Thursday, July 30, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Morningside Heights

This image, produced around 1915, shows the first phase of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (center), St. Luke's Hospital (to the right), and the oldest building in Morningside Heights, the Leake and Watts orphan house (the brick building to the left).

The Leake and Watts building (which blocks where the south transept of the cathedral would go if it were ever to be built), has an odd history. On June 2, 1827, merchant John George Leake passed away at age 75. He had no children or other lineal heirs, so he decided to leave his money to Robert Watts, the son of his best friend, John Watts. There was only one catch: Robert Watts would have to change his last name to Leake in order to claim the inheritance.

It is a little unclear what happened next, but before Robert Watts could get the courts to legally change his name he died of, in the words of one writer, "a severe cold contracted during a game of ball." John Watts was then faced with the dilemma. He didn't really want the money—after all, his son had forsaken him to become John George Leake's heir—but what was he going to do with it?

It turned out that had his son refused the inheritance in the first place, the money would have gone to found an orphanage. So John Watts approached the state to relinquish his claim on the money. In 1831, Leake and Watts Orphan House was founded and in 1843, they moved into their home in Morningside Heights. (At the end of the 19th century, a group of John George Leake's distant relatives wormed out of the woodwork to claim that they had been defrauded of their rightful inheritance. It took some time, but eventually their case was dismissed.)

The early history of the cathedral is almost as convoluted. As we write in Footprints in New York:
The building of St. John the Divine was plagued with problems from the start. The trustees, under [JP Morgan's] guidance, hosted a design competition, ultimately selecting the firm of Heins & La Farge, even though their design was no one’s first choice.

Work on the cathedral didn’t begin until the spring of 1893, and immediately the crew ran into trouble. A foundation that should have taken months to lay ended up taking years. Without anything to show for it, the cathedral was already over budget, so Morgan wrote a check for $500,000, “to get us out of the hole”—literally and figuratively. In 1903, the giant granite columns of the apse were hoisted into place, but by 1905, only one chapel had been completed. Then, in 1907, George Heins died of meningitis. Though the trustees were legally able to break their contract, they allowed La Farge to continue until the apsidal end of the church was complete. This small portion of the cathedral, known as the choir, was consecrated on April 19, 1911. With this milestone behind them, the trustees ended their relationship with Heins & La Farge and hired Ralph Adams Cram to finish the church.
Cram's nave of the church, completed in 1941, was the last major work done on the church, which is still decades away from completion—if, indeed, that day ever comes.



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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Paramount Building


If you stand in the middle of Times Square, you'll immediately notice two things: first, that's a lot of costumed Elmos in such a small space; and, second, one building isn't covered in brightly lit advertising: the Paramount Building.

That advertising is actually required by law:
There shall be a minimum of one illuminated sign with a surface area of not less than 1,000 square feet for each 50 linear feet, or part thereof, of street frontage.
Somehow, the Paramount Building--perhaps due to its landmark status--circumvents the ordinance.

Built in 1926, the Paramount Building was the headquarters of the motion picture company of the same name. Designed by the firm of Rapp and Rapp, the building's pyramidal top was both a response to New York's restrictive 1915 step-back zoning law as well as an homage to the Paramount logo--a mountain topped with stars. In the new building, Rapp and Rapp placed that stars on the four-faced clock atop the tower.

Offices for Paramount were located on the upper stories of the building with a large movie house on the ground floor, designed to mimic the Paris Opera. Later, to boost revenues, Paramount added live shows, including the New Year's Eve 1942 appearance by Frank Sinatra that helped prove he was a superstar. Sinatra came on after Benny Goodman, and Goodman later recalled: “I introduced Sinatra and I thought the goddamned building was going to cave in. I never heard such a commotion with people running down to the stage, screaming and nearly knocking me off the ramp. All this for a fellow I never heard of.”

During World War II, the famous clock was painted black (as were many windows in midtown) to guard against Nazi bombing raids. The clock faces were not restored until 1996.

In 1953, crowds gathered at the Paramount to see the newest Vincent Price vehicle: House of Wax in brand-new 3D.

The theater finally closed in 1964; the space was later leased to the New York Times  and today houses the Hard Rock Cafe. The building was landmarked in 1988.


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Joe DiMaggio's Hitting Streak


On July 16, 1941, New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio hit safely in his 56th consecutive game, setting a Major League record that has never been broken.

DiMaggio, the son of an immigrant from Sicily, hailed from San Francisco, and grew up near Fisherman's Wharf, where his father worked. As he recalled in his memoir:
Baseball to me in those days was merely an excuse to get away from the house and away from the chores of fishing. When Pop gave up trying to make me work on the boat, I gave up playing baseball in the sand patch by the Wharf, and tried my hand at selling newspapers, a job my father declared suited me perfectly since it consisted mostly of standing still and shouting. 
Vince, who had been far more successful than I in baseball, had quit high school to help support the family, although my mother’s advice was to continue his education. Two years later, I followed Vince. Up to the time my baseball playing had been sketchy. In fact, I almost stopped playing when I was 14. Our home was by Fisherman’s Wharf, close to the old North Beach playground, where I had my first baseball experience at the age of ten. I was third baseman in those days and played well enough to be on the usual teams with the kids around my block. 
Pop, having despaired of my ever becoming a fisherman, urged me to study bookkeeping. ‘It’s a job you can do sitting down,’ said Pop significantly, for he was convinced I was lazy.
After Joe became a superstar, he and his brothers Vince and Dom opened up the restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf shown in today's postcard, mostly as a way to get their father to retire. It's interesting that while DiMaggio spelled his name with no space between the "Di" and the "Maggio," there's not only a space on the marquee of the restaurant but on most of his baseball cards. It's also interesting that on his earliest cards it's "De Maggio" and that, on some, the manufacturers felt the need to put Joe in quotation marks since it was a nickname.


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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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Beginning of the Canyon of Heroes

Since tomorrow the U.S. women's soccer team is being feted with a ticker tape parade, we searched our archives high and low for a postcard of a parade up Broadway, but came up short. (An internet search revealed that few, if any, commemorative postcards of parades have been issued.)


Here, instead, is the image of the building that marks the beginning of the so-called "Canyon of Heroes": the Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House on Bowling Green, which sits at the foot of Broadway in the Financial District. Designed by Cass Gilbert and built between 1899 and 1907, the building is a remarkable expression of Beaux-Arts design, and we'll write more about it in a future blog post.

For now, here's our previous write-up of the history of the ticker tape parade:
[In 1886], the official grand opening [of the Statue of Liberty] in the harbor was followed by a parade up Broadway from Battery Park. It was during that parade that some enterprising office worker in one of the brokerage houses on Broadway decided to turn his company’s used ticker tape into confetti. Thus was born the ticker tape parade, an enduring New York tradition.
The parades took a while to catch on. The next one was for Admiral Dewey, hero of the Spanish-American War, following his return from Manila. Then ten years went by before the next parade, for Jack Binns, the radio operator of the RMS Republic. (The Republic had struck the SS Florida in January; because the ship was equipped with wireless radio, Binns was able to send a Mayday signal and the passengers and crew were rescued.) 
In the 1920s ticker tape parades really started to take off. The parades, under the purview of the mayor’s office, were mostly given to arriving dignitaries, sports heroes, or pioneers in flight. The two busiest years were 1951 and 1962, which each had 9 parades. In 1962, honorees were as diverse as John Glenn, the New York Yankees, and Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus.
The Yankees hold the record for most parades at eight. While a handful of individuals have been feted twice (including Glenn), only one person has been honored three times—Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the polar aviator and explorer
If you find yourself in Lower Manhattan, take a stroll up Broadway from Battery Park. All the recipients of ticker tape parades are commemorated in plaques in the sidewalk.
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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, July 2, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Manhattan Sightseeing Cars and the Times Tower

Happy Actual Independence Day!


Today's postcard was mailed exactly ninety-seven years ago on July 2, 1908. It depicts what was then one of New York's most noted skyscrapers, the Times Tower, which had been erected a few years earlier in Times Square. Today, that building's been so altered that it is virtually unrecognizable, but billions of people around the world know it well: it's the spot where the ball drops on New Year's Eve. (You can just see the pole sticking out of the frame at the top of the image.)

This image, however, isn't about the Times Tower -- it shows the fleet of sightseeing cars that left from Times Square to take tourists around the city.



It's hard the read the reverse, but underneath the personal message, it offers an Uptown trip for $1 leaving four times a day or a Chinatown trip twice each evening for $2, including "all expenses." Chinatown tours became very popular at the turn of the 20th century, with visitors being taken to Chinese temples ("joss houses"), restaurants, and sometimes opium dens, almost all of which had been set up exclusively for the tourist trade. These tourist visits upset the police a great deal -- and all of New York's xenophobes, who were trying to force Chinese immigrants to go back to China. Two years later, the police summoned the five sightseeing companies that sold evening trips to Chinatown and told them to cut it out. As The New York Times reported, the police were attempting to make Chinatown a "clean colony," and the tourist excursions were sending the wrong signal. Moreover, the paper of record noted that "the Chinaman is a mysterious being, and there is no telling when he may start a rumpus."

To the best of our knowledge, any police admonition to the sightseeing companies was short lived, and Chinatown remained a key destination for out-of-towners, many of whom had probably never experienced Chinese cuisine or culture before.

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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
from independent bookstores across the country.



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




Friday, June 26, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Cylcone

Yikes! Another Postcard Thursday on Friday? We won't make a habit of it, we promise.

Nor will we make habit out of recycling material, but today is the birthday of Coney Island's famous Cyclone roller coaster, so below is the PT post we put up a year ago.

However, while we have your attention -- there are still a few slots left for our Upper Central Park walking tour this Sunday, June 28, at 1pm. Follow this link for all the details and registration information: 


Fans of wooden roller coasters probably already know that today is the 88th birthday of the Cyclone, which opened on June 26, 1927, and is still going strong.

However, the history of roller coasters at Coney Island is much older than the Cyclone; in fact, America's first roller coaster, the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway, opened on June 6, 1884, at an amusement park just off the boardwalk.

The switchback was the brainchild of LaMarcus A. Thompson. Visitors would climb to the top of a tower and board a car that then dropped six hundred feet over an undulating track. At the far end the car would be "switched back" to another track and returned to the tower. Thompson envisioned his ride as wholesome family entertainment -- in a period when amusement parks were often seen as dens of sin and iniquity -- and the cars, traveling at an "invigorating" six miles per hour, provided great views of the Coney Island beach and boardwalk. He charged 5 cents a ride and made back the $1600 he'd invested in the roller coaster in less than three weeks.

It is unclear how long the Switchback Railway lasted at Coney Island (or even precisely where it stood). Despite its early success, Thompson soon faced a host of competitors and his original coaster may only have stood for three years.

By the 1920s, roller coasters were all the rage at Coney Island, and the Cyclone was just one among a number of rides with names like the Tornado and the Thunderbolt.

Of course, when we think of Coney Island roller coasters, we think of this:


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Read more about Coney Island in
Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet, you can order it from independent bookstores across the country




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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Postcard Thursday: New York City Clubs


Did you know that a little over a century ago, there were 157 private membership clubs in New York City, with over 38,000 combined members?

James wrote a piece on the proliferation (and, then, steady decline) of these clubs for Curbed this week. From alumni clubs like Yale and Harvard to arts clubs such as the Players and National Arts clubs on Gramercy Park to the rarefied halls of the Union and University clubs, these social organizations served as an important part of the framework of New York's high society.

Read all about it at http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/17/the_rise_and_fall_of_new_york_citys_private_social_clubs.php


What does this image have to do with New York City clubs? Nothing at all -- it's an arch in Central Park. But we posted it here to remind you that we're giving a tour on Sunday, June 28, at 1:00pm, of the northern section of the park. Read about it and make reservations by following this link: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2015/06/public-walking-tour-exploring-upper.html


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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
from independent bookstores across the country.



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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Ferris Wheel at the 1964 World's Fair


While the movie Tomorrowland hasn't lived up to box office expectations, it does feature a wonderful sequence at the beginning at the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows. The scenes -- a mix of on location and CGI -- feature a number of real locations from the fair (including Disney's Carousel of Progress and "It's a Small World"), but alas, not one of our personal favorites: The Uniroyal Ferris Wheel.

The first Ferris wheel at the 1893 World's Fair.
Ferris wheels were first introduced at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, the so-called "White City" World's Fair, and soon became a staple of amusement parks. To showcase its products outside the Travel and Transportation pavilion (where the Queens Zoo is now located), the Uniroyal Tire Company erected an 86-foot-tall Ferris wheel emblazoned with its logo and then-name "US ROYAL." As at many carnivals and fairs, the Ferris wheel was a hit in that it gave fair-goers a great view of the fairgrounds from the top. According to a 1997 article in the Detroit News, dignitaries such as the Shah of Iran and Jackie Kennedy rode the wheel on their trips to the fair.

After the fair's closing in 1965, the wheel was dismantled and shipped back to Michigan, where it was reassembled (sans gondolas) next to Uniroyal's sales office. Though that office later moved, the wheel remains. We snapped this picture last year:


While the wheel is today just a roadside oddity, it also serves as a reminder of the far-reaching marketing potential of these fairs. How many of the 51 million people who visited Flushing Meadows chose Uniroyal Tires after seeing this?

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ICYMI: We're giving a tour of Upper Central Park on Sunday, June 28th. Details are at http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2015/06/public-walking-tour-exploring-upper.html

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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
from independent bookstores across the country.



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



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Public Walking Tour: Exploring Upper Central Park | June 28 at 1PM

Exploring Upper Central Park

A Walking Tour with Michelle and James Nevius

authors of Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York
SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 1:00 - 3:00PM

Kick off your summer by joining us on a ramble through the parts of Central Park that are often left off the itineraries of visitors and New Yorkers alike. We'll stroll the picturesque North Woods, climb the Great Hill, see the oldest building in the park, which was built for the War of 1812, visit the Harlem Meer and Conservatory Gardens, and even track down the memorial to the "Founder of Greater New York City," Andrew Haswell Green.

$20 per person or $30 if you'd also like a copy of "Footprints in New York" (a great deal!)

TO RESERVE:
email footprintsinnewyork@gmail.com
with your
  • name
  • number in your party
  • how many people are $20 (no book) and how many are $30 (with book)
  • a cell number where we can reach in case anything changes
THE MEETING PLACE WILL BE EMAILED TO YOU WHEN YOU RESERVE.

 
PS: If you missed the Alexander Hamilton walk last month, it is available as a private booking. Visit www.walknyc.com/lm.html to read about the area and just mention Alexander Hamilton when you make your reservation!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Happy Birthday, George III



On June 4, 1738, the future King George III was born at Norfolk House in London. He became king in 1760 on the death of his grandfather, George II (his father had already passed away, putting him next in the line for the throne) and ruled for 60 years, making him at the time the longest reigning monarch. Of course, in America his reign ended much earlier--in New York City on July 9, 1776, when New York became the thirteenth and final colony to ratify the Declaration of Independence.

The above postcard was issued in 1909 as part of the massive Hudson-Fulton Celebration that year. One of the largest parties New York has ever thrown, the festival marked three centuries since Henry Hudson's arrival in New York Harbor and a hundred years since Robert Fulton's successful launch of the steamship Claremont.

One part of the celebration was a parade with floats depicting key scenes from New York history. In the image above, angry colonists are shown tearing down George III's statue in Bowling Green Park on the evening of July 9, 1776, having just heard the Declaration of Independence for the first time. The image is remarkably accurate considering how many depictions of the event are fanciful:



Interested in seeing this spot in person? Check out our Lower Manhattan tour, which can be customized to focus on colonial/Revolutionary War history.

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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
from independent bookstores across the country.



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

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