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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge

Tuesday passed with very little fanfare, but it was the 133rd birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge, the first of the East River crossings to be built, and the focus of many books, films, and even an Italian gum. (And a full chapter in both Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York.)

May 24 also happens to be the birthday of Queen Victoria, and back in 1883 when the bridge opened, this conjunction of dates proved to be a problem.

Many of the thousands of workers who constructed the bridge between 1869 and 1883 were Irish and they had no great love for the queen. Victoria's ministers were seen as having obstructed aid to the Irish during the great potato famine (which began in 1845) and rumors circulated that the queen had donated only £5 to the Irish -- and on the same day she'd given the same amount to a dog shelter. That wasn't true, but it didn't matter much to New York's large Irish population, who tried to persuade the city to postpone the bridge's opening ceremonies to a different day. The city refused but then began to worry that the bridge workers would cause a disturbance and had to pay for extra police to quell any possible riots.

The grand opening -- an elaborate ceremony that included President Chester A. Arthur, Governor Grover Cleveland, and the mayors of New York and Brooklyn (then still independent cities) -- went smoothly with no violence. Indeed, the biggest problem came a week later when a throng of pedestrians (who had paid a penny each to cross the span) got scared and cried out that the bridge was collapsing, In the ensuing melee, a dozen people were trampled to death.

There's a chapter in Footprints about Seth Low that goes into much greater detail about the bridge's opening day that's worth a look.


for our 3rd Annual Alexander Hamilton Memorial Day Weekend Walk

Read all about it and reserve at

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





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