Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A ghostly walk through Woodlawn (part two)

(I couldnt find much about the artist above, but the grave marker is certainly one of the most striking.)

Here's a few shots from my stroll through Woodlawn. Its certainly worth a visit if immersion into classic crypts and tombstones are your sort of thing. (Click on the shots to get detail.)

This mausoleum happened to be open for visitors to admire, if you dared step into it. Mason was organizer of the profitable Quincy Mining Company.

The marker for Joseph Pulitzer was more like a shrine and quite un-grave like.

Song and dance man George M Cohan joined his parents and sister (all immortalized in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy') in the family mausoleum in 1942, having built it a quarter of a decade earlier. His life was honored at a massive funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral.

His resting place too glows inside with some spectacular stained glass windows.

Most entertainers at Woodlawn however have less ostentatious markers. Take a man far more influential to popular music, Duke Ellington, who died in 1974. His family plot is simply a set of a few modest markers

Not too far away lies Miles Davis, who died in 1991. The New York Times investigates whether this fortuitous placement to Duke was a coincidence.

Surprisingly, one of New York's greatest mayors Fiorello Laguardia keeps a modest stone as his marker.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902 before seeing most of her work in women's suffrage and equal rights come to pass.

Arguably Woodlawn's most visited gravesite is probably that of Herman Melville, who sits a little of the beaten path, next to his teenage son.

Most of the more fascinating grave markers weren't of celebrities, but of those with something to say via unusual and often macabre sculpture.

It was fun for awhile getting lost, looking over famous names from years gone by. Until I suddenly realized I might have tripped some space-time continuum. Suddenly seeing this driving up didn't freak me out, no siree.

WHAT could have had the power to have pushed this over?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A ghostly walk through Woodlawn (part 1)

(For of all, I apologize, I had tons of photographs from my trip to Woodlawn that are not uploading properly. For now, I'm just using file photographs and will try and correct the problem later.)

Woodlawn Cemetary is still considered an oasis of calm and tranquility, and the dead quite enjoy it. Although a trek for most people -- last stop on the 4 train, 11 stops north of Yankee Stadium -- it's still technically part of New York City, adjacent to popular Van Cortlandt Park, and only a couple stops from Lehman College. It's a short bike ride to the Bronx Zoo.

Outside of the city's great parks, a New Yorker rarely gets to stumble lazily over hills and hear wind rushing through trees. But the ease swiftly ceases once you realize you've gotten lost.

Designed in 1863 by J.C. Sidney in the same decade as Central Park, Woodlawn was created as a younger sibling to Greenwood Cemetary, a massive acreage draping Brooklyn in the 'rural cemetary' style, a movement advantageous with an age where New York was filled with far fewer people. Woodlawn employed some of Greenwood's languid, relaxed nature but combined it with a far more structured landscaping, with tightly controlled plots hidden in sunken dales and around labyrinthine paths. Here's an aerial of a last populated Woodlawn in 1921:

Woodlawn spans 400 acres of winding and confusing pathways. It is both eerie and fascinating to get lost there, which is a certainty if you go, as the map provided to you at the front gate is a fairly useless tool.

The rich and famous used Woodlawn as a way to promote their wealth after death. Some of these mausoleums, crypts and post-living mansions are bigger than Manhattan apartments and better furnished.

The resting place of Frank Woolworth, who died in 1919, celebrates the merchant as though he were a ruler of a Meditteranian empire.

William Bateman Leeds is not a name that escapes off the tongue now, but the millionaire made his money in tin, and when he died in 1909, no less than John Russell Pope (of the Jefferson Memorial in DC) designed his mausoleum. Leeds is no longer entombed there, and Woodlawn as adopted an ingenuous program for maintaining 'abandoned' property by selling them to new owners.

Jay Gould, industrialist robber baron extraordinaire, and his family are tucked in a Roman-style container tucked peacefully atop a hill and hidden behind a dramatic weeping beech tree.

I found it curious how the bigger crypts could surround themselves with landscaping to appear 'hidden away', such as this one by the Herman Armour (of the meat packing mogal), designed by James Renwick, he of Roosevelt Island's smallpox hospital and other now-creepy structures.

The landscape is strewn with examples of amazing mini-archectural examples by McKim, Mead & White (in 1885, for wall street speculator Charles Osborn), John LaFarge and Cass Gilbert while even many of the less astere have stained glass windows designed by Tiffany.

Tomorrow (if I can get my pictures to finally upload properly!) I'll show you the resting places of legendary musicians, mayors, politicians and publishers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: Peppermint Lounge

pictured: Joey Dee and the Starliters, who turned a small midtown gay hustler bar into a dance hit in 1961

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.

Like most things associated with popular music, the early 60s brought sea change to the very notion of nightlife. Clubs typified by the 21 Club and last weeks' feature El Morocco were very much venues where you dressed up, not where you let your hair down. Harlem and Greenwich Village certainly catered to rowdier fare, but in midtown, things still held a pretense of glamour and society.

All that changed as rock and roll seeped into the streets. Such "naughty" music, inspiring amoral and sexual dancing, sprang first from the seediest places, with the sweetest being the Peppermint Lounge, also known as the home of the Twist. Although the Twist was actually born in Philadelphia, New York and the Peppermint sped it up and whipped it into a frenzy.

The 'Pep', as it was called, a hole in the wall at 128 West 45th Street, with a doorway into the adjacent Knickerbocker Hotel, might have remained a quiet gay hustler bar out of the way of the public consciousness had rock and roll not swept through. Vanity Fair calls it an "inauspicious dump destined to become a pop landmark." The ruffians would soon share the floor with Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles.

With a capacity of 174 people (and often filled to just slightly over that amount), a tiny stage and even tinier dance floor, the Pep soon pulsed with dance-friendly rock music, featuring house band Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones slinging R&B rhythms over guitars and marrying it with almost demonic body gyrations. The well kept secret was effectively spilled when frequent performer Joey Dee and the Starliters recorded their biggest hit 'Peppermint Twist', cementing the club's lusty reputation into a hit record in 1961. (Watch a video here of the Starliters performing their hit.)

The Pep was sweaty raunch. It was white society dabbling into the rhythms of black music. Traditional society, leering over the edge of its dry martinis, thumbed up its nose. But like everything forbidden in this city, the Peppermint soon drew its admirers.

Or as Tom Wolfe explains it: "One week in October, 1961, a few socialites, riding hard under the crop of a couple of New York columnists, discovered the Peppermint Lounge and by next week all of Jet Set New York was discovering the Twist."

The mystique of the Twist -- and the dozens of other novelty dances that came afterwards -- is that is was a solo dance. And as a result, according to the New York Social Diary, "It was the first time the general public saw men dancing with men and women dancing with women." The Pep invited sexual intimacy and freedom. Perhaps not of the types we see on dancefloors today, but this was the first significant steps towards it.

But while the floor of the Pep might have been filled with twisting, sexed up young adults, the allure soon drew icons. Marilyn Monroe, seen last week shimmying at El Morocco, found her way to the Peppermint, as did the Beatles during their legendary week in the city. (Pictured above: John Lennon is welcomed into the Pep.) As well as an odd assortment of celebs that I can't imagine ever once did the Twist -- Liberace, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Norman Mailer, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Wayne (!).

According to Time Magazine (via the above Vanity Fair article), "Even Greta Garbo hauled herself out of her myth-lined cocoon and appeared, lank-haired and bone-pale, to snap her fingers and smile." Even first lady Jackie Kennedy snuck in with her sister Lee.

The Pep made stars as well. Three of the Starlighters spun off into another band, the Rascals. And Phil Spector's pet project the Ronettes, according to legend, got their unexpected big break there: "One night in 1961, the girls dressed in tight skirts and with their hair piled high, stood [outside] in line .... the manager mistook them for a singing trio that hadn't arrived and took them inside. Ushered them on stage and they belted out a version of Ray Charles' "What I Say," ... The girls took the club by storm and were signed to appear regularly for $10 a night." (At right: Ronettes at the Pep)

The Pep wouldn't survive the 70s. The space on 45th street would become a couple different disco venues: a circus themed disco called GG's Barnum Room (pictured below) and a glossier disco called Hollywood. The Pep would return in fits and starts in other locations, but nothing approaching the feral frenzy of its early days.

The address of the Peppermint, 128 West 45th Street, is completely gone, replaced with a parking garage, a Citibank and a luxury hotel. However, not more than a 100 feet from its original location was once another legendary rock venue, Bond International Casino.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

PODCAST: The United Nations Headquarters

(Secretariat Tower, in a dazzling light show during a special session on the international HIV/AIDS crisis.)

It's the only area of Manhattan that actually belongs to the world (literally). Come along with the Bowery Boys as we cut the security line to uncover the true story about the unusual headquarters of the United Nations, and why they ended up in New York City in the first place.

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

Yesterday was United Nations Day, marking the anniversary of the creation of the UN Charter by its five originating members (Soviet Union, China, Britain, the United States and France) and 46 other signatary nations. Currently there are 192 member nations.

The grounds of the United Nations are alive with an assortment of unusual sculptures from around the world. Although not open to the public, you can easily see most of these through the fence:

From Luxembourg, the very popular Knotted Gun, by Fredrik Reuterswärd, titled 'Non Violence' no explanation neccessary:

The Japanese Peace Bell, a gift from Japan before they were even members of the United Nations, holds a special significance on the UN grounds. It tolls twice a year, for the vernal equinox and on the first day of General Assembly.

The circular Solidarity Among Sisters was a gift from 'Arab women' crated by Silvio Russo, "shaped ... in the form of an abstract image of a number of women, each of whom is holding out her hand to the next."

Tucked in the trees at the end of the garden is 'Sleeping Elephant', a bronze sculpture from three nations (Kenya, Namibia and Thailand) and cast from an actual living elephant by sculptor Mihail. Believe it or not, the size of its, um, 'member' was a point of contention when it was first installed in the park.

The most renown of all the sculptures is probably Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares an Evgeniy Vuchetich creation donated by the Soviet Union

Additionally, the lobby of the UN has one object of significant note -- a striking stained glass window commemorating the life of Dag Hammarskjold by French painter Mark Chagall:

Then of course there's the most striking piece of all -- 'Good Defeats Evil', by Georgian artist Zurab Tsereteli, a rather controversial gift from the Soviet Union in 1990. It conjures the legend of St. George slaying the dragon, with nuclear arms filling the role of the slayed beast.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mysteries of Roosevelt Island: Jailhouse jitters

We've got some more on that wacky, wonderful place called Roosevelt Island. We highlighted some of the spookier stuff last week. Read it all here.

I mentioned earlier that Roosevelt Island was named for a Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial that was never built there. Perhaps the reason that doesn't bother anybody is that's a far more attractive name than its last one, Welfare Island. In the continuum of names in the island's history, Welfare is worse than all of them, although slightly better than Hog Island.

(The best name it's ever had? The original Canarsie tribe name Minnahannock, meaning 'it's nice to be on this island'.)

Welfare Island might seem a rather unappealing name these days, but at the time it was changed from Blackwell’s to Welfare in 1921, the connotation was less onerous. By that time, the island was crammed with institutions that benefited "the welfare" of the public, while at the same time sequestering society's most undesirable. It's held an almshouse, various hospitals, a workhouse, an asylum. Yet none of these public projects grabbed as many headlines as the island penitentiary, which stood there for over a hundred years.

A prison was one of the first things built on then-Blackwell's Island in 1832. A north wing was added to the prison to accommodate inmates transported from a facility next door to Bellevue Hospital. (The mental patients of Bellevue would make a similar journey to Blackwell's asylum at around the same time.) The five-story L-shaped building had a granite, medieval-looking facade and 800 cells, much of it filled to capacity through most of its existence.

The prison fomented little idleness. Male inmates from there and the adjoining 220-cell workhouse (essentially a correctional facility for "drunks and disorderlies") were used either in the quarry or to build many of the island's structures, including a seawall around the perimeter. (Below: a picture from the book Images From America: Roosevelt Island of some of Blackwell Island's prison laborers.)

This takes the notion of a chain-gang to a whole other level. But then, where would they escape to? Even if they could find a boat, the closest dock was heavily guarded. And although swimming was a possibility, the waters of the East River were far more crowded than they are today. Although some criminals -- like 'Oily' Rockford -- managed escape quite easily.

While the men were outside, women prisoners would do more 'womanly' chores, like sewing and laundry. I can't help but think many of these women could have been better served in the quarries than in the sewing circles.

The prison and workhouse has seen its share of celebrity lawbreakers; one could imagine Paris Hilton feeling at home here. (I'm kidding; she wouldn't last a day.) Many of the purported crimes wouldn't even get you a slap on the wrist today.

Margaret Sanger's sister Ethel Byrne was locked up for providing birth control advice to women in Brooklyn. Anarchist Emma Goldman was a frequent 'guest' for incendiary remarks and inciting riots, joining other frequenter Madame Restell, an early 20th century abortionist. Well before her singing career took off Billie Holiday spent four months here for a "vagrant and dissipated adult" (code for prostitution), although she was still a minor.

However its two most recognizable residents to the public at the time stand at either end of the justice scale; Boss Tweed served there for a year as the instigator of New York's corruption woes, while comedian Mae West was locked up for eight days in 1927 on public obscenity charges, due to the 'salacious' nature of her Broadway show 'Sex'. She received so much media attention that she was allowed to wear silk underpants at night and was eventually let off for good behavior. (The picture above is Mae in court, possibly on the day receiving her sentence.)

The celebrity element also helped shine spotlights on the prison's squalid conditions -- a sorry hall of overcrowding, drug addiction and corruption. By the 20th century, gangs of prisoners virtually ran the place. It would become the inspiration for dozens of pulp novels and films, including one actually called Blackwell's Island.

After a few sorry reforms -- including the name change to Welfare Island -- produced few results, it was up to can-do mayor Fiorello Laguardia and his hire for corrections commissioner Austin H. MacCormick to raid the prison and transport its remaining inmates to the newly built Rikers Island. The Welfare Island prison was quickly torn down and replaced by Goldwater Hospital, today the Coler-Goldwater Memorial, which still serves the city in an environment far more inviting that anything that ever stood there before. has some of the best medical facilities in the city.

That's it for Roosevelt Island this week! If you want to know more, the best online resources I could find include those at the Roosevelt Island Historical Society and a spectacular in-depth timeline at NY10044. (I know, I know, I didnt even get to the Blackwell house, fifth oldest building in all of New York City, or the ruins of old Strecker Laboratory.)

By the way, if you want to see what Blackwell Island might have been like, Roosevelt Island 360 has a video stream of the 1903 panoramic film reel that surveys the island in all its gloom and gray.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mysteries of Roosevelt Island: The Madman's Lighthouse

We've got some more on that wacky, wonderful place called Roosevelt Island. We highlighted some of the spookier stuff last week. Read it all here.

After the Renwick Ruins (which on most days aren't open to the public) and the tramway (which takes all of five minutes to enjoy), the landmark which people associate with Roosevelt Island the most is the lighthouse on its northernmost point, built back when the isle was called Blackwell Island.

There are certainly more famous lighthouses in New York City. The 'Little Red Lighthouse' underneath the George Washington Bridge was made famous by a classic children's story. The stumpy lighthouse at the South Street Seaport serves as a memorial to the Titanic. And technically, the Statue of Liberty was lighthouse-ish, serving as a beacon for ships into the harbor.

But none had as ominous a purpose -- or as peculiar an origin -- as the Blackwell Island lighthouse, Roosevelt's homage to the determination of the clinically mad.

As we mentioned last week, a sanitarium was built on Blackwell Island on 1839 to house mental patients previously stranded in various wards unsuited to their particular needs.

Many years after its notorious fire in 1858 and subsequent rebuilding, the relatively petite 50 foot tall lighthouse was planned to illuminate the waters filled with ships exiting from the perilous Hell's Gate, the waterway between the Bronx and Queens. Presumably there had been a problem with vessels running aground on the relatively dark island, illuminated only by the lights of the asylum.

James Renwick, he of the smallpox hospital, was tasked in 1872 to design the lighthouse, a Gothic octagon cut from dark gray gneiss originating from the island's own quarries, stone that would adorn many of the island's most prominent structures.

The only thing holding back the construction was one particularly conscientious inmate of the asylum named John McCarthy. (Or, at least, this is how the legend goes.)

Whatever his maladies, McCarthy was deathly afraid of an attack by the British. Although New York was indeed under fear of such an attack in 1812, it never happened. By 1872, it was very unlikely to ever happen. This did not deter McCarthy, who, in his delusions, just wanted to protect the island from eventual attack. So, as the story goes, he built a fortress-like wall from river clay on the north end.

According to an asylum warden, the "industrious but eccentric" man "is very assiduous, and seems proud of his work, and he has reason to be, for it is a fine structure, strong and well built." Apparently it was 'fine' enough to fortify some of the marshy land that would be used later for the lighthouse and adjoining platform.

He seems like a good but very misdirected citizen, in my opinion. However, such a fort would be no match for a warship and besides, there were no warships. The city, possibly through bribery, convinced McCarthy to demolish the fort.

Not surprisingly, labor from the asylum was used to build the lighthouse, and design shifted slightly from Renwick's intentions. It is unclear who among the asylum laborers was involved in actually constructing the lighthouse. Another inmate Thomas Maxey is also attributed to the construction.

Whoever it was, McCarthy was the one attributed on a plaque that stood in front of the lighthouse until the 60s:

This work
Was done by
John McCarthy
Who built the light House
from the bottom to the Top
all ye who do pass by may
Pray for his soul when he dies

Serving the harbor admirably for almost 70 years, the lighthouse was decommissioned in the early 40s, then restored to its quaint, haunted lustre in 197s. It's joined on the north side by a 147-acre park highlighted by the lovely white 'meditation steps', where you can bask in views of Gracie Mansion and the skyline of Manhattan, as well as ponder the invisible border of McCarthy's former noble fort. I can personally attest to this being a perfect place for a picnic.

(Lighthouse photo courtesy of one of my favorite New York blogs New York Daily Photo)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mysteries of Roosevelt Island: Terror on the tram!

We've got some more on that wacky, wonderful place called Roosevelt Island! We highlighted some of the spookier stuff last week. Read it all here.

One of the more intriguing aspects to Roosevelt Island is the notion of even getting there at all.

For most of its existence, people used ferries to get to and from Manhattan and Queens. Boatloads of prisoners, smallpox patients, the mentally insane, and, yes, residents of the island crossed the East River daily.

Later, when the Queensboro Bridge sprung up on its north side, a trolley would stop in the middle of the bridge, allowing people to then enter a small elevator which would take them down to the island. According to NY Roads, this was the only way for the public to get to Roosevelt (then Welfare Island) in the 50s. I can't imagine this inconvenient form of commute brightened the island's reputation any.

A lift bridge spanning 2,877 feet to Queens was opened in 1955, finally allowing automobiles on the island. Its also the only way you can walk there. Those odd Queensboro elevators were dismantled in 1970.

However Roosevelt Island is often defined by its most popular method of conveyance, the Roosevelt Island Tramway. This unique way of getting to and from home, taking less than five minutes one way, is a picturesque and perfectly European way of experiencing the city. The aerial tram, made by the Swiss company Vonroll, is the only one of its kind on North America to be used as actual mass transit. (Many vacation destinations obviously use trams, including mountains in Oregon and New Mexico.)

The Tram was built in 1976 as a temporary relief for residents impatient with the slow development of the subway out to the island. By the time the subway (now the F line) reached Roosevelt in 1989, the Tram had become such a signature of the midtown skyline that it was retained.

Some passengers in 2006 might have wished they had hopped on the subway. On April 18, 2006, the two operating cars abruptly stopped moving, leaving almost 70 people stranded above the East River. It took almost six hours, well into the early morning, for rescue workers to extract the passengers ten at a time using an industrial crane and rescue gondolas. According to a 12 year old passenger, who had to leap from the tram doorway to the gondola: "I was just a little scared because, one, what if I miss it; two, what if I slip, I might fall into the river."

(Go to WNBC to see some of the vivid coverage.)

Of course the Tram isn't foreign to use by malevolent types and rescues by bonafide heroes, at least in the fictional realm. Spider-man seems to be the tramway's personal security guard, in comic books and in film.

You can take a far safer virtual tram ride with the Roosevelt Islander.

The subway seem to be the easiest way to travel, but even that has an odd distinction -- at a little over 100 feet deep, its the second deepest subway stop in the entire city. (That's still 80 feet shorter than the 191 Street station in Manhattan.) After a series of steps and escalators, it can seem like you're emerging from a subterranean city.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

History in the making - 10/20

New York gets another Robert Indiana sculpture, which stands at Park Avenue and 57th Street. See our past article on Indiana's other works in the city.

The ghost of Sid Vicious walks the halls of the Chelsea Hotel, according to Dee Dee Ramone. [Chelsea Blog]

Some excellent shots of Coney Island, one hundred years ago. [Shorpy]

Does any sleaze exist in Times Square anymore? Sadly, only in animatronic form. [Vanishing New York]

Horseback riding returns to Central Park![NY Times City Room]

And finally, whatever happened to Penny Crone? [Gothamist]

Friday, October 19, 2007


(Top and bottom photos: Garry Winogrand - taken on the El Morocco dance floor - 1955)

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 .

Has there ever been a place in Manhattan more glamorous than El Morocco? Probably not.

John Perona opened El Morocco as a speakeasy at 154 East 54th Street, moving down the street to 307 East 54th Street in its later days. (Both locations have been destroyed; the Citicorp building stands where the original once stood.) "Elmo", as the socialites would utter it, transitioned into post-prohibition losing none of its glamour or appeal.

Along the way, it set the standard by which all other nightclubs of the 30s through the 50s were to be judged. (Only the Stork Club and possibly the 21 Club would rival it.) It was the first to use a velvet rope. The ruler of the rope, Angelo Zuccotti, was so revered that the New York Times ran his obit when he died in 1998, a doorman
"who wielded the velvet rope at El Morocco with such authority and finesse that he helped define the very line between cafe society and social Siberia."

And via Perona's official photographer Jerome Zerbe (who also worked the Rainbow Room), this midtown speakeasy turned celebrity hotspot was one of the first to employ photographers to snap candids of its famous clientele. Yes folks, you can actually trace the scandalous club photos of Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears back to their less shameless beginnings at El Morocco.

According to an account by Zerbe, "From 1935 until 1939, I was at the El Morocco and I invented a thing which has become a pain in the neck for most people. I took photographs of the fashionable people and sent them to the papers."

One key element was Elmo's signature blue and white zebra-striped banquettes, which popped from the corners of every snapshot. Photos running the next day would easily be recognized.

The other, of course, was the who's-who list of stars that would traipse through. And who exactly showed up at El Morocco's doorstep? I can throw some names at you -- Clark Gable, Cole Porter, Ingred Bergman, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe. Humphrey Bogart, God bless him, was banned from the club for life. (The story is so incredible, I'm saving it for the end.)

But I think Zerbe says it best: "They were really the top, top social -- and what you mean by society, that's difficult again to define. These were the people whose houses one knew were filled with treasures. These were the women who dressed the best. These were the women who had the most beautiful of all jewels. These were the dream people that we all looked up to and hoped that we or  our friends could sometimes know and be like."

Scour any recollections of Elmo, and you're bound to spend half the night picking up all the dropped names. "Errol Flynn would either sit at Perona's table or cruise the room," says Taki Theodoracopulos. "On a normal night Aristotle Socrates Onassis would be there, more often than not without his wife, Tina, who would come in later with the then young Reinaldo Herrera."

And from Nannette Fabray: "One entered, and there was a hierarchy of where one sat. The first table on the right was the best; the second was reserved for the owner, John Perona. You didn't dare go unless you were perfectly turned out."

Human beings were not allowed in El Morocco. It was the place where film stars mixed with European royalty, where a poor Southern girl could be wooed and courted, as long as that poor Southern girl was Ava Gardner.

Sadly, like an aging film actress long past her prime, El Morocco lasted well into the 90s, dissolving into less alluring variants until it took the final step of becoming a topless bar in the mid 90s, under the name Night Owls.

Celebrity hotspots these days rarely have the elegance or the prestige. I can only imagine if Britney Spears turned up at Angelo's velvet rope, that he would turn her away.

Oh, and why was Humphrey banned from El Morocco? Well, one night in 1950, Bogart dropped off his wife Lauren Bacall at home, and he and a friend went out for the evening. Heavily inebriated, Bogart thought it would be funny to bring two 22 lbs. stuffed panda bears into Elmo as their 'dates' and proceeded to prop them up on a chair.

Two drunk young women attempted to pick up the pandas, but, depending on who you believe, were either pushed by Bogart or tumbled to the floor by the shear weight of the heavy toys. Later, in a flurry of half-truths, it was believed Humphrey and his friend violently assaulted the young women for attempting to steal the panda bears. Not helping matters -- the boyfriend of one of the women then began throwing plates at Bogart.

The next day Bogart received a summons to appear in court. The man who would become the greatest movie star of all time, on that day, had to convince a judge that it was his excessively large stuffed pandas, and not his fists, that had felled the young women. The judge eventually threw it out of court.

When asked by reporters if he was drunk that night, Humphrey replied, “Who isn’t at 3 o’clock in the morning? So we get stiff once in a while. This is a free country isn’t it? I can take my panda any place I want to. And if I want to buy it a drink, that’s my business.”