A Lot about a plot

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Greenpoint’s Astral Apartments, a Tumultuous Refuge for the Working Class

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

The Astral’s Franklin Street exterior

The Astral in Greenpoint has status in the National Register of Historic Places and as a New York City landmark, but not for the murder and mayhem that has emanated from 184 Franklin Avenue since its completion as housing for Charles Pratt’s employees link 131 years ago, in 1886.

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The Feud Between the Millionaire and the ‘King of the Hoboes’

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

Jeff Davis, self-proclaimed King of Hoboes, pictured in the January 16, 1913 Tacoma Times. Image courtesy of Washington State Library, Olympia, WA, via Chronicling America.

Jeff Davis, self-proclaimed King of Hoboes, pictured in the January 16, 1913 Tacoma Times. (Image courtesy of Washington State Library, via Chronicling America.)

Heckles and howls echoed through the meeting rooms of 64 East 4th Street on February 1, 1913. “Down with How and his postage stamp philanthropy!” yelled Jeff Davis, the self-proclaimed King of the Hoboes. “He has never given us any of his mythical millions!”

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How Sex Sold Songs in New York’s Early Theater Days

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

View of 444 Broadway as The Olympic Theatre, year unknown. Photo courtesy of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.

View of 444 Broadway as The Olympic Theatre, year unknown. Photo courtesy of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.

James Norman knew exactly what he was doing when he walked into 444 Broadway in the spring of 1862. And the woman he shot knew, too. The music was loud, drinks were flowing, and he was a jilted man. He gave $100 dollars (a hefty sum in 1862) to buy furniture to his fiancée Kate White, a waitress at the concert saloon on the ground floor of the building. She ran away with the money, never to be heard from again. They had met one of the many times he must have come in drunk, sweaty, and groping. It’s not hard to imagine why she took the money and ran.

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The Theater That Was a ‘Weapon in the Class Struggle’

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

The Workers Laboratory Theatre, headquartered at 42 East 12th in the 1930s. (University of Wyoming American Heritage Center Archives)

The Workers Laboratory Theatre, headquartered at 42 East 12th street in the 1930s. (University of Wyoming American Heritage Center Archives)

In June 1931, with America’s working class still deep in the grip of the Great Depression, a handful of actors in New York City performed Art is a Weapon, a skit first adapted by the New York’s Workers’ Laboratory Theatre. It begins with a Capitalist, with a “silk topper and over-refined accent,” making his declaration about the limited uses of art. The workers respond by making the distinction between proletarian and bourgeois art; between art intended to amuse and enlighten the elite and art meant to liberate workers.

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Cracking the Case of the Mystery Safes in the Speakeasy Basement

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

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(Photo: Nigar Hacizade)

If you walked into a building expecting to see a regular museum, but found an apartment-sized living room with minimal, seemingly random paraphernalia, unremarkable oil paintings and posters on the walls, and a $20 admission charge, what kind of review would you post on TripAdvisor? Would your visit even be long enough to merit one? And yet 56 of 70 reviews for the The Museum of the American Gangster, on the second floor of 78-80 Saint Marks Place, described it as “excellent” or “very good.” Half the reviewers on Yelp gave the place five stars. The glowing assessments have something in common: they all caution the visitor to get over any initial disappointment and enjoy the guided tour.

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From Anarchist Hangout to Bathhouse to Arcade: The Steamy History of 6 St. Marks

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

6 St. Marks Place today (Photo by Prianka Srinivasan)

6 St. Marks Place today (Photo by Prianka Srinivasan)

It’s a little after seven on a Friday night, and the narrow basement of 6 St. Marks Place is heaving with booze and bodies. A young man juts his phone over his head and, like a digital periscope, slowly pans the room, recording the clusters of people huddled around the 56 arcades lining the walls. For countless other ‘90s kids, his enthusiasm is unsurprising. “Dude, they have Mortal Kombat!” he gushes, “I used to love that game!”

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The Hard-Fightin’, Hard-Tumblin’ German Gymnasts of 4th Street

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

German immigrant board Hamburg steamer

“From the old to the new world—German emigrants for New York embarking on a Hamburg steamer.” Harper’s Weekly, 1974. (Library of Congress.)

Yesterday New York was AS GERMAN AS BERLIN and any one on the Bowery might have fancied himself unter den Linden. Germany bubbled up everywhere and the substantial joy of substantial Teutonia foamed LIKE A HUGE FLAGON OF LAGER. – New York Herald, April 11, 1871

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Basquiat’s Place: How a Site of Mob Beef Became a Boutique Butcher Shop

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

Japan Premium Beef at 57 Great Jones Street. (Photo: Hanna Wallis)

Japan Premium Beef at 57 Great Jones Street. (Photo: Hanna Wallis)

Below the sparkling glint of a crystal chandelier, slabs of meat rest behind glass as if displayed in a museum. Each label is handwritten in gold ink on a black card, leaving a sense of mortal weight; something lost, commemorated, aggrandized.

The little butcher shop at 57 Great Jones Street lacks any trace of blood or a stained smock. It gives no hint of the secrets lurking in the building’s history, like an art icon’s untimely death or the 1905 murder that catalyzed the decline of the Italian mob in the Bowery. The shop’s unexpected elegance hides the death intrinsic to each of its products. Steaks appear as objects of art, an impression their price tags reinforce.

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How a Mosque Ended Up Next to a Pig-Roasting, Shot-Pounding Metal Bar

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

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30 Cliff Street today. The metal bar “Iron Horse” located in background.

At dusk, bearded men dressed in suits take hurried strides towards 30 Cliff Street, a nondescript building on a relatively quiet strip between busy Fulton and John Streets. Through metal and glass doors reminiscent of a hospital, men file into the prayer room and prostrate in unison on a floor covered in cheap knock-offs of Persian rugs, the mosque’s only pretension to traditional Islamic grandeur. Very little about Masjid Manhattan says mosque the way the word is understood in Istanbul, Tehran or Lahore: no grand domes and minarets, no call to prayer over a loudspeaker; it’s almost as if the place doesn’t want to call too much attention to itself, and it isn’t hard to understand why.

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For Over a Century, a Home For Women Who’ve ‘Sunk So Low’

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

Exterior of 10 Second Avenue, when it was home to the Isaac Hopper Home, 1930 (Courtesy of Women's Prison Association)

Exterior of 110 Second Avenue, when it was home to the Isaac Hopper Home, 1930 (Courtesy of Women’s Prison Association)

On May 31, 1848, Maria Seaboth, a 14-year-old orphan, showed up at the door of  the second location of the Isaac T. Hopper Home, a halfway house for women just released from prison at Tenth Avenue and 21st Street. Life couldn’t have been worse. She was destitute, homeless, and friendless and had been wandering from place to place, taking shelter in “various filthy and disgusting abodes,” the matron’s diary recorded as she observed the couple of dozen women in her charge.

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Once a Home for Destitute Girls, Now Handsome Co-Ops Worth Millions

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

307 East 12th Street from across the street. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

307 East 12th Street from across the street. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

The commotion began as Gertrude Williams strolled home from her cashier job at an uptown restaurant. At Broadway and 39th, a strange man tried to strike up a conversation. Annoyed yet accustomed to such unwanted attentions, she ignored him. But he persisted. The New York Tribune described what happened next: “Raising her pugnacious right, she caught him square on the jaw.”

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Before the Puerto Rican Poets, There Was the Polish Violinist

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

The entrance to the Nuyorican Poets Café dissolves into a mural of faceless men standing in line, all dressed in white-hat-and-suit ensembles, hands stuffed into their pockets. The painting is based on a black and white photograph from the 1980s of spectators waiting outside the Café. To the right of the entrance is a detailed portrait of the Rev. Pedro Pietri, one of the Nuyorican’s founding poets. The murals replicate the artistry of what goes on inside the walls.

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