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 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?
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.
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.
Clipping from the 1935 New York Times article (L); Tom Otterness sculpture at the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway station depicting the event, via MTA Arts (R)
While most New Yorkers spent yesterday in sweat pants watching Netflix, Michael Miscione was busy celebrating “Alligators in the Sewers Day.” The Times recounts how, allegedly, on February 9, 1935, a group of teenagers caught and killed an eight-foot, 125-pound alligator in a manhole on East 123rd Street while shoveling snow. A headline in the paper the next day read, “Alligator Found in Uptown Sewer,” fueling an urban legend of an entire underground alligator population. Miscione, the Manhattan borough historian, is so intrigued by the tale, that he annually observes this unofficial holiday “to honor discarded pets or escaped beasts that have grown large below our streets.”
Charles Lewis Tiffany (left) in his Union Square store, with Charles T. Cook, in 1887
The recent shake-up at Tiffany, involving the replacement of CEO Frederic Cumenal and the departure of its design director, is said to be predicated on disappointing sales and a resultant decline in share prices. Since last fall, many upscale shops in the area have complained about a negative impact they felt was caused by the hullabaloo around Trump Tower—both rubber-necking and security barricades. A change in marketing emphasis toward a younger consumer—witness the hiring of Lady Gaga for advertising—and designs reflecting that shift are reportedly in the offing to reverse disappointing balance-sheet figures. Not everyone is worried, though. Tiffany & Co. has weathered many a storm in its 180 years, and the ambiance on the floor is still serene, the merchandise still beautiful. For a sense of perspective, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, 6sqft looks at Tiffany’s history.
When most people think about archaeologists, they imagine outdoorsy adventurers—perhaps, modeled on the fictional Indiana Jones—uncovering ancient artifacts in remote locations. They probably don’t imagine archaeologists riding the MTA to excavation sites.
In reality, archaeologists frequently do work in New York City and the surrounding region and play an essential yet often under-recognized role in the city’s building industry. While many new developments go ahead without major archaeological studies, most developments only get the green light to move forward after archaeologists have completed at least a preliminary investigation.
Historic Calvert Vaux-designed co-op that was once a refuge for girls, now asks $1.35M as a cozy duplex, Thu, February 2, 2017
Time hasn’t erased the historic feel of this unusual one-bedroom-plus-sleeping loft co-op, diminutive as it is elegant. It has the look of a renovated townhouse in one of the city’s most creative neighborhoods. At $1.35 million this petite pad may be an expensive refuge, but in its earliest days it was a refuge of a different sort with a history as interesting as its architecture–especially at a time when the ability to offer shelter to those in need is firmly in the spotlight. Landmarked in 2008, the subtly ornate red-brick facade of 307 East 12th Street was designed in 1892 by the firm of Calvert Vaux, who co-designed Central and Prospect Park among other enduring landmarks. Built for the Children’s Aid Society, the building was known as the Elizabeth Home for Girls; the New York Times tells us that it housed “several dozen young women rescued from abusive homes, offering them safe lodging, job training and healthy communal activities.”
In the light of Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees, 6sqft decided to take a look back at Little Syria. From the late 1880s to the 1940s, the area directly south of the World Trade Center centered along Washington Street held the nation’s first and largest Arabic settlement. The bustling community was full of Turkish coffee houses, pastry shops, smoking parlors, dry goods merchants, and silk stores, but the Immigration Act of 1924 (which put limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. from a given country and altogether banned Asians and Arabs) followed by the start of construction on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in 1940, caused this rich enclave to disappear. And though few vestiges remain today, there’s currently an exhibit on Little Syria at the Metropolitan College of New York, and the Department of Parks and Recreation is building a new park to commemorate the literary figures associated with the historic immigrant community.
From Brooklyn Blackout Cake to Eggs Benedict, New York City is filled with gastronomic firsts. But while we have a clear origin for most of our foodie favorites, the New York Egg Cream is not one of them. This frothy sweet beverage is made from Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, seltzer water, and a splash of milk, which makes its story even more confusing since the beloved drink contains neither eggs nor cream. There are a few theories currently in circulation about the name and origin of the Egg Cream, each varying in time and circumstance, but most confirming that the drink originated on the Lower East Side among Eastern European Jewish immigrants.
Under the New Yorker Hotel, a former guest convenience has been rendered an Art Deco artifact by the times. While not built to be a secret, a tunnel connecting the Midtown hotel’s lobby to Penn Station was sealed on the station’s side sometime in the 1960s and subsequently forgotten, according to Atlas Obscura.
One of the surest ways to know an out-of-towner is if they pronounce it “HUE-stun” instead of “HOW-stun” Street. But have you ever wondered why we don’t say it like the Texas city? The Times recently received this question from a reader and turned to Gerard Koeppel‘s book “City on a Grid: How New York Became New York” for the answer. According to Koeppel, “Houston the city is named after Sam Houston. Our street was named after a fellow named William Houstoun, who was a prominent Georgian, from a long line of Scotsmen.”
New York has always been a city of immigrants, and these historic maps—dug up by Slate—attempted to illustrate the population density and nationality in 19th century Manhattan. With data from the 1890 census, the New York’s Tenement-House Committee and Frederick E. Pierce released the maps in 1894. They tracked immigrant communities by striping each of the island’s sanitary districts (which are small service areas designated by the sanitation department) with different patterns. The stripes show the national origin of the New Yorkers that live in each area, while the width of the striped signifies the proportion of the population represented by each group.
In the fall of 1872, an unfortunate horse plague swept across New York City after making its way through Toronto, New England and Michigan. The New York Times headline from October 25th read, “The Horse Plague, Fifteen thousand horses in the city unfit for use.” While the city was no stranger to disease inflicted horses, the magnitude of this particular outbreak was unprecedented.
As Washington, D.C. attempts to rein in the crowds on this Inauguration Day, New Yorkers can be thankful someone else is dealing with the traffic snarls for a change. We’re guessing, though, that if Donald Trump had any say on the matter, New York City would be hosting the inauguration as it did for the nation’s first president in 1789.
Grand Central Station in the early 1900s
Historic photos of the original Penn Station are almost as common as images of the current site, since its demolition in 1963 is often credited with spearheading the modern preservation movement (and because its grandeur is a startling reminder of how loathed the current station is). Conversely, Grand Central is typically celebrated as a preservation victory. In 1978, the courts ruled in favor of the Landmarks Preservation Commission when Penn Central Railroad sued them to build a huge tower atop the terminal and demolish one of its facades. But believe it or not, the 1913 Beaux-Arts building was not the first Grand Central, and photos of these grand earlier structures are rarely shared.
Though it might seem that each recent generation attempts to take credit for the rise of the futuristic “skyscraper,” buildings that rise ten floors or higher were born with the Gilded Age. “Ten & Taller: 1874-1900,” on view through April 2017 at the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park City examines every single building 10 stories and taller that was erected in Manhattan between 1874 through 1900 (h/t Curbed). Beginning in the mid-1870s, the city’s first ten-story office buildings rose on masonry to 200 feet high with spires that stretched 60 more feet. By 1900 New York City could boast of 250 buildings at least as tall; the world’s tallest office building was the thirty-story 15 Park Row; framed with steel, it soared to 391 feet. As technology brought elevators and new methods of construction, the vertical expansion was becoming a forest of tall towers.
With a new president entering the White House this month, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, particularly when it comes to the rights of minority groups in the U.S. In light of these tumultuous times, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has created an interactive map that highlights, and celebrates, the fight for social justice that’s taken place in and around the East, West and Greenwich Villages. The map tool covers more than 100 locations, each signifying a site where African Americans, women, immigrants, Latinos and the LGBT community have fought for equality and representation over the centuries.
While paper might be becoming a thing of the past, it’s often the one thing that remains of our recorded history. And while it was often our sole means of recording that history, paper is among the most difficult media to preserve. To that end, New York City’s painstakingly stacked, filed and boxed New York Supreme Court records, part of an immense collection of official documents dating back as far as 1674, are being moved from the archival homes they’ve occupied for, in some cases, centuries. The New York Times reports on a heroic effort by dedicated archivists to round up the these city records in order to preserve them for posterity and make them more accessible to researchers.
The first New Year’s Eve ball to drop in Times Square in 1907
In 1904, the New York Times moved from the City Hall are to the triangular piece of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street. People thought they were crazy for moving so far uptown, but this was the same year the first subway line opened, passing through what was then called Longacre Square. Not only did their new Times Tower have a printing press in the basement (they loaded the daily papers right onto the train and got the news out faster than other papers), but it was the second-tallest building in the city at the time. To honor this accolade, the company wanted to take over the city’s former New Year’s Eve celebration at Trinity Church, and since the church elders hated people getting drunk on their property, they gladly obliged. So to ring in 1905, the Times hosted an all-day bash of 200,000 people that culminated in a midnight fireworks display, and thus the first New Year’s Eve in Times Square was born. But it wasn’t until a few years later that the famous ball drop became tradition.