The Flatiron Building is one of the city’s most iconic and beloved landmarks. Since 1902 it’s been a symbol of New York, though ironically its acute angle formed by the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue makes it an unusual sight in our otherwise orthogonal city on a grid. But while the Flatiron Building may be the most famous product of quirky street angles, it’s far from the only one. In fact, the “off-the-grid” streets of Greenwich Village and the East Village contain scores of them, most of which pre-date the 23rd Street landmark.
Image by Bikes And Books
If you think there is nothing worse than renting an apartment with windows and no view, think again. At one point in the city’s history, where one may now enjoy a small sliver of daylight and at least some fresh air, there was no light or air at all. Indeed, at some points in the history tenants’ windows looked out onto slits—sometimes a mere 28 inches wide—that were teeming with waste, rancid smells, and noise.
The Highlanders play a game at Hilltop Park in 1912, photo via NYPL
Not unlike their unexpected ALCS journey this year, the most dominant team in American sports got off to quite a rocky start. Not only did the New York Highlanders, now known as the Yankees, have a losing record for many years, the team’s first home field was a mess: it was located near a swamp, the outfield had no grass, and the ballpark sat mostly unfinished. In just six weeks, 500 men hastily built the stadium on Broadway and 168th Street in Washington Heights, known as Hilltop Park, in time for the Highlander’s first home game on April 30, 1903. Due to the unsavory, rock-filled conditions, the last big league game at Hilltop Park was played in October of 1912. Following its closure, the Highlanders changed their name to the Yankees in 1913, moved to the Bronx, and went on to become one of the most successful sports teams in the world.
The corner of Broadway and 55th Street in 1970
6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Edward Grazda shares photos from the “mean streets” of 1970s and ’80s NYC. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
When photographer Edward Grazda moved to New York in the early ’70s, he was renting a loft on Bleecker Street for $250 a month during a time when the city was in a financial crisis, jobs were hard to come by, and places like the Bowery were facing a huge rise in homelessness. But it was also a time when a new generation of artists were beginning to move in. Instead of the tourist- and millionaire-filled streets we see today, 40 years ago they were teeming with energy. “I felt like there were many possibilities to be creative,” Ed says. And with that in mind, he began shooting candids and random street scenes between personal projects in Latin American and Afghanistan. This work abroad taught him “how to make oneself invisible and blend in on the street.”
Just a few years ago, Ed rediscovered these black-and-white photos and noticed how different things are now, from the physical buildings to the absence of people reading newspapers. He decided to compile them into a book “Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985,” which was just released earlier this week and offers a rare look back “at that desolate era captured with the deliberate and elegant eye that propelled Grazda to further success.”
Lorraine Hansberry at her typewriter in her Greenwich Village apartment in 1960. Photo by David Attie courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.
Lorraine Hansberry, the trailblazing playwright, activist, and Nina Simone song inspiration was perhaps most closely associated with Chicago. But in fact she lived, went to school, and spent much of her life in Greenwich Village, even writing her best known play “A Raisin in the Sun” while living on Bleecker Street. And shortly a historic plaque will mark the site of her home on Waverly Place.
Rendering by 3DCOW
Apartments comprised of a series of directly connected rooms—without a hallway—are a common feature of the New York City housing market. Generally, this layout is described as a “railroad apartment.” It is important to note, however, that depending on where you are in the United States, the “railroad” may, in fact, refer to a very different type of layout—namely, an apartment with a series of rooms connected by one long hallway. Indeed, in many other U.S. cities, “shot-gun apartment” is the more commonly used term for an apartment where rooms are connected without a hallway, and in some cities, these apartments are also described as “floor-through apartments.”
Whatever you call them, the layout nearly always comes with its share of pros and cons. At their best, this apartment layout offers considerably more space at a lower cost than a conventional layout and desirable pre-war details. At their worse, this layout offers nothing but a dark and dank space that can be especially awkward when shared by roommates rather than couples.
Chapel of the Holy Comforter (1846-1856), courtesy of NYCago
While New York City’s waterways have featured both floating pools and floating parks, they also once held floating churches. The Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey (SCI) first built a floating house of worship in 1844, designed for sailors. According to Untapped Cities, the group’s first big project included building the Church of Our Savior, which floated in the East River off of Pike Street in downtown Manhattan.
Stonewall Inn, photo via Wikimedia
LGBT activists will unveil a rainbow flag outside the historic gay bar Stonewall Inn on Wednesday, marking the 30th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The Greenwich Village bar at 53 Christopher Street is often credited with launching the gay rights movement after multiple violent police raids in the summer of 1969. President Barack Obama designated Stonewall as a national monument last year, the first National Park Service unit dedicated to the gay rights movement (h/t DNA info). Stonewall’s rainbow flag will be the first permanent LGBT pride flag in New York City.
Caffe Reggio, via Prayitno/Flickr
Many think of Little Italy’s Mulberry Street or the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue as the centers of Italian-American life and culture in New York. But some of the most historically significant sites relating to the Italian-American experience in New York can be found in the Greenwich Village blocks known as the South Village–from the first church in America built specifically for an Italian-American congregation to the cafe where cappuccino was first introduced to the country, to the birthplace of Fiorello LaGuardia, NYC’s first Italian-American mayor.
A walk down any block in today’s New York City feels like taking a tour of a giant, noisy, scaffolded construction site. But the map mavens at Esri show us that this is definitely not the only time in history when living in the city felt like occupying a giant beaver colony. Their fascinating New York construction map brings new life to the word “built environment” with time lapse coverage of over a million buildings being built in NYC starting in 1880.