Monday, December 17, 2012

New Picture of the Regent Theater

This is a recent photo sent to me by a very kind person at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, formerly known as the B.S. Moss Regent or the RKO Regent Theater.  The First Corinthian Baptist Church has taken beautiful care of this building, a building that holds a few important places in New York and motion picture history.  The plaster work around the proscenium looks incredible, as does the detail on the boxes.  Thank you First Corinthian Baptist Church for realizing the beauty and value of this building and taking care of it.
The theater is about to turn 100 years old (February 2013) and the image above with the musicians on the stage is a full circle of the life of this space.  It was a failing movie house until Samuel .L. Rothafel took over management. Better known as "Roxy", he had been successful with turning the fortunes of unsuccessful theatres in other parts of the country. In the theater prior to the Regent, prior to moving to New York was the Alhambra in Minneapolis were he covered up the orchestra pit and moved the musicians on stage.  When the theater owner objected, Roxy's response was "well they're expensive, right? Might as well see them" or something to that effect. Roxy had a a set built surrounding the screen above the orchestra with balconies for singers. Roxy arranged music specific for the film being shown along with lighting effects. As the years went on, his shows and orchestras grew, eventually to the 110 musician Roxy Theatre Orchestra.
It is here that Roxy got his start in New York. It was the first theater to be built for movies (however it did not differ much from the vaudeville house typical of 1913 - meaning it had a stage) and it is one of the most beautiful, intact houses by Thomas Lamb.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

East 113th Street.

Harlem had / has many hearts, especially the Harlem east of Fifth avenue. East 113th was part of Italian Harlem once upon a time.

 In the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, an enormous wave of new Americans came to the shores of the Big Apple from southern Italy and Sicily.  A large contingent of this wave settled in East Harlem.  People from the same town would tend to settle on the same block, if not the same building, as accents from town to town in Italy are surprisingly different. There was also the idea of familiarity in addition to being able to communicate that lead to this phenomenon. This is a picture taken in July of 1931, looking south on First Avenue from 113th street. We are looking at the annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

 Detail from the same event. Behind the well dressed crowd is 349 - 351 East 113th street.

 The same event again looking at the same buildings on East 113th.

 This is 172- 156 East 113 between 2nd & 3rd looking west at the south side of the street. Myers Beverages must be 172. In the middle there are two single family wood frame houses with stoops and porches. The ever forward thinking City of New York passed a building ordinance in 1877 that forbade this type of construction. This was after enough disastrous fires in this town. Given this, these structures had to be built prior to 1877. The land was once owned by James Roosevelt and was sold off during the first half of the 19th century. There had been some speculative building going on as the Harlem River Railroad had opened it's horse car line on what we now call Park Avenue after 1835. This picture is from November 1937.

 114 -118 East 113 between Park and Lexington. While 116 got and 118 got brick fronts, 114 retained it's weathered wood look. The open land that was East Harlem began to develop in earnest post Civil War as more and more people migrated to the United States, particularly New York City. An island shaped like the rock I call home, a population can only move up as the lower part of the island began to swell population - wise. This photo dates from 1932.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Neighborhood Nightclub, Park West Village and the death of a man on a bus in New Jersey in 1956

On May 15th 1956, the New York Times ran an obituary of a man who suffered a heart attack and died on a bus. The man was 73 years old and for the past several years had lived in a rooming house in Bloomfield New Jersey, a suburb of Newark.  The article went on to say that in a jacket pocket a note was found directing that in the event of his death the powerful columnist Ed Sullivan (as well as several other newspaper columnists) should be notified. The man was born in Jersey City in 1883 as Herman Hinrichs but he was better known as Will Oakland, a singer who had made a fortune with his high tenor voice and was the idol of the "bobby soxers" of his day. He was the winner of many popularity contests on the 1920's and owned several night clubs in New York. His wealth and night clubs vanished in the stock market crash of 1929 just as his popularity was starting to fade. By 1934 he was filing for bankruptcy while working as a catering hall manager and entertainer in Valley Stream Long Island. He performed at the Palace Theatre in March of 1951.
Having quit school at an early age, he ran away to serve in the army during the Spanish - American War of 1898.  He sang with an Army band, then with a group called Primrose's Minstrels, changing his name at that point. The phonograph and eventually the radio soon established him as a top ballad singer.  And He owned a nightclub on the upper westside.

This is a map from 1911, showing the new Water Department facility and a long row of single family homes interrupted by two small apartment buildings.

This is 97th street at Columbus Avenue looking west in April of 1941. The world was in the brink of war and now all of this is gone. The row houses, two small apartment buildings (visible on the map above), then a few more row houses and then Amsterdam Avenue. The building just to the left of of the 2 story structure with the arches is the local Department of Water facility, servicing the New Croton Aqueduct system of 1890 which originally augmented the Old Croton Aqueduct system of 1842. The old system, which south of 110th street ran along a stone aqueduct between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, was woefully inadequate for our ever growing city. It did, however leave us some charming stone gate houses such as the three along Amsterdam Avenue at 113th, 118th and 135th streets. But I digress . . .

Maybe if he spelled Italian correctly, he might have not gone under during the depression. The location is given as "East of Broadway"so I am guessing that there was some sort of negative connotation about highlighting being between the two avenues.
The Winter Garden referred to as "Formerly Winter Garden 'Spice of 1922' " is the Winter Garden Theater, home to Mama Mia for as long as I can remember. 

This is Mr. Anton Lada and his Louisiana Five. Among the earliest jazz groups to record extensively this band was active from right after World War One through the mid 1920's, The Louisiana Five was led by drummer Anton Lada. 

This is the front if 163 and 165 west 97th street.  Chateau Shanley occupied, it appears, the basements of two row houses. Part of this row, 161 - 165 west 97th street, was demolished in 1931.  This site is now occupied by the Alfred E. Smith School, built to accommodate the the large number of new upper westsiders moving into what was going to be called Manhattantown. In one of the many dark moments in New York City history, $15,000,000 worth of real estate was sold to a political insider for $1,000,000 by the Mayor's slum clearance committee, a developer who was ready to build. This committe used to their advantage President Harry Truman's well intentioned The Housing Act of 1949, a slum clearance initiative, to their advantage. All this agency had to do was to declare an area or neighborhood "blighted" or a slum, the next thing you know everyone is being Eminent Domained off their property and out of their homes for the alleged good of the community.  As soon as the idea was on the table in the spring of 1949, allegations of corruption began to fly which eventually lead to hearings in the Senate's Banking and Currency Committee in 1954.  These hearings and the delays of lawsuits put forth by the owners of the property in a large middle class African American community delayed the Zeckendorf's from reaping millions and postponed construction of what became a mostly white middle class enclave called Park West Village. If you think about it too much it looks as if Park West Village is a buffer between everything south of 96th street and the Fredrick Douglas Houses. If you think about it you might ask questions, I have always believed that history is a great deal of dot connecting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Train Stations of Manhattan

Trains station of Manhattan that do not exist any more is probably a better title. The Hudson River Railroad reached Albany by 1851. Cornelius Vanderbilt was told he was crazy putting a railroad so far over on the west side of Manhattan. He said something along the lines of "build it and they will come". I am not suggesting the man had seen Field of Dreams but he saw the future. He was right and a neighborhood sprung up near the tracks, a neighborhood eventually bordered not only by the Hudson River and what became the Hudson Division of the New York Central, but also the 9th Avenue Elevated.

The Harlem River line, the line that runs up what we now call Park Avenue, had passenger stations at 59th street, 86th street and 110th street in addition to the 125th street station. These areas of sparse population were eventually going to grow as the city marched north.  Mr. Vanderbilt's railroad along the Hudson River also saw the potential.  Like the Harlem River Railroad, along the way up the river  passenger stations were built at 96th Street, 130th Street, 152nd Street (for the development called Carmansville) and at Inwood.

 This is a map from 1867. The grid of 1811 is visible in an area that would not see too much in the way of the grid. The tracks are there and so is the station. In 1864 Cornelius Vanderbilt took over the Harlem River Rail Road and another railroad upstate called the New York Central. By 1867, he merged these roads together calling this uber railroad, The New York Central.

Some of the streets are gone or renamed. The grid lines have faded but the station is still there. This is a map from 1897 and the station is called "Inwood or Dyckman Station". The street that we now call Dyckman was once upon a time known as Inwood Street.

This is a map from 1911. Dyckman Street is Dyckman but the memory of it being called Inwood Street lingers, in parenthesis anyway. The station is called Inwood and was still seeing service as a passenger station at this late date. The building in the center would eventually become part of a scandal concerning the abuse of the young women who lived there, poor single girls and a park would eventually envelope the site, but more on that later.

Small town America? Small town Manhattan. I have always said that Manhattan's neighborhoods are like a bunch of small towns strung together by a grid. Harlem was a separate village and so was the village of Greenwich. This is Inwood and this is the station that served the area before there was a subway to fill the rapid transport needs of this community. What is now Dyckman street is on the right and the road going up the hill in the center of the picture is now in Dyckman Field and Inwood Hills Park. The road is gone, the tracks were elevated in the early 1920's and no trace remains of the station.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Before it is gone . . .

Before it is gone . . .

I posted this picture a while ago as part of my 125th street extravaganza.  This period picture looks like it was taken not long after opening.  This is just next to the Riverside Drive Viaduct on what we call incorrectly 125th street.  Ultimately the service station was turned into a car wash.  The station and the car wash fall within the area that Columbia University feels it need to expand into.  

This is the service station as it has look for years.  The car wash stopped operating a few years ago but gas was being sold there up until a few weeks ago.  Above the “menu” the protest banner reads “Dear Columbia: No Forced Displacement”.  The banner is protesting the eviction of the businesses that have called Manhattanville home for years. 

So farewell once upon a time art decoesque service station.  Farewell slightly overpriced gas station and not so hot car wash.  I will miss you, you relic, you reminder of another time when even Manhattan had beautiful gas stations.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Medical Institutions on Morningside Heights Part 1

Morningside Heights is know for many things: V & T Pizza, The Hungarian Cafe, Saint John The Divine, Columbia University and Saint Luke's Hospital are some of the many things. These places are also part of what gave  Morningside Heights a very distinct institutional flavor throughout the 19th century.  Beginning in 1821 with New York Hospital's Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (now Columbia University) and the Leaks Watt Orphanage (on the site of Saint John the Divine), the area north of 110th street west of what is now Morningside park was sort of an institutional acropolis. The "Heights" was / is a plateau, public transportation was practically non-existent (except for streetcars) until the subway opened in 1904. The 9th avenue el swung east then north at 110th street and headed in to the plains of Harlem while these institutions were built and gave way to new institutions.

This is the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. New York Hospital began this institution down in the city proper, on Broadway and Duane Street, across from where our City Hall was eventually built, in pre-revolution New York (the British built city hall was on Wall Street where Federal Hall National Memorial now stands). The city was constantly growing, up the island and New York Hospital began buying land in what is now Morningside Heights (and just a little south of 110th as well) in 1816 and by 1818 had purchased 26 acres.  Using the land uptown would provide ample room for a farm, upon which the patients would work.  Believing that this would be therapeutic, it was incredibly forward thinking as asylums in the early 19th century were not anywhere near as enlightened.  This is only part one, more later.

This is The Woman's Hospital in it's original location, 50th and Park Avenue, now the home to the Waldorf - Astoria.  Built on what was once a burial ground for cholera victims from an 1832 epidemic and after digging up thousands of coffins, the hospital opens in this building in 1867 after starting in a temporary headquarters on Madison Avenue and 29th Street.  The hospital was founded by Doctor J. Marion Sims and Sarah Platt Doremus.  Doctor Sims was, and is, a controversal figure in medical history. Although there is a statue of him in Central Park at 103rd street and Fifth Avenue, even though he is the first physician to depicted in statue form, although he developed a few procedures and had been referred to as the the father of American gynecology, there are some lingering questions about him. Between 1845 and 1849, while working in Alabama, some of the procedures he perfected probably involved subjects who were not given the recent innovation of anesthesia.  Sarah Platt Doremus was a well meaning philanthropist who did a great deal of mission work and in 1860 she founded the Woman's Union Missionary Society, "designed to elevate and Christianize the women of heathen lands".  Her philanthropy extended to homes for aged women to bringing religion to prisons to establishing a home for recently released female convicts.   The railing at the bottom of the print was to separate pedestrians from the tracks of the Harlem River Rail Road.

This is the hospital after it moved to 110th street and Amsterdam Avenue in 1906. This is looking south east and the site is now occupied by a Con Edison substation whose front doors on the Avenue look like the front door to the Land of OZ.
As tarnished (tarnished is being kind) as Doctor Sims background may be, he did fight for women's health issues, advocating for the treatment of cancer.  In 1871 Sims returned to New York (after a very colorful career in Europe), and after quarreling with the board of the Woman's Hospital over the admission of cancer patients, went on to found a new hospital, later to evolve into the Memorial Center for Cancer and Allied Diseases.
Woman's Hospital, the first hospital for women in New York, was eventually absorbed into Saint Luke's Hospital which made the leap to "The Heights" from it's original 1858 home on 54th street and Fifth Avenues to it's new and current home home in 1896.  In 1953 Woman's Hospital became part of Saint Luke's and in 1965 the Woman's Hospital was moved to 114th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, just across the street from St. Luke's. The 1906 building was torn down not long after.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

103rd Street and Broadway (and a little 104th Street)

After the Civil War, New York grew at a rate like never seen before in this town.  The only way New York, and when I say New York I mean the Isle of Manhattan, could grow was up. Up the island. There were pockets of the once rural character left on this rock. Morningside Heights, for example, the natural plateau above 110th street (a plateau bounded by Riverside Park on the west,the drop off down to Manhattanville on the north and Morningside Park on the east), the home to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (now home to Columbia University), the Leak Watts Orphanage (now home to Saint John the Divine) and Saint Luke Hospital, was under served by any form of public transportation. The 9th Avenue El which opened up here by 1879 headed east at 110th street and then headed north into the plains of Harlem.  The area loaned itself to more of an institutional development than residential given it's inaccessibility transportation-wise and plateau like features. The area just south of 110th street where the parent company of the insane asylum had purchased land in the early 19th century east of Broadway had retained some of the rural character as well.  There are books on this subject that go into greater detail than one should on a blog.
This is the Downes Boulevard Hotel. It was built along the Bloomingdale Road a little close to west 103rd street some time after the Civil War. Note the picket fence in the background. On the other side of the fence there is a lane, something that dotted the landscape of the Upper West Side once upon a time.

This is a map of the area from 1867. The future Broadway is shaded in just to the west (or left) of the Bloomingdale Road.  The precedent setting for this area hotel, Downes, is there as the lane running from the Bloomingdale Road to west 105th street between what is now Amsterdam and Columbus. In fact there is a small apartment building just east of P.S. 145 (The Bloomingdale School!) that has a western face at an angel that would have followed the contours of the lane. The future home of Isidore and Ida Straus is the house labeled "M.T. Brennan".  "M.T." was the original owner of the house.

 Once it was known where the Interborough Rapid Transit Company was going to build, the evidence of radical transformation became apparent, especially on street with a station on it. When I said precedent setting Downes Boulevard Hotel, there was an abundance of hotels around this intersection - 103rd and Broadway.  With the station opening in 1904, by the mid 1920's it was almost a mini Orlando Florida with all the hotel rooms around here. In this picture, along with the subway construction and the apartment buildings built in anticipation of the subway opening is the Hotel Marseilles. Eventually up towards West End Avenue on 103rd street the Hotel Alexandria would be built. On Amsterdam and 103rd street, where the western most building of the Fredrick Douglas Houses now stands was once the site of the Hotel Clendening.  By 1922, a once very ambitious project to build a hotel for missionaries with a church in the first 5 floors, opened with out a church and opened to everyone, The Broadway View Hotel. Perfectly situated as there is a bend in Broadway at 104th, the building was designed by the firm of Carrère & Hastings and Shreve, Lamb & Blake.  Shreve, Lamb & Blake took over Carrère & Hastings (who designed the main branch of The New York Public Library) and along with Arthur H. Harmon went on to design the Empire State Building. The Broadway View Hotel is now the Regent.

 The blueprint of the station.  The architects were Heins & LaFarge, the original architects of Saint John the Divine.

The chaos of construction and development has taken a rest.  The previous picture of the construction was taken from the roof of the church on the corner, the Baptist-based Metropolitan Tabernacle of New York City.  The church and the little building north of it are in the footprint of the what is now the Hotel Regent. What is also gone is the original beautiful control (or station) house in the middle of Broadway. Not so much a hazard to cars on Broadway (although it was) but to the eventual numbers of people coming in and out of those beautiful doors every day onto a very small piece of sidewalk in front of the station.

The 104th street exit from the uptown platform on July 30th, 1912.  The church is still there in the background. The apartment building above the man in the straw hat head is still there although much altered and is the home to Tap-A-Keg, as the the building just to the right (or north). The building with the awnings is not. The exit and the fire hydrant are still there but the building on the left, home to a Men's Outfitter is gone.

The Men's Outfitter building was replaced by this, the Horn & Hardart Automat. With so many hotels surrounding this area, it was nice to have a dining choice where you did not have to read a menu. You just looked in the little window and then dropped your nickels. Incredibly helpful for recent arrivals who could not read English but had nickels. This was especially true right after World War II when the Hotel Marseilles housed a large number of the displaced European Jewish community.
The Hotel Regent is there and the New York chain Riker's Restaurants  moved into the corner store (where the Ben & Jerry's is now) in 1947 and commissioned an artist named Max Spivak to create murals for this location. What survives can be seen in Ben & Jerry's.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tenth Avenue obsession.

So I was walking down the High Line a few weeks ago and when I got to 18th Street I noticed a little building just east of 10th Avenue. Needless to say I became obsessed with this little building. Although connected now to the building on the corner, it was once upon a time a separate building. What was it I wondered and what did it look like years ago. I assumed that it had once served as a stable that also contained an apartment upstairs for a carriage driver as it could have been owned by someone with who owned a private house along the rows east of 10th Avenue.

This is a map from 1916. The building is there (it is a little yellow square). A great many buildings are still with us including the 2 National Biscuit Company buildings, one of which had a rail line running into the building. Flour came in and cookies (and biscuits) went out.The NaBisCo building on the left is where the Oreo was invented.

This is detail from the map above. The building is there. It is a small yellow box, indicating a wood frame.

This is detail from a photo taken in July 1932. The tracks in the foreground are west of 10th Avenue as is the corrugated metal wall. The New Yorker Coffee Shoppe is on the North East corner of 18th street and 10th avenue as a tenement rises above it. This western part of the Chelsea neighborhood was pretty tough, as you can imagine. Tracks running down the street did not help and the 9th Avenue el acting as an eastern boundary dictated the course of the area. West of what was called "The Tenderloin" and south of what we know as Hell's Kitchen (the traditional dividing line between Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen is 34th street or north of the 30th Street Yards of The New York Central) and just a bit north of what we now call "The Meatpacking District".

The tenement got a fresh coat of paint and a new storefront. The little building received new paint too.  The tracks of the New York Central are no longer running down the middle of the street.  The opening of the High Line in 1934 took care of that.

This is a photo taken by Bernice Abbott in 1938. It might have been intended for the Changing New York series but did not make the book. The little building is a restaurant in 1938 and is part of one today.  The tenement on the corner and the little building survived while Mickey's Junk Shop and the tenement just to the east did not. As this area re-invented itself (with the help of developers) as a place to be, there was bound to be collateral damage. What always surprises me about New York is while a neighborhood gets re-purposed, even with the randomness of what survives and what does not, there will always be reminders of the past.

Interior view of the Claremont Theater

This is a rare find. It is the interior of the Claremont Theater on Broadway at 135th street.  I have talked about this theater before but I found this picture recently and had to share.  This theater opened in 1914, one of the first built just for the exhibition of motion pictures (no stage but maybe an orchestra however more likely just an organ), with a capacity of 1350 all on one floor.  What was more significant about this space was that it was designed by Gaetan Ajello, the Sicilian born master architect of too many buildings on the Upper Westside.  The prodigy from Italy, who worked primarily for the Paterno Brothers, designed only one theater - and this was it.  Not to sound catty but it does remind me of the lobby of the building I grew up in, which is an Ajello design built by the Paterno Brothers, except a great deal longer and with more chairs. 

The white terra cotta part of the the structure also contained a stores (on the left heading east along 135h Street and on the right running south along Broadway. The theater was on a north south orientation, if you were in the theater facing the screen you were facing south.  The second floor contained a dance hall and restaurant.  The theater closed in 1933 and became a car showroom. The exterior structure is intact and in 2006 it was landmarked by the City of New York.

This is detail from the pediment at the center of the facade above the entrance.  There is no symbolism here, it is a modern (1914 modern) movie camera. Next time you pass the south east corner of 135th street and Broadway, look up.

Monday, April 23, 2012

West 112th Street

I have been coming to this street for too many years. I escaped the death sentence of the local Junior High School by going to The Bank Street School for Children for two years.  I was always intrigued by the city, it’s history, every facet of it’s history, and how it got that way. Now that my children are enrolled, and have been so for many years, at one of the greatest schools ever to be born of this city (and I firmly believe that New York City is the only city in the world where Elisabeth Irwin and Lucy Sprague Mitchell could flourish), it was time to spend a little time on this block.

The above picture is looking north from the east side of Broadway from West 111th.  The picture was taken sometime after the subway opened in 1904. How do I know that?  There are no trees in the center island of Broadway, they had to be removed during construction of what is now the Number 1 Line, but look at those massive tree trunks on the right.  The Home to the Bank Street Book Store is there on the left.  

This is the The Maranamay, 611 West 112th.  It is the building across from the school that has been in various stages of dilapidation since the 1970’s. At one point there were as many as 60 bicycles chained up to the iron rail outside as the population of the building was predominantly in the food delivery trade.  The 6, 7 and 8 room apartments were cut up over the years and at one point small rooms created by these “renovations” would hold up to 6 people.  The brochure for the building points out all the features of the neighborhood, the proximity to Saint John the Divine, Columbia University, Horace Mann, the Broadway Surface Cars and the Subway at 110th Street.  The building boasted steam heat, hot water, hall and elevator service all day and all night, and phone connections for local and long distance.

This is a map of the block from 1896.  There is nothing on the block that is still with us. In fact only some of the single family homes on the south side of west 114th street are still with us.  The dark shape on Riverside was the 1884 George Noakes House, soon to be replaced by an apartment building and two extant townhouses.  The corner of 112th and Riverside Drive (the service road anyway) is the St. Christopher Home.  What is surprising is how much still undeveloped land there is on the block and surrounding area. By 1896, those in the real estate business knew that there was a subway coming, Columbia University knew what it was doing when it started building it's Acropolis at 116th street.  This area was going to explode with development, or so it was hoped. 

This is 1911. What a difference 15 years make.  After 1896 Morningside Heights, as the area north of 110th street, south of 123rd street with Riverside Drive on the west and Morningside Drive on the east is called, saw a great deal of change as you can see. Now that this area was accessible, it became desirable.  Claremont Hall, The Clarendon, The Maranamay and Fowler Court (400 Riverside Drive) line the north side still. The Porterfield and The Wendit are no longer with us as this is the footprint of the Bank Street College of Education.  The Saint Christopher Home is now The Riverview Hotel and the building that is home to The Bank Street Book Store is there. 

This is 1916 and the Riverview is now The Hudson Terrace Inn.  404 Riverside is on the earlier map but now it has a name, Strathmore, which can still be seen very faded on the south facing facade overlooking Fowler Court.  The Riverside Mansion (410 Riverside Drive) was built in 1909, replacing the Noakes House.  The townhouse to the right (or to the north of 410 Riverside) had to have gone up earlier.

The Heyday of townhouse construction along Riverside was dwindling by 1909. It would make sense that the townhouses came first and large apartment buildings, like 410 Riverside Drive, came after.  What I am suggesting is that the two townhouses just north of 410 Riverside Drive were built while the Noakes House was still there. the Noakes house sat in the center (or there about) of the property. 410 Riverside was built right up to the property line, thus obliterating the view and the use of this bay window.  This sort of thing has happened before, it continues to happen now and will continue in the future.

This is detail of the 1916 map.  The little triangular building next to the yellow strip (indicating a wood frame building) is the home today of Samad's Delicatessen.  The two buildings to the north sit in the foot print of what was once upon a time known as Asylum Lane.  The site of Columbia University was once the home the The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum of New York Hospital. Having started in lower Manhattan and opening up here in 1821, New York Hospital began buying land in this area in 1811.  This location was chosen for the asylum as it was believed that the rural setting and farm work was therapeutic.  Not long after, the Leak & Watts orphanage buys a piece of land from New York Hospital and opens in 1843. Eventually they sell their land to the Episcopal Church for what will become Saint John the Divine - but that is another story.
The Asylum Lane was an off shoot of the old Bloomingdale Road, a road that was eventually conformed, in parts, to the street grid of 1811.  Originally the lane started near the Hudson River at what is now 111th street as there had been a ferry boat landing.

This is looking north from what is now 112th street and Riverside Drive.  The gate in the background on the right of the man seated, on what appears to be a pipe,  I believe is the gate to what was then probably a private home but eventually the Saint Christopher Home and later the Hudson Terrace Inn. Just to the left of the surveyor is the entrance to the Noakes property.
This is 1879 and Riverside Avenue, as it was briefly called, was going to be the next millionaire's  row rivaling Fifth Avenue.  It did not quite happen as hoped for.  The institutions in the area as well as the New York Central tracks along the Hudson did not help.  There were other factors as well, some having to do with wanting to remain where the Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegie's and the like had established their homes.  Other factors were less obvious but anti - Semitic attitudes of the day prevailed.  The undeveloped west side was were wealthy Jews could buy, or have built for them, homes.  Again, another story but look at the names of the architects working on the West Side at the turn of the century and look at the names of those working on the east side at the same stime. You would never see the Blum Brothers, Schwartz and Gross or even Gaetan Aijello working on the east side back then.
The construction and opening of this avenue was delayed by the numerous lawsuits involving land ownership and eminent domain laws.  Wealthy individual landowners along the what became the drive disputed with the city about where their land ended and where the city could build it's road.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New York's very own Waverly Theatre and how it got that way.

This is the intersection of 6th Avenue and West 3rd Street. This is prior to 1938. How do I know that?  The 6th Avenue El is still in operation and the Waverly Theatre is not yet the Waverly Theatre.  The 6th Avenue El started, along with the 9th Avenue El, at South Ferry then the two lines separated at Battery Place then went up Church Street to West Broadway then at West Third Street it went west to 6th Avenue were it continued north to 53rd Street where it headed west to again join with the 9th Avenue El. 

The structure that became the Waverly Theatre, now the IFC Theater, began life as a Dutch Reform Church in 1831.  At some point it became home to J. Lamb Ecclesiastical Art Works.  This firm was originally named the J & R Lamb Studios and was established in New York City in 1857 by the Lamb brothers. Their slogan was “the beautifying of churches” and the business expanded rapidly.  Their work, which originally focused on stained glass (their Paris International Exposition of 1900 prize-winning window, Religion Enthroned, is at the Brooklyn Museum) began to include mosaics, marble, carved wood and metal. The Lamb brothers produced countless works and whole interiors for churches, chapels, libraries, and private homes.

This is in Early 1937 and work is underway on the transformation of the church to a theater.
J. Lamb Ecclesiastical Art Works has obviously moved out and settled in Tenafly New Jersey were they still produce ecclesiastical art.  The Waverly opened later that year.

This is the completed Waverly Theatre, a theater very much part of our history.  A small, second run neighborhood house in Greenwich Village, the place were George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead opened in 1968, immortalized in a song (Frank Mills) from the musical Hair! And where thousands of pounds of toast was thrown at the screen during the mayhem that was the midnight run of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The picture playing is The Good Earth from 1937.  Nominated for a slew of Oscars, it only won Best Actress (Luise Rainer) and Best Cinematography for a man whose name you might recognize if you ever watched I Love Lucy – Karl Freund.  After serving as a cameraman then cinematographer, starting in Germany then in Hollywood for decades, he was hired by Desilu Studios to direct photography for I Love Lucy (he met Lucille Ball in 1947 when he was the cinematographer for Two Smart People at MGM).  Mr. Freund is the father of filmed sitcoms, having invented the three camera filming system still used today for live audience sitcoms.  He also “discovered”, on a Los Angeles department store loading dock, the material that became the standard for studio floors (the original floor of the studio that I Love Lucy was filmed was wood – which was standard – had to be replaced and this material allowed camera dollies to roll smoothly without tracks or creaking wood noises). Way to go Karl!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What am I doing on the East Side?

Every Wednesday up until recently, I passed two wood frame houses, relics of another time. A pre - 1877 time as this was the year the City of New York passed a ban on this type of construction over safety concerns. In an era of wood construction, New York has some pretty disastrous fires: The Great Fire of 1776 (which may have been started by Nathan Hale and a book of matches) and the pretty good fire of 1835. Both of these fires destroyed thousands of wooden structures (ever wonder why we have nothing left from the Dutch era in lower Manhattan?) and our forward thinking city fathers were looking out for our well being.  This house went up in 1859 at what is now 122 East 92nd. It was built for a customs house officer by the name of Andrew C. Flanagan. The area had undergone a population boost when the first railroad in Manhattan, the Harlem River Railroad, opened a station at 86th and Fourth (Park) Avenue in 1836.
An addition was built for the servants and is visible on the far left, a slender portion that is set back from  the original facade. In the 1920's, a fourth floor was added and the original columns on the porch had to be replaced. It is still a single family home.

In 1870 Mr. Flanagan sold the western edge of his property and by 1871 number 120 East 92nd was built. It too is still single family. Both of these structures represent eras so by gone in this town it shocks me that they and the others like it that have survived north of Greenwich Village: The rural character of the Yorkville area is exemplified by 122 East 92nd, with it's deep porch and large french door/windows that lead out to that porch as well as the construction method - wood.