Friday, March 28, 2014


How many times have you walked the block on 102nd street between Broadway and Amsterdam and noticed 202 West 102nd and the odd angle it takes.  If you stand on the north side of the street and look straight into the lobby of the building, you are facing real south, not downtown.  Conversely, if you are coming out of the building you would be heading due north as you promenaded through the lobby.  So why?

 This building is at such an angle that it almost looks like a flat. The eastern wall in this garage follows the same contours that this building does.

   This is the 1867 map and what appears to be Broadway is not, it is the Bloomingdale Road.  The footprint of Broadway is visible to the west, or left, of the Road.  As the Road takes a turn to head due north it is cutting, at an angle, through 102nd street.  Today, where the road took that turn is in between Broadway and Amsterdam.  At the top of the map where it says "Ward School" is the site of the playground outside P.S. 145. and is the first of what will eventually be 3 school buildings on the site.

 This the 1885 map and The Boulevard is in place and it appears that The Road has been rendered obsolete. There are undeveloped lots now in the footprint of The Road and for some reason the lots on the south side follow the contours of the road.  There is nothing on either side and still the abandoned Bloomingdale Road is dictating the shape of things to come.

 This is the map from 1911 indicating the current 202 West 102nd street.  Broadway is there in it's current location and the Road has been reduced to dotted lines with a blue tint and a building at an angle.  The Hotel Clendining is there at 103rd and Amsterdam and the 442 seat Rose Theater east of Amsterdam showed movies until it closed around 1942. But was it showing movies in 1911?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Watt's House on 139th Street

This looks like small town anywhere U.S.A.  Once upon a time, a good deal of Manhattan could pass for a place where you could expect Andy Hardy to come bouncing down the streets.  Good thing there are some records of Manhattan's bucolic past.
This is called, in the caption of the photo, the "old Watts Mansion".  It once stood on West 139th Street just east of 7th Avenue. The picture was taken in 1915, long after the neighborhood had changed from an area known for it's Victorian Gentility to a "convenient residential suburb".  Once the 9th Avenue El snaked it's way up 9th Avenue then over to 8th Avenue and past 139th street (there were stations at 129th and 145th street) the vestiges of the country life began to disappear.  The neighborhood in a sense under went  three evolutions.  From rural to Victorian Gentility to Suburban to Urban, each resulting in it's own style and denser population.

This is the map from 1868 and clearly there is something just east of the corner of 139th street and 7th Avenue.  The name "Watt" appears next to a structure closer to 8th Avenue.

The house is there in 1885 and the name across the property, whose property lines are the same from the 1868 map, has the name Cadwallader across it.  That is the name of the family that had owned the land back even before the revolution.  The patriarch of the family Colden Cadwallader, a former Colonial Governor of the New York Provence and avid scientist / botanist.  Although he did have a friendly relationship with Benjamin Franklin, he was on the wrong side of the Revolution.
His grandson  Colden D. Cadwallader made up for his grandfathers leanings by becoming a colonel of volunteers in the war 0f 1812.  He was eventually appointed Mayor of New York City by Governor DeWitt Clinton in 1818.  A staunch supporter of a national canal system and a major abolitionist, Colden D. died in Jersey City in 1834.  His remains were moved to Trinity Cemetery in 1845 to a prominent spot in the cemetery's east side so his grave could overlook the then rural intersection of the Bloomingdale Road at West 153rd Street. By 1869, preparations to widen the Bloomingdale Road into the new Broadway, Colden had to be moved again to another plot when the new road cut through the cemetery,  this time to an inconspicuous plot in the cemetery's west side.

 This is the 1897 map and there has been a good deal of development. In 1891 David H.King Jr. created 4 rows of row houses that will one day be a large piece of the Saint Nicholas Historic District.  After buying the land from the Watt estate,  King commissions 4 of New York's star architecture firms Clarance Luce, Bruce Price, James Brown Lord and McKim Mead & White.  The Watt family must have been putting land together to form a larger estate once upon a time.  This map indicates conveyances of ownership, with out the dates but with the names of the former owner.  "C.D. Colden to 'A. Watt'".  The Saint Nicholas Historic District landmarking report states that the King had purchased the land from W. A. Watt. 

 There is the house on the 1897 map and the Watt House stands alone.  The old Watt house survived maybe due to the fact it was east of 7th Avenue but probably the large outcropping of rock that once rose up between the corner and the house as seen in the top picture had something to do with it.

  This view is from 1925 and we are looking north west. The apartment building in the left background was built on the vacant lot (see the 1897 maps) at the south west corner of 140th and 7th Avenue.  I am guessing that the house, not long for this world (is there a demolished house heaven?) is being used as a multiple unit dwelling as there is what appears to be an emergency escape staircase on the left side of the house.  Tenements are now filling the lots on 141rst street and in the center of this picture there is a sign in the vacant lot east of the house. What is being heralded? Perhaps the forthcoming apartment building soon to rise on the lot that will also absorb the old Watt Mansion.  As one era begins, another must end.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Once upon a time, in the 1980's, the ubiquitous corner market reared its head and became the thing we all dreaded when an older business with roots in the neighborhood and was replaced by the over priced fruit stand with dubious produce.  Over time we have endured the proliferation of Duane Reades, banks, Starbucks and wireless stores along Broadway to the point where New York would start to look like the background in a Flintstones cartoon.  The new business to over do it is the "Urgent Care" medical stores.  If all human life were to disappear in flash, and aliens were to visit the empty earth, they would think that we were a bunch of coffee drinking, cell phone using money hoarders who where accident prone.  This one is the straw that broke the my camel's back as it is going into the space once occupied by the late Great Shanghai. 

This is the former home of the Great Shanghai. Soon it will be, by judging the pictures, a place for all those happy sick people.
The first listing of this culinary palace was in the New York Times. Jane Nickerson reviewed  on August 1, 1956.  How many Christmas Day dinners did you have there growing up, in what would become a staple for too many upper west side families from the 1960's through the late 70's?

"Away from Midtown and off the beaten track" Ms. Nickerson wrote while calling it a "roomy place".  Owned by Shelia Chang who likes to help diners unfamiliar with Shanghai Cuisine make menu selections.  When the place opened it had 3 menus - one Shanghai, one Cantonese and one American. The costs were approximated at  $4 - $5 per person, not including drinks.  There was a bar when you came in, along the right wall.  The bartender was an older Caucasian man, as were the flies sitting at the bar.  Once upon a time the space was a night club and I always wondered if this bartender was a holdover.

This is the Hotel Marseilles at some point in the 1920's.  Designed by New York born and educated (Columbia School of Mines) Henry Allan Jacobs went to France after graduating in 1894 and attended (like too many other American architects did) the Ecole des Beaux- Arts.  However he did very well while in attendance and was awarded the Prix de Rome.  An early example of his work is the 1904 Seville Hotel at Madison Avenue and 29th Street. The entrance in the pictures above is visible on the right of this vintage postcard.

This is the hotel as photographed by Irving Underhill in 1919.  In the Business Records section of the New York Times on September 14th 1950 there was, among the Bankruptcy notices, reference to this night club. Nicholas Varadinoff, trading as the Dennis Restaurant and Bar, had finalized the bankruptcy of the business. Ironic - same last name, no relation. The hotel was sold numerous times, according to the Business Records sections of the times throughout the 1930's through 1946.  After World War II, the hotel was used a refuge for displaced persons, survivors of the Holocaust.  After that, as the tide turned in the area north of 96th, the hotel began it's downward slide into the 20th century equivalent of the legendary Old Brewery of the 5 Points.  It was on this block that not only Humphrey Bogart became Humphrey Bogart, but also were William Burroughs bought heroin.  It was in the hotel that Sarah Delano Roosevelt lived (but the neighborhood had become to Old - Testamenty for her old New York blue blood), it is where the writer Cornel Woolrich, the man who gave us Black Angel, The Bride Wore Black and what would become Rear Window lived (with his mother) from 1933 until 1957 (his last neighbors were one one side a prostitute and a junkie on the other). And it was probably in the restaurant  / nightclub that a deal was hatched to spring a guy from Dannemora.  

This is an ad for the fastest slice of Art Deco ever to cross the Atlantic, the Normandie.  It was the ocean liner of all ocean liners.  One of the most beautiful ships ever built, a product of the Roaring 20's if there ever was one. It attracted stars of the screen, stage, literary, artistic and financial worlds as the way to get to Europe.


This is the main dining room.  It is sort of an art deco interpretation of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  Fortunately it was not in it's home port when France fell in 1940.  It became a possesion of the United States and was going to become the USS Lafayette.

 On February 9th, 1942 work was proceeding on the Lafayette at pier 88 on the West Side.  Some how a pile of life perservers caught fire and burnt the ship so badly and completely.

 The fire was so bad that the 1000 foot long ship capsized under the weight of the water iused to suppress the fire. 

 Anything of value, anything that indicated the former
use of this ship had been removed. There were no art treasures lost.  What was lost was a badly needed troopship and almost immediatly sabotage was suspected - union or otherwise.
In 1916 German saboteurs had plotted to blow up the Ansonia Hotel but that did not work out.  What they did do was to blow up a rail yard in what is now Liberty State Park that was full of boxcars that were full of ammunition waiting to be loaded onto boats to be shipped to England during World War I.  The arm holding the torch of the Statue of Liberty was shifted forward 4 feet and and the original plaster ceiling in the Great Hall of Ellis Island's immigration station fell (not the roof, just the interior ceiling).  The result was the torch being closed off and a new ceiling in the Great Hall (made out of Gustivino Tiles.  It also made Naval Intelligence wary of possible German sabotage here during the war years. But who could they turn to?

This guy. This is Salvatore Lucania, better known as Charles "Lucky" Luciano who had risen from the streets of lower Manhattan and became one of the most powerful men in organized criminal history, one of the creators of Las Vegas and the creator of the "5 Families" in New York.  That division of labor solidified the the power of what he called "this thing of ours". Unfortunately on June 7, 1936, Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution (the only thing they could get him with?) and on July 18, 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison.
He was still running the show from his suite at the Maximum Security facility known as Dannemora by passing instructions to his underboss Vito Genovese.  He was powerful outside but also inside. Through his efforts the only free standing church structure in the entire New York State prison system is at Dannemora, now known as Clinton Correction Facility.  The Navy, the State of New York and Luciano's lawyers eventually concluded a deal. In exchange for a commutation of his sentence, Luciano promised his complete assistance even providing the U.S. military with mafia contacts in Sicily when the allied invaded in 1943.  The deal was hammered out over a few meetings but at least one of those meetings took place in what was to become The Great Shanghai.  After the deal was done, there was never a dockworker strike or another diabolical act of sabotage during the war.  After the war Lucky was deported back to Sicily.  He was a citizen of New York, but never an American citizen. I do not think he saw the difference.

These are part of the doors to the main dining room on the Normandie.  They were originally 20 feet tall.  They are  medallions are now  the of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn.