Thursday, May 19, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton

Will the real Alexander Hamilton please stand up?

As you can see from these portraits (all drawn from the collections of the Library of Congress), knowing exactly what New York's most famous founding father looked like takes a little bit of guesswork. Look at the fellow in the bottom right corner -- that's a far cry the image we all know from the ten-dollar bill. But is it any less accurate? Portraits -- then and now -- are generally supposed to flatter the sitter. Does the image we know flatter him too much?

This is just one of the many aspects of Hamilton (the man and the musical theater phenomenon) that James will touch on during his Third Annual Hamilton Walking Tour taking place Sunday, May 29, at 1:00 pm.

$25 per person; let us know if you'd like a copy of Footprints in New York for an additional $15 when you reserve.

To sign up, email us using THIS LINK. You'll receive a confirmation within 24 hours with the meeting place. You can pay for the walk when it begins by cash or credit card.

This tour is almost sold out, so if you are thinking about joining us, please reserve as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Woolworth Tower

Today's postcard comes from 1919, just six years after the completion of the Woolworth Building. As the front of this unusual card notes it was "the tallest and most beautiful office building in the world."

As we write in Inside the Apple
Frank W. Woolworth, the inventor of the dime store in 1878 and the most revolutionary retailer in America since A.T. Stewart, had become rich off a simple notion: low prices and high volume. Not only was everything at Woolworth’s priced at either five or ten cents, all the merchandise was on display. In an era when store clerks normally had to fetch items from the back, the ability to browse store shelves gave buyers greater power over their selections. And, as Woolworth soon realized, it made them purchase more. In 1910, he added the lunch counter to a store in Manhattan—another tool to keep shoppers in the store longer and by 1911, when the Woolworth Corporation was founded, Frank Woolworth was worth millions. 
That same year, the company hired Cass Gilbert to build its new corporate headquarters on Broadway. Gilbert, who had just six years earlier finished his Beaux Arts masterpiece, the U.S. Custom House, gracefully transitioned into high-rise construction. He was one of the first New York architects to embrace the idea that tall buildings should actually look tall, and used a variety of techniques to draw the viewer’s eye from the decorated street-level entrances to the soaring tower. The window bays are separated by vertical piers that rise, almost uninterrupted, from the base to the spire. The building is faced in terra cotta that lightens toward the top of the building, emphasizing its height....
Gilbert’s use of neo-Gothic tracery (sometimes referred to as “wedding cake” Gothic) gives the building a medieval feel and, indeed, led Brooklyn minister S. Parkes Cadman to dub it “the Cathedral of Commerce” at its opening gala. Cadman was not only making a commentary on its architectural style but on the fact that in the battle between God and Mammon, Mammon appeared to be winning....
In the end, Woolworth paid about $13.5 million to build the tower out of his own deep pockets.... He was one of the first to realize the sheer publicity value of building a noteworthy skyscraper, from using its image in advertising to having postcards sent around the world showing off his creation. As with all skyscrapers claiming the title of tallest in the world, the Woolworth tower had an observation deck that drew in over a quarter million people a year until it was displaced by the Chrysler Building in 1930....(Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government closed the observatory atop the Woolworth Building for fear that the vantage it gave of New York harbor was too strategically important. Later in the war, the copper cladding on the Woolworth’s roof was removed and melted down for the war effort; today, the building is painted green instead.)

Today, the tower of the Woolworth Building is in the final stages of being converted into condos; the observation deck is part of the $110-million penthouse, but it's unclear if it will be accessible.



for our 3rd Annual Alexander Hamilton Memorial Day Weekend Walk

Read all about it and reserve at

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Washington Square and Jane Jacobs

Today's postcard is an aerial view of Washington Square and lower Fifth Avenue. The postcard was sent in August 1928, but the image must be from a few years earlier. Notice that No. 1 Fifth Avenue, erected in 1927 (and pictured below), is missing.

One Fifth Avenue
Also notice that an asphalt road goes through the Washington Arch and continues through to the south side of the square. This was the road the Robert Moses wanted to expand in the 1950s to make the Village more car friendly and to connect uptown traffic to the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX), which was on the drawing board at the same time.

Robert Moses's plans for a highway through Washington Square
The road through Washington Square was blocked by Shirley Hayes and Jane Jacobs, whose 100th birthday was yesterday. As part of the birthday celebrations, James wrote a history of the rise and fall of LOMEX for

You can read the piece at:

for our 3rd Annual Alexander Hamilton Memorial Day Weekend Walk

Read all about it and reserve at

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

3rd Annual Alexander Hamilton Memorial Day Weekend Walking Tour

with JAMES NEVIUS author of "Footprints in New York" and "Inside the Apple"

Sunday, May 29, 2016, at 1PM

Before HAMILTON was a Broadway sensation (nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards), there was Alexander Hamilton the statesman, Revolutionary War hero, and lousy duellist.

Join author and Hamilton expert James Nevius for a walk back in time as we explore the New York City that Hamilton would have known. We'll look at spots important to his life, to the founding of America, and to his untimely death.

The two-hour walk will take place rain or shine on SUNDAY, MAY 29, at 1PM.

$20 per person (EARLY BIRD SPECIAL) if you sign up on or before Tuesday, May 18.
$25 per person for reservations taken May 19 or later.

Need a copy of "Footprints in New York?" Reserve a signed copy of the book when you register for an additional $15 (the book retails for $20), and we'll bring it to the tour.

Payment by cash or credit card at the time of the tour.

Details of where we will meet will be emailed to you when you reserve.



MAY 2016





Copyright © 2016 Michelle Nevius Private Walking Tours All rights reserved. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy Birthday, General Grant

Yesterday marked the 194th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant, the general who won the Civil War and later served two terms as president of the United States. Happy birthday, Mister President!

Grant's Tomb, on Riverside Drive, is the largest presidential burial place in the country. But is he buried there? As we write in Inside the Apple:
If you are older than a certain age, you’ve likely heard the riddle: “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” It was a consolation question on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life. Like other consolation questions—“What color is an orange?” “What year did the War of 1812 start?”—it was designed to have such an obvious answer that no one could get it wrong. Most people answered, “Grant, of course!” and won $25, though a few poor souls thought it was a trick question. 
But while Groucho would accept that answer, it isn’t correct. Technically, no one is buried in Grant’s Tomb: both the former President, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife, Julia Dent Grant, are entombed there, above ground, in marvelously monumental stone sarcophagi. So those You Bet Your Life contestants who thought it was a trick question were correct. It was a trick question—no one is buried in the building. 
Grant died in 1885, having lived the last four years of his life in New York. His tomb sits at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, at one of the highest points in Riverside Park, and is the largest mausoleum in North America. It is also a remarkable testament to the high esteem in which Grant was held after his death (despite two terms as president marked by scandal and perceived mediocrity) as well as to New York’s growing obsession in the 1890s with becoming the premiere American city. First, New York beat out other places Grant had lived—including Galena, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri—for the right to bury the president. Then, the Grant Memorial Association held two contests to determine who would design the structure, the second contest being held because none of the entries the first time around was deemed grand enough. The tomb, by John Duncan, is modeled on the mausoleum at Halicanarssus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In 1897, the tomb was officially opened and it fast became the leading tourist attraction in the city. Indeed, more people visited Grant’s Tomb in the early years of the Twentieth Century than went to the Statue of Liberty.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Postcard Thursday: TONIGHT! Footprints in New York at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library

A short and sweet reminder today that we'll be speaking at the Mid-Manhattan Library (455 Fifth Ave @ 40th Street) tonight at 6:30PM. The talk is free and will feature nearly 100 images (like the one below), many of them drawn from the collections of the NYPL.

Hope to see you there! Read more about the event on Facebook -- and follow us there if you haven't already:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Fraunces Tavern + Talk at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library

courtesy of the New York Public Library
Today's postcard comes from the voluminous digital archive of the New York Public Library ( We will be drawing on this collection for a number of images for our talk a week from today at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the library (more details below).

Fraunces Tavern was originally built as the home of Stephen DeLancey and his family, who are the subjects of the second chapter of Footprints in New York. As we write:
In 1700, Stephen married Anne van Cortlandt, the daughter of the former mayor and granddaughter of Oloff Stevenson van Cortlandt, whose Stone Street brewery had made him one of the richest early colonists.

As a wedding present, Stephen and Anne received a lot at Broad and Pearl Streets, one of the newest and best pieces of property in the city. Fourteen years earlier...the shoreline on the east side of Pearl Street had been back-filled to create new lots. Anne’s father, Stephanus van Cortlandt, was mayor at the time, and he’d purchased the corner property. Having never developed the land, he now presented it to Stephen and Anne, though they, too, would leave the lot undeveloped for almost two decades.... In 1719, Stephen applied for a strip of land on Pearl Street, three-and-a-half feet wide, to straighten his lot so that he might “build a large brick house, etc.” 
By 1720, the Pearl Street house was likely finished, and would have been the family seat until Stephen built their next home, ca. 1730, on Broadway near Thames Street.... It was a large house—a mansion, really, with fourteen fireplaces and a huge kitchen. I can picture the DeLancey children running around inside the it’s jarring that the first thing I encounter upon entering the Pearl Street building is a sign for whiskey. 
But I shouldn’t be surprised—no one comes here anymore because it was Stephen DeLancey’s house; they come because this is Fraunces Tavern, George Washington’s final headquarters during the Revolutionary War. It’s this notoriety that has marked the building’s place in history. In some form or another, it has served as a tavern ever since.
Want to know more? Join us next Thursday as we explore all the chapters of Footprints in New York is a fast-paced, image-laden talk at the New York Public Library's Mid-Manhattan Library (40th Street and Fifth Avenue, across from the famous main branch).

We'll highlight some of our favorite stories from the book, including exploring the last days of Alexander Hamilton, the Edgar Allan Poe house in the Bronx, and Jane Jacobs's fight to save Soho.

 We look forward to seeing you there! Copies of both Footprints in New York and Inside the Apple will be available for purchase and signing.

Read more about the event on Facebook -- and follow us there if you haven't already:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Longacre Square

If you had purchased this postcard exactly 112 years ago today, on April 7, 1904, you might have been doing so to commemorate the end of an era. For on April 8, the official name of the little triangle of land depicted here was changed from Longacre Square to Times Square.

As we write in Inside the Apple, at the time, the IRT was hard at work building the first subway line in the city. At the same time, the subway's main backer--financier August Belmont--was
lobbying his friend Adolph Ochs, the publisher of the New York Times, to relocate his paper’s headquarters to Longacre Square. 
In theory, it was enough that the new subway connected the growing residential neighborhoods on the Upper West Side and Harlem to the city’s business district below City Hall. However, Belmont realized that to make the subway indispensable, he needed to develop real estate along the 42nd Street corridor as its own, independent business district. So, he turned to Ochs and encouraged him to consider building the Times a new all-in-one editorial and printing plant along the path of the IRT. 
Ochs had purchased a controlling interest in the Times in 1896 and quickly boosted the paper’s circulation (by dropping the price to a penny) while raising the standard of its journalism. Belmont had long held a financial stake in the paper and saw the marriage of the newspaper and his new subway as a mutually beneficial enterprise.... 
To sweeten the deal, Belmont persuaded Mayor McClellan to rename Longacre Square after its new tenant. One of the Times’ chief rivals, James Gordon Bennett Jr.’s New York Herald, had moved to 34th Street in 1894 and their square soon became Herald Square. Belmont argued that the Times deserved the same courtesy; on April 8, 1904, Mayor McClellan presided over the opening of Times Square.
The Times Building was the second-tallest skyscraper in the city in 1904 and the paper boasted that it could be seen from 12 miles away. This, of course, made it an ideal spot to shoot off New Year's Eve fireworks. Three years later, the fireworks were nixed in favor of the famous ball drop.

Of course, today Times Square is known for a lot more than just the newspaper (which is still headquartered in the neighborhood, but no longer on the square). Even when it was still Longacre Square, the area was already becoming the center of the city's theater district.

The Olympia Theater (image courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

Again, from Inside the Apple:
In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein opened the Olympia Theater on 45th Street, just around the corner from what was still called Longacre Square.... Though most theaters centered on Union and Madison Squares, the new Metropolitan Opera House had opened in 1883 at Broadway and 39th Street and a cluster of other theaters soon joined it. However, no one before Hammerstein wanted to build farther north. Longacre Square was known for livery stables and—much more important for theater-goers—its lack of electric lights, leading some to call it the “thieves’ lair.” Hammerstein, however, needed lots of space for his next venture, and land north of 42nd Street was cheap. The Olympia promised something for everyone: restaurants, opera, comedies—even a Turkish bath. Most of these features never came to fruition, but the theater itself was a success, proving that audiences would travel to 42nd Street to see a show. 
In 1900, Hammerstein opened the Republic on 42nd Street. Three years later, the New Amsterdam had opened across the street, the Lyric a few doors down, and the Lyceum on 45th Street; by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, serious theater goers had abandoned Union Square and were happily coming to the new Broadway theater district. In 1902, the area received a new appellation, “The Great White Way.”
(Why is it called "The Great White Way"? You'll have to read the book to find out.....)

* * * *


On Thursday, April 21 at 6:30pm, we'll be at the Mid-Manhattan Library (455 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the main research branch) talking about Footprints in New York.

We hope you can join us! Our illustrated lecture will look at some of our favorite stories from the book and highlight some of New York's most interesting characters, from Alexander Hamilton to Jane Jacobs to Edgar Allan Poe.

Copies of both Footprints in New York and Inside the Apple will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

Read more about the event on Facebook -- and follow us there if you haven't already:

Friday, April 1, 2016

Thursday, April 21, at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library

Postcard Thursday was preempted this week to bring the following announcement:

On Thursday, April 21 at 6:30pm, we'll be at the Mid-Manhattan Library (455 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the main research branch) talking about Footprints in New York.

We hope you can join us! Our illustrated lecture will look at some of our favorite stories from the book and highlight some of New York's most interesting characters, from Alexander Hamilton to Jane Jacobs to Edgar Allan Poe.

Copies of both Footprints in New York and Inside the Apple will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

Read more about the event on Facebook -- and follow us there if you haven't already:

...and speaking of Edgar Allan Poe, since today is April Fool's, here's a story we ran some time ago about Poe's balloon hoax:, a prank that Poe pulled on The New York Sun.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, March 25, 1911
Tomorrow, March 25, marks the anniversary of the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. It remains one of the deadliest industrial fires in American history and a turning point for worker safety and unionization in America.

The factory was predominantly staffed with young women who lived in Little Italy and the Lower East Side, and when we are giving walking tours of those neighborhoods, our clients are sometimes surprised to discover that the factory was in Greenwich Village. So much of that neighborhood—including the Asch Building, where the fire occurred—is now dominated by NYU that it is easy to forget that the stretch of the Village on both sides of Broadway was once a vital part of New York’s garment industry. In Inside the Apple we note:

Long before the fire broke out, the factory was infamous for its poor labor practices. In 1909, New York’s largest job action, known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” began when workers walked off the job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. For months, the majority of the city’s shirtwaist factories were crippled by the strike, but the factory owners refused to budge. Though the International Ladies Garment Workers Union brokered a settlement in 1910 that stopped short of forcing the recognition of their union, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, refused to agree to it. The factory’s workers went back to work having gained few concessions. 
On the day of the fire, a Saturday, only about half of the factory’s 500 employees had come to work. Just as the afternoon shift was ending, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Typical of garment centers of the day, the factory floor was a virtual tinderbox, with clothes, scraps of cloth, and unswept trimmings everywhere. When the fire started, the majority of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape,* but those on the ninth floor had been locked in. This was done, some speculated, to cut down on unauthorized breaks, though it is also likely that it kept union organizers off the factory floor. Soon the elevators stopped working, which meant that the only remaining exit was the fire escape. Tragically, the fire escape had been poorly installed and maintained, and when too many young women began to climb down, it collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plunging to their death. The rest of the women on the ninth floor were then faced with jumping out of windows or waiting to burn to death. Many chose the former, raining down on the assembled crowd from above. The fire department did arrive, but as their ladders reached no higher than the sixth floor, it did little to save the women. In the end, 146 women died, most of them at the scene—some were only thirteen years old.
* Blanck and Harris, the owners, were able to get up to the roof and escape from there.

The building today, courtesy of Google street view

Though the fire forced the Triangle's owners to abandon the factory, the building still stands at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Then known as the Asch Building, it was renovated and reopened the next year. However, a New York Times article from 1913 noted that the building's tenants hadn't learned many lessons from the fire -- "they were, in fact, heaping its floors with scraps of clothing and flimsy material... and permitting smokers to stand near these heaps--(revealing) once more the singular carelessness of humanity." The building was purchased by NYU in 1929 and renamed the Brown Building; today, it houses university classrooms.

This post in adapted from an earlier entry in 2009, and one marking the centennial of the fire in 2011.

* * * *


Thursday, April 21, at 6:30pm

we will be talking about Footprints in New York at
The Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library

details to come


Read more about NYC history in


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