Posts Tagged ‘Union Square’

Strolling and shopping in Union Square in 1908

December 21, 2013

Well-dressed matrons stroll in and out of shops while their chauffeurs wait curbside in carriages in this vintage postcard of a seemingly unchanged Union Square.


Could this be a scene of Christmas shoppers? A sign in the distance seems to read “presents” and it appears to be winter. But there are no holiday decorations.

When Union Square had a lovely fountain

September 13, 2010

Union Square has been around since 1839, when it opened with a large central fountain, according to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

But when Union Square was ripped up during subway construction in the 1920s, the fountain went with it.

This postmarked, stamped 1910, doesn’t indicate what we’re looking at, but I think it’s Union Square West.

The horse-drawn carriages of Union Square

January 28, 2010

It looks like a placid spring or summer day in the postcard of turn-of-the-20th-century Union Square, with carriages waiting for passengers. 

It’s hard to tell, but could that be the George Washington statue way on the left that’s now in the center of the park?

I know it’s not Gandhi. Among other tip-offs, that statue didn’t arrive in the park until 1986.

Dance-hall days on 14th Street

December 21, 2009

Fourteenth Street near Union Square has gone through many incarnations. In the late 1800s it hosted New York’s theater district, home to theaters and music halls as well as piano and organ salesrooms.

You can see the Steck Pianos sign and a sign for Estey, an organ manufacturer, in this 1880s photo of 14th street. And the street car on the left has the word “theatre” printed on the front.

By the the turn of the century the area slid into more of a low-rent vaudeville and dance-hall hub. It must have been a colorful, slightly depressing place to visit.

The narrator of “The Princess With the Golden Hair,” a short story by Village writer Edmund Wilson, published in 1942, observed:

“In the restlessness of my after-dinner boredom, I began looking in on the dance-halls. The first one I visited was desolating and soon drove me out again. Sparse couples—uninterested hostesses and  elderly stolid men—were shuffling  or revolving to monotonous music under lighting that was glamorless and garish.

“I wondered whether they were all like that or whether there mightn’t be gayer places: was this the type of the popular recreation that a city like New York had to offer?”

Wigstock: New York’s other Labor Day tradition

September 2, 2009

The first Labor Day parade was held in September 1882; thousands of workers marched and rallied in Union Square for better workplace conditions and pay.


A century later, the first Wigstock was held in September 1985. One thousand spectators came to Tompkins Square Park to see founder Lady Bunny and other drag queens perform in sequins, sky-high platforms, and big wigs at the park’s bandshell.

Wigstock’s genesis was a little less serious than Labor Day’s: It was conceived by Lady Bunny and friends after a drunken night in 1984 at Avenue A’s Pyramid Club.

An instant, outrageous hit, Wigstock became a Labor Day tradition. By 1990, the crowd swelled to 10,000. If you were stuck in the city that weekend with no friends inviting you out to the Hamptons or upstate, you could always head downtown and get a kick out of the crowds and performers spilling over into the streets.

When the park closed for renovations in 1991, Wigstock moved to Union Square, and in 1994, it relocated to the Christopher Street Piers. 

Until 2001, that is, when the last Wigstock took place. In subsequent years it was absorbed into the Howl! festival in the East Village. But it seems that 2009 will be Wigstock-less. 

Here’s more Wigstock info and ephemera.

Who is watching Lincoln’s funeral procession?

March 27, 2009

See the two little figures looking out the second-floor window facing south in the building on the corner? Supposedly it’s a young Teddy Roosevelt and his brother Elliot (future father of Eleanor); they’re viewing President Lincoln’s funeral procession. The future president would have been seven years old when this picture was taken on April 25, 1865.

That’s his grandfather Cornelius Roosevelt’s property on Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets; the procession is heading to Union Square.


Cornelius Roosevelt’s house was torn down and an eight-story terra cotta and brick structure put in its place in 1894. Called the Roosevelt Building, it stands at 13th and Broadway today.

A portrait of a New York City lady

February 28, 2009

She’s somebody’s daughter, or mother or sister. And she sure is wearing a heavy-duty crucifix on a chain around her neck. I wonder who held on to her photo for over a hundred years.

someonesmotherportrait1 The portrait was taken at Rockwood Photography, in Union Square. George Rockwood opened his studio in 1857 and competed with Civil War and portrait photographer Mathew Brady, who worked a few blocks away down Broadway.

There’s a nice site devoted to George Rockwood that features some of his portraits, plus a few great old photographs of Union Square.

As for this woman, she remains a mystery.

When Tiffany & Co. moved “uptown”

February 14, 2009

This is the time of year when Tiffany & Co. gets lots of traffic; Valentine’s Day is a prime day to get engaged. It probably was in February 1905 as well. That month, Tiffany & Co. ran this full-page ad in the general interest magazine The Cosmopolitan

tiffanyad Besides pushing their famed “Blue Book” catalog (still published in 2009!), the ad probably served to let readers know about  Tiffany’s new uptown digs.

Earlier that year, the store had moved out of its longtime location on 15th Street and Union Square West—a cast-iron beauty now serving as a condo. With Union Square on its way to becoming a low-rent theater district, Tiffany’s joined Lord & Taylor, B. Altman’s, and other shops in fashionable midtown.

Tiffany’s started out in 1837 downtown opposite City Hall Park. The store did a stint on Broadway and Prince Street (see photo below) in the last years of the 19th century. They moved into their current Fifth Avenue and 57th Street building in 1940.



Legendary Lüchow’s on East 14th Street

January 23, 2009

I’m not aware of any New York City eatery with an umlaut in its name. But for a century, there was Lüchow’s—the German restaurant that served wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, and other old-world, heavy-duty delicacies since 1882.


Lüchow’s opened when Union Square was New York’s theater and music hall district. It consisted of seven separate dining rooms, a beer garden, a bar, and a men’s grill. One room was lined with animal heads; another displayed a collection of beer steins. Must have been a serious dining experience.

Of course, when the city’s fortunes turned in the 1970s, so did Lüchow’s. The restaurant shut its doors for good after a mysterious 1982 fire. It’s now the site of a New York University dormitory.

Check out this review from Knife and Fork in New York, a 1949 guide to the city’s best eateries:


Thrills and spills on the Manhattan El

September 19, 2008

Back in the days when trains criss-crossed the city on elevated tracks, riders must have gotten quite a rush at certain steep curves—some as high as 100 feet off the ground.

Angel’s Curve, also known as Suicide Curve, was part of the Ninth Avenue El at 110th Street, where the tracks swerved from Ninth to Eighth Avenue. Here’s an 1886 photo:


Another serpentine curve, shown in this late-1800s photo, was located downtown at Coenties Slip just before the East River. The tracks were part of the Third Avenue El:

Dead Man’s Curve, at Broadway and 14th Street, never leaves the ground, but it looks like a fairly exhilarating turn for streetcar riders. The 1897 woodcut below shows how dangerous it was for pedestrians.

The streetcars are gone, but it’s still a tricky intersection to cross.