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.