014

SaracurryIf you’ve spent any time on St. Marks Place between First and Second Avenues in the past year, you may have noticed that the block has been renamed Sara Curry Way.

Who was Sara Curry? This young transplant came to the city in the late 19th century and witnessed a tragic accident that strengthened her resolve to make working with poor children her life’s mission.

Born in Utica in 1863, Curry was orphaned as a child and went to work in a local factory.

There, she “studied the problems of other girls who worked long hours for a living,” her New York Times obituary noted. “In her spare time, she devoted her energies to helping them.”

SaracurrywaysignA wealthy New York City resident heard about her efforts to help working women upstate.

He arranged for Curry to come to New York in 1894 and help run a nursery for poor working mothers at the Mariner’s Temple, a circa-1795 Baptist Church on Henry Street. That led her to do missionary work in Chinatown with the disadvantaged, and then, in 1896, her true calling.

“One day, on seeing a child crushed by a truck, she resolved to devote her life mainly to children,” stated the Times.  The child was one of thousands of “street Arabs” who roamed the city in the late 19th century, because their parents worked or they had no homes to go to.

Littlemissionarysdaynursery2014“With only enough money to pay a month’s rent and immediate necessities, she rented a room at 204 Avenue C, which became her first nursery, and in it she cared for a dozen babies.”

In 1901, the nursery, now funded by benefactors, moved to larger quarters at 93 St. Marks Place, the heart of the city’s Kleindeutschland. There, Curry helped care for 200 children of poor mothers who had to work and had no safe place to bring their young children.

Called the Little Missionary’s Day Nursery , it was an homage to Curry’s small stature and nickname “Little Angel of the Missions.”

“Miss Curry never lost sight of social conditions in the children’s background, wrote the Times.

“She made thousands of visits to their parents, visited the sick, served Thanksgiving dinner by the hundreds.”

Littlemissionarysgoodhousekeeping

Sara Curry died in 1940. But her nursery school still exists on St. Marks Place.

[Top photo: Little Missionary’s Day Nursery; bottom: Good Housekeeping, 1904]

An 1880s shooting gallery on St. Mark’s Place

May 23, 2013

Stmarksshootingclub1893kingsNo, not that kind—an actual shooting gallery.

It’s a remnant of Kleindeutschland, the “Little Germany” that encompassed the East Village from the 1840s through the early 1900s.

The shooting gallery was at 12 St. Mark’s Place, east of Third Avenue. A bas relief carved into the facade gives away the building’s original purpose: it depicts an eagle, crossed guns, and a symbolic target, with the words Einigkeit Macht Stark (“unity is strength”) carved above.

This was the home of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schuetzen Gesellschaft, or German American Shooting Society.

Built in 1888, it housed a saloon, lodge rooms, bowling alley, and a small shooting range in the basement (club members did most of the actual shooting in Queens).

Stmarksshootingclubfacade

“By the 1880s, shooting became a middle class pastime, and most halls had moved to the suburbs along with many residents of Kleindeutschland,” states a Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

Stmarksshootingclub2013“However, the German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse remained an important link to the old neighborhood despite the migration.”

“It served as a headquarters for meetings of twenty-four such groups, and was the site of fund-raisers for the construction of rifle ranges and travel to Germany for international shooting contests.”

The Shooting Society owned it until 1920, and in subsequent decades, it served as a Ukrainian Culture Center and St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Today it’s a yoga studio . . . of course!

[Top photo: King’s Handbook of New York City, 1890s]

Second Avenue and St. Marks Place in 1985

January 27, 2011

Not too much in this photo has changed, strangely.

There’s 60-year-old B&H Dairy a bit down the block to the left, and Gem Spa at right, holding court as it has for 70 years on the corner, selling newspapers, magazines, and ice cream.

The photo ran in the May 1985 issue of East Village arts newspaper the East Village Eye. What I’d give to see their entire 1985 East Village map!

“Huge punk selection” at Trash and Vaudeville

May 20, 2010

Skinny ties, black jeans, beatle boots, and other punk/new wave must-haves were up for grabs at Trash and Vaudeville, which has occupied the same St. Mark’s Place address since 1975.

An Ephemeral reader clipped this cool vintage ad out of a March 1980 issue of Trouser Press, a New York-based music magazine. Check out back issues from the 1970s and 1980s.

Who watches you on St. Mark’s Place

January 18, 2010

She does, with the medusa-like hair, from the high floor of a St. Mark’s walkup building. 

I wonder what she has seen over the years.

A shootout on St. Mark’s Place, 1914

April 24, 2009

Born in 1889 on the Lower East Side, Benjamin “Dopey Benny” Fein was an East Side labor racketeer and extortist. Fein was a powerful guy at the time, but he had a rival: mobster and fellow racketeer Jack Sirocco.

dopeybennyfeinmug

The Lower East Side/East Village area was Jewish gangster territory then. So it was a brazen move when Sirocco rented out 19-25 St. Mark’s Place—a community center called Arlington Hall—for a ball on January 9, 1914. 

Before the ball began, Fein assembled his boys behind doorways near Arlington Hall, planning to rub out Sirocco. Shots were fired, but the only person hit was a bystander and city clerk named Frederick Strauss. Strauss was killed, and Fein was questioned by police (but not charged).

arlingtonhall

After the Arlington Hall shootout, Sirocco’s power intensified while Fein’s grip slipped. He was arrested and sent to prison several times over the years and died in 1962.

That’s about the time when Arlington Hall (pictured above today, in its current incarnation as kind of a minimall) had its resurgence. In the mid-60s, it housed a couple of counterculture clubs: the lower level was The Dom, while the upper floors became the Electric Circus, a popular rock venue that lasted until 1971.

W.H. Auden: An English poet in the East Village

October 24, 2008

Poet Wystan Hugh Auden arrived in New York City in 1939. After stints at the George Washington Hotel on East 23rd Street and in Brooklyn Heights, he and companion Chester Kallman settled into a second-floor apartment in an unremarkable tenement at 77 St. Marks Place.

They lived here from 1953 to 1972, a year before Auden’s death at 66.

Auden in his St. Marks Place digs. Hannah Arendt reportedly described his living quarters this way: “His slum apartment was so cold that the toilet no longer functioned and he had to use the toilet in the liquor store at the corner.” The building now houses a restaurant, La Palapa.

Auden may have been British by birth, but some of his poems referenced New York. “September 1, 1939” starts: “I sit in one of the dives/on Fifty-Second Street/Uncertain and afraid/As the clever hopes expire/of a low dishonest decade.”

Another, from 1947, is titled “In Schrafft’s,” the name of the chain of ice cream parlor/restaurants that dotted the city until the 1970s. It begins: “Having finished the Blue plate Special/And reached the coffee stage/Stirring her cup she sat/A somewhat shapeless figure/Of indeterminate age/In an undistinguished hat.”

St. Mark’s street punks, then and now

June 25, 2008

This week, New York magazine has an article about the latest generation of kids who have recycled the punk aesthetic, hanging out on St. Mark’s and bemoaning the fact that the East Village 1980s punk scene is long over. “St. Marks used to be, like, a punk block,” one kid says. “Now it’s like fucking BBQ chicken and fucking Chipotle, whatever that store is.”

But was the East Village of the 1980s really so punk? In a piece from the August 1984 East Village Eye, punks hanging out on the same stretch of St. Marks complain about the same things as their 2008 counterparts, namely gentrification and “middle class assholes,” as one kid put it. 

East Village Eye photo

From the 1984 article: “Though Sid, 14, lives with his parents in Brooklyn, he feels right at home at the corner of Ave. A because ‘there are normal people here.’ If he had his way, in the year 2000 there’d be a hardcore monument commemorating that very intersection ‘to the people that rebel.’ What the rebellion stood for, he was hard-pressed to explain.”