On Tuesday, April 29th, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate the Park Avenue Historic District as the city’s 111th historic district.
I am thrilled about this designation and is especially thankful for the LPC’s swift action on this item. However, the commissioners’ deliberate decision to specify the Park Avenue Christian Center’s rectory and parish house as “no style” is confusing. When you think of a place with “no style”, Park Avenue is not what usually comes to mind. Continue reading
From 1971 to 1985, battles raged over Westway, a multibillion-dollar highway, development, and park project slated for construction New York City. It would have projected far into the Hudson River, including massive new landfill extending several miles along Manhattan’s Lower West Side.
The most expensive highway project ever proposed, Westway also provoked one of the highest stakes legal battles of its day, the subject of Fighting Westway: Environmental Law, Citizen Activism, and the Regulatory War that Transformed New York City (Cornell University Press, 2014), by William W. Buzbee. Continue reading
On May 3, 2014, John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, N.Y. will sponsor a walk through lower Manhattan titled John Jay’s Not-So-Big City. The walking tour will trace John Jay’s haunts in New York in the late 18th century.
Founding Father John Jay, New York’s second Governor and America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century. Continue reading
The OBIE Award winning Metropolitan Playhouse will present the fifth annual East Village Theater Festival, a three-week celebration of the life and lore of New York City’s East Village.
The festival features four different evenings of new plays and solo-performances, as well as the work of local artists, and a panel discussion on the neighborhood’s changing identity. Continue reading
Today, the owner of 51 and 53 West 19th Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District in New York City will request the Landmarks Preservation Commission for permission to demolish two buildings and to construct a 14-story building in their place. Unfortunately, this is not an April’s Fool joke.
51 and 53 West 19th Street are five-story, residential buildings built in 1854 which were converted to commercial and/or manufacturing use in the 1920s. Such a history is very much in keeping with the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. In fact, the designation report lists “converted dwellings” as a building type in the district along with “residential construction”, “office buildings”, “store and loft buildings”, and “retail stores/department stores.” The report points out that after World War I, the shopping district had moved north and the area’s focus shifted to manufacturing. The 1916 zoning resolution had prohibited the construction of tall buildings on mid-block sites, and so instead the surviving residential buildings were converted. Converted dwellings are obviously a part of the fabric of the district, and these two nicely-designed buildings are good examples of this typology. Continue reading
The working class Irish neighborhood of old and new law tenements immediately west of the theater district in Manhattan was once one of the toughest areas in the City where the Irish street gangs, bootleggers, gamblers and mobsters held sway. However, it is today home to major law, accounting and advertising firms, off-broadway theaters and trendy bars and restaurants as well as upscale apartment buildings in which actors and young professionals reside.
Nevertheless, many do not realize that the political leadership of the area has remained the same for the last 100 years. For the past 50 years, the Democratic party district leader of the area has been the legendary Jimmy McManus, fourth generation of the McMani of Tammany Hall, whose McManus Midtown Democratic Club is the oldest continuously functioning Democratic Club in New York City, and has controlled the area politically since 1892 when Jim’s great grand uncle defeated Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt. Another notable figure the tour will discuss is Frances Perkins. Perkins, a social worker in Hell’s Kitchen who later became FDR’s Labor Secretary and creator of Social Security, got her start in New York politics in 1910 by a chance meeting with Thomas J. McManus. Continue reading
This spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.
As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s. Continue reading
New York City’s Historic Districts Council (HDC) has announced its 2014 Six to Celebrate, an annual listing of historic New York City neighborhoods and institutions that merit preservation attention.
This is New York’s only citywide list of preservation priorities coming directly from the neighborhoods. Continue reading
In an important legal ruling, NYS Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills found that elements of the proposed New York University expansion plan would build on land which has long been used as public parkland, although not officially designated as such. The NYU project proposed between West Houston and West Third Streets, has, according to Sam Roberts of the New York Times “arguably generated more rancor than any other project in the neighborhood since the proposed expressway in the 1960s.”
It is only possible to build on parkland in New York State with the approval of the State Legislature. The legal action opposing the expansion which Justice Mills ruled on was brought against the City of New York by a coalition of community groups, neighborhood residents and NYU faculty. Continue reading
During the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.
The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading
Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914 by Joseph J. Varga (Monthly Review Press, 2013) considers how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces through an examination of the famous Manhattan neighborhood during the “Progressive Era.”
Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. Continue reading
On September 29, 2013 a walking tour of lower Manhattan which traces Jewish history will celebrate “Arrival Day”, the day in 1654 that Jews first landed in North America.
The tour begins at the flagpole in Peter Minuit Park near the Staten Island ferry that commemorates the arrival in 1654 of 23 Jews in Lower Manhattan (then New Amsterdam) after a harrowing journey from Recife Brazil. Continue reading
Everyone in New York City is pretty familiar with the sight of Handsome Cabs, the horse-drawn carriages that take visitors on tours of Central Park. But that wasn’t always the horse’s job. Sometimes goats pulled people around!
According to the Parks Department, “In 1869 goat carriage rides were introduced into Central Park to cater to children.” They were a popular sight on the Mall. Continue reading
Curiosity about Hollywood’s take on Steve Brodie’s claim that he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge on July 23, 1886 drew viewers to FX Movie Channel’s recent broadcast of the seldom-shown 1933 movie The Bowery.
Produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie also promised to show how the bare-knuckle boxer, John L. Sullivan, and the saloon-smashing reformer, Carrie Nation, fit into Brodie’s life. Continue reading
The Committee to Save the New York Public Library will hold a vigil in opposition to the plans for the NYPL’s 42nd Street and Mid Manhattan Libraries on Monday, June 3rd, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM at the 5th Avenue entrance to the 42nd Street Library.
The vigil will coincide with the New York Public Library Spring fundraising gala. The event is co-sponsored by Citizens Defending Libraries, and will feature an appearance by Rev. Billy and his choir. Continue reading
The Committee to Save the New York Public Library has just released a point-by-point rebuttal of claims made by the New York Public Library (NYPL) administration over a controversial plan for the library’s 42nd Street branch.
Previously, the Committee issued a document entitled “The Truth About the Central Library Plan,” which it calls an “analysis of the NYPL’s plan to gut the 42nd Street Library and sell the Mid-Manhattan Library and Science, Industry and Business Library.” The latest volley in the battle over the library is a response to NYPL’s recent “Setting the Record Straight,” an attempt to counter critics. Continue reading
The High Bridge is scheduled to reopen. This bridge is not to be confused with the High Line in Manhattan which is not a bridge. The High Bridge is a closed pedestrian crossing connecting the Bronx and Manhattan. The 1200 foot span was built in 1848 and is the oldest bridge in the city. It was constructed as part of the Croton Aqueduct system which carried water from Westchester to New York City.
The Croton Aqueduct still functions in Westchester not as a water-carrying system but as an elongated trail somewhat paralleling the Hudson River from Croton to Yonkers. The Aqueduct has devoted followers and a friends group and always is being used by hikers, strollers, runners, and families. It forms a living thread uniting the communities of the county. Continue reading
Long before the fictional and shocking “Peyton Place” of TV and film fame came along in the late 1950s, and early 1960s there was an actual suburban community where its residents were roiled by rampant scandal, moral and religious hypocrisy and a sensational a murder in their midst.
The year was 1834 and the place was the normally tranquil and bucolic Village of Sing Sing, now called Ossining. Actually, the extremely bad behavior took place just outside of the Village, on nearby farmland where a high-end condominium called “Beechwood” now stands in the Village of Briarcliff Manor, on the southwest intersection of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road. Nonetheless, due to its proximity, it was the Village of Sing Sing that got the headlines in the “penny press,” and crowds of curious and outraged Villagers flocked to the “New York Road” in front of the farm hoping for a glimpse of the sequestered souls residing in the house. Continue reading
It now seems hard to believe that for most of the latter part of the 19th century, New York City was the cigar making capital of the United States.
New York State as a whole had 364 cities and towns with 4,495 cigar factories and 1,875 (41%) of these were operating in mid and lower Manhattan. The island which then comprised the City, made 10 times the number of cigars as Havana, Cuba.
At the city’s peak before WWI and the beginning of the Machine-Age, approximately 3,000 factories, including many of America’s largest, rolled cigars in Manhattan. Continue reading
On April 3, 1783 Writer and satirist Washington Irving was born in New York City. He best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” but I will always love him best for coining the name of New York’s basketball team!
In 1809, Irving published his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. Through the Knickerbocker pseudonym, Irving poked fun at the city’s self-important Dutch elite, in which Knickerbocker was a fairly common last name. He also pulled an elaborate prank in anticipation of the book’s release, posting “missing person” adverts in city newspapers, claiming Knickerbocker, a Dutch historian, had gone missing from his hotel room. Continue reading