What do Jean-Michel Basquiat, F.A.O Schwarz, Horace Greeley, Samuel Morse, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Boss Tweed, Peter Cooper, Leonard Bernstein, and Susan Smith McKinney-Steward have in common? All these notable New Yorkers are spending eternity in Brooklyn, specifically Greenwood Cemetery, the stunning 478-acre “rural cemetery” that’s home to 560,000 “permanent residents” (and about as many truly spectacular mausoleums.) Since the best secrets are the ones you take to the grave, come dig up the dirt on Green-Wood, and read on for 10 things you didn’t know about Brooklyn’s most sensational cemetery.
The area south of Union Square, on the border between Greenwich Village and the East Village, is changing. The approval of the new 14th Street Tech Hub south of Union Square combined with an explosion of tech-related development in the area has resulted in the demolition of mid-19th-century hotels and Beaux-Arts style tenements, with new office towers like 809 Broadway taking their place.
Aside from being rich in 19th- and early-20th-century architecture, this area is overflowing with history connected to many of the great American artists, writers, musicians, publishers, activists, innovators and artisans of the last century and a half. As part of Village Preservation’s work to document and bring to light some of that often forgotten history, we wrote this piece last year exploring the connections to Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, Alexander Graham Bell and Leroi Jones (among many others). Now, we’ve uncovered even more history-making people and events connected to this area and its buildings, from Hammacher Schlemmer (NYC’s first hardware store) to a slew of influential publishing houses (including that which published the first U.S. edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”) to the Women’s Suffrage League headquarters.
View looking north, with Central Park and the towers that dot Billionaires’ Row clearly visible; Photo courtesy of Empire State Realty Trust
After four years and $165 million, the revamp of New York City’s first supertall is nearly complete, bringing a more contemporary and visitor-friendly experience to one of the world’s most historic buildings. The Empire State Building’s 102nd-floor observatory, which boasts 360-degree panoramic views at 1,250 feet above street level, officially opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 12. Building owner Empire State Realty Trust redesigned the observatory to be less obstructive for guests, allowing more picture-perfect views and less time waiting.
Jacob Ruppert’s Knickerbocker Beer, 1912, via Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division
If you spent the first weekend of October hoisting lager and Oomph-ing it up for Oktoberfest, then you joined a long and proud tradition of German beer production and consumption in New York City. In fact, New York’s German-owned breweries were once the largest beer-making operations in the country, and the brewers themselves grew into regional and national power-players, transforming Major League Baseball, holding elected office, and, perhaps most importantly, sponsoring goat beauty pageants in Central Park. While brewing flourished in both Manhattan and Brooklyn throughout the 19th century, the city’s largest breweries were clustered in Yorkville. In fact, much of the neighborhood’s storied German cultural history can be traced to the rise of brewing in the area, and the German-language shops, cultural institutions and social halls that sprang up to cater to the brewery workers.
October, the month we mark Columbus Day, is also Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month. That combined with the recent celebrations around the 125th anniversary of beloved pastry shop Veniero’s inspires a closer look at the East Village’s own historic Little Italy, centered around First Avenue near the beloved pastry shop and cafe. While not nearly as famous or intact as similar districts around Mulberry Street or Bleecker and Carmine Street in the South Village, if you look closely vestiges of the East Village’s once-thriving Italian community are all around.
In the second half of the 19th century, the East Village was a vibrant checkerboard of ethnic enclaves. Germans were by far the dominant group, until the turn of the century when Eastern European Jews took over the Second Avenue spine and much of what’s now Alphabet City, Hungarians congregated along Houston Street, and Slavs and Poles gravitated towards the blocks just west and north of Tompkins Square. But a linear Italian-American enclave formed along and near First Avenue, broadening at 14th Street. Vestiges of this community survived into the third quarter of the 20th century, with just a few establishments and structures connected to that era continuing to function today.
Urban Archive’s new History Crush feature lets you swipe right on your favorite images of NYC’s past, Fri, September 20, 2019
Image courtesy of Urban Archive.
6sqft previously featured Urban Archive, the technology nonprofit that has been building (no pun intended) connections between people, places, and historical institutions through a growing map of New York City’s unique architecture, culture, and stories for several years. Last February saw the launch of their citywide project seeking crowd-sourced histories and photographs to be included in the UA app. Now, the Urban Archive app has a fun new feature: History Crush serves users a steady randomized supply of historic images of NYC buildings, places and events. You can weigh in with a swipe left or right on each new image; yes, it’s like the dating app (without the stress). This Adderall-era add-on actually makes the app even more addictive–and encourages users to check out more images. Even better, right-swiped and liked images are saved to a folder in your My Archive collection for future investigation.
Rendering of “Women’s Rights Pioneer Monument” (courtesy of Monumental Women).
Last year’s unveiling of designs for the first statue in Central Park’s 165-year history that depicts real historic women–a sculpture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, set to be dedicated in August of 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of nationwide women’s suffrage–was met with the criticism that it didn’t adequately represent the many African-American women who aided in the cause. As 6sqft previously reported, a redesigned statue honoring women’s rights advocates will now include Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and escaped slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who aided in the fight for women’s rights. The updated design has been revealed. But, as AM New York reports, The city’s Public Design Commission has said the statue still falls short, and has postponed the vote to confirm the new design–possibly jeopardizing an August 26, 2020 unveiling.
“Pageant Book Store, 109 East 9th Street., north side between 3rd & 4th Avenues; Hannah and Her Sisters Bookstore scenes shot here,” Village Preservation (GVSHP) Image Archive, accessed September 9, 2019
The slogan of beloved NYC bookstore the Strand boasts the store’s “18 miles of books,” a number that seems incredibly vast yet was once just a small fraction of what book lovers could expect to find in the neighborhood. For almost eight decades, from the 1890s to the 1960s, the seven blocks of Fourth Avenue between Union Square and Astor Place were home to a thriving bibliophiles’ paradise known as Book Row.
Here, book lovers and secondhand vendors gathered, and the pace of the city slowed down as they browsed the miles of stacks available. Speaking to the New York Times, collector Paul A. Solano—who went on to open his own used book shop in Morningside Heights—said it took him a week to stroll through all the stores on the seven-block stretch. In its heyday, Book Row was home to 48 bookstores and millions of volumes. Now, the recently landmarked Strand bookstore is the only remaining vestige of that era.
Photo courtesy of the Dorrance Brooks Property Owners and Residents Association
By many accounts, Dorrance Brooks Square is considered the first public square named for a black soldier. The little Harlem park, just east of the larger St. Nicholas Park, was dedicated in 1925 to honor African-American infantryman Dorrance Brooks for his bravery during WWI. Prior to that, the area was very much associated with the Harlem Renaissance, home to jazz musician Lionel Hampton and sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, among others. Later, it became a key location for social and political gatherings and speeches during the Civil Rights era. Today, the quaint neighborhood is home to an incredibly intact collection of late 19th-century rowhouses, built at the time for upper-middle-class professionals, as well as four culturally and architecturally significant churches.
For all these reasons, the Dorrance Brooks Property Owners and Residents Association is advocating for an official landmark designation of the Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District, which would run up Edgecombe Avenue between West 136th and 140th Streets. To give 6sqft more information on this history of this neighborhood, the Association has mapped out the six most significant sites.
An illustration of the first Labor Day parade, via Wiki Commons
Though Labor Day has been embraced as a national holiday–albeit one many Americans don’t know the history of–it originated right here in New York City. The holiday is a result of the city’s labor unions fighting for worker’s rights throughout the 1800s. The event was first observed, unofficially, on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, with thousands marching from City Hall up to Union Square. At the time, the New York Times considered the event to be unremarkable. But 137 years later, we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of every September as a tribute to all American workers. It’s also a good opportunity to recognize the hard-won accomplishments of New York unions to secure a better workplace for us today.