Friday, January 23, 2015

40 Years Ago: The Fraunces Tavern Bombing

Tomorrow, January 24, marks the fortieth anniversary of the deadly bomb that ripped through historic Fraunces Tavern in the Financial District.

Five years ago, we wrote a post about the bombing, which remains one of the most-read entries on this blog: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2010/01/bombing-of-fraunces-tavern-january-24.html.


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postcard Thursday: When Met Life was the World's Tallest


Today's postcard shows the Met Life tower on Madison Square, which held the title of tallest building in the world from 1909 (beating out the now-demolished Singer Tower) until 1913, when it was bested by the Woolworth Tower, which remained the world's tallest until the opening of the Chrysler Building in 1930.

This postcard was actually mailed in August 1908, meaning that it was printed before the Met Life tower was actually finished, but that's par for the course--how many tchotchkes of the "Freedom Tower" were on sale before they'd even laid the foundation for WTC1?

The Met Life building was designed by Napoleon Le Brun & Sons (noted for the Gilded Age fire stations in New York), and the bulk of the work fell to sons Michel and Pierre Le Brun, who modeled the tower on the campanile in Piazza San Marco in Venice.



The building cost $6.5 million to build, and while it was praised at the time of its completion as the "most meritous work of the year" by the American Institute of Architects, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was annoyed to only hold the title of world's tallest for four years. In the late 1920s, work began on the annex building to the north, which--at least in early blueprints--would have been spectacularly tall, dwarfing the Empire State Building that was being erected at the same time. However, the Depression derailed Met Life's plans and the annex was capped at 30 stories.

The clock tower is owned by Marriott; in April 2015, an Ian Schrager-designed hotel, "New York Edition," is slated to open.



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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Postcard Thursday: New York City's Oldest Buildings


If you did not see it, James has a piece at CurbedNY this week in which he tracks down the oldest buildings in all five boroughs of New York City. This postcard, above, shows the Britton Cottage, which today is part of Historic Richmond Town, and is the second oldest standing building on Staten Island.

You can read the full story at http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/01/12/the_20_oldest_buildings_in_new_york_city.php


Each borough also gets an honorable mention: a building that is old, but didn't quite make the cut. For Manhattan, that building is Fraunces Tavern, which, according to The New York Times, is celebrating its birthday today. On January 15, 1762, Samuel Fraunces bought the house from the heirs of Stephen Delancey to open what was then called the Queen Charlotte or Queenshead Tavern. While only a few fragments of the building Sam Fraunces bought are still there, the tavern is an important relic nonetheless.


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or


And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The First State of the Union Address


Today marks the 225th anniversary of the very first State of the Union address, delivered by George Washington to a join session on of Congress on January 8, 1790, at Federal Hall on Wall Street.

Washington had been sworn in on April 30 of the previous year and Congress had been meeting since early March, so it was a good time for the president to take stock of how much progress had been made. That progress included the passage of the Bill of Rights over the summer, which was not only the underpinning of many American freedoms, but was also the document that persuaded North Carolina to finally ratify the Constitution, which it did on November 21, 1789, bringing the total number of states to twelve. Only Rhode Island was a holdout, and perhaps some of Washington's address--which was circulated in newspapers at the time--was aimed at getting Rhode Island on board.


The address--which covers everything from the need "to be prepared for war" with the "proper establishment of troops," to the "terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens" and the needs for "uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States"--was likely drafted by Alexander Hamilton, the Treasury Secretary and Washington's de facto Prime Minister. It ends with a plea to Congress for support of the establishment of public credit, a topic near and dear to Hamilton's heart.


The entire speech can be read at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29431.

Of course, the building that stands today at the intersection of Wall Street and Nassau Street isn't the Federal Hall (below) of Washington's era. The original seat of government was torn down in the early eighteenth century so that the Treasury Department could build a new custom house on the spot. After later serving as the federal subtreasury, the old custom house become the museum it is today, where a few pieces of the original building where Washington spoke are on display.



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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Greetings from (the newly unified) New York City


On Saturday, January 1 1898, New Yorkers awoke not just from the hangover of the revelry from the night before, but to find themselves citizens of the newly expanded, five-borough New York City.

As we write in Footprints in New York, when the Brooklyn Bridge had opened in 1883 (back when Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate cities):

New York’s Mayor [Franklin] Edson probably scared Brooklynites by invoking a marriage metaphor: “What has thus been joined together shall never be put asunder.” Edson then peered twenty-five years into the future to 1908: “Will these two cities ere then have been consolidated into one great municipality, numbering within its limits more than five millions of people?”
The consolidation of the two cities would happen even quicker, on January 1, 1898, but Edson was very close on the population. In the 1910 census, the population of the new City of New York—which, in addition to Brooklyn and Manhattan, included the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island—was 4.76 million. The fifteen years between the bridge’s opening day and five-borough consolidation were ones of great change for Brooklyn and New York. Some were eager to see the two cities join together. Others had to be reluctantly cajoled into the relationship.
Most of that cajoling happened in Brooklyn. While some prominent Brooklynites--chief among them former Mayor Seth Low--were eager for five-borough unification, it was a hard sell.
Low’s brother Abbot joined the League [of Loyal Citizens] to register his opposition.They wrote a new anthem for Brooklyn, “Up with the Flag,” which began:
Up with the flag! / The flag that long / Has waved o’er Brooklyn’s city fair, / To keep her sons in union strong / To bid them heed the motto there: / “Right makes Might.”
Brooklyn’s motto—in Dutch Eendracht maakt macht—not only rooted the city to its colonial heritage, but “Right makes Might” were the same words used by Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Lincoln’s armies had fought for freedom—should Brooklynites give their precious rights up so easily?
Ultimately the matter was put to a vote. Nearly 130,000 ballots were cast, with pro-consolidation squeezing out a victory of only 277 votes.

More from Footprints in New York:

On December 31, 1897, an electric trolley car wended its way across the span of the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time. Employees of the trolley company made last-minute adjustments to the electric cabling and then, a few minutes before midnight, the Columbia and the Amphion—two “sumptuous” trolley cars (in the words of the New York Times)—ferried a delegation of Brooklyn dignitaries to Manhattan to celebrate New Year’s Eve. When the trolleys took them home again at the end of the party, their city was gone. At the stroke of midnight, Brooklyn had ceased to exist as an independent entity. It was now just one of five boroughs.
On the Manhattan side, a celebration thrown by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal was hampered by rain that turned to snow by midnight; still, an estimated 100,000 people came out to cheer the beginning of the new city. 
In Brooklyn, things were much more somber. Mayor Frederick Wurster welcomed Seth Low and other former mayors for an “observance” at Brooklyn City Hall. Though the reception was held for pro-consolidation advocates, it can’t have been a cheery occasion. The official poem written for the festivities ends its first stanza with “You, with me, must die.”

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Washington Crossing the Delaware


Today marks the anniversary of the December 26, 1776, Battle of Trenton, a major victory for George Washington and the Continental Army over the Hessian garrison stationed in New Jersey.

On Christmas Day, Washington and his troops had crossed the Delaware River, an event commemorated in one of the greatest American history paintings, "Washington Crossing the Delaware," by Emanuel Leutze, which hangs in the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leutze actually painted the picture twice. He began painting the scene in 1849, but the canvas was damaged in a studio fire. He then set the original aside and started work on this image. (The first version was ultimately completed, but was bombed out of existence during World War II.) Leutze, who immigrated to New York and lived at the Tenth Street Studio in Greenwich Village, hoped to get work from the U.S. government painting patriotic scenes, so he paid to have "Washington Crossing the Delaware" exhibited at Stuyvesant Hall on Broadway between Bleecker and Bond Streets. The painting was an immediate hit--according to some sources, over 50,000 people paid to come see it--and while the United States Congress was interested in acquiring the canvas, it ultimately went to a private buyer who paid $10,000 for it, an almost unheard of sum for a contemporary painting at the time.

Note the flag-bearer behind Washington: that's James Monroe, America's fifth president, who was a member of Washington's campaign.

Yesterday, thousands turned out for the annual reenactment of the crossing.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bleecker Street


Bleecker Street between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets, 1920 (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)
There won't be a Postcard Thursday this week because (ICYMI) this Thursday is Christmas. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate the holiday, and to everyone we hope you've had a wonderful 2014 and are looking forward to a great 2015.

James wrote a piece on the evolution of Bleecker Street (and, by extension, Greenwich Village) that was published a few days ago on Curbed. To read the story, follow this link.

Some of the photos he researched for the story didn't make it into the final piece, so we've included them below.

Happy Holidays,
Michelle & James Nevius

An illegal "back house" behind old townhouses on Bleecker Street (photo by Jacob A. Riis)


Mori's Restaurant in what was once part of Carroll Place (photo by Berenice Abbott). There's a Duane Reade in this space today.

The oldest building on Bleecker Street (photo by Berenice Abbott)


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slavery in New York

Instead of a postcard today, here's an ad James found when doing research for an article he's writing. Searching through a New-York Evening Post from February 1817, on a page mostly dedicated to selling dry goods and real estate, he stumbled upon this short ad:

FOR SALE, a coloured WOMAN, aged 20 years; sober and honest; a good cook, and capable of all kinds of house-work. Enquire at this office.
It is so easy to think that New York has always been a liberal, educated, progressive place--and then an ad like that pops up to remind us that this woman was being treated the same as a team of horses or a vacant lot on Bleecker Street.

As we write about in both Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York, New York's connection to slavery was deep. The Dutch first began importing enslaved Africans in the middle of the seventeenth century and despite the fact that gradual manumission began in 1799, New York was actually the second-to-last northern state to abolish slavery. (For the record, some enslaved people in New Jersey did not get their full freedom until the Civil War.)

The original Dutch Slave Market
In 1817, the same year this advertisement ran, New York's governor, Daniel Tompkins, finally announced that he'd given the state legislature a ten-year timetable for abolition. The legislature, fearing they'd be voted out of office by slave-holding New Yorkers, took the full decade, declaring July 4, 1827, to be emancipation day in the state of New York.

Yet, New York still thrived on the profits of slavery--so much so that when the Civil War started, Mayor Fernando Wood suggested the city secede from the Union so as to not lose its lucrative shipping contracts with southern planters.

A few years ago, the New-York Historical Society hosted a landmark exhibition on the history of slavery in the city and they've kept their very informative website going a resource for students and anyone interested in this sad chapter in the city's history: http://www.slaveryinnewyork.org.


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Trinity Wall Street


Today's postcard is a nice view of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and its surrounding churchyard, one of the oldest in New York City.

Trinity was built three times on the same spot. As we write in Inside the Apple:
In 1696...Trinity leased the city’s burial ground at the rate of one peppercorn per year. A year later, the church received its royal charter from William III and from that point forward only church members could be buried in the churchyard. Not coincidentally, this was the same time that a separate “Negroes Burial Ground” [today's African Burial Ground National Memorial] was established outside the city. The original church, a simple stone and wood building, was erected in 1698 with both financial and material help from one of its richest congregants, Captain William Kidd, who just three years later would be hanged in London for piracy. Trinity quickly prospered. Six years after its construction, Queen Anne gave the parish an additional 215 acres of the crown’s land, stretching from Wall Street north to the village of Greenwich....
The original Trinity had burned down on September 21, 1776, in the fire that swept through the city as Washington’s army retreated. A second church was consecrated in 1790, but a series of heavy snowstorms in the winter of 1838-39 so badly damaged the roof that the vestry voted to tear down the building and start again. The snows came at an opportune moment. Already, neighborhoods like Greenwich Village had pulled prominent churchgoers northward.... Trinity needed to do something to return itself—in its own eyes, at least—to its rightful place as the city’s premiere religious institution. 
Richard Upjohn’s grand Gothic Revival building quickly restored Trinity to the forefront of the city’s social and architectural scene. In 1844, architect Albert Gilman wrote of the almost-finished church: “[It] surpasses any church erected in England since the revival of the pointed style.” Its spire, at 281 feet tall, made it not only the tallest church in the city, but New York’s tallest building, a title it would retain for nearly 50 years. Part of what made the church so perfect was that Upjohn had copied it, almost exactly, from the design for “An Ideal Church” in the book True Principals by A.W. Pugin, the leading English proponent of the Gothic Revival. And unlike many of Upjohn’s successors and imitators, he had an attention to detail—overseeing everything from the stained glass to the exterior carvings—that gave Trinity an unequalled aesthetic appeal. 
The building was also controversial, however, both inside and out. A devout “high church” Anglo-Catholic, Upjohn introduced architectural elements that were utterly foreign to most Americans, including a chancel at the west end of the church complete with a high altar and rows of choir stalls. (At first, this was deemed too Roman Catholic, and the stalls weren’t used.) Outside, the building was constructed of brownstone, a locally quarried, soft sandstone. The stone was chosen for its outward resemblance to materials used in medieval English architecture, but not only did it lack the strength of schist, it was also commonly considered a cheap building material. Though many people tend today to call all single-family townhouses in New York “brownstones,” in the 19th-century no one would have conflated cheaper brownstone buildings with their more expensive brick cousins. (In her autobiography, Edith Wharton deplored the look of New York, claiming it was bathed in a “universal chocolate-coloured coating of the most hideous stone ever quarried.”) Both at Trinity and at Ascension in Greenwich Village, Upjohn had to convince his employers that the look of brownstone outweighed its déclassé associations.

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Postcard Friday: The Knickerbocker Hotel


The former (and soon to be once again) Knickerbocker Hotel at Times Square is going to be one of the stops on our War & Peace in NYC walking tour this Sunday. On the day World War I ended, opera star Enrico Caruso came out on his balcony and serenaded the crowd with the national anthems of Italy, France, and the United States.

To read more about the tour and sign up, go to: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2014/11/postcard-thursday-pearl-harbor-day-tour.html

To find out more about the Knickerbocker Hotel: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2012/01/knickerbocker-hotel.html

And to hear a less salubrious story about Caruso, visit: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2010/11/enrico-caruso-and-monkey-house-incident.html




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