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.