Lost Restaurants of NYC: The Holland House on Fifth Avenue

Prohibition claimed many victims in New York City, among them the city’s most famous restaurant, Delmonico’s, which closed in 1923, as well as other well-known establishments of the time such as Shanley’s, Murray’s and Moquin.

But among the first to close its doors after the Eighteenth Amendment took effect on Jan. 17, 1920, was the Holland House, located on Fifth Avenue at Thirtieth Street. Opened in 1891, the Holland House closed within a month of Prohibition taking effect.

Having just finished William Grimes’ Appetite City, I am now into Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent. Before reading this book, I hadn’t considered how or why Prohibition happened. Okrent tells the story well, describing movements such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, as well as the soon-to-change political realities of the 1910s that allowed such an amendment to pass then.

Okrent calls the Holland House one of the first victims of Prohibition in New York City, “its celebrated Bamboo cocktails (sherry, dry vermouth, orange bitters) gone forever.” A New York Times article quoted the Chicago merchant Marshall Field as saying, “It is the most perfectly operated hotel in the world.”

From reading old newspaper articles, it seems the reason for the closure was up for debate.

A July 21, 1920 article in the Bismarck Daily Tribune suggests that changing times, not Prohibition, led the hotel and restaurant to shut down.

“The bidding power of office seekers and not prohibition has caused many hotels in the vicinity of 42nd street to close recently, according to opinions of real estate men expressed today.

Within a relative short time of one another such old and famous hostelries as the Holland House, Sherry’s and the Fifth Avenue Hotel have closed their doors and more recently the Knickerbocker—a relatively new and imposing structure—abandoned business.

“Prohibition has done this,” cried many “wets,” but now one known hotel woman advanced the theory that the steady march of business toward the newer uptown sections was a paramount consideration of the men who decided to close their hostelries.

“A hotel doesn’t have to run behind to close,” she declared. “If the owner of the property considers it better business policy to erect an office building on the ground, he isn’t likely to let sentiment sway him. prohibition? No! Let’s say business!”

This sounded like “dry” propaganda to me, but a New York Times article from June 9, 1928, seems to back up “changing times” explanation.

“It is an old story, this change and decay and rebirth of hotels in New York. Some die of old age, like the downtown Astor House, or of obsolescence and the changing tides of residence and commerce, like the Buckingham and the Holland House. A few have been carried off, like the Knickerbocker, by the fatal seizures of prohibition; here and there a Windsor, by the hand of the destroyer.

The most interesting piece I came across while reading old articles about the Holland House was a June 3, 1926, New York Times article about former Holland House bartender Harry Craddock, who reached out to his former New York patrons during his Prohibition “exile” in London.

[He] has been mixing cocktails at the Savoy Hotel bar in London since 1920 [and] sent to former patrons in New York a list of 172 items classified as cocktails, coolers, daisies, fizzes, flips, highballs, punches, rickeys, smashes, sours, liqueurs, cordials and frappés which, he wrote, he hoped to be able to serve to his “old friends.”

Craddock, who wrote that he had been “exiled by prohibition,” said he had improved his absence by perfecting cocktails and that he was now able to give his patrons a choice of 280 mixtures. He wrote somewhat sentimentally of “home,” which, of course, was New York. Apparently his long absence has caused him to believe that cocktails could not be procured here, or were not desired, because, he said, he and other bartenders “were ready to come back when wanted.”

The article goes on to list several drinks and their prices, in shillings and pence, and then concludes,

The list was shown to a man swinging a malacca stick and wearing a blue flannel suit, a sailor straw with a blue and white band, a blue necktie and tan shoes at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets yesterday afternoon at 3:30 o’clock.

He scanned it rapidly, handed it back and said: “The prices are just about the same as in New York.”

Craddock never did return to New York, but he became a famous bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel and, in 1930, he wrote The Savoy Cocktail Book. For more on his cocktails, check out this piece on Serious Eats.

Regardless of the cause, the Holland House was converted to office buildings. A recurring New York Tribune advertisement for the Childs restaurant chain suggests that the ground floor of the Holland House was converted to a Childs.

“The Old Holland House,” the advertisement read. “There’s music in the name. The old-timer fairly intones it—closing his eyes the while to picture Eulalia of Spain—now stepping daintily through its hospitable portals—now dining in state in its time-mellowed banquet room.

The ad goes on,

The Old Holland House. Where “Joe” exchanged tips on what to eat for tips on what to buy and sell on Wall Street. Where a famous Western lawyer, after the formation of a great steel company, handed “Tom” and the boys a tip of three hundred dollars.

The Old Holland House. It has not passed. but rather has kept pace with the march of commercial Progress. It is still an eating place de luxe, upholding old traditions of food goodness—old traditions of environment. Only now it is a part of the CHILDS system, with its modern innovations in food and service.

The New Holland House. There’s new magic in the name—the magic of the house of CHILDS. “Joe’s” tips on what to eat are no longer needed. Instead, a perfect galaxy of choice comestibles is spread before the eye. One makes his own selection—the appetite is the guide.

It looks as if, even then, independent New York institutions fell victim to chains.

I’m looking forward to finishing Okrent’s book. Whether or not Prohibition led to the closure of the Holland House, one thing is for certain: Prohibition devastated the New York restaurant scene.

Wrestling with Moses: Anthony Flint’s Account of Jane Jacobs’ Saving Greenwich Village, SoHo

Gowanus Expressway, Brooklyn

Few places in the city are as dark, isolated and ugly as Third Avenue under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park. There are no thriving businesses or pedestrian traffic in the vast highway shadow.

The pre-expressway Third Avenue that Robert Caro describes in The Power Broker bears no resemblance to the space today.

Lining it … were seven movie theaters, dozens of tiny restaurants … and scores of small, friendly “Mama and Papa” stores (the Northland Gift Shop, the Finnish Book Store, a hardware store that looked like a general store out of the Old West, a butcher shop that raffled off twenty-five big turkeys every Christmas) that occupied the ground floor of three- and four-story brickfronts in which Mama and Papa lived upstairs with children.

What many New Yorkers, especially more recent arrivals, may not realize, is that Robert Moses tried to impose a similar highway on to SoHo. He actually tried to impose several  cross-town expressways throughout Manhattan, but the Lower Manhattan Expressway, or LOMEX, nearly became reality.

The details of this plan were omitted from The Power Broker (as were chapters on The Brooklyn Dodgers, the Port Authority and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge) because Caro’s book became too long. But the 2009 book, Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City by Anthony Flint, fills us in on three Jane Jacobs-Robert Moses fights:

  • The proposed extension of Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park
  • The proposed demolition of 14 blocks of the West Village under the guise of slum clearance to make way for affordable housing projects
  • The proposed LOMEX, which would have connected the Holland Tunnel with the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges

The final struggle is especially compelling. The LOMEX project was touted as a needed economic boost to Lower Manhattan, and politicians were eager to make compromises to make the project happen—especially since the project would be funded almost entirely by the federal government. But Jacobs’ experience taught her that no compromises should be made, that concerned residents should accept nothing less than a full cancellation of the project.

I have read (and highly recommend) The Power Broker, as well as Jane Jacobs’ most well known and influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but Wrestling with Moses fills in a lot of gaps, relating stories that were not covered in The Power Broker.  Flint’s book told me a lot about Jacobs’ life that I would not have otherwise known.

For anyone who has ever enjoyed a walk through Washington Square Park, the West Village or SoHo, this book is a great reminder of the difference that a small group of residents made in preserving vibrant city life for subsequent generations.

Below are some more photos of the Gowanus Expressway over Third Avenue in Brooklyn and the forlorn space below.

Gowanus Expressway, Brooklyn Gowanus Expressway, Brooklyn Gowanus Expressway, Brooklyn

At 99 Years of Age, Off to See Kinky Boots, in Heels

Le Veau D'Or, Manhattan

As I walked the streets of Boerum Hill on a Municipal Art Society tour last weekend, I so wanted to go back in time and see the neighborhood as it was decades ago.

Alas, that’s not possible, but the city offers its share of windows to the past.

Earlier this month, I was privileged to eavesdrop on a live window to the past, a 99-year-old former model dining in a quiet restaurant that once hosted Princess Grace, Orson Welles, Truman Capote and Jackie Onassis.

I could (and will, someday soon) write a lengthy post about the setting, Le Veau d’Or on East 60th Street, a 75-year old French restaurant with a classic table d’hote menu. Its longtime owner, Robert Treboux, passed away last year, but his daughter Catherine continues to run the restaurant.

Two Saturdays ago, I stopped in for lunch. As I enjoyed my mussels soup in a creamy broth, and sautéed monkfish with a side of scalloped potatoes, I listened in on the conversation between Catherine and a 99-year-old customer, who wore a black dress, black earrings and a matching bow in her hair.

She had some trouble hearing and her memory wasn’t perfect, but she enjoyed her meal, walked unassisted and carried on conversation better than most people my age.

“I’ve never seen a 99-year-old who can tie her own shoes,” her caretaker said.

The former fashion model came to New York from London in the 1960s. She addressed Catherine as “darling.”

I would have loved to hear her tell stories about her New York of a half century ago. But I was only privileged to small tidbits. At nearly 100 years of age, she was on her way to see the musical Kinky Boots—wearing heels.

“I do walk in heels. I’ve always done so. And that’s why I can today,” she said as she and her caretaker left the restaurant. “I don’t want a lot of help, because then you become helpless.”

After they left, Catherine and I sat over a cup of coffee and marveled at this woman’s spirit—and her class.

I am returning to Le Veau d’Or this evening for dinner. If one ever wanted a window to New York City’s past, this place is it.

Le Veau d'Or, Manhattan

Where’s the Chicago Beef, New York?

Windy City Ale House, Bay Ridge

With more than 8 million residents, many of whom hail from all corners of the globe, there’s hardly an ethnic or regional specialty food that you cannot find in New York. From Norwegian to Sri Lankan, from Texas barbecue to Maine lobster rolls, we have it here.

But one thing we don’t have is a Chicago Italian beef sandwich. “You mean like a cheeseteak,” people ask me? No, more like a French dip. A Chicago Italian beef sandwich is thinly sliced roast beef piled onto an Italian roll, and then covered with—or better yet, dipped in au jus—with either sweet peppers, hot peppers or both.

As Carol Mighton Haddix, then food editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote in Saveur magazine in 2007,

The Italian beef sandwich requires two hands, plenty of napkins, and, frequently, a repertoire of minor acrobatics for catching every last drip. The sandwich can be found at “beef stands” all over the city and in the suburbs; Mr. Beef, Johnnie’s Beef and Al’s #1 are three perennial favorites.

No one is quite sure where the Italian beef sandwich got its start. It most likely has its roots in the Depression years, when roast beef was a costly luxury and people looked for ways of making a little go a long way at banquets and weddings. Slicing the meat very thinly and piling it loosely on a roll or plate was a favorite method. In the years following World War II, Chicago-era meatpacking firms such as the Scala Packing Company on the Near North Side, picked up on this trend and began selling presliced roast beef to local restaurants, where early versions of the sandwich were presumably born.

I lived the first seven years of my life in Chicago, and even after my family moved to San Diego, beef sandwiches were always close by. My family owned a pizzeria, where we served thin-crust Chicago pizza (not all Chicago pizza is deep dish!), pasta, cold submarine sandwiches, and hot meatball, sausage and beef sandwiches. But in 2005, my family sold the business, and I moved to New York.

I’ve spotted Big Al’s Chicago Pizza in the Financial District, but from what I see online, it’s not as Chicago as the name of the business implies. The only promising establishment on this list of places to buy Chicago beef is no longer open.

A Chicago native opened up a beef sandwich shop in Linden, N.J., in 2006, but the shop did not last long. I reached out to the former owner last week, after being out of touch for several years, and he said he still makes special order Italian beef for those wanting at least 10 pounds of it—and that he would set some aside for me when he does his next order.

In the meantime, I look forward to my annual December trip to Chicago. My family has adopted a ritual: My aunt picks me up from O’Hare Airport. When I get into her car, we call my great uncle in Franklin Park, and he heads out to pick up several beef sandwiches. We all arrive at his house around the same time, and my feast begins.

I’ve also found Italian beef sandwiches in San Diego. And I’m sure they are available in Los Angeles, Phoenix and probably Florida, all homes to significant numbers of transplanted Chicagoans. But no Italian beef sandwiches in New York.

My eyes lit up when an acquaintance from Chicago, told me about Windy City Ale House in Bay Ridge. Its owners are from Chicago, and they serve Chicago-style hot dogs. “Do they serve beef sandwiches?” I asked. “No, but they said they would soon.”

The ceiling at Windy City Ale House is lined with Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks flags, along with the flag of the city of Chicago. Sports memorabilia and old black-and white images of Chicago fill the walls. The beer taps include several Goose Island brews. A lot of the guys at the bar last Wednesday were decked out in Blackhawk jerseys. And the menu included Vienna beef Chicago hot dogs (which I ordered), but no beef sandwiches.

I asked the owner if they might introduce beef sandwiches to the menu. He said the hot giardiniera peppers were his stumbling block. Unlike the hot peppers you find in Italian delis here, which are packed in water and vinegar, Chicago hot giardiniera are small green hot peppers, packed in a thick, spicy oil. The owner could not have them shipped from Chicago without ordering an impractical bulk amount.

I imagine, too, that the logistics of preparing the beef might also be a stumbling block for him. This is why I can’t make it at home. I can cook a roast and make a good au jus, but I can’t slice the beef that thin without a commercial meat slicer.

While I’ll continue to patronize the Bay Ridge bar, because it’s a little slice of home for me, the beef sandwiches will have to wait until my plane touches down at O’Hare.

Unless someone can tell me that I’ve left a stone unturned?

Windy City Ale House, Brooklyn Windy City Ale House, Brooklyn

Lost Restaurants of NYC: Castleholm on West 57th Street

Castleholm Restaurant, New York

Last month, I coincidentally purchased two postcards from two restaurants, Castleholm and Whyte’s, that happened to share an address, 344 W. 57th St. Last month, I posted about Whyte’s. Below is a short history of Castleholm, which preceded Whyte’s in the same location.

Both Whyte’s and Castleholm occupied the lower level of the Parc Vendome apartments, once the intended site of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. According to a May 27, 1983 article in the New York Times,

In the 1920’s Otto Kahn, the financier and arts patron, owned land west of Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets. He offered the property at cost as a new home for the Metropolitan Opera Company, but the offer was rejected.

The late William Zeckendorf reported this nugget of New York history in his autobiography. He went on to say that he was permitted by Mr. Kahn to act as broker in the sale of the land and that he found as the buyer one of the major builders of the day, Henry Mandell. Thus it came about that Mr. Mandell built the Parc Vendome apartments.

The Parc Vendome apartments were built in 1931. Six years later, on February 23, 1937, the first reference to Castleholm appeared in the Times with the headline “Parc Vendome Space Leased by Cafe Chain.” The announcement read,

 The dining room and bar space, aggregating more than 10,000 square feet in addition to the basement, in the Parc Vendome Apartments, 340 West Fifty-seventh street, has been leased to the Castleholm Restaurant, Inc. It is said to be the first of a chain of restaurants planned by the company. The interests behind the new restaurant are the same as those controlling the Sacher restaurant on Madison Avenue.

Within months of that announcement, Castleholm opened, and thus began a series of occasional announcements in the Times. Among them,

  • a 1937 bar mitzvah
  • a 1937 luncheon hosted by the Broadway Association, celebrating the extension of the 57th Street crosstown bus, which ran from River to River
  • a 1938 May festival to benefit the West 63rd Street Community Home
  • a 1938 dinner to honor the captain of Columbia University’s varsity wrestling team
  • a 1952 luncheon for Hands Across the Sea Scholarship Awards Inc., which provided scholarship money for students of the Virgin Islands.

The restaurant was home to its own orchestra of “soothing melodies,” according to a Feb. 13, 1938, article, “Notes and Reflections on the Nightclubs.”

A new dance retreat for those who prefer soothing melodies to the whicky-whacky-whoo of swingdom may be found at the Castleholm in the Parc Vendome, 344 West Fifty-seventh Street. Ivor Peterson conducts his orchestra in the rendition of his own compositions and the more mellow product of Tin Pan Alley. Mr. Peterson works nightly from 9 P.M. to 1 A.M.

And on Oct. 3, 1943, a true sign of grim times:

With $162,000 already subscribed, residents of the Parc Vendome apartments in west Fifty-seventh Street will hold a party at the Castleholm restaurant in the building tomorrow night to reach their goal of $250,000 in war bonds for the purchase of a bomber which will be named for the building.

Well-known tenants of the Parc Vendome will be on hand to help spur sales. James Montgomery Flagg will draw sketches from life in return for large subscriptions. Octavus Roy Cohen will give autographed copies of his new book, “Sound of Revelry.” Abner Silver, composer, will play his new piece, “Hitler’s Funeral March,” and will present autographed copies to bond buyers. Harry Hershfield will preside.

Alas, the Times archive does not offer much about the food at Castleholm. For more on that, I turned to Dining in New York with Rector, a 1939 guide to Manhattan restaurants. The Castleholm entry tells us the following:

In addition to the smörgåsbord and the Swedish drinks served at the bar, there are music and dancing to serve as an inducement to go to the Castleholm. You should not need much inducement, for it is a mighty nice place. It’s open for midnight supper, too, a la carte—no cover charge, no minimum. Two can spend several enjoyable hours there in the evening for about five dollars. On Saturday nights, a reservation is suggested.

In the late 1950s, Castleholm appears to have closed (though the Times does not report the closing), making way for Whyte’s to move into the space. The restaurant was, however, fondly remembered in a 1983 article about restaurants “gone but not forgotten.”

Scandinavian smorgasbord at the Castleholm on West 57th Street, where in summer meals were served in the big outdoor garden. Iced cracked crab, herring in dill mustard and tiny hot meatballs scented with allspice were among the best choices.

And now, sitting on my desk, is a reminder of this Scandinavian restaurant’s “famous Viking Room and bar.” The postcard I purchased was sent in 1944, from a Bronx resident to her father, a Dr. Dahlstrom, in Michigan. The note: “Dear Dad, Cousin Hannah and I are here eating our smorgasbord. Love, Ida.”

How that postcard made it from Michigan back to New York, to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea, I’ll never know. But I doubt Ida, Hannah and Dr. Dahlstrom could ever have imagined that their postcard memory of Castleholm would be inspiring someone 70 years later.

Castleholm Restaurant, New York

Lost Restaurants of NYC: Whyte’s on West 57th Street

Whyte's Restaurant

Another trip to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea had me browsing through postcards of old New York—this time from a vendor with a smaller, more modern selection (and by that I mean 1960s instead of 1910s). Images of long-shuttered New York restaurants captured my attention, and for $3, I walked away with three postcards:

  • Castleholm Restaurant, 344 W. 57th Street, with a 1944 postmark
  • Whyte’s, 344 W. 57th Street, with a 1963 postmark
  • Stockholm Restaurant, 151 W. 51st Street, with no postmark

No, I didn’t make a typo. I realized when I looked more closely at home that I happened to buy two postcards from two restaurants that occupied the same address during two different decades. Among the three restaurants, Whyte’s was by far the best known.

According to an April 21, 1971, article in the New York Times, Edward E. White opened Whyte’s (with a different spelling to differentiate from the many restaurants operated under the name “White”) at 145 Fulton St., between Broadway and Nassau, in 1908, four years after moving to New York from St. Louis.

Built in a kind of Alpine chalet style, Whyte’s strove to retain an Old-World aura, with its dark paneling, gilt-framed portraits, and long oak bar with well-shined brass spitoons.

The bar was a famous watering spot for downtown executives, with groups of insurance men, stockbrokers and politicians taking what seemed to be the assigned places at the rail.

The restaurant’s specialty of the house was finnan haddie, but some long-time afficionados said that the homemade rum raisin ice cream was Whyte’s chef d’oeuvre.

Women were never much in evidence, but unlike other restaurants of its type, Whyte’s never banned them. “I think it was the bar right out in the dining room that might have discouraged them,” Mr. [George] Macris [the manager] said, adding: “But we had plenty of loyal women customers.”

In 1929, Whyte’s “joined the uptown trend,” according to the Times, moving to 5th Avenue and 43rd Street, in the basement of the new Lefcourt National Building. The Fulton Street location became known as Woolley’s, run by management from the Waldorf-Astoria, then on Fifth Avenue and slated for demolition to make way for the Empire State Building. Several months later, the company operating Woolley’s sold its lease, and the restaurant became known as Willard’s. The new restaurant failed, and Whyte’s moved back to Fulton Street after its uptown venture also failed.

Raymond Hopper, a manager for the Whyte family, took ownership of the restaurant in the 1940s. Around 1954-55 (I can’t find this date in the Times myself; I’m crediting this site with the date), Whyte’s opened a second location at 344 West 57th Street.

The Times doesn’t offer much information about the new location, but a Nov. 15, 1963, directory to dining in the Times gave the Fulton Street location the following review:

There is an engaging, turn-of-the-century charm about Whyte’s, and the fish, particularly the finnan-haddie in heavy cream (listed as à la Whyte), is remarkably good. Dishes other than fish and sea food are not of equal stature. There is an à la carte menu for both lunch and dinner with main courses from about $2.35 to $4.25. Cocktails, wines. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

The Fulton Street location, at that time one of the longest operations under the same management, closed in 1971 after it was “outbid so fantastically” and unable to renew its lease, “an apparent victim of the financial recession.” The Times reported: “The manager said the restaurant’s 150 employes were notified of the closing at 2:30 P.M. on Friday. ‘Some of them cried like babies,’ Mr. Macris said. ‘A few have been here 38 years.'”

The postcard I picked up Sunday depicts the dining room of the West 57th Street location—again, very little information about this location online. The back of the postcard says that Whyte’s is “famous for its Beefeater Martini, charcoal broiled steaks, seafood and curried dishes.  Your host—Ray Hopper.”

Hopper died April 28, 1971, at the age of 63, just 8 days after the Fulton Street location closed its doors. He had also been a food purchasing agent for the Hamburg-American line, owner of Hofbrau Restaurant in Hoboken, and food purchasing consultant to the late Lucius Boomer, head of the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria Corporation, and to the Savarin Restaurant chain, according to his obituary in the Times.

Whyte's Restaurant

Fete Paradiso: Antique French Carnival Rides at Governors Island

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

When people ask me what I like most about living in New York, my answer is always the wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods within reach. If I want Arabic food, I have dozens of options on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. If I want Greek, I head to Astoria, where I can buy a dozen varieties of feta. And so forth.

But a traveling exhibit on Governors Island of antique French carnival rides provides not only the opportunity to experience another culture, but also another time. Fête Paradiso, which will leave New York at the end of this month, brings together a collection of late 19th and early 20th century carousels, flying swings and a pipe organ.

A short, free ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park brings New Yorkers away from the city and to an island where time seems to have stood still for decades. Take a short walk to Nolan Park, and suddenly you’re traveled back more than 100 years, to 19th Century Paris. From Fête Paradiso’s website,

The extraordinary festival of artisan-crafted, vintage carousels and carnival rides – like a French film miraculously come to life – is the first of its kind to appear in the United States. Among the classic attractions, which come from the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, is a bicycle carousel from the late 19th century – one of only two in the world that were created in Paris to encourage the use of what was then the new mode of transportation – the bicycle. (The only other bicycle carousel can be seen in the feature film Midnight in Paris.) Fête Paradiso will also include an early 20th century Music-Hall Ball Guzzler, a carnival game that features life-size caricatures of Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, the Fratellini Brothers and other celebrities of the time. …

To further enhance the nostalgic, dreamlike experience, a bumper car pavilion from 1900 has been transformed into a beer garden and special event space with food reminiscent of a French carnival prepared by New York’s legendary French bistro Le Gamin. In addition, a 1930 children’s carousel has been repurposed into a music kiosk, where performers will entertain visitors with period music and side show performances to heighten the Fellini-inspired environment.

The bicycle carousel dates to 1892, and riding it was quite an experience, physically and mentally. Those riding the carousel are expected to pedal, first forward, then backward. I left the ride out of breath, eager for a cold refreshing $4 lemonade from the concession.

As the carnival attendant, dressed in black-and-white striped shirt, warned us to mind our iPhones and other valuables, I thought back to the makers of this 121-year-old ride. As they fashioned the intricate metal bicycles and painted beautiful scenes around the top of the ride, they hardly could have imagined that more than a century later and a continent away, little children and grown adults, all carrying tiny telephones that doubled as video cameras, would be enjoying their handiwork. To those who built this ride with an eye for detail, beauty and enjoyment, I extend my appreciation. I am thankful as well to the collectors who had the foresight to preserve this collection of nostalgia and the imagination to assemble it into an attraction for New Yorkers to enjoy.

Fête Paradiso is here until Sept. 29 (when Governors Island all but closes to the public for the season), though one of the carnival workers said the rides may return here next summer after visiting warmer sites in the United States for the fall and winter. For more information on Brooklyn and Manhattan ferries to Governors Island, check out Governors Island’s website.

Below are some photos from my trip to Fête Paradiso last Sunday …

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

Bensonhurst’s Festa di Santa Rosalia

Festa di Santa Rosalia, Bensonhurst

Yesterday marked the end of Bensonhurst’s annual Festa di Santa Rosalia, a street fair that honors the 12th Century patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. Held every year (except 2011, when a supposed paperwork error led to a cancellation of the event) on 18th Avenue between 68th and 75th streets for 70 years, the feast brings street vendors, carnival rides, music and a lot of food—Italian and non-Italian to this once predominantly Italian American neighborhood.

Though visitors to the 10-day feast will still see older men seated on folding chairs on the sidewalks outside old Italian social clubs, they will also see Muslim women walking down 18th Avenue wearing hijab, dozens of storefronts with Chinese writing and food vendors roasting flank steak under a Colombian flag. Eighteenth Avenue is still subtitled Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, but even eight years ago, when I first visited the Festa di Santa Rosalia, the neighborhood had become a multicultural one.

Unlike the much larger Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan, which is produced by a contracted company, the Festa di Santa Rosalia is still put on by a local group, the Santa Rosalia Society. The feast honors the patron saint of Palermo, who lived and died in solitude as a hermit on Mount Pellegrino, three miles from Palermo. In 1624, during a horrible plague, her remains were dug up and processed through the city, putting an end to the plague. Today, she is still honored every year by Sicilians around the world, from Palermo to Brooklyn.

Below are some images from this year’s Festa di Santa Rosalia.

photo 2 (15) photo 3 (11)  photo 3 (12)

photo 2 (16)

photo 1 (14) photo 1 (15) photo 2 (14)  photo 3 (10)

Battery Park City’s Irish Hunger Memorial


About an hour early to meet new friends for dinner at The Odeon in TriBeCa, I took the opportunity to wander around the northern end of Battery Park City. Created mostly on landfill and severed from the rest of Lower Manhattan by the West Side Highway, this roughly 25-year-old neighborhood gets a bad rap. Many New Yorkers I know look down on this part of town, probably because it is new and planned; it didn’t organically develop over time like most other parts of the city.

Like it or not, Battery Park City boasts impressive parks that are spotless, well-utilized and offer commanding views of the Hudson. On Tuesday, I enjoyed those views from Nelson Rockefeller park as I walked to the Irish Hunger Memorial, a monument to the famine of 1845 to 1852.

Created by artist Brian Tolle and dedicated in 2002, the half acre monument is made primarily of stones and grasses from Ireland. From the Battery Park City Authority’s brochure,

Central to Tolle’s project is an authentic Famine-era cottage donated to the memorial by his extended family, the Slacks of Attymass, County Mayo, Ireland. The cottage has been painstakingly reconstructed on the memorial’s half-acre site as an expression of solidarity to those who left from those who stayed behind. From the cottage, visitors to the memorial meander along paths winding through a rugged landscape thickly planted with native Irish flora, plants often found growing in fallow fields. Ascending to an overlook twenty-five feet above the ground, the visitor confronts a breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island beyond.

Part of the mission of the memorial is to encourage efforts to address current and future hunger worldwide. Thus, the walls surrounding the memorial are lined with quotations from accounts of hunger from around the world.

Below are some photos of the memorial. Looming above many of the shots is the new 1 World Trade Center, whose spire now reaches 1,776 feet above Lower Manhattan.


July 4 on Coney Island

Nathans Coney Island, Brooklyn

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut set a new record today, eating 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.

Yuck, yuck, yuck!

I didn’t make it to Coney Island today to watch, but I was there last night, when a swaying tower closed many of the amusement rides for safety concerns. The nearly 50-year-old Astrotower, which once offered commanding views Brooklyn and the Atlantic Ocean, was partially dismantled during the night in the hopes that rides, including the Cyclone, would reopen today.

The newly restored B&B Carousell (yes, the second L is intentional) was also closed late last night, though I don’t think that had anything to do with the Astrotower; I think I was just there too late. I was also looking forward to seeing the lights of the newly blinged-out parachute jump, but the 262-foot tall structure was dark.

The evening, however, was saved by fireworks, which shot off over MCU Park after the Brooklyn Cyclones beat the Staten Island Yankees 2-1. I had a good vantage point across the street from Nathan’s.

Nathan's Famous, Coney Island, Brooklyn Nathan's Famous, Coney Island, Brooklyn

If you missed the fireworks last night, MCU Park and its concessions will open today at 4:30 p.m. The Cyclones are on the road, but the park will offer a good vantage point for tonight’s fireworks at 9 p.m.

I hope to see them from across the Raritan Bay at the end of the fishing pier in Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze.

Park Slope Serves Coffee Roasted in … Staten Island?

From emu-egg mayonnaise to beard oil, the Brooklyn brand runs rampant in this city.

So imagine my surprise when, walking through the epicenter of it all last Sunday, Park Slope, I saw this sign outside of a cafe on 7th Avenue

Cocoa Bar

The proprietors of Cocoa Bar have apparently looked beyond their neighborhood to serve coffee roasted a good 13 miles—but really another world—away in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island.

Here’s a bit of history from Unique Coffee’s website:

In September of 1995 [James] Ferrara incorporated Unique Coffee Inc. Starting in the garage of his home with the help of his father Al and wife Toni; they started the business. It was a lot of work, not having a roaster in his garage Ferrara’s first account was a gentleman in Brooklyn who had a small shop roaster that he rented time on. He would buy his green coffee; pick it up at the pier; drive it to Brooklyn; roast it; bring it back to Staten Island; package it; load the van; and deliver it the next day all while doing his own sales while on the route.

At the time he was using his and his father’s garage along with their first Dodge van as storage; he then realized that it was time to move into a warehouse.

Unique Coffee moved into their first warehouse in the Mariner’s Harbor section of Staten Island in 1997 which is where they purchased their 60 kilo roaster and believed that they would never grow out of the then very large space.

While providing New York City with the finest coffee the business grew to a point where they again needed to find more space. In late 2000 Unique Coffee began the move to their current manufacturing facility and corporate offices where they operate today.

That current office is at 3075 Richmond Terrace in Staten Island. According to this article in DNAinfo New York,

Unique Coffee typically roasts 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of coffee during an eight-hour shift. They bag it by hand, then sell it  from their website and in 4,000 retail stores around the country, including Stop & Shop, T.J. Maxx, Bed Bath and Beyond, Marshalls and Homegoods.

Their beans can also be bought from 350 stores in Canada, 17 countries in Scandinavia and recently Korea and China.

In addition to coffee under the Unique label, the roaster grinds private-label java for several supermarkets and gourmet shops in Manhattan. They also sell coffee to several local shops, including Royal Crown Bakery in South Beach and Pasticceria Bruno in West Brighton.

Who knew that coffee roasted in Mariners Harbor was shipped around the world—and across the Narrows?

The Great Gatsby and the Valley of Ashes

If you haven’t yet seen Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby—go see it now. Besides being based on one of my favorite novels, the film also shows some great images of old New York, from the Queensboro Bridge to the Plaza Hotel.

Not everything, however, is glitz and glamour in this Jazz Age film. Halfway between the grand estates of Long Island and the vibrant energy of Manhattan lies the Valley of Ashes. I had read The Great Gatsby six times while attending high school and college in San Diego (and I re-read last weekend the same paperback version that I bought as a freshman in high school). To me, a non-New Yorker at the time, the Valley of Ashes was powerfully symbolic, a setting F. Scott Fitzgerald created to characterize George Wilson—and many of the novel’s other characters. This bleak, gray place symbolized death and unchanging fate. From dust we were made, and to dust we shall return.

Little did I know then that the Valley of Ashes was a real place, the dumping ground of the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company from 1909 through the 1930s. As City Journal explains in a 21-year-old article,

Since oil as a domestic heating fuel was virtually unknown in the 1920s, ashes were produced in vast quantities by the coal-fired burners in practically all the buildings of the city. At that time, the city’s own dumping grounds were insufficient, so it paid private operators, including the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, for the privilege of dumping on their property.

In an ironic twist, the Valley of Ashes, the symbol of death and unchanging fate, was in fact transformed. With the help of Robert Moses, the dumping grounds were cleared, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park was created, home to the 1939-40 and 1964-65 Worlds Fairs.

As City Journal concluded,

The valley of ashes lives on only in literature. Few who spread their blankets under the trees of Flushing Meadows or play soccer on its fields are aware that they are enjoying themselves on the grounds of Fitzgerald’s wasteland. Instead of a barren wilderness, parkgoers find something closer to the haunting image at the book’s close, “a fresh green breast of the New World” that flowers for generations of New Yorkers to come.

Just as he transformed almost every corner of this city, for better or worse, Robert Moses helped change the Valley of Ashes into the home of Citi Field, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the Queens Museum of Art.

For images of the Valley of Ashes as it once was, check out this CUNY site.

Finally, if you’re a big Gatsby fan as I am, you might enjoy these links that I posted to I Happen to Like New York’s Facebook page over the last week:

The Real Life Towns that Inspired The Great Gatsby

Mapping the 1920s New York City of The Great Gatsby

Recipe for a Gin Rickey

Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library

New York Public LibraryI returned to the Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library on Sunday to continue digging for a June 1969 article for my author friend in Southern California. This time I was successful, locating the article on reels of New York Post microfilm in about an hour.

This left me time to wander the halls of this 102-year-old Beaux Arts building. Designed by Carrère & Hastings, this was at the time the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States. Unfortunately, many of the library’s rooms are closed on Sundays. But the Rose Main Reading Room, thankfully, was open for me to admire. From the library’s website:

The Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room is a majestic public space, measuring 78 feet by 297 feet—roughly the length of two city blocks—and weaving together Old World architectural elegance with modern technology. … Here, patrons can read or study at long oak tables lit by elegant bronze lamps, beneath fifty-two foot tall ceilings decorated by dramatic murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. Since the General Research Division’s opening day on May 23, 1911, vast numbers of people have entered the main reading room. Literary figures such as Norman Mailer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Bishop, E. L. Doctorow, and Alfred Kazin have cited the division as a major resource for their work.

As I walked the perimeter of the 297-foot-long room, admiring the ceilings, I couldn’t help but wish I were among those using the tables to read and write on their notebook computers. These people couldn’t ask for a more beautiful space to work.

Fora brief history of the building, visit this page of the library’s website. Or, for the comprehensive (and beautiful) guide to the library and its architecture, check out
The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building by Henry Hope Reed and Francis Morrone.

Below are a few more photos that I took on Sunday afternoon.

Rose Main Reading Room
Rose Main Reading Room
Rose Main Reading Room
Rose Main Reading Room
Astor Hall
Astor Hall, the library’s magnificent entrance hall, with a 37-foot vaulted ceiling
Astor Hall
Astor Hall, the library’s magnificent entrance hall, with a 37-foot vaulted ceiling
New York Public Library
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia is credited with nicknaming the lions flanking the library’s entrance “Patience” and “Fortitude.”

Bryant Park on a Saturday Morning in May

Bryant Park

A research trip to the New York Public Library brought me to Bryant Park last Saturday morning. A friend of mine in Southern California who is working on a book hired me to dig up a newspaper article from 1969. Three hours of scrolling through microfilm of the New York Post and New York Daily News in Room 100 of the Schwarzman Building proved fruitless. But arriving at the library before its 10 a.m. opening offered the opportunity to enjoy Bryant Park and shoot some images while the sun was still low and the crowds still light. 

This 9.6-acre space in Midtown has a long and varied history. It has served as a potter’s field (yes, a burial ground), a distributing reservoir with 50-foot high walls (the tops of which formed a promenade), a Crystal Palace Exhibition and an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War. Read more about Bryant Park’s history here.

In 1884, the park was named after longtime New York Evening Post editor and civic reformer William Cullen Bryant. Since then, its fate has fallen and risen, reaching a low point in the 1970s, when few people ventured beyond its raised hedges (hard to believe when you see the park now). The story of the park’s revival is a fascinating one, largely the brainchild of urbanist William H. Whyte. The Project for Public Spaces, an organization that builds on the ideas of William H. Whyte, tells an abbreviated version of the park’s restoration:

Bryant Park was rebuilt in 1934 under the direction of Robert Moses, Commissioner of the New York City Parks Department. Because of the stacks of the library located beneath it, The park was raised above the surrounding busy streets and conceived of as an “urban sanctuary.” However, this design created isolation —and invited crime. The park grew to become a haven for drug dealing and other negative activities. After analysis by urbanologist William H. Whyte and Project for Public Spaces in 1981—their report was titled Intimidation or Recreation—a plan for Bryant Park’s reconstruction was developed. It addressed issues such as opening the park’s constricted entrances and removing hedges along its perimeter so that people could more easily view the interior from the sidewalk, and adding semi-commercial uses such as a food and beverage kiosks and a ticket stand. While construction began in 1982, it was not completed until ten years later.

With Whyte’s signature amenities, like movable chairs, concession stands and clean comfort stations, as well as easy physical and visual access to the city blocks around it, Bryant Park now draws visitors at all hours of the day and night, regardless of the weather or season. (I’m actually more familiar with the park in the Winter, when it’s decked out with an ice skating rink, Christmas tree and scores of vendors—and the Southwest Porch serves drinks around a large, warm fire pit.)

But back to Spring. Below are some shots from last Saturday, from tulips to bocce ball to charging stations for mobile devices …

Bryant Park Bryant ParkBryant ParkBryant ParkBryant ParkBryant Park


Springtime in Clove Lakes and Silver Lake Parks

It’s Springtime in Staten Island, too! A couple weeks ago, I posted several pictures of tulips and daffodils, pear trees and cherry trees, from Brooklyn and Manhattan. A friend of mine noted that I missed Staten Island, a especially grave oversight because I happen to live in Staten Island.

With the FDR Boardwalk here closed since Hurricane Sandy, my Brooklyn Half Marathon training has brought me to Clove Lakes Park and Silver Lake Park, which, like parks across the city, are bursting with brilliant yellow, pink and white blossoms. I’ll post some pictures below, but first, some background on the parks.

Clove Lakes Park is the more heavily used of the two parks, with a steady stream of runners and walkers taking advantage of its paths and recreational facilities that stretch from Victory Boulevard north to Forest Avenue. Centuries ago, a brook flowed through this area to the Kill Van Kull; but over the years, several dams have been built to create the lakes and ponds that now give the park its name.

The city acquired the land in the early 1920s, and in the 1930s, it was developed as a city park. Today, Clove Lakes Park is home to playgrounds, ballfields and an ice skating rink. It is also home to the oldest living thing on Staten Island, a more-than-300-year-old tulip tree, which drew a small crowd of admirers taking pictures of it Saturday morning.

Just to the East and almost adjacent is Silver Lake Park. To me, this park has a fascinating history. As I run along the serene paths on a Saturday morning, I try to imagine what this park once was:

Silver Lake has a long history of both recreational and commercial uses. During the 19th century, a casino and saloon existed on the lakeshore and several companies harvested its ice. Staten Islanders used the lake for boating and ice skating in that era, and in February 1897, Silver Lake hosted the National Skating Amateur Championship races.

Someday, I’d love to dig up pictures of the saloon and casino that once existed here.

Exactly 100 years ago, the lake was drained, and converted to a working reservoir, the endpoint of the city’s Catskill water supply system. The body of water currently at the center of the park no longer holds potable water (though it is clear enough to see rocks under a foot or two of water); it instead serves as drainage for underground storage tanks.

A picturesque causeway bisects the lake—so instead of running a 1.3-mile lap around the lake, I prefer to use the wide, paved causeway and run a 1.6-mile figure 8.

Silver Lake Park is also home to a golf course. I wonder, though, how many of the golfers know the history of the ground beneath the 18th fairway:

Land from Marine Cemetery, a nineteenth-century burial site for the Marine Hospital Quarantine in Tompkinsville, was added to the park in 1924. In 1928 the land was converted to a golf course, and in 1994 researchers discovered documentation linking the site to its past use as a cemetery. Today it is thought that perhaps several thousand immigrants, including many Irish escaping Ireland’s Potato Famine, who died from contagious diseases after landing in the United States are buried under the 18th fairway of the golf course.

On that uplifting note, here are some pictures of the two parks, showing off their Spring colors:

Silver Lake Park
Silver Lake Park
Silver Lake Park
Silver Lake Park

Silver Lake Park

Silver Lake Park

Silver Lake Park
Silver Lake Park
photo 2 (9)
Clove Lakes Park