a lot about a plot

1 Comment

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.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

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.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

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.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

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.”

Keep Reading »

No Comments

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.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

75 Years After It Pushed Out the Pushcarts, Essex Street Market Presses Forward

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

Left: The Essex Street Market one month after opening (Courtesy of the New York Public Library). Right: The market in present day (Photo by Alexandra Hall)

Left: The Essex Street Market one month after opening (Courtesy of the New York Public Library). Right: The market in present day (Photo by Alexandra Hall)

Six inches of snowfall coated Manhattan on January 10, 1940, the day 3,500 New Yorkers gathered on Essex Street for the opening of a brand new public retail space that would change the face of the Lower East Side.  

Keep Reading »

No Comments

Drom, a World-Music Oasis in a Sea of Urban Renewal

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

New York Gyspy All Stars, playing their album release show at Drom. (Photo: Kat Thornton)

New York Gyspy All Stars, playing their album release show at Drom. (Photo: Kat Thornton)

Earlier this month, a funky clarinet tune spilled out of a basement beneath a falafel store on Avenue A. Down the stairs, inside of Drom, the New York Gypsy All Stars were celebrating the release of their second album. The band’s four core members come from Greece, Macedonia, and Turkey, and their keyboard players hail from Chile, Cuba, Switzerland, and the United States. As they played songs that, by the band’s description, cover “all the Balkans melodically,” and “the world rhythmically and harmonically,” a large image of Istanbul’s iconic Galata Tower hangs in the background.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

‘A Strange Story’: How 160 Bleecker Went From Slum House to Bohemian Bastion

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

Evening in one of the courts in the Mills House, no. 1." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1902.

Evening in one of the courts in the Mills House, no. 1.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1902.

At the end of the 19th century, Ernest Flagg had a vision. Educated in the École des Beaux-Art in Paris, the young architect came back to New York in 1890 wanting to “reform the barbaric housing standards of the day.” Then he met banker and philanthropist Darius Odgen Mills, and before long Mills House No. 1, an inexpensive hotel for working men, opened in Greenwich Village in 1897.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

Nick’s Tavern, the Jazz Joint That Went Down Swinging

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

When Dick Hyman — “a living, breathing encyclopedia of jazz,” per NPR – was a Columbia student, he’d often travel to 7th Avenue and 10th Street in Greenwich Village to catch a glimpse of his heroes playing. Although there were plenty of jazz joints in the neighborhood, the place he loved most was Nick’s Tavern.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

Bootlegers, Stuyvesants, and Slovaks: The Colorful History of Blue and Gold’s Building

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

Blue and Gold. (Photo: Yun Cee Ng)

Blue and Gold. (Photo: Yun Cee Ng)

You could spend a night at Blue and Gold Tavern without ever hearing a single word of Ukrainian, but the beloved bar embodies the East Village’s enduring reputation as a hub for New York’s Ukrainian diaspora. It’s owned by three generations of the Roscishewsky family, and takes its name from the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

Why Did the Members of an East Village Fishing Club Go ‘Down to a Watery Grave’?

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

A docked tugboat, early morning on the East River. Early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of NYPL)

A docked tugboat, early morning on the East River. Early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of NYPL)

On the morning of June 24, 1894, the Kirchner brothers — Charles, Frank, William and Gus — probably rode the elevated train from 72nd Street to what is today the East Village. On the way, they would’ve passed the headquarters of the Herring Fishing Club. They were members of the club, located inside of a tenement house at 55 First Avenue, but it’s possible that when they disembarked at the 1st Avenue station, they instead walked directly to Pier 6 on the East River, where they boarded the James D. Nichol, a tugboat the club had chartered for a daylong fishing trip.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

The Riots and Radicals of Walhalla Hall

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

A mugshot of the anarchist Emma Goldman after she was arrested in Chicago in 1901. (Photo: Chicago Police Department via Library of Congress)

A mugshot of the anarchist Emma Goldman after she was arrested in Chicago in 1901. (Photo: Chicago Police Department via Library of Congress)

New York City reporters already knew all about Emma Goldman when she spoke to a group of unemployed Jews at Golden Rule Hall on August 17, 1893, one of the many venues on the Lower East Side that was home to dancing, music and radical politics. “If you are hungry and need bread, go and get it!” she intoned. “The shops are plentiful and the doors are open.”

Keep Reading »