A Lot about a plot

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The Story of the Gaslight Café, Where Dylan Premiered ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’

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

MacDougal Street where once was the Gaslight Café (© Kasper van Laarhoven)

MacDougal Street where once was the Gaslight Café (© Kasper van Laarhoven)

Bartenders with beards and tattoos serve $15 cocktails to a sharply dressed, late-20s public at what is now the Up & Up. The menu instructs: “Gentlemen will please refrain from approaching ladies. Ladies are welcome to start a conversation or ask a bartender to introduce you.” What would Kerouac have thought of that? “Refrain” is not much of a Beat chorus.

It isn’t hard to imagine the place as it was. Strip away the 2016 fanciness, insert a small stage and there you are: the legendary subterranean Gaslight Café of half a century ago.

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How the Synagogue Where George Burns Worshipped Became an Artist’s Studio

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The preserved façade at 58-60 Rivington Street (Photo: Daniel Hoffman)

Hale Gurland was among the aspiring artists, bohemians, and hippies who crowded Soho in the 1970s. From the small room he rented on Wooster Street, the Jewish sculptor and painter ventured out one day in 1973 to buy a pair of cheap shoes. On his way, he noticed a derelict synagogue with a “For Sale” sign at 58-60 Rivington, at the corner of Elridge, a scene he described in a magazine interview a couple of years ago: “People were going inside the building because the doors were out, junkies were shooting up. I walked in, and the place looked like Dresden after the bombs.”

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How One Fraudulent Banking Temple in Brooklyn Found Faith in Orthodoxy

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

The Williamsburg Trust Company building, 2016. (Photo: Natasha Bluth)

The Williamsburg Trust Company building, 2016. Natasha Bluth

Buildings repurposed as churches always attracted the legendary writer Joseph Mitchell, including one particular Williamsburg building that never made it into his New Yorker columns. “I find myself standing in front of and looking up at [it] several times a year—I have never been able to figure out why,” he admitted in his unpublished memoirs. To Mitchell, the mystery of the old Williamsburg Trust Company on South Fifth Place between South Fifth Street and South Fourth Street was most alive in the summer dusk when it transformed into “the quarter of St. Petersburg in which Raskolnikov killed the old moneylender woman and her half sister.”

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A Chinatown Church Marks 80 Years in a Place Where ‘No Decent Person Walked’

The True Light Lutheran Church today (Photo by Jiayun Feng)

The True Light Lutheran Church today (Photo by Jiayun Feng)

On May 29, 1949, a group of people marched through Chinatown to celebrate the construction of a brand new building at 195 Worth Street, just a short walk from City Hall. A scout band played at the head of the procession and the men and women who followed carried banners that proclaimed, “We are marching to Chinatown’s True Light Lutheran Church.” It was the third US location of the first Lutheran mission, established to bring the Word of God to people of Chinese origin.

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The Greenwich Village Church That Helped Women Get Illegal Abortions

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

(Photo: Bill Altham)

(Photo: Bill Altham)

On the 16th of November in 1964, four women and four men appeared in their underwear at the Judson Memorial Church, happily cavorting with each other and rubbing their bodies with carefree smiles. They piled up together, humping and sensually touching each other in a mess of raw fish, chicken and sausages. It was an event devoid of modesty, an unapologetic, uncensored expression of sexuality.

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All John Gotti Wanted For Christmas Was This Infamous Address

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

Nothing, at least nothing widely known, has happened at the Ravenite Social Club since Christmas Eve thirty-one years ago, when it became the court of John Gotti. Some 200 well-wishers filed across its rosette-tiled floor to pay their respects to the newly anointed boss of the Gambino crime family. FBI detectives concealed in a van watched the procession as the start of a new dynasty began.

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The Halls of Umbrella House: Suicides, Slayings and Squatters On Avenue C

Herewith, the final installment (for now!) of our A Lot About a Plot series, diving deep into the histories of storied addresses around town.

Gabriel Pintado

(Photo: Gabriel Pintado)

Sometimes he hears them whispering in the halls.

“Horrible things have happened here,” Jean Paul tells me. “There are spirits still lingering here.”

Jean Paul Chatham is a 40-year-old gay plumber from Belize, dark-skinned with a large bush of curly, Creole hair that he keeps brushing away from in front of his face. He’s lived at Umbrella House for about 14 years. When he greets me he is shirtless, wearing camouflage pants and two protective amulets on a chain around his neck. Although clearly physically fit, he keeps apologizing for his appearance. He says his face looks the way it does because the entire building is trying to cast spells on him, or “bless him with negative energy,” as he puts it.

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Lights, Camera, Activism: How a Radical TV Studio Kept a Firehouse From Sinking

The DCTV building today (Photo by Mariam Elba)

The DCTV building today (Photo by Mariam Elba)

In 1978, Jon Alpert was out walking a colleague’s dog across from his loft at the intersection of Lafayette and White Streets. He stopped for the dog to do his business in front of a firehouse that had been abandoned eight years earlier, and noticed an auction sign on the door. There was a name and a number to call.

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The Orpheum Theater’s Problems Started Long Before Stomp Put Its Foot Down

This week, we continue our series of deep dives into the histories of storied addresses.

The Stomp marquee masks the original facade of the two-story building at 126 Second Avenue. (Photo: Ilaria Parogni)

The Stomp marquee masks the original facade of the two-story building at 126 Second Avenue. (Photo: Ilaria Parogni)

A heavy metal marquee juts over pedestrians at 126 Second Avenue, the word “STOMP” making clear that the address is home to the off-Broadway show whose performers dance, clap, and generally bang on anything in sight. Stomp has been playing at the Orpheum Theater since 1994, making it one of the longest running shows in the city. The current playhouse front may lure customers in, but it obscures most of the building’s original architectural details, as well as its bumpy journey through history. With a court order now lingering, it’s unclear how much longer that iconic marquee will remain as is.

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Where an Armory Once Stood, Met Pool Swims Against the Tide of Gentrification

This week, we continue our series of deep dives into the histories of storied addresses.

Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center on the corner of Metropolitan and Bedford Avenues (Nicki Fleischner).

Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center on the corner of Metropolitan and Bedford Avenues (Nicki Fleischner).

It was a morning for nostalgia when Charles Hart won the bid to demolish Grand Army Hall on February 7, 1898. The building was a Brooklyn icon in sorry disrepair. Its roof leaked, its wooden floors had rotted, and the entire northern wall leaned over Metropolitan Avenue, threatening to collapse onto pedestrians below. Just 35 years ago the building had been constructed as an Armory during the Civil War, and now its very existence was a “menace to life and limb.”

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From Warfare to Housewares: The History of the Ikea Red Hook Site

This week, we continue our series of deep dives into the histories of storied addresses.

Ikea, located on the Erie basin of Red Hook. (Camila Osorio)

Ikea, located on the Erie basin of Red Hook. (Camila Osorio)

We’ve all been there: duking it out with a roommate or a significant other over which couch or flimsy dining room table to buy at Ikea. The memories are cringe-worthy. But for what it’s worth, Ikea’s corner of Red Hook has always been a cradle of conflict – and much deadlier conflict. As in, Dutch colonizers displacing Native Americans, and the British confronting Revolutionary armies led by General George Washington. It’s also where battleships dry-docked during the Civil War and World War II.

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Before the Spate of LES Towers, There Was Confucius Plaza

This week, we continue our series of deep dives into the histories of storied addresses.

(Photo by Jesse Coburn)

(Photo by Jesse Coburn)

Shopkeepers across the Bowery tracked its progress: 42 stories, 43, and finally 44. Pedestrians on Canal Street craned their necks up to take in the expanse of brick that stretched across the slow curve of its facade.

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