Tag Archives: Chelsea

The New York Christmas tradition in an uptown cemetery

Clement Clarke Moore, the lord of Chelsea (the manor for which the neighborhood is named), lived a long and distinguished life as an educator and land developer, dying in 1863 at his home in Newport, Rhode Island.  He was originally buried in the churchyard of St. Luke-in-the-Field (pictured below) in the area of today’s West Village . In 1891 the cemetery was redeveloped  and the remains were transferred to Trinity Church’s graveyard in Washington Heights.

grave

What does all this have to do with Christmas you ask?

Moore was a revered scholar, former president of Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary on his old Chelsea property. But most everybody knows him better as the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a verse of holiday anticipation penned for his children.

For well over one hundred years an unusual ceremony has taken place at Church of the Intercession, the house of worship which sits upon  the grounds of Trinity Church Cemetery.

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Church of the Intercession

 

The tradition was apparently initiated by a vicar at the chapel named Milo Hudson Gates. He “instituted the Christmas Eve service in which many hundreds of children went in procession to decorate the graves of Clement Clarke Moore, author of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, and Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens, author of ‘A Christmas Carol’.”

Hundreds of children, carrying lanterns and torches in the old days, gathered around Moore’s gravestone and sang Christmas songs.  “Carols were sung and wreaths placed on the grave,” according to a 1919 report. The famous poem by Moore was then recited.  (I’m not sure they still do the march to Dickens’ resting place.)

“His name was Clement C. Moore. His body sleeps beneath the Christmas trees that grow in Trinity Cemetery.” [December 23, 1918]

Below: Children surrounding the grave of Moore’s, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s (according the church website).

pic

This tradition has survived into modern day with some interesting variations. Frequently a person dressed as Saint Nicholas (the saint, not the Santa) leads the procession. In recent decades, a person of some renown reads the poem such as in 2003 when basketball great Isiah Thomas brought Moore’s words to life.

And the tradition returns this year!  This Sunday, December 20, the Church of the Intercession begins with prelude music at 3pm and the official program at 4pm.  This year’s reading will be by William C. Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times.

Visit Intercession’s website for more information. The church and cemetery are located at Broadway and West 155th Street.

If you’re heading up there, why not get there an hour early or so and visit the Hispanic Society‘s amazing collection of Spanish artwork, just across the street at Audubon Terrace?

moore1

 

 

 

Chelsea Piers: New York City
 in the Age of the Ocean Liner

PODCAST The Chelsea Piers were once New York City’s portal to the world, a series of long docks along the west side of Manhattan that accommodated some of the most luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century.

1Passenger ocean travel became feasible in the mid 19th century due to innovations in steam transportation, allowing for both recreational voyages for the wealthy and a steep rise in immigration to the United States.

The Chelsea Piers were the finest along Manhattan’s busy waterfront, built by one of New York’s greatest architectural firms as a way to modernize the west side.  Both the tragic tales of the Titanic and the Lusitania are also tied to the original Chelsea Piers.

But changes in ocean travel and the financial fortunes of New York left the piers without a purpose by the late 20th century. How did this important site for transatlantic travel transform into one of New York’s leading modern sports complexes?

ALSO: The death of Thirteenth Avenue, an avenue you probably never knew New York City ever had!

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 Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #180: Chelsea Piers in the Age of the Ocean Liner

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The offices of Steamship Row near Bowling Green and Battery Park. With the rise of ocean travel in the mid 19th century, passengers went to these buildings to make voyage accommodations.  These were later replaced with more lavish offices, many of which are still around in the neighborhood today.

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

 

A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.
A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.

 

The crazy scene out in front of West Washington Market in 1905. The market was built well before the Chelsea Piers and helped preserve a bit of 13th Avenue when most of that street was eliminated for the Piers’ construction.

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

Construction of the Chelsea Piers complex in progress, looking northwest from 16th Street, 1910.

Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

The lavish Chelsea Piers headhouse, designed by Warren and Wetmore of Grand Central Terminal. This picture was taken in 1910 at their completion. It looks very calm on the street in front, a rarity!

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

 

An insurance map from 1885, detailing the streets near the areas of waterfront along West Village and the Meat-Packing District.  Note the location of 13th Avenue along the water, running along the top from center to right. Most of this was removed for the construction of the piers.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The arrival of the White Star ocean liner Olympic into New York harbor, 1911.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

The Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. This was obviously taken from Southhampton where they had much more room for massive ocean vessels!

Titanic

 

Crowds gather at a location near Chelsea Piers awaiting the survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

People gather in New York to await the arrival of survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic aboard the RMS Carpathia

The RMS Carpathia arrives at Pier 54 on April 18, 1912.  Reporters scurry to interview survivors of the Titanic.

Courtesy New York Times
Courtesy New York Times

The Lusitania in New York Harbor, and other with the Lusitania at Pier 54 (date unknown but obviously before the Chelsea Piers were completed)

lusitania

 

pier54cunardlusitania

This striking image (cleaned-up photography courtesy of Shorpy) shows the Chelsea Piers in context with the streets of Chelsea in front of it. 1920

Courtesy Shorpy
Courtesy Shorpy

 

An excellent image of the crazy pier situation in lower Manhattan. This picture is from 1931. Chelsea Piers would be in the upper left-hand corner.

Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives
Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives

 

There were of course other pier structures running down the Hudson shoreline, many of them quite imposing such as this one at Pier 20 and 21 for the Erie Railroad Company at the foot of Chambers Street, picture taken in 1930.

Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

A photomechanical postcard of the piers further south of Chelsea Piers, 1916.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The three largest ships in the world in 1940, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size.

The three largest ships in the world, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size (Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)
(Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)

 

This is what Pier 54 looked like in 1951 after Cunard and White Star merged to become a single transatlantic company.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The piers of Washington Market in the 1970s. Most of the pier structures along the water had badly deteriorated by then.

Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr
Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr

The Elevated West Side Highway being torn down in front of Pier 62. The area looks quite different today. In fact Pier 62 is part of the Hudson River Park system.

Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

The Chelsea Piers sporting complex was constructed in the 1990s, saving a portion of the original Chelsea Piers from further deterioration. Although I think we can all agree the exterior could be a bit sexier.

chelsea

 

Meanwhile Pier 54 continues to find a variety of new uses.  Here’s a dance party deejayed by Paul Van Dyk from 2008.

Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board
Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board

 

And finally….

The complete words of Charles Dickens, describing his voyage over on the Cunard steamship Britannia to the United States in 1842 :

To say that she [the ship] is flung down on her side in the waves, with her masts dipping into them, and that, springing up again, she rolls over on the other side, until a heavy sea strikes her with the noise of a hundred great guns, and hurls her back — that she stops, and staggers, and shivers, as though stunned, and then, with a violent throbbing of her heart, darts onwards like a monster goaded into madness, to be beaten down, and battered, and crushed, and leaped on by the angry sea — that thunder, lightening, hail, and rain, and wind, are all in fierce contention for the pastry — that every plant has its grown, every nail its shriek, and every drop of water in the great ocean its howling voice — is nothing.  

To say that all is grand, and all appalling and horrible in the last degree is nothing. Words cannot express it. Thoughts cannot convey it. Only a dream can call it up again, in all its fury, rage and passion.

This is in describing his voyage to the United States. Horrible, to be sure.  But given the thousands of people who involuntarily traveled across the Atlantic in the decades earlier, and the wretched conditions they faced, it’s hard too be overly sympathetic to Mr. Dickens’ inconvenience!

Chelsea and the Chocolate Factory (or rather, Hershey and his Sixth Avenue chewing gum plant)

Hershey’s employees cut and pack chewing gum at Sixth Avenue and 21st Street.

For five glorious years in the early 1920s, Hershey’s Chocolate operated a candy plant at Sixth Avenue, in the neighborhood of Chelsea. While chocolate bars and chocolate coating for other candies were produced here, the Chelsea plant primarily focused on a new confection, one that ultimately failed — Hershey’s Chewing Gum.

But let me back up. The grand building that sits there today — one of the prominent members of Ladies Mile Historic District and the current home of Trader Joe’s — was originally built for the department store Adams Dry Goods.  Founded in the mid-1880s, Adams Dry Goods had been slowly expanding along this block, enjoying a surge of business thanks to the Sixth Avenue elevated train.

Below: The Adams Dry Goods building in 1978 (photo by Edmund V Gillon, MCNY): 

Other department stores sprouted up along the street, most notably the Siegel-Cooper department store in 1896.  (That building is home today to Bed, Bath and Beyond.)  Siegel-Cooper was a sparkling Beaux-Arts treasure, 750,000 square feet with dozens of departments for shoppers, and its ambition and size drew headlines and the curiosity of New Yorkers.

Naturally, Samuel Adams, the proprietor of Adams Dry Goods, wanted to compete with this retail behemoth, so in 1899 he hired Siegel-Cooper architects DeLemos & Cordes to design a massive new store with an opulent interior central court.  Large second floor windows offered views to elevated train passengers of the store’s most notable trade — men’s clothing.  (Much of Ladies Mile, in contrast, catered to women.)

Below:  Adams Dry Goods today. After a period in the 1990s-2000s as a Barnes and Noble bookstore, today it holds a Trader Joe’s:

But Adams’ timing was rather poor.  For just a few years later, the more successful department stores (including Lord & Taylor and B Altman) fled to Herald Square and Fifth Avenue.  Hugh O’Neill’s, the department store one block south, bought Adams Dry Goods and prepared to merge the businesses, even planning an underground tunnel under West 21st Street to link to two large structures.  This never came to fruition, and both O’Neill’s and Adams Dry Goods went out of business for good.

The abandoned building was briefly used by the US Army for storage before being acquired by a most unusual new tenant — Hershey’s Chocolate.


Candy man Milton S. Hershey had been successfully manufacturing treats in his hometown of Derry Church, Pennsylvania (which now took the mogul’s name — Hershey) and was looking for a another hit after the success of the Hershey’s Kiss.  He thought chewing gum was the logical next step.

In New York he bought some gum-making equipment and had it shipped to his Pennsylvania plant where production began on Hershey’s Chewing Gum. “Six sticks for a nickel” went the slogan.

In January 1918, Hershey leased Adams’ former department store on Sixth Avenue and eventually moved elements of his candy production there, including his entire chewing gum business.

I haven’t been to locate the exact reason why.  Early in his career, Hershey operated a candy shop on Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, and his wife had been a clerk at B Altman’s a few blocks down.  With his chief competitor Wrigley’s located in Chicago, perhaps his return to New York was his official stab at planting roots in an urban market.

Soon the Sixth Avenue shop was whirring with the sound of boilers, mixers, candy presses and wrapping machines, sending out five thousand boxes of chewing gum a day, and a lesser amount of other candy items.  Wheat was carried in from the Pennsylvania plant and added to the gum to make it more chewy.

As you can see here, the implements of candy-making fit oddly into the cavernous Sixth Avenue department store:

Sadly, future residents of Chelsea would be robbed of the delightful aromas of chicle and chocolate, as Hershey’s chewy offering did not take off.  With raw ingredients being hard to obtain in the early 1920s, the product was discontinued, and Hershey eventually closed the plant in 1924.

However I’m sure you can buy gum at Trader Joe’s that currently occupies the building.

Hershey’s plant photographs courtesy the Museum of the City of New York (see originals here)

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea

On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale — a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature — from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today’s modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore’s estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter’s night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America’s first outdoor Christmas tree market.

The poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and often referred to as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It’s perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore’s children. I’m not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit — at his children’s insistence — in 1844.

Given Moore’s original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea — just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel — every time you hear it.

So jump in your ‘kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea

On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale — a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature — from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today’s modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore’s estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter’s night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America’s first outdoor Christmas tree market.

The poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and often referred to as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It’s perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore’s children. I’m not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit — at his children’s insistence — in 1844.

Given Moore’s original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea — just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel — every time you hear it.

So jump in your ‘kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

The Bowery Boys High Line audio walking tour, featuring tales of the Titanic, the Manhattan Project and 1,000 Stevies



Cookie heaven: Trains pull into a factory owned by the National Biscuit Company, between W. 15th and 16th streets, July 30, 1950. Could those cars be filled with crates of freshly made Oreo cookies? (See comments section below for the anser.) By 1958, the snack company had pulled all production from New York’s west side. Photo courtesy Ed Doyle/Flickr


PODCAST Welcome to our unofficial High Line audio walking tour! In our last podcast (episode #135), we gave you a history of the High Line, the one-mile linear park situated atop a stretch of abandoned elevated railroad tracks along the West Side. This time, I’ll take you on a tour along the High Line itself.

This will incorporate some history of the elevated line itself, but it’s geared towards describing the history of the surrounding neighborhoods. This is intended to be listened to as you walk along the High Line, beginning at the park’s southern entrance at Washington Street and Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. We’ll end at 30th Street. This tour will last a little over an hour or so — depending on what speed you choose to enjoy the High Line. But take your time!

Along the way, I’ll share tales from almost 200 years of history, from the early days of Fort Gansevoort during the War of 1812 to the underground club life of the 1990s. Featuring New York stories of the Titanic, the Lusitania and the Manhattan Project. And starring a wild array of people who have influenced these neighborhoods, including Abraham Lincoln, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Drew Barrymore, REVS, Cass Gilbert, a feisty lady named Tillie Hart, and a whole lotta people dressed like Stevie Nicks.

ALSO: You might want a handful of Oreos after you’re done.

To get the walking tour, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.


Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys High Line Walking Tour

This tour covers two hundred years of history, starting with the construction of Fort Gansevoort, built to protect the city from potential attack during the events leading up to the War of 1812. (Courtesy NYPL)

A map of the High Line, courtesy the Friends of the High Line. This walking tour follows this path directly from the southernmost entrance at Gansevoort Street, all the way up to W. 30th Street.

If you’re not able to walk the High Line anytime soon, never fear! Google Maps actually allows you to ‘walk’ the High Line.

 
View Larger Map

Although you won’t experience any vehicular traffic on this tour, please be aware of other visitors to the High Line as you listen. Stand over to the either side as you listen. There are some narrow paths, uneven walkways, benches and other nooks built into the surface of the High Line, so watch your step.

At the end of the tour I mentioned a Chelsea gallery tour that also provides a great perspective on the neighborhood while leading you through the scene’s best art shows. You can find more information about tours at New York Gallery Tours. In addition to the Chelsea scene, they also provide guided tours of the Lower East Side and Upper East Side art scenes.

CORRECTION: There is a very hilarious mis-statement near the end of the show. The Morgan Processing and Distribution Center is 2.2 million square feet, NOT 2.2 square feet. That would be the size of a flower box, I think. I’ve added the correction to the podcast show notes.

Check-in for “Chelsea On The Rocks” … finally!

Chelsea On The Rocks, that long-lingering Abel Ferarra documentary about life at the Chelsea Hotel that we mentioned here, is finally getting a theatrical release, making its debut this Friday at — no surprise — the Chelsea Clearview Cinema, a couple doors down from the actual hotel. How cool is that?

For the full immersive experience, listen to our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel beforehand and see how it matches up with the film.

Here’s the trailer:

Chelsea’s old Opera House: from robber barons to BBQ

In last Friday’s podcast on the Hotel Chelsea, I mentioned a building that was located very near by called the Grand Opera House, at the northwest corner of 23rd Street and 8th Avenue. Here it is:

The opera house sprang up in 1868, the project of Samuel N. Pike, who purchased the land directly from Chelsea estate owner Clement Clarke Moore himself. In fact, the original Moore estate was only a block away.

The Pike Opera House, as it was called in those days, was Pike’s play for legitimacy in New York. A German immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1837, Pike lived in New York for a few years and made his fortunes in wine imports. Aspiring to upper-crust tastes, Pike fell in love with opera music after viewing performances by PT Barnum chanteuse Jenny Lind.

Pike constructed a massive opera house in his adopted home of Cincinnati in 1859 and many years later built a companion here in Manhattan at 23rd Street. Pike’s timing was off; theaters would crowd along 23rd Street in the coming years, but in 1860s, the wealthy preferred the Academy of Music down on 14th Street.

So the next year, Pike sold his lavish hall to two rather unlikely investors — Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, grade-A robber barons, pals of Boss Tweed and the orchestrators of the Black Friday Panic of 1869. Why would these two nefarious characters want an opera house?

The house’s upper floors doubled as the offices of their own Erie Railway venture. Fisk’s mistress Josie Mansfield was frequently installed into productions at the newly named Grand Opera House; it was even rumoured her next-door apartment was connected to the opera house with an underground tunnel.

However it does seem that Fisk and Gould were legitimately aficionados of the theater, or at very least fans of the elite who would attend them, and the profits that would follow. The Grand Opera House would soon showcase a great number of theater endeavors outside of opera.

Mansfield would prove Fisk’s downfall; her other lover Edward Stokes shot him in 1872. Mourners could stream through the lobby of the Opera House and observe Fisk’s body laying in state there. Gould would operate the Opera House for several years afterwards, eventually renting it out to vaudeville shows and ‘second-run’ Broadway productions, its fortunes disintegrating as theater moved uptown and the Chelsea neighborhood became more middle-class.

Like many old stages before it, the Grand Opera House switched to films in the 1920s. RKO tried its best to rehabilitate the space, hiring Thomas Lamb to renovate the theater with modern flourishes, reopening the space as the RKO 23rd Street Theatre. The picture below is actually from the year before the renovation, which stripped away some of the the Grand Opera’s frippery:

The site remained a movie house through the 40s and 50s, finally closing on June 15, 1960. In a further indignity, the Opera House was thoroughly gutted in a fire (seen in the picture below (courtesy Cinema Treasures):

And thus it was time — to put in a strip mall! Today you can visit that very corner and enjoy a rather enduring Chicken Delight location or stop and have a Texas-sized margarita at the corner Dallas Barbecue.