Posts Tagged ‘tenements’

The relics on tenements at a Lenox Hill corner

June 4, 2018

On the east side of First Avenue at 69th Street are two tidy tenements—and each one has a curious remnant of old New York on its facade.

The tenement on the north side has the cross streets carved into it at the corner. Look up to the second story, and you’ll see “1st Ave 69th St.”

These cross street carvings used to be very common in tenement neighborhoods, and many can still be found, if mostly faded and crumbled.

Perhaps they functioned as streets signs on poorer blocks that didn’t have actual signs in the early 20th century, when the tenements went up.

I’d heard that some of these signs were meant to tell elevated train riders where they were—but that’s not the case with these, since First Avenue never had an elevated train.

The cross street signs on the tenement across the corner is more unusual.

This one has two handmade “69st” signs etched in, as if finger-painted on the plaster.

More tenements with cross streets on them can be found in Manhattan and Brooklyn—especially in older neighborhoods like Williamsburg, downtown Brooklyn, the East Village, and the Lower East Side.

Faded outlines of long-gone Manhattan buildings

January 12, 2015

Ghostbuildingwest30sSigns for long-departed stores, retaining walls no longer in use, trolley tracks peeking out from asphalt streets: New York’s past leaves its imprint everywhere.

The sides of buildings give us glimpses of the city’s history too. The faded outlines of tenements and other buildings long gone often remain, at least until new construction comes along and obscures them again.

On a lonely block in the far West 30s is this classic city walkup, with a roof on a slant–a modest place to make a home in what was once a modest neighborhood.


Hebrew Union College put up this building in 1979, at Mercer and West 4th Streets, almost covering the two chimneys from the building that previously occupied the spot. A tenement perhaps?


Considering the pace of construction in a luxury-building crazed New York, these remains of a 43rd Street walkup might already be sealed out of view.


Same with this former home—maybe a brownstone?—on 86th Street, on a stately block near Fifth Avenue.


Also in the far West 30s near the Javits Center is this outline of a humble tenement on the side of another humble tenement, the people who once lived and worked there and their stories lost to the ages.

More faded building outlines—dormer windows too!—can be seen here.

The beautiful tenement of West 51st Street

April 12, 2010

“Beautiful” and “tenement” don’t generally go together; tenements were intended to be cheap housing for the masses, and for the most part, developers didn’t care much for aesthetics.

But sometimes you come across one with incredible ornamental details, like this five-story walkup in Hell’s Kitchen—the twin of a similarly detailed tenement next door.

Above and below the windows are swirls of terra cotta leaves, flowers, birds, and angels.

It’s a lush and lively facade. The developer must have wanted his building to stand out, and it does.

The dragons guarding a Chinatown tenement

March 12, 2009

They’re grimy and could use a fresh coat of paint, but these dragon-shaped handrails at the entrance to a Chinatown walk-up are pretty neat:


Who watches you on the streets of New York

March 4, 2009

Some faces are beautiful and angelic, like this one on a dingy storefront on West 14th Street:














Then there are the sad-eyed and frightful. This man stands watch outside a tenement in the East 70s:


The East Village’s public housing history

June 1, 2008

In 1934, the city bought a stretch of dilapidated tenements on Avenue A and East Third Street, then spent a year renovated them. They collectively became the first public housing in New York history.

Appropriately called the “First Houses,” they were home to 122 families in 1935. The three- and four-room pads cost a bargain $6.05 per room. This original photo is from the New York City Housing Authority.

At the opening ceremony, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated the houses. “There is sunshine in every window” exclaimed Mayor LaGuardia, commenting on the fact that 20 families were moving in from old-law apartments that had few or no windows at all.

In the 1930s the city went on to build massive, federally funded projects in Harlem, Williamsburg, and Red Hook. Today, about 350 developments house more than 400,000 people all over the five boroughs. 

Here’s a view of the houses today, from Avenue A. If you didn’t swing around the corner and see the sign marking them as public housing, you’d never know.