RETURN TO 29th STREET

I was on my way to photograph the 2017 edition of Summer Streets, a program in which NYC and the Department of Transportation close Lafayette Street, 4th and Park Avenues from Foley Square north to 72nd Street from 9 AM to 1 PM the first three Saturdays in August — I did get some photos from this year’s event, but I based a seven-part FNY entry on Summer Streets in 2010. To get there I went east on West 29th Street, a route invested with a number of memories for me. I’ve done a page on West 29th, in 2011.

In the spring of 1988 I was still working nights at Photo-Lettering, at the time the NYC capital of type that distributed thousands of fonts; most of its business was in advertising and a lot of esoteric fonts were used for headlines. Because people read a lot more in the 1980s and had patience to read ad copy, there was plenty of copy in the ads and lots of typesetting was involved, and I worked nights proofreading and occasionally pinch-hit in typesetting. Before the days of “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG), typesetters used computer terminals but had to enter long skeins of code to get the type to do what you wanted, with italics, different sizes and widths (type sizes are measured in points in the biz, while column lengths are measured in picas). 

Before “jobs” ever go to the typesetters, though, they had to be marked up by the staff as to what sizes and widths it should be. Sometimes, type had to “wrap” around artwork. Again, before WYSIWYG, such specifications, or specs, had to be worked out by the markup staff, because each line had to have a specific indent to wrap around the art. Frequently, the typesetting staff had to cool their heels on busy nights while they waited for the markup staff to prepare the “jobs.” By the spring of 1988, I was confident enough to pitch in and help mark up the jobs. Workflow improved. But I had crossed a line. One night the night manager told me I was no longer to mark anything up. To my knowledge no disastrous errors had been made.

I called the day manager, hoping for a reasoned discussion, but was met with a barrage of curses. I was tired of working nights anyway, which I had done since 1982, and went to the Al Smith agency, which placed copy jobs including markup, proofreading and editing; at one time such jobs were so plentiful they made up two columns in the Times employment section, which was 40 pages in the 1980s. I spoke to Al Smith himself, a distinguished, silver-haired fellow, and was immediately sent over to ANY Phototype at 130 West 29th. ANY was run by two Russian brothers and their business partner and published ads, magazines and printed material in multiple languages. I handled proofreading and typesetting of all publications except the ones in Russian, which as you know uses Cyrillic characters. At the same time I attended classes at the now-defunct Center For the Media Arts, learning how to use Apple computers, QuarkXPress, Photoshop and Illustrator. After ANY was short on money and laid off staff, I was set up with new skills and was hired by Publishers Clearing House, then in Port Washington, where I worked for 12 years in two separate stints.

I have nostalgic feelings for any neighborhood in which I have worked, because ever since I got out of school, I’ve always considered it a minor miracle to be hired. I was able to work in the type biz in multiple roles steadily for 30 years, but the market has closed up considerably since 2011. I’ve already done an FNY page on my former workplaces, borne out of this mindset, for want of a better word. 

So I walk down West 29th now and then, just to see what’s up all these years later. Today, I’ll mention some stuff I missed the first time.

 

West 29th is at the southern end of Manhattan’s Garment District; clothing wholesalers still pack the side streets, as they have since the early 20th Century. More than any other NYC neighborhood, “faded ads” advertising such wholesalers are still inscribed on the tall office buildings that line these streets. Only now are most of them fading into illegibility. This stack, or vertical row, of ads is at 143 West 29th between 6th and 7th Avenues. When the Indispensable Walter Grutchfield snapped them they were a bit clearer. 

At 151, Henry Cowit uses the Belwe Medium font on the sidewalk shingle sign advertising his fur repair company. The font was developed in Germany and does have hints of that country’s famed blackletter printing. 

From my earlier 29th Street page:

130 West 29th appears to have been built, I’d say, around 1928 or 1929. There are these Deco-ish house numbers above the entrance. There was actually a fashion shoot (I guess) going on at the entrance, so I aimed above them rather than interrupt. The Randell Press occupied a different floor from ANY at the time — both have moved out of the building since. Next door was a parking lot that is now a Doubletree Inn. The other picture shows the 130 West 29th exterior as it was when I was there around 1990, with the Randell Press and Heros signs. I once had to battle an a would-be thief in the lobby. Scott Joplin once lived where the Doubletree is, according to Songlines.

 

In 2017, at long last my old roost at 130 West 29th seems to be undergoing a modern makeover. Up until recently it was really a throwback to its 1920s origins, as you can see above. I wonder what form this makeover will take; I’ll check back next year.

 

130 West 29th has its share of ancient painted ads, and some of them now survive butted up right next to the new Doubletree Inn (which obscures the extreme left side of the ads). The most prominent is on the bottom, Mannie Dannenberg Furs, but going bottom to top, there’s Cohen Marks Co., Bolotin & Goldin Mfg Furriers, Gordon / & / Gelberg / Mfg Fur, and at the top, an ad reading “Gold Leaf.”

 

Quite likely the biggest change to the block of West 29th where I worked came in 2011 when buildings on 29th and 30th were demolished and this new pedestrian plaza was constructed. 835 6th Avenue went up that year in place of an eyesore-ic parking garage, and its pedestrian passage features  a reflecting pool, Foodparc lunch vendor, and a big honking flat screen television. Tables and chairs stay in place via the honor system, as well as some electric eyes and guards I didn’t see.

 

6th Avenue between West 28th and 29th Street looks quite similar to the way it did in 1988 when I first began working here. There are still several flower dealers on either side of the avenue, as this is the northern end of the dwindling Flower and Plant District still holding somewhat firm on West 28th. In 2008, I examined this section of 6th where I spent so much time. 

 

The west side of 6th at West 29th. There had been a  Senegalese restaurant in this row when I was working in the area, where I tried lunch one day. The sign with the vinyl letters, a few of which have fallen off, was likely there in 1988.

 

This ad can still be plainly seen on West 29th, just east of 6th Avenue. According to Walter Grutchfield, Maid-Rite Dresses was only here from 1920-1921, so this defunct location has been advertised for over 90 years. Maid-Rite’s co-owner Herman Kohn began his career as an oil dealer and also sold “dust-collecting sweeping powder.”

Presently, the Maid-Rite name is associated with a completely different product: a chain of restaurants, mostly located in the Midwest, that feature sloppy joe sandwiches.

The bottom row touts Hoffman & Horwitz Suits & Coats.

 

Meanwhile a block south at 6th and west 28th, the McDonalds on the corner has received a makeover.

Formerly, it bore traces of its original incarnation, a Child’s restaurant, the fast food chain of its day in the early 20th Century. Childs restaurants used nautical motifs with fish, seahorses, and mermen. Some seahorses were left over on the facade, until the utilitarian renovation. 

 

3-story walkup on 29th, east of 6th Avenue, possibly a 19th-Century leftover. Wholesalers dominate this stretch.

 

A modern painted ad on 6th Avenue; traffic going north, stopped at a traffic jam, can see it. “Braintree, a subsidiary of PayPal, is a company based in Chicago that specializes in mobile and web payment systems for ecommerce companies.” In a future age, if this ad lasts a few decades, say the 2080s, will people know what Apple Pay, Paypal, Bitcoin were?

A building teardown at West 28th and Broadway allows an unusual angle to view the classic Gilsey House on the northeast corner. It goes all the way back to 1869 and was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch and Daniel D. Badger (which is a great name). When I was working in the area in the late 1980s it was painted deep brown, but it was later restored to the cream color it was reputed to have had when it first went up. It was the first hotel to offer telephone service to guests. It had a bar made of silver dollars. Playwright Oscar Wilde, author Mark Twain and Diamond Jim Brady, the great gourmand, were frequent guests. By 1911 the Gilsey closed down and the many rooms were occupied by garment trade lofts for several decades.

When working at ANY, I would sometimes have lunch at a long-gone German restaurant that occupied one of the storefronts on the West 29th Street side called The Olde Garden, which was very atmospheric, with a great feel of Old New York City.

 

The SE corner of 1186 Broadway and West 29th is held down by what was the Hotel Breslin when it opened in 1903 on the site of the Sturtevant House Hotel (1871-1902). It is now the Ace, still a hotel.

From 1875 to 1895 Broadway in this stretch was NYC’s vice capital: gambling dens, music halls, prostitution, ‘wild revelry and uproarious scenes.’ It was known as the Tenderloin district because cops on the take there were heard to say they could now eat tenderloin instead of chuck steak. There were respectable places here amid all the hugger-mugger, such as the original Delmonico’s at Broadway and West 26th. Banvard’s Museum, showing sculptures, paintings, caged animals and birds, and a tableau vivant featuring live models and actors depicting scenes from Dante’s Inferno. (The fun parts, I hope.)

 

The latest in hotel design, catering to travelers, is The Paul Hotel on West 29th. The Paul stands at about the same spot as The Cairo, a 19th Century dance hall where the strippers had a sideline as prostitutes.

 

Both West 28th (shown) and West 29th Streets at the NW corner of Broadway have had their corner buildings torn down; no doubt, tall glass-walled co-op buildings or hotels will soon be rising as this gritty area of NYC slowly begins to lose its character.

 

A pair of Indian restaurants on West 29th between Broadway and 5th Avenue. Mosques are located on the ground level spaces.

 

The front entrance of the Ace, the erstwhile Breslin, has been tricked out with a wrought-metal canopy with electric incandescent bulbs spelling words, a trick used by many places in the advent of the electric era in the 1890s.

 

I don’t know how much of 14 West 29th’s front is vintage. I think the railing is; this is one of the few walkups left on the block if not the only one. Its building is narrow, only two windows across. 

It appears that #9 West 29th, another modest walkup with interesting touches like the pyramid over the entrance with interesting cartouches, may not be too long for the world; it’s lamented here. 

Fifth Avenue is the Boulevard of Churches. The Marble  Collegiate Church is older than it looks-it was built from 1851-1854. The congregation itself –ultimately a part of the Dutch Reformed Church –was founded in 1628. Marble Collegiate is best known for being the pulpit from which Dr. Norman Vincent Peale spread his optimistic teaching, though Peale’s legacy is tainted in my book because he opposed JFK’s presidential campaign because Kennedy was Catholic. Richard Nixon was a congregant and President Donald Trump married his first wife Ivana here. 

“You can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” –Adlai Stevenson

 

Until the 1990s, NYC’s honorific street name signs were blue and white (like Bronx street signs from 1964-1984) but since then,  they’ve appeared in regulation green and white.

I was happy to see the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, “The Little Church Around the Corner,” once again revealed after a few years under construction netting. 

The church was founded by Rev. Dr. George Houghton in 1848, and in the following year, the small brick church appeared at what was then the city’s northern edge, even before the street grid was cut through. Houghton, an abolitionist, made the church a sanctuary for blacks fleeing the Draft Riots of 1863 and a stop on the underground railroad.

The church has been a favorite of actors since 1870, when thespian Joseph Jefferson requested a funeral for his friend George Holland at a neighboring Episcopal church. Upon learning Holland was also an actor (the profession was little regarded in some sections of society in that era), the church refused Jefferson, telling him to seek out the “little church around the corner.” A stained glass window depicts Joseph Jefferson, in a role as Rip Van Winkle, leading the enshrouded Holland. Today, the church and parsonage boast a charming garden, an oasis from bustling Fifth Avenue.

 

The tall Renaissance Revival tower at the SE corner of East 29th and Madison Avenue with the elaborate terra cotta ornamentation (especially on the top floors) was originally the Emmet Mansion.

Doctor Thomas Addis Emmet was quite a man of letters in the late 19th and early 20th Century — a gynecologist by trade, he was a book collector and a vehement critic of English rule in Ireland and a relative of NYS Attorney General Thomas Addis Emmet, an Irish immigrant who had been involved in revolutionary activity there. Dr. Emmet owned several of these townhouses on the east side of Madison between East 28th and 29th, and in 1912 at the age of 84 he tore them down and built the 16-story building still there at #95 Madison. See this FNY page for the incredible building details, which include nude ladies and winged monkeys.

 

The Redbury Hotel, 29 East 29th, was originally the Martha Washington Hotel, which catered to an exclusively female clientele from 1902-2002; the building was also home to the Danceteria rock club, where Madonna got her start in the early 1980s. 

 

A pair of interesting walkups at #35 and #37. At #35 the tricolor flag is that of the Republic of Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe that attained independence upon the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Next door at #37 is Wolfe Tone’s Irish Pub & Kitchen. 

Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) attempted to establish a united Irish free state but was forced into exile in 1794. Upon trying to re-enter Ireland he was arrested for treason and died under mysterious circumstances in prison, apparently after an attempted suicide. He is buried in County Kildare. His wife, Matilda Tone, moved to NYC in 1815 and joined her son, who was working for the US War Department, in Washington the following year. Upon her death she was originally buried in DC, but her descendants had her moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in 1891.

At #30 and #32 are a pair of interesting ancient signs, for a former bar-restaurant and a rubber stamp dealer.

Next: a walk up Park Avenue on Summer Streets Saturday

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

8/13/17

 


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11 Responses to RETURN TO 29th STREET

  1. Ed Unneland says:

    Was the restaurant called “The Blue Sea” once upon a time??

  2. Joe Fliel says:

    The original Delmonico’s was located at 23 William Street. It opened in 1827.

  3. Bill Tweeddale says:

    29th Street was also the title of a 1991 movie starring Danny Aiello and Anthony LaPaglia. However, it was filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina, not Manhattan. A very entertaining film nevertheless, as is your photo tour of the neighborhood.

  4. BobK says:

    The Emmet Mansion is one heckuva mansion, as mansions go! How many Upstairs Maids did the place employ, anyway?

  5. Jamie says:

    Lived in this “hood from 1979 to 1983 at 862 6th Ave (30th & 6th Ave) and remember all the “classics” in their PRIME!

  6. Joe Fliel says:

    The Tenderloin District, which was also called Satan’s Circus, got its name from a comment made by Inspector Alexander “Clubber” Williams after he was transferred to the West 30th Street precinct on Sept. 30, 1876. This precinct was one of the most important posts in the city, being the center of the Broadway’s night clubs, gambling resorts and “disorderly houses”. The precinct covered the area from Madison Square north to 48th Street between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. Referring to the increased amount of bribes he would receive for police protection of both legitimate and illegitimate businesses there – especially the many brothels – Williams reportedly said to a reporter,“I’ve been having chuck steak ever since I’ve been on the force, and now I’m going to have a bit of tenderloin.” In another account, Williams came into Delmonico’s new location on W.26th St. (across from Madison Square) for dinner. He saw Abraham Hummel, infamous shyster and partner in the equally infamous law firm of Howe & Hummel, and said, You’d better behave yourself, Mr. Hummel, or you won’t be coming in here for any more of them juicy beefsteaks you’re always eating”, prompting Hummel to reply, “Speaking of that, Inspector, that’s a juicy tenderloin they just handed you.”

    He also once said, “There is more law in the end of a policeman’s nightstick then in a decision of the Supreme Court”, in response to criticism of excessive force. That phrase was repeated by Police Academy instructors right up until the 1970s. “Clubber” sure had a way with words.

    • NY2AZ says:

      Pre-Civil War NYC was even worse, although in that era most of the population lived between canal St. & the Battery. See “Law & Disorder” by Bruce Chadwick; recently published, it contains many anecdotes similar to yours.

  7. Rahul says:

    When I was a kid I lived at 29th and Lexington, and I remember a few blocks west of us there was this funky hippie shop called The Boggle Shop. This was probably 1970 or 1971. They sold pillows and toys and cuddly little gewgaws, a lot of them with a kind of Hobbit look. Looking at your pictures, Kevin, I’m pretty sure that this was in one of buildings where the Pakistani restaurants are now between 5th Ave. and Broadway, either 13 W. 29th or the one next door, on the upper floor with the show window. I remember the owners were this tall, skinny beanpole of a guy with a beaky face and a shaggy mop top, and his blissed-out hippie mama wife.

  8. Ian Miller says:

    Small world! I’m pretty sure I worked at 130 W. 29th during the Summer of 2009. I don’t remember the exact address, but I know it was next to the Double Tree and the facade in the photos rings a bell.

    The building was definitely not modernized, especially with the old elevator that was constantly breaking down. In those events we’d have to go up in the freight elevator. But it definitely had charm, a rarity with these glass boxes being put up all over the city.

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