Back in June, I was ambling around in the East Village and recorded scenes along East 2nd Street. At the same time, I also checked out East 1st Street, which is only two and a half blocks long. Perfect for when I want an easy weekend post! I’ll preface it the same way I did East 2nd….
MANHATTAN has many quirks, even among its numbered streets. Little West 12th Street was renamed from West 12th Street when the “real” West 12th Street took over the route of the former Troy Street in the 1800s. Both 6th and 7th Avenues were extended south from their former southern termini. 13th Avenue once existed, and it will again. Today I’ll concern myself with one of the “East” streets to which there is no “west” counterpart, East 2nd. There are East 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th Streets, but centuries ago, under the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, they were never extended west.
If you look at the map, Bleecker could just as well have been part of 1st Street, Bond could have been 2nd, Washington Place could have been 5th, Waverly Place could have been 6th, and as for 7th…I don’t see anything for it (sorry, 7th). North of 8th, when 5th Avenue becomes the pole that divides east and west numbered streets, “order” is somewhat restored.
The aforementioned 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th don’t really need the “East” affix. Nonetheless there they are, out of pure convention. They all fall within the East Village, and all have things to recommend to Forgottenphiles. In June 2021, I marched down East 1st from east to west which isn’t as arduous as covering some of the midtown streets between 23rd and 59th, the lengthiest east-west numbered streets on the island.
The street grids of the Lower East Side and the East Village are slightly athwart each other and meet at a bit of an angle, divided by East Houston Street. Because of this, both East 1st and 2nd intersect East Houston at very narrow angles. The “needle park” at the narrow angle of East 1st and East Houston is Peretz “Square,” named in 1952 for Isaac Loeb Peretz (1851-1915), an attorney, author, essayist and poet born in Poland under Russian rule. He wrote primarily in Yiddish and was known as the “Great Educator” of the Jewish masses.
A writer of social criticism, sympathetic to the labor movement, he wrote stories, folk tales and plays. Liptzin characterizes him as both a realist and a romanticist, who “delved into irrational layers of the soul”… ; “an optimist who believed in the inevitability of progress through enlightenment”, and who, at times, expressed this optimism through “visions of Messianic possibilities”. Still, while most Jewish intellectuals were unrestrained in their support of theRussian Revolution of 1905, Peretz’s view was more reserved, focusing more on the pogroms that took place within the Revolution, and concerned that the Revolution’s universalist ideals would leave little space for Jewish non-conformism. wikipedia
Both East 1st and East 2nd Streets were recently (in 2014) rerouted by the NYC Department of Transportation so that traffic meets at less of an angle.
#108 East 1st Street at East Houston, according to NY Songlines, used to be a synagogue, the Beth Haknesseth Anshe Padheitze, a Polish congregation, later the Lithuanian Kochob Jacob Anshe Kamenetz Lite. It still has its Star, though today it’s strictly residential.
I can’t help but mention Katz’s Deli, on Houston and Ludlow directly opposite Peretz Square. The famed eatery was founded by the Iceland brothers in 1888 and became Katz’s after the Katz family bought out the Icelands in 1910. They moved to this location when the IND Subway was built beneath Houston Street in the 1930s, while today’s familiar storefront and neon sign were added between 1946 and 1949. Here’s what this location looked like in 1940. I’ve been in Katz’s only once or twice though I like deli fare; I’m a little daunted by the turnstiles and the unusual ticket/pay as you exit policy.
Here’s Katz’s in 1940, when it fronted on #183 Ludlow Street. You can see Houston Street on the right.
Here we are at 1st and 1st, 1st Avenue and East 1st. There’s a neat little 5-story apartment house on the NW corner of 1 and 1, with 12 over 12 windows and a couple of eateries on the ground floor. There’s also a beach house on the roof.
I went where I usually go in situations like this, to Nick Carr’s Scouting NY (though he has since moved to Los Angeles, as befits a movie scene scout). He has some nice photos of the beach house with its cupola and weathervane, but no idea about how and when it got there. It just joins the many other quirks along or near East Houston, like the scrambled clock and statue of Vladimir Lenin.
The Nexus Lounge, which shares space with the One and One tavern, is cleverly named. Why?
On a Seinfeld episode, Kosmo Kramer, who rarely ventured outside the Upper West Side except to visit Jerry’s parents in Florida, is lost downtown at 1st and 1st, which he says “must be the nexus of the universe.”
And who knows, maybe he was right.
You might think there would be a #1 1st Avenue, where it meets East 1st Street. It would make perfect sense. However, the first address on 1st Avenue is #13, the bar Boilermaker you can likely procure the combination drink, a “shot and a beer”, with the shot usually whiskey. No doubt, actual boilermakers would drink the combination after (or during) work.
As for the Purdue University football team…
In 1889, the Purdue football team played Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and won the game 18-4. Students from the college and citizens of Crawfordsville began calling the Purdue players “a great big burly gang of corn-huskers”, “grangers”, “pumpkin-shuckers”, “railsplitters”, “blacksmiths,” “cornfield sailors”, and “foundry hands”. The Purdue students experienced hands-on education at the university, including the maintenance of a fully operational steam locomotive.
Purdue defeated Wabash College again in 1891, 44–0. An account of the game in the Crawfordsville Daily Argus News of October 26, 1891, was headlined, “Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue”. Purdue became known as the Boilermakers the next year. wikipedia
Two doors down is #17 1st Avenue, the Speedy Lock & Door Co. There’s nothing I can discern that’s historic or unusual about the location, but the lettering on that sign looks rather familiar…
To me, it looks like the signmaker was inspired by the sign at McSorley’s Old Ale House on East 7th Street near Cooper Square, which has been there since about 1860, give or take a few years (no matter what the sign says).
It’s easy to overlook these signplates at 1st and 1st, above Boilermaker at #13 1st.
First Park occupies a substantial part of the wedge of land west of 1st Avenue between East Houston and East 1st. It first opened in 1935 and was substantially renovated, with a new kiddie playground, in June 1997, when then-NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern gave it its present name. Stern, who was fond of quirky or esoteric names, gave it a new, obvious name, after the dominant number in the area. The park has a frequently-changing food concession; but in the Age of Covid, the kiosk is empty for now.
It’s quite possible that the var Boilermaker was inspired by Abetta Boiler and Welding Service at #66, just west of 1st Avenue. Occasionally, Abetta features music.
Part cultural center and part museum, City Lore at #56 East 1st Street was founded in 1986 and is devoted expressly to the “documentation, preservation, and presentation of urban folk culture.” Its programs seek to illustrate New York city’s cultural richness with archives containing over 100,000 images, hundreds of oral histories, and traditional music and poetry performance tapes and its People’s Hall of Fame honors contributors to NYC’s cultural milieu, such as Peter Benfaremo (the Lemon Ice King of Corona), Jim Power (the Mosaic Man of St. Mark’s Place) and the center produces/sponsors documentary films such as Ric Burns’ Coney Island and the five-part series New York: A Documentary Film; City of Dreams, a film about women artists in New York City.
Prune, at #54 East 1st, was founded by chef Gabrielle Hamilton in 1999, becoming renowned for its brunch, which in healthier times had lines going down the block. The restaurant is named for Hamilton’s childhood nickname, not the fruit used as a laxative. I liked the lighting globes with the name of the restaurant on them. Currently closed for the COVID pandemic.
In the place of #48 East 1st street is the First Street Garden, with (now-chipping) portraits of activist women such as Dorothy Day (see below), Underground Railroader Harriet Tubman, anarchist Emma Goldman and grass-roots organizer Ella Baker.
#40 East 1st was originally Public School 79. Just showing the entrance here because the building is so tall I cannot find an angle in which to show the entire handsome red brick building; I suggest you head over there are train your peepers on it directly.
A nondescript brick building at 34-36 East 1st Street is panted light blue and marked with a sign saying “The Catholic Worker.” Here social activist and convert to the Catholic Church Dorothy Day (1897-1980) initiated the St. Joseph Hospitality Church, a soup kitchen/hostel/office for the publication of The Catholic Worker newspaper in 1967. Day took the paper and Catholic Worker’s operations to nearby 55 East 3rd in a building known as Maryhouse in the 1970s, but this building still offers a small amount of rooms and opens up to area destitute for soup from Tuesday through Friday at 10AM. For several years Day herself resided in southwest Staten Island in a housing project set up by Spanish immigrants in the mid-20th Century; it was razed in 2000.
Unlike the First Street Garden, the public space where #33 East 1st Street used to be is unnamed. It hosts a shifting array of artworks and street murals.
I’m not sure there was ever a building here! The Municipal Archives photo shows an empty lot there in 1940.
There’s a standard issue glassy tower with a TD Bank on the SW corner of East 1st Street and 2nd Avenue. (To their credit, TD Banks usually feature a mural with old photos of the surrounding area). Before about a decade, this location was…
… the Mars Bar, which had been called the quintessential New York dive bar by more than one observer.
Writing in the original (2003) edition of New York’s Best Dive Bars, Wendy Mitchell writes:
Despite the friendly crowd, the Mars Bar more than lives up to its reputation as New York’s King (and Queen and Prince) of dives. If you’re up for adventure, you might find it here, wrapped in many layers of filth. The place is dank, dark and dirty, and the night I was there I saw the largest cockroach I have ever seen in New York City, In addition, the bathroom will put fear in the hearts of mere mortals. It also worried me a bit that the obviously intoxicated bartender (obvious because she was drinking shots) was mixing drinks with orange juice sitting out behind the bar like you’d see at some frat party…
The crowning touch, however, are the cases of beer stacked up in the back like the Great Wall of China, plus dozens upon dozens of empties strewn about the rest of the bar. If all of this isn’t enough to leave your head spinning with wonder at what the seedy years of pre-Giuliani NYC were like, you’re assured of at least a bit of a time warp thanks to an old alarm clock that always reads “Wed Jan 23.”
Mars Bar was covered, inside and out, with amateur and “outsider” art. In New York Nearsay, Vivienne Gucwa tales a look at the interior and perhaps, offers an elegy:
When Mars Bar first came into existence, New York City was trying desperately to rebound from the economic crisis of the 1970s. The East Village community was comprised of those trying to build the community up along with those who were settling into the neighborhood hoping to experience the East Village’s thriving artistic community. The East Village had a distinct reputation for embracing those with anarchist ideas and a bohemian flair. The East Village was a place where anything could happen, a haven for the arts in all forms. Mars Bar was simply the sum of all of these complex pieces of a blossoming equation.
A Little Something Extra
I’m skipping over much of East 1st between the Bowery and 2nd Avenue; it’s uninteresting, with new residential towers built by developers Avalon Bay. But I always have time for Extra Place, on the north side of the street at #6 East 1st.
Extra Place was extra land left over when in 1800, landowner Philip Minthorne divided his 110-acre farm equally among his four sons and five daughters. A tiny parcel was left over, which became Extra Place. I’ve always been fascinated with it, since I when I first found it on my way to a Certain General show at CBGB in December 1981, it looked the way it did when NYC lamppost king Bob Mulero snapped it in 1978.
When Avalon Bay began building high rise buildings for rich Manhattanites in the newly chic East Village in the mid-2000s, it also gave Extra Place a complete makeover, especially to the alley’s east side, which it controlled, but it also paved the old alley for the first time since it boasted paving stones, and even installed sidewalks. I think Avalon hoped to give Extra Place some of the buzz another ancient alley. Freeman’s, acquired when its eponymous restaurant opened there, but so far, the buzz has gone flat. Some of the ancient Extra Place can still be glimpsed especially toward the end of the alley with an antediluvian brick building, the back door of what used to be CBGB, with a broken DOT-issued wall lamp bracket.
The beginning of East 1st Street, at the Bowery. Since this photo was taken in June 2021, clothing shop Patagonia closed. The name refers to the south tip of South America encompassing parts of Argentina and Chile.
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Katz’s ticket system for customers is probably the last surviving example of what many NYC cafeterias used for years. An entering customer had to take a ticket, on which one side were squares with numbers for different prices. The counterman punched the value of what you picked out, which meant that multiple items had to be added manually so that the last number represented what you owed the cashier. The second side was mostly blank to allow the last counterman to write in an amount that was more than the numbers on the first side.
Problem with Katz’s today is that the numbers look like 1960 prices, so that nothing is punched anymore. The countermen simply write the last amount owed with a black crayon. Make sure you hold onto the ticket until leaving – otherwise you may get hit with a surcharge or get yelled at.
The best part about the Katz’s self-service system is that one sandwich is normally enough for two normal-sized humans, so my wife would normally split one sandwich. There’s no problem getting extra plates or utensils. Cold water is always available. Prices are a bit high but the ability to split an order makes it a good value.
The tables along the far right side wall are reserved for customers who wish to order from a waiter/waitress. Prices are the same but a tip is obviously in order at the end.
Generally very good pastrami and corned beef, my two favorites. I haven’t been to Katz’s since before the pandemic, because it is often very cramped and crowded. These days If I want good CB and pistol (NY deli lingo) in Midtown, I patronize another place (won’t reveal it here).
I too haven’t been to Katz’s in years. Now overrun with tourists, especially after the Carnegie Deli closed. And the sandwiches are indeed enormous. When I used to go, I’d bring a plastic sealable baggie to hold the half of a sandwich—I preferred the lean Brisket—that I woult take home, to eat the next day.
I’m digging this!
In actuality, there _were_ #s 1-11 fronting 1st Avenue. The buildings were between East 1st Street and East Houston Street, where First Park is sited. For reference, refer to this map Bromley – City of New York – 1891, Plate 8 for these addresses and many others in the vicinity that were eliminated.
Every time I visit NYC I always like to hang in the East Village, especially Doc Holidays, the area reminds me of the old Coconut Grove part of Miami. Good times.
1st Street and Avenue A is in a couple of scenes in the 1948 film “Naked City”. There was an oddly shaped wedge apartment building between Norfolk and Avenue A which can be seen in 1940 tax photos. In the scene the actors pass a hurdy-gurdy man playing on the sharp corner. It was filmed before the widening of Houston St. was continued eastward to the FDR. The widening would have happened sooner if the Transit Authority had raised the funds to extend the subway to the planned South W 4th Street station in Williamsburg. Many of Houston St. empty lots were left unfinished after the construction of the F train as there were plans to make the street a faster route to the Holland Tunnel with devoted turn lanes onto the main streets.
I saw Dorothy Day on 3rd st. once.Still a fox even in her 80s.
Hey bud, I was at that same Certain Generals show too. My friends and I became very friendly with the band and would go see them preform whenever they played. Probably the best show was an early one at a club called the Cavern Club on North Moore st back in the early 80’s.
Likely #1-11 were razed when the IND station was build. While called 2nd Ave, the 1st Ave entrance was my usual entry/exit. Before the new park, there was a bocce ballspot with nearly constant games during daylight hours. As to Katz’s, yes the prices go back to the 60s when I lived on 7th facing T Sq Park. Back then it was kosher so I drank Dr Brown’sCreme soda w/ my brisket sandwiches. Also there was a sign forbidding tips to the countermen