Category Archives: historical gotham

Brooklyn Bridge Bites

Last September (2015), dungeekin and I headed to Brooklyn from Manhattan (walking as the weather was fine) and what emerged was a whole different view of this iconic bridge. So many messages …

New York City World Fairs

New York City has hosted two (well, three if you are fussy) World’s Fairs – an April historical highlight in both cases.


The first opened on April 30, 1939 and the other one on April 22, 1964. Both took place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (can I get a big whoop whoop for the borough of Queens!). There was a third fair – earlier than both of these and held before the whole “World’s Fair” moniker came into common usage. It kicked off in July 1853 and was held in what these days is Bryant Park in Manhattan. Much smaller and not really in the same league at all.

This gives you an idea of the look and feel they were going for in 1939


It was in 1964 that the iconic globe went up


Each World’s Fair has a theme and the theme in 1964 was “Peace Through Understanding” – and the flag of many nations were everywhere as were visitors from all over the globe. Lots of opportunity for cross border understanding. The exhibits themselves however were dominated by American corporations showing off their latest and greatest which was less about peace and more about “LOOK AT WHAT WE’VE GOT TO SELL YOU” – which you could convince yourself was in line with the dedication of the fair, “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.”


As of right now, there are no more World’s Fairs (now called Expos) scheduled for New York. But you never know … they come up every five years or so and no decision has been made for the ones post-2020.

August: Historical & Historically Hot

August in New York City can be a tad warm. Even more than a tad. But this does not prevent people from getting out and getting things done. As we can see from the very impressive list of things people have accomplished and done in ‘Augusts gone by’:

  • 1776: US army evacuates Long Island/falls back to Manhattan, NYC. OK< so that wasn’t much of an accomplishment but the implication is that a whole lot of people were out and about, working up quite a thirst.
  • 1820: 1st US eye hospital, the NY Eye Infirmary, opens in NYC. Having once been a patient one of the descendent institutions (the New York Eye and Ear Hospital), I salute them.
  • 1855: Castle Clinton in NYC opens as 1st US receiving station for immigrants. And now it is an interesting enough, historical ticket booth for those of us who want to pop out to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. Do yourself a favor, get an early departure and stay on the boat when it docks at the Statue. You can see the statute just fine from the boat and it’s hot in there. Definitely get off the boat at Ellis Land. SO worth seeing. And A/C!
  • 1860: Queen of Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) arrives in NYC. Because in August it seems like everyone is a tourist in New York City.
  • 1884: Cornerstone for Statue of Liberty laid on Bedloe’s Island. And yes, it’s New York City. Hush, New Jersey and stop splitting hairs.
  • 1891: 1st public bathhouse with showers opens in NYC. Presented without comment (but not without a snicker *snerk* ’cause sometimes I’m 12). I’m sure it was very cooling.
  • 1896: Chop suey invented in NYC by chef of visiting Chinese Ambassador. Proving (as if needed proving again) that NYC has always been a foodie town.
  • 1904: NYC begins building Grand Central Station. And a damned fine job they did too.
  • 1912: NYC ticker tape parade for Jim Thorpe & victorious US olympians. ANd the great ticker tape parade tradition continues to this day (though substitutions for ticker tape are necessary these days). Also, last time I was in Gotham for such a thing, the thing that left me MOST impressed was the speed and thoroughness of the clean up. 2 hours after it was over, you’d have never guessed the parade had happened at all.
  • 1930: Supreme Court Justice John Force Crater disappears in NYC. Doubtless he is somewhere enjoying a cool drink with Lord Lucan.

Obviously, New York City history doesn’t stop in 1930s but you get the idea … more to follow.

And a happy birthday month to several New Yorkers who also gave us some of the quintessential portrayals of New Yorkers

  • Aug 29, 1917: Isabel Sanford who played Louise “Weezy” Jefferson in both The Jeffersons and All in the Family.
  • Aug 15, 1923: Rose Marie who played Sally Rogers in The Dick Van Dyke Show. The bow. I loved the bow.
  • Aug 2, 1924: Carroll O’Connor known to generations as Archie Bunker in All in the Family
  • Aug 17, 1943: Robert De Niro, who gave us so MANY fantastic New York characters but Taxi Driver? Come on!
  • Aug 9, 1944: Smokey the Bear. Yes, that’s right. Smokey the Bear. And yes, he is a New Yorkers. He was named after NYC fireman Smokey Joe Martin

February New York City Style

Things to note about New York City in February:


  • It snows. Obviously it snows in other months as well but it’s the February snow that always seems to come down in BUCKETS. This is great for making snowmen and finding relative bargains on flights and hotel rooms. It doesn’t do much for flight arrival schedules.
  • February is when City Bakery holds it’s annual Hot Chocolate festival – which I have touched on previously
  • February is also when more dog breeds than you can imagine descend upon Madison Square Garden for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Today in NYC history:

  • 70 years ago today: Yankees slugger Joe Dimaggio waives deferment and joins the Army. 3 years later, he returns to baseball.
  • 60 years ago today: New York federal court delays the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in order to give them time for a Supreme Court appeal. Four months later – their appeal having failed – the couple was put to death.

This Month in NYC History:

  • 1653 New Amsterdam becomes a city (later renamed New York City)
  • 1790: Supreme Court convenes in NYC for it’s very first session
  • 1870: First NYC subway line opens (pneumatic powered) and almost 40 years later (1909 to be exact), NYC is also where the first subway car with side doors goes into service
  • 1872: Metropolitan Museum of Art opens (NYC) – and by the way, there’s a fantastic book about the history of the Met called Rogue’s Gallery. Highly recommended.
  • 1901: The New York City Library is established. While I may not care for some of the current renovation ideas, it is a central and vital NYC institution of which the city can be deeply proud.
  • 1913: Grand Central Terminal opens – glorious space and I did manage (belatedly) to wish the old gal Happy Birthday
  • 1930: New York City is the sight of the first red & green traffic lights being installed. Also where the color-blind first fail to see what all the fuss is about.
  • 1985: “New York, New York” became NYC’s official anthem
  • 1993: A car bomb terrorises explodes underneath the World Trade Center, killing seven people and injuring scores more.

Happy Birthday GCT

Grand Central celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday and I missed it! Damned! Happy belated, GCT. My only excuse is that I was busy celebrating my own (not quite so venerable) birthday. But ya look good, you ol’ landmark you.


Aging ‘Gracefully’ The NYPL Way

Time gets to all of us eventually – and The New York Public Library is no exception. Like many other Grande Dames of Gotham, it’s having a bit of work done. When I say a bit of work – I mean a LOT. But then, that’s what the Grande Dames mean too. What’s a lot? A $300 million overhaul that will see the removal of seven floors of stacks and open up the the building’s central section. Meaning, when you walk in – you’ll see ALL the way across and through. Visually very impactful.

Not useful when researching the history of NYC taxis or compiling a bibliography of Jewish periodicals or examining the Kerouac papers – but pretty. Behold the NYPL’s YouTube channel “tour” of their idea:

But let’s get back to that whole removal of seven floors of stacks thing. This renovation isn’t happening in a void. It also comes part and parcel with two other major changes – the closure of the Mid-Manhattan branch across the street and the smaller Science Industry and Business Library on 34th Street. The materials from those two will be folded into the collection at the 101 year-old main building. The collection which is losing seven floors of stacks. Hmmmm… I guess they’ll have to be stored off site. Not much use for a research library, I would think. If I drag myself all the way down there and I’m neck deep in minutiae only to be told the journals I want must be sent for from some storage site in NJ, I’m gonna be yonked off. And if the answer to that concern is “email or call in advance.” I can only assume it’s an answer from someone who has never done research and has never found themselves following an unexpected but rich thread in a wholly new direction.

But don’t worry – after many people pointed this out (some more shrilly than others), the NYPL found someone (possibly several someones) to donate $88 million to create more storage space underneath the new window-filled atrium where the stacks used to be. You’d think that this would have part of the original redesign – finding a way to store the books. But what do I know…

nypl_picsOn the upside, the redesign is supposed to actually make the wasted space (and there was a LOT of it) usable – making what was mostly empty offices and storage space into a second floor public workspace for up to 300 people (who presumably will be there to use the books they’ve had to find a way to shoehorn in. But let’s not beat the drum about that any more). Other things I am pleased to note:

  • the reading rooms remain in place and intact (considering how much time and money was just spent redoing them, this isn’t surprising)
  • the special collections will remain as they are (presumably the Science, Industry and Business collection will largely end up in here)
  • and a great deal of the building that has been off limits to the public for many many years will now be usable, open and – frankly – SEEN at last. Take all my other complaints and put them aside in light of this single accomplishment for which everyone deserves credit and applause. The fact that this building has been so closed off for so long and so badly and inefficiently used has been a tragedy.

There will also be:

  • a new teen center (were teens using this branch of the Library? I’m all for encouraging kids to familarize and use the library system as it is a very valuable resource but I question the need for such a thing at THIS branch. Are there outlying branches – in actual residential areas – without such things that could have used a teen center?
  • a children’s room (presumably to keep them out of the teen room as teens don’t want to be lumped in with the kids. I ask the same “outlying branch question in regards to this element.)
  • a below-ground education space (for . . . ? Non-children and teens?)

As I say – I am glad they are opening up the spaces to be better used and used by more people. I get that they are trying to create an inviting feel – I just wish they didn’t seem to equate inviting with coffee house and modern with airport terminal. What do you think of this?

Finally, there is (in my opinion) a bit of a personality disorder being created here. I get that they are trying to turn this research library into a circulating library and so must find a way to make the two very different things live together in a the same space. I just question whether a circulating library makes much sense in that location. Yes, I know it was part of the original mandate 100 years ago. But the demographics of that neighborhood have changed. Yes, I know selling off the Mid-Manhattan Branch and Science, Industry and Business library buildings generates money for maintenance and librarians.

But what does it do to the research library facilities? Would it not make more sense to move the specialist collection from Science, Industry and Business into the main branch and create a SMALLER, more efficient circulating library in an area of dense foot traffic. Say – between the main building and Grand Central? What were the user stats of Mid-Manhattan? Were people actually USING it as a circulating library to any great extent? If not – why hamstring the research library by tying it to deadweight and if there was a demand, surely you want to keep it as accessible and user friendly as possible.

Related links with pictures and opinions from various sides of the issue:

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Looking forward to a new year here at Greater Gotham – now that the going global part has settled a bit more. But before we leap forward, let’s take a quick look back at Januarys gone by to see what sorts of things NYers get up to once the New Year’s hangover wears off:

  • Jan 22, 1673: (hey! That’s today!) Postal service between New York & Boston was inaugurated. Which reminds me – did I see that postage was being hiked again? Maybe if they didn’t waste all that money on postal teddy bears, ties and sponsoring cycling teams, they could concentrate on – ya know – the mail. But I digress.
  • Jan 5, 1861: 250 Federal troops are sent from New York to Ft Sumter. That’ll sober ya up, right quick!


  • Jan 3, 1870: Construction begins on Brooklyn Bridge in New York; completed May 24, 1883. And I believe it was not long after that the great and the good of Brooklyn were convinced to give up their independence and become part of NYC. Not sure what was said to whom but I’m not entirely convinced everyone had Brooklyn’s best interest at heart. I can’t recall where I read about it – was it Epic History of New York, by Ellis? It might have been. I’ll have to check. Still, what’s done is done. And for those who believe the past never dies, that old “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign seen in the credits of “Welcome Back Kotter” has been replaced with a new shiny version, declaring once more “Welcome to Brooklyn, Fourth Largest City in America.”
  • Jan 3, 1899: The first known use of the word automobile was seen in an editorial in The New York Times.

lionsAnd that, as they say, is that. I’ll be back soon with some more historical tidbits, a few rants (like about how a library should look like a library and not an airport terminal – I’m looking at YOU New York Public Library!) and some raves (like the penne ala vodka at Gene’s- very much a trip back in history itself) and some musings on the differing response to snow on each side of the Atlantic (like how locals in my neck of the UK do not sweep the sidewalks – in case someone falls after they’ve done so and they get sued for not sweeping them right. Sounds backwards to my New York sensibility).

November in NYC History

I had no idea that November was so chock full of notable New York City events and items of historical interest. I mean, it’s a ‘happening place’ and all that so I know stuff is going on all the time but November seems to be a particularly jumpin’ month for Gotham and its denizens.

  • Nov 3, 1900: First automobile show in the US opens at Madison Square Garden (NYC).
  • Nov 4, 1908: Brooklyn Academy of Music opens in NYC.
  • Nov 7, 1929: Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) opens (see, it wasn’t all doom and gloom that year).
  • Nov 13, 1875: National Bowling Association is organized in NYC (Greta. Now I want to go to Bowlmor).
  • Nov 14, 1832: 1st streetcar (horse-drawn) is introduced in NYC (and I imagine the first traffic jam as well) along 4th Avenue between Prince & 14th Sts.
  • Nov 15, 1660: Asser Levy was the first kosher butcher licensed in NYC (then known as New Amsterdam).
  • Nov 19, 1874: “Boss” Tweed is convicted of defrauding city of $6M and is sentenced to 12 years in prison.
  • Nov 21, 1964: World’s longest suspension bridge, the “Verrazano Narrows” opens in NYC.
  • Nov 24, 1871: National Rifle Association is organized in NYC. (oh. the. irony.)
  • Nov 24, 1966: 400 people die of respiratory failure & heart attack when NYC has ‘killer smog.’
  • Nov 25, 1783: Britain evacuates NYC, their last military position in the U.S. (I’ll definitely be reminding a few folks here in the UK of this anniversary. They love that sort of thing.)
  • Nov 25, 1864: The Confederates plot to burn down NYC and fail to do so.
  • Nov 27, 1924: First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held.
  • Nov 29, 1948: First opera to be televised, “Othello,” broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC.
  • Nov 30, 1924: First photo facsimile transmitted across Atlantic by radio between London and NYC.

And that’s just a sampling of what November in New York city is like. Who knows what will happen in Novembers to come!

The City That Never Sleeps

It may not have started with Teddy Roosevelt but the Big Apple’s affinity for the caffeinated nectar of the gods is well illustrated by the fact that one of the city’s favorite sons reportedly drank nearly a gallon of the stuff every day. At least, this is what I understand from the New York Historical Society’s recent piece on the Roosevelt family foray into coffeehouses back in the earliest part of the 20th century.

I remember when Starbucks first opened in New York City – it was a much heralded arrival and all I could think was “Seriously? Do we need MORE caffeine in this city?” We were already gulping down gallons of the stuff (not as much of the Fins, apparently who drink more per capita than anyone and have for years according to those who study these things).

Hell – the deli coffee cup was chosen as one of the great icons of NYC. You know the one. OK, we aren’t the most  caffeinated city in America. If you calculate that by number of coffee shops we don’t even make into the top 12 (the honor of coming first on that list goes – unsurprisingly to Seattle) and if you judge by consumption per capita, we’re still only number 9 (again – guess who is number 1?). But there’s a reason Gotham is 24/7 and one of those reasons is the coffee.

Now that we’re in the coffee mood, you might want to run out and get yourself some. If you’re in New York City, NY Eater has a list of some of the best places to get your fix. Me? I’m not in Gotham at the moment so my fix awaits me in the kitchen.

How Far We’ve Come (Today in NYC History)

On this day in 1958:The first trans-Atlantic passenger jetliner service is begun by the British Overseas Airways Corporation, with flights between London and New York. Here in Transatlantic Towers, we salute them.