GRAND CENTRAL to UNION SQUARE

It was a Saturday, the warmest day of the spring yet, and I had come to Manhattan’s east side to search for relics. The #7 train was running between Queens and Manhattan as it hadn’t for most of the winter weekends and the streets were jammed with people released from their apartments, as well as their coats (except the webmaster; I don’t like to remove mine until Memorial Day, unless it hits 90). I got off at Grand Central Terminal and headed generally southeast.

Today I was in search of two different sets of lamppost relics, which I’l describe later when I get to the points on my walk where they appear. I also found a few other things, perhaps of interest only to Forgotten NY freaks… but that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?

GOOGLE MAP: Grand Central to Union Square

 

I found this sculpture outside The Churchill, a luxury apartment building at 2nd Avenue and East 39th Street that went up in 1967. The sculpture reminds me of Pablo Picasso’s self-titled monumental sculpture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza. This one, entitled “Stamen” is by Rodney Carroll and was unveiled in 2008. In botany, a stamen is the pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower, and is generally noticed by several short stalks in the center of the flower.

 

My first quarry was on a pair of thoroughfares on either side of 2nd Avenue running from East 34th north to East 41st Street — they’re not quite approach roads, and not quite streets. They are called Tunnel Approach and Tunnel Exit Street(s) and they have been given green and white DOT street signs with those names. In line with the city’s ambivalence about whether they are streets or not, they occasionally have half-sidewalks, but pedestrians aren’t really supposed to employ them.

Before getting to the main reason I’m here, notice the Rissho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Center, one of many around town, at Tunnel Approach Street and East 39th Street. The name comes from a Buddhist organization founded in Japan in 1938.

 

These two approach roads/streets were built in the late 1930s, along with the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1940. Amazingly I cannot recall the last time I traveled in this tunnel — it must have been only once or twice, and it was a long time ago! Norwegian engineer Ole Singstad, whose resting place in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn we’ve visited on a couple of ForgottenTours, built the QMT along with the Lincoln and Carey (Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnels; he was no friend of Robert Moses, who always wanted to build bridges.

I was here to pay tribute to the two “tunnel streets”‘ original odd-looking lamps, which I’d have to say have been here since 1940. This was about the time when lamppost design was beginning to break away from the ornate Corvington and bishop-crook templates. More streamlined posts had begin to appear at Riis Park and Orchard Beach, as well as the temporary IND World’s Fair shuttle station.

A full-throated streamlining trend wouldn’t get underway till 1950, when octagonal-shafted, silver-colored aluminum posts began to infiltrate NYC streets, but in may ways, these were the vanguard. The “cobra necks” preview 1960s designs used on the octagonals as well as the Donald Deskey posts designed in 1958.

All these posts carry Westinghouse AK-10 “cuplights” — and this is also their last stronghold in New York City. They aren’t original to the poles and were likely installed a year or two before or after 1950. The last paint job these posts had came in the late 1990s and gave them a coat of green.

 

The Corinthian, one of the most recognizable apartment buildings in Manhattan, at 1st Avenue and East 38th, noted for its hundreds of curved bay windows. Some of you may remember the 1970s Chrysler Cordoba car commercial with Ricardo Montalban intoning about “Corinthian leather.” Actually the leather came from a plant in New Jersey, and not Corinth, Greece, ancient or modern.  In both cases, the word “Corinthian” is used to evoke luxuriousness.

When completed in 1988 the 55-story building was NYC’s tallest apartment house. It has been surpassed several times; indeed, the currently developing 53W53 will rival 1 World Trade Center in height.

I wasn’t done with the “tunnel streets,” though. There was another relic to be dug up. I didn’t find it on Tunnel Approach Street, so I knew I had to go back west to Tunnel Exit Street, and there it was, at East 34th! An original black and white enamel sign mounted on one of the weird original tunnel lamps.

Am I dooming it by noting its appearance? I can’t control what the Department of Transportation wants to do. All I can hope to do is capture it in megapixels before it inevitably disappears. I’m glad it’s still in place, though it’s rusting around the edges. Look at that lettering! It’s reminiscent of the streamlined, sanserif lettering used in the NYC IND subways around the same time, isn’t it?

 

The Corinthian looks over the shoulder of St. Vartan’s Cathedral of the Armenian Orthodox Church at 2nd Avenue and East 34th, consecrated in 1968.

The Cathedral, consecrated in April 1968 by the late Catholicos Vasken I, resembles the world’s first cruciform church, the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, built in the 4th century near Yerevan, Armenia. The Armenian Church

Armenia is a country on the border of Europe and Asia; Turkey borders it to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south. During WWI in 1915, it was the site of a massacre perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire that left 1.5 million dead, an event denied by Turkey to the present day.

 

A number of faded painted ads can be seen on this 317 East 34th Street building exterior east of 2nd Avenue. On top, the name Harriet Hubbard Ayer was once a familiar one in the business of beauty creams, lipstick and the like. Harriet Hubbard Ayer, Inc. moved to this building in 1911.

Time has rendered the second line illegible (as this photo from NY Public Library shows, it once said “Eugenics Publishing Company“, while the third line is recognizable as C. P. Goerz American Optical, a lens manufacturer. The firm was located here from 1911 through the 1950s. A fourth line is also illegible.

 

There are multiple faded ads in this vertical panel. E.J. Audi, shown to be a furniture and rugs dealer, founded his company in 1928 and the business was located here from 1958 to 1995.

Perry Printing was in this building between 1958 and 1975. The other ads in this panel have completely faded out.

As always, the Indispensable Walter Grutchfield has the 411 on all these painted ads.

 

On the other side of East 34th at #314 this ad for Consolidated Contract Interiors and HB&U Furniture, office furniture manufacturers,  has remained fairly intact. I doubt these businesses are still located in the building.

 

The presence of Tunnel Approach Street  (note the halfhearted sidewalks) promotes a plethora of directional signs, all with unique designs. The Queens Midtown Tunnel sign is among the largest identification signs in the city. E-Z Pass signs have always been designed with a prrple background, since this was likely the last color not taken!

Directional signs for NYC tunnels have always been circular (arrowheads, mostly abandoned by the 1970s but now readopted as graphic elements in rectangular signs, were used for bridges). This is a recent version, since it uses the Helvetica typeface.

We see even more sign “clutter” from the other direction, as a pole bears several signs indicating that the tunnel can get you to both Queens airports, the road goes only one way, and that the tunnel goes to I-495, or the Long Island Expressway.

 

I needed to head down 1st Avenue for my next target. I passed Bellevue Hospital, one of the only games in downtown for emergency care since St. Vincent’s closed a few years ago.

The Bellevue Hospital complex on 1st Avenue is deeply rooted in NYC lore and legacy as the place where drunks were brought from late night binges. In an era when hospitals are shutting all over town, it’s one of the few full-service hospitals remaining in lower Manhattan, especially with the shuttering of Greenwich Village’s St. Vincent’s in 2010.

The original hospital opened as an almshouse in 1736 on the lot now occupied by City Hall. In 1811, New York City purchased Belle Vue farms, which [was] located at 27th Street and 1st Avenue. The land became the Bellevue Institution, in effect, a community center with an almshouse, a pesthouse, a soap factory, a greenhouse, a penitentiary, a school, a morgue, a bakehouse, an icehouse, and a shop for carpenters and blacksmiths. The institution was dedicated in its entirety in 1816.

Bellevue had already established a reputation for innovative medical technology by the mid-1800s, and treated soldiers from both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Bellevue doctors pioneered the use of hypodermic syringes (1856), performed the nation’s first cesarean section (1867), and developed the first hospital-based ambulance service (1869). Specialized units holding 2,700 total beds, a variety of outpatient clinics, and four schools were founded as the hospital expanded. During World War I and II, Bellevue organized hospital units to serve overseas. Today, the hospital is affiliated with the New York University School of Medicine. NYC Parks

 

Bellevue has a huge campus, with a number of entrances protected by gates and guards, but there are a couple of species of unusual lampposts illuminating the private roadways, like this sample. They look like the future of American lampposting.

Sergey Kadinsky had an FNY item not too long ago about the transformation of Asser Levy Place, which runs the equivalent of 2 blocks between East 23rd and East 25th west of the FDR Drive. It was open to traffic until just recently, but in early 2015 its transformation was competed into public space and parks. I was able to examine the new park, which is now a worthy complement to the nearby East River Park, especially for kids, who have a brand new playground, running track and playing field.

As always, the chief drawing card on Asser Levy Place is the magnificent bathhouse constructed from 1906-1908. In the mid-to late 1800s, NYC’s population increased dramatically in the era before running water and workable plumbing — good hygiene was an unattainable dream and communicable disease ran rampant. Thus arrived the idea of public bathhouses; they began to appear in 1901. The 23rd Street Bathhouse (later Asser Levy Bathhouse) was designed by architects Arnold W. Brunner and William Martin Aiken and the design was based on those of Roman baths of the early Anno Domini period. It was honored as a NYC Landmark in 1974. It now serves as a recreation center and swimming pool in the warm months.

Probably the largest building in NYC based on a Roman bath was the first Pennsylvania Station that stood from 1910 to 1963.

I next visited Peter Cooper Village, which was resplendent in spring color. The private development is differentiated from its sister apartment complex, Stuyvesant Town, but both were  built at the same time (late 1940s into the 1950s) by the Metroploitan Life Insurance company to house, at least at first, returning World War II veterans. The massive dual complex occupies 80 acres on what was once 18 square city blocks containing tenements and apartment buildings, as well as Manhattan’s former Gashouse District. In all 600 buildings were razed and over 10,000 residents were forced to move out to make way for what remains Manhattan’s largest housing complex. It’s a city within a city and contains restaurants, banks shops and medical facilities, as well as a central park. MetLife sold Stuyvesant Town and PCV to Tishman Speyer Properties in 2006, but they defaulted and the complex went into receivership and a new buyer is being sought.

The complex was named for Peter Cooper (1791-1883) , the industrialist-inventor who conceived of the transatlantic cable, the steam railroad engine, and Jell-O. He established Cooper Union, the architecture, art, and engineering school still going strong in Cooper Square, Manhattan. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

I have a personal connection to Stuyvesant Town, but I’ll get into that later. I came to Peter Cooper Village for the lampposts, which are unique in the city.

 

The lamps that illuminate the walkways in PCV are unique, but hardly unusual. However…

A road zigzags through the center of Peter Cooper Village between 1st Avenue and Avenue C (which runs under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive between East 14th adn 23rd Streets). The road is called Peter Cooper Road on maps, but doesn’t bear street signs and has two guard stations on either end. Despite that I was easily able to enter the complex and wave the camera around. (Manhattan’s only other “Road” is Indian Road in Inwood.)

Peter Cooper Road has a collection of unusual Type G posts (seen here on FNY’s Lampposts By the Letter page): the bases and shafts are Type G all the way, but the masts are a different beast completely, a very odd design.

 

To my mind, these posts recall the “Old Edison Posts” shown in a 1936 NYC streetlighting manual. From old photos, I’ve ascertained that the Old Edisons were employed mostly in Brooklyn, especially its western sections, and not at all in Manhattan. I do think these PCV poles were supposed to be evocative of the Edisons, albeit with different metal scrollwork.

I returned to 1st Avenue before entering Stuyvesant Town. When it comes to NYC buildings sometimes you need an eagle eye out for detail, like at the top of this 5-story building between East 21st and 22nd Streets. A glance toward the roofline reveals a bas relief of three men on horseback who appear to be wearing Civil War uniforms.

 

The 2015 shuttering of Ess-A-Bagel at 1st Avenue and East 21st Street, which had opened in 1976, was much lamented, as it purportedly boasted some of the best bagels and smoked fish in Manhattan. It’s a familiar story of a rent raised beyond affordability, but rumor has it that Ess-A-Bagel’s owners are looking for a new location. In another familiar story, a bank will occupy this location, as well as a bagel shop that will pay what the owners are asking.

 

Stuyvesant Town sits on an almost-square defined by East 14th and East 20th Street, 1st Avenue and Avenue C, with 89 buildings containing 8,757 apartments. By auto it’s accessed by a series of ovals located on its four border streets, and pedestrians can easily access its four “quadrants” via the center oval.

I mentioned a personal connection to Stuyvesant Town — my father worked here as a custodian for 30 years, between 1958 and 1988; he only retired when he turned 70. This was an era in which unionized jobs with ample benefits were … somewhat more attainable than now. He would work the usual Monday through Friday, but occasionally he would work the weekend and take Wednesday and Friday off, on which days he would see me off to school. It was a long way with two trains from Bay Ridge to Stuyvesant Town, so he would leave the house at around 7 AM or even before that, before I got up, usually arriving home around 7 PM. During snowstorms he would need to go in at off hours to shovel snow.

What’s surprising is that I never visited Stuy-Town when he was working there (I do recall heading over there an evening or two by car when one of my father’s friends drove us there). The old man never helped put me on the famed list of people waiting for apartments to open up, but as he’d probably say now if he was still around, “You didn’t ask me!” Who knows if he had that power, anyway.

 

But on those long-ago car rides to Stuyvesant Town, the future webmaster’s eyes were peeled out the window at the many ancient lampposts that could be seen out the window. Much later, I learned these were classic Type Gs, and unlike Peter Cooper Village, most of these Type Gs retain their old mastarms instead of replications. It’s likely they have been landmarked, hence their survival. From the 1970s through about 2000 they had been outfitted with ugly Unidor 400 sodium fixtures, but around that time they were given these oldstyle luminaires with extended diffuser bowls. They’re better than the Unidors but I’m not a fan.

But Stuyvesant Town also preserves some other things, as well.

NYC castiron lamps of the 1910-1950 era once carried specially designed brackets to hold the fire alarm indicator lamp. At first the diffusers were globular red glass, but later became globular and then domed orange plastic.

Three examples of lamps with these brackets, in excellent shape, can still be seen in Stuyvesant Town, nearby actual fire alarms, on 3 of the 4 traffic ovals; the 4th, the one on 1st Avenue, is missing the bracket.. I do not know if they still illuminate. Other examples of such brackets around town have gradually disappeared, and on new reproductions of Corvingtons, bishop crooks, etc. when fire alarm lights are warranted, a regulation J-shaped pipe is used for the job.

And one more relic… I had thought all freestanding Gamewell fire alarms had been removed from NYC streets, but in Stuyvesant Town, this one is standing there in plain sight. It’s been outfitted with modern pushbutton police and firehouse calls. John Gamewell began his company in 1859!

I photographed a great number of Stuyvesant Town type Gs for my archives, but I won’t clutter the page with any more of them here.

 

It’s getting to be business as usual with the crosstown L line, which is out for repairs on several weekends this spring. The decision was made to head to Union Square and get the uptown 6, then the Flushing 7 to get back to Queens.

 

Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, 406-412 East 14th at 1st Avenue, originally an Episcopalian hospital and mission for Grace Church (Broadway and West 10th Street). It became a Catholic church in 1943.

[Architects] Barney & Chapman favored the later French Gothic, and let loose both barrels for Grace Chapel, a mini-mountain-range of gables, peaks, dormers and, at the center, a tall bell tower, all with lacy terra cotta detailing. Christopher Gray, NY Times

 

Stuyvesant High School, one of NYC’s more prestigious, opened a gleaming new campus in Battery Park City in 1992, but its old building on East 15th Street between 1st Avenue and Stuyvesant Square, designed by the premier schools architect of his era, C.B. J. Snyder, and moved here in 1907 after three years on East 23rd Street, still holds forth as The Institute for Collaborative Education, the High School for Health Professions and Human Services and P.S. 226. Alumni have included architecture critic Lewis Mumford, novelist Hubert Selby (“Last Exit to Brooklyn”); tough-guy actors James Cagney and George Raft; jazz’  Thelonious Monk; Democratic political strategist David Axelrod, and Republican strategist Dick Morris; US Representative Jerry Nadler;  and 1964-84 United Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker.

 

I skirted Stuyvesant Square, which sits on both sides of 2nd Avenue between East 15th and 17th Streets. I think the flaking paint and bit of rust on its massive fence adds to its character.

It’s most New Yorkers’ assumption that Stuyvesant Square was named for the Director General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, especially since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s 1941 bronze of Peg Leg Pete (see below)  is the centerpiece of the park’s western section. However, in 1836, a descendant, Peter Gerard Stuyvesant, the co-founder of the New-York Historical Society, and his wife, Ann Rutherford, decided to “donate” the space, selling it to NYC for $5.00. The square was not to open to the public until 1850–in fact, it took a lawsuit by P.G. Stuyvesant to get the city to stop dragging its feet on development. Stuyvesant Square underwent two large-scale renovations in the 1930s, as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, and again in the 1980s, after decades of the usual neglect.

This statue of Peter Stuyvesant donated by the Netherland American Foundation, was unveiled in 1941. The bronze statue is by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Stuyvesant stands on his peg leg — called his ‘silver leg’ because, in real life, it had silver bands. The sculpture was exhibited by the Netherlands Pavilion in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A. Van Horne Stuyvesant of 2 East 79th St. pulled the rope revealing the statue. Robert Moses, the Parks Commissioner, attended. Thomas J. Watson (International Business Machine founder) gave the principal address to the gathered crowd. In the crowd were children and Dutch WWII refugees in native costumes and wooden shoes.

St. George’s Episcopal Church, on the west side of the square between East 16th-17th Streets, was first built from 1846-1856 [Otto Blesch, ext. ar., Leopold Eidlitz, int. ar.] as an early example of Romanesque Revival. The first rector, Stephen Higginson Tyng, was one of the most prominent preachers of his time. The church burned down in 1865 but was rebuilt to match the original; the spires were removed in 1886.

St. George’s parish had been founded in 1749 as a chapel of Trinity Church, and constructed this independent church on land donated by Peter Gerard Stuyvesant.

For more on Stuyvesant Square and its buildings, see FNY’s Five Squares page.

 

The timing wasn’t right but one of these days I’ll have to get into Joe Junior’s at 3rd Avenue and East 16th,

Joe Junior serves what is admittedly a generic burger. It does not have a custom meat blend from Pat LaFrieda, the bun does not come from a fancy bakery, and the bright-yellow American cheese is anything but artisanal, yet there is real magic here. The burgers are cooked on a well-seasoned flat top, which you can often smell from the street half a block in all directions from Joe Junior’s corner location, creating the enticing aroma of fresh burgers sizzling away, beckoning the steady stream of Con Ed employees, police cadets, college kids, and quirky locals who fill the place. A Hamburger Today

Like I said, I have to get in there sometime.

 

Washington Irving High School, Irving Place between East 16th and 17th Streets, was constructed from 1911-1913 as Girls’ Technical High School with C.B.J. Snyder, the premier architect of NYC shools, its primary designer. The insides are like a museum, preserving a generous sampling of furnishings and art.

From my Open House 2005 page, which describes the interior:

[The interior] features beautiful oak panelling in the lobby and a series of murals, one 1915 series in the lobby by Barry Faulkner, a gift to the city by the Municipal Arts Society depicting scenes from early Manhattan; another from the same year on the back wall of the auditorium by illustrator Robert Knight Ryland depicting Dutch and Indians trading; a 1932 series in the front of the auditorium of female figures resembling the Greek Muses by J. Mortimer Lichtenauer; and a 1932 series on the staircases depicting old and new Manhattan by Salvatore Lascari.

Arriving at the eastern end of Union Square, facing east toward his home country is Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s Marquis de Lafayette at Union Square East and East 15th. The sculpture was dedicated in 1876, the USA Centennial. He was a staunch ally of the USA and became a close friend of George Washington, and his aid enabled the USA to win several crucial battles, most notably the Battle of Yorktown. France wavered in its support of the USA after the Revolution, but Lafayette continued on as a legendary and revered figure in the USA. He returned for a triumphal visit in 1824. If you are familiar with the name Bartholdi, you know that Liberty Enlightening The World, the Statue of Liberty, was also a Bartholdi work ten years later, in 1886.

 

Corinthian-columned, monumental Union Square Savings Bank, Union Square East and East 15th, was built in 1905 as a mini-Greek temple worshiping thrift. Its architect was Henry Bacon of the Lincoln Memorial and thousands of NYC park lampposts. It is the present home of the stage show “Fuerza Bruta,” or “Brute Force.”

 

At the southern edge of Union Square stands a flock of castiron lamps that had drifted under my radar for several years. Their pedigree is the “Brighter Brooklyn” posts installed in that borough in the early 1900s. Gradually they had disappeared over the decades until only three were left. The city shipped one of them to the Spring City lighting company, which produced several reproductions that were installed in Union Square during the latest of several renovations in the late 1990s.

 

By coincidence, Union Square’s “union” applies to the junction of three separate major subway trunk lines, the IRT Lexington (4, 5, 6), the BMT Broadway (R, Q, N) and the BMT Canarsie (L). In one of Union Square’s waves of renovation, unique station entrance canopies that are found nowhere else in the system were installed, in addition to decorative newsstand kiosks (though this one may be threatened by the new CEMUSA newsstands being installed all over town. There is also a boxy subway entrance indicator lamp stanchion.

After a trudge through the East Side, time to seek a return to Forgotten NY HQ in Little Neck…

4/19/15

 

 

 


9 Responses to GRAND CENTRAL to UNION SQUARE

  1. woodside guy says:

    Great page as usual Glad Joe Jrs is still there I was under the impression it had closed several years ago.

    The building you identify as Pierce House the former rectory of St George’s was actually Memorial Hall used as a parish House and at various times hosting dental and medical clinic’s Boy Scouts and teen canteen. Pierce House is the smaller building between Memorial Hall and the Church.

    http://www.nysonglines.com/16st.htm

  2. Eric Jablow says:

    What is a pubic bathhouse? I doubt that was a deliberate misspelling.

  3. chris says:

    It blows my mind how Met-Life was able to obtain building materials to build Stuy-town during
    WW2 because that was impossible back then because of the Govt.’s war materiel priorities…..
    ..unless of course…….
    ……you are Met-Life

  4. Jeff says:

    More on Harriet Hubbard Ayer here: http://bigoldhouses.blogspot.com/2015/04/french-cosmetics-and-lutheran-charity.html. But that’s not really why I’m sending this link. Check out the next newer posts.

  5. Dave says:

    We have something in common, Kevin. I lived in Stuy Town with my parents and later a brother, from 1958 – 1962 while my Dad was finishing his residency at Beth Israel Hospital.

  6. Jon says:

    The Gamewell box in your photos in this article has an affixed bell positioned above the box. This would have been in use with the original mechanical pullbox. I can think of two possible reasons to add this feature: as an audible deterent to pulling a false box (it would immediately get the attention of anyone within earshot); and, to alert any police officers walking the beat nearby that someone was reporting a fire. (In the days before portable radios, this would have been one of the quickest ways to get a neighbourhood copper to the box.)

  7. jimmy z says:

    Good read! Much of my old stomping grounds. The Immaculate Conception Church pic, which on the 13th st. side had a parochial school, you mentioned it had ties at one time to the Grace Church on B’way and 10th st. Didn’t know that. And oh, I believe that Grace is on E. 10th and not west 10th.

  8. Ken B says:

    I always wondered why Tunnel Approach Street was not Tunnel Approach Avenue, as it goes north/south like Manhattan’s other avenues and not east/west like Manhattan’s other streets!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.