Tag Archives: empire state building

Bowery Boys get older! Plus: 200 years of fire hydrants

Early engraving of some Bowery b’hoys lolling about a fire hydrant, up to no good

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of our very first podcast. We just want to say thank you to everybody who has subscribed on iTunes and other podcast services. Our first year has been a huge success and we have a lot of exciting plans coming up for year two!

I know we have some rather massive topics that we’ve yet to cover (Empire State Building, the subway system, Central Park) but we’ll get to most of them in the coming months, as well as experimenting with some more obscure topics.

I’ll try and keep updating this blog 4-5 times a week depending on my schedule.

Again, it’s been a blast so far and we’ve got lots of great ideas to keep improving the show. Thanks for letting us go ballistic geeky about this city that we love.

And now, more old New York City fire hydrant pictures. Why you ask? This year is the 200th anniversary of the very first hydrant in the city. Go here for a fairly comprehensive history of these invaluable street features:

Below: more fire hydrant shenanigans, this time from some wacky Lower East Side kids, picture dated July 9, 1936

Also from the 30s, a more sedate usage of a hydrant, a father and his son take a sip with the five-year-old Empire State Building in the background

A fireman from 1908 (Photo courtesy Old Picture of the Day)

Dinosaurs of the New York skyline

The Empire State Building’s proposed airship dock, as depicted in the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Airships (or dirigibles or Zeppelins, take your pick) were frequent flyers at the start of the century, and naturally many found themselves near or over New York City. In fact this almost defunct form of air travel was nearly (and disastrously) moored to the city’s tallest building.

The air above the city wasn’t as loaded with these flying conveyanes as our run-amok retro-futuristic notions of the city might like to envision. Even in 1911 during what’s considered the “Golden Age of Airships” a single airship above Times Square was enough to make headlines. “250 feet above the lights of Broadway,” proclaims the New York Times, “Frank W. Goodale, a boy aeronaut, in a new dirigible balloon made his third annual night trip to the Times Building through the air last night from the Palaisades Amusement Park, over on the Jersey side.”

And although they look cool in old photographs today, even then they were seen as mostly curiousities, elephants in the sky, compared to the smaller, more extraordinary aeroplanes of Glenn Curtiss and Wilbur Wright, which made their debut on Governor’s Island during the citywide 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration. “Aeroplanes fly, Dirigibles fail, in City’s Celebration,” proclaims the New York Press.

In 1924, the Graf Zeppelin, Germany’s rigid-balloon passenger air liner, made such a splash when it arrived over New York at the end of a 12-day voyage that the Graf’s tenacious commander Dr. Hugo Eckener — “the Magellan of the Air” — received his own personal ticker tape parade through downtown Manhattan in celebration.

The most popular docking station for these massive vessls was the port in Lakehurst, New Jersey. However, in one of the more romantic anecdotes of our most famous landmark, the Empire State Building’s majestic spire was originally designed to dock airships.

With the enthusiastic support of former governor Al Smith, the Empire State opened in 1931 installed with wench and docking equipment and fortified to hold large aircraft in place. He even called in the Navy to assist in the high-profile project.

Modern Mechanix extoled the virtues of this aerial midtown terminal.

But the Navy was naturally sceptical, as was Eckener, whose Zeppelins would have used the Empire’s mast. The reason, of course, was the massive windgust created by the buildling canyons from so high up, the release of water ballast onto city streets and the deathdefying route in which passengers would have to disembark.

Eventually no more than a couple airships ever docked at the Empire State Building, and those delivered no human cargo, only newspapers, thrown from the dirigible window.

Had things gone Smith’s way, Eckener’s great Hindenberg might have attempted to dock high above the city on May 6, 1937.

Instead, the destruction of the Hindenberg in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on that day drew a curtain on commercial airship service. Most of us remember the extremely dramatic footage of the Hindenberg melting into flame, and that emotional newscaster. What most don’t know is that the Hindenberg was cruising over Manhattan moments before the terrible explosion (below).

Blimps are still very much an occasional feature of the skies over the city today, mostly over the sports stadiums. The era of the airship is far from over. In fact, out in the Queens neighborhood College Point, location of one of New York’s first airports Flushing Airport, a blimp company is proposing to built the world’s first blimp port.

A spectacular shot of the Goodyear Blimp hovering over Flushing Airport, from 1976. Goodyear still makes blimps, but Flushing Airport has long since closed:

Who let the dogs in?

Here’s a look at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from exactly 100 years ago. The Saint Bernard pictured is named Uncle Sam.

For a look even further back, here’s a New York Times article from 1904 regarding a Bronx Kennel Club dog show. It too features Uncle Sam (most likely the same dog).

Despite its slight continental air, the Westminster Kennel Club originated here in New York City in 1877, at the Westminster Hotel, a popular spot for a cigars and scotch for New York’s gentlemanly set.

According to William Stifel’s book “The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster”: “They couldn’t agree on the name for their new club. But finally someone suggested that they name it after their favorite bar. The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms.”

A prototype of the Westminster dog show was held at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 — America’s first World’s Fair. Two other New York City institutions also got their start there : the Statue of Liberty (her head was displayed in an effort to drum up funds and enthusiasm) and the Brooklyn Bridge (the Roebling brothers debuted their wire roping).

The first ‘real’ Westminster dog show was held the next year at P.T. Barnum’s Gilmore’s Garden, which was eventually changed to the name Madison Square Garden, its first of four locations in the city. Strange to say, but the dog show is Madison Square Garden’s longest running sporting event.

Befitting a sport entrenched in New York City history, it’s no surprise that the Empire State Building was lit in the Westminster’s signature colors of yellow and purple for the last two nights.

And finally, the Westminster made its own kind of history last night with awarding the best in show to a beagle for the first time ever. Congratulations Uno!

We talked about the Westminster Kennel Club in our podcast about the history of New York City dogs, with some pictures of Westminster’s early days.

The History of (Destroying) New York City


I apologize for the second post in a row about films, but I had to ask the question, when did destroying New York become hot again?

This Friday is the opening of I Am Legend, an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic thriller about the last non-zombiefied human being alive. In this case, he resides in New York City, the population wiped out by a virus. Nice to know that the last representative of the human race is charming, witty, and a former rapper.

If that’s not enough doomsday for you, JJ Abrams brings us Cloverfield next month, about a sea monster ‘the size of a skyscraper’ ravaging New York. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when I found out that M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening releasing next spring, takes out Philadelphia.

Tokyo may be the one with the most movie monsters attacking it in film history, but New York has taken it pretty hard from a variety of fictional sources. Here’s the top ten (I left out films that actually destroy the whole earth):

1. King Kong (1933)
Sure, they destroy more in a run-of-the-mill Fantastic Four or Spider-man movie these days than ole Kong does here, but the sheer novelty at the time of urban carnage was enough to petrify audiences. His attack on the elevated train is still terrifying. Thank God he merely climbs the Empire State Building.

2. Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Atomicly-woken prehistoric beastie with germ-infested blood plays tourist in Manhattan, eventually finding a suitable lodging at a roller-coaster in Coney Island. The movie is flat and plotless, but love that Ray Harryhousen stop-motion monster. If it wasn’t so destructive, the monster might be a little lovable.

3. Planet of the Apes (1968)
By placing it on this list, I suppose I’ve spoiled the ending for you.

4. Escape From New York (1981)
John Carpenter takes a different approach to the Manhattan destruction theme — turning it into a gigantic prison — and along the way, makes a potent comment about New York in the late 70s.

5. Ghostbusters (1984)
New York City has seen its share of monsters. From the skies, we’ve had Q: the Winged Serpent. From below, C.H.U.D. And in our elevators, those damned Gremlins! Even Godzilla‘s taken a snack by the Flatiron Building, years before the opening of the Shake Shack. But no big baddie comes closer to the hearts of New Yorkers than the sugary goodness of this sweet ectoplasmic ogre, successfully dispatched by Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray.

6.Independence Day (1996)
Destroying New York City really came into its own cinematically in the 90s. The unease at seeing our fair city blown to smithereens by alien blasts is offset by the cries of joy of future architects and city planners at the alien’s first target — the Pan Am/Met Life building. It is sort of awful seeing Park Avenue South wiped away by flames. Some great restaurants, gone in a flash!

7. The Siege (1998)
Technically the only movie on the list that really ‘could’ happen, however the filmmakers glee is killing off mass groups of New Yorkers is just plain sadistic. The bombing of a Broadway theater — look, that rich woman is missing her arm! — is of particular poor taste. Maybe it would have been easier to swallow had the movie been actually, you know, good.


8. AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Steven Spielberg creates some graceful carnage — waterfalls and flocks of birds among toppled buildings — and includes a vision of a destroyed Twin Towers in a rather unfortunate year of release. Don’t get too depressed however; his recollection of the city is hardly too accurate. One of the buildings is literally just a Apple computer subwoofer dressed up to look like a building.

9. Deep Impact (1998) and Day After Tomorrow(2004)
These two films are pretty abysmal, but the creative ways in which they treat New York City like children’s toys in the hands of natural catastrophe is at least notable. Heck, and even I’ll throw in the meteor madness of Armageddon (1998), which dares to take specific note to flatten the Chrysler Building along with everything else. And for the sheer cheese factor, I cant forget to mention the 1999 made for TV Aftershock: Earthquake in New York.

*sigh* Lady Liberty, just can’t catch a break…

10. King Kong (2005)
In the rather campy remake from 1976, Kong tackles the World Trade Center. By the time Peter Jackson got around to remaking it, he’s back on top of the Empire State and wrecking a bit more havoc than his prior incarnation.

Honorable Mention: New Yorkers should be honored to know that in the Japanese monster classic Destroy All Monsters (1968) set in the future (aka 1999), New York City is in fact destroyed by Godzilla before he gets to Tokyo.

Monster madness at the Chrysler Building

BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature whereby we find an unusual movie or TV show that — whether by accident or design — uniquely captures an era of New York City better than any reference or history book.

By the early 80s, New York City has already seen its absolute nadir as a fiscally and morally bankrupt urban center and was fully comfortable with its place in the gutter. The crime rate wouldn’t improve for another decade, but at least Wall Street was picking up the city’s financial fortunes by the lapels. Punk is strangling disco in the back alley, the city struggles through transit strikes, smog and a sudden rise in homelessness.

So it is in that light in which the piece of glorious grade-A schlock “Q: The Winged Serpent,” released in 1982, must be judged.

Chrysler Building architect William Van Alen would be horrified to learn that the graceful tapering top hat of his most famous building becomes home of a loathsome flying dragon and a gigantic nest of eggs. As if possessed with a little of Van Alen’s spite at being quickly overtaken in less than a year by the taller Empire State Building, the first scene of “Q” involves the dragon popping over and snatching off the head of an Empire State window washer.

Q swiftly makes a go at New Yorkers sunning themselves on rooftops or in private swimming pools, an inverted Jaws scenario. As such, her victims are mostly upper class, young and rich. There’s a perverse joy at seeing a montage of New Yorkers staring into the sky and being slathered in fake looking blood.

Q also has a ball hanging around the pyramid-topped Bankers Trust building in the financial district. Curiously, few New Yorkers notice this massive monster jetting between uptown and down.

Just how did a winged serpent (it really looks like a dinosaur from Land of the Lost) get to Manhattan? According to the ham-fisted plot, it involves an ancient sacrificial cult, located at the Museum of Natural History, who have summoned the Aztek god Quetzlcoatl via a trail of skinned, sacrificial bodies.

David Carradine and Richard Roundtree (Kung Fu and Shaft) lead the investigation, in a depiction of the New York police force that is hardly flattering. Michael Moriarty is a sad-sack conman — roughed up down by South Street Seaport — who discovers the serpent hideaway during a completely superfluous chase scene through the Chrysler.

And, oh, did I mention the cop dressed as a mime who stays in makeup for the whole film? Whatever happened to the good old fashioned New York mime, I ask you?

By sheer function of the story, “Q” happens to be one of the best depictions of New York City in the early 1980s. That’s because the ‘serpent’, in all its cheesy stop-motion glory, frequently soars over New York midtown, allowing the viewer to soak in its former splendor. I had a blast freezeframing these scenes and trying to figure out what I was looking at; given the swift makeover of midtown Manhattan, its harder than you think.

Director Larry Cohen, known for other B-movie fare like ‘Black Caesar’ and ‘It’s Alive’, supposedly got the entire idea for the film by looking up at the Chrysler and thinking, “That’d be the coolest place to have a nest.” Probably not the reaction Walter Chrysler wanted when he first commissioned it.

“Q: the Winged Serpent” is currently available on DVD and is probably shamelessly gathering dust at your local video store.

By the way, should we be surprised that the Natural History museum is currently hosting an exhibit called Mythic Creatures that actually features Quetzlcoatl?