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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Presentation at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

On Monday, October 5, we will be giving a "Tenement Talk" at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 6:30 p.m.

The talk, illustrated with archival photos, prints, and paintings, will look at New York during the period between 1863 and the mid-1930s -- the years that the Tenement Museum's property, 97 Orchard Street, was an active apartment building. Instead of focusing on the immigrant history of the Lower East Side, we'll instead take a step back to look at the bigger picture, focusing on stories from Inside the Apple from that same era that show how the city was growing and changing during the Gilded Age, the City Beautiful era, and the Great Depression.

To RSVP for the talk, visit the Tenement Museum's website at The talk will take place at the museum's visitors center at 108 Orchard Street, just south of Delancey Street; complete directions are on the museum's site.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wizards of Waverly Place (or, is that Bleecker Street?)

Being in the completely wrong demographic, the Disney tween phenomenon Wizards of Waverly Place somehow escaped our attention until recently. But this summer while touring through Greenwich Village, one of our younger clients was very excited to be on the same street as the fictional Russo family. Then we saw the huge ratings numbers the Wizards movie pulled in the first week in September--at 11.4 million viewers, its premiere was the most-watched cable broadcast of 2009--making us even more curious. So we watched a few episodes from the first two seasons (season three premieres October 9) to see how Disney's fictional Greenwich Village stacked up against the real thing.

For those not in the know, Wizards revolves around star Selena Gomez, who plays Alex Russo, the middle child in a wizarding family. Her father, an ex-wizard, now runs a sandwich shop called the Waverly Sub Station, which--as the name suggests--is supposed to be reminiscent of a subway car/station. How appetizing! (It actually looks to us more like a PATH train station, if that helps.) The father is teaching the three kids magic and ultimately they will have to battle it out in some sort of wizarding comepetition: the winner keeps his or her powers; the losers become mortal.

Like so many half-hour comedies set in New York, the show is filmed entirely on a sound stage in Hollywood. Only exterior establishing shots are done in the city, and seem to consist mostly of stock footage. (Sometimes the cast is seen on Waverly Place, but that, too, is a set, which the producers have also turned into a pedestrian-only alleyway. At least the fake corner of Bedford and Grove on Friends had vehicular traffic.)

Bayard-Condict Building by B. Tse on flickr.

The most notable building seen in these establishing shots is in the opening credits; at the very end, the camera pulls back from the Waverly Sub Station to reveal.... that's its in the ground floor of the Bayard-Condict Building. Bayard-Condict is one of the city's greatest skyscrapers, not only for its elegant styling, but also because it was designed by Louis Sullivan, one of America's finest architects. Finished in 1899, it is the only Sullivan building in New York and is well worth a visit. However, you won't find it on Waverly Place: it's located at 65 Bleecker Street, where Crosby Street dead ends.

The other major location where an actual New York facade is used is the school the young wizards attend, the fictional Tribeca Prep. It took us awhile to figure out what school they were using for the establishing shots,* but it turns out to be P.S. 40, an elementary school at 320 East 20th Street, which is right on the outskirts of Stuyvesant Town and nowhere near Tribeca. Ah, Hollywood. Fun fact about P.S. 40: it's named after Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the acclaimed artist, who went to its predecessor, Grammar School 40, which stood on the same spot.

Other random New York City streetscapes are shown throughout the program and many of these appear to be in the Village: the fountain in Father Demo Square, MacDougal Street, and a random block-front that may actually be Waverly Place. (The movie, mostly set in the Caribbean, changed the sets slightly, making the Waverly Place facade of the Sub Station more generically like a diner.)

* Thanks, L!

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Waverly Place itself is a fascinating street, which we discuss in detail in Inside the Apple. The book also has a fun tour of the West Village. And while it doesn't include any tween TV show stops, you do get to visit the haunts of such celebrities as Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many, many more.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bombing of Wall Street

Today marks another tragic anniversary in New York City: on September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing 30 people and injuring over 200 more. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before the Oklahoma City bombing and still one of the greatest unsolved crimes of the 20th century.

As we write in Inside the Apple:

At 12:01 pm on Thursday, September 16, 1920, the church bells of Trinity Church, Wall Street, finished pealing and were suddenly replaced with another noise—the horrible sound of 500 pounds of lead sash weights exploding from a horse-drawn wagon on Wall Street....

As the smoke cleared and people began to pick themselves up from the street (including Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK’s father who was then a stockbroker), they were faced with a scene of carnage and devastation. Approximately 100 pounds of dynamite had expelled the sash weights into the air, shattering windows and tearing through nearby pedestrians. The most gruesome sight was the north wall of Morgan’s Bank. Amid the gouges in the marble from the shrapnel there was also a woman’s head—severed from its body but still wearing a proper hat.

The attack took place soon after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti and strong evidence pointed to anarchists. While books and articles have been written over the years laying out a case that anarchist Mario Buda was the bomber, he was never charged at the time and the case against him is mostly circumstantial.

Today, if you go down to the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street, you can see the old Morgan Bank building on the southeast corner (now part of "Downtown by Starck," a luxury residential building). Walk along the Wall Street side of the bank and you’ll soon come to a heavily pock-marked section of wall. These are still the original shrapnel marks from the 1920 bombing, preserved as a memorial to those who died.

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You can read much more about the 1920 bombing, J.P. Morgan, and New York in the 1920s in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. It’s available online and at all major bookstores.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Takeover of New Amsterdam

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding this week's celebration of New York's 400th birthday --the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson's arrival in our harbor in September 1609 -- another anniversary is being quietly forgotten: today marks the 345th anniversary of the English takeover of New Amsterdam and, thus, the creation of New York.

The English had been eyeing Manhattan since the establishment of the first colony in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.* When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he began earnestly contemplating how to unite his colonial empire that ranged from Maine to the Carolinas. He was especially urged on by his younger brother, James, Duke of York, who had recently invested heavily in a slave trading venture in Africa and wanted to drive a wedge in the Dutch overseas mercantile economy. While Dutch ports in Africa, the Caribbean, and the East Indies were more important, New Amsterdam was easiest to conquer.

Early in 1664, Charles II granted his brother a "Duke's Charter," essentially putting James in control of the North American colonies. In turn, James dispatched one of his loyal soldiers, Colonel Richard Nicolls, to take New Amsterdam in the name of the king.

After a brief stop in Boston, Nicolls and his small flotilla--a total of four ships and perhaps as many as 600 soldiers--arrived in Brooklyn in August 1664. Nicolls sent word to the Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, that the English were offering extremely favorable terms of surrender: if the Dutch gave up peaceably, they would be allowed to keep their property and their rights. They would simply need to swear an oath of allegiance to Charles II.

Stuyvesant put on a brief show of refusing to capitulate, but realizing he was outgunned, didn't have much food, and had even less water, the governor agreed to surrender without either side having fired a shot. At Stuyvesant's farm (or bowery, which is today honored in the street of the same name), the Dutch and the English signed 23 Articles of Capitulation, which guaranteed certain rights, including "liberty of their consciences in Divine Worship and church discipline" and that the Dutch people "shall still continue free denizens and enjoy their lands, houses, goods, ships, wheresoever they are within this country, and dispose of them as they please."

Once the Articles of Capitulation had been signed, all that remained was for Stuyvesant and the Dutch garrison to quit Fort Amsterdam, which happened on September 8, 1664. With great pomp, Stuyvesant led the garrison out of the fort and down to the East River, where a ship awaited to take them away. (They didn't get far; Stuyvesant was just heading to his uptown farm; where the soldiers went that day is unclear, though they did eventually make it back to the Netherlands.)

* Indeed, as we discuss in Inside the Apple, the English initially considered Manhattan to be in the northernmost part of the Virginia colony. When the Pilgrims first left on theMayflower for the New World, it was Manhattan they were aiming for, not Massachusetts, since they were required to settle in English territory. We'll talk more about that in a future blog post.

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The celebration surrounding New York's birthday are culminating this Sunday with Harbor Day, which marks the 400th anniversary of Hudson's arrival. One way you can celebrate is to join us for a special Knickerbocker's Walking Tour of New Amsterdam. James is a "Knickerbocker" (a descendant of many of the original Dutch settlers) and he will be leading a historical walk through all of New Amsterdam's history, from Hudson's arrival in 1609 to the surrender in 1664. All the details can be found at

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Knickerbocker's Walking Tour of New Amsterdam - Sunday, September 13

On Sunday, September 13, James will be leading a special public walking tour of the Financial District in honor of New York's 400th birthday.

James is a 10th-generation New Yorker (also known as a “Knickerbocker”), whose ancestors include the last city secretary of New Amsterdam, Johannes Nevius, and the first Dutch pastor of Brooklyn, Johannes Polhemus. A historian and guide, James will lead participants through the streets that once made up the capital of this strategic Dutch outpost and trading town.

009-The Wall.jpgStops will include the archaeological remains of old New Amsterdam, including the stadt huis block, the site of Peter Stuyvesant's grand home and garden, the place where (perhaps) Peter Minuit bought the island of Manhattan from local natives (but not for $24 worth of beads), the former home of the Wall Street wall, and other important reminders of Manhattan's early history. And since we are celebrating the arrival of Henry Hudson in September 1609, we will also stop by the Hudson River.

September 13th will be a great day to be in Lower Manhattan. The city is celebrating “Harbor Day” in honor of Henry Hudson and the city’s 400th anniversary, the Dutch will have set up special exhibits out on Governors Island, and the new exhibit of New Amsterdam history opens that day at the South Street Seaport museum. We look forward to being a part of your celebration of Dutch heritage.

Copies of
Inside the Apple will be available for sale & signing after the tour.

The tour costs $20 per person and James is offering it at three different times: 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m.

Advance reservations required. Click here to sign up for this tour – you can register and pay with our e-commerce partner,

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In other news, James will also be appearing today at 4:00 p.m (on the East Coast; others adjust accordingly) on "The Bite," Eric Gordon's internet radio show about New York City travel and tourism. You can get all the details about the show -- and tune in -- at

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