Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Sonny and Cher in New York City (picture courtesy Getty Images)
June 1, 1970: Sonny and Cher begin a two-week stint at the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The Empire was one of the swankiest hotel lounges in Manhattan, usually the site of stars slightly past their prime, pop and jazz musicians of the prior generation. Dinah Shore, Ray Bolger, Eddie Fisher -- they all played the Empire . In fact, in July 1971, Louis Armstrong would give his final performance here at the Empire. And just a couple months before the debuts of Salvadore 'Sonny' Bono and Cherilyn 'Cher' Sarkisian , Peggy Lee delighted audiences here with remakes of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and 'Is That All There Is?'
So what, exactly, were the nation's trendiest pop duo doing here?
It had actually been a few years since their biggest hit, 'I've Got You Babe', and the duo since then had seen their share of flops, both in music and film. Cher took the first part of 1969 off to give birth to her daughter Chastity.
It was Sonny's idea to turn the pair into a Las Vegas showstopper, and their first stop before hitting the gambling capital was New York's Empire Room, to try out a loungier version of their act.
The pair played off their catty, flirty banter and made particular fodder of Cher's outrageous costumes. The cheesy repartee obviously did the trick, but it was TV, not Vegas, that came calling. Within a year, they had their very own prime-time program, The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour, a ratings bonanza that might have lasted forever if not for their divorce in 1974.
Meanwhile, at the Empire Room, Sonny & Cher were followed up in late June with a more appropriately loungish headliner -- Latin troubadour Trini Lopez.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
March 30, 1974: The Ramones, the pride of Forest Hills, Queens, play their first public concert together at Performance Studio, a small space on East 20th Street* managed by future member Tommy Erdelyi (later Tommy Ramone). For their debut set, there were just three of them, and Dee Dee Ramone sang lead
How did it go? Johnny Ramone: "We were awful. We didn't have the image down yet. Our friends didn't even want to talk to us anymore after that."
The jumbled mess of a set did not please an audience comprised of mostly friends, who paid $2 for the privilege of seeing a visibly nervous Dee Dee Ramone accidentally crush his bass underfoot.
It would take a few months for the band to get their musical footing, in time for their debut at CBGB's on August 16th.
You can read more about this long-forgotten performance space (which also hosted shows by the New York Dolls and Blondie) here.
*Many sources list the studio at 23rd Street, not 20th Street. Anybody have an idea as to its exact address?
Monday, March 29, 2010
Allegedly, according to Satie's own wishes, the short piece was intended to be performed 840 times in succession. As this is patently absurd, it took the music experimentalists of 1960s East Village to perform it properly. Under the direction of young musician John Cage, the pianists performed all 840 renditions over the course of 18 hours.
And then, because this is the early 1960s, Cale and audience member Karl Schenzer, aka the only person to sit through the entire thing, were invited onto the game show I've Got A Secret to reveal their folly to celebrity guest stars Bill Cullen and Betsy Palmer (later to play the mother of Jason Voorhees on Friday The 13th):
Friday, March 26, 2010
February 1912 With the dark shadows of the Third Avenue elevated train to her right, a girl fights the wind to return home with a bundle of coats. These are no purchases; she's rushing them home "to be finished", according to the original caption, tailored and repaired by herself or by family members. Photo by Lewis Hine [LOC]
July 1942 A young Queens girls gets an assist from her teacher in making something in clay, while a wall of strange faces looks on. [LOC]
1921 I'll just let the original caption speak for itself: "Lucy Leffingwell, daughter of Russell C. Leffingwell, and Carolyn Chamberlain, daughter of General J.C. Chamberlain, posed with their horses." Fancy! [LOC]
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Above: the mangled remains of a flimsy fire escape which sent many Triangle Factory workers to their death
A tragic marker in New York City history: the devastating fire that swept through the upper floors of the Asch Building in 1911, through the sweatshops of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, killing 146 people.
Today, March 25th, is the 99th anniversary. I suspect there will be some marking of this grim anniversary today at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place.
You can download my podcast on the Triangle Factory Fire from our NYC History Archive page on iTunes or you can get it directly from here.
Photo courtesy NYPL
The very first headquarters for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue, was built in 1893, facing into the southeast corner of Madison Square Park. Within a few years, the insurance company would expand out -- to fill the entire block, wiping away that darkened church to its right -- then up, with a 52-story clock tower added in 1907 to make it briefly the tallest building in the world.
If the smaller, original portion of the building looks nothing like the present Metropolitan Life Tower that sits at this corner today, that's because massive renovation work in the 1960s (surprise!) tore away any of the ornamentation. Its placement on the New York skyline saved the detailing on the tower, but those at street level have been sadly erased. Thank you, 1960s!
Below: from 1909, with its neighbors gone and the tower raised
Top photo courtesy New York Public Library; second photo courtesy Shorpy, full size image here
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
High, high above Randall's Island and the Triborough Bridge, 1949, photographer Yale Joel, courtesy Google Life Images
"You can draw any kind of pictures you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra and Brasilia, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis you have to hack your way with a meat ax." -- Robert Moses
Here's more information on the Lower Manhattan Expressway, courtesy of the great transportation site New York City Roads
Visit the original page for Robert Moses and the Modern City and click onto the city map to give you a visualisation of his influence. I think there might be like a quarter mile in southwestern Staten Island where he exerted no meaningful influence, but that's about it.
Outside of Long Island and New York City, possibly his best known projects were at Niagara Falls. And yes, that was controversial too. "Moses' success is the most striking, but far from the only, example of actions that stripped the [Western New York] region of any claim to the power and profits generated by Western New York's greatest natural resource - Niagara Falls and the river that feeds it." Read more at the Buffalo News.
Still can't get enough writing about Robert Moses? Well, Arthur Nersesian has turned him into a fictional character. What side of the Moses controversy does Nersesian fall on? Well, judge for yourself from the title of his second Moses book, "The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx." [New York Times]
Have people been too revisionist in restoring Moses' reputation? Nicholas Von Hoffman from the New York Observer seems to think so. "The attack on The Power Broker has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with the need of some to change the city’s memory of this man, Moses." SNAP! [courtesy the official website of Robert Caro]
Friday, March 19, 2010
Photo above: Robert Moses, October 1952 by Alfred Eisensteadt (Courtesy Google Life)
PODCAST: EPISODE 100 We obviously had to spend our anniversary show with the Power Broker himself, everybody's favorite Parks Commissioner -- Robert Moses.
A healthy debate about Moses will divide your friends, and we provide the resources to make your case for both sides. Robert Moses was one of the most powerful men in New York from the late 1920s until the late 1960s, using multiple appointed positions in state and local government to make his vast dream of a modern New York comes to fruition.
That dream included glorious parkways and gravity-defying bridges. It also included parking lots and the wholesale destruction of thousands of homes. World's fairs and innovative housing complexes. Elevated highways plowed through residential neighborhoods -- straight through Harlem, midtown Manhattan, and SoHo.
We get into the trenches of some of Moses's most renown and controversial projects -- the splendor of Jones Beach; the revolutionary parks and pools; the tragedy of the Cross Bronx Expressway, and his signature project, the Triborough Bridge.
What side will you come down on -- did Robert Moses give New York City the resources it needs to excel in the 20th century, or did he hasten its demise with short-sighted, malignant vision?
You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, get it straight from our satellite site.
The Bowery Boys: Robert Moses
CORRECTION TO THIS WEEK'S PODCAST: Once again, a misinterpretation of my own handwritten notes creates a somewhat hilarious mistake this time around. Although Jones Beach was indeed truly popular in its first year, it did not see an attendance of 150 million people in its first year. (That would have been more people than lived in the entire United States.) The correct number is 1.5 million.
KING OF PARKS: As the first five-borough Parks Commissioner, Moses was responsible for the creation and renovation of hundreds of city parks. If you see a park in New York, Robert Moses either commissioned it or radically altered it. Shunning the 'waste' of natural beauty, Moses replaced groves and meadows with tennis courts, playgrounds, drinking fountains and other things made with concrete and asphalt.
ALL WET: Being a swimmer himself, Moses placed an emphasis on public pools throughout the city, including this one in Astoria, Queens. For pools in East Harlem where he wanted to encourage white attendence, Moses reportedly authorized that the temperature of the water made colder -- because black people disliked cold water. (Um, Bob, nobody likes cold water.)
CAN'T LIVE WITH 'EM....: Mayors and governors alike latched onto Moses's remarkable progress; newspaper editors and community leaders fell over each other to praise him. Voices of dissension were few and ignored. By the 1940s, he was immensely powerful, leading at one point a dozen local and state commissions and authorities. Picture from August 18, 1937. (Courtesy of the Long Island State Park Region Photo Archive)
BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: Moses with a model of his Brooklyn Battery Bridge, which would have cut straight over New York Harbor, linking Battery Park with Red Hook, Brooklyn. To build this monstrosity would require turning Governor's Island into a gigantic anchorage and eradicating the New York Aquarium, housed in historic Castle Clinton.
The project was defeated by some backroom machinations from President Roosevelt, but Moses got his revenge -- on the New York Aquarium. He ripped it out of Castle Clinton and threw it out on Coney Island.
HIGHWAY CITY: Had Moses's ideas come to full fruition, an elevated highway would have cut through lower Manhattan at Broome Street, a mid-Manhattan version would have landed onto 30th Street, and the culture of Harlem's 125th Street would have been eliminated by a Cross Harlem Expressway. The two uptown extensions died quickly, but Moses was so close to making LoMaX (the Lower Manhattan Expressway) that one segment, at Chrystie Street, was actually built and abandoned.
SCANDAL: The drab structures at Park West Village belie the scandal of Manhattantown, a proposed development exposed as an elaborate development scam spawned from the federal government Slum Clearance Program -- a program overseen by Moses in New York.
NO FAIR: A visibly bitter Moses stands aloft his World's Fair of 1964-65, a chaotic, financial flop that gave the press, once so adoring of their former Parks Commissioner, ample fodder for mockery.
Robert Moses has divided urban planners, politicians and regular New Yorkers for decades. The 1970s saw the devastating bio The Power Broker by Robert Caro, elaborating in great, grim detail the evils of Moses's decisions. His legacy was re-evaluated in a critical 2007 exhibition at the Queens Museum.
Photo by Alfred Eisensteadt (Courtesy Google Life)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
THE FINAL PART UPDATED BELOW - THE FUTURE CITY
See map below for all the locations mentioned in this story
I'm splitting the second half of this series off into a separate posting for easier navigation. Please see the post below this one for the introduction and entries 1 through 50.
PART SIX: SUBWAY CITY
51 Flatiron Building (Manhattan)
At the start of the new century, a lust for building tall -- now anchored in technologies like steel-beam construction and the invention of the elevator -- firmly possessed the world. Before 1890, the tallest building in Manhattan had been a church; in the buildup to 1900, three other took the title, of which only one (the Park Row building) still survives. The Flatiron (1902) was never New York's tallest, but it was -- and still is -- it's most graceful. Chicago's most famous architect Daniel Burnham took on the challenge of creating a 22-storey, stretched Italian Renaissance office building on a odd triangular sliver of land. The resulting structure (through its near-infinite reproduction on postcards) would almost become a brand representing the nostalgia of New York's glory days.
52 Sherman Square Subway Station (Manhattan)
In the 19th Century, mass transit meant trains and trolleys, both limited and costly means of transportation always fated to mar the landscape. But New York in the 1900s was in the throes of a new aesthetic: the City Beautiful movement. So in that respect, the introduction of the subway (first opened in 1904) wasn't just a convenience or a technological marvel. It allowed for the slow elimination of ugliness.
Evidence of this remains in one of the last original subway stations still existing, the entrance for the original Interborough Rapid Transit Company station sitting at Sherman Square on the Upper West Side. Here, the past meets the future, Beaux-Arts trappings for a new form of transportation.
ALSO: Built the same year, the subway entrance at Bowling Green near Battery Park is smaller. Opened in 1905, it wouldn't be used for Brooklyn traffic until a few years later. The station today still features some unused platforms.
53 Haupt Conservatory (Bronx)
The 1900s was a decade of gigantic public endeavors. The opening of the subway allowed for new projects to be built further afield. And since there was no room in Manhattan anyway, the immediate benefactor were the two boroughs most closely connected by new subway track that decade -- Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens had been opened in the Bronx shortly after the five-borough consolidation in 1898 and would expand greatly in the new century. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, completed in 1902, reflects the park's nod to Victorian era formality, where the rich friends of the garden's creators could feel at home and the general public could be wowed with a world-class collection of flora.
54 Andrew Carnegie Mansion (Manhattan)
And the upper class didn't have to travel quite as far to get there. Over the decades, a cluster of great mansions had been floating up Fifth Avenue. In lower Fifth Avenue neighborhoods, the old mansions would be ripped down to make apartment buildings (such as those below 14th Street) hotels and department stores. But the richest families were now installed along Central Park, with Andrew Carnegie throwing down the gauntlet at the most northern locale yet, a monster 91st Street estate, built in 1901.
The 64-room mansion enjoyed "such state-of-the-art features as a water filter system, the first residential elevator, and a rather sophisticated ventilation system akin to an early form of central heating and cooling." Today, the palatial space houses the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
55 Macy's Department Store (Manhattan)
Retail and entertainment also witnessed a slow migration north, and in that thrust towards mid-Manhattan, the area around one particular elevated train stop -- Herald Square -- soon became the busiest shopping point in the city. Macy's, moving from the heart of old Ladies Mile, was not the first department store to lay a claim in Herald Square, but its choice corner location (opening in 1902), reputation for innovative new products and clever promotional opportunities (including a certain yearly parade) made the Straus family business the unofficial gateway to the new Midtown.
courtesy Times Square NYC
56 New Amsterdam Theater (Manhattan)
Entertainment venues were making a similar trek. Theater producers had already transformed the area around Broadway and 42nd Street into the unofficial new theater district when two members of the powerful Theatrical Syndicate opened the New Amsterdam in November 1903. It became one of Broadway's most successful theaters, hosting the first few Ziegfeld Follies and many of the biggest stars of the pre-film days. It's one of the few survivors of the Great White Way, a critical stage at the center of 20th century American entertainment. After some sorry days as a movie house, Disney rescued the decrepit house and its renovation became a key part of the 'clean up' and revitalization of 42nd Street in the late 1990s.
57 One Times Square (Manhattan)
Opening night crowds at the New Amsterdam could see the silhouette of a new tower rising just to the west, the new home (1905) for one of the city's most influential newspapers, the New York Times. They only used it for a few years; its significance lies in its superficial qualities. It's one of the first skyscrapers built over a subway line (with a station constructed right underneath it), and its surfaces were soon covered with electronic bulletin boards and news tickers broadcasting breaking news. An embodiment of the neon-electric revolution that took over the city, it's no surprise that the most illustrious light show of all -- New York's annual New Years Eve celebration -- debuted on its rooftop in 1907.
58 New York Stock Exchange (Manhattan)
It's remarkable that so many structures that define classical notions of New York City are from this slender period (1898-1910). The prior decade had experienced a devastating depression, the result of banking and railroad financing catastrophes leading to the Panic of 1893. By the new century, America had recovered and then some.
Even Wall Street, one of the sources of the meltdown, benefited from the upswing, with a dazzling new home for the New York Stock Exchange (1903) by the master of neo-classical architecture George Post. The fate of America's financial future runs through this building's trading floor. Wealth is bred here, as is misery -- namely recessions and depressions, including that Great one, on October 29, 1929 (aka Black Tuesday).
59 New York Police Headquarters (Manhattan)
The shenanigans of corrupt men weren't relegated to the moguls. The elegant 1909-10 headquarters built for the New York Police Department may have been a way to shake off the force's shaky reputation for being too pliable to corrupt political winds. In the last decade, the Lexow Committee exposed widespread malfeasance, leading to the installment of police reformer Theodore Roosevelt as new commissioner. With its old boss now in the White House -- and the force now comprising officers for all five boroughs -- they were given a lavish new home on Centre Street. They stayed until 1973; the building was later converted into luxury apartments, popular with supermodels in the 1990s.
60 Battery Maritime Building (Manhattan)
The Staten Island Ferry has always been a crucial transportation hub for New Yorkers, the only way most Staten Islanders ever commute into Manhattan, even today. The brand new terminal leaves no trace of its history, but the building next to it, the lumbering green Battery Maritime Building (1907) gives you some idea of how the earlier terminal might have looked and operated. And luckily, after years of abuse, the terminal is open for business as a ferry terminal for Governor's Island and its future may hold some rather extravagant twists.
61 Brooklyn Academy of Music (Brooklyn)
There were fears by those critical of consolidation that any borough not named Manhattan would lose their cultural vitality, becoming neglected suburbs. The criticism was muted the day that the new hall for the Brooklyn Academy of Music opened in 1908, replacing their old home which had been destroyed in a blaze five years earlier. BAM remains Brooklyn's central cultural organization. Everyone from Enrico Caruso to Nirvana has played here.
62 Seward Park Library (Manhattan)
Despite the best efforts of cultural organizations and charitable endeavors, the residents of neighborhoods like the Lower East Side still did not have access to many basic city services. The city was get a grand central library in 1911 (built by Carrere and Hastings), but it would be smaller community libraries that would have greater effect over the daily lives of New Yorkers.
Andrew Carnegie, in his later years a philanthropist, built hundreds of libraries around the country, often in neighborhoods most in need of them, and New York was recipient of dozens throughout the city. The one at Seward Park, from 1909, is one of the city's oldest, replacing an older structure with a virtually flawless Beaux-Arts gem facing into the park -- which, as a two-for-one for history lovers, houses the city's oldest municipal playground.
And yes, the Seward Park area desperately needed a library, especially one filled with newspapers and books in the foreign languages of the neighborhood's occupants. In 1913, it had the highest circulation of any library in the city.
ALSO: Right across the street, the Jewish Forward newspaper would build a stunning new headquarters in 1913 where it would remain for six decades. Or if you're looking for a more regal library, turn your attention uptown to the book repository built for J.P. Morgan in 1906 which actually outlived the owner's mansion next door.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Listen to our podcasts on the Flatiron Building, Macy's Department Store, the Ziegfeld Follies, One Times Square, the New York Stock Exchange and the New York Public Library
PART SEVEN: METROPOLIS
The ugly story behind the plain, upper floors of the Asch Building
63 Asch Building (Manhattan)
There are two buildings from the 1910s that hold a very practical importance to the daily lives of New Yorkers still today -- places that aren't necessarily classics in any aesthetic sense, but serve as object lessons to a growing city.
Today known as NYU's Brown Building of Science (at Greene and Washington Place, off Washington Square), the Asch Building held the sweatshop factory of the Triangle Shirtwaist company on its top three floors. On March 25th, 1911, a fire sparked in a bag of rags quickly built into an unstoppable inferno, trapping hundreds of workers, many who fatally leapt to the sidewalk below. The 146 dead, mostly women newly immigrated to the United States, were mourned by the city, and tragedy forced an improvement in radical new building fire and safety codes.
64 Equitable Building (Manhattan)
The other 'lesson' represents something of a crisis averted -- a new home at 120 Broadway for a life insurance company (who was moving here because a fire had destroyed their last office) that represents a metaphorical slamming of the brakes, the moment when New Yorkers realized that they actually had to live in a city of skyscrapers. Maybe new skyscrapers shouldn't all be block-length, 38-story uninterrupted slabs that blocked out the light.
The Equitable colossus (at left,1915) sent a shiver through the spine of the city. Within a year, new zoning laws would dictate how future skyscrapers should be made -- beginning an era of 'wedding cake' setbacks and the birth of innovation in the New York City skyline.
65 Woolworth Building (Manhattan)
The new headquarters for Frank Woolworth's retail chain was completed in 1913, three years before the zoning laws. Yet it was rapturously received by New Yorkers, both for its classic beauty (a Cass Gilbert original) and iconic stature, for it was now the tallest building in the world.
66 Grand Central (Manhattan)
I've stated in our podcast for Grand Central Terminal that I thought this was New York's most important building (1913), and I stand by that. Not only is it essential as a transportation hub for millions of travelers, but its dramatic rescue from developers wanting to rip it down in the 1970s went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, empowering the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission and saving countless other buildings in the process.
And forget that it's New York's greatest example of Beaux-Arts architecture! Grand Central's key contribution to the city rolls out in front of it northward; sinking New York Central Railroad's tracks under the ground created the midtown section of Park Avenue, soon to become one of the most expensive streets in America.
67 Apollo Theater (Manhattan)
Next to perhaps only the long-gone Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theater is the largest venue most associated with the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural explosion of black writers, artists and musicians which electrified the Roaring '20s and beyond, the product of one of the city's most significant population shifts.
Harlem was a neighborhood in flux in the 1910s, displayed nicely within the Apollo's own history. The theater opened as a burlesque house for white audiences in 1914, although by the '20s Harlem was fast becoming a mecca for new African-Americans in the city. The neighborhood evolved, but many of its closed-minded businesses paid no heed. Apollo wouldn't reopen for black audiences until 1934 -- missing much of the early musical talent of this American Renaissance, but launching the careers of many more stars (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown).
68 Kaufman Astoria Studios (Queens)
Cinema, probably more than any other medium, has helped form the exotic allure of New York City. But there was a period when New York's entertainment venues -- its vaudeville and flashy Broadway stages -- feared the coming of movies, a medium that would eventually bleed from them their audiences.
For a brief time before the era of motion picture talkies, New York's film cred wasn't merely as a city of plush cinemas. It helped make most of the pictures too. Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company (a precursor to Paramount Pictures) opened a movie studio in Queens in 1920, one of several major film companies based in the New York metropolitan area. Today, as Kaufman Astoria Studios, it still produces entertainment, though mostly for television.
ALSO: Zukor had a second space in Chelsea at West 26th Street which also still functions as a soundstage and rehearsal studio (Chelsea Studios).
69 Nam Wah Tea Parlor (Manhattan)
This tiny, beaten-up shop at the hook of Doyers Street is a real survivor, a window into the early days of Chinese life in New York. The slums of Five Points had been paved into a park, and municipal buildings were soon to be built to the west. But just north and east of the former slum were the homes and businesses of thousands of new residents -- Italians and a small but growing number of Chinese.
Reportedly open since 1920, Nam Wah would have been witness to some remarkable history on its street -- to the shadowy speakeasy across the street where Irving Berlin and Al Jolson regularly performed; hatchet-wielding tongs wars that gave this crooked street the nickname the 'Bloody Angle'.
70 Colonial Court, Sunnyside Gardens (Queens)
We know the 1920s as the Jazz Age, of Prohibition, flappers, gangsters and Times Square. But in the course of New York City history, the big story of the decade was the population explosion in Queens. With the construction of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the door were thrown open to a virtually untouched area of the city.
Between 1920 and 1930, the population more than doubled. Making this possible were experimental new housing projects like Sunnyside Gardens, an extension of the British 'garden city' movement, with affordable apartment rentals scattered around large, well-kept outdoor spaces. Colonial Court (1924) were the first buildings erected and were so marvelous for the day that pioneering urban theorist Lewis Mumford immediately moved in.
ALSO: Manhattan also received its share of this new, fleeting style of apartment complexes, as evidenced by the playful towers in Tudor City on midtown's east side, beckoning new residents with promise of "tulip gardens, small golf courses, and private parks."
71 Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower (Brooklyn)
The skyscraper craze, like a floating seed gone astray, landed in the middle of Brooklyn and spawned a home for a bank steadfastly keeping that H in the name of Williamsburgh. It stood out like a beautifully sore thumb for other reasons: built in 1927, it was one of the first large examples of art deco architecture in the city. And its fabulous interior, gold and blue and framed in signs of the Zodiac, rivals almost anything in Manhattan.
72 Loews Paradise Theater (Bronx)
Yes, consolidation was truly proving its point: the city was expanding from all sides. In the Bronx, that growth is best viewed from the Grand Concourse, a wide, Parisian style boulevard that marches up through the center of the borough. Along it sprung luxury apartment buildings, tony businesses and, in 1923, even Yankee Stadium.
The glamour of the boulevard's early days can best be seen at its finest existing movie palace the Paradise Theater (1929), recently renovated to match its former glory. How this building managed to survive the 1970s and 80s, I'll never know.
ALSO: A parallel movie house, St. George Theater in Staten Island (1928) was rare not for its location and its dazzling, gilded interiors, but for the fact that it was built by an independent theatrical producer, during the days when film companies and theatrical syndicates made their own venues.
Below: The Paradise Theater, the Bronx
73 Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (Manhattan)
The greatest hotels in New York City have been associated with the Astor family, including the old Astor House near City Hall and the original Waldorf-Astoria, a product of familial rivalry that set the standard for elegance and attracted New York's wealthy classes like a flame.
The Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue is associated with the family in name only, but its reputation as New York's most famous hotel, while faded, remains unblemished. FYI, they've recently decided to hyphenate themselves with a '=' today.
74 Chrysler Building and
75 Empire State Building (Manhattan)
The Depression hit in October 1929, an economic apocalypse that threatened to slow the momentum of New York's growth. Curiously, at that very moment, the two greatest buildings in New York City were just rising into the sky.
The Chrysler Building was the victor of a race between the car mogul William Chrysler and the Bank of America, who was racing to make the world's tallest building down at 40 Wall Street. While the downtown building was finished first, it was dwarfed (in both height and appearance) when William Van Alen's art deco, automobile-inspired masterpiece lifted up its silver spire in October 1929.
Several blocks away, work began on a tower to surpass Alen's, in a pit that had once been the original Waldorf-Astoria. It rapidly rose into the sky, completed in May 1931 -- and pretty much stayed empty. New York had its Empire State Building, the structure which would define it for generations, and for years, all people could do it look at it and see a monumental failure. Few associate this tourist mecca with underachievement today. But its current might is tinged with grief; on September 11, 2001, it returned to being New York's tallest building.
Picture above by Andreas Feininger, Sept 1946 (courtesy Life Google Images)
For more information: listen to our podcasts on the Triangle Factory Fire, the Woolworth Building, Grand Central, the Apollo Theater, the Astor family, and the Chrysler Building.
PART EIGHT: THE MODERN CITY
Courtesy Liberty Stone
76 Jacob Riis Bathhouse (Queens)
Although he wouldn't be named parks commissioner by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia until 1934, Robert Moses was already remaking areas of New York City as a member of Governor Al Smith's state parks team. Nowhere as spectacular as his work at Jones Beach, Moses' Jacob Riis Park -- named for the journalist and social reformer -- brought the verisimilitude of beach life to this former naval base on the Rockaway Peninsula.
The classic art-deco bathhouse (1932) reflects Moses' early attention to beautiful detail, a proclivity that would fade over the years. Setting nearby is another special touch of the powerful commissioner -- a massive parking lot.
77 Robert Moses Administration Building (Randall's Island)
This nice but fairly plain little building on Randall's Island belies its importance in the history of New York. It's from here, in the shadow of his triumphant Triborough Bridge (1936), that Robert Moses conducted the development of hundreds of new projects -- parks, highways and housing. As Robert Caro famously summed it up, "Moses' decision to built his main office there was, intentionally or not, symbolic of his independence of the city."
78 RCA Building (Manhattan)
Before the FDR's New Deal programs and the adrenaline of Moses, virtually the only game in town during the Great Depression was the construction of Rockefeller Center. Junior's multi-block complex in midtown Manhattan was a true risk, opening new retail and office space when the city's pre-existing spaces were going empty.
30 Rock, the former RCA Building, became midtown's center of gravity when it was completed in 1933. Within a few years, both it and the other Rockefeller Center offices were filled to capacity.
79 Tavern on the Green (Manhattan)
If you're looking for a defining building that embodies Moses' park philosophy, you'll find it in this oft-troubled restaurant in Central Park. Olmsted and Vaux's vision of natural respite seemed old-fashioned to Moses, who thought parks should provide venues, playgrounds and sporting courts. Tavern-on-the-Green (1934) was originally created as an 'affordable' dining alternative for the middle class. To build it, Moses threw the sheep (actual sheep) out of nearby Sheep Meadow and transformed their sheepfold into this privately-owned restaurant. Later, in the 1950s, when Moses tried to expand its parking lot by paving over a playground, the public revolted.
Below: Tavern on the Green in 1934
80 Arthur Avenue Retail Market (Bronx)
Speaking of sheep, the land below Arthur Avenue's busy market was also once a sheep's grazing meadow. (It's also on the former estate of the Lorillard tobacco family, see No. 22.) When Mayor LaGuardia dictated that unregulated pushcart salesmen, the lifeblood of many ethnic neighborhoods, move their wares indoors, he commissioned indoor markets throughout the city, including this one (1940) in what was becoming a booming new Italian neighborhood.
Inside, you'll find one of Arthur Avenue's most famous vendors, Mike's Original Deli, which moved here in the early '50s and never left.
ALSO: The same strategy was applied to La Marqueta (1936), which provided for the neighborhood's growing Latino and Puerto Rican communities. A shadow of its former self today, the market at its height housed stalls for over 500 merchants.
81 New York City Building (Queens)
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park's only surviving structure from both the 1939-40 and 1964-5 World's Fairs, this home to the Queens Museum today (1939) holds the Panorama, a miniature replica of the city of New York. For a short time, the United Nations even met here. Moses had hoped that the international delegation would choose Flushing Meadows Park, one of his closest pet projects, as their permanent home.....
82 United Nations Building (Manhattan)
...but they recoiled at that thought, choosing instead this customized property on the east side of Manhattan (1950). The U.N. Headquarters is globally significant, of course, but its an innovative architectural marvel as well, the first of dozens of towers in the glass-curtained International Style. For better or worse, it keeps New York City front and center as a focal point for international politics.
83 Seagram Building (Manhattan)
That modern style would be used and abused for the next two decades, as modern commerce embraced tall, boxy high-rises as the critical form of construction. The cleanest example is Mie Van Der Rohe's graceful black monolith (1958), powerful and utterly lacking in ornamentation. The key to the building, constructed for the alcoholic distiller, is the large public plaza in front of it, reinterpreting the old zoning laws to such an extent that the laws themselves were changed, in 1961.
As lovely as the Seagram Building is -- and its companion across the street, the Lever House, from 1952 -- those zoning alterations have doomed Midtown to a host of ugly, darkened 'communal spaces' and glassed-in plazas.
84 La Luz Del Mundo Church (Brooklyn)
Williamsburg, a former industrial heart of Brooklyn, saw a unusual population shift after World War II, with white residents moving out to be replaced by Puerto Ricans families living next to a tightknit Hasidic enclaves. As New York became a true melting pot after the war, divergent communities grew used to living side by side.
Many 19th century buildings were repurposed by this modern mixture. One hundred years after Congregationalists worshiped here at this brownstone chapel, the Spanish Penecostal congregation La Luz Del Mundo moved in (1955).
85 Trans World Flight Center (Queens)
Idlewild Airport represented the future of flight when it was proposed in the late 1940s, utilizing a single, gigantic terminal that would ease traffic at the beleaguered LaGuardia Airport. Flash forward 20 years -- the completed airport is now named John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia is still busy, and instead of one terminal, there were several, of innovative modern design. The best was made for TWA (1962) by Eero Saarinen, reflecting an almost innocent outlook towards the possibility of air travel, an archetype of public design. Reflect on the halcyon days of commercial flight as you're sitting at JFK today, waiting for your delayed flight.
86 Guggenheim Museum (Manhattan)
Presaging the work of modern artists who would define the city's cultural tastes in the 1960s, aging architect Frank Lloyd Wright displayed a goofy flourish with the construction of the Guggenheim Museum (1959).
87 Park West Village (Manhattan)
This cluster of ordinary-looking apartment dwellings (1960) sit on top of the former slum of Manhattantown -- an unspectacular place if not for the shady machinations of developers Caspert and Company. Empowered by the federal government's Title 1 housing act, Moses sanctioned Carpert in 1947 to clear away slums and develop new apartments. Instead, the land sat there -- countless delays -- while the developers scooped up the rent. The press had a field day, tarnishing Moses' public image.
The land was eventually transferred to other developers who built Park West Village -- of a gloomy standard that would become commonplace with new dwellings.
ALSO: But for something extraordinary, check out the largest 'building complex' on my list, Co-Op City (finished between 1968-71), the largest 'building complex' on my list. For despite being surrounded by highways, despite housing available for 50,000 residents, the city within a city remains virtually remote, with no convenient subway access.
88 Stonewall Bar (Manhattan)
Luckily, this was the 1960s, and communities protested, students protested, everybody protested. Sometimes, people in power even listened. But one revolt decidedly not on City Hall's radar was the riots outside Stonewall Bar (1969) between police on a routine shutdown of West Village gay bars and a clientele (and rabble from the park across the street) reaching their breaking point. Within a year, the events at this shoddy, mafia-run bar had united a community and jump-started the gay movement.
89 Madison Square Garden (Manhattan)
*Sigh* And finally we get to the enormous bundt cake pan that calls itself Madison Square Garden (1968) after the three prior, spectacular incarnations of the same building. Not disparaging any of the wonderful entertainment that goes on inside, the Garden and the subterranean Penn Station are testaments to a mindset of the 1960s, a short-sighted vision of the future that through its lumbering, brutalist qualities threatened to dynamite any glimmer of livability.
The city is currently figuring out how it wants to transform Penn Station into Moynihan Station using the 1912 James Farley Post Office building across the street, an ironic move that would allow the 'modern' train station to slither out of the shadows via an old Beaux-Arts structure similar in form to the building that was demolished to build the Madison Square Garden/Penn Station combo in the first place.
For more information, listen to our podcasts on Randall's Island, Rockefeller Center, the World's Fair of 1964-65, the United Nations Headquarters, Freedomland U.S.A., the Guggenheim Museum, Penn Station and Madison Square Garden
PART NINE: THE FUTURE CITY
91 Show World Center (Manhattan)
Ah, New York City in the 1970s. People wax nostalgic about it even though nobody in their right mind would take a time machine and return there, except maybe to go to CBGBs. Crime, blackouts, poverty, filth, disco.
But the course that 42nd Street took in the 90s -- going from sleazeland to Disneyland -- was so dramatic and final that one can't help be slightly wistful, for that street of lonely marquees, interspersed with poop booths and neon signs for EXOTIC GIRLS. Not the drugs or prostitution, but a street, in the center of Manhattan, that wasn't so primly cultivated.
Show World Center, right off 42nd on Eighth Avenue, is a holdover from this gritty world, a flashy, trashy video store from 1975 that's emblematic of Times Square's days of deterioration, a place that the Times mentions that "burlesque historians say was once a widely imitated model for the industry."
ALSO: You can find another reflection of Times Square further east, at the TKTS booth, which originally opened in 1973, though the high-tech, staircase-laden revision, which opened two years ago, is a jewel case version of the bombast currently inhabiting the Square today.
92 Queens Center Mall (Queens)
A hundred years before, it was Ladies Miles. In the 1970s, it was shopping malls. New York City generally shuns some of the standardizations of modern America, but with the blooming of larger residential areas, the lure of modern conveniences like fast food restaurants and shopping malls soon infiltrated. New York's first McDonald's opened in 1973. That same year, a humongous shopping mall opened in Elmhurst, a staple of suburbia refitted for the big city.
ALSO: Snooty Manhattan would not be immune; the strangely depressing Manhattan Mall opened in 1989.
93 41st Precinct Station aka "Fort Apache" (Bronx)
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD cried the Daily News in 1975, a rebuff by the federal government to New York City's financial woes. Buckling at its knees, New York spent years consumed with urban blight, catastrophic crime statistics, an abysmal public image and even a roaming serial killer.
During the blackout of 1977, there was probably no place less safe to be than the South Bronx (although Crown Heights, Brooklyn, might win honorable mention). Construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, widespread poverty and inadequate resources led to a vast crime wave. The officers at the Bronx 41st Precinct (1086 Simpson Street) personified the city's remaining shreds of determination to fight back, so much so that it even became a melodramatic Paul Newman film, "Fort Apache, the Bronx." The cops are gone, but the 1914 structure still stands as a reminder of grimmer times.
94 Jacob Javits Convention Center (Manhattan)
The late 1970s and early 1980s weren't a watershed age for architecture, but at least it was oftentimes functional as with the Jacob Javits Convention Center (completed 1986), a valiant if unsuccessful attempt to reaffirm New York as the home for big business. In its own modest, boxy way, it recalls the city's great spaces of old, both the grand (the Crystal Palace) and the unsightly (the New York Coliseum).
95 Trump Tower (Manhattan)
Has one building ever typified an entire decade more than this gaudy palace to Donald Trump? Even as the city began picking itself up, its flashiest developer was embodying a greed-is-good mantra in his decision to throw a gold monolith onto Fifth Avenue (1983).
ALSO: Another tower of wealth, the Citicorp Building becomes the tallest building outside Manhattan (1990).
96 Fresh Kills Methane Treatment Plant (Staten Island)
If you have to point to one thing that symbolized the uneasy relationship between Staten Island and the rest of New York, it would be the former site of the Fresh Kills Landfill, a disastrous Robert Moses idea that turned 2,200 acres of calm, bucolic farmland into the largest garbage dump in the world.
Closed in March 2001, the city has been transforming this toxic site into a future park, a task that will literally take a generation to complete. Industrial structures like the methane treatment plant reform the soil as the former mounds of garbage are transformed into a charming meadow.
97 Deutsche Bank Building (Manhattan)
Even as new construction finally rises from the site of the World Trade Center, the terrorist attack still has one more victim to take. The Deutsche Bank Building was heavily damaged by the September 11, 2001 attacks, but, unlike the buildings surrounding it, did not immediately collapse. However it's been deemed unsalvagable and, after years of delays, is finally in the process of being deconstructed -- a couple floors at a time.
By next year at this time, the building should be gone. (Barring delays, of which there's been a few.)
98 The New York Times Building (Manhattan)
The New York skyline welcomed a bevy of new skyscrapers courtesy of the publishing world, just in time for the pending death of that very industry. Conde Nast (2000) stands over Times Square like Anna Wintour staring at a sales rack, and the hive-like Hearst Tower (2006), planted on top of the base of the old building, looks like its crushing it.
But none seem as strangely cursed as the new offices for the New York Times (2007); the newspaper took a loan out on the new building a year after they moved in, and the sleek design by Renzo Piano has encouraged adventurers and nuts alike to climb along the side of it.
99 The Blue Condominum (Manhattan)
The past decade saw many formerly middle- or low-income neighborhoods with the occasional maverick artist enclave in the process of gentrification -- from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Greenpoint in Brooklyn and well beyond. While one effect of this has sometimes been a richer appreciation of local history, some changes stand in bold contrast, as luxury hotels and pre-bust condos sprout up casting shadows and a foreboding sense of takeover.
The Blue Condominium (2006) is representative of architectural hipsterism, a model of strange proportional absurdity; being so blue, it would stand out anywhere, but especially on Norfolk Street, in sight of the Williamsburg Bridge. And yet, in a city that prides itself on structural diversity, where Beaux-Arts and brutalism stand hand in hand, it's not necessarily a cause for alarm (as long as people can afford to live here).
The new stadium, next to the old, courtesy of umpbump
100 Yankee Stadium (Bronx)
Tradition and consistency are key components to the love of professional sports, and those two forces are at work in the new Yankee Stadium (2009). It's both a stadium and a theme park to the past. Although the new home for Derek Jeter mirrors trends popping up in other nostalgia-inspired ballparks, it nicely contrasts as an opposite of the Blue building in finding ways to preserve the past and live in the present.
What's the balance between being false to the spirit of a neighborhood and being so technically exact that it's like architectural drag? Eh, who cares, let's play ball!
For more information, check out our podcasts on the New York City Blackout, a short history of Staten Island and the New York Yankees
View History of New York in 100 Buildings in a larger map
Friday, March 12, 2010
See map below for all the locations mentioned in this story
One of the truly great podcast pleasures of the past two months has been the BBC's A History of the World In 100 Objects, a daily chronological journey through human history via carefully selected items from the British Museum. Stone axes! Golden toothpicks! If you haven't listened to it, give it a try, especially if you enjoy history conveyed through very proper British accents.
Since we've begun work on our 100th podcast (to be released on March 19th), I thought I'd take on a wacky experiment here on the blog, to try the same concept in charting New York City's history, but using its bulkiest commodity -- buildings.
Generally speaking, history is never kind to buildings. With a story filled with great fires, draft riots, urban renewal projects, terrorist attacks and greedy developers, New York City changes its landscape often, with financial downturns, community activism and landmark designations often the only forces stemming the tide.
But with a little creativity, it is possible to chart the city's entire history from currently standing structures (or in certain cases, reconstructions of original buildings). These 100 buildings and complexes represent just my own perspective, based on my work here on the blog and the podcast. Another person could attempt this same task using a completely different list of buildings. This is not meant to be in anyway authoritative, just my opinion based on stuff I'm picked up thus far on this little trek through history.
There'll be an update once a day (or so) so check back every day for more. At the bottom of this post will be a Google map of all the locations mentioned. Hopefully this will inspire you to visit a landmark you've never heard of or plan a self-guided walking tour around a favorite neighborhood
I'm crunching a lot of data here, so if you see any errors with dates or other information, just drop me a note here or at email@example.com. Also, if you have a favorite place to add, feel free to leave a note in the comments section. Hope you like it!
PART ONE: NEW CITY
Photo courtesy Wyckoff Association
1 Wyckoff Farmhouse (Brooklyn)
In the beginning, there was the Pieter Claessen Wyckoff House (above). At least, that's what the Landmarks Preservation Commission, borne of the destruction of old Penn Station, thought in 1965 when they named this modest saltbox frame abode the very first New York City landmark.
No traces outside of a museum exist of old New Amsterdam, but the mark of the Dutch farmers who came along for the ride are still with us. Pieter Claesen was granted this land directly from Wouter van Twiller after the director-general of New Amsterdam bought it from the Lenape inhabitants in the late 1630s. A few Dutch farmers had already ventured onto this wild patch by the time Claesen (who would take the surname Wyckoff after the British took over) built his farm here.
Part of the current structure is from this original home, built in 1652. Many changes came to the house over the years, but the Wyckoff family in some form stayed until 1901. It takes virtually little imagination to stand in front of his sturdy brown house and envision a open, wild Brooklyn landscape behind it.
2 John Bowne House (Queens)
Bowne's house, in Flushing, is significant to me for one big reason: it was witness to Peter Stuyvesant. Or rather, his temper.
Quaker Englishman John Bowne and his family settled in Dutch territory mostly to escape the Puritanism of his former residence, Boston. No luck here however. Stuyvesant arrested for holding Quaker gatherings (wild, dangerous Quakerism!) in his home. Sent to Holland for trial, he was acquitted and came back to Flushing with a reprimand to Stuyvesant -- a reinforcement of New Amsterdam's religious tolerance.
3 Voorlezer's House (Staten Island)The transition from Dutch to British rule is easily seen in this simple two-story building (at right) in the vicinity of Historic Richmondtown. Built sometime between 1680 and 1696 by the Dutch Reformed Church, this home for a 'voorlezer' (reader and instructor) is considered the oldest elementary school in the United States. Despite British control over the newly named Richmond Country, society would still have leaned heavily Dutch-inspired for decades after.
4 Conference House (Staten Island)
Although Richmond County was very pro-British by the 1760s, it was pulled into the conflict between the crown and American rebels by the island's situation in New York harbor, across from rebellious New York. This home of Christopher Billopp, built in 1675, would take center stage in the conflict a hundred years later, when Continental Congress representatives John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge met with British military to fend off an encroaching war. To no avail.
Courtesy Old Stone House/NPS
5 Old Stone House (Brooklyn)
Within the month, British forces swept into Long Island, turning back George Washington's men at every bend. Here at a simple stone farmhouse overlooking Gowanus Creek, Washington's troops briefly rallied, holding the old house and firing against the British. "What brave men I must this day lose," George reportedly said as he look down upon the beleaguered little building. (Pictured above in more bucolic times.)
This current house is actually a reconstruction from 1930 -- using materials from an original Dutch home from 1699 -- and it may be difficult to see redcoats whizzing by from its vantage near Park Slope.
6 Fraunces Tavern (Manhattan)
This too is a reconstruction of the original tavern which sat here, a key meeting point before, during and well after the Revolutionary conflict. Artifacts in the second-floor museum will give you a good idea of life in Colonial New York, but even having a drink in Fraunces' darkened bar downstairs, one can envision hushed conversation from impassioned revolutionaries or perhaps a brawl between drunken British soldiers.
Courtesy Jumel Terrace
7 Morris-Jumel Mansion (Manhattan)
The oldest home in Manhattan (1765) is pretty much how the other half lived; British colonel Roger Morris built this palatial estate well outside New York in tumbling, secluded hills and hosted his superiors here after they succeeded in rushing George Washington and his men out of Manhattan. (Washington himself even took over the home briefly on the army's way out.)
Post-British era, the home's dining room entertained many of our country's founding fathers. However, its history only gets more absorbing when the house is purchased by merchant Stephen Jumel and his scandalous Eliza, who took up with Aaron Burr after Stephen's mysterious death.
8 St. Paul's Chapel (Manhattan)
This chapel (from 1766) is, in my humble opinion, New York's greatest colonial landmark. Surviving the fire of 1776 which wiped clean most of New York's early historic structures, St. Paul's is the only true surviving witness of the years when the seat of federal government sat a few downs down at Federal hall. Alexander Hamilton trained as a soldier outside in the churchyard; Washington worshipped here as president of the new country. The chapel is such a symbol of fortitude that even during the Sept 11 attack in 2001, just blocks away, nary a window was even broken.
9 Fort Jay (Governor's Island)
The current fort structure was built in 1806, but it was constructed over an original earth fortification used first by the Americans, then by the British during their occupation from late 1776-1783. One example of dozens of such primitive forts, now lost to redevelopment, the original placement of these early can be seen in the ripples of earth inside the fort. It was rebuilt in 1806 -- and originally called Fort Columbus -- and served as one of many harbor defenses. The fort held upper-tier Confederate officers during its years as a Civil War prison.
10 Federal Hall (Manhattan)Nothing exists of the original hall (demolished in 1812), so from the perspective of a chronological history, this building is disappointing. This current structure (1842) was New York's original custom house, processing the flow of imports and exports into one of the busiest ports in the world. However it would revert to a shrine of the earlier Hall within a few decades; today, you cannot get a physical sense of the original building, but the museum inside and the lustrous 1882 Washington statue outside will give you a virtual sense of New York's importance in 17th century Colonial America.
For more information: try our two podcasts on the Revolutionary War (The British Invasion: New York 1776 and Life In British New York) or a listen to everybody's favorite director-general, Peter Stuyvesant
PART TWO: PORT CITY
11 Schermerhorn Row (Manhattan)
After the war, New York flourished as an international port of commerce, the harbor filling with foreign merchandise to be distributed throughout the new country, the waterfront lined with boat slips all along from the bottom of Manhattan island up to South Street. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the floodgates of wealth opened further. Schermerhorn Row (1810-12) is one of the few remaining survivors of this early period of ship-based commerce.
In 1810, Uber-wealthy merchant Peter Schermerhorn began work on this row of plain storeroom buildings to lease out to prospective counting houses. They were north of the core merchant area, which saved them from destruction when the Great Fire of 1835 swept through lower Manhattan. They barely survived an even greater disaster -- the 1970s -- when they were given landmark status in 1977. A skyscraper stands just a few feet away to remind visitors of the alternative. Today the row of Federal Style buildings house the Seaport Museum and various shops and restaurants.
12 Castle Clinton (Manhattan)
New York's preeminence as a port also made its residents understandably skittish about another invasion, and rumbles of another war with the British convinced New Yorkers to built fortifications all along the harbor. Although the events of the War of 1812 never quite made it to New York, the city was prepared, building Castle Williams on Governors Island, and out in the water right at the tip of Manhattan, Castle Clinton (1811), named for governor DeWitt Clinton.
The noble brown shell housing tourists today hints but slightly at its glory days as the grand performance hall Castle Garden, as New York's pre-Ellis Island immigrant station, and, as a home for penguins and seals, the New York aquarium. Although not a shot was fired at the elderly fort, it still managed to survive its greatest villain, Robert Moses, in his quest to rip it down in the 1940s.
ALSO: On the opposite shoreline, the U.S. government builds the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1806. Although you can't go inside, you can sneak a peek at the gated, wonderfully out of place Commandants House (built 1805-6) in the neighborhood of Vinegar Hill.
13 Building C, Sailors Snug Harbor (Staten Island)
Perhaps the fact most greatly underscoring New York's naval importance is the way in which the city honored and took care of its retired sailors and seamen. The Staten Island estate of Robert Richard Randall was transformed into a sumptuous retirement home, a quiet respite within sight of the harbor where many of its elderly residents spent their careers. The new Sailors Snug Harbor (above), opened in 1833, featured the greatest selection of Greek Revival architecture outside Washington D.C., with Building C (1831-33), the centerpiece, its most lavish survivor.
14 Archibald Gracie Mansion (Manhattan)
The kings of shipping, the new merchant princes, built their homes along the water as a testament to their growing wealth. Shipping tycoon Archibald Gracie plants his estate (at left) just north of the supposedly haunted Jones Wood in 1799. Although he had to later sell it to pay off debts, the rustic, Federal Style home later became the official mayor's residence, from Fiorello LaGuardia to Rudy Guiliani (who moved out mid-term).
ALSO: On a small island strip in the East River, the island's owner James Blackwell builds his home here in 1794, the oldest structure standing on today's Roosevelt Island. Another house, the Hamilton Grange, is constructed in 1802 near on the Hudson River side of the island; its owner, Alexander Hamilton, would only enjoy it a few years before his untimely death.
15 St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery (Manhattan)
St. Marks Church (built 1799) stands on former farmland of Peter Stuyvesant, sitting at an angle next to tiny Stuyvesant Street -- vestiges of the original lay out on the estate. The rest of Stuyvesant's farm was carved up by the 1811 Commissioners Plan, a visionary work of urban planning, taking Manhattan island and mapping out hundreds of streets and avenues over land that was mostly undeveloped wilderness. The plan was so successful in creating uniformity that it's difficult to envision the rambling disorder of streets before they were carved into need orderly rectangles. At St. Marks, you can take solace imagining the former layout while visiting the crypt of ole Stuyvesant (who might still be haunting here).
16 St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (Manhattan)
An altogether different house of worship lower down the Bowery, St. Patrick's (built 1809) catered to the lowest rung of New York society of the time -- the first wave of Irish Catholic immigrants. St. Patrick's (above) was often a church under siege; in 1835, anti-Catholic mobs stormed the place, its parishioners rushing to the chapel's defense. The cathedral would become safe haven for different ethnics, most notably the growing Italian community at the start of the 20th century.
17 65 Mott Street (Manhattan)
In the 1820s, the area around St. Patrick's was still considered the outskirts of town. With New York's center becoming overcrowded, the poor clustered in communities of cheaply made structures. To the south of St. Pat's, crumbling townhouses sinking into marshy land would soon give way to the darkened slums of the Five Points neighborhood.
These homes would be refitted for multiple families. Constructed in 1824, the plain structure (by today's standards) at 65 Mott Street would become the first specifically made for multiple tenants -- the first tenement building. Within years, these tenements would become the standard style of living, each packed with hundreds of poorer residents.
18 Washington Square North 1-3 (Manhattan)
Not everybody lived this way naturally. The poor may have had little choice where to live. But wealthier New Yorkers could venture further north and west, and when yellow fever epidemics made cramped urban living unsafe, many ventured to newly affordable plots in the area of Greenwich Village.
When the city landscaped the new Washington Square Park in 1826, it naturally attracted the wealthiest of New Yorkers, who built row houses along its northern rim. The oldest surviving buildings here, 1-3 Washington Square North (built in 1833), would be iconic representations of early American comfort, over the decades becoming home to well-connected families, dignitaries and artists. And they would kick off the triumphal upper-crust procession up Fifth Avenue.
ALSO: For some visitable interiors, you can get a fuller sense of how 'the other half' lived further east at the Merchant House Museum (1832). The even older building at 326 Spring Street -- known as the James Brown House, (1817) -- was a former boardinghouse and home to Brown, an ex-slave Revolutionary War hero. Today, you can delight in its history while having a beer as the Ear Inn, its incarnation since the 1970s.
City Hall and environs in 1820
19 City Hall (Manhattan)
With great fanfare, city leaders decided to move city offices from Federal Hall on Wall Street up to a new structure built on a worn patch of public ground up north on Broadway. The new building, completed in 1812, reflected the popular feeling of the day; the northern side, facing up the island to a drained Collect Pond, scattered lower class developments, was originally constructed with less quality materials.
City Hall would survive fires, renovations and corrupt administrations to remain the oldest, continuously operating center of city government in the United States.
20 24 Middagh Street, 'Queen of Brooklyn Heights' (Brooklyn)
Meanwhile, across the river, speculators were beginning to lure New Yorkers over to the small town of Brooklyn, with spectacular views and a brand spanking new Fulton Ferry service (which began operating in 1814). Within a few years, the first developments would pop up on the bluff later to be called Brooklyn Heights.
The area's oldest structure, the home built by Eugene Boisselet at 24 Middagh Street (1824), is considered the 'queen of Brooklyn Heights'. Its woodframe Federal Style glamour are a sharp contrast to the great brownstones that would define the neighborhood many years later. The 'queen' would quickly find herself surrounded as the area became popular with eager New York escapees, the first commuters. But not every area of Brooklyn was quite ready to urbanize....
21 Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church (Brooklyn)
The rest of Brooklyn would earn its reputation as a 'City of Churches' with buildings like Flatbush's fine old chapel, completed between 1792-8.
The third church in this very spot -- the first sanctioned by Mr. Stuyvesant himself in 1654 -- the dark stone chapel held together a quiet, bucolic Long Island farming community, removed from the bustle of the harbor. The independent town of Flatbush, one of six in Kings County, contrasted sharply with Brooklyn and would retain its autonomy from that growing city for most of the century.
For more information: try our podcasts on DeWitt Clinton, Collect Pond, Washington Square, Green-Wood Cemetery (for a brief history of Brooklyn Heights), St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, Castle Clinton and New York City Hall _______________________________________________________
PART THREE: INDUSTRIAL CITY
22 Lorillard Snuff Mill (Bronx)Throw a rock in the Bronx before 1840, and you're likely to hit a cow. However, being north of Manhattan, it was only a matter of time before its uninterrupted stretches of farmland were soon met with change. Before the 1840s, it was nothing but cows, wheat fields, and the occasional estate (see below). But the industrial progress of New York soon began to seep into this future borough, and the advent of the railroad and the rise of immigration began to turn the tide for this agrarian outskirt.
The Lorillard tobacco manufacturer, who got their start in Manhattan back in 1760, built its snuff mill here (above( in a Bronx riverbed, using water power to meet up with the growing demand of homegrown tobacco. It's one of the oldest surviving examples of early American industry. Today, you can find it nestled in the New York Botanical Garden -- and currently undergoing renovation.
23 Wave Hill House (Bronx)
Another Bronx landmark of the period has also succumbed to flowering beauty. Wave Hill represents one of the best preserved examples of homes overlooking the Hudson River still within the city today, a modern rarity from a period of dozens of cliffside homes. Lawyer William Lewis Morris, from a family of wealthy Bronx landowners, built his Victorian estate (1843) as a summer retreat; later, the house (below) would entertain the likes of Mark Twain and a young Theodore Roosevelt. The city took it over in the 1960s, and today its a public garden with its breathtaking views intact.
ALSO: Ten years later, railroad magnate Edwin Clark Litchfield had his equally impressive and quite curious Italian-style home, Litchfield Villa, erected on land later bought for Prospect Park.
Below: Wave Hill House, in one of the most beautiful spots in the Bronx
24 Hunterfly Road Houses (Brooklyn)
Slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, but in practice, black city residents had few of the property rights as their white neighbors. The African-American settlement of Seneca Village was eradicated by the creation of Central Park, and blacks were not welcome in many New York neighborhoods.
But evidence of a seven-block African-American development in Brooklyn still exists at 1698 Bergen Street, the remains of the settlement of Weeksville, a small neighborhood developed (1840) by a black developer for black residences, "the second largest known independent African American community in pre-Civil War America", according to the Weeksville Heritage Center.
25 Trinity Church (Manhattan)
The tallest building in New York (from its creation in 1846 to 1890) with the wealthiest most power congregants, the third Trinity on this spot would be defining symbol upon a growing New York skyline. Even without the fabulous Richard Upjohn design, the church would remain the city's most powerful landlord. But it always helps to look good.
ALSO: The uptown Grace Church, consecrated the same year, would grow in prominence as high society began moving up the island. If you weren't a member of a powerful family, don't bother looking for a pew.
26 Beth Hamedrash Hagadol (Manhattan)
The Lower East Side's oldest synagogue (1850) is the most spectacular reflection of the neighborhood's changes of the period, as immigrants from Europe crammed into affordable tenements. Within a few years, the new residents would turn this stretch of land below Houston into the most concentrated Jewish community on earth.
ALSO: Beth Hamedrash is the oldest, but the close-by Eldridge Street Synagogue (1886-7) is probably the most beautiful
27 India House/1 Hanover Square (Manhattan)
Further downtown, New York cleans up from the great fire of 1835 and resumes business. Hanover Square had been a center for publishing and retail since the British days; in the flourishing New York economy, it became an extension of Wall Street with banks and exchanges.
The India House (1851-53) became both -- first as Hanover Bank when it was built, then as the first commodity market in 1870 (the New York Cotton Exchange). Given the fervor for skyscrapers in the region, it's a wonder this great example of mid-19th century commerce still exists.
28 Cooper Union (Manhattan)
In the right people, economic power and growing population breeds benevolence. Inventor and philanthropist Peter Cooper created Cooper Union (1853-59) as a place for free education -- to both men and women. In construction of this brownstone Astor Place anchor, he also provided one of the great auditoriums of the city, which a year hosted a young politician named Abraham Lincoln.
29 Smallpox Hospital (Roosevelt Island)
Sometimes though, economic power and a growing population breeds, well, indifference. New York is best known for putting its undesirables on islands, and in defining those undesirables rather broadly -- criminals, orphans, delinquents, infirm, diseased, or just really poor.
Blackwell's Island was the most notorious of these, although nearly all of New York's islands have enjoyed their shares of hospitals and prisons. The ruins of James Renwick's Smallpox Hospital (1856) are a vivid reminder.
30 Engine Company 204, Cobble Hill (Brooklyn)
As soon as they put stuff up, it was burning down. New York, Brooklyn and the surrounding cities and towns were under constant threat for fire. As a result, in the years before paid firefighting services, the methods became territorial, with competing gang-controlled fire operations. Fighting fire was less a community service than a sign of sporting-man machismo.
There are excellent architectural examples of still-operating 19th century firehouses throughout the city. The one at 299 Degraw Street in Cobble Hill is not one of them. However, it is the oldest firehouse that I can locate, built in 1855 for the volunteer Montauk Hose Company in the years before Brooklyn had an organized firefighting unit. This structure held the horses; the volunteers slept across the street. After a valiant community effort to save the company, the city decommissioned the building.
ALSO: If you prefer an active firehouse, try Engine Company No. 5 at 340 East 14th Street in Manhattan, designed by Napoleon LeBron in 1880.
31 Plymouth Church (Brooklyn)
Another kind of fire was stirring at the center of Brooklyn high society -- Plymouth Church (1849-50). By 1854, Brooklyn had absorbed Williamsburg and Bushwick to become the third largest city in the United States. Its preeminence was embodied by Plymouth's fiery celebrity preacher Henry Ward Beecher, who was Brooklyn's defining voice even after scandal knocked him from the podium in the 1870s.
32 Tweed Courthouse (Manhattan)
But if it's scandal you're looking for, look no further than the exploits of Boss Tweed and his corrupt political machine Tammany Hall. Nothing embodies the excess and wastefulness of Tammany graft than the courthouse unofficially named for the man who kept it filling its contractors' pockets with money. Taking twenty years to build (1861-1881), it's one of the most expensive buildings ever built in the 19th century.
33 Fort Schuyler (Bronx)
New York's participation in the Civil War was more than just that pitiful and deadly distraction known as the Draft Riots. New York residents became soldiers, financiers, supporters and critics of the conflict. The city played a more direct role as a holding station and hospital base for thousands of militia. Fort Schuyler, began in 1833 and not fully dedicated until 1856, held hundreds of Confederate soldiers and housed thousands more Union troops on their way to battle. Today students wage for battle here as the site of Maritime College, a branch of SUNY.
For more information check out the following podcasts on the above subjects: Trinity Church, Henry Ward Beecher, Great Fire of 1835, Roosevelt Island and Cooper Union.
PART FOUR: SOPHISTICATED CITY
Courtesy Tenement Museum
34 97 Orchard Street (now Lower East Side Tenement Museum) (Manhattan)
Rarely do we get to see how people of the past lived, in the place they lived it in, with furniture and items they actually used. This tenement from 1863 fell into the proverbial tar pit in 1935 when the building's owner, rather than renovating and re-renting, simply closed off the upper floors -- contents and all -- to remain undisturbed until 1988, when urban archaeologists discovered the place and transformed it into today's Tenement Museum.
Inside lies the story of thousands, of Eastern European immigrants funneling from the Castle Garden immigrant depot to enclaves in the Lower East Side and beyond. As New York in the 1870s and 80s becomes decidedly extraordinary, how amazing is it to find something from the same period celebrating the little banalities of 19th century life.
35 Aschenbroedel Verein building (Manhattan)To make those new Americans feel at home, cultural organizations preserving their foreign music and heritage popped up throughout New York. For Germans, who began coming to the United States en masse after 1850, music was a particular cultural touchstone (as evidenced by early German success story of the Steinways.)
To quote a 1896 New York Times article on the German music troupe Aschenbroedel Verein: "A generation ago German-American musicians were not always quite so welcome in musical circles in thsi country as they are now." In 1873, the organization opened its own clubhouse at 74 E. 4th Street in the East Village -- the heart of Kleindeutschland "little Germany" -- cultivating a generation of musicians who later dominated the field of orchestral music -- favorite of the upper classes.
And the building's cultural legacy was not over; in 1969, the building reopened as a stage for Ellen Stewart's La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, without argument New York's "most influential" off-off Broadway stage.
ALSO: For a more fanciful theatrical transformation, go around the corner to the former Bouwerie Lane Theater, a cast-iron beauty, born a bank in 1873 and transformed into an off-Broadway stage in 1974. It's a trendy clothing store now.
36 901 Broadway: Lord and Taylor (Manhattan)By the early 1870s, fashionable society had wound its way up Fifth Avenue, expanding between Union and Madison parks with new developments of brownstones, theaters and shops. Heralding this change was the flourishing of Ladies Mile, a collection of tony, often cast-iron-clad department stores.
The trend begun by A.T. Stewart (his first store opened in 1823 north of City Hall) had become a retail revolution. In 1869, Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor opened a luxury retailer in the heart of the mile, here at 901 Broadway. In my humble opinion, the corner store, in its pompous French Second Empire style, is the most beautiful example of the many storefronts that still exist.
37 Samuel Tilden Home, Gramercy Park (Manhattan)
The flamboyant tastes of the privileged classes made for some outlandish homes. Just contrast the simple tenement above with the ornate 15 Gramercy Park. Structurally from the 1840s, no less than Central Park co-creator Calvert Vaux overhauled the building in 1881 for his client, failed presidential candidate Samuel Tilden. The whimsical exterior decor is literally a reflection of its inhabitant; the writers busts and animals adorning the front were based on a few of Tilden's favorite things.
The home was considered so lavish that when Tilden died, the prestigious (and private) National Arts Club moved in in 1906 -- and has been there ever since.
38 Dakota Apartments (Manhattan)
But not all who could afford such luxury necessarily desired it. By the 1880s, Central Park had changed the city, not only as 'the lungs of the city' but the real estate fortunes surrounding. The Upper West Side, still quite remote for most people, was slowly being defined by a new form of domicile -- the apartment building.
The Dakota Apartments, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh and opening in 1884, brought lavish lifestyle together with 'shared services' and such unique features as a courtyard, community stables and windows arranged for cross breezes -- unusual for the time.
ALSO: The Chelsea Hotel began its life as a similar facility as the Dakota; needless to say, it went in a different direction.
Above: the rather farm-looking original Met, today mostly covered up (thankfully!) Courtesy the JSS Gallery
39 Metropolitan Museum of Art (Manhattan)
New York's primary cultural institution for almost 140 years, the Met reflects everything the city wanted to be in the 1870s -- namely, the American Europe. The original building, opened in 1878, would never have thought to cater to the, gasp!, general public or feature, clutch the pearls!, American artists.
How things change. Most notably the entire building, consumed in later additions. However, if you want to see the 1878 original, simply enter by the front, climb that impressive staircase and hang a left -- part of the original Gothic, red brick version sits exposed here to this day.
40 Jonathan W Allen Stable (Manhattan)Imagine this: before the early 20th century, the street was filled with horses. Horses, horses, trains and horses. The smell of exhaust, the noise of buses and cars replaced the smell of manure, but a refreshingly quiet clomping. Trolleys would whiz by, trains elevated and spewing black smoke -- but horses were still critical to the livelihood of New Yorkers.
There are dozens of homes and businesses in New York that are converted stables of days past. In particular, what I like about the stable at 148 East 40th Street, owned by broker Jonathan W Allen who lived close by, is that it was built in 1871 -- years before its equine inhabitants would even see (and get spooked by) a future of 'horseless carriages'. Also, the stable is close to Longacre Square (future Times Square), the center of New York's horse-driven carriage industry.
41 Domino Sugar Refinery (Brooklyn)
Meanwhile, across the East River, the former village of Brooklyn had expanded to the size of a small metropolis -- half a million people, with thriving centers of industry, amassing all the towns in the vicinity to nearly become the size of the present borough today. In 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge united the city with its big sister, and rumblings of a consolidation were underway.
It rivaled Manhattan as the king of monopolies, in particular, in the commodity of sugar. In 1884, the Havemeyer family, who dominated the marketplace, opened their waterfront refinery as the unofficial kings of the city, one of its largest employers. It changed its name in 1900 to Domino Sugar; its distinctive sign (added in 1967) would define the waterfront.
Photo Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 Flickr
42 Grashorn Building (Brooklyn)
There are many classic buildings still standing from Coney Island's glory days; Nathan's Hot Dogs hasn't budged since it opened in 1916, and the exterior of Childs Restaurant on the beach still looks as good as it did in the 1920s. But the plain Grashorn Building has a special distinction: it saw it all coming.
Unimpressive today, the former Surf Avenue hardware store was built in the late 1880s for Henry Grashorn, a Coney Island business leader who helped foster the city's reputation as the amusement capital of New York, organizing the neighborhood's annual Marti Gras parades. Coney Island was a big destination spot in the 1880s, but days of the massive, glorious amusement parks wouldn't come until the new century.
Today, the Grashorn is dreary, underused and always in fear of being torn down. Kind of like Coney Island always is, generally.
For more information check out the following podcasts on the above subjects: the Dakota Apartments, Coney Island: The Golden Age, Steinway & Sons and a history of Williamsburg
PART FIVE: IMMIGRANT CITY
43 Ellis Island Immigration Station (Ellis Island)
The most important period in New York City history (the half-century before World War II) began with a major signifier in 1890 -- the federal government would now be in charge of immigration, wresting it from the hands of lackidaisical control of the state. By shifting it an uninhabited island in the harbor, new arrivals could essentially be quarantined from the city.
By this time, New York was in the throes of its Beaux-Arts period, and even a processing center for poor immigrants needed to be ornate. The new station (1892) would eventually process 12 million arrivals, most in the following decade and would be first witness to the change from the Irish and German arrivals of the mid-century new hopefuls from Italy and Eastern Europe.
44 Henry Street Settlement (Manhattan)
None of these new arrivals is making live in lower Manhattan easier. But charitable New Yorkers and a rising progressive movement proved worthy of the challenge. In 1893, a group of nurses purchased some abandoned Federal Style townhouse -- back from the days when wealthy shipbuilders lived close to Corlear's Hook -- and set up a service organization for the sick and educational opportunities for children. In the most densely populated neighborhood in the world, they were the life preserver.
And they didn't just save people. They also had the unintended result of saving a group of very attractive old townhouses from the crawl of tenements. Today, the landmarked Settlement buildings look like a time capsule from another time.
45 Webster Hall (Manhattan)
The wave of reforms in ethnic communities didn't stop at basic care. Labor groups organized for better work conditions, better pay and fairer wages. Along the way, they had a little fun too. When Webster Hall opened in 1886, it was as a general service venue. However it soon became an outpost for protest and fund raising for these progressive groups.
Later in the new century, the likes of Emma Goldman would throw lavish money-making parties here, wild escapades that would presage the swinging jazz age. If you're looking for a temple to pre-1920s bohemia -- of the kind that would typify the East Village in later years -- you've come to the right place.
46 Carnegie Hall (Manhattan)
Oh, but the upper class yearned to have fun too. Operas and chorales! But their entertainments -- as much for social networkers as for actual music lovers -- were scattered throughout the city, in antiquated old buildings. Enter the vastly wealthy Andrew Carnegie, who cleared away a bunch of old saloons and slums just south of Central Park and opened (in 1891) what is today still the most respected home of the highest cultural arts.
His new deluxe concert hall also set a new mark for the upper crust to cluster. By the turn of the century, the mansions of Fifth Avenue had crawled their way to the southern border of Central Park, just a few blocks from Carnegie Hall.
ALSO: When a luxury apartment building (built in 1890) at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street didn't quite pan out, they replaced it with The Plaza Hotel (1907).
47 Low Memorial Library (Manhattan)
Columbia University, no slouch in the landowning department, moved way uptown during the 1890s to Morningside Heights. And to cap the occasion, they hired the hottest design firm in New York, McKim, Mead and White, to create the campus's key structures, including the classically inspired Low Library (1895), named after the father of Columbia president (and later mayor of New York) Seth Low.
The design firm would help define the Gilded Age. Columbia, on top of educating, would be home to decades of new technical innovations. But it wouldn't be the only place for them....
48 Bell Laboratories Building (Manhattan)
Few today know that the far West Village housed one of the most important homes for media invention in the United States. This collection of laboritories (1898), scattered throughout the city but many concentrated here, were forefront in the invention of the transitor radio, the television set and even laser technology. In the 20th century, the first radio and television broadcasts -- and the first sound motion pictures -- would come from here. Long after Bell moved to the suburbs in the mid 20th Century, the Westbeth artist complex moved into the building at West and Bethune, reinventing an abandoned industrial space.
49 P.S. 1 (Queens)
A similar repurposing would happen over in Queens. Before 1898, Long Island City was one of Queens county's most vigorously governors communities, in its later years as an independent city controlled by colorful and corrupt mayor Patty “Battle-Axe” Gleason. The austere First Ward Primary School (later P.S. 1) is evidence of LIC's maverick days, its first school and the largest in all of Long Island when it was constructed in 1892-3.
Eventually closed and left abandoned, the artists of The Institute for Art and Urban Resources revitalized the structure as a home for art, and today it's affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art under its original numerical designation as the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.
50 Brooklyn Borough Hall (Brooklyn)
The worst demotion in the history of New York City buildings -- at least since the federal government left Federal Hall -- happened here, on January 1, 1898, when the lovely Brooklyn City Hall became Brooklyn Borough Hall. The consolidation of the five boroughs would unite the heavily urban with the deeply rural, big city politics with small town political machines -- all in an attempt to meld the competing priorities of a metroplitan area into one defined urban vision.
This meant the powers of the great city and town halls of all the other cities and towns were greatly diminisheed. In Queens, the town hall of Jamaica is long gone, as are those village halls in Staten Island. Luckily, the city of Brooklyn had become coterminous with the county of Kings by the time of consolidation, so its grand city hall, completed in 1849, just modified its responsibilities. Today, its one of Brooklyn's proudest buildings, a reflection of a time of independence.
For more information, check out our podcasts on Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, Webster Hall and Columbia University
View History of New York in 100 Buildings in a larger map