#258 Tales from TribecaThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal) is a breathtaking neighborhood of astounding architectural richness. But how much do you know about this trendy destination and its patchwork of different histories?
You'll be surprised to learn about what the many facets of this unusual place, including:
-- Lispenard's Meadow, tracing back to the property's first Dutch settlers;
-- St. John's Park, New York's first ritzy residential district;
-- Washington Market, the open-air marvel that fed New Yorkers for 150 years;
-- the Ghostbusters Fire House, a pop-culture landmark that witnessed an astonish architectural shrinkage;
-- the AT and T Long Lines Building, an imposing monolith with mysterious secrets contained inside;
and the TriBeCa Film Center, bringing a new direction to the neighborhood thanks to its co-founder Robert De Niro
PLUS: What are codfish cheeks? Pert nurses? Weekend leathers?
#257 Frozen In Time: The Great Blizzard of 1888The Bowery Boys: New York City History add
This year marks the 130th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreak havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888.
The battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with its freezing temperatures and crazy drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York’s transportation and communication systems, all completely unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow.
The storm struck on Monday, March 11, 1888, but many thousands attempted to make their way to work anyway, not knowing how severe the storm would be. It would be the worst commute in New York City history. Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts.
Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours. Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling, a power broker of New York’s Republican Party.
But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances, And for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!
This is a re-release of a show we recorded back in 2013. We think the comparisons to Hurricane Sandy that were made in that show feel even more relevant today.
#256 DUMBO: Life on Brooklyn's WaterfrontThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO) is, we think, a rather drab name for a historically significant place in Brooklyn where some of the daily habits of everyday Americans were invented.
This industrial area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges traces its story to the birth of Brooklyn itself, to the vital ferry service that linked the first residents to the marketplaces of New York. Two early (lesser) Founding Fathers even attempted to build a utopian society here called Olympia.
Instead the coastline's fate would turn to industrial and shipping concerns. Its waterfront was lined with brick warehouses, so impressive and uniform that Brooklyn received the nickname "the Walled City".
The industries based directly behind the warehouses were equally as important to the American economy. Most of their factories comprise the architecture of today's DUMBO, grand industrial fortresses of brick and concrete, towering above cobbled streets etched with railroad tracks.
The cardboard-box titan Robert Gair was so dominant in this region that his many buildings were collectively referred to as Gairville. But coffee and tea traditions also came here -- not just the manufacture, but the revolutionary ways in which people with buy and drink those beverages.
How did this early New York manufacturing district become a modern American tech hub, with luxury loft apartments and splendid coffee shops? This story of repurpose and gentrification is very different from those told in other neighborhoods.
PLUS: And, no, really, what is up with that name?
#255 The Rescue of Grand CentralThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The survival of New York City's greatest train station is no accident. The preservation of Grand Central Terminal helped create the protections for all of America's greatest landmarks.
By the 1950s, this glorious piece of architecture -- opened in 1913 as a sensational example of Beaux-Arts architecture -- was severely unloved and truly run down. It was also in danger. Long distance railroad travel was no longer fashionable and its real estate seemed better suited for a trendier skyscraper.
With the destruction of Penn Station in the mid-1960s, it seemed Grand Central was next. Let's make room for progress! So how did it manage to survive?
In this episode, we welcome our special guest Kent Barwick, the former executive director of the Municipal Art Society, who was there, in the middle of the fight to save Grand Central. He joins us to talk about the preservation battle and the importance of one particular ally -- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
It certainly took thousands of people -- idealists, activists and regular New Yorkers -- to save this iconic building. But how did this one woman of great renown and prominence bring her personal history into the building, all in earnest efforts to save it?
#254 The Destruction of Penn StationThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The original Penn Station, constructed in 1910 and designed by New York's greatest Gilded Age architectural firm, was more than just a building. Since its destruction in the 1960s, the station has become something mythic, a sacrificial lamb to the cause of historic preservation.
Amplifying its loss is the condition of present Penn Station, a fairly unpleasant underground space that uses the original Pennsylvania Railroad's tracks and tunnels. As Vincent Scully once said, "Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god. Perhaps it was really too much. One scuttles in now like a rat."
In this show we rebuild the grand, original structure in our minds -- the fourth largest building in the world when it was constructed -- and marvel at an opulence now gone.
Why was Penn Station destroyed? If you answered "MONEY!", you're only partially right. This is the story of an architectural treasure endangered -- and a city unprepared to save it. Should something so immense be saved because of its beauty even if its function has diminished or even vanished? Does the public have a say in a privately owned property?
PLUS: We show you where you can still find remnants of old Penn Station by going on a walking tour with Untapped Cities tour guide Justin Rivers.
#253 Opening Day of the New York City SubwayThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
What was it like to experience that epic symbol of New York City – the world famous New York City subway system – for the first time? In this episode, we imagine what opening day was like for the first New York straphangers.
We begin by recounting the subway system's construction and registering the excitement of New Yorkers in the days leading up to the opening on October 27, 1904. That fateful day was sheer pandemonium as thousands of people crammed into brand spanking new stations to push themselves into the system's new subway cars.
“For the first time in his life Father Knickerbocker went underground yesterday; went underground, he and his children, to the number of 150,000, amid the tooting of whistles and the firing of salutes, for a first ride in a subway which for years had been scoffed at as an impossibility.” [New York Times, October 28, 1904]
After listening to this show, we hope you gain a new appreciation for this modern engineering marvel. Hopefully it will make that next subway delay more bearable!
Special thanks to Kieran Gannon for helping with the editing of this show
#252 The Underground Railroad: Escape through New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
For thousands of African-American enslaved people -- escaping the bonds of slavery in the South -- the journey to freedom wound its way through New York via the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a loose, clandestine network of homes, businesses and churches, operated by freed black people and white abolitionists who put it upon themselves -- often at great risk -- to hide fugitives on the run.
New York and Brooklyn were vital hubs in this network but these cities were hardly safe havens. The streets swarmed with bounty hunters, and a growing number of New Yorkers, enriched by Southern businesses, were sympathetic to the institution of slavery. Not even freed black New Yorkers were safe from kidnapping and racist anti-abolitionist mobs.
In this podcast we present some of the stops in New York along the Underground Railroad -- from offices off Newspaper Row to the basement of New York's first African-American owned bookstore. You'll be familiar with some of this story's leading figures like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Henry Ward Beecher. But many of these courageous tales come from people who you may not know -- the indefatigable Louis Napoleon, the resolute Sydney Howard Gay, the defiant David Ruggles and James Hamlet, the first victim of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
PLUS: A trip to Brooklyn Heights and the site of New York's most famous Underground Railroad site -- Plymouth Church.
#251 McGurk's Suicide Hall: The Bowery's Most Notorious DiveThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The old saloons and dance halls of the Bowery are familiar to anyone with a love of New York City history, their debauched and surly reputations appealing in a prurient way, a reminder of a time of great abandon. The Bowery bars and lounges of today often try to emulate the past in demeanor and decor. (Although nobody was drinking expensive bespoke cocktails back in the day.)
But the dance hall at 295 Bowery, the loathsome establishment owned by John McGurk, was not a place to admire. It was the worst of the worst, a dive where criminal activity thrived alongside bawdy can-can dancers and endless pours of putrid booze.
In early March of 1899, a woman named Bess Levery climbed to one of the top floors of McGurk's -- floors given over to illegal behavior -- and killed herself by drinking carbolic acid. Within a week, two more women had ventured to McGurk's, attempting the same dire deed.
By the end of 1899, the dance hall had received a truly grim reputation, and its proprietor, capitalizing on its reputation, began calling his joint McGurk's Suicide Hall.
What happened to the Bowery, once the location of fashionable homes and theaters, that such a despicable place could thrive -- mere blocks from police headquarters? This is the history of a truly dark place and the forces of reform that managed to finally shut it down.
FEATURING: Theodore Roosevelt, Jacob Riis, Charles Parkhurst and some disreputable fellows by the names of Eat Em Up McManus and Short Change Charley.
This episode is sponsored by TNT’s new limited series The Alienist.
#250 The Empire State Building: Story of an IconThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Start spreading the news .... the Bowery Boys are finally going to the Empire State Building!
New York City's defining architectural icon is greatly misunderstood by many New Yorkers who consider its appeal relegated to tourists and real estate titans. But this powerful and impressive symbol to American construction has a great many secrets among its 102 (or is that 103?) floors.
The Empire State Building project was announced in 1929 by former New York governor Al Smith. The group of wealthy investors he fronted were clear in associating the building with his image (the Empire State itself), and Smith was even there at the demolition of the building it would replace -- the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
A few weeks after the announcement, however, the stock market crashed.
In this podcast, we look at how this magnificent skyscraper was built with incredible speed and efficiency, to tower over a city entering the Great Depression. It quickly became a beacon of hope for many -- a symbol of American skill and the embodiment of the New York City spirit.
Tourists would indeed flock to it, enamored of the extraordinary views it offered for the very first time. (Most of its early visitors had never been in an airplane.) It would eventually become an object of great value and the subject of tabloid headlines -- many featuring the current President of the United States -- but it would never, ever lose its luster.
In fact, that luster, over the years, would become very well lit.....
#249 Madam C.J. Walker: Harlem's Hair Care MillionaireThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In 1867, Sarah Breedlove was born to parents who had once been enslaved on a Louisiana plantation. Less than fifty years later, Breedlove (as the hair care mogul Madam C.J. Walker) would be the richest African-American woman in the United States, a successful business owner and one of black America's great philanthropists. At her side was daughter Lelia (later A'lelia) Walker, guiding her mother's company to great success despite extraordinary obstacles.
The Walkers moved to Harlem in the mid 1910s during the neighborhood's transformation from a white immigrant outpost to a thriving mecca for African-American culture. The ground floor of their spacious West 136th Street home was a hair salon for black women, opened during a contentious period when irate white property owners attempted to stem the tide of black settlement in Harlem.
The Walkers were at the heart of significant strides on African-American life. Madam used her wealth to support organizations like the NAACP push back against violence and racism. A'lelia, meanwhile, used her influence to corral the great talents of the Harlem Renaissance. The two of them would positively influence the history of Harlem and black America forever.
FEATURING: The words of Langston Hughes, describing one of the most fabulous parties of the Jazz Age!
#248 Sitting Down with Roz Chast of the New YorkerThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
This week, we celebrate the end of the year by sitting down with Roz Chast, who has been contributing cartoons to the New Yorker Magazine since 1978. Chast is out with a new book, "Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York", which is a guidebook to living in -- and loving -- New York.
We discuss her childhood in Brooklyn, life on the Upper West Side in the '70s and '80s, her favorite diner (which is still open!), working at the New Yorker, and much more.
#247 Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Golden Age of BroadwayThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are two of the greatest entertainers in New York City history. They have entertained millions of people with their unique and influential take on the Broadway musical -- serious, sincere, graceful and poignant.
In this episode, we tell the story of this remarkable duo -- from their early years with other creators (Hammerstein with Jerome Kern, Rodgers with Lorenz Hart) to a run-down of all their shows. And almost all of it -- from the plains of Oklahoma to the exotic climates of South Pacific -- takes place on just two city blocks in Midtown Manhattan!
(Stay tuned to the end of the podcast for information on the music clips used in the show.)
#246 Tales from a Tenement: Three Families on the Lower East SideThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In today’s show, we’ll continue to explore housing in New York, but move far from the mansions of Fifth Avenue to the tenements of the Lower East Side in the 20th Century. Specifically, we’ll be visiting one building, 103 Orchard Street, which is today part of the Tenement Museum.
When we step inside 103 Orchard, we’ll be meeting three families who lived there after World War II: the Epsteins, the Saez-Velez family, and the Wong family. We’ll be getting to know them by walking through their apartments, faithfully reconstructed, often with their very own furniture, to tell their stories.
The Epsteins were Holocaust survivors who moved into the building in the 1950s, the Saez-Velez family moved in during the 60s and were led by a mother who left Puerto Rico and worked as a seamstress here, and the Wong family, whose mother raised the family while working in Chinatown garment shops, moved in during the 1970s.
They’re included in an exciting new interactive exhibition at the Tenement Museum. This exhibit, which includes a tour of the apartments, is called “Under One Roof”, and opens to the public this month. We’re led through it on our show by Annie Polland, the museum’s curator of this exhibit.
#245 The Fall of the Fifth Avenue MansionsThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In this episode, the symbols of the Gilded Age are dismantled.
During the late 19th century, New York's most esteemed families built extravagant mansions along Fifth Avenue, turning it into one of the most desired residential streets in the United States. The 'well-connected' families, along with the nouveau riche, planted their homes here, even as the realities of the city encroached around them.
By 1925 most of the mansions below 59th Street were gone, victims of changing tastes and alterations to the city landscape. Excellent hotels like the Plaza and the St. Regis, once considered as elegant as the mansions, soon threatened to distill the street's reputation by attracting outsiders. Clothing manufacturing plants swept through Greenwich Village, and such 'common' purposes threatened the identity of Fifth Avenue. And to the west, the dazzling delights of Times Square seemed certain to blot out any respectability that Midtown Manhattan might have held.
And yet, near Central Park, families of newer wealth filled Fifth Avenue with their own opulent homes -- Carnegies, Woolworths, Dukes, Fricks -- as though oblivious to the changes occurring down south.
Most of these habitats of old wealth are gone today. There's no place for a 100-room mansion on one of New York City's busiest streets. Yet a few of these mansions managed to survive by taking on very different identities -- from clothing boutiques to museums.
PLUS: The building that was bought for a necklace!
#244 The Rise of the Fifth Avenue MansionsThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
At the heart of New York’s Gilded Age – the late 19th century era of unprecedented American wealth and excess – were families with the names Vanderbilt, Belmont and Astor, alongside power players like A.T. Stewart, Jay Gould and William ‘Boss’ Tweed.
They would all make their homes – and in the case of the Vanderbilts, their great many homes – on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
The image of Fifth Avenue as a luxury retail destination today grew from the street’s aristocratic reputation in the 1800s. The rich were inextricably drawn to the avenue as early as the 1830s when rich merchants, anxious to be near the exquisite row houses of Washington Square Park, began turning it into an artery of expensive abodes.
In this podcast -- the first of two parts -- Tom and Greg present a world that’s somewhat hard to imagine – free-standing mansions in an exclusive corridor running right through the center of Manhattan. Why was Fifth Avenue fated to become the domain of the so-called ‘Upper Ten’? What were the rituals of daily life along such an unusual avenue? And what did these Beaux Arts palaces say about their ritzy occupants?
CO-STARRING: Mark Twain, Madame Restell, George Opdyke and “the Marrying Wilsons”
#243 New York In Neon: Signs of the CityThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
A neon sign blazing on a rainy New York City street evokes the romance of another era, welcoming or mysterious -- depending on how many film noirs you've seen.
In 2017, a neon sign says more about a business than the message that its letters spell out. It’s an endangered form of craftsmanship although the production of neon is making a hopeful comeback.
In this show Greg briefly take a look at the classic signage in New York City, the kinds of signs you might have seen in New York d during the Gilded Age -- from a dizzying mass of posters to the first electric signs. Then he'll be joined by guest host Thomas Rinaldi, author of the New York Neon book and blog, to figure out what it is about neon that is so essentially New York. And finally because most neon is made by hand, they'll head out to Ridgewood, Queens, to visit one of New York City’s most acclaimed neon family businesses -- Artistic Neon.
From glowing crucifixes in Hell’s Kitchen to the sleaze of '70s Times Square, from the marquee of Radio City Music Hall to a thousand diners and liquor stores – this is the story of New York in Neon.
#242 New York and the Dawn of PhotographyThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
We’re taking you back to a world that seems especially foreign today – a world with no selfie sticks, no tens of billions of photographs taken every day from digital screens, a world where the photograph was a rare, special and beautiful thing.
New York City plays a very interesting role in the development of photography. While the medium was not invented here, many of its earliest American practitioners were trained here. In particular, the students of Samuel Morse (better known for the telegraph) became masters of the daguerreotype portrait in the early 1840s.
The first space photography was taken from the rooftop of New York University. Broadway was known across the country for its dozens of daguerreotypists and their lavishly appointed galleries.
But the greatest of them all was Mathew Brady who, from his famous Broadway studio, focused on capturing the images of the world's most famous people -- from Abraham Lincoln to Barnum favorite Tom Thumb. You may know Brady from his Civil War photography, bringing a dose of realism into the parlors of sheltered New Yorkers. One particular gallery show in 1862 called The Dead of Antietam would shake the city and set the stage for the invention of photojournalism.
#241 Edgar Allan Poe in New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Edgar Allan Poe was a wanderer -- looking for work, for love, for meaning. That's why so many American cities can lay claim to a small aspect of his legacy. Baltimore, Boston, Richmond and Philadelphia all have their own stories to tell about the great writer. In this show, we spotlight the imprint Poe made upon New York City.
Poe was in New York both on the year of his birth (as the child of two stage actor) and the year of his death (fleeing his longtime home in Fordham). Throughout out his life he came back -- again and again -- discovering inspiration in the prosperous, growing city of the 1830s and 40s. He lived in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. And for a time, he also lived in the area of today's Upper West Side, in a farmhouse where he conjured to vivid life his most successful poem -- "The Raven".
The Poe Cottage in the Bronx is the only extant building where Poe (and his young wife Virginia) actually lived, a modest abode that's a rare example of surviving working-class housing from the mid-19th century. Through tragedy, Poe sought solitude in the surrounding mounts and fields of Westchester County. The majestic High Bridge would be of a particular strange comfort.
This is a story both of Poe himself and the fragments of buildings and homes left behind with his name attached to them. In many neighborhoods of New York, you can linger with the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe himself.
#240 The Ghosts of Greenwich VillageThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
For this year's annual Bowery Boys Halloween ghost story podcast, we cautiously approach the dark secrets of Greenwich Village, best known for bohemians, shady and winding streets and a deep unexpected history. You will never look at its parks and townhouses again after this show!
The stories featured this year:
-- The hidden history of Washington Square Park with the oldest tree in New York -- nicknamed the Hangman's Elm -- and some truly grave secrets beneath its lovely walkways
-- The Brittany Residence Hall for New York University students has a very famous ghost, a child who experienced a horrible death and continued to haunt the halls of this former hotel, looking for friends to play with
-- Mayor Jimmy Walker once lived across from an old burial ground in the West Village. But when its ancient plots were replaced with a city park (to be named after the notorious mayor), the bodies and the tombstones were mostly paved over. To this day, a single grave marker sits astride the baseball field, a sole reminder of the area's macabre past.
-- And finally the ceiling of a old Bank Street townhouse reveals an unusual object. How did it get there? This is a tale that stretches from the mid 1920s to the early 1980s. And from the haunted streets of the West Village to a peaceful respite in Northern California!
#239 Murder at the Manhattan WellThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
There once was a well just north of Collect Pond (New York’s fetid source of drinking water in the late 18th century) in a marshy place called Lispenard’s Meadow, in the area of today’s SoHo.
One cold day in December – in the year 1799 -- a boy came across a lady’s article of clothing here matching that in the possession of a missing woman named Elma Sands. Upon looking into the old, boarded-up well, investigators discovered a horrifying sight – the lifeless body of Ms. Sands, which had been submerged in the well for several days.
Suspicion immediately shifted to the boarding house where she lived and worked, and the unusual tenants there all became suspects – including Levi Weeks, the brother of a prominent builder. Weeks was soon accused of her murder and thrown into jail.
This is the tale of the extraordinary trial that occurred in March of 1800 featuring two of the most prominent people in New York City – Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Years before their fateful duel in Weehawken, the two lawyers agreed to defend Weeks against charges of brutal murder.
But Hamilton and Burr were linked to the case in other ways. A banking institution borne from these early days still thrives today. And, believe it or not, the infamous Manhattan well still exists in the basement of a surprising place.