Image courtesy of NYPL
New Yorkers today know Castle Clinton, in Battery Park, as a national monument and departure point to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. But the circular sandstone fort dates all the way back to 1811–and has served as everything from an immigration station, exhibition hall, theater, and public aquarium since. One forgotten fact of the historic structure is that it’s considered the site of America’s first beer garden, which opened as Castle Garden on July 3rd, 1824. The illustration above shows the beer garden–which also had a grand theater–featured in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in the 1800s. The open-air space, which eventually got a roof, was considered one of the premier attractions in Manhattan.
Read a little more history
“The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact,” said architect George Rapp of his Loew’s Jersey and Kings Theatres–two of the five Loew’s Wonder Theatres built in 1929-30 around the NYC area. The over-the-top, opulent movie palaces were built by the Loew’s Corporation not only to establish their stature in the film world but to be an escape for people from all walks of life. This held true during the Great Depression and World War II, but by the time the mid-60s hit and middle-class families began relocating to the suburbs where megaplexes were all the rage, the Wonder Theatres fell out of fashion.
Amazingly, though, all five still stand today, each with their own unique preservation tale and evolution. The Loew’s Jersey, located in the bustling Jersey City hub of Journal Square, has perhaps the most grassroots story. After closing in 1987, the building was slated for demolition, but a group of local residents banded together to save the historic theater. They collected 10,000 petition signatures and attended countless City Council meetings, and finally, in 1993, the city agreed to buy the theater for $325,000 and allow the newly formed Friends of the Loew’s to operate there as a nonprofit arts and entertainment center and embark on a restoration effort. Twenty-five years later, the theater is almost entirely returned to its original state and offers a robust roster of films, concerts, children’s programs, and more.
6sqft recently had the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre with executive director Colin Egan to learn about its amazing evolution and photograph its gilded beauty.
Take a tour of this one-of-a-kind historic gem
Photo of the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball courtesy of the Van Alen Institute
The architects who built the Jazz Age really knew how to get down. In January 1931, they turned the city’s annual Beaux Arts Ball into the ultimate Gatsby-approved bash. Instead of the stuffy historicism of years past, the party’s theme was “Fête Moderne — a Fantasie in Flame and Silver.” Advance advertising for the Ball in the New York Times promised an event “modernistic, futuristic, cubistic, altruistic, mystic, architistic and feministic,” featuring the city’s most renowned architects dressed as their buildings, celebrating both themselves and the modern fantasy metropolis they had forged in flame and silver. Art Deco New York: the skyscraper city, glittering and strong, reaching ever higher – through technological advancement and American ingenuity – toward excitement, prosperity, enlightenment, and power.
Fire Patrol #2 in 2009, via Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Image Archive
The former firehouse located at 84 West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village is often noted for being the renovated and restored home of TV personality and journalist Anderson Cooper. But it’s just as noteworthy for an unusual history connected to Benjamin Franklin and insurance underwriters, and for not being the kind of firehouse you think it is at all.
The whole history and current use
Image © Emily Nonko for 6sqft
The iconic Grand Central Terminal is a building with more than a few secrets. Constructed in 1913 with the wealth of the Vanderbilt family, there was a lavish private office (now known as The Campbell Apartment), glass catwalks, a hidden spiral staircase, and even artists’ studios on an upper floor. One of the most infamous secrets of the terminal, however, was a secret track used specifically for a president to access one of the most famous hotels in the world. Known as Track 61, it leads to a special platform that was never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service—it just happened to be in the right place.
Keep reading about Grand Central’s secret track
Abandoned buildings along the Christopher Street Pier. Ca. 1974. © Jack Dowling Collection for GVSHP.
6sqft’s 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 a collection of archival images by Jack Dowling that documents the crumbling piers of Greenwich Village in the 1970s. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
The fetid smell of rotted wood and the Hudson River nearly rises from these photos of the sorry state of Greenwich Village’s collapsing piers in the 1970s. The contrast is stark between the neighborhood’s disinvested, abandonment, pictured here, and its current culture of high rents and pricey coffee shops. Among New York City’s main concerns when photographer Jack Dowling created, “Decay and Rebirth Along the Greenwich Village Waterfront in the 1970s,” were its murder rate and the looming threat of bankruptcy when these photos have taken; the city as a whole has changed drastically in the decades since.
The visible difference from the present is astounding
Grand Central subway station in 1946. Photo by Stanley Kubrick. Via MCNY.
After battling the mad crush of pre-holiday shoppers on city sidewalks, frenzied honking and general rudeness on streets and highways and endless airport queues, it’s a little scary to think the worst might be still to come in the normally quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve–and on the subway, no less. The New York City subway system racks up 1.8 billion rides a year. The average ridership tally in 2015 was 5.7 million people daily; that number is the highest it’s been since 1948. The New York Times tells us, though, that the actual record-setting day for subway rides was December 29, 1947, when a staggering 8,533,468 riders were counted. So, what drove so many into the subway’s multitudinous depths?
Find out more
A crowd in Times Square; screenshot via TheLazyCowOnUTube
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.
Get the full history in this video
Photo via Wiki Commons
New York City has started taking down the yellow nuclear fallout shelter signs slapped on thousands of buildings across the city in the 1960s. According to AM New York, city officials believe these metal black-and-yellow signs “are misleading Cold War relics that no longer denote functional shelters.” But back in the ’60s, they were considered emblematic of the era. President John F. Kennedy created a shelter program in 1961 across U.S. cities as anxieties grew high over the nuclear arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. By 1963, an estimated 18,000 shelters had been designated across the five boroughs, and the Department of Defense had plans to add another 34,000 shelters citywide. Most were no more than basements marked by an official government sign–and now the remnants of such signs are coming down.
Read more history of New York’s fallout shelters
Crossing the East River on the ice bridge (1871) via NYPL
While New York City is getting hit by a blast of arctic temperatures this week, New Yorkers of the mid- and late-1800s experienced even colder conditions. During the 19th century, the East River froze over at least seven times, shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge and preventing any ferries from crossing over. But, like today’s New Yorkers, the frozen river never stopped commuters from reaching their destinations. Instead of staying home, people would walk across the frozen East River, skating and slipping along their way.
More this way