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.
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“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
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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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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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.
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
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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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.
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One of the most exciting things about exploring Brooklyn is seeing the unique architecture of each neighborhood. Now, thanks to an interactive map from urban_calc, you can also learn the age of these structures in the borough with the oldest buildings in the city. Using the city’s OpenData project and Pluto dataset, urban_calc found the median age of buildings in each census tract. The oldest neighborhood is Ocean Hill at 1911, followed by Cypress Hill, Park Slope and Stuyvesant Heights, all with a median building year of 1920. On the other hand, the newest neighborhoods include Coney Island, West Brighton, East New York, Canarsie and Williamsburg.
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To broaden people’s knowledge of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s history in New York City, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project created a map-based online archive to document significant sites throughout the five boroughs. Although earlier maps highlighting LGBT history have been created, they focused solely on the history of Greenwich Village, the hub of gay activism. But the new interactive map, based on 25 years of research and advocacy, hopes to make “invisible history visible” by exploring sites across the city related to everything from theater and architecture to social activism and health.
Learn more here
Photo courtesy of the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation
Deemed by historians as the “single most important document in New York City’s development,” the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which planned Manhattan’s famous grid system, turns 204 years old this month. As the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation tells us, the chief surveyor of the plan, John Randel Jr., and city officials signed the final contract on March 22, 1811. The plan, completed at the end of the 19th century, produced 11 major avenues and 155 cross-town streets still used today.
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Smog covering the Empire State Building. New York, NY, US, November 21, 1953, LIFE Magazine.
Over Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, the layer of smog that hung above New York City killed about 200 people. An estimated 300–405 people died during a two-week smog episode in 1963. In 1953, as many as 260 died from breathing the city’s air over a six-day stretch.
6sqft reported recently on Donald Trump’s proposed budget and subsequent concerns about the impact significant funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency totaling $2.6 billion or 31 percent–including staff reductions and program eliminations–might have on the city’s drinking water and air quality. A spokesman for Mayor de Blasio assured us that these federal cuts won’t impact NYC’s high quality water supply. But what about the air?
But what about the air?
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr may have dueled in Weehawken, New Jersey, but they also both left their mark on Greenwich Village. At the end of the 18th century, Burr began buying up land around Bedford and Downing Streets for his Richmond Hill country estate (a Federal rowhouse here recently hit the market for $5.75 million). Hamilton’s connection is much less glamorous: On July 12, 1804, the day after the duel, he died in the home of his friend William Bayard. According to a plaque on the building, this took place at 82 Jane Street, where a listing for a $3,495/month one-bedroom also backs up the claim. But historians say Bayard actually lived a block north on Horatio Street.
The parade in 1895 at 6th Avenue and 57th Street looking east, via MCNY
Sure, New York has plenty of interesting history, but who would have thought the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade was held not in Ireland, but in our fair city? It was on March 17, 1762, 255 years ago and 14 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that Irish soldiers serving in the British army marched to honor the Catholic feast day of St. Patrick, their country’s patron saint. With Irish immigrants flocking to the United States, and in large numbers to New York, in the mid-19th century, the parade became an annual tradition and spread elsewhere in the country.
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Snow may be piling up on the sidewalks as we speak, but we won’t likely be seeing more than they did in December of 1947, when a blizzard dumped 26.4 inches of snow on New York City. According to NYC.gov, “the City was paralyzed when the blizzard barreled its way through, stranding cars and buses in the streets, halting subway service, and claiming 77 lives.” It took $6 million, nearly 30,000 workers, and weeks of digging and plowing to get the city moving again (you can watch a video showing what 99 million tons of snow does to a city of eight million people, ahead). But there’s nothing unseasonal about a mid-March blizzard. In fact, the record for most snow to fall in a day was set on March 12th of 1888, when 16.5 inches piled up in Central Park.
March is no lamb, and we ain’t lion
Yes, there are Eichler homes in New York! They are sometimes called “lost Eichlers,” as most of noted mid-20th-century developer Joseph Eichler’s homes exist in Northern and, to a lesser degree, Southern California. Three custom-built Eichler houses were constructed (and still stand) in the Rockland County, New York community of Chestnut Ridge, just north of Eichler’s hometown of New York City.
Joseph L. Eichler, whose modernist tract homes can be found throughout the Bay Area in Northern California as well as the Greater Los Angeles area, was one of the most celebrated residential homebuilders of the mid-20th century. His homes are enthusiastically “collected” by modern design buffs, and their renovations appear on the covers of design and home decor magazines like Dwell and Metropolitan Home.
Find out how a tiny East Coast enclave continues to enjoy the Eichler lifestyle
Photo courtesy of Martayan Lan Rare Maps & Books
This weekend, head over to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, located at the Park Avenue Armory, where the first map to credit Henry Hudson with navigating his nominative river will be on display (h/t NY Times). The map, the third engraving of its kind known to exist, is being sold by Robert Augustyn, who owns Martayan Lan Fine Antique Maps, Atlases and Globes in Manhattan. The minimum asking price for the 12-by-17 inch, 280-year-old map? $125,000.
Find out more here
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has added more notable female figures to their Civil Rights and Social Justice Map. You can now explore sites such as the now-demolished building where Hellen Keller wrote for “The Masses,” learn more about Mine Okubo’s struggle to expose the cruelty of Japanese internment camps through her artwork kept in the East Village, and visit the home of Clara Lemlich, a feminist who demanded thousands of shirtwaist factory workers go on strike to demand better working conditions and higher wages.
See the interactive map here
Perhaps the most detested Midtown skyscraper by the public, this huge tower has nevertheless always been a popular building with tenants for its prime location over Grand Central Terminal and its many views up and down Park Avenue. It is also one of the world’s finest examples of the Brutalist architecture, commendable for its robust form and excellent public spaces, as well as its excellent integration into the elevated arterial roads around it.
However, there is no argument that it is also immensely bulky with a monstrous height. As shown in the photograph ahead, to its north, the building completely overshadows the Helmsley Building, an iconic product of Warren & Wetmore’s Terminal City complex. The pyramid-topped Helmsley Building once straddled the avenue with remarkable grace, and as one of the city’s very rare, “drive-through” buildings, it was the great centerpiece of Park Avenue. But by shrouding such a masterpiece in its shadows, the Pan Am Building (today the MetLife building) desecrated a major icon that will unfortunately never recover from such a contemptible slight on a prominent site.
Read more about the significance of this building here
Historic collections expert Seth Kaller throws his hat into the Hamilton ring for this year’s Antiquarian Book Fair, happening March 9-12 at the Park Avenue Armory. The Alexander Hamilton Collection (part of a larger collection titled “The Genius, Passions, Foibles and Flaws of our Founding Fathers” ) promises to be a unique collection of original letters, documents and imprints relating to the life and times of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the New York Post, shown for the first time and offered for sale at the book fair.
See what’s in the collection
Charlie Wagner tattooing Millie Hull, 1939; Image courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.
We think of 1960s, ’70s and ’80s New York City as a freewheeling island of individuality and an alternative lifestyle haven, but the practice of body tattooing–more popular throughout history than many realize–was banned from 1961 until 1997. The ban was blamed on a Hepatitis B outbreak but could have had its origins in a number of things from a pre-World’s Fair crackdown to a health inspector’s personal vendetta. “Tattooed New York,” a current exhibition at the New-York Historical Society traces the practice of tattooing from its use among Native American tribes through its history with sailors, trendy victorian ladies and more recent ink aficionados. One of the more fascinating detours of that history tells of how the scene changed with the ban, when NYC’s tattoo artists set up private shops in their apartments.
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Now celebrated worldwide during the month of March, the observance originated in New York City in 1909 as “Women’s Day,” on February 28 to mark the anniversary of the city’s garment industry strike led by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union one year prior. The Socialist Party of America chose the day to honor the women who bravely protested miserable labor conditions. American Socialist and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman addressed a New York crowd, saying, “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.” At the time, women still couldn’t vote.
Honor history, make history
In 2006, construction crews discovered a 13-foot section of the wooden water mains under Beekman Street near the South Street Seaport, photo courtesy of Chrysalis Archaeology
At the turn of the 18th Century, New York City had a population of 60,515, most of whom lived and worked below Canal Street. Until this time, residents got their water from streams, ponds, and wells, but with more and more people moving in, this system became extremely polluted and inefficient. In fact, in the summer of 1798, 2,000 people died from a yellow fever epidemic, which doctors believed came from filthy swamp water and led the city to decide it needed a piping system to bring in fresh water. Looking to make a personal profit, Aaron Burr stepped in and established a private company to create the city’s first waterworks system, constructing a cheap and ill-conceived network of wooden water mains. Though these logs were eventually replaced by the cast iron pipes we use today, they still live on both under and above ground in the city.
The whole history here
On Wednesday, March 1st, the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel will close its doors for three years as its new owners, Chinese insurer Anbang Insurance Group, kicks off a conversion that will turn 1,413 hotel rooms into 840 renovated hotel rooms and 321 luxury condos. While most New Yorkers have been scrambling to hit up one of the hotel’s many gilded bars for one last cocktail, others looking to celebrate the icon in a more substantial way now have an opportunity to lay claim to one (or several) of the hotel’s architectural and decorative wares. Indeed, currently up for grabs are eight mahogany panels of Art Deco etched glass, four solid bronze urns, carved glass panels, the original 1931 private entrance revolving door, and a large set of revolving doors that come complete with two side bronze doors—all on eBay.
get a closer look here
West Side Cowboy on Death Avenue, via Kalmbach Publishing Co.
The now-defunct elevated train lines of Manhattan are well known today thanks to their reincarnation as the High Line. But before this raised structure was put in place, the west side was home to a deadly train system appropriately referred to by locals as “The Butcher.” The full-size railway line ran from 1846 to 1941 between 10th and 11th Avenues without barriers, fences or platforms, earning the route the nickname “Death Avenue” before it was taken out of operation for causing more than 430 fatalities–deaths that not even true western cowboys could stop.
The whole history right this way
Cycling culture in New York City has been a growing trend for over 20 years. However, its popularity and the bike lanes of modern day New York have yet to reach the impressive status of Coney Island’s 1920s bicycle racing Velodrome. The Velodrome was a wooden racetrack that seated approximately 10,000 people, each of whom came to cheer or jeer the area’s best cyclists.
more details here
Even the city’s most public places conceal secrets paved over by the years, some more hidden than others. Grand Central Station is no exception despite the 750,000 or so people who make their way through its halls each day. You may already know of the terminal’s secret train track and whispering walls, but did you know that there are tennis courts in Grand Central? Once an exclusive club run by Donald Trump, the courts are now open to the public—and you can reserve a court at midnight.
From a Hungarian immigrant to Donald Trump to Night Owl Tennis
From a distance, one may wonder why television characters living in New York City apartments so often appear to wear little at all in the privacy of their own homes. From Archie Bunker’s white undershirts on “All in the Family” to Carrie Bradshaw’s lingerie on “Sex in the City” to Hannah Horvath’s practical skivvies on “Girls,” fictional New Yorkers always seem to be stripping down to the bare essentials regardless of the season. To any real New Yorker, there is an obvious reason why these fictional New Yorkers are so often shown partially clad July or January: New York apartments have a tendency to be sauna hot. But in a city where tenants frequently have to fight for even the most basic amenities, how did heat become overly abundant, even in the dead of winter?
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Red and pink hearts are synonymous with love, romance, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. But this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, according to Eric Jager, author of “The Book of the Heart,” the heart shape ❤ had nothing to do with love until after the 1300 and 1400s, when the ideas of devotion and intimacy started to manifest themselves in this singular concept.
more on the history of the romantic heart here
Despite the fact that NYC today has more than 8.5 million residents, the subway system had some of the highest ridership numbers back in the 1940s. In fact, a 1948 record was only recently beat in 2015 when 5.7 million rode the train daily, with annual ridership hitting 1.7 billion–another high not reached since the 1940s. To show just how packed the subway was 60 years ago, 6sqft has uncovered this 1949 film footage of daily subway operations from the New York Transit Museum Archives, which shows the crew working all the angles to keep trains running on time, while crowds jostle and shove to get to where they’re going.
Watch the video