Your webmaster was recently in a “business meeting” on 23rd Street — which I hope will result in a proposal for the followup to the ForgottenBook [it didn’t]— when I noticed a number of anomalies along the wide boulevard between 2nd and 5th Avenues.
Along this stretch you’ll find Madison Square Park, the Metropolitan Life skyscraper, Baruch College, and the School of Visual Arts.
We’re here, though, to see some dusty murals, a mysterious platform, and a sleepy saloon…
The Madison Square Post Office at 149 East 23rd is a 1930s Art Deco classic, from the bronze steps and doors to its eight interior murals, completed from 1937-39 by Texas painter Kindred McLeary. The New York Times, in a 1994 article, is lukewarm about them:
The subjects are vigorously painted, if a little burdened with Social Realist cliches: doormen bow and scrape in “Park Avenue”; bohemians strut in “Greenwich Village,” and pin-striped deal-makers hog the sidewalk in “Wall Street.” Still, McLeary accomplished his goal of depicting New York’s cosmopolitan milieu, and his animated style gives a sense of the city’s frenetic tempo. Grace Glueck, “A Guide to the City’s Depression Murals.” NY Times, January 7, 1994
Turns out the city’s chock full of these type murals — in post offices and government buildings, the very places I’d be taken off to the nearest precinct and waterboarded for snapping photographs where the cops say I shouldn’t. That’s why the above photos are so blurry — I turned the flash off so the guards wouldn’t come running with the handcuffs.
Your webmaster is a graduate of the late lamented Center For the Media Arts, which was on West 26th about midblock between 7th and 8th Avenues. I took a full slate of courses there between 1991 and 1993, became a part-time employee, and owe a number of jobs I have taken since and Forgotten New York itself to CMA, since I first learned what I could do on a computer there.
Unfortunately CMA closed down in the spring of 1993 after a failed friendly takeover by Mercy College. Its rival, the School of Visual Arts, has been here on East 23rd for decades. I took a couple of courses here myself after CMA’s demise.
There’s a stone pedestal just outside SVA’s entrance (above) that has puzzled me since I first spotted it a couple of years ago. Chiseled into it are the words “For God And Country.” Need some help, ForgottenFans…was there a statue here? Of whom?
Perhaps McSorley’s, Fanelli’s, the Old Town Bar, and the Ear Inn are more chroncled in the city’s lore and literature, but the Grand Saloon, 158 Etast 23rd, has a rich history as well…
Jim Naureckas, New York Songlines: This building dates to 1843; in 1880 it was the St Blaize Hotel & Restaurant, a celebrated brothel frequented by Diamond Jim Brady. In 1911 it became Klube’s Steak House; that name is still visible on the copper facade. It was a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Walter Grutchfield, 14 to 42:
The St. Blaise Hotel receives only passing mention in City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 by Timothy J. Gilfoyle (1992), p. 246. Modest “hotels like the Delevan, the German Hotel, and the St. Blaise were subdivided row houses that resembled parlor houses from the outside. They had between 15 and 50 rooms that were used by prostitutes who frequented the hotels or nearby saloons.”