Tuesday, July 31, 2007

UNUSUAL NYC MUSEUMS #3: Teddy on 20th


Our weekly tribute to a severely off-the-beaten-path museum or landmark that you may not know about. Instead of Moma, why not try out one of these places? Past entries in this series can be found here.

President residences arent what you call 'unusual' by any stretch of the imagination. But the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Historic Site, on 28 E 20th Street, is unique in that Theodore Roosevelt was never born here -- never even lived here -- and most of the possessions displayed werent even owned by him.

Once you get by those two teeny little facts, the Site is actually a treat, a wealth of calm and antiquity just steps from busy Broadway and Park Avenue.

The actual brownstone Teddy did live in -- being born here in 1858 and residing until 1872 -- was in the same location as the present building, but was demolished in 1916 for an office building. However, when he died in 1919, ten years after leaving office, a craze of honorific activities lead to plans to rebuild the original brownstone. It was eventually reconstructed later that year.

And I can see why it was important for not just Roosevelt admirers, but the city of New York. Roosevelt was the only president born in Manhattan, and as a man better known for his adventurous, rugged qualities, its important to remember what an impact the big city had on him as well during his 14 years here.

The lush but suprisingly quiet home features artifacts from Roosevelt's childhood salvaged by his widow, although most of the furniture is from other family descendents, and the overall effect doesnt speak so much to understanding Roosevelt as it does understanding New York in the mid-1800s.

There are moments where you feel as though youre traipsing through a Henry James novel, imagined ladies sipping tea on those ice blue couches in the parlor. Roosevelt was a rather sickly child, and in the recreation of his room upstairs, you can find a small stairway to the roof -- where Teddy's father set up a gymnasium.

The extra touches continue downstairs to his favorite chair in the library, reupholstered in red fabric to protect Teddy's knees from scratching. Its quite enlightening actually to see such adoring care for a small child who would later be known as an iconic figure of early 20th Century masculinty and ruggedness.

There's a pleasant little display on the first floor of mementos and photographs giving a brief portrait into the man's later career.

As lovely and quaint as the home is, the city's most dramatic tribute to Teddy Roosevelt is his statue on horseback, outside a building he helped found -- the Museum of Natural History.

Details about the Birthplace Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service, can be found here.

By the way, the actual home where he died can also be visited upstate in Sagamore, NY, and as a visitor is a bit 'sexier' than the Birthplace, as it was considered the 'summer White House' during Teddy's presidency. Even the site of his inauguration still stands in Buffalo, NY.

Above is a pic of young Roosevelt, and here's the current entrance to the museum:

Monday, July 30, 2007

New York's most maligned public servants?



New York City is a terrible place for horses, or for that matter, any animal bigger than a rat.

However, the animal has been instrumental to New York's history. Today you can see them trotting through Central Park, looking lobotomized, carting around tourists in frilly carts. Already a rather demeaning usage, the horses are also subjected to a wide variety of accidents and this site documents some of them in an effort to ban them from recreational usages.

The luckier creatures are those used by the New York City police Mounted Unit. At its peak in 1910, the Mounted Unit was 800 horses strong, mostly in service of traffic, which at the time would have been mostly horse-drawn carriages anyway.



However 100 horses are still in the line of duty today, mostly patrolling city parks and neighborhoods. If you ask your officer about the name of his or her horse, you'll mostly get the name of an officer killed on the job, or a revered officer retired from duty. However, roaming the streets are a few horses with the curious name of Daily News. The city newspaper donates horses to the force every year.

New York City horses played an even greater role in history back in 1894 when some equine members of the Claremont Riding Academy, the city's oldest stable that just closed several months ago, were used as successful test subjects for a diptheria toxin. The animal's metabolism was better able to create the antitoxin in their bloodstream, and most survived with little more than a fever.

As a direct result of the tests, a usable antitoxin for humans was available within six months. (More details here.)



By the way, if you're interested in see the 'carraige horses' business banned from t he city, you can start by signing this petition to the mayor.

Friday, July 27, 2007

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: The Cotton Club



To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we'll be celebrating 'FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER', featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found here

For our second entry, we'd be amiss if we didnt feature the grand-daddy of New York nightclubs, one of the longest (non-contually) operating names in the United States and a place that literally changed music history -- The Cotton Club. Formerly at Lenox and 142st, the club was the 'aristocrat of Harlem', typifying the very best and very worst parts of African-American life at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Ten years after legendary boxer Jack Johnson stirred up America's racial tensions by becoming the first black heavyweight champion and victor of the 'fight of the century' in 1910, he bought a ramshackle Harlem casino and opened up Club De Lux. It may have had a few successful years and closed quietly had Jack not sold the club then to notorious gangster Owney 'The Killer' Madden, who was looking for a venue to sell his beer.

Nobody came to the Cotton Club for the beer though. Madden employed the best young black talent that New York had to offer. His first hire was a young Fletcher Henderson, and the house band was directed by a then-struggling Duke Ellington, who wrote exotic stage shows with wildly dressed chorus girls. One such chorine, Lena Horne, gave her first solo performance there. Other luninaries who shared the stage there included Cab Calloway, Ethyl Waters, and Dorothy Dandrige.

The horrible irony, as with many clubs of the '30s, is that the performers were mostly black, while the audiences were white-only. The audiences preferred exaggerated "black" shows, and even Ellington was forced to pen spectacles set in jungles or plantations, with performers acting in absurd stereotypes.



As Madden seemed to be directing most of the Cotton's affairs from his cell in Sing Sing prison, Broadway producer Walter Brooks was brought in to front the place, and managed to bring in a few white songwriters like Harold Arlen and Cole Porter to collaborate with the black entertainment. On Sunday night 'Celebrity Night', various New York luminaries like Jimmy Durante and Bing Crosby would leap from their martini-topped tables to the stage to perform impromptu numbers.

The club entered national prominence when the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) began broadcasting the club's entertainment to listeners around the nation.

The club moved downtown to Broadway and 48th Street in 1926, but eventually closed in 1940. A new incarnation opened back up in Harlem in 1978 and still operates today, recapturing as best as possible the excitement and real talent of the original Cotton.

Most people outside New York probably know the club best by the Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name, however several revues were filmed here during its heyday, and the Cotton Club Orchestra as directed by Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington would clearly make a deeper impression onto vinyl. The recordings would help define the face of jazz music.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Color me Dutch

Ever wonder why the official colors of New York are orange and blue? They show up in the uniforms of our two favorite teams, the Knicks and the Mets:





And the colors clearly show up on the official New York state flag:



Our flag is so hued as an homage to the flag of the European founders of the state, the Dutch of the 17th Century.

The Dutch flag actually looks like this now:



The Netherlands incidentally were the first country to feature the tri-color, the now familiar red, white and blue colors in their flag. The red was added in the mid 17th Century to replace an orange stripe. Seems that due to the types of dye used on the national flags, the orange stripe turned red over time anyway:



Orange is the color of the Dutch royal family and was added to the Dutch flag in specific honor to the Prince of Orange's coat of arm. William, the Prince, was the leader of a rebellion during Dutch's occupation by Spain in the 16th Century. Why, here's the prince now:



So next time you're watching a Knicks game, may his face linger forever in your mind.

UPDATE: the Mets website actually says: "The Mets' colors are Dodger blue and Giant orange, symbolic of the return of National League baseball to New York after the Dodgers and Giants moved to California." A much likelier theory that just happens to make its connection to New York's state colors extremely coincidental!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NYC NOIR: 'Sweet' and sour


Almost as if they had asked us to help them program their schedule, the Film Forum begins their five week NYC Noir screening series, featuring some of the best thrillers, mysteries and action films set on the streets of the city. In this blog every Thursday of the series, we'll feature a bit about one of the films, and encourage you to go check out some of these classic flicks.

They kick off the festival with one of the most likeably cynical films ever made, Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster as the city's most powerful gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker, back in the day when gossip mongers wielded their Page Sixes almost menacingly. Unfortunate for Martin Milner, playing jazz musician Steve Dallas that he should happen to get engaged to Hunsecker's naive sister. Hunsecker soon makes it his business to see the coupling destroyed. His secret weapon? A curt and cool Tony Curtis, as Sidney Falco, the most dispicable and pathetic press agent in town.

Easily one of the best films to portray the glitzy 1950s New York nightclub scene, the characters weave themselves through half the bars in midtown, most notably the 21 Club formerly on 52nd Street. The night scenes have both a stink and a sheen to them, thanks to rigorous location shooting. Director Alexander Mackendrick's complained of the bustling street noise -- not to mention Curtis groupies, waiting for a glimpse -- but it lends the movie pulp authenticity. Midtown never looked so stark and busted.

Hunsecker's apartment, which plays a pivotal role in the final scenes involving his nervewracked sister, is actually in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway near 49th St. According to Roger Ebert, a shot inside its lobby is mirrored by another film playing later in the NYC Noir series, Taxi Driver.

The film plays this Friday and Saturday. The showtimes and dates for this and the rest of the films in the series can be found here. My favorite part about the Film Forum's repertory series is that you pay for double feature during the weekend, so find one you like and go hunker down....

Governors Island: bits and pieces


Some tidbits we forgot to throw into our podcast on Governors Island....

Governors Island holds a special place in aviation history. When Wilbur Wright, he of the famous duo, lifted his small aircraft from the airfield at Governor's Island to circle the Statue of Liberty and return, in Sept 1909 it was the first time a plane had flown over American waters.

Within a few years, a flying school was encamped on the island and was the busiest airfield in the US during the early days of aviation. You can find a memorial to this fantastic history in the form of a bronzed plane propeller, situated in the lawn of Liggett Hall, facing south.

Here's a shot of Wilbur's ride:




The Dutch, namely Wouter Van Twiller, purchased Governor's Island in June 1637 from “the Native Americans of Manahatas for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails." New York State, namely governor George Pataki, symbolically purchased the island back from the US government in January 2003 for one dollar.


The Army built a railboard on the island, with the grand length of 1 3/4th milies of track, and was considered at the time to be 'the world's shortest railroad line'.


Fort Jay was named after John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. However, do to a very unpopular treaty at the time that Jay had negotiated with the British -- called the Jay Treaty -- the name was changed to Fort Columbus, until it was changed back to Jay's name in the 20th Century.


Technically, Governors Island belongs to no borough. Neither do Ellis Island, Riker's Island, Randall's Island, and Roosevelt Island. Although administration of the island's business is naturally run through Manhattan. Its zip code, incidentally, is 10004, which it shares with other Battery Park business.


During the 1863 draft riot, Governors Island was actually stormed by rioters who wanted to get into the Army's stockpile of weapons. They were held back by civilians on the island, because the Army soldiers were over guarding buildings in Manhattan!


Some would like to see Castle William turned into the New Globe Theatre, a 21st Century homage to Shakepeare's old stage. We see a structural resemblance, but frankly we're not for this idea.






Reagan, Bush and Gorbechov came to the island in 1988 for a summit, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here's the juicy details.

PODCAST: Governors Island

New York's most underappreciated treasure gets the Bowery Boys treatment. Its Governors Island: a fort, a small town, a prison and a Burger King ... all bought for one dollar.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

UNUSUAL NYC MUSEUMS #2: History and waffles




In one of my entries below regarding the Mudd Club, a reader asked why I referred to Cortlandt Alley as 'mysterious'. The tiny little alley --- one of New York's last -- is between Canal and Franklin and, while partially my own projection upon it as a rough reminder of old New York, the dark and creepy path retains much of its bruised, dented appearance.

Perhaps in deference to the Mudd Club days, however, the alley has also become a haven for artistic talent, inspiring the likes of filmmaker Laura Kraning, installationist Matthew Gellar and photographer Spencer Tunick, who took one of his community of nudes there.

What does this have to do with an UNUSUAL MUSEUM?

Cortlandt Alley was named after Olaff Stevenson Van Cortlandt, who came to ole New Amsterdam 1637 and whose progeny would go on to become powerful forces in the new city.

The Van Cortlandt's base was in what is today the Bronx, and since 1897, their sprawling estate has been a museum and preservation to the lifestyle of early New York culture. It is officially the oldest standing structure in the Bronx, perched in massive Van Cortlandt Park.

The stately home was built by Olaff's grandson Frederick, and the museum preserves rooms from the period from it was built in 1748, through the era (1823) that the house was maintained by his sons. If you're doing your math, that would put the decor solidly in the American Colonial period. That's right: George Washington slept here . During the Continental Army's eventual retreat from New York, George set up officer's quarters here. It must have sucked to leave the cozy charm of this house to cross into New Jersey and eventually the frozen shores of the Delaware River.

On top of its almost doll-house preservation of furniture and archectecture, there's also a quaint herb garden outback. And, for some reason, my favorite part -- Colonial waffle irons! You can even get the old-time recipe from the website, which also has visitors info and other historical details.

While you're out there, why not check out the Van Cortlandt golf course nearby? Its the oldest golf course in the United States, built in 1895, but is still 150 years younger than the house that sits nearby. If that's not enough for you, its also a movie star in its own right, starring in several film, including pivotal scenes in Wall Street.

As for Van Cortlandt House, don't confuse it with the Van Cortlandt Manor, farther into New York state. Olaff's son Stephanus , the first native-born mayor of New York City, moved farther up the Hudson River valley to what is now Croton and his house, which can also be visited, is almost more exquisite for its bucolic surroundings.

Mysterious triangles: OOOOO!


A bit of strange New York archaelogical news surfaced on the networks last night. A mostly demolished building at 211 Pearl Street was spared complete eradication when strange triangular marks were discovered on one of the remaining walls. While this may seem like a rather odd story to be making headlines, I believe its a clever effort by some in the historical community to make the runic universes of Da Vinci Code and National Treasure work in a way to save New York's past.

Volunteer historian Alan Solomon discovered the strange triangular marks several years ago in an effort to save the building. His efforts to thrawt developers has attracted city council members to the cause.

Apparently, nobody can figure out what the triangles mean, so naturally the mind wanders towards the potentially most exotic ideas -- that the symbols have obscure and cryptic religious meanings.

Scholars of esotericism -- the notion of divining the spiritual in reflections of the mathematical and scientific -- note the symbols are characteristic of esoteric markings and could hold meanings in the actual measurements of the triangles themselves. Something, say, the Freemasons might have appreciated.

The actual mortor dates from the 1950s, however the bricks themselves could be at least a hundred years older and merely repaired by the newer mortor bond.

And just to add a little intrigue into the tale: the building where the triangles were found was built for William Colgate, of the famous toothpaste, and extremely religious man who made note to save the building in his will, although no records exist of the building being used for any of Colgate's business ventures.

Is this just a story with exaggerated merit to save the vestiges of an historic structure? Or are the triangles the remnant of secret religiious ceremonies? Could they point to a hidden treasure underneath the streets of New York City? Somebody call Nicolas Cage!

More on this detective story here (including chime in from city councilman Alan Gerson) and here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No really, your studio apartment isn't so bad



In our last podcast, we referred to the New York city prison not-so-affectionately nicknamed 'the Tombs' as being 'beneath City Hall'. In fact its a couple blocks away from current City Hall.

Today its officially called Manhattan House of Detention. It was monickered the The Bernard B. Kerik Complex before being stripped of that name in 2006 due to Kerik's unfortunate ethic charges.

But its always popularly been referred to as the Tombs since its construction in 1839, built in the former location of Collect Pond and smack near the heart of the overcrowded Five Points slum. Perhaps ominously, the original, rather ornate structure was designed after an ancient Egyption mausoleum. Its reputation as a vile, sweltering house of horror, however, was cemented by Herman Melville in his classic Bartleby the Scrivener.

Or as described by writer James Baldwin : "Massive, gloomy, and strong, it is a place of sorrow and tears and dread forebodings."

Part of its notorious reputation was actually based on its location. Collect Pond was drained during the first part of the 18th century (by canals which then became Canal Street), and buildings, including the Tombs, were built on the newly revealed land. However almost as quickly as it was built, the building began to slowly sink. Yet the structure stayed mostly intact, creating damp and loathesome conditions for those imprisoned in its lower levels.

Its notoriety fascinated the public as much as it terrorized the criminal element. PT Barnum bribed prison workers to acquire possessions from famous criminals who were housed and (later) executed there, in the courtyard gallows.

This building with the Egyptian facade was eventually replaced by a more castle like sort in 1903 (see picture above), but that too was condemned in the 1970s. As we mentioned in our podcast, the building was briefly reopened to contain the hundreds of people arrested during the 1977 blackout. A massive remodeling finally happened in 1983 to give us the distinctly uncharming downtown structure we have today.

A lot more on the building's fascinating history can be found here. I admit, its a lot more difficult to creep past this place knowing its rather lascivious history....

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pictures from a perfect day


We think of the Lower East Side now as being a tolerant mix of different cultures -- Jewish, Chinese, Hispanic, many others, including that ever popular pseudo distinction 'the hipster' -- but a current photographic exhibition at the South Street Seaport Museum proves that things were even more vastly divergent and varied.

Rebecca Lepkoff was a dancer who took her paycheck from a performance at the 1939 New York World's Fair and bought herself a camera, which she used to photograph the neighborhood of her childhood. (Her home was at 343 Cherry Street.) A brilliant handful of these pictures are being displayed at the Seaport's cozy old museum in the show 'There Once Was a Neighborhood', revealing a cross-section of shop-keepers, dock workers and everyday people in the crowded streets of lower Manhattan, from the ethnicity-dense streets of Orchard to the vistas of South Street.

Although a small show, comprising a single dank and inviting room in the middle of the Schermerhorn Row building, the photos tell a venerable tale of daily life, without the political mission statements that other photographers of the time would use to frame the poverty of the Lower East Side.

Lepkoff catches smiling workmen taking breaks, couples strolling now-destroyed waterfront paths, wharf kids playing cops and robbers . Old movie posters ripple from the walls of buildings soon to be demolished by the developments of Robert Moses. (If I had to find a beef with the show, it would be the occasional interupption of Lepkoff's calm to remind us of the damage that Moses reeked upon the city.) Perhaps the view is a bit rose-colored; reality sneaks in at the photo's edges, in worn faces, frayed cuffs, ramshackle signage. But its blatant nostalgic tinge, in the small sweet dose you get at the museum, is warm and welcoming.

Added bonus: a brief video plays featuring the fiesty lady herself, talking about her life in the LES. The best anecdotes involve her process for taking the photographs -- just standing in the street until people got used to her.

Friday, July 20, 2007

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: Mudd Club


To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we'll be celebrating 'FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER', featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s.

First on the list is the Mudd Club, often viewed as the mirror image of its more known uptown competitor Studio 54. Located between the borderlands of TriBeCa and Chinatown (77 White Street, near mysterious Cortlandt Alley), Mudd was a multi-level playground for the avant garde and strictly fabulous (i.e. one of the most notoriously elite clubs in the 70s), playing more to the burgeoning new wave and punk scene than to the disco beats echoing through other halls.

Unlike nightclubs today, which seem to cater A-list celebrities and their worshipers, the Mudd Club with its gold stairs and dark halls attracted a serious cult set of icons from the deep trenches of New York culture, particularly latter era Warhol proteges and art rock stars like Lydia Lunch.

Mudd owner Steve Moss was able to attract such rough-and-tumble innovators by combining its chicly trashy main floors with an art gallery on the fourth floor. The place became known as much for its Jean Michel Basquiat exhibititions as it did for its groundbreaking performances by the Talking Heads, Klaus Nomi and Bow Wow Wow.

In fact, David Byrne and the Talking Heads immortalized the club in their song 'Life During Wartime': "This ain't the Mudd Club or CBGB's, I ain't got time for that now..."

On any given night you could stumble into the club (if you were 'downtown' enough) and, for instance, hear Debbie Harry rapping with Fab Five Freddy.

The club thrived on the degenerate but respectable synergy between art and music, a concept that would become mainstreamed in the late 80s. Although its no longer open in NY, its owner Steve Moss opened another version in Berlin in 2001, and purportedly he sits at the bar, still overseeing his nightly menagerie, even as most of the artists and performers he helped create in the 70s and 80s have passed on. (In fact, that's Steve in the photo above, with members of the punk band Combat Rock.)

In addition to a European club, the former haunt also lives on as a shade of makeup.

There are tons of fun pictures from the Mudd Club's heydey here.

And here's Jean-Michel, basking in his brief fame:



With his short term girlfriend Madonna looking on, Basquiat's band GRAY almost exclusively performed at Mudd Club, featuring bassist and future filmmaker Vincent Gallo.

And why the Mudd Club? The urban legend claims that it was alledgedly named after the doctor and alledged Confederate conspirator (or maligned innocent, depending on who you talk to) Samuel Mudd, who helped John Wilkes Booth escape after he murdered Abraham Lincoln. Mudd mended Booth's broken leg which he received when he fled D.C., and the long stick he used to set the bone was known as 'Mudd's club'.

HAPPY FRIDAY!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

BLACKOUT: the pics

Here's some photographs to illustrate some of the topics of this weeks Bowery Boys podcast. You can hear the podcast below, or go to iTunes and subscribe to us for free!

Many more pics can be found here:



The infamous response to mayor Abe Beame's pleas for money, two years before the blackout catastrophy



Even with the sun out, the streets were still seething with riots and looting:





Hot, sticky congestion!



Working by candlelight



Shea Stadium, bottom of the sixth:



Fires, especially in Brooklyn and the Bronx, raged out of control:



Despite it all, the enterprising shop-owner still made a few bucks:






And to learn more about the blackout and the summer of '77, check out the wealth of info at the Daily News , the New York Times and lots more links at Gothamist.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Grand Central's Other Explosion




Wednesday's steam explosion disaster at 41st Street and Lexington Avenue, which at ‘press time’ had killed one person and injured 44, gave many people that sinister feeling of déjà vu they felt on Sept. 11. It reminded us almost as much of the New York blackout of 2003, with hundreds of people filling the streets with busy cellphones and sweaty backs, some annoyed, some good humored.

Believe it or not, however, over a hundred years ago, the Grand Central Station environs bore witness to an even more horrifying explosion … just one block away.

William Barkley Parsons was given the arduous task of installing the first New York City subway system in 1894. After visiting the London Underground, he determined that the best way to drill holes through the varied and sometimes delicate surface of the island was with a method called ‘cut and cover’ –- essentially digging a gigantic, deep trench and sealing it up at street level. This was chosen over the trickier ‘deep tunneling’ which required greater blasting and elaborate subterranean passageways.

One of the subcontractors in Parson’s employ was the unfortunate Ira Shaler, who was in charge of the tunneling of 34th through 42nd Street. This being before the days of union and worker’s protection, Shaler was soon stamped with the mortibund nickname ‘the voodoo contractor’ for a nasty string of deadly accidents along the line.

And so, 105 years after Wednesday’s steam explosion, the greatest of Shaler’s accidents happened a block away at 41st and Park Avenue, on Jan 27, 1902. A wooden shed filled with 200 pounds of dynamite ignited and blew, sending billowing flames high into the sky and glass shards flying for blocks. The nearby Murray Hill Hotel was severely damaged as was the great façade of the Grand Central terminal. Five people were killed and many others seriously injured. The tunnels below, strangely, were barely disturbed.

Shaler continued on, and with him, smaller calamities occured up and down the newly constructed tunnel shaft.

In the end, Shaler’s final unlucky victim was Shaler himself. He died five months later, four blocks down, on 37th and Park, crushed by tumbling rocks while he was demonstating the tunnel’s safety to his boss.

Or to quote professor Clifton Hood, a professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges: "Parsons pointed to a rock and said it looked rotten. Shaler disagreed, stepped out from under a protective cover and tapped the rock with his cane. It all came down on top of him. He died a few days later. It was not a good way of losing an argument."

PODCAST: The Blackout of 1977

Flash back to the summer of 1977, when Star Wars and the Yankees ruled, gas prices were high, a serial killer roamed the streets, and the city experienced a little inconvenience called the New York Blackout.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

UNUSUAL NYC MUSEUMS #1: Satchmo's Place



In the first part of our nth part series on unusual New York City museums, we turn your attention to Corona, Queens (several stations out on the 7 train) where lies a non-descript and not seemingly attractive red-brick house.

It was the home of Louis Armstrong and his wife Vivian and as of 2003 has opened to the public. But dont expect some extravagent tacky Graceland-like abode.

Armstrong actually preferred the calm and quiet of the neighborhood and the decor reflects his cool. His wife actually picked out the home and Armstrong, upon first seeing it in the at-the-time mostly white neighborhood, thought the cab driver had taken him to the wrong address.

You should definitely do as Satchmo did and sit on the stoop, where he would hang with the neighborhood kids and sign autographs, and then to the den, the scene of many jam sessions. The house also has an inordinate amount of wallpapers on the wall. Other cool things to check out: the Japanese style garden outback, the Louis portrait painted by no less than Tony Bennett, and a crucifix designed by Salvador Dali.

Two pieces of amusing trivia:
At the excellent museum gift shop, you can buy Armstrong's favorite laxative Swiss Kriss!

The Armstrong house was purchased by the couple for $3,500, but benefited years later with the the museum opened after a $1.3 million renovation. How's that for an price uptick?

Check out the official website for times and directions.

And if you're lucky, maybe you'll see the Satchmobile:

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dominos falling down?




New York’s robust and often scary gentrification drive into Condo Land, already ripping through neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, threatens another unusual city landmark – the Dominos Sugar factory, a cluster of important buildings just near the Williamsburg bridge on the Brooklyn side. While it might seem weird to get all angsty about a bunch of old factories, a view into its history reveals its prominence in the story of Brooklyn.

William Havemeyer, a German apprentice at a London refinery, and his brother Frederick moved to America in 1799 to take the reigns of a failing sugar factory at 29 Pine Street – essentially on the back door of Federal Hall, once the center of America’s fledgling government and just around the corner from the stock exchange. In 1805 the brothers moved their refinery to 14-16 Vandam Street in Soho. (There’s a great old diner in the same spot that still smells like sugar!)

Business spread to its current location in Brooklyn after William’s grandson C. Havemayer moved it there in 1859. At one point the sugar kings were so successful they ran a virtual monopoly of business along this area of the waterfront and kept most of North Brooklyn employed through the early part of the 20th Century. At one time, this site produced 60 percent of the entire nation’s sugar. Domino, of course, still makes sugar but this particular site was shut down in 2004.

The current cosmopolitan ghost factory consists of several factories and warehouses at 5th and Kent Ave., the oldest one, the power house, from 1884. (The buildings range in age, because it seems the Havemeyers had a nasty problem of their buildings occasionally burning down.) But it’s the flashy and dramatic Domino’s sign that had actually captured New York’s imagination and transformed the building into an indelible mark on the skyline. It was hoisted up in 1967 with the time and temperature added underneath it the following year.

The current plans, still being debated, has the site almost entirely razed to construct residential buildings. The only building really safe from harm is the main processing house, the most likely candidate for landmark status. But that’s NOT the building with the rustic and much beloved sign. Its fate may not be as sweet.

For a far more indepth history, you should check out Waterfront Alliance website directly.

However some breathtaking photos at its ruined insides can be found here , which also links to several other photo caches throughout the internet of this decrepit and apparently photogenic location.

And we do have to admit the ‘virtual museum’ at the Dominos Food corporate site is pretty amusing too.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Man(hattan)'s Best Friend: The Pictures

As a supplement to this week's podcast, here's a few pictures of the furry friends featured in our review of New York's most famous pups.

You can listen to this week's podcast a few postings below. Or if you've just stumbled into the site, go to iTunes and subscribe to our weekly podcast for free!

A sketching of one of the first Westminster Kennel Club dog shows, as frantic and wacky as they are today:


Here's where the 'magic' began in 1877:


This year's winner, Diamond Jim, in a victory lap at Madison Square Garden.


Snoopy in one of his better Macy's ensembles:


The first floating dog in the parade, here looking rather menacing:


This is Bear, taking a break from the grim work down at the World Trade Center:


Dozens of search and rescue dogs were employed to help find survivors and maneuver through the impossible amounts of debris:


Buddy, America's first seeing-eye dog, in her first Manhattan photo shoot:


Sandy, show business's hardest working canine, shown here with two cheesy humans:


Heroic Balto, as seen in Central Park ....


and as he looks today, in a case, at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History


This dog has nothing to do with New York City, we just wanted to post his picture.