All posts by Bowery Boys

Going Up: New York got its first commercial elevator 160 years ago

Cast-iron construction, pioneered in America by architect James Bogardus in the 1850s, became the preferred method of building large dry goods shops and department stores in the mid- and late nineteenth century, thanks to the speed with which these enormous buildings could go up and the savings they presented over heavier, more cumbersome construction methods.

Today SoHo contains the largest surviving collection of cast-iron buildings in the world. Wandering through these streets in the late afternoon, sun ignites their white- and cream-colored exteriors. It’s magical—and the stuff of a million postcards, album covers, and selfies.

But SoHo contains another secret. It’s the location of New York City’s very first commercial elevator.

There had been so-called ‘hoisting elevators’ — crude platforms elevated by man power — but they were dangerous and their cords easily snapped. Elisha Otis, an inventor from Yonkers, New York, perfected the safety break which allowed a large containment to be moved up and down without fear of plummeting. He debuted this device to enthusiastic acclaim at the 1854 Crystal Palace Exposition. And soon, after some savvy newspaper advertisements, Otis finally found his first major client.

Library of Congress

That would be the magical emporium of E. V. Haughwout, at Broadway and Broome Street, a luxury store which sold fine china and glassware. The corner building’s two-sided cast-iron construction and facade was the first of its kind when it was completed in 1857, and soon inspired blocks lined with similar construction throughout SoHo.

Below: The department store — and the elevator — were first opened ‘for public inspection’ on March 23, 1857.

New York Times

But its most important contribution was placed inside—a passenger elevator, installed the same year, which lifted and lowered its wealthy clients to its various exotic departments.

According to the website of OTIS elevators themselves: “On March 23, 1857, Otis’ first commercial passenger elevator was installed in the E.V. Haughwout and Company…….The price of the elevator was US $300. The unit rose at a speed of 40 feet per minute (0.2 meters per second).”

From the New York Tribune: “Among the novelties we noticed is an elevator to be worked by steam, which is to be furnished with a sofa and carriage to carry ladies from one floor to the other. The steam engine and boiler are located on the rear lot disconnected from the main edifice.”

Museum of the City of New York

The grand opening on March 23, 1857, drew thousands of curiosity seekers throughout the entire day. Although the time to visit would have been right around 7:30 when all the lights went on at once spontaneously, “in all the windows of the six stories. The view from lower Broadway and Broome Street will be truly grand.

Haughwout’s Emporium was also famed for its French champagne and for the fine flutes that it was drunk from. Surprised? While the neighborhood today still pops more than its share of bubbly, SoHo was never more glamorous than during the Haughwout years. And part of the reason for its acclaim was its marvelous, state-of-the-art elevator.

More pictures of the Haughwout Building, courtesy the Library of Congress, via the Historic American Buildings Survey, Cervin Robinson, Photographer March 1967.

The above is an expanded excerpt from our book The Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available at bookstores everywhere.

Come to our first live recorded show — NYC Podfest, April 9th in Brooklyn!

This April we will be recording a show in front of a live audience that will be released as an upcoming podcast — in honor of the 10th anniversary of recording the first episode of the Bowery Boys: New York City History. And we would really, really love for you to be a part of it.

Yes, believe it or not, the first episode of our podcast came out in the middle of June 2007!

On April 9th we will be making our debut appearance in the fifth annual NYC Podfest, a weekend of live podcast extravaganzas, hosted by the Bell House, the Gowanus, Brooklyn, venue best known to New York podcast lovers for hosting events for shows like Stuff You Should Know and Slate Political Gabfest.

The Bowery Boys 10th Anniversary Celebration will be our biggest live show to date. We’ll be on stage talking about how we managed to make it an entire decade, giving you some hilarious back stories on some of your favorite episodes, with some fun and games thrown in. We’ll be talking about Peter Stuyvesant, Billie Holiday, Boss Tweed, P.T. Barnum, Jane Jacobs, Stanford White and of course Robert Moses!

And the show will be hosted by Nat Towsen, the debonair East Village comedy impresario and host of the Nat Towsen’s Downtown Variety Hour at UCB East.

So please join us! Get your tickets now at the Bell House website.

SUN, APRIL 9, 2017

Doors: 3:30 pm / Show: 4:00 pm

$15 adv / $20 dos


(By the way, can you guess where the picture at the top of this post was taken?)

City of Memory: The Metropolitan Museum’s intimate New York exhibit

Up in one of those difficult-to-find rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — so difficult that perhaps it simply vanishes after you leave it — is a series of 27 small oil paintings that one must view with a magnifying glass.

The subjects of the paintings all reside in the same universe — a somber day and evening in New York City, sometime in 1808. These are not meticulous recreations of city streets and resident life. These are the memories of a man at the end of his life recalling the city of his childhood.

Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum

The artist’s name is William P. Chappel, a tinsmith of Huguenot lineage who dabbled in painting and shared its joys with his children. His son Alonzo Chappel would become a renown painter and illustrator.

In the Met’s transfixing City of Memory: William Chappel’s View of Early 19th-Century New York, you are looking at a folk artist bringing his childhood to life, moments that calmed or disturbed him. Recollections that are visualized in clean, flat paintings that are deceptively simple.

This is why you need the magnifying glass. Chappel’s paintings have a unique, almost 3-D quality when viewed close up (unable to be duplicated in the images in this blog post, I should add). Staring at them closely brings out affecting, sweet, even troubling details of normal New  York affairs.

Chappel visualizes people in their every day routines — chimney sweeps, lamplighters, watchmen. People gather at the waterfront for some light bathing or a revenant baptism.  Firemen gamely eject water from city hoses at rivals. Two paintings depict funerals. Several note places that will be familiar to students of New York City history — the shipyards of Corlears Hook, the Fly Market, the Bull’s Head Tavern.

Wanna see New York with a really inadequate-looking sewer system? They’ve got it. Oh and ever wonder how they dealt with stray dogs in Old New York? Chappel’s got you covered.

The Met has done a brilliant job contextualizing these paintings. You can literally stroll through old New York by viewing the images based on their location on a map.


City of Memory is an exceptionally charming and all too brief visit to New York’s past. The room is next to the Met’s grand visible storage section — officially the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art —  and once you’re in there, among the overwhelming cabinets of history, you may wonder if you had just seen any paintings at all. But they’re worth searching out.

(May I recommend pairing this with The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers, another show in miniature, exploring the visionary works of the Dutch printmaker. Bring your glasses).

City of Memory: William Chappel’s View of Early 19th-Century New York
Located in the mezzanine level of the American Wing.
On view until May 14, 2017


The Arrival of the Irish: An Immigrant Story

PODCAST One of the great narratives of American history — immigration — through the experiences of the Irish.

You don’t have a New York City without the Irish. In fact, you don’t have a United States of America as we know it today.

This diverse and misunderstood immigrant group began coming over from Ireland in significant numbers starting in the Colonial era, mostly as indentured servants. In the early 19th century, these Irish arrivals, both Protestants and Catholics, were already consolidating — via organizations like the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and in places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

But starting in the 1830s, with a terrible blight wiping out Ireland’s potato crops, a mass wave of Irish immigration would dwarf all that came before, hundreds of thousands of weary, sometimes desperate newcomers who entered New York to live in its most squalid neighborhoods.

The Irish were among the laborers who built the Croton Aqueduct, the New York grid plan and Central Park. Irish women comprised most of the hired domestic help by the mid 19th century.

The arrival of the Irish and their assimilation into American life is a story repeated in many cities. Here in New York City, it is essential in our understanding of the importance of modern immigrant communities to the life of the Big Apple.

PLUS: The origins of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade!

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!


St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, the embodiment of early Irish pride in New York. Below: A photograph by Edmund Gillon from 1975.

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Irish Emigrants Leaving Home — The Priest’s Blessing (dated 1851)

A lithograph by Maurer and Currier (of Currier and Ives) illustrating a rather stereotypical scene of Irish life.

An anti-Catholic illustration from 1855.

Library of Congress

In 1860, fear of foreigners inspired a San Francisco cartoonist to draw this image, imagining laborers from Ireland and China (responsible for building the railroads) ‘swallowing’ up the country. A mixed Irish/Chinese caricature completes the job.

Library of Congress

St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, a new signpost for the acceptance of the Catholic religion in America, sits alongside acres of hot real estate in 1905. Its neighbors would slowly transition from luxury manors to upscale shops and department stores.

Image courtesy Shorpy

By 1872, you were seeing much more thoughtful depictions of Irish Americans such as this one  by Duval and Hunter. “Print shows a mother pinning clover on her son’s suit lapel, on the right is a young girl standing at an open window waving a banner “God save Ireland.” A domestic scene in a palor with a sewing machine on the left.”



The departure of the 69th Infantry Regiment, the ‘Fightin’ Irish’ brigade headed to the battlefields of the Civil War. Lithograph dated 1862.


The caption, dated 1866 — “Irish Emigrants Leaving Their Home For America — The Mail Coach From Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland.”

From a Harpers Weekly article from 1874 — leaving Queenstown (today’s town of Cobh) for New York.

Library of Congress

The insanity of Castle Garden, the prime immigration station in New York in 1880, before the construction of Ellis Island. Below that, registering names at Castle Garden in 1871.


The hazards of immigrants leaving Castle Garden, as vividly illustrated by Puck Magazine.

The flow of immigrants were better accommodated by Ellis Island, pictured here in 1907.


Irish women line up at the Emigrant Savings Bank, withdrawing money to send back to relatives in Ireland. (1880)

Library of Congress

Irish vaudeville often poked fun at their own stereotypes — and promoted many others. This 1880 Harrigan and Hart sketch was called ‘Ireland vs Italy.’


An 1886 cartoon by Bernard Gillam, illustrating the Tammany Hall tiger with Irish accoutrement.

Courtesy MCNY

‘Professor’ Mike Donovan, an Irish-American boxer who performed out west then became a boxing instructor in New York up until his death in the Bronx in 1918.


A typical example of an Irish-themed song from the Gilded Age, of the type which is obviously playing with some stereotypes of Irish people.

By 1895 the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a genuine event, drawing New Yorkers of all kinds. These pictures are along 57th Street.

The parade in 1909, featuring a banner for the Kerrymen’s Patriotic and Benevolent Association.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, between 1910-15


The New York Riots of 1964: Violent history with a haunting familiarity

One hot summer’s morning, in the neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side, high school student James Powell was shot and killed by police officer James Gilligan.

Powell either attempted to stab the officer or else the unarmed boy was brutally set upon by a man with violent tendencies. Gilligan, a war veteran, was either defending himself from a troubled delinquent or else he gunned down the teenager with little remorse.

There were few actual witnesses but dozens of bystanders. The incident took place across the street from a high school, and the students, incensed by rumors and the fear of blood running in the streets, began panicking.

The year was 1964.

It’s hard not to read the opening pages to Michael W. Flamm’s gripping In The Heat Of The Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime (University of Pennsylvania Press) and not see the parallels to modern police brutality cases.  So many different testimonies obscure the truth that it’s hard to know what really did happen in front of 215 East 76th Street that day. (Video footage might not have even cleared it up.)

Yet Flamm’s book isn’t specifically about the crime, but the chaos which ensued — the New York Riots of 1964 (with the most violent night often referred to as the Harlem Riot of 1964). For several evenings following the shooting, a host of speculations and false rumors — mixing with grief and despair on a series of hot summer evenings — led to roaming violence and looting in Harlem (with some also reported in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant).

The incidents which occurred that summer stem from hostilities which had built up within the black community for decades. A great distrust between the police and African-Americans played a part in the rising crime rate in poor neighborhoods like Harlem in the 1960s.

Courtesy the New York Daily News

Fearful residents felt powerless against increasing criminal behavior and drug abuse in their streets but didn’t risk involving law enforcement, who most considered corrupt and racist.

White residents avoided black neighborhoods — and vice versa — due to wildly dramatic reports in the press. Black power movements like the Nation of Islam escalated talk of violence while, in some neighborhoods, white vigilantes stopped and interrogated every black person found in the streets.

Writes Flamm: “New York sounded to the rest of the country like some frontier town helpless before the uncontrollable violence stalking its streets.”

Dick DeMarsico, New York World Telegraph & Sun

Flamm follows two parallel threads, both coming together in raw, unexpected ways. The first is a terrifying minute-by-minute account of the late-night street riots, the chaotic protests and the rallies organized by those who wished to funnel that rage into a mechanism of change. The second is the reactions of politicians and civil rights leaders to New York’s race and law enforcement problems.

The author’s meticulous research finds microcosms of hate and fear at nearly ever corner — of the kind which will make nobody particularly nostalgic for the period. “Central Harlem seemed like a war zone, with screams from people and cracks from bullets as they ricocheted off brick walls and cement sidewalks.”

New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Wolfson, Stanley, photographer.

At the center of the story is civil rights leader Bayard Rustin (pictured above) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), often caught between keeping and promoting the peace and quelling the concerns of angry residents.

At one point, Rustin was literally disarming people. “The toll might have gone much higher if not for Rustin, who personally disposed of three cases of dynamite — enough to destroy a city block — after two young black men agreed to give it to him instead of using it.”

Few history books I’ve read in the past twelve months have felt as immediate as In the Heat of the Summer, with anecdotes that seem to speak pointedly to the events of today’s headlines.

For example, some police authorities applauded television coverage of the riots. Said one commissioner: “It’s the best answer we have to the cries of police brutality. The camera, after all, cannot distort or lie; the worst that can happen is that the film is edited. But what you see on the home screen is the actual occurrence.”

The Big Story Of Old Bet, America’s First Circus Elephant

PODCAST Before the American circus existed, animal menageries travelled the land, sometimes populated with exotic creatures. This is the story of the perhaps the most extraordinary wandering menagerie of all.

This year marks the end to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and, with it, the end of the traditional American circus. Once at the core of the American circus was the performing elephant. Today we understand that such captivity is no place for an endangered beast but, for much of this country’s history, circus elephants were one of the centerpieces of live entertainment.

This is the tale of the first two elephants to ever arrive in the United States. The first came by ship in 1796, an Indian elephant whose unusual appearance in the cattle pens at a popular local tavern would inspire one farmer to seek another one out for himself.

Her name was Old Bet, a young African elephant at the heart of all American circus mythology. She appeared in traveling menageries, equestrian circuses and even theatrical productions, long before humans really understood the nature of these sophisticated animals.

Find out how her strange, eventful and tragic life helped inspire the invention of American spectacle and how her memory lives on today in one town in Upstate New York.

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

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The circus comes to town: The banner on the elephant says Old Bet was “the first elephant to tread American soil.” In fact she was most likely the second.


The Bull’s Head Tavern on the Bowery. Recently a building excavation discovered the foundations of the Bull’s Head. Read all about it here.

Some images from the Somers Historical Society and their marvelous museum to the early American circus.

Chains which purportedly bound Old Bet.

Old Bet’s collar, which she wore from town to town.

At the right is Old Bet’s buckle.


Henry Street Settlement and the Legacy of Lillian Wald

Without perhaps intending it, social services pioneer Lillian Wald, in her desire to help thousands of poor immigrant women and children in the Lower East Side, also saved a rare and forgotten part of New York City history.

The modern Henry Street Settlement is spread throughout several buildings in the neighborhood, providing health care, shelter, job training and a host of services to the community.  But it started out in just three adjacent Federalist-style townhouses on Henry Street, recruited into duty by Wald and her benefactor Jacob Schiff to stem the tide of disease and harm that threatened families in the world’s most densely populated neighborhood in the late 19th century.

Children gallivant and pose for pictures outside 265 Henry Street, date unknown (Courtesy Henry Street Settlement)

A Different Lower East Side
As New York grew northward in the 19th century, wealthy landowners carved up their land with hopes of profit and a desire to foster New York’s next great elegant neighborhood. Revolutionary War colonel Henry Rutgers, who lends his first name to the street where the Settlement makes its home, sold off his property near Corlear’s Hook to businessmen with financial concerns along the Manhattan waterfront.

Below: An illustration from Forgotten NY, outlining the dividing line (literally, Division Street) between surrounding properties and Rutger’s own (in yellow). The buildings discussed are at Henry and Montgomery.

Many of the great shipbuilders lived in today’s Lower East Side (in the 1810s, it might have been called the Upper East Side) in fabulous residences within walking distance of the shore. Even by the 1850s, when the character of the neighborhood began to change, the mayor of New York Jacob Westervelt still resided at 308 East Broadway close to his shipyards. His neighbor at 281 East Broadway was city surveyor Isaac Ludlam.

Typical of the buildings that defined the neighborhood were 263 and 265 Henry Street, Federalist townhouses built in 1827. Its neighbor 267 Henry Street is a touch more ornate, with a different shade of brick  in a Georgian Eclectic style.

Picturing these streets today lined with such buildings is requires a vivid imagination. That’s because of the sudden mass of immigrants who arrived in New York by the 1850s, moving into poorer neighborhoods along the waterfront and in places like Five Points. Most of the homes along once-elegant Henry Street were torn down and replaced with tenements. Later, many of those tenements were themselves replaced with blocks of apartment complexes in the early 20th century.

These three Henry Street buildings have survived (as well as a few others, including Ludlam’s old home) because they were repurposed by a woman of uncommon compassion, one of New York’s most important figures in health and social services.

Settling Down

Lillian Wald first came to the city in 1891 as a student of New York Hospital’s nursing program. An intelligent and ambitious woman from Rochester, Wald quickly found purpose in one of the few respectable professions in the late 19th century where women could rapidly excel.

She’s marveled at today as a person of extraordinary compassion. But in many ways Lillian was a modern entrepreneur, able to latch onto the progressive instincts of the day to solve the immediate social ills facing New York with great imagination and a bold lack of prejudice.

When Wald founded the Nurses Settlement in 1893, she was building upon the practices of altruistic Christian programs (like the Methodist missions into Five Points) that brought social services into the very heart of slum-filled, overcrowded neighborhoods. However Wald was Jewish, and her perspectives involving health care were profoundly nonreligious and ‘universalist’ for the day.

Below: Nurses heading out to the tenements

In that year she also met wealthy banker Jacob Schiff (who himself had immigrated to New York in 1865) who purchased the three Henry Street buildings for Wald to properly set up her nursing agency. From that moment, it became the Henry Street Settlement, housing a squad of nurses sent out into the neighborhood to tackle an ungainly number of health issues.

In an era where poor patients were often turned away from standard hospitals, Wald and her team of extraordinary women provided care for free, often risking their own lives to enter squalid tenements and exposing themselves to many illness that today have been completely eradicated. (One of her nurses, Margaret Sanger, would later become America’s leading birth control advocate.)

A nurse scales a rooftop to access a patient’s home. Judging from the gas tanks in the distance, she’s in the area of today’s upper East Village.

The Settlement had no problem making the former Henry Street residences into working clinics. The rooms still felt like a home in its decor, a respite for many visiting patients. The nurses lived upstairs in rows of small bedrooms, most of which today have been turned into cozy offices.

The most lively (and historically important) room at the Settlement was the dining room, with large mahogany tables where Wald entertained a wide variety of guests, from poor patients to the great thinkers and Progressive voices of the day.

Below: A knitting class in the famous Henry Street dining room, May 1910. The fireplace at left is still very much intact. [LOC]

Beyond Borders
The Henry Street Settlement soon expanded its mission statement to generally improve the quality of life in the Lower East Side. Concerned that neighborhood children had no place to play, Wald set aside her courtyard to become one of New York’s first playgrounds in 1902.

Below: The location of the playground, just behind the Henry Street structures, pictured in an 1895 image by Jacob Riis and a most recent image.

Wald frequently held meetings here for strikers rallying against the women’s garment industry. In 1909, she invited both white and black guests for a dinner, organizing a group that would soon grow to become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP).

An excerpt from her 1915 book ‘A House On Henry Street‘ illustrates the racial politics of such a seemingly simple dinner party:

“At the time of the first convention of the organization, [the NAACP] formed to further better race relations in this country, the occasion promised to be almost too serious unless some social provision were made. 

I suggested a party at the House, but even the organizing committee was fearful. ‘Oh, no!’ they protested. ‘It won’t do! As soon as white and colored people sit down and eat together there begin to be newspaper stories about social equality.’ 

‘But two hundred members of the conference couldn’t sit down,’ I submitted. ‘Our house is too small. Everybody would have to stand up for supper.’ ‘Then it would be all right,’ they said with relief, and the party was successful.”

Below: One of the two original dining tables. Wald hosted hosted dozens of intellectual luminaries in this room, including Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacob Riis and Theodore Roosevelt.

Wald would become a leading figure for New York social programs, often enlisted by the city to bring improvement to the city’s other public services. (In 1902, Henry Street’s Lina Rogers become the very first school nurse.)  The Settlement even become an important venue for the arts with the debut of the Neighborhood Playhouse theater in 1915.

The tradition lives on at the Abrons Arts Center, another part of the Settlement that continues to be a critical part of the Lower East Side cultural community. (Below: A flyer for a WPA meeting, between 1936-41, LOC)

Wald died in 1940, but her Henry Street Settlement has only expanded in the years since her passing. Today they have facilities in over a dozen buildings throughout the neighborhood, expanding their focus to include job training, mental health services, adult education, a shelter for victims of domestic violence and even a computer lab.

Those original three buildings, housing mostly administrative offices today, are still a wonderful expression of an early era of New York history. Traces of that history sits next to the practicalities of office life; in one room, an original kitchen hearth and brick oven from the original tenants sit next to a couple photocopiers. Employees sit at laptops in Lillian Wald’s original bedroom with its spectacular sleeping porch overlooking the former playground.

The Henry Street Settlement hopes to use the Partners In Preservation grant money to combat the challenges of keeping their nearly two-centuries old offices in working order, to upgrade and prepare these old rooms for many more decades of providing a little more life to the Lower East Side.

Below: A portrait of Lillian Wald by William Valentine Schevill, hanging in the U.S. Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

(Portions of this article originally ran on this site back in 2012)

Here’s how to view the new display ‘New York 1942’ at Gracie Mansion

Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to move his family from their home in East Harlem (Fifth Avenue and 109th Street) to an old mansion in Carl Schurz Park. It was the former home to merchant Archibald Gracie, built in 1799, to look out at the ships of the East River and the turbulent waters of Hell Gate.

Below: Gracie Mansion in 1945. Needless to say, that chainlink fence has been replaced!

Gracie Mansion is known as ‘the little White House’. In truth, it’s yellow now, not white, but it was indeed small and perhaps a bit unsuited for its expanded new purposes. In 1966, thanks to Susan Wagner (Mayor Robert Wagner’s wife), the house was suitably enlarged with a ballroom and two reception rooms. It’s largely because of her and subsequent custodians that the mansion has now struck a perfect balance — an historical home that can vividly represent the City of New York and still comfortably keep a family.

Only one mayor has excused himself from his tradition — Michael Bloomberg — who turned the residence into a house museum, opening up Gracie Mansion to tours and even public events. After all, Bloomberg has a little change in his pocket, shall we say, and his actual home on East 79th Street was close by.

But Mayor Bill De Blasio has chosen to adhere to tradition and move his family into Gracie Mansion. In honor of that revived tradition, Gracie Mansion Conservancy is presenting a series of art installations in the house, celebrating its unique place in American history.

The latest installation New York 1942 presents a wide range of artifacts (59 in all) reflecting life in the city during World War II, a time-warping decor quietly expressing the house’s many historical layers. (An exhibition last year displayed relics from 1799, the year Gracie completed his mansion.)

In the entranceway, you’re met with prints of Norman Rockwell’s striking Four Freedoms, illustrating the accompanying freedoms of speech, worship, want and fear as outlined in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s now-iconic 1941 speech. They seem perfectly at home here and they should consider permanently installing a set here.

Throughout the house are paintings and photographs of every day life from the 1940s —  Gordon Parks photographs, landmarks in watercolors and paints, pictures of skyscrapers and housing projects alike. An old early ’40s television sits in one room; in the next, a modern widescreen presents a jazz band playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” Perhaps the most delectable artifact is its smallest — a little baseball, signed by the World Champion 1941 New York Yankees.

New York 1942 is curated with a modern eye, bringing out the diverse life of the city in the 40s, a perspective that some might have overlooked then. In particular, don’t overlook the somewhat strange Contoured Playground by Isamu Noguchi, a model for a children’s playground the artist wanted to build when he arrived at an Arizona internment camp in May 1942.

Gracie Mansion had an open house this past Sunday, presenting the installation to hundreds of visitors.   You can check out the installation yourself by booking a free tour to the historic home.  Just visit their website to directly book a spot on the next tour — Tuesdays only for the general public, select Wednesdays for schools — or call 212-676-3060.

I couldn’t take any pictures of the installation inside but I did snag a few from the front lawn!


The 2017 GANYC Apple Award Winners including Nathan’s, Governors Island and us (!)

The 2017 GANYC Apple Awards, recognizing achievements in New York City tourism, culture and preservation, were held last night at the SVA Theater in Chelsea.  It was quite a bawdy, rambunctious evening thanks to the host, cabaret star Mark Nadler, and a friendly, diverse line-up of presenters.

We were absolutely shocked to be honored last night with an award for our book The Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York.  The other books in the category are so terrific and very different from one another — guide books (Kevin C. Fitzpatrick’s Governors Island Explorers Guide), classic food profiles (Ina Yalof’s Food And The City) and photographic ruminations on New York (James and Karla Murray’s Store Front II: A History Preserved).  Try them all out!

Here are the list of honorees from last night:


Outstanding Achievement in Support of New York City Culture

Leslie Koch, President and CEO, The Trust for Governors Island

Outstanding Achievement in Support of New York City Tourism

Central Park Conservancy

Outstanding Achievement in Support of New York City Preservation

Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council

Outstanding New York City Website

Ephemeral New York

Outstanding Achievement in Radio Program/Podcasts (audio/spoken word)

There Goes the Neighborhood, WNYC

Outstanding Achievement in New York City Food (focusing on anniversaries and special accomplishments)

Nathan’s Famous

Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Book Writing (published October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York, by Tom Meyers and Greg Young

Outstanding Achievement in Fiction Book Writing (published October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

Murder in Morningside Heights by Victoria Thompson

Outstanding Achievement in Essay/Article/Series Writing (published October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

A Walking Tour of 1866 New York: In the Footsteps of 150-year-old Guidebooks, by James Nevius, Curbed NY

Outstanding Achievement in New York City Museum Exhibitions (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

Jacob A Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half, Museum of the City of New York

Outstanding Achievement in New York City Photography (singular image, published October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)

Paul Kessel, Coney Island



Presenting the Algonquin Round Table: The wits of New York’s Jazz Age

PODCAST The enduring legacy of the Algonquin Round Table and the brilliant (and sometimes forgotten) people who made it famous.

One June afternoon in the spring of 1919, a group of writers and theatrical folk got together at the Algonquin Hotel to roast the inimitable Alexander Woollcott, the trenchant theater critic for the New York Times who had just returned from World War I, brimming with dramatically overbaked stories.

The affair was so rollicking, so engaging, that somebody suggested — “Why don’t we do this every day?”

And so they did. The Algonquin Round Table is the stuff of legends, a regular lunch date for the cream of New York’s cultural elite. In this show, we present you with some notable members of the guest list — including the wonderful droll Dorothy Parker, the glibly observant Franklin Pierce Adams and the charming Robert Benchley, to name but a few.

But you can’t celebrate the Round Table from a recording studio so we head to the Algonquin to soak in the ambience and interview author Kevin C. Fitzpatrick about the Jazz Age’s most famous networking circle.

Are you ready for a good time? “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” — Dorothy Parker

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At top: The gorgeous modern painting by artist Natalie Ascencios which hangs over the spot where the original Round Table once sat.

A few members of the Round Table including Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott

The Algonquin, as seen in the year 1907….



…..and 30 years later, in 1937.

A 1906 advertisement in Brooklyn Life extolling the virtues of the Pergola Room (where the first group of Round Tablers first met) at the Algonquin Hotel.

Brooklyn Life, April 7, 1906

An ad featuring hotel manager Frank Case:

April 28, 1906

A couple stories of drama from the Algonquin’s early days:

Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, Feb 14, 1909
Evening World, August 5, 1911

Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper which fostered the talents of several who would end up sitting around the Round Table.

A few members of the Round Table, as featured on the show….

Alexander Woollcott

Franklin Pierce Adams

Dorothy Parker


Edna Ferber and George F. Kaufman


Ruth Hale

Robert Benchley

Robert Sherwood

Harold Ross and Jane Grant