Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Update: An Amusing Headline, A Family Legend

If you missed the original post, this 1920 article in the New York Times tells the story of a parrot that awakens a tailor's family to a burglar, and the16-year-old daughter, Cecilia, who proceeds to chase him up the street.  The article confirms a bit of my family's lore:

New York Times, February 2, 1920

In the post, I noted some confusion over the article's report that Cecilia's address was 5 Chrystie Street.  The action in the story takes place around Pearl Street and New Bowery, and my grandfather had always said he was born and raised on Pearl Street.

After some investigation (thanks, ancestry.com), I get some answers.  Here is a bit of the 1920 census for the 4th Ward of Manhattan, recorded about a month before the Times article:

The highlighted section shows my father's family, the Shermans.  Here's a detail that clearly shows 16-year-old Cecilia, as well as 12-year-old Edward, my grandfather:

Brothers Alexander and Lawrence are not listed because they were in their twenties at the time and had already left home (they are both listed in the 1910 census).  Perhaps they were just visiting that day.

The number 397 (to the left in the detail) is the family's address on Pearl Street.  In fact, the census reports of 1910, 1920, and 1930 all show the family living at that address.  This is also, presumably, the address of the tailor shop.  So back to the 1911 Bromley map, where the 3-story building they lived in is clearly marked:

NYPL Digital Gallery

The building is also right in the middle of the action that takes place in the Times story.  Unfortunately, I still don't have answer for the 5 Chrystie Street address.  Could just be a reporter's mistake?

Waiting on a Friend

Ed. Note: Okay, so I assume everyone knows this, but just in case...

When I first moved to the East Village I spent most of my time at Downtown Beirut (best jukebox ever) and St. Marks Bar & Grill. I had been here maybe six months when I found myself chatting about the mural on the back wall at St. Marks, and how the Rolling Stones had filmed their video for Waiting on a Friend on St. Marks Place and in the bar itself, and how the band actually played a set in the bar.  I tried to pretend it was old news, but I'm a terrible liar. 

"Wait, you did know that, right?"

Mick walks and Keith staggers into the bar at St. Marks and First Avenue, looking north along the east side of the avenue, screen grab from the Waiting on a Friend video (filmed July 21, 1981, according to the Rolling Stones database).

The same view today.  (Author, 2010)

Another screen grab, the whole band inside the bar.  Ron Wood opened his own short-lived club not far away, on East 4th (west of Second Avenue), in 1990.

While researching this post, I learned something I hadn't heard before.  The video was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, an early director of musical promo films (that came to be known as videos), whose credits include an extensive library of film, video, and television work, including the iconic video for the Beatles "Hey Jude."

A behind-the-scenes shot.  You can find more here.

There's plenty of other web content about this video shoot along St. Marks between First and A (as was the cover of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti album, which everyone knows already, of course, right?), so I'll just direct you to Google for more info.

Or visit EV Grieve for info on the recent fire at the Physical Graffiti buildings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Selling Baked Goods from the Grace Church Yard, and the Birth of the Bread Line

The cornerstone for Grace Church, the iconic landmark at Broadway and 10th Street, was laid on Oct 30, 1843. The land was purchased earlier that year from the estate of Henry Brevoort Sr. for $35,000. The church was designed by James Renwick (age 23 at the time, who later designed St. Patrick's Cathedral) and was consecrated in 1846.

Grace Church, c.1924, looking northeast with Broadway running uptown to the left and 10th Street to the right. Note the yard in the lower right of photo.
NYPL Digital Gallery

But Grace Church's land did not originally stretch to 10th Street as it does today. The lot on the northeast corner of Broadway at 10th Street, just over 39 feet wide, was the site of another well-known building of its day.

A view looking east across Broadway (uptown to the left) at Fleischmann's Vienna Model Bakery c. 1888. Note Grace Church to the left, and the snow of the Great Blizard of '88.
NYPL Digital Gallery

Louis Fleischmann and his brothers, Charles and Max, were Austrian immigrants who introduced "Vienna bread" at their "Vienna Model Bakery" at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The bread and model bakery were a huge hit, and shortly afterwards Fleischmann opened a permanent bakery at 788 Broadway, on the corner of 10th Street.

The bakery and its attached cafe became a popular meeting place and destination for Ladies Mile shoppers (the bakery was located across 10th Street from the "Iron Palace" of A.T. Stewart and later Wanamaker's).  Vienna bread quickly spread around the city, becoming one of the city's earliest food fads.

Fleischmann and his bakeries expanded to other cities, while the yeast company bearing his brothers' name continues to this day.
But Fleischmann is also remembered for a form of charity with which he alone seems credited, the "bread line". As Fleischmann lay on his death bed in 1904 it was noted:
The idea of [the bread line's] establishment came to Mr. Fleischmann when he noticed a crowd of hungry tramps standing over the grating at the bakery at Tenth Street and Broadway, scenting the hot loaves that were being turned out in the basement. Mr. Fleishmann offered to feed one of the men, and soon a line formed.
New York Times (September 25 1904)

Illustration from an article about Fleischmann and the origin of his philanthropy, New York Times (October 2, 1904)

From then on, each night at midnight, a line would form around the block in front of Grace Church to which Mr. Fleischmann would distribute his unsold goods.  It was said that Mr. Fleishmann himself was often seen handing out loaves, along with hot coffee in the winter.

Shortly after Fleischmann's death in 1904, Grace Church acquired the property.

New York Times, February 27, 1906

After the bakery moved its operations to a new location at 11th Street between Broadway and University Place, the bread line continued for years.

A view of the Fleishmann's building c. 1908, shortly before it was demolished. Note the E.Weingarten's sign noting their imminent move to another location.  I always chuckle at the cross-armed police officer sternly watching the photographer, lower right.
NYPL Digital Gallery

Here's a similar view today, via Google Maps.

An Interesting Artifact: The Bend in Broadway

As legend has it, Henry Brevoort Sr., a prominent landowner of the early 1800's, fought the proposed path of Broadway laid out in the 1807 draft of the Commissioner's Plan because it cut directly though his land on a straight line to 23rd Street. It is said that Mr. Brevoort owned a favorite tulip tree under which he enjoyed relaxing and having a smoke. This tree, near the present intersection of Broadway and 10th Street, would need to be cut down to accommodate the new road. To save the tree, Broadway was angled in the direction we know today.

As documented in his fascinating graduate thesis, Reuben Skye Rose-Redwood details the incident that inspired the myth. In 1807, Mr. Brevoort and six other landowners petitioned the commissioners in a letter titled "Reasons of several land holders in Broad Way against the payment of the Sums assessed upon them for Opening the Same.” In fact, the landowners objections had more to do with monetary concerns rather than a tulip tree. The city gave in, the commission made its recommendations, and in 1815 the "bend" became law.

The image above is a detail from the famous Randel Farm Map c. 1819 superimposing the street grid with existing farm boundaries and showing the point where the Bloomingdale Road (the northern route of today's Broadway) meets lower Broadway at 10th Street, bisecting Henry Brevoort's property.


References and Sources

New York Times Articles

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A.T. Stewart, John Wanamaker, the Great Fire, and the Great Flood (Part II)

Ed. Note: If you missed Part I, you can check it out here.

In 1954, Wanamaker's announced it would close its store complex on the blocks between 4th Avenue and Broadway, 8th and 10th Streets, citing a new focus on suburban stores.  The older store, the 1862 A.T. Stewart "Iron Palace" was already being used as offices, having been leased to the U.S. Goverment some years earlier.  In December 1954, the store closed its doors.

In March 1956, a group acquired the site of the "Iron Palace" with plans to build a complex of 478 apartments.  Demolition began a few months later, scheduled to take four months.  Then on July 14, a massive fire broke out.

An amazing newsreel from British Pathé. Click the image to view the video, or go here to launch the video on its own page.

The Times reported the blaze took 25 hours to control with 187 firefighters hurt.  The Broadway BMT subway (today's N/R) and the Lexington IRT (today's 4/5/6) were closed, as were the surrounding streets, including Broadway and 4th Avenue.  Thousands of site-seers surrounded the site to catch a glimpse of the calamity:
There was plenty to see...The area within Twelfth Street on the north, Eighth Street and Astor Place on the south, University Place on the west and Third Avenue on the east resembled a hastily constructed battle scene...From the gray stone pile of the Wanamaker building, which resembled a gaping, bombed-out shell, billowed acrid smoke, intermittently shot through with licks of flame.
New York Times, July 16, 1956

Crowds gather to watch the fire in two shots by photographer Robert Frank.

The top photo seems to be taken from 9th Street at 4th Avenue looking downtown (note the Cooper Union Foundation Building in the background).
I haven't been able to pinpoint this second photo, although I have some ideas. Guesses?

With an estimated 50,000,000 gallons of water used on the fire, the Astor Place station was completely flooded.  The track foundation for the IRT line was washed away, and the Transit Authority feared that 4th Avenue might itself collapse.  The BMT and IRT lines were completely shut down for two days and normal service was not restored for five days.  A week later, 4th Avenue remained closed from 8th Street to 11th Street as repairs continued.

July 1956: A great shot of the construction activity in Astor Place after the flood, taken from the northwest corner of 9th Street and 4th Avenue.  Note the scaffolding at the far left from the demolition of another landmark, Bible House, underway at the same time.  Also note the billboard advertising the 1955-56 World's Fair in the Dominican Republic instead of the Coca-Cola display made famous by Rudy Burckhardt.
The Miracle of Astor Place, Transit Magazine, November 1956

Foundation work for the Stewart House apartments began in April 1959 and the project was completed in 1960.

A view of Wanamaker's "new building" in 1933.  This view looks west across 4th Avenue and Lafayette Street. The building survives today as 770 Broadway and home to KMart.
Ryerson & Burnham Collection

Here's the building today.

Some stills worth noting from the British Pathé newsreel:
  • At 0:36: Appears to be looking down Broadway (east side) across 8th Street at the corner where the Gap now stands (it was a Manhattan Savings Bank in 1956).
  • At 0:42: A ghostly image looking up 4th Avenue from 9th to 10th Streets, note the shadow of the Con Ed tower in the upper right.

New York Times References

Coverage of the Wanamaker's store closing and sale by the New York Times:
Coverage of the Wanamaker's fire by the New York Times, July 15-19, 1956:

Monday, November 15, 2010


In 1996, the Barry Levinson film Sleepers opened with an all-star cast and good reviews.  A scene that establishes the story involves a hot dog cart careening down the stairs of a subway station.  If you look closely, you'll see the scene was filmed at the Astor Place station.  Note the period of the cars and dress; the scene takes place in the mid/late 60's.  Some screen grabs are below.

The kids push the stolen hot dog cart around the corner at 9th Street, headed downtown on 4th Avenue.  You can see Chris French Cleaners on Google.

A view from the bottom of the stairs at the uptown side of the Astor Place station, looking up at the kiosk.

The kids struggle to keep control of the cart.  Note the Wanamaker's building (770 Broadway) and the Stewart House apartments in the background.

I wonder if I'm the only one who found it amusing that these kids pushed that cart all the way from Hell's Kitchen (where they lived) to Astor Place.  Or is that what they mean by "suspension of disbelief."

You can see this scene on YouTube.  Look for an effects shot that makes a downtown view of Astor Place look like Times Square.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming Soon...

  • A.T. Stewart, John Wanamaker, the Great Fire, and the Great Flood (Part II)
  • Selling Baked Goods from the Grace Church Yard, and the Birth of the Breadline
  • Dry Dock, Shipyards, and St. Brigid's

A.T. Stewart, John Wanamaker, the Great Fire, and the Great Flood (Part I)

Ed. Note: Part II of this post is here.

A.T. Stewart, considered by many to be the father of the modern department store, opened his immense flagship store in 1862 on the block sided by 9th and 10th Streets, Broadway and 4th Avenue.  Known as the "Iron Palace" (in contrast with Stewart's original store, the "Marble Palace", which opened in 1846 on lower Broadway), the store was the anchor of the new "Ladies Mile" retail district.  Stewart located his store to take advantage of the uptown movement of the elite to neighborhoods surrounding Union Square and Washington Square.

One of the earliest buildings to employ a cast iron facade, the new technology provided greater window area and natural light.  The building was designed by John Kellum and estimated to cost $2.75 million, and quickly became a tourist marvel.

View of the "Iron Palace" c. 1868 shortly after opening and before the extension, looking southeast with 10th Street to the left (looking east) and Broadway downtown to the right.  Note the two buildings to the right on the corner of Broadway and 9th Street (right).

Another view before the 1870 extension, looking along the east side of Broadway uptown from 9th Street.  Note Grace Church, left, in the background.
NYPL Digital Gallery

I noticed that early photos of the building showed that its southern side did not extend to its ultimate border on 9th Street.  An extension was completed in 1870, apparently after additional lots or leaseholds were acquired.
Fully complete after the 1870 extension, looking at the northeast corner of Broadway (uptown to the left) and 9th Street (east to the right).  Note the 9th Street loading dock.
NYPL Digital Gallery

After Stewart's death in 1876 (he was buried at St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery and his remains were stolen and ransomed soon afterward, but that's another story), the business continued on until 1882 when it became Hilton, Hughes & Co (formed by associates of Stewart).  Hilton, Hughes failed in August 1896, and in September of that year, the building was acquired by John Wanamaker, a retailer from Philadelphia.
View looking to the northwest from 4th Avenue (uptown to the right) and 9th Street (west to the left).  Note the pedestrian "Bridge of Progress" over 9th Street (left of photo).
Museum of the City of New York (Berenice Abbott, 1936)

Wanamaker spent the next several years assembling lots on the block just south of his building, bordered by 8th and 9th Street, 4th Avenue and Broadway, before announcing in 1902 he would build a new building on that site.  Wanamaker planned to take advantage of the new IRT subway (under construction at the time), and made arrangements for the Astor Place station to open directly into the basement of his building. 
According to the NOHO Historic District Report:
Pivotal to the commercial stability of the district was the 1903 decision of Wanamaker's Department Store to build an annex to its store at Broadway and 9th Street. At a time when many department stores were relocating uptown, Wanamaker's expansion demonstrated the retailer's commitment to the area. The store's convenient location within a block of the Astor Place station of the new IRT subway, construction, may have played a part in the decision. Wanamaker engaged the D. H.Burnham & Company of Chicago to design the fourteen-story annex at 756-770 Broadway (1903-07). Clad mostly in terra cotta, this Renaissance Revival style shopping palace contained thirty-two acres of retail space and occupied the entire block when finally completed.
NOHO Historic District, nyc.gov
The Wanamaker's "annex" building still stands today, although we know it as 770 Broadway, or the KMart building (and the basement is still accessible from the Astor Place station).  The building is corporate home to America Online and J.Crew, among others.  The original "Iron Palace" no longer stands, and in Part II I'll look at its demise.

A view looking south on Broadway showing the original A.T. Stewart "Iron Palace" (center) and the new Wanamaker's annex (background).

The "Bridge of Progress" connecting the two Wanamaker's buildings over 9th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway, c. 1924 (looking west).
NYPL Digital Gallery

Some other articles from the New York Times:
View looking northwest from 9th Street and 4th Avenue, the site of the 1862 A.T. Stewart building, now the Stewart House cooperative apartments.  (Author, 2010)

9th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway is also known as "Wanamaker Place".  (Author, 2010)

An Interesting Artifact

The Lafayette Street traffic pattern we know today--past Astor Place, slight jog to the right, then merging up 4th Avenue--was apparently made possible by the construction of the Wanamaker annex and the Astor Place subway station.  Maps prior to the construction connect Cooper Square (west side) directly to 4th Avenue (as it does today), but Lafayette Street effectively dead ends at 8th Street.

From Bromley, 1891.  Note the marked triangular area which comprises an extension to Lafayette Street today.  Also note the "Hilton Hughes" name in the upper left; this map was drawn after the 1882 transfer of the A.T. Stewart company, and before the Wanamaker acquisition.

From Randall & Blackwell, 1867.  Note A.T. Stewart store.
NYPL Digital Library

From Bromwell 1899.  Note the Iron Palace (555) is now labeled John Wanamaker.
NYPL Digital Library

From Bromwell 1916.  The annex is complete and the lot trimmed to the line we know today.
NYPL Digital Library

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Amusing Headline, A Family Legend

Ed. Note: Okay, so this story is a little off geographically, but it's my blog and I wanted to share.

My father came for a visit recently and recounted a family story I had never heard before.  As it was told to him, his grandfather owned a tailor shop on the Lower East Side that made police uniforms.  The family, living above the shop, had a parrot to warn them if someone tried to break in.  One night, the parrot began to squawk, "Gotta gun, gotta gun, call the police, gotta gun," someone called the police, and a burglar was captured.

Well a story like that, I thought, might have made the papers.  Jumping on the computer, I quickly found the link and printed it for my father, who began to giggle.  His amazement and amusement at having this nearly 100-year-old bizarre family legend confirmed in the black-and-white of the New York Times continued for hours.

So here's the real story, from page 5 of the New York Times, February 2, 1920:

Download the PDF here.

The girl in the headline, 16 year old Cecilia Sherman, is my grandfather's sister, or as I knew her, "crazy" Aunt Ceil.  (If you read the article, you can see she really may have been nuts.)  I remember visiting her when I was as a kid at her apartment on the Upper West Side.

Interested in knowing more about this bit of family history, I also focused on this portion of the story:
...started off for the Oak Street station, half a block away...At Pearl Street and the Bowery she caught up with the prisoner...at New Chambers Street she again caught up with him...  
Bromley map c. 1911 that includes all of the mentioned streets.
NYPL Digital Gallery

I'm assuming that the story uses the shorthand "Bowery" for the street that was mapped as "New Bowery".

Bromley map c. 1911 detail showing location of the Oak Street Station at no. 9.
NYPL Digital Gallery

While trying to find some contemporary photos of the neighborhood, I found that many of the referenced streets simply no longer exist, nor do any of the surrounding neighborhoods.  The neighborhoods were razed and some of the streets demapped from the 1940's through the 1960's for a variety of projects, including ramps connecting the FDR Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge, the construction of One Police Plaza, and the opening of the massive Alfred E. Smith Houses in 1953.

  • Oak Street was demapped around 1947
  • New Chambers was demapped between 1947 and 1966
  • New Bowery is the present St. James Place (as of 1947)
  • Pearl Street remains mostly unchanged
Source: Old Streets

A comparison from Google Maps and the c. 1911 Bromley map.

I'm confused by the reference to 5 Chrystie Street as the home of Cecilia Sherman.  My grandfather (Ceil's brother) always said he was born and grew up on Pearl Street.  5 Chrystie Street is nowhere near the other places in the story, so something seems amiss with that address.

This is one I'll continue to research...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bible House and Book Row

The 1853 Bible House was the headquarters of the American Bible Society.  It occupied the full block where the Cooper Union engineering building now stands (between Astor Place and 9th Street, Third and Fourth Avenues).  It has the distinction of being the city's first cast iron-framed building, and in its day was quite the tourist attraction.

1904 view of Bible House with 4th Avenue (uptown) to the left, Astor Place (east) to the right.
During [1853] the ABS relocated from its modest Nassau Street headquarters to a grand and fashionable uptown location on Astor Place. The new five-story ‘‘Bible House’’ constituted an architectural, technological, and administrative marvel. Occupying a full city block, the cast-iron structure included a salesroom, modern printing facility, and extensive bindery. Financed by contributions from the wealthiest and most prominent Christians in New York, its completion announced the American Bible Society’s arrival as one of the most powerful and significant reform organizations in the nation. Thousands of Christian tourists annually visited the ABS, and even Mark Twain observed after an exploration of the Bible House "that I enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in any circus."
A ‘‘Special Collection’’ in Nineteenth-Century New York: The American Bible Society and Its Library, Peter J. Wosh and Lorraine A. Coons

A view of the Cooper Union Foundation Building, with the striking red brick of Bible House in the background (looking uptown along Cooper Square/4th Avenue)

The Bible House was primarily a publishing facility, producing tens of millions of bibles in many languages during its lifetime.  According to Christopher Gray, it was one of the magnets that brought publishers, libraries, and bookstores to the Cooper Square/4th Avenue corridor, and according to Mondlin and Meador, its pending demolition marked the beginning of the end of the "book row":
A short distance south of the Strand, the Bible House on Fourth Avenue, which over the years had been so friendly to bookshops, was scheduled for demolition, which compelled four book businesses -- Astor Place Magazine and Bookshop, Colonial Book Service, Eureka Bookshop and Leon Kramer -- to find accommodations elsewhere.

Up the street from the Bible House, the Strand and four other bookstores -- Arcadia Bookshop, Friendly Book and Music Shop, Louis Schucman, Wex's Book Shop -- confronted the same fate when the buildings on the east side of Fourth Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets were sold.

Bible House street-level scene, c. 1935, along 4th Avenue (uptown to the left)

A view from 9th Street, looking west across Third Avenue, mid-1950's.  If you look closely you can see a "Sale" sign in one of the ground floor retailers along Third Avenue--This photo was probably taken mere months before demolition of the Bible House began.
By the El, by Lawrence Stelter

From the NY Times (April 2, 1956)

The engineering building on the site of the Bible House is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a mixed-use office and retail building.

An Interesting Artifact, the Stuyvesant Street Roadbed

The construction of the Cooper Union engineering building in the late 1950's caused a change in the route of Astor Place/Stuyvesant Street, which were once connected across Third Avenue.  As shown in the first map, c. 1911, the Bible House (in the center of the map), has minimal frontage on Third Avenue, and the line of Stuyvesant Street continues across Third Avenue to Astor Place:

Today, as we know (and according to the current NYC tax map below), Astor Place feeds into St. Marks Place and Stuyvesant Street is disconnected.  The lot populated by the engineering building (and the attached cafe) is more squared than that of the Bible House.

The extra land was acquired by Cooper Union for "academic purposes," although a look from Google shows that the main building does not sit on the land (only the cafe nee Starbucks).  The developers of the new building, Minskoff Equities, are required (so they say) to return this reclaimed roadbed in the form of a public plaza so that the line of Stuyvesant Street will be restored into Astor Place:
[The agreement with Cooper Union] called for 3,950 square feet of space roughly along the lines of the true east-west Stuyvesant St. roadbed to be a public plaza, the design of which is to be approved by City Planning.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Taking of Pelham 123

The classic The Taking of Pelham 123 is one of my favorite New York movies (the 1974 original, of course).  One particular scene has a police car crashing as it races to catch the hijacked train, and was filmed on Lafayette.  Some screen grabs are below.

A motorcycle flips as a police car races up Lafayette.  You can see Alamo, better know as The Cube, on the left of the frame (it was installed in 1967).  Also note that the uptown 6 entrance does not yet have the reproduction kiosk which was added as part of the station renovation in 1986.  I always found this shot humorous with the locals obviously watching the filming on the right of the frame and elsewhere.

Yes, there was a time before Astor Place had a Starbucks.

Just like living in Hollywood!

Stuyvesant Street Mystery

While researching another post, I came across this unusual map from 1881:

From Community Heritage Maps

You can see the Stuyvesant Street running on the diagonal from the lower left to the upper right.  But the upper right portion crosses the blocks between Avenue A and Second Avenue:

Of course this eastern portion does not exist, and I couldn't find any evidence that it ever did.  The street seems to be drawn as a phantom, passing through existing lots.  I found a similar routing of Stuyvesant Street on the 1834 Fireman's Guide map, where it seems to end abruptly near the river:

1834 Fireman's Guide

So I wondered whether there is any remnant of this route on the existing grid.  A quick check of Google Maps showed me a curiously positioned building.  Note Stuyvesant Street to the left and the unusual building to the right:

And zooming in to the block between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, 12th and 13th Streets:

It's very a unusual placement for a building in the middle of the block, and seems less than coincidental since it falls right on the line of the phantom Stuyvesant Street.  The mystery continues...


An anonymous poster provided the address of the building, which allowed me to lookup the tax map.  Although recently constructed (according to the poster), the building appears situated to maximize its use of the lot.  Still may mean absolutely nothing, but that lot shape sure is odd!