History

History, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Midtown, More Top Stories

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger have asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library’s main branch and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at the 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue branch as interior landmarks, according to DNAInfo. The library’s main branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, was given landmark designation in 1967 and Astor Hall and the grand staircases within the building were designated as interior landmarks in 1974. Interior landmark designation would give the two reading rooms–favorites of literary greats including Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow and Elizabeth Bishop–the same protection moving forward.

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Features, History, photography, The urban lens, Top Stories

The Urban Lens: A tourist’s take on NYC in 1979

By Dana Schulz, Fri, May 19, 2017

NYC 1979, vintage New York, old NYC photos, NYC 1970s

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, we share a set of vintage photos documenting NYC in 1979. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

In the spring of 1979, a 20-something Australian tourist came to NYC and was immediately struck by its fast pace and no-nonsense attitude (“there seemed to be an unwritten rule not to make eye contact or speak to strangers,” he told Gothamist), as well as how much in disrepair parts of the city were, especially Harlem. He documented his experience through a series of color slides, which were recently rediscovered and present a unique view of how exciting, frightening, and mysterious New York was to an outsider at this time.

See all the historic photos

History

Circus in Lincoln Tunnel, NY Times 1971, Railroad Strike

Image via ediblegeograpgy.com

On May 17, 1971, a nationwide rail workers strike left a number of circus animals from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus stranded five miles from their performance at Madison Square Garden. While most of the circus caravan traveled to the show by truck, 19 elephants, a zebra, a llama and a pony marched from South Kearny, N.J. to MSG via the Lincoln Tunnel.

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History, Midtown East, More Top Stories

Though we’re getting used to bidding farewell to our favorite vestiges of old New York, the May 17 reopening of historic and elegant cocktail establishment Campbell Apartment brings a rare reprieve to that familiar scenario, as The New York Times reports. Shuttered in July, the iconic lounge tucked away deep within Grand Central Terminal will reopen as an expanded version of the original. Both its slightly hidden nature and the establishment’s dress code will not be returning in its newest incarnation. The new, easier-to-find bar will be run by the Gerber Group, who says they want the bar to be less stuffy, hopefully without losing any of the historic and genteel appeal that made it a favorite grown-up rendezvous spot and a great way to impress a date.

Find out the story behind this unique NYC space

History, More Top Stories

the anthora, nyc original coffee cup, nyc coffee

In a city full of symbolism, from bright yellow taxis to black-and-white cookies, New Yorkers also find comfort and nostalgia in a certain cardboard coffee cup. Known as the Anthora, the blue-and-white drinking vessel first became an icon of New York City in 1963 when Leslie Buck, a Czech-American immigrant, designed the first ever to-go coffee cup to appeal to Greek-owned coffee shops and diners. With its customer-friendly “We Are Happy to Serve You” inscription and Greek-style letters, the Anthora has now become an important part of the city’s identity.

The whole history here

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Far Rockaway, Features, History, Queens

Before JFK, there was Idlewild Airport

By Penelope Bareau, Mon, May 15, 2017

Changes are afoot at JFK International Airport; construction has already begun on the transformation of Eero Saarinen’s masterful TWA terminal, out of commission since TWA folded in 2001, into a 505-room first class hotel, and just a few months ago, Governor Cuomo announced a massive $10 billion overhaul of the whole airport, which will involve interconnecting the terminals, redesigning roads, and improving parking, amenities and security. When finished, the airport will bear little resemblance to what it once was, which has a much more interesting history than one might think. Ahead, 6sqft delves into how JFK changed from a playground for the rich to a major international airport, with some interesting debacles in between.

The whole history ahead

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Features, History, Meatpacking District, More Top Stories, photography, The urban lens

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation shares archival images of the gritty Meatpacking District from the 1980s to early 2000s. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

“Few parts of New York City have transformed as dramatically in the last decade or so as the Meatpacking District. Changes in the area are physical as well as spiritual. What was once a deserted ghost town by day, nightlife, sex club, and prostitution hub by night, and bustling workaday center of the Meatpacking industry from early morning to noon is now a glitzy, glamorized center of shopping, dining, tourism, strolling, and arts consumption,” says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The organization recently released a collection of archival photos of the neighborhood’s post-industrial grit, “before the Whitney, before the High Line, before Apple and Diane von Furstenberg, even before Sex and the City discovered the neighborhood.” Ahead, 6sqft shares these images, from the 1980s to the mid-2000s, which document the major transformation that’s taken place in just the past decade.

See all the photos here

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Features, History, Interviews, Landmarks Preservation Commission

Joan Geismar boasts a job that’ll make any urban explorer jealous. For the past 32 years, she’s operated her own business as an archaeological consultant, digging underneath the streets of New York City to find what historical remnants remain. Her career kicked off in 1982, with the major discovery of an 18th-century merchant ship at a construction site near the South Street Seaport. (The land is now home to the 30-story tower 175 Water Street.) Other discoveries include digging up intact remnants of wooden water pipes, components of the city’s first water system, at Coenties Slip Park; studying the long-defunct burial ground at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and working alongside the renovation in Washington Square Park, in which she made a major revelation about the former Potter’s Field there.

With 6sqft, she discusses what it felt like unearthing a ship in Lower Manhattan, the curious headstone she found underneath Washington Square Park, and what people’s trash can tell us about New York history.

The full interview ahead

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Architecture, Features, Financial District, History, Top Stories

Image via Library of Congress

While the news industry today continues to shift from bustling offices to laptops in coffee shops, it may be hard to imagine that the publishing industry was at the epicenter of some of the world’s most important architectural feats. But this was the case in late 19th century New York City, when the daily newspaper industry was centered at Park Row, near City Hall. Such institutions included The New York Times, The New York Tribune and The New York World. 

Take a trip back in time with us and explore Newspaper Row

Brooklyn, History

Did you know G.I. Joe, considered the world’s first action figure, was first conceptualized in Brooklyn? The famous toy was invented by NYC native Stanley Weston, who passed away this month at 84 years old. Weston, born in Brooklyn in 1933, sold his idea for a military-themed toy to Hasbro for $100,000 when he was just 30 years old. Hasbro later turned it into a $100 million success, with more generations of the dolls, comic books, a television series and movies following it.

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History, Transportation

In order to collect fares from various stations, the MTA created a special armored train that moved all the subway and bus fares collected to a secret room at 370 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. As Untapped Cities learned, the money trains, which ran from 1951 to 2006, had 12 collecting agents and one supervisor, all of whom were armed and wearing body armor. After the Metrocard arrived, the revenue collection system changed, and the final armored train rode in January 2006 on the same day the Money Room closed.

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Harlem, History, maps

Harlem Renaissance, Map of Harlem 1932, nightlife harlem

Map courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

During the Harlem Renaissance, some of the greatest black jazz musicians, poets, artists and writers of all time emerged in New York City between the 1920s and 30s. Thanks to an animated map acquired by Yale’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, we can get a sense of the vibrant nightlife of Harlem during this time in history (h/t Slate). This original pen-and-brush map was drawn by Elmer Simms Campbell, one of the first commercially successful, and syndicated, African-American cartoonists in the country. The map faces southwest, bound by 110th Street, and highlights the main attractions on Lenox and Seventh Avenues.

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Architecture, History, Midtown East

A rescued collection of terra cotta building facade figures–including naked cherubs, smiling porpoises and the head of Neptune–that once adorned an 18-story office building next to Grand Central Station are in need of a new home. The building was demolished to make way for the under-construction One Vanderbilt skyscraper; at the urging of New York Landmarks Conservancy Chair Lloyd Zuckerberg, the new building’s developer, SL Green Realty Corp., saved the three terra cotta panels from the facade of 51 East 42nd Street. Warren and Wetmore, the building’s architects, also designed the station.

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East Village, Events, History

When we point the finger at gentrifying neighborhoods, the East Village often gets a lot of heat thanks to its quickly climbing rents, shift from a more diverse population (today, roughly 40 percent of the ‘hood is between the ages of 20 and 34), and loss of small businesses. And though this final fact is certainly true, especially as it pertains to eateries (just this past year we said goodbye to Angelica Kitchen, The Redhead, and Lanza’s), the East Vill still has a wealth of independent restaurants that pay homage to its rich immigrant history as well as a crop of new establishments that are sensitive to the community and represent the new wave of foodie culture. 

This weekend, two events will explore the past and future of the East Village through its food establishments–a walking tour led by 6sqft’s Senior Editor Dana Schulz for GVSHP will take you through the Italian, Ukrainian/Eastern European, and Indian history and A Taste of 7th Street will offer a self-guided chance to taste samplings from 10 local favorites.

more details here

History, Video

Robert Moses, the “master builder,” was arguably the most influential individual in the development of New York City’s politics and physical structure. He’s widely known for his hand in creating New York State’s massive parkway network (he built 13 expressways through NYC) and erecting large public housing complexes in low-scale neighborhoods (many of which were segregated), and has therefore been named as the source of many of the city’s gentrification and urban decline issues still present today. Regardless of this criticism, his breath of knowledge and experience was unparalleled (we can also thank him for Lincoln Center, Jones Beach, and countless public swimming pools) and is the subject of this 15-minute television program called Longines Chronoscope that aired in 1953, at the height of his heyday.

Watch the video here

Events, History, Midtown East

Can you locate Tudor City on a map? Did you know it was a development used to clear out undesirable slums along the waterfront? Have you heard it contains more than 2,200 apartments smaller than 400 square feet—”the antique mother load of micro-living”? As far as New York City’s hidden gems go, Tudor City is a neighborhood that is often overlooked. But if you’re one who is interested in history, architecture, urban design, or all of the above, this verdant east side enclave is one that deserves at least an hour or two of exploration. On May 5th, 6th and 7th you’ll get a chance delve deep into the history of this incredible 11-building development, as local historian and activist Brian K. Thompson leads several free public tours through early 20th-century development.

more details here

History

Moving Day, May Day, May 1st

An 1859 Harper’s illustration of Moving Day

It’s hard enough moving these days, between finding movers who won’t charge for every piece of tape and scoping out a spot to double park while you unload. But imagine dealing with that headache along with every other New Yorker moving on the same day? Believe it or not, this is how it used to be.

From colonial times up until WWII, May 1st was Moving Day, the one day a year when people in New York City moved. It’s said that the tradition came from the Dutch, who set out for Manhattan on May 1st and therefore celebrated each year by swapping homes on this day. Later, landlords had to notify their tenants of rent increases on February 1st, which would take effect three months later at 9am. Tenants waited until May 1st to move, and the streets would be filled with “moving vans,” Long Island farmers’ wagons led by horses, clogging up the city streets and creating complete pandemonium.

More on this curious history here

Brooklyn, History, Queens

You may have noticed when driving from Queens to Brooklyn that at some point you find yourself surrounded by a sea of headstones in every direction. The city’s “cemetery belt”–reportedly visible from space–stretches for two and a half miles along the Queens/Brooklyn border and is so populous that there are more than twice as many dead people in Queens than living ones. What’s up with this cemetery city?

Find out why the dead outnumber the living in Queens

History, maps

6sqft previously reported on the “time machine” map function that allowed users to navigate overlaid maps from 1600 to the present to see what used to occupy our favorite present-day places. Now, the New York Public Library has released the Space/Time Directory, a “digital time-travel service” that puts the library’s map collection–including more than 8,000 maps and 40,000 geo-referenced photos–to work along with geospatial tools to allow users to see the city’s development happen over more than a century, all in one convenient place. Hyperallergic reports that the project, supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, plots 5,000 digitized street maps across the five boroughs, organized by decade from 1850 to 1950.

Find out more

History, Manhattan, Technology

For most modern New Yorkers, it’s hard to imagine the city being anything more than a crowded, noisy, concrete jungle. However, with the website Unsung.NYC, users can now explore the natural sounds of Manhattan, present during the 1600s before European settlers arrived. As the Times reports, “Calling Thunder” lets listeners hear all the chirps, croaks, and laps of waves, all of which coincide with images from four main points in Manhattan—the Collect Pond Park, the High Line, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Inwood Hill Park.

learn more here

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Features, film, History, Urban Design

One of the most iconic battles to decide the fate of New York City was waged, in the 1950s and ’60s, by Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. He, a Parks Commissioner turned power broker, was known for his aggressive urban renewal projects, tearing tenements down to build higher, denser housing. She, often dismissed as a housewife, emerged as his most vocal critic—not to mention a skilled organizer with the ability to stop some of Moses’ most ambitious plans.

A new documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, takes a close look at the groundbreaking work of Jane Jacobs and its importance in our urbanizing world today. Matt Tyrnauer, the director behind Valentino: The Last Emperor, compiled footage of both Jacobs and Moses alongside 1950s and ’60s New York, which is paired with voiceovers of Marissa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio as the battling duo. Experts in urban planning—everyone from Paul Goldberger to Robert A.M. Stern—also discuss Jacobs’ massive influence on housing policy and urban planning, as the film makes a convincing argument that Jacobs’ planning philosophies are needed now more than ever.

Read our review of the film

History, Lower East Side, maps

Beerdom Map, LES bars, historic maps

While today’s Lower East Side has no shortage of bars and clubs, New Yorkers of the late nineteenth century may have imbibed way more than current Big Apple dwellers. Slate shared this map drawn in 1885 and published in the Christian Union that details the number of bars per block in the neighborhood. Although the coinciding article described the social effects of LES drinking culture, overall the report found residents to be quite happy. It may have had something to do with the 346 saloons found in the area, compared to today’s mere 47 establishmentsFind out more

Brooklyn, History

A row of Quonset huts in Canarsie, via Brooklyn Public Library

When veterans returned to NYC from WWII, they were met with a Depression-era housing shortage that resulted from a nearly 15-year lack of new development. To immediately address the issue, “master builder” Robert Moses (who by this time was reigning over the city’s public housing projects) proposed erecting Quonset huts on vacant land in Brooklyn and Queens. These curved, corrugated steel “shacks” were used in the Pacific as barracks and offices, as they were lightweight and quick and easy to assemble. As the Brownstone Detectives tell us, after much debate, the city agreed to use more than 500 Federal surplus huts as temporary public housing on land along the Belt Parkway in the South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Canarsie and Jamaica Bay, as well as in Jackson Heights, Middle Village, and Corona in Queens.

Get the whole history

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Features, History, The urban lens

todd webb, todd webb photography

“I instantly fell in love with Webb’s work,” says former LIFE editor-in-chief Bill Shapiro, “with the beauty he captures, with his sense of the life of the street; with the way he frames both the sweeping, iconic skyline and those small, fleeting moments that define the city that New Yorkers love.”

These sentiments seem to be shared by just about everyone who encounters the work of Todd Webb for the first time. Webb, most fittingly described by Shapiro as “the best NYC photographer you’ve never heard of,” worked and laughed alongside photography’s upper echelon, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Walker Evan, Gordon Parks and Ansel Adams, but unlike his well-known friends, Webb was never interested fame. Instead, he quietly took to documenting life in America, particularly post-war New York between 1946 and 1960.

more on the work of todd webb here

History, Transportation

Peter Samson, standing in the center, and his teammates during the failed 1966 run. From the New York Herald-Tribune, via the Queens Borough Public Library

In May of 1940, electric railroad enthusiast Herman Rinke became the first person to tour the entire New York City subway system on a single token, putting in 25 some hours underground all for fun. After reading about Rinke’s journey, Peter Samson, a computer software engineer who later invented the world’s first video game Spacewar, decided to take a stab at making his own record. As the Times recounts, he formed the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee (ANYSRC) to develop rules for the challenge. After one failed attempt in 1966, Samson, with the help of 15 volunteers and a computer program that tracked the fastest route, completed the trip in 25 hours, 50 minutes and 30 seconds on April 21, 1967. Since then, the subway challenge has taken off for puzzle and transit lovers worldwide.

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History

Why is New York City called the Big Apple?

By Devin Gannon, Thu, April 13, 2017

NYC Skyline, NYC skyscrapers

Most of the nicknames ascribed to New York make literal sense: Gotham; Empire City; the City That Never Sleeps; the City So Nice They Named It Twice. However, the context behind the “Big Apple” nickname isn’t as obvious. To help us understand the moniker, the New York Public Library detailed a history of the name, taking us through a tour of what “big apple” has meant throughout centuries.

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Features, History

Past Prisons: Inside the new lives of 7 former NYC jails

By Penelope Bareau, Mon, April 10, 2017

The past week has been full of news about Rikers Island and Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that the notorious prison will be closed and replaced with smaller facilities throughout the boroughs. Ideas for re-use of its 413 acres have included commercial, residential and mixed-use properties; academic centers; sports and recreation facilities; a convention center; or an expansion of nearby LaGuardia airport. And while anything final is estimated to be a decade away, this isn’t the first prison in NYC to be adaptively reused. From a health spa to a production studio to a housing development, 6sqft explores the new lives of seven past prisons.

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Features, History, photography, The urban lens, Transportation

Sid Kaplan, New York Transit Museum, NYC train history, Deconstruction of the Third Avenue El, elevated trains NYC

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. This week’s installment comes courtesy of a new exhibit at the Transit Museum, “Deconstruction of the Third Avenue El: Photographs by Sid Kaplan.” Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

After the city consolidated its underground subway lines in 1942 (they were previously owned by private companies), fewer New Yorkers were riding the elevated lines. This decreased ridership, along with the fact that the Els ate up valuable street-level real estate and created dangerous dark spaces, led to the city taking down the Second Avenue Elevated line in 1942. In 1955, the Third Avenue Elevated came down as well, catching the eye of a then 17-year-old Sid Kaplan, whose photos of the dismantling are currently on display at the Transit Museum’s Grand Central Gallery Annex. The museum tells us, “From his perch on the roof of an apartment building, or leaning out the window of an office, his images capture a unique perspective of the removal of a hulking steel structure, the hard-working people who dismantled it, and the ever-changing landscape of New York City.”

More on the El history, Sid’s work, and all the amazing photos

City Living, History, maps

Some of the greatest literary giants of all time lived and wrote in New York City. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of HarperCollins, which was founded in NYC, the publishing company created an interactive walking tour map that narrates the history of each author as you walk (h/t DNAinfo). Just a few of the famed Big Apple authors include Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright.

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Features, History, Meatpacking District

Today it seems like there’s a new food hall popping up every day, but one of the first incarnations of this trend was at Chelsea Market, when Irwin Cohen and Vandenberg Architects transformed the former Nabisco factory in the 1990s into an office building, television production facility, and food-related retail hub. New York City history buffs likely know that this is where a certain famous cookie was invented, but there are plenty of other fun facts about the location that are much less well known. Therefore, 6sqft has rounded up the top 10 most intriguing secrets of Chelsea Market.

Find out everything here

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