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The Sip-In That ‘Legalized Gay Bars’ Before Stonewall

The building in 1969 and 50 years later in 2019. Courtesy Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

On the quiet corner of West 10th Street and Waverly Place, one of New York’s oldest watering holes has been operating since around 1864. It bore the name Julius’ sometime in the 1920s. Even Prohibition, during which the tavern transformed into a bustling speakeasy, had minimal impact on Julius’ operations. On April 21, 1966, three years before the riots at Stonewall occurred a block away, a gay rights milestone gave the West Village bar its status as legend, paving the way for the city’s legitimate LGBTQ establishments.  More →

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The Village East Cinema: From Yiddish Theater to Arthouse Cinema

Image via cinematreasures.org

On Nov. 16, the Village East Cinema held a special screening of The Room, a maybe-the-worst-film-ever classic that has become a cult phenomenon. The screening included a talkback with the eccentric writer/producer/star/financier Tommy Wiseau. Screenings of the movie have become something of an event since it first hit theaters in 2003, even inspiring a critically acclaimed movie by James Franco, The Disaster Artist. More →

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How Mariners’ Temple Survived Fire and Flux in Chinatown

Mariners’ Temple today. (Photo: Kayla Stewart)

On September 21, 1845, Rev. William R., Williams preached a sermon entitled “God’s presence in his sanctuary,” welcoming congregants back to their new edifice at 12 Oliver Street—or 3 Henry Street, depending on whom you ask. This was already one of New York City’s first Baptist churches, and it would continue to make history by serving every surrounding immigrant community. It would be the first church in the United States led by a black woman, and it would welcome predominantly black congregants near the heart of a bustling Chinatown, carrying a unique version of the message of hope and inclusion for all who walked through it doors. More →

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From Governor’s Mansion to Russian Anarchist Hotbed

Drawing from Khleb Y Volia’s opening editorial; the caption reads, “Clear the road, old world,” while the flag reads Union of Russian Workers.

On Nov. 7, 1919, the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, US federal agents and New York City policemen, armed with clubs and blackjacks, raided a Manhattan apartment full of Russian-speaking immigrants at the headquarters of a Russian anarchist association. Inside were a few devoted anarchists belonging to the Union of Russian Workers and more than 200 undereducated Russian immigrants who were more or less clueless of the union’s full intent. “Wanton cruelty” and “brutality” was how the sociaist New York Call described the actions of the authorities during the raid. They arrested the immigrants, bloodied and bruised, jailed them, and tried them for sedition. Six weeks later, the USS Buford, an army transport ship the press jeeringly dubbed “the Soviet ark,” set sail from Ellis Island with 249 people aboard in the first mass deportation in US history.  More →

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A Firehouse Where Pioneering Feminists Have Carried the Torch

(Via Landmarks Preservation Commission)

Eleanor Cooper was determined to keep 243 West 20th Street from turning into an icebox. This almost seemed like a joke, if she thought about it, since the building had been a fire station not six years earlier and for decades and decades before that. The three-story firehouse was decrepit and absolutely freezing, but if she had to shovel coal into the furnace herself she’d do it to keep the Women’s Liberation Center open. More →

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The Dance Hall That Charmed Dickens in America’s First Slum


William Henry Lane, a famous tap dancer at Almack’s dance hall, located at 67 Orange St. (Drawing: 1850, courtesy of New York Public Library)

Charles Dickens toured Five Points for a day and found only two things he liked about it. One was the pigs. Dickens described the city swine in better terms than he described many of the local slum dwellers. The pigs were gentlemanly, self-reliant and confident, while the people had “coarse and bloated faces” and lived in houses of debauchery. Dickens surmised that the pigs, who lived in those houses too, smugly wondered why their masters walked on two legs instead of four.  More →

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In Brooklyn, Luxury Apartments Where Walt Whitman Once Worked With a Bright Heart

The expanded three-story office of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, circa 1898. (Courtesy of the New York Public Library Milstein Digital Collection.)

Leaning against the rattling doors of a Brooklyn-bound train, their noses to the ground even as they cross the East River, commuters easily miss the glass clock face at the top of the red brick building that originally housed the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Today, the clock hands are still, their purpose only ornamental. With the clock’s back removed, it serves as a round window for the residents of the co-op at 28 Old Fulton Street. But a century and a half earlier, it was a ticking heartbeat for the Fulton Ferry district in its most bustling era. More →

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Don’t Be Surprised If Musical (and Romantic) Duo Drug Couple Runs For Office 

Brooklyn indie duo Drug Couple is a band marked by a series of contradictory facets. The band’s members, Miles and Becca (themselves a couple) are willing to talk about their past projects, while hesitant to delve into the specific details (or even provide their surnames). Becca is ever the optimist, while Miles is a pessimist to his core. Most notably, their forthcoming EP seeks to reconcile the process of finding love and romantic companionship in a time when the End seems increasingly Nigh.  More →

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New Book Reveals Downtown Ghost Signs Hiding in Plain Sight

(From The New York Public Library)

Over the years, B+B contributor Frank Mastropolo has brought us a series on Lower Manhattan’s ghost signs; painted on walls or erected in metal or neon, ghost signs are relics of businesses that vanished long ago.

Schiffer Publishing has just released Mastropolo’s new book, “Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.” With photos of more than 100 signs, the book reveals the stories behind the old ads.

Click through the slideshow to see ten additional ghost signs recently spotted.

R&L Restaurant, 69 Gansevoort Street

R&L Lunch opened in 1938, serving the butchers and longshoremen in the Meatpacking District. In 1955, the eatery was renamed R&L Restaurant. Florent opened in the space in 1985 at a time, the New York Times noted, that the neighborhood hosted “a brand of debauchery that had little in common with the sleek corporate offerings that define the neighborhood today.” Florent closed in 2008 and later R&L became a retail space.

Waverly Smoke Shop, 29 Waverly Place

The Waverly Smoke Shop, across the street from New York University, opened in the 1940s and for decades sold cigarettes, candy, newspapers and NYU gear. Shop owners Mel and Jerry Goldstein were perplexed, the New York Daily News reported in 1991, when they were deluged with requests for NYU tank tops. Fans were trying to emulate Ellen Barkin, who wore the shirt in a scene from the film Switch. When Oren’s Daily Roast closed this year, the smoke shop’s sign was revealed.

Ramon, 201 West Eleventh Street

Ramon Hair Design was a Greenwich Village salon in the 1980s. When Two Boots West Village closed for renovations in 2019, workers removed its signage to reveal Ramon’s ghost sign.

S. Klein, 68 Clinton Street

The flagship of the S. Klein department store chain was open on Union Square from about 1912–1975. S. Klein was founded in 1905 and had other stores in New York and New Jersey. This ghost sign, embedded in the floor at the entrance of the Pig & Khao restaurant, may be the last evidence of the stores in Manhattan.

S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer, 317 East Fifth Street

The retail space down a few steps in the East Village was a bar and grill from at least the 1940s until the 1980s. S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer is apparently a much older tenant, though little is remembered about it. Its ghost sign was revealed during renovations in 2019.

Foot Gear Plus, 131 First Avenue

Foot Gear Plus opened in the East Village in 1980. Owner Tony Scifo told EV Grieve why he decided to close in 2019. “After several years of peaks and valleys in business there were just too many valleys . . . We offered great merchandise and great service — no gimmicks. But we just can’t compete with online.”

Foot Gear’s original sign was revealed by workers in 2019 as the site was being cleared.

Nathaniel Fisher & Co., 146 Duane Street

In the 1880s Duane Street and West Broadway was a neighborhood of shoe manufacturers and dealers. One of the most enduring was Nathaniel Fisher, a manufacturer and importer of shoes and boots. Its founder moved here in the late 1800s and remained at the address until 1953.

Craig’s Shoes, 114 Chambers Street

Craig’s Shoes in Tribeca opened in 1949. Before it closed in 2006, the New York Times noted some of its famous customers. “Senator Charles E. Schumer has picked up Rockport Dressports for $100. And the actor Robert De Niro once sent an autographed picture after an assistant bought shoes for him there.” Renovations in 2019 revealed Craig’s ghost sign.

The Yipster Times, 9 Bleecker Street

The Yipster Times was the house organ of the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s anti-war protest group. Founded by Dana Beal in 1972, the newspaper was published sporadically from 1972 to 1979, when its name was changed to Overthrow. Its small staff wrote and edited the paper in a three-story building that served as newsroom, office, dormitory and meeting hall for East Village activists.

Whalebone, 161 Duane Street

While this Whalebone ghost sign in Tribeca has been repainted, it is authentic. The Tribeca Citizen explains that in the second half of the 20th century, the bones of whales were used in corsets, hoop skirts and buggy whips. George Messmann opened the Pacific Whale Company here in 1890. He later told a reporter, “I had that sign painted large and white because I learned as a mere lad that advertising pays.”

As the whale population was decimated and fashions changed, the whale bone industry collapsed. Messmann closed his store in 1920.

Photos by Frank Mastropolo unless noted.