March 2019 marks Forgotten New York’s 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I’ve re-scanned about 150 key images from the early days of FNY from 35MM prints. In the early days, when people including me were accessing FNY with dial-up modems, I had to save photos really small — in some cases, just 4″ across. I couldn’t find all those early photos — I think I foolishly discarded some along the way — but all month, and into April, I’ll be picking out some and showing the newly scanned versions.
In the shadow of the old LIRR powerhouse, on Borden Avenue and 2nd Street, you will find the Waterfront Crabhouse, located in a two-story brick building with a red awning. Its present blandish exterior reveals no clue of its former role as Tony Miller’s Hotel, a social epicenter of Long Island City.
Miller constructed a lavish, three-story hotel here in 1881, described as containing a huge horseshoe-shaped bar formed from a single piece of black walnut; three dining rooms; and 30 bedrooms on the third floor. It was quickly able to attract a sizable and star-studded clientele that included architect Stanford White (who co-designed the massive powerhouse a block north), auto racer Barney Oldfield, boxer Tim Sullivan, and entertainer Lillian Russell. Teddy Roosevelt was seen at Miller’s, and Grover Cleveland was spotted drinking at the bar. The hotel and restaurant’s eminence derived directly from its location across the street from the former Long Island City terminal of the Long Island Rail Road. Prior to 1910, when Penn Station was opened, Long Island City was as far west as the railroad got in Queens. The hotel lost momentum after Tony Miller’s death in 1897 and the LIRR Manhattan connection was instituted in 1910. In 1919, Prohibition dealt the final blow and the hotel was shut down. The building subsequently served as a phonograph factory, a warehouse, and went through other stints as a restaurant and a hotel for several decades. A 1975 fire claimed the third floor. Restaurateur Anthony Mazzarella opened the Waterfront Crabhouse in 1978, and it has attracted famous visitors just as Tony Miller’s did in the old days: Bobby Hull, Paul Newman, Ed Asner and Maureen O’Hara, and many other sports and entertainment luminaries, have all visited over the years.
Hurricane Sandy dealt a blow to the Crabhouse, which in its glory days was an affordable seafood restaurant, with its walls festooned with NYC memorabilia like subway signs, board games, advertisements, bottles, framed pictures, and other donated artifacts. Mazzarella was a boxing buff and the bar area was crammed with pugilistic memorabilia. After Mazzarella’s death, his family sold it to a new operator, and all of the memorabilia went to the Mazzarella family; the menu was updated and made more expensive.
For a number of years, friends and I would meet each summer around my birthday for lunch at the Crabhouse, but the area has utterly changed the last few years, with pricey residential buildings going up across the street, and a large park built at the East River waterfront. The old Penn Station powerhouse, which was home to Schwartz Chemical for a number of years, was also converted to a condominium in the mid-2000s, with its four huge smokestacks dismantled and taken away. They can still be seen on abstract paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe.