Walks in New York and elsewhere

My comments on buildings, shops, restaurants that catch my eye as I wander around New York City and other places.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Broadway to Church

Back at Chambers Street, on the southeast corner, is the Broadway-Chambers Building, Cass Gilbert's first structure in New York, 1900.

Don't forget to look up It's a designated NYC landmark, although much less famous than his Woolworth Tower a block or two downtown.

The block between Broadway and Church has long been characterized by bargain stores and fast food restaurants catering to the many office workers in the area,
but it is undergoing rapid change and gentrification.

This is not the ony 19th century store-loft building undergoing transformation to residential.

Some of the upper stories are quite elegant.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A little detour

Visitors to New York City can be excused for thinking that either the Municipal Building or the Tweed Courthouse is City Hall. In fact, City Hall is a much older and more modest building. I think it's one of the most most beautiful municipal buildings ever, and I usually laugh at New York City boosterism.

To see City Hall, which is directly to the south of the Tweed Courthouse, turn left at Broadway. You'll be able to peek into the windows of the Tweed Courthouse.

At the moment there are some Alexander Calder sculptures in City Hall Park.

Here's City Hall

The Mayor's actual office is in the building. City Hall was designed by Joseph-Francois Mangin and John McComb Jr., 1802-11. Although it has undergone various alterations over the years, it maintains the character of an eary Federal building. Its deteriorated original skin, Massachusetts marble in front and brownstone in the rear was replaced in the mid-1950s with limestone over a granite base. The building was designated in 1966 and its interior, ten years later. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Before the mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani, it was much easier to see the interior. After the events of 9/11, security became even tighter, but the interior is still worth making an effort to see, especially the double flying staircase and the ten Corinthian columns that support the dome. There is a significant portrait gallery inside as well.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chambers Street

One would be forgiven for assuming that the name "Chambers Street" has something to do with the proximity of courthouses. The connection to lawyers' offices is only indirect; the street was named in honor of John Chambers, a pre-Revolutionary War barrister, alderman, corporation counsel, and justice of the colonial supreme court.

All the classically-styled buildings on the block between Centre Street and Broadway are designated New York City landmarks. The interiors of all but the Sun Building, (n. side of the street, at Broadway)are also designated interiors. The easternmost end of Chambers Street is at the heart of New York City's civic center. Years ago, it extended farther east. Now, Chambers Street begins at Centre Street.

McKim, Mead & White's Municipal Building, 1907-1914, has large arches through which traffic used to pass to what was called "New Chambers Street" on old maps before the construction of Police Plaza.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The sculpture, "Five in One," seen through the arch, on the plaza, is by Tony Rosenthal.

Looking up at the Municipal Building, one can see the sculpture, "Civic Fame," by Adolph Weinman. If you took the subway here and exited underneath the southern wing, you must have noticed the Guastavino tiles above. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The building is massive, but New York's municipal government long ago outgrew the space.

The offices of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission have been on the ninth floor of this building since 2001. The windows of the hearing room overlook Chambers Street. I was standing at the window, looking down the length of the street, clear to the Hudson River, when I heard an earsplitting roar and, turning my head in the direction of the sound, saw the fireball near the top of the World Trade Center, six blocks away. If I had been looking 10 degrees to my left instead of straight ahead, I would have seen the airplane strike the building.

On Chambers Street proper, the first building on the north side of the street, is the Hall of Records, also Surrogate's Court, and the new home of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. It took a long time to complete. Work began in 1899, the building opened in 1905 and work continued unti 1911. The building was designed by John Thomas, a largely sef-taught architect, who died in 1901 and was succeeded by the politically well-connected firm, Horgan & Slattery, who had been hired by a newly-elected mayor as consultants. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Despite their promises to keep the costs down, by the time the building was completed, cost overerruns exceeded $1-million. The interior of the building is notable for its vast expanse of honey-colored Siena marble and a double staircase that brings to mind the Palais Garnier (the old Paris opera house.)

Even more notorious for grand fiscal excess is the Tweed Courthouse, (New York County Courthouse) on the south side of the block. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Tweed Courthouse

It was built over a 20-year period from 1861-1881 primarily to a design by John Kellum, with additional work by Leopold Eidlitz. It is generally thought to be NYC's second permanent government building, the first being City Hall. (We'll take a detour to see that; it's right behind the Tweed Courthouse.)

Tweed was a political "boss," (never a mayor) whose "Tweed Ring" used the construction of the building as a deep pocket to embezzle huge sums of money. Justice eventually prevailed and Tweed was tried in a courtroom in this very building, which has never been able to shake his name.

After a lengthy and expensive restoration by John Waite -- there is no getting away from the fact that this building is a money pit -- the Tweed Courthouse reopened as the new home of the Department of Education and the City Hall Academy, a kind of model school housing short-term programs for teachers and students. There had been talk of its serving as a museum for a combined New-York Historical Society and Museum of the City of New York, or as headquarters for the NYC Landmarks Commission. (There was no way that the NYHS and MCNY would merge. Similar as they may seem, they are very different institutions.

On the north side of the street is the former Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, Raymond R Almirall, 1908-12. It now houses government offices.

At the n.e. corner of Broadway and Chambers is the extension of the former A.T. Stewart store, the earliest section of which is at Reade Street, 1845-46. The original architect was Joseph Trench & Co., whose design was followed for subsequent additions. This was New York City's first department store and it set the tone in style (Italianate) and materials (Tuckahoe marble)for decades after. After 1919, the store having moved uptown, the building became the office of a newspaper, The New York Sun. Most peope refer to the building as the Sun Building. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The offices of the New York City Department of Buildings are located in the building. There was a beautiful restoration by Beyer Blinder Belle a few years ago.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

125th Street, 5

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St. Joseph of the Holy Family Church, 1860, Henry Engelbert, is probably the oldest church in the area. (n.b. The AIA Guide incorrectly attributes it to Herter Bros, 1889.)

We are now approaching Manhattanville, once a separate village between Harlem and Bloomingdale, centered on what is now 125th Street and Broadway. The section of 125th Street that goes off at an angle was originally known as Manhattan Street. Its direction was determined by topography. The street followed a valley between what is now Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights. It became 125th Street only in 1920. The original 125th Street was renamed LaSalle Street at the same time. We will continue walking on the current 125th Street.

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A large public housing complex fills the south side of the street for several blocks.

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On the grounds is a small butterfly garden.

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A nice branch of the New York Public Library is convenient, too, as well as a branch of Citarella, one of NYC's best fish stores.

On Old Broadway, which crosses 125th here, is another reminder that this area once had a large Jewish population. The congregation is older than its building, which dates from 1923, by Meisner & Uffner. IMG_2283 (Small)

Old Broadway was originally known as Bloomingdale Road.

There are two steel viaducts spanning the valley, one for the IRT subway, IMG_2286 (Small)
which was extended to northern Manhattan in 1904 and

one for Riverside Drive.
IMG_2302 (Small) The building in the background was a Studebaker service center. The former car manufacturer's graphic motifs are still visible on the tower. The building was constructed in 1923, designed by an engineering firm from Cincinnati, W.S. Ferguson and incorporating the ioneering reinforced concrete construciton techniques developed by automotive architect Albert Kahn. Broadway, in Manhattanville, was a important auto row prior to WWII. The building is owned by Columbia University as is

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the former Sheffield Dairy Building, now Prentis Hall. Columbia owns many buildings in this area and is in the process of acquiring more for its proposed expansion northward of its main campus at 116th Street and Broadway. The university has said that it is committed to relocating people who will be losing their homes, but many small businesses will no doubt disappear altogether.
Paste the following link into your browser http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pages/manplanning/index.html
to see the University's rationale and details of the plan. The 18 acres that Columbia plans to take over are not heavily populated by New York standards, nor is there much obvious charm. Nevertheless, there are understandable objections on the part of the community to the loss of its neighborhood and of historic fabric. Columbia is planning to maintain the old street pattern.

In addition to automobile-related businesses, the area was a meat-packing center. Not much remains IMG_2297 (Small)

In the meantime, there's Dinosaur Barbeque IMG_2298 (Small)

The Fairway store is several blocks north of here. Don't be fooled by the sign for it
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or by a nightclub that calls itself The Cotton Club.
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It has the same name, but is not related to the original club, which was at 142nd and Lenox Avenue.

125th Street offers the walker only a tiny taste of Harlem, one of the richest neighborhoods in New York in culture, history and architecture.

Sources for 125th Street

To check dates and names of architects, these sources were helpful

White and Wilensky, AIA Guide to New York City
Historic Preservation Program of Columbia University, 1996-7
Preservation Plan for Hamilton Heights/ Manhattanville,
David Dunlap, Glory in Gotham: Manhattan’s Houses of Worship,
Michael Henry Adams, Harlem, Lost and Found

As always, any opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

125th Street, 4

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The Blumstein's sign remains, but the store is long gone. The building was constructed in 1923, designed by Robert D. Kohn and Charles Butler, incorporating both Art Nouveau and Art Deco elements. IMG_2258 (Small)
Here is a close-up of some of its copper colonettes.

This is a significant cultural, as well as architectural site. Despite the fact that most of the store's customers were the African-Americans who had recently moved into Harlem, the store refused to hire blacks for anything but menial positions. In the 1930s, a successful boycott supported by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., resulted in a change in that policy.

On the north side of the street is a closed 5-plex movie theater that was previously the Loew's Victoria, and originally a vaudeville house, designed by noted theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb in 1916. IMG_2259

A few doors to the west is possibly the most famous site on 125th Street, the recently restored and renovated Apollo Theater. IMG_2262 (Small) The theater was built in 1913, as the Hurtig & Seamon's New Burlesque Theater, designed by George Keister. Black performers began to perform here in the 1930s and the list of stars who have appeared on its stage is very long and impressive. Some of those, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and James Brown, first came to the attention of the public at the theater's popular amateur shows. I saw James Brown here in the mid 1960s. The restoration of the building was conducted by Beyer Blinder Belle.

On Frederick Douglas Blvd, just to the south, is the Magic Johnson Theater IMG_2264
in a glassy, multi-use Skidmore, Owings & Merrill building constructed in 1999. Perhaps more than any other single enterprise, this building and its tenants symbolized what some have called the second Harlem renaissance. The building is a designated interior and exterior landmark.

At Mornngside Avenue is a little restaurant that was closed for the month of July. Its intriguing sign, "Old Fashion' but Good!" are an inducement for me to revisit, some day when I'm not dieting. IMG_2270 (Small)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

125th Street, 3

The block between Fifth Avenue and Lenox (6th Avenue) is very lively and busy with shoppers and strollers. On one corner is a Body Shop, commonplace in most shopping districts and malls, but evidence here of economic revival.

This is central Harlem. Many of the stores reflect the heritage of the current population of the neighborhood. On another corner is a boutique selling African wedding clothes.
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The late 19th-century red brick building named "Bertha"
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houses a shop for African goods.

Contrasts abound. A lovely new store at 24-26 West 125th, "Carol's Daughter," that sells its own fragrant soaps and cosmetics
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shares the ground floor with a not-so-lovely pawnshop.
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On the street itself there are vendors galore, many of them selling the same items. Tubs of shea butter are very popular. IMG_1977 (Small)

There is still plenty of opportunity for development.

The Abyssinian Development Corporation, an organization dedicated to the social, economic and physical improvement of Central Harlem, is located on this block.

The next block (between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell (7th) has even more mall-type stores, including Cohen's Fashion Optical in a red brick building with some rather elaborate ornament.
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This lavish building (132-140 W. 125th) was Harlem's main department store (Koch & Company) for 30 years after it moved here from lower Sixth Avenue in 1893. William H.Hume & Son designed the original building, since altered. IMG_1996 (Small)

The Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, (Ifill Johnson Hanchard, 1973) housing Bill Clinton's office, is here
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complete with a striding Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. on its plaza. The bronze sculpture was created by Branly Cadet and cast in Brooklyn. (2005)
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Powell was a charismatic and controversial politician who represented Harlem in Congress.

At the edge of the plaza is a mural featuring Harlem themes.
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On the other side of the street is The Studio Museum in Harlem (major alteration by Rogers Marvel,2005)
IMG_1998 (Small)The museum exhibits work by artists of African descent.

And on the southwest corner of Adam Clayton Powell is the former Hotel Theresa, (George and Edward Blum, 1912-13. Fidel Castro stayed here in 1960. It is a designated NYC landmark. IMG_1995 (Small)

The monogram "HT" is still prominent on the 3rd story window surrounds. IMG_2255 (Small)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

125th Street, 2

Just west of Park Avenue are the some visible signs of gentrification, like the scaffolding on "The New Corn Exchange Building" indicating that an extensive renovation is in progress that will incorporate the historic facade.
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and a sign across the street announcing a new Marriott Hotel.
IMG_1954 (Small) On the day the photo was taken (June 10, 2006) however, there were only puddles behind the construction fence and an impromptu sidewalk flea market in front of it. IMG_1953 (Small)

On the corner of Madison Avenue is A Taste of Seafood, a takeout restaurant that must be good, if the length of the line at 4:30 in the afternoon is any indication. IMG_1958 (Small)

On the northwest corner of Madison Avenue is the Promise Academy, a charter school operated by Harlem Children's Zone, housed in a new building. IMG_1961 (Small) The school opened in 2004, with the goal of providing a full range of preventive, educational and recreational services to Harlem children and families.

Just to the south on Madison, are a West Indian Restaurant and a church (not to be confused with a synagogue, despite the name) housed in an old Pythian Hall, a reminder that this area was once the second-largest Jewish neighborhood in New York, the largest at the time being the Lower East Side. IMG_1962 (Small)

An interesting building now housing a church was originally a medical office, as evidenced by the iconography. IMG_1966 (Small)

There are nice rows of houses south of 125th. (North, too, but that's a different area.) IMG_1969 (Small) IMG_1970 (Small) We are very close to the edge of the Mount Morris Park Historic District, one of the very earliest districts to be designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and one that needs to be expanded. The LPC in the early days, was very cautious about the boundaries of historic districts because the consequences of designation were still unknown. Preservationists were glad to see that a study by NYC's Independent Budget Office shows that designation is good for property values of the buildings as they exist, assuming that zoning in the area does not allow for a taller building than is already on the site. In that instance, all too common in New York, since the zoning laws pre-dated the landmark laws by many years and do not always reflect what has already been built, a rapacious developer can attempt to do a great deal of damage, unless the LPC succeeds in reining him in, or, wins in court.