Monday, September 29, 2008

True fear on Wall Street: the terror bombing of 1920

Lunchtime down on Wall Street today is chaotic mess of brokers and bankers on cell phones, tour groups, messengers on bikes, police, construction workers, people delivering lunch and the stray old lady walking her dog.

Eighty-eight years ago, in 1920, it would have practically been the same, sans the cell phones. So it's particularly disturbing how easy it is to imagine the noontime scene on September 16, 1920. In fact, most of the surroundings -- the Stock Exchange, the Sub-Treasury building (today's Federal Hall), and most importantly J.P. Morgan's headquarters on 23 Wall Street -- are still very much active.

An unidentified man led a horse and carriage down the congested street, fighting to get past crowds, until it rested at the corner about 100 feet east of Broad. As the Trinity Church bells rang, the man dropped the reins and fled, never to be seen again.

One minute later, the wagon exploded with 100 pounds of dynamite, eradicating everything in its sphere, then sending dozens of iron slugs through the air to create a horrific scene of carnage.  I'll let other sites outline some of the grimmer details, but by the end of the day, 38 people would be dead from the attack, many while sitting at their desks.  And over 400 more would be injured.

Believe it or not, evidence of this attack can easily be seen from the street today.  Morgan famously rejected repairs of his bank, preferring to leave the dents and pockmarks on the side of his building in a sign of defiance. With a little morbid imagination and some amateur CSI work, one can probably trace the trajectory of wall's injuries to the very spot where the poor horse and wagon exploded.

Despite a federal investigation which led to dozens of arrests, in fact the culprits were never caught.  Largely assumed to be Italian anarchists, any evidence was unfortunately lost when, in an effort to appear unfazed, the city cleaned the street and kept Wall Street open for business the next day, even seeing a rally of thousands pour into the street that Friday.

I've just touched on the event, but there are several resources online that look into the potential perpetrators, the street scene and the tragic aftermath.

Photos courtesy Old Picture

Friday, September 26, 2008

PODCAST: New York Stock Exchange

We steal this week's topic straight for today's headlines! We look at the early days of New York finance and the creation of the New York Stock Exchange, beginning with Alexander Hamilton, some pushy auctioneers, a coffee house and a sycamore tree.

And find how this seminal financial institution ended up in its latest home -- that beautiful, classically designed George Post building, with a marble goddess on top who was almost too heavy for her own good.

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

The streets and ports of New York in 1790s, setting for America's first financial crisis and the birth of the New York stock trading system. At the far left is the Tontine Coffee House.

This slight little man is William Duer, former assistant secretary of the treasury, whose shiftless manipulation of the early American financial system got him thrown in debtors prison for life

An illustration of the Buttonwood Agreement, which formed the loose collection of brokers who would form the New York Stock Exchange

The Tontine Coffee House (that building with the balcony) where the stock market meets a good coffee bean

A sketch of Wall Street in the mid 19th century. (You can see Trinity Church and a hint of Federal Hall to your left.) The Stock Exchange headquarters floated around from place to place during this period until an elegant Italian Renaissance style building was built for it in 1863

A kind of rough drawing to be sure, but this supposedly depicts the inside of the trading floor from the 1863 building. Sorry to say I couldn't find any images of the outside, but the John Kellum designed building sounds like it was a beauty.

Another illustration of the new Exchange itself, taken from a membership note

George Post's masterful Stock Exchange building, mustering up his finest Beaux-Arts instincts in ways that created a solid, powerful structure for an institution sometimes without such stability

Looking down Wall Street in 1911. By this time a "financial district" was firmly in place as bank offices, brokerage firms and other moneyed interests flock around the Stock Exchange. (This awesome picture is courtesy Shorpy, quite possibly my favorite website in the world.)

Looking down at the Stock Market as it was crashing in 1929.

Crowds outside the Stock Exchange, with George Washington looking down from the steps of Federal Hall

The trading floor from the 1950s

Crazed traders in 1963 (from photographer Thomas O'Halleran)

One of the most powerful street corners in the world

Due to the crush of monstrous buildings all around it, the Stock Exchange sits in a virtual canyon

All sorts of people have rang the opening bell at the Stock Exchange, including P Diddy....

...Emeril and Snoopy

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where are you, George Post?

Who knew a produce exchange could look so elegant?

One of New York's most important architects was George B. Post, but you would barely know it today.

Only a handful of his most important buildings -- the New York Stock Exchange being the most famous -- still stand, the victim of a rapidly changing city sweeping away the former glories of the Beaux-Arts style.

Post wasn't your typical purveyor of the sometimes gaudy excesses of Beaux-Arts, that amalgam of classical and formal styles that dictated American architecture from the 1880s into the 1920s. He was known for making its particular beauty climb, refitting its graceful symmetry literally to new heights. Post proved that the merely traditional needn't be staid and uninspiring. My two favorites of long-gone works:

New York World Building

His best known building during his life was the New York World building on Newspaper Row, more appropriate referred to as the Pulitzer building after the paper's imperious publisher Joseph Pulitzer. It was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1890 and was the first building to rise above the spire of Trinity Church.

This was demolished to make way for a car ramp for the Brooklyn Bridge:

(New York Architecture has some more beautiful pictures of this building)

New York Produce Exchange

You wouldn't expect a building made to hold produce to be an architectural marvel, but Post graceful talent at creating lively open spaces made this one, at 2 Broadway down at Bowling Green, a stunner and certainly must have recommended him as the ideal candidate to design the trading room floor at the New York Stock Exchange. The Produce Exchange was wiped out in 1957. (The exterior is shown up top.)

(Picture above, and others of Post's work, can be found at City Review, reviewing a book of Post's work by Sarah Bradford Landau.)

Go to New York Architecture to see a sampling of lost Post buildings.

If you'd rather see one of his few existing ones, simply cross the Williamsburg Bridge over to the Brooklyn side, turn left and look for that beautifully domed and very out-of-place beauty that's now an HSBC bank branch. That's the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the little brother of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower and one of Brooklyn's most beautiful buildings, built in 1875, many years before the bridge sprouted up in front of it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reliving the World's Fairs -- through a View Master

There are many of you who read this blog who remember the 1964-65 World's Fair well -- and maybe even a few who remember the 1939-40 World's Fair -- so I thought you might be interested in this event:

World's Fairs in 3-D
Saturday September 27, 6 pm
The Gershwin Hotel
7 East 27th Street
Between Fifth and Madison avenues

"Robert Munn & Sara Cook of the Depthography group will be presenting a 3-D stereoscopic projection show of View Master images from World's Fairs. The events that will be featured (in full color) include the following: 1939 New York, 1939 San Fransisco, 1958 Brussels, 1962 Seattle, 1964 New York, EXPO '67, 1964 New York aftermath, ruins, etc. Over 400 Views will be featured.

The photography on these Viewmaster reels were shot on Kodachrome which retains beautiful color over the decades since these reels were produced. The Gershwin Hotel is located on 27th street between 5th Ave.and Madison Ave.

The admission fee is $10, which includes 3-D glasses. For further info,
please go to"

I didn't realize this, but the View Master was actually debuted at the New York World's Fair of 1939.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Name That Neighborhood: Wall Street Blues

A simplistic but colorful view of "Man Mados" or "New Amsterdam" in 1664 (click in to inspect the detail)

One of the first facts you learn as a student of New York City history is that Wall Street, that canyon of tall buildings and center of the American financial world, is named for an actual wall that once stretched along this very spot during the days of the Dutch. The real story is rather fuzzied by the presence of a small community of French-speaking Belgians known as the Walloons.

The original 'De Waal Straat' was the center of a small Walloon community in New Amsterdam. There was most definitely a walled fortification nearby on New Amsterdam's northern boundary, and it certainly did stretch along about the same area as Wall Street does today.

But the present name seems to be a formation of mixed meanings that only a tangle of languages and hundreds of years of history can create. The Dutch themselves referred to an actual street alongside the wall as the 'Cingel' -- according to an old history, meaning "exterior, or encircling, street."

The real reasons for New Amsterdam building its famous wall are also up for grabs. It's commonly held that the wooden palisade was erected in defense of Indian attacks, and certainly the residents of New Amsterdam did their part to rile the anger of the native landowners. But the Dutch had been living at the tip of Manhattan for over 25 years by the time the wall was built in 1653. In truth, it was commissioned to keep out a different sort of enemy.

You'll be pleased to know that one-legged director-general Peter Stuyvesant was the man who ordered the construction of the "high stockade and small breastwork" that cleaved the Dutch community from the natural wilds beyond.

This was an incredibly important year for New Amsterdam in two respects. In February 1653, New Amsterdam was chartered as a official Dutch city. Although Stuyvesant was quite against the outpost receiving such official recognition, he eventually took advantage of it, appointing the first town council himself rather than putting it up to such trivial inconveniences as elections.

But in 1653 the tides of the motherland spilled onto their shores, as the war between England and the Netherlands threatened the remote and undefended new city. The Dutch intended to launch ships from New Amsterdam harbor in battle against the English.

As a result, the English colonies up north were sure to retaliate, either by sea or, feared Stuyvesant, over land, possibly teaming with hostile Indian forces, down through undefended Manhattan island. Essentially, the wall that helped give us Wall Street was built because Stuyvesant feared attacks not just from Indian tribes, but from the European colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Haven!

Above: looking at this more well known map of New Amsterdam, once can see the two gates very clearly

Stuyvesant called upon the 43 richest residents of New Amsterdam to provide funding to fix up the ailing Fort Amsterdam and to construct a stockade across the island to prevent attacks from the north, while it took New Amsterdam's most oppressed inhabitants -- slave labor from the Dutch West India Company -- to actually build the wall.

The barrier was constructed out of earth, rock, and 15 feet timber planks sold to the Dutch, ironically enough, by the "notorious" Englishman Thomas Baxter. In a turnabout that one would expect from hiring your enemy, Baxter later led a group of "Rhode Island marauders" and pirated Dutch fishing ships.

Early in the 1660s, the Dutch upgraded its wall to include brass cannons and two sturdy gates -- one at today's intersection of Wall and Broadway (for land), the other at Wall and Pearl Street (according to an early account, a water gate and access to a 'river road').

The British took over New Amsterdam in 1664 and renamed it New York, but the wall still remained, becoming more a relic than a serious defense.

By the turn of the century, the fear of land attacks had almost completely subsided and the city was beginning to feel crowded. So in 1699 the wall was torn down with some of the material salvaged to help construct a new City Hall at the corner of Nassau Street and the newly cristened Wall Street. When the British were forced out in 1783 by the Americans, the City Hall building was renamed Federal Hall -- the first official center of American government.

A plaque honoring the old wall sits today at the corner of Wall and Broadway, where the gate to the city once opened:

Mets Apple won't fall far from the tree

Back in March, we speculated on the fate of Thurman Munson's locker, which had been preserved at Yankees Stadium since the untimely death of the popular Yankees catcher in 1979. Well, Shea Stadium has a far more irreverent but equally treasured fixture that many have been wondering about -- the Mets Apple. Will the frail little thing make the move to Citi Field? The answer: no, and yes.

The Mets nine-feet-long, 582 lb apple, which would not look out of place in a Disney animatronic ride, made its debut during the 1980 season. Hoping a clever slogan could prove prophetic, the Mets advertised that "The Magic Is Back!" that year, literally demonstrating this with a mechanical apple that would emerge from a top hat behind center field every time a Met hit a home run.

Accompanied by a light show and the occasional firework display, it was without question one of the cheesiest things to ever grace an American sports stadium. Because of that, however, it was quickly beloved by Mets fans, derided by Yankees fans, and pretty much confused everybody else.

Silly, of course, but the apple was a colorful and original quirk of Shea Stadium. So when it was announced that the Mets would be moving to Citi Field, fans became concerned about the fate of the fruity apparatus. An impassioned website Save The Apple attempted to convince the team to move the apple, which they concede is "an ugly 80s relic."

Their mission was only partially accomplished. According to the Daily News, a new replica of the apple will be popping up in center field at the new Citi Field.

It's been confirmed that the original apple -- fairly withered on the vine already -- will be saved from the trash heap and will make the transition to the new field in some capacity. But how it will be displayed is undermined. Fans have suggested the apple stand alone on the walkway leading up to the new stadium.

Photo above from Flickr

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Goodbye Yankee Stadium

I can't put up a tribute to Shea Stadium without giving a final farewell to that far older sports arena, Yankee Stadium, which will see its last regular season game tomorrow night.

If you are a Yankees fan, they're letting people into the stadium at 1 pm to tour Monument Park and even walk around the field! More information here.

Here's our show on a history on the New York Yankees, which lots of info on the stadium. With Greg and our guest host Tanya Bielski:

Check out our original Yankees post from March where we have a lot more pictures

Friday, September 19, 2008

PODCAST: Shea Stadium

The Mets are movin' out to Citi Field, but we can't overlook the great stories contained in their old home, Shea Stadium, a Robert Moses project took years to get off the ground and has been populated with world class ball players, crazed Beatles fans, and one very mysterious black cat.

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

William Shea, who essentially bluffed the National League into creating a new team for the city -- the New York Mets

Shea under construction. Plans for a retractable done were abandoned, although many of the features that did make it were revolutionary at the time, including one of sports biggest scoreboards.

How the exterior of Shea Stadium looked back in 1964. (The photo above is from a great fan website from Carl Abraham, full of great old pictures. Check it out here.)

And inside, the same year.

The biggest stars to play in Shea Stadium in the 1960s weren't sports figures, but music heartthrobs -- the Beatles.

The infamous black cat from that acursed game in September 1969, jettisoning the hopes of the Cubs that year.

Fans literally stormed the field the moment the Mets clinched their very first Worlds Series title in 1969.

The proud lineup of the Miracle Mets of 1969.

His notable performances and personal theatrics at Shea Stadium with the New York Jets turned quarterback Joe Namath (#12) into a Wheaties-box household name during the 1970s.

No less a star than Namath, Pope John Paul II finds a warm welcome for him at Shea in 1979.

One of the Mets biggest stars of the '80s, cheerful center fielder Mookie Wilson, was instrumental in the Mets World Series win of 1986 over the Boston Red Sox.

The new Citi Field sits within site of the stadium it will replace

An illustration of what the new Citi Field will look like.

Ever wonder why the Mets team colors are blue and orange? Read one of our very early entries about it here.

However, a commenter below notes that 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." Which sounds very plausible -- and amazingly coincidental, considering they're also the official colors of New York. Perhaps the Giants and the Dodgers original sporting colors were based on the official colors, making both explanations correct?

Frankly there's been no better tribute to Shea Stadium than the New York Post's current countdown of the top 25 moments that occurred there over the years.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Union Grounds: Baseball history in Williamsburg

Above: Quite a fancy looking team of baseball players! Note the pavilion in the background. Picture courtesy Brooklyn Ball Parks

I love finding out where very basic, everyday, take-for-granted concepts were invented. For instance, there is some place on the planet I'm sure that heralds as the first place somebody put a straw in a beverage and drank it.

Well, in today's Williamsburg, in a crowded section inhabited by a mostly Hasidic Jewish population, there once stood a baseball field named the Union Grounds with a unique distinction: it's the first to regularly charge spectators to watch a game of baseball.

In the mid-19th Century, Williamsburgh was a fairly new independent city, having divested itself from the neighboring town of Bushwick several years earlier to govern itself. The Union Grounds were actually built on the outskirts of the nearby town of Wallabout, but its location on a large patch of land bounded by Marcy Av., Rutledge St., Harrison Ave., and Lynch St. is today in modern Williamsburg.

Believe it or not, baseball had been a recreation for New Yorkers for over 20 years -- a New Yorker even invented it -- by the time that William Cammeyer built Union Grounds in 1862 from an outdoor skating rink he owned. It would still be used for ice skating during the winter months.

Previously, field owners made profits by charging teams fees to play. Seating was provided at some fields for fans, and spectators were encouraged to stand around and watch, sometimes even around the very baselines.

Baseball was well organized by this time; the first official baseball league incorporated sixteen teams -- most of them from New York and Brooklyn. Cammeyer decided to capitalize on the sports popularity in 1869 by fencing in the field and charging the spectators (a reasonable ten cents) for the honor of watching these top-notch squads in action.

Certain teams gravitated to the Union Grounds, loosely giving the field its own home teams. The Eckfords, a team named after a shipbuilder, were league champions that played most of their games here, as did the Mutuals and the Hartford Deep Blues. The field would continue to host teams in the 1870s, when baseball went 'professional' and paid players and teams would be associated with particular cities.

Apparently the field was still making enough money as an ice skating rink that one certain disruptive feature sat in the outfield during baseball season. According to Brooklyn Ball Parks, an elegant three-story pavilion was planted in the middle of outfield, used during the winter to light up the ice at night. (Below is a page from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper circa 1865, before the fence went up. However if you click into it, you can see greater detail of the ballfield and this curious feature.)

The field was plowed over on July 1883 and replaced with the 17th Corps Artillery Armory, which still stands there today.

Former location of the Union Grounds:

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