GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free updates here:

GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free email here:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The Apollo Theater

On January 26, 1934, the Apollo Theater opened on 125th Street in Harlem. Though the building it was housed in was twenty years old, the new theater reflected the changing demographics of the neighborhood. Previously known as the Harlem Opera House, the theater had presented a long-running burlesque show to an all-white audience. With its rebirth as the Apollo, the space would now welcome black audiences and changing its programming accordingly.

As we write in Inside the Apple:
The Apollo Theater, originally a whites-only burlesque house, reopened in 1934 with “Jazz a la Carte” and soon inaugurated its famed Amateur Night. One early winner, Ella Fitzgerald, became a fixture on the Harlem music scene with a regular gig at the Savoy Ballroom. By the mid-1930s, every prominent black musician in America—including Eubie Blake, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Fletcher Henderson, and Dinah Washington—was performing in Harlem. Indeed, many of these musicians could perform nowhere else, as strict musicians’ union codes kept them from downtown theaters because of their race.

A major refurbishment in 1985 launched "Showtime at the Apollo" as a national television program; more recent renovations have restored the facade and interior to their 1930s glory.

* * * *

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe! Born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Poe would, in his short life, become one of the most important American writers of all time. He invented the modern detective story, was an early champion of not just horror but science fiction, was a brilliant poet, and a cunning hoaxster.

Below are some highlights from posts we've done about Poe over the years. Of course, he also has an entire chapter in Footprints in New York, so pick up a copy today!

Edgar Allan Poe didn't live in New York City all that long, but he left an indelible stamp. Of all the places he lived, only one still survives, Poe Cottage in the Bronx. The postcard above depicts what is considered by many to be Poe's most important NYC residence -- the place where he wrote "The Raven."

As we write in Footprints in New York:
As [Poe's wife] Virginia’s tuberculosis worsened in 1844, the Poes took the only advice most doctors could give: move out of the city and get her into cleaner air.... [T]hey rented rooms from Patrick and Mary Brennan in “an old-fashioned, double-framed” farmhouse on the west side on what would eventually be 84th Street. The house was surrounded by 216 acres of woods. According to one of Poe’s earliest biographers, the family “received no visitors, and took their meals in their room by themselves.” Mrs. Brennan recalled Poe as a “shy, solitary, taciturn person, fond of rambling alone through the woods or of sitting on a favorite stump of a tree near the banks of the Hudson River.” In Poe’s era, Riverside Park had not been created, and the waterfront was not yet developed this far north. This meant Poe probably didn’t actually scramble all the way down the Hudson’s banks for his reveries; he watched the river drift by from the top of [a nearby outcropping of rock known as] Mount Tom.
courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York

The Poes’ room—unaltered until the house was torn down in 1888— was small but filled with light, having windows that faced the river on one side and the Brennans’ forest on the other. Years later, people who knew the house recollected that the Poes’ room was exactly like the chamber in “The Raven,” complete with the “pallid bust of Pallas” above the door. This may have been wishful thinking, but the house does seem, from photos and drawings, to have been a pleasant place. Pleasant enough, in retrospect, to make one almost forget the Poes’ straitened circumstances. Poe had difficulty making the rent. For much of his marriage, he had trouble putting food on the table. When Poe won a $225 judgment in a libel lawsuit, he used the money to buy some furnishings and a new suit; he could never afford to own more than one suit at a time, and the previous one was probably beyond repair.
Most inconveniently, the Brennan house’s distance from the city may have provided fresh air, but it also meant that any time Poe needed to meet with a publisher, he either had to take a stagecoach down the Bloomingdale Road—a costly inconvenience—or walk the ten miles round-trip.

* * * *
Poe Cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx; courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Poe Cottage, the third-oldest building in the Bronx, is open for visitors on weekends. If you want to travel farther afield, you can actually stay in a full-sized replica (above) of the house at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan.

* * * *

The morning of April 13, 1844, New Yorkers awoke to find an astonishing headline in the New York Sun:
The article went on to detail how Monck Mason and his traveling companions had set off from England in the gas-filled balloon Victoria and landed in Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, three days later. An amazing triumph, Monck's flight promised to revolutionize transportation and communication.

Of course, it wasn't true. Two days later, the Sun had to publish the following retraction:
The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible. 
The hoax was the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Nine years earlier, the Sun had perpetrated the "Great Moon Hoax," and, as Matthew Goodman argues in his book The Sun and the Moon, Poe was annoyed at the newspaper for, in his mind, appropriating an idea from one of his own short stories for that series. The balloon hoax may have been Poe's way of getting back at the newspaper. If Poe is to be believed, the balloon hoax brought on a surge in sales for the Sun--and thus would have caused them great embarrassment when the story had to be retracted. (There's some thought that it was Poe who wrote the retraction, as well.)

The complete balloon hoax can be read online at
* * * *

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Hamilton on Wall Street

courtesy of the New York Public Library

Yesterday, January 11, marked Alexander Hamilton's birthday. He was born either in 1755 or 1757, the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar" (in President John Adams's low estimation) on Nevis in the Caribbean. As a child, he moved to St. Croix and then, as a teenager, to New York, where he enrolled in King's College (later Columbia University) in downtown Manhattan.

Of course, you can read all about Hamilton's extensive life in New York in Footprints in New York (or see that impossible-to-get-tickets-to musical on Broadway).

For decades after Hamilton was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, he was memorialized around the city, perhaps no place more famously than in the Merchants Exchange on Wall Street. In the spring of 1835, a group of traders erected a fifteen-foot marble statue (shown above) of Hamilton that had been sculpted by Robert Ball Hughes. The former Treasury Secretary's republican values are symbolized by the toga he wears over his suit. The scroll in his hand may be one of the many laws Hamilton helped pass that created the American financial industry.

This statue was destroyed just eight months after it was unveiled in the Great Fire of 1835. As we write in Inside the Apple:
On the night of December 16, 1835, a gas line broke in a dry goods store near Hanover Square in the Financial District; the gas, ignited by a coal stove, caused the store to explode and the ensuing fire quickly fanned southward along Stone Street and northeast toward Wall Street. Not only was it the worst fire in New York’s history, it wiped away almost all of the remaining traces of the old Dutch and British colonial city.... 
The blaze raged for over a day, destroying over 600 buildings in about 50 acres of the old city, including the home of the New York Stock Exchange, the old city post office, and many warehouses and counting houses on which the city depended. Though the neighborhood was still a mix of commercial and residential structures, fortunately only two people died.
Alexander Hamilton in Central Park
Despite a valiant attempt to save the marble Hamilton statue, it was destroyed along with the Merchants Exchange. Forty-five years later, a new statue was paid for
by Hamilton’s youngest son, John C. Hamilton, and it stands in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This remarkable in that it is made entirely of granite—not the easiest stone to carve—and it has long been thought that John C. Hamilton commissioned the work out of this durable stone so that no matter what calamities might befall Central Park, his father’s statue would endure.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City

Yesterday, James had a piece in CURBED, the online real estate and architecture journal, about Frank Lloyd Wright's least-understood concept, "Broadacre City," a type of suburban Utopia he first envisioned in the 1930s.

As James writes in the story:
If you read enough about Frank Lloyd Wright, a standard narrative begins to emerge: There’s early Wright, where the brash young architect breaks from his Chicago School mentors to create the Prairie style and design such early icons as the Robie House in Chicago and Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. Then there’s late Wright, the mature genius who brought us Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum. In between, there’s a fallow period of personal scandal, a slowdown in commissions, and oddball musings, such as his 1932 plan for a utopian, libertarian community he called Broadacre City.

Though Wright remains America’s most famous architect, his Broadacre theories are often relegated to a footnote of his career; indeed, many biographies don’t mention them at all. But what if the Broadacre plan—a sweeping, individualized American “anti-city” that fused Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian ideals into a seamless, Wright-designed, suburban landscape—was, in fact, the architect’s most enduring idea?

(And read more about the architect's famous Guggenheim Museum commission at

Search This Blog

Blog Archive