Category Archives: Neighborhoods

The Story of SoHo: The Iron-Clad History of ‘Hell’s Hundred Acres’

PODCAST The history of SoHo, New York’s 19th century warehouse district turned shopping mecca

Picture the neighborhood of SoHo (that’s right, South of Houston) in your head today, and you might get a headache. Crowded sidewalks on the weekend, filled with tourists, shoppers and vendors, could almost distract you from SoHo’s unique appeal as a place of extraordinary architecture and history.

On this podcast we present the story of how a portion of “Hell’s Hundred Acres” became one of the most famously trendy places in the world.

In the mid 19th century this area, centered along Broadway, became the heart of retail and entertainment, department stores and hotels setting up shop in grand palaces. (It also became New York’s most notorious brothel district). The streets between Houston and Canal became known as the Cast Iron District, thanks to an exciting construction innovation that transformed the Gilded Age.

Today SoHo contains the world’s greatest surviving collection of cast-iron architecture. But these gorgeous iron tributes to New York industry were nearly destroyed – first by rampant fires, then by Robert Moses. Community activists saved these buildings, and just in time for artists to move into their spacious loft spaces in the 1960s and 70s. The artists are still there of course but these once-desolate cobblestone streets have almost unrecognizably changed, perhaps a victim of its own success.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #232: THE STORY OF SOHO


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A map of the Bayard farm and how it was broken up and carved into the streets we know today.

Niblo’s Garden, located at Broadway and Prince Streets, was one of the finest theaters along Broadway in the area of today’s SoHo.

Looking north along Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. The St. Nicholas Hotel is the white structure in the center of the photo.

Photo attributed to Silas A Holmes


An auction poster from 1872 advertising a property on Broome Street and “South Fifth Avenue or Laurens Street” — today’s West Broadway.


 Here is that corner at 504-506 Broome Street — in 1935 (photo by Berenice Abbott). Per Sean Sweeney on Facebook: “The two buildings were demolished and for years were a parking lot. Now a new 3-story retail building sits in their place.”




The house at 143 Spring Street — in 1932 (photograph by Charles Von Urban) and today (it’s a Crocs shop!)

Museum of City of New York/Charles Von Urban collection


491 Broadway at Broome Street — in 1905 (photograph by the Wurts Bros.) and today

James Bogardus, the man who helped give SoHo its distinctive appearance thanks to his vigorous marketing and promotion of cast-iron architecture.

The first cast-iron structure in New York, built in 1848, was further south at the corner of Centre and Duane Streets.



Robert Moses’ view of Broome Street via his project Lower Manhattan Expressway project. Broom Street would have had an elevated highway, enclosed within modern buildings. A view of surviving cast-iron architecture on the right.


SoHo would have been eliminated (or greatly reduced) by Moses’ project which was thankfully nixed.

Map produced by vanshnookenraggen

A map of the art galleries in the SoHo art scene during the 1970s.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

From a 1971 SoHo newsletter: The criteria for qualifying as an artist — and eventual resident — of a specially-zoned loft in SoHo. M1-5A and M1-5B were the newly created work-living zones.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


We greatly encourage you to check out the SoHo Memory Project for a lot of fantastic and often deeply personal recollections about the SoHo days of yore.

For further listening, check out the following Bowery Boys podcasts which were referenced in this week’s show:

Before Harlem: New York’s Forgotten Black Communities (#230) for information on first farms of the city’s first black New Yorkers

Niblo’s Garden (#113) for the history of the district’s most famous entertainment center

Our podcasts on Robert Moses (#100) and Jane Jacobs (#200)


And we really hope our show inspires you to check out two films that features interesting views of SoHo during its chic gallery phase — The Eyes of Laura Mars and After Hours


Two terrific, original NYC films, now streaming for free

Looking for something to watch this week or over the July 4th holiday? Two excellent films about New York City history and culture are now available for streaming for FREE and we are happy to recommend both to you:


Off Track Betty, a short dramatic film by Clayton Dean Smith, is a tribute (and a bit of an elegy) to a Lower East Side that’s now entirely gone, beautifully filmed in that area now entirely consumed by the Essex Crossing project. We especially love this film as we started the Bowery Boys podcast just a couple blocks from where Clayton shot this. This is a terrific and unconventional tribute to a particular wedge of New York City life.

You can watch the film here, directly on their website, or find it on Vimeo, Roku or Apple TV.


And in honor of the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the subject of our podcast this week), check out this excellent episode of American Experience called Stonewall Uprising (which originally aired on April 25, 2011), now streaming for free.

From PBS: “When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City on June 28, 1969, the street erupted into violent protests that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.”

You can watch it directly on the PBS American Experience website. Check it out!



Remembering the General Slocum disaster (June 15, 1904)

The General Slocum Memorial Fountain, one of the sole reminders of one of New York City’s darkest days,  is not a very awe-inspiring memorial.

This is no dig at the custodians of Tompkins Square Park, where the memorial has been on display since 1906, nor at Bruno Louis Zimm, the fountain’s sculptor whose creation presents two children in idyllic profile, next to an engraving: “They were Earth’s purest children, young and fair.”

Its left side unveils its more tragic context: “In memory of those who lost their lives in the disaster to the steamer General Slocum, June XV MCMIV.”

The fountain, while charming and tranquil, is inadequate in expressing the grief and horror that filled New Yorkers on June 15, 1904, when, during a church-sponsored day trip headed for the Long Island Sound, the General Slocum steamboat caught fire and sank in the East River, killing more than a thousand passengers, mostly women and children.

This tragedy was the single deadliest event in New York City history until September 11, 2001.

This disaster virtually wiped out the German presence on the Lower East Side—entire families perished, many of whom had just gotten a foothold in New York a generation before. In a single morning the lights of Kleindeutschland, New York’s Little Germany, permanently faded.

The boat had been chartered by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church* for their yearly day trip excursion to the Long Island Sound. It was a chance for the congregation to briefly break out of the crowded Lower East Side to enjoy a day in the sun. Among the passengers was the Liebenow family, the parents and their three daughters, Anna, Helen, and Adella, along with several aunts and cousins.

A postcard featuring the General Slocum from the Museum of the City of New York collection.

Courtesy MCNY

The Slocum left the pier shortly before 9 a.m. and began its slow crawl up the East River. Captain William Van Schaick had been
principally concerned that morning with one turbulent spot up the East River, a dangerous confluence of waters known as the Hell Gate. It had already sunk hundreds of vessels as far back as the seventeenth century. By 1904 it was still a dangerous pass, but on this day, the Hell Gate would not be the problem.

About 30 minutes into the voyage, a child noticed that a small fire had started in the lamp room below the main deck.

A crewman tried to stamp it out, throwing charcoal on it in an effort to contain it. But the flames only grew larger.

Crew members grabbed a firehose—only to find it rotten to the point that it burst wide open. These were not men trained for emergency situations; once they realized the hoses were useless, they simply gave up.

from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Civilized behavior soon gave way to panic as the flames quickly spread through the lower levels of the steamer, fire jumping from passengers’ clothing to hair.

Families moved away from the flames only to find themselves pressed up against the boat’s railings as panicked crowds pushed forward in search of fresh air. Children lost hold of their parents, never to see them again.

Crowds surged toward the Slocum’s six lifeboats and attempted to hoist them down. But they wouldn’t budge—somebody had wired them to the wall.

The life preservers, never properly inspected, were filled with rotten cork, and several exploded into dust. They were not only useless—they were actually dangerous. Panicked parents strapped preservers to their children and tossed them overboard, only to watch in horror as they sank from sight.

Below deck, passengers were burned to death—huddled in groups and trapped in corners. Smoke choked many, causing unconsciousness; many were trampled underfoot.

Some jumped into the violent waves. “There was little hope that any of the children who jumped overboard could be saved,” reported the New York Evening World. “The current all along the course taken is on a section of the river where not even a strong swimmer can breast the currents. Scores of little ones were sucked in by the whirlpools in Hell Gate.”

Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation

Crowds formed along the shores, their attention drawn by the billowing smoke, fire, and horrifying spectacle before them. The captain managed to steer the boat toward North Brother Island, where nurses, doctors, and even patients from the smallpox hospital ran to the water to rescue and attempt to revive those who had washed ashore.

Bodies on the shore of North Brother Island

The Slocum eventually floated out into the Long Island Sound, puffing clouds of cork dust into the air, while leaving a trail of tragedy in its wake.

Just after noon, the burning vessel sank, a single paddle box and a smokestack jutting out of the water.

By the final count, 1,021 people perished in the General Slocum disaster that day, making it the deadliest single event in the city’s history up to that date. In the weeks following the disaster, the streets of Kleindeutschland—today’s East Village—were filled with mourners, as the community attended funerals in the homes of those who had perished and held solemn processions through the streets.

A mass funeral through the streets of the Lower East Side — “burial of the unidentified”

New York Public Library

The Liebenow family was hit particularly hard. The entire Liebenow family died in the disaster—all except baby Adella (pictured below), just six months old at the time of the tragedy.

Two years later, now only two-and-a-half years old, Adella was hoisted to a podium here in Tompkins Square Park. She stood before a community that hadn’t yet fully recovered—would they ever?—as she tugged at a cloth to unveil the General Slocum Memorial Fountain.


No, the fountain is not perfect. How could it be?

But why hasn’t this tragedy been better memorialized? It’s such an important event in the city’s history, and yet so many don’t know its whole story. There are a few theories about this, many having to do with the anti-German sentiment that cropped up a decade later at the beginning of World War I.

Or was it the social class of the victims that caused it to recede from memory? Adella, who died in 2004, 100 years after the disaster, believed that this might be the case. To a crowd at a 1999 commemoration of the tragedy, she said, “The Titanic had a great many famous people on it. This was just a family picnic.”

*St. Mark’s is located on East 6th Street, between First and Second Avenues, in the heart of New York’s first and largest German neighborhood. A plaque honoring the victims hangs in front.

There’s also a monument to the victims at a cemetery in Middle Village, Queens


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

‘Citizen Jane’: A new film explores the legacies of Moses and Jacobs

FILM REVIEW The story of Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs has grown to such an epic scale by this point that it scarcely represents reality anymore. Their legacies have taken on super heroic form — the Avengers of New York City history, if you will — representing the basic evils of corrupt government and the essential good of humanity in protecting its citizens from distress and exploitation.

Many might walk by a certain aspect of New York City life that remains troubling and may, to this day, immediately attribute it to Moses, while strolling through a bustling neighborhood and thanking Jacobs for her inspiration. These instincts aren’t wrong but they are reductive.

A new documentary seeks to keep Moses and Jacobs in the realm of the mythical. Citizen Jane: Battle For the City, about the critical fight against urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s,  plays out in New York City, of course, but its title pointedly leaves out the location. The movie is bookended (perhaps burdened) with a greater context — their fight now possibly reverberates into the struggles of all modern cosmopolitan life and even the fate of our planet.

You may be quite familiar with the main players and their biographies.  Moses, the city’s parks commissioner, began to amass great power and influence after World War II, using federal money and modernist ideas to develop urban renewal programs that would rewrite the landscape New York City. Jacobs, “just a housewife” as she was later described by Moses and his cronies, was a journalist and urban theorist who evolved the fight to save the integrity of her own Greenwich Village neighborhood into one to preserve the vital characteristics of the city.

Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Citizen Jane brings these stories alive using a wonderful assortment of film footage and interviews. Without a doubt, the greatest pleasures of this film are the actual voices of its two subjects.

Moses is at his most cantankerous here, often growling out the defense of his own plans. He describes slums as “a cancerous growth,” complains about people who don’t want to relocate, then labels his critics as in “opposition to everything that’s progressive.”

But Jacobs can be vitriolic herself of course. Fortunately there’s an abundance of interviews which the film uses to narrate Jabobs’ personal journey from a passive journalistic voice to a crusader against, in her own words, the “full flowering of the expressway power city.”

Rendering of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Courtesy Library of Congress

The film, directed by Matt Tyranuer, makes bold and sometimes ominous choices of presenting the stark contrasts of changing urban life, building towards the ultimate confrontation — the development of the Lower Manhattan Expressway.

Even here, the director makes a wise decision to let original news and promotional film footage from the period speak for itself. While it is true that the central conflicts presented within Citizen Jane are truly modern and universal, there’s just nothing like hearing the voices of 1960s New Yorkers, complaining about Robert Moses and afraid of losing their homes, to help bring those points across.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
Directed by Matt Tyrnauer
Altimeter Films
Now playing in theaters and On Demand



Two strange secrets of DeWitt Clinton Park in Hell’s Kitchen

DeWitt Clinton Park, far west in Hell’s Kitchen between West 52nd and West 54th Streets, has two unusual features that harken to a time one hundred years ago — and millions of years ago!

The park’s most striking feature is an unusual rock formation that juts out just west of the sports field. This unique outcrop, dating back 450 million years (that’s right: read that again!), is called exotic terrane, meaning that a portion of the earth’s crust formed by two tectonic plates grafted together to create a rock composition unlike anything that surrounds it.

Horsing Around: Children daily play around one of the oldest exposed areas of Manhattan’s natural topography. At top, in the 1934 image, the same rocks (more exposed and treacherous) greeted other children. 

Courtesy Greg Young

Over the past couple of centuries, most of Manhattan’s unique geological features have been smoothed over by the city, which hired workers to push plows and drive dump trucks filled with dirt. Thankfully, this extraordinary feature was left in place during construction

But on the eastern end of the park sits a more somber reminder of the past —  New York’s most touching World War I memorial, a lonely doughboy with a rifle slung over his shoulder holding, wait, what is that?

He’s offering up a handful of poppies, flowers that held a decidedly different meaning during the statue’s dedication in 1930 than they have today.

Poppies grew in abundance in the Flemish town of Ypres, site of multiple battles during the war, and the bright-red variety came to symbolize the fallen.

A quote from the famed World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” by poet- surgeon-Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae hugs the base, explaining the mysterious imagery:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(The bolded part above appears as an inscription on the memorial.)

But this sorrowful monument of Hell’s Kitchen has another tragic element. It was crafted by sculptor Burt Johnson, known for creating many statues of World War I doughboys (a nickname for American soldiers) across the country. You can find another example of his work in Doughboy Plaza in Woodside, Queens.

But Johnson died in 1927 while still modeling the memorial intended for the park. His widow made arrangements for the statue to be completed and eventually, in the fall of 1929, it was installed at De Witt Clinton Park.

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

Open House New York 2016: Ten fascinating FREE places to visit

This weekend is the 14th Annual Open House New York, the city’s annual celebration of history, architecture and design.  Hundreds of places throughout the five boroughs will throw open their doors to visitors. So that weird old church you’ve always wanted to visit? It’s probably open.  Ever wanted to explore a neighborhood you’ve never been to but needed a reason to go?  This is your reason.

Some places featured this weekend did require reservations, most of which have been taken.  (But not all. check the Open House website to be sure.)  But a large number of locations have free admissions — museums, historical houses, unusual residences and so many more.

Here are a few recommendations of places to visit this weekend that are completely free to visit.  You can find the full list here.  Plan your weekend today!  I’ll be around running around to several Open House sites for most of the weekend so follow along with me on Twitter (@boweryboys) or on Instagram (boweryboysnyc).

In additional, I’m also providing a little ‘suggested listening’, prior Bowery Boys podcasts which relate directly or indirectly to the Open House New York sites in question.  You can download them via iTunes or at the links provided below.


  1. CUNY Bronx Community College
    University Heights
    Sunday, October 16, from 12 to 4pm

The former Bronx campus of New York University has some of the most stunning and truly unusual architecture in the city, a mix of both fine Beaux Arts masterpieces and captivating 1950s and 60s Brutalism structures.  Several buildings on campus will be open and offering tours. They are:

Gould Memorial Library — designed by Stanford White and named for the daughter of Jay Gould

Hall of Fame of Great Americans (pictured above)— A frozen-in-time tribute to great American thinkers and inventors that will make you feel like you’re on Mount Olympus

North Hall and Library — A bit of tasteful new architecture that makes itself right at home on campus

Marcel Breuer Buildings — For those with modernist tastes, check out New York’s most handsome Brutalist survivors

Suggested Listening: Try our trilogy on Bronx history, particularly Part Two (The Bronx Is Building) featuring the construction of the New York University campus.


10:00 am – 6:00 pm
10:00 am – 6:00 pm

The Black Lady Theatre is a sister location of the Slave Theatre on Fulton Street and has been closed for many years. But the eye-catching murals inside are currently being restored, and this weekend, you’ll be able to give them a peek. 

Courtesy Scott Heins/Gothamist. You can read about the park's opening here:
Courtesy Scott Heins/Gothamist. You can read about the park’s opening here:
Brooklyn Navy Yard
12:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Here’s a curious thing — the site of a naval hospital cemetery, closed since the 1920s (“the known remains were removed to Cypress Hill,” according the website), is now a stunning, landscaped meadow and boardwalk. Afterwards, head over to the BLDG 92 to learn a little about the wonderful history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

 Suggested Listening: In our Ghost Stories of Brooklyn podcast, one spooky story references a burial spot near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Your just a few blocks away from the haunted house on Clinton Avenue!


Financial District
9:00 am – 4:45 pm

Visit this memorial to the early days of our country — the place where George Washington was first inaugurated. And guess what — actors playing Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton will be on site today!
Suggested reading and listening: Check out my recent article on Federal Hall then listen to our podcast on John Peter Zenger and the Freedom of the Press, where Federal Hall (back when it was City Hall) plays a big role.

Civic Center
12:00 pm – 4:00 pm

City Hall began throwing open its doors to Open House events last year, and we’re so thrilled to see them part of the program that we’re recommending a visit again. Play special attention to City Hall’s spectacular, if occasionally curious, art collection. Afterwards, visit to other architectural masterpieces close by — the Surrogate’s Courthouse and the Manhattan Municipal Building.

Suggested Listening: Listen to our podcast on the history of New York City Hall.  

Photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
West Village
12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
An extraordinary amount of history has taken place here. Once the site of Bell Telephone Laboratories, this site was transformed into a  a vital artists community in 1970. There are tours of the place throughout the day.

Suggested Listening: The High Line once streaked by this location just west of here — you can still see where it once entered a building on Washington Street — so take a listen to our history of the High Line.

7. Rockefeller University

Saturday, October 15: 10 am – 4:00 pm

I suspect you’ve strolled around Columbia University or New York University, but rarely Rockefeller’s campus here on the waterfront. Now’s your chance.  Walking tours every thirty minutes of this historic set of building.

Photo courtesy Daytonian In Manhattan. You can read an in-depth history of this building at

8. United Palace
Washington Heights
Saturday, October 15: 10am-4pm

Don’t miss this opportunity to peer inside the former Loew’s 175th Street Theater, a former vaudeville house and movie theater which opened in 1930. Guided tours at 11 am, noon and 1pm.


12 – 4pm

Go for brunch in glorious Astoria, then check out the galleries that explore certain aspects of Queens early history.  Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY speaks at 2pm on Saturday!

ALSO: You’re close to a few other Queens Open House sites, including Brooklyn Grange, the Welling Court Mural Project, the Noguchi Museum, and Socrates Sculpture Park.

Courtesy Internet Book Archives, circa 1851
Courtesy Internet Book Archives, circa 1851


1000 Richmond Terrace

Livingston, Staten Island

10:00 am – 5:00 pm; 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

I feel like I recommend people go to Snug Harbor every year for Open House New York, and I’m not going to change my stripes this year.  Its a place of stunning architectural and natural beauty that still feels like it operates on a different wavelength from the rest of the city.  Opened in 1833 as a home for aged sailors, Snug Harbor is one of the largest collections of Greek Revival architecture in the United States.  Check the Open House website for tour times.

NOTE: Make a day of it in Staten Island. The National Lighthouse Museum, the Alice Austen House and Fort Wadsworth are all open for Open House.

Suggested Listening: The early history of Staten Island is featured in our show on the Staten Island Ferry.

Pokemon Go is indirectly an excellent mobile app for history buffs

This weekend I strolled around Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and observed at least 8 or 9 people staring intently at their phones, occasionally wiping their index fingers rapidly at the screen.

In the center of the park is an 18-foot-tall World War I memorial dedicated in 1921, emblazoned with the names of those from the neighborhood who had died in the war. On one side of this monolith are the words: “THEY FACED THE PERILS / OF THE SEA AND THE / HIDDEN FOE / BENEATH THE / WAVES.”

IMG_9604 (1)

People were gathered here thanks to Pokémon GO, the hot new mobile app that transfers the adventures of the Japanese fantasy franchise into the real world via a nifty GPS location tie-in.

The player’s avatar can now wander the city streets looking for adventure in the form of creatures to capture by throwing Poké Balls at them. The world is rendered as an abstract grid devoid of buildings until you interact with one of the creatures. At that point, both the real and virtual worlds collide. Suddenly it’s as though you have a cognitive ‘third eye’, seeing a beast from another dimension that the rest of the world wanders past indifferently.

For instance, here’s the corner of Wall Street and South Street

IMG_9589 (1)

At this busy intersection I had a vigorous battle with a starfish-like creature. I was not very good at this game and, at several points, threw virtual Poké Balls that would have caused many injuries had they been real. Finally I was able to successfully rid Wall Street of this terrible menace.



Several friends recommended this game to me over the weekend due to one particular aspect — its innovative use of landmarks as a critical component of game play. Icons which appear as spinning blue cubes sit over the location of various neighborhood landmarks. These are permanent Pokéstops, magical places where users can grab vital items for the game, like food for your Pokémon. (You see, your captured creatures are trapped in a virtual prison of your own design. Best not to focus too closely on this part of the beloved Pokémon mythology.)

The reason I’m bringing this up — the reason there’s a Pokémon post on this page at all — is this unique game feature. For players to use these Pokéstops,  they must actually visit them.

And that is the wondrous, possibly accidental glory of Pokémon GO — it’s become the best neighborhood and historical landmarks app on the market.

For instance, here was the sight that greeted me yesterday out in front of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street. As tourists were buzzing by and service was just getting out at one of New York’s most famous religious spaces, I was observing the landscape reduced to this:


There were several blue squares contained within Trinity Church graveyard. A player could check out those squares from afar but had to actually walk into Trinity and get close to them to seek their rewards.  Even in death, Founding Father and Broadway superstar Alexander Hamilton was providing his countrymen with guidance as one square was hovering over his grave, as though an otherworldly embodiment of his greatness:


At many sites, a short history is provided with each blue square. Sure, Hamilton is a very popular figure at the moment, so naturally some explanation might be presented here. But how many games primarily geared towards children would have a short history of the building across the street — the Equitable Building?



Back in Trinity, a player could stroll the cemetery and check out other blue square and — it is sincerely hoped — the rest of the history of this intriguing place. But as one who lives in the physical realm AND the virtual spirit realm, you have work to do. For within the graveyard is another Pokémon to catch — the arguably inappropriate Haunter, a play on Ghostbusters’ Slimer and, perhaps, Richard Churcher, the six year old who died in 1681 and whose tombstone is the church’s oldest.



The game provides silly juxtapositions that only history and New York lovers will really appreciate. For instance, it looks like there’s some Squirtle on the menu at old Delmonico’s Restaurant:



At this point, you may be wondering — doesn’t this all seem sort of dangerous? People wandering the streets, staring at their phones, swiping rapidly to capture a nonexistent entity ghoulishly hovering upon a sidewalk that actual people are walking? Indeed there are many potential hazards to this game that many people have already identified.

But here’s where I found Pokémon Go an especially valuable tool for exploring New York City. For one, simply stop playing the game! Who cares about capturing Pikachu or Chortlefoot or Poofybee or whatever? Just use the app as a device for finding intriguing places in your neighborhood. Not only is this less stressful — after all, who wants to be tasked with catching monsters on your day off? — but it’s free. (The app has paid features for those who want to go deep into the game’s universe.)

The Pokéstops aren’t merely historical landmarks but beloved neighborhood places as well. For instance, using the app while strolling around Brooklyn elicited many sites and quirky attractions I’d never really noticed before:

On Baltic Street:




Near Borough Hall:


On Flatbush Avenue:


How did an international game developer identify such specific and locally beloved places for a fantasy game?  Niantic basically took the information from a prior game called Ingress which was created from user submissions.

And that’s what makes this app a particular pleasure for use in a big city, where neighborhoods might have had dozens of users populating Niantic’s databases. (I’d be very curious to see how enjoyable this experience is in a rural area.) Not all the landmarks have historical descriptions attached to them, but almost all were at least identified by a regular visitor to that place, perhaps even a neighbor.

How else to explain such curious oddities as these (from Wall Street and Cadman Plaza, respectively)?



Of course, naysayers might immediately point out that the landmarks are only being used for game purposes and users aren’t expected to really interact in any meaningful way. And should we really be encouraging MORE walking and phone gazing? But even if most people just skitter away after collecting their virtual items, a few people may stop and pay attention. At very least, ignoring the gaming aspect entirely and using the app merely for its locations makes for a great scavenger hunt with your friends.

It’s like the Points of Interest section in our book Adventures In Old New York, but without random cuddly monsters populating the streets. I could see it awaken a renewed interest in neighborhood geography. Just yesterday, I saw both a father and son using it to locate one particular Pokéstop which also happened to be Brooklyn’s oldest synagogue.


(You can actually check out all the blue squares from the comfort of your couch, but they can only be used for gameplay if you’re near, thus the message in pink above.)



Jane Jacobs, born 100 years ago today! Celebrate with a weekend walk.

Jane Butzner was born 100 years ago in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Jane Jacobs died on April 25, 2006, in Toronto, Canada. But for much of her life in between, she changed the way people thought about cities from her perch in North America’s largest — New York City.

Jane Jacobs was a revolutionary thinker in an age where ‘big ideas’ shaped cities. City planners thought about grand plans, not street corners. Jacobs became a breakout philosopher on everyday urban living, revealing practical realities that were completely misunderstood by those making real decisions.

Without Jacobs — and the countless activists and preservationists before and after her — we would not have New York City 2016. (You can take that statement both as a tribute and perhaps as a sly criticism as well.)

Now I didn’t know Jane, but I’m pretty sure she would like you to celebrate her birthday in one of the two following ways:  1) Go to your favorite neighborhood in New York City and spend money there at local businesses, or 2) Go to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before and learn everything you can about it. 

Of course, before cutting the birthday cake today, why not listen to the Bowery Boys 200th episode celebration of the life of Jane Jacobs? The podcast includes audio from Jane herself, waxing on about the creation of her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

If you’re looking for something to read today about Jacobs, by all means, jump into Death and Life or perhaps one of these books.

Today’s Google Doodle, celebrating Jane’s 100th birthday:

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 8.03.55 AM

After that, plan on joining one of the many Jane’s Walks this weekend, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York. There are dozens and dozens of free walking tours, from May 6-8, that you’re sure to find one right in your back yard. (Maybe literally your back yard if you live somewhere historic!)

Check out the entire list right here and plan out a whole weekend of adventures.  Below is a list of ten notable tours that caught my eye and sound like exceptionally unique ways to spend an afternoon.  Plus an extra one that I’m personally invested in:

Times Square 1975. Courtesy Getty Images via Gothamist
Times Square 1975. Courtesy Getty Images via Gothamist

Manhattan, Meet at Duffy Square
Friday, May 6, at 1pm, 2 hours
Details here
Tag line: “Most of old Times Square has been carefully obliterated by generic hotels and office buildings, but there are still vestiges of its seedy past—if you know where to look.”
Led by Robert Brenner

Manhattan, Meet at Audubon Monument, 550 West 155th Street
Friday, May 6, at 6pm, 1.5 hours
Saturday, May 7, 1:30pm
Sunday, May 8, 11am and 2pm
Details here
Tag line: “The distinctive footprint that disrupts Manhattan’s grid west of Broadway between 155th and 158th Streets—the Audubon Park Historic District—did not come about by accident or from the demands of local topography.”
Led by Matthew Spady

Photograph by Helen Barksy, 1971. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photograph by Helen Barksy, 1971. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Manhattan, Meet at Vendy Plaza (Park Avenue and 116th Street
Sunday, May 8, 1pm
Details here
Led by Flaco Navaja
Tag line: “Our walking tour will explore the dynamics of a community in flux, looking at the history of East Harlem and the political and cultural significance of that history, as well as examining competing visions for the neighborhood’s future. ”

Manhattan, Meet at NW corner of Washington & Houston Streets
Saturday, May 7, 11am
Details here
Tag line: “Today, that remaining section of the High Line has become one of the city’s major attractions. But what about the ghosts of the past along its southern route?”
Led by Joan Schechter

The littlest residents of former Little Syria. Courtesy Library of Congress
The littlest residents of former Little Syria. Courtesy Library of Congress

Manhattan, Meet at St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church
Sunday, May 8, at 10:30am
Details here
Tag line: “Immigration to the United States from the territories of Greater Syria — now Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine — began in the 1870s and 1880s. The most important neighborhood of the immigration — and its economic and cultural heart — was along Washington Street in the Lower West Side of Manhattan.”
Led by Todd Fine

The Bronx, Meet at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, North Wing Lobby
Saturday, May 7, 11am
Details here 
Tag line: “While visiting key sites along this major thoroughfare, Goodman will provide a brief history of the Grand Concourse and explain the development of its diverse neighborhoods and communities.”
Led by Sam Goodman

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Queens, Meet at the Chase Bank @ 75th Street and Roosevelt
Saturday, May 7, 11:30am
Sunday, May 8, 11:30 am
Details here
Tag line: “We’ll explore the architectural qualities of Jackson Heights, developed by Edward A. MacDougall of the Queensboro Corporation in 1916. The neighborhood contains a variety of architectural styles with private gardens at the center of each city block.”
Led by Michael Limaco

Brooklyn, meet at Midwood Development Corporation
Sunday, May 8, 3PM
Details here
Tag line: “At Avenue M and 14th street, The Vitagraph Company of America built the nation’s first modern film studio in 1906, where it operated until 1925 as one of the most prolific moving picture companies in the world, making Brooklyn the epicenter of film production long before Hollywood.”
Led By Nellie Perera and Melissa Frizzling

Photo courtesy the US Coast Guard
Photo courtesy the US Coast Guard

Staten Island, meet at the clubhouse of Latourette Golf Course on Edinboro Road
Saturday, May 7, 3PM
Details here
Tag line: “Himalayan Buildings, a working lighthouse, a golf course and a widow’s walk are just some of the interesting sights we will see. Some of the historical tidbits include “Why is the neighborhood called Lighthouse Hill?” and “Why are the streets named after places in the UK?” and “What notable people lived here?””
Led By Meg Ventrudo

Governors Island, meet at the Battery Maritime Building
Friday, May 6, at noon
Details here
Tag line: “See New York Harbor from a breathtaking new vantage point 70 feet in the air. Here is your chance to have a sneak peek at the newly planted Hills on Governors Island before they open to the public this summer.”
Led By Ellen Cavanagh


And finally, if you happen to be around Chelsea and the West Village on Saturday, check into the fascinatng tour below led by Kyle Supley. If all goes according to plane, I’ll be making a guest appearance during the tour, speaking at one particular location. Unfortunately, I will not be wearing chaps to this event!

Manhattan, meet at 515 West 18th Street
Saturday, May 7, 7pm
Details here
Led by Kyle Supley
Tag line: “Past patrons, NYC history buffs, and those just looking for a good time, take note! From ballrooms to discos to piano bars, we’ll observe the shifting typology of the gay bar. Together, we’ll cover everything from the raids to the raves.”

PODCAST REWIND: The Great Fire of 1835

The Great Fire of 1835 devastated the city during one freezing December evening, destroying hundreds of buildings and changing the face of Manhattan forever. It underscored the city’s need for a functioning water system and permanent fire department.

So why were there so many people drinking champagne in the street?

Listen in as we recount this breathtaking tale of the biggest fire in New York City history.

THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)



For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#75), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.


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!




great fire


Nicolino Calyo captured the terrible sight of the blaze as it might have looked from Red Hook, Brooklyn. (He also painted the breathtaking scene above.)



Before the blaze: Charming Wall Street in 1825, from a 1920s guide book. Prosperity from the Erie Canal was just around the bend. (Courtesy Ephemeral New York)

The original Merchant’s Exchange building, one of New York’s more ornate building, featuring a statue of Alexander Hamilton standing nobly in its rotunda. (Illustration courtesy the New York Public Library image gallery)

What’s the damage?: the red areas below indicate the blocks destroyed by the swift moving conflagration (map courtesy CUNY)

City officials, including mayor Cornelius Lawrence, could only watch and stare as the blaze over takes a stretch of prominent buildings. Also included below is Charles King, who watches as his newspaper the New York American is overcome by the fire.

Calyo’s painted depiction of the “Burning of the Merchant’s Exchange”


Another interpretation from the same angle — the futility of battling the blaze was chillingly illustrated from the corner Wall and William streets, where winds carried the flames from building to building, high above the heads of fighters below.

As the old Dutch Church on Garden Street caught fire, a morose parishioner mounted the organ and began playing a dirge. (Where’s Garden Street? According to Forgotten New York, Garden Street was “between William Street and Broadway, just south of Wall Street” and is now part of Exchange Place today.)


Aftermath at the Merchant’s Exchange. Many business owners actually tranferred their stock to the Exchange building, unfortunately thinking it would be impervious to the encroaching flames.

The devastation that met New Yorkers the following day led most to believe the city would never recover.


Most of the buildings on today’s Stone Street were built in the immediate years following the fire, Greek Revival-style countinghouses that are refitted for modern times as taverns and restaurants. It’s also one of the few cobblestone streets still around in the Financial District area.

Who exactly was Nicolino Calyo, the man who painted so many vivid pictures of the Great Fire? Nicolino Vicomte de Calyo was a political dissenter who fled Italy in the 1830s and settled in Baltimore, becoming entranced by the new American landscape. Although his most famous depictions of New York are of the city in flame, he also painted a few serene views (like the one below, a vantage of the harbor from Brooklyn Heights).

His works are in many New York museums, including the “Burning of the Merchant’s Exchange” which is at the Museum of the City of New York.

Another cool resource on the Great Fire is up at the CUNY website, with more pictures and more backstory as to New York’s capacity to fight blazes in the early 19th century.

And if you’re so inclined, why not visit the New York City Fire Museum? It’s in SoHo and afterwards you can take a stroll down to the Financial District and imagine what it all might have looked like.

A Culinary Tour of the Lower East Side

PODCAST A flavorful walk through the Lower East Side, exploring the neighborhood’s most famous foods.

Join Tom as he experience the tastes of another era by visiting some of the oldest culinary institutions of the Lower East Side. From McSorley’s to Katz’s, Russ & Daughters and Economy Candy — when did these shops open, who did they serve, and how, in the world are they still with us today? He explores the topic with author Sarah Lohman of the Four Pounds Flour blog.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #202: A Culinary Tour of the Lower East Side


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!




A groovy bite: How has Katz’s Delicatessen managed to last so long? This picture was taken in 1975 but it could have easily have been taken today with a black-and-white filter slapped over it.


(Photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon, 1975, courtesy Museum of the City of New York)


Another timeless classic — McSorley’s Old Ale House, in a photo taken by Berenice Abbott, 1937. (Ms. Abbott would have been one of the only women even allowed into McSorley’s in 1937!) How has this bar managed to stay open — and look virtually the same for over a century?




The Russ and Daughters interior before a renovation that widened the store.

Courtesy Russ and Daughters
Courtesy Russ and Daughters

A potato merchant in the Lower East Side. It was because of the proliferation of these peddlers that the city eventually opened the Essex Street Market in the 20th century.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library


Tom, recording on the road at McSorley’s Old Ale House, being a day drinker!



For more information on guest host Sarah Lohman‘s upcoming book Four Pounds Flour, check out her website.

And for more information on the history of a few of the locations mentioned in the show, check out these other Bowery Boys: New York City History podcasts:

PODCAST: McSorley’s Old Ale House


Bowery Boys Greatest Hits: Back to Katz’s Delicatessen