Bloomingdale Neighborhood Stores, Part Two

A previous post (LINK)  about food provisioning in Bloomingdale described the streetscape of Columbus, Amsterdam and Broadway, a dynamic jumble of food suppliers: fruit and vegetables, bakeries, meats, seafood, delicatessens, and wine/liquor stores.  From 1890 to 1940 while a few food suppliers became chain stores, most Bloomingdale neighborhood shops remained “mom and pop” operations.

This post highlights a few of the other non-food shopkeepers providing goods and services for the neighborhood. With few exceptions, these also tended to be small shops: bootblacks early in the century, tailors, barbers, women’s hair salons, pharmacies, upholsterers, milliners, corset and flower shops.  In the early years of the 20th century, the Upper West Side had an “Automobile Row” just above Columbus Circle where General Motors, Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Studebaker and Packard had display spaces. However, further uptown the stores tended to be small operations, each serving the neighborhood’s needs.

Early on, there were numerous neighborhood bootblacks. One of them was Riddick Darden, who is listed in the 1900 Trow Directory. The 1900 census reveals that he was a black man, living in a rooming house on 99th Street. He appears to have been a neighborhood regular, as he is still there in the 1920 census listed as the owner of a “bootstand” at 99th street.

Caitlin Hawke in her research of Bloomingdale neighborhood stores found this photo of Broadway’s northeast corner at 103rd Street, showing a shop selling feed and grain, demonstrating the country-like atmosphere of the turn-of-the-century Bloomingdale. The odd-shaped building on the horizon is the Home for the Destitute Blind constructed in 1886 but removed about thirty years later.

NE Corner Broadway and 103 Street

Another early shop was W. G. Spencer’s Bicycle Shop housed in this wood-frame structure at Broadway and 96th Street, SE corner. This bike shop and others in the area served the cycling craze of the 1890s when cyclists pedaled their way uptown to the Claremont Inn on Riverside, just above Grant’s Tomb.

Bicycle Shop, Broadway and 96th Street

Another Caitlin Hawke discovery: there was a store on Broadway at 108th Street, what we would today call a “destination” store: Emmanual Blout’s Victrola Store.  Mr. Blout’s store replaced a group of stores shown in a photo (below) dated 1910, including a restaurant and a funeral parlor. The photo of the Blout store is undated; in both the 1912 and the 1923 Trow New York City Directories, the store is listed at 2799 Broadway.  As the sign indicates, this store was distributing the machines and records of the Victor Talking Machines Company manufactured in Camden, New Jersey.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in the 1877, and in the 1890s Emile Berliner fostered the transition from cylinders to flat discs, coining the term “gramophone.” Later, E. Johnson used Berliner’s work and founded Victor Talking Machines, making Victrolas and records, and developing a famous brand, with Nipper the dog pictured listening to “his master’s voice” coming from the horn on the machine. This website has the details of these wonderful machines that were ushering in a new age of communication: In the 1930s as the radio became popular, replacing the talking machines, RCA took over the company, forming RCA Victor.

Mr. Blout was an investor in the Berliner Company, then in Canada. His store offered more than just machines and records.  In 1920, a musical publication, The Musical Monitor, announced that a Miss Helen Colley would be using the talking machine to teach classes at the store in musical appreciation, nature study, English, and physical training, for “teachers, mother and children.”

Broadway and 108th Street 1910 (Museum of the City of New York)

Victrola Store

Victrola Talking Machine 1906

Another store selling machines, vacuum cleaners “hand and electric,” owned by a M. Loeb, is also listed in the Trow 1912 Directory, at 2789 Broadway.

If you were a Bloomingdale resident needing coal or wood, it might be supplied by Weber, Bunke & Lange, at 96th Street and the North River (the Hudson’s name); their office was at 2546 Broadway.

Pharmacies—and later drugstores—were numerous in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. One of the earliest photos of a pharmacy shows Baltzley’s, located at 96th and Broadway in the Wollaston that was built in 1900. The photo shows a large array of products, and this store had a Post Office operating there as well, although it may have just been a drop-off location. Mr. Albert B. Baltzley owned it, his daughter Elizabeth worked there as a cashier, while a Mr. Henry “Hank” Miller was the popular manager.

Baltzley’s Pharmacy, Broadway and 96th Street

In the early days of Bloomingdale, pharmacies custom-made the compounds according to a prescription written by a doctor. Despite the training provided by pharmacy schools, the mixture of these raw ingredients was subject to great variation, and doctors became unhappy with the process. In addition, there were many patent medicines sold in the early pharmacies that often contained alcohol, opium, morphine or cocaine. Regulating prescriptions and other medicines became part of the early 20th century movement to make both food and drugs safe, starting with the first drug laws in 1901. Eventually “drugs” became manufactured products sold to the pharmacies.

Here’s another photo of a drugstore, this one at 110th and Broadway, taken when there was street work underway, perhaps part of the 1904 subway construction. (There’s a lot more to see here; a meat store, a fruit store, and a taxi company advertising their services to “out of town resorts”.)

Drug Store at Broadway and 110th Street

There was a Hegeman Drug Store on the corner of 101st Street and Broadway in 1909. There is no photo of this location, but an image in the Getty collection shows a Hegeman’s with a soda fountain in 1907.  In 1909, a newspaper advertisement lists the Broadway location, in which the items for sale included perfumes, toilet dainties, bath room luxuries, candies, cigars, stationery, drugs, medicines, rubber goods, sick room supplies, syringes, water bottles, bandages, and “other drugstore products.”  In 1914 Hegeman’s and another New York chain, Riker’s, combined to make a 105-store chain, the largest in the country.

Hegeman Drug Store with a soda fountain 1907 (Museum of the City of New York)

“Soda Fountains” evolved from an early pharmacy product: a drink of soda water at the store, to help settle a stomach. Soon someone discovered that a splash of sweet syrup could be added to the soda water, and then ice cream and other ingredients. The soda fountain was born, a standard feature of drugstores. It was also a lucrative new revenue source.

The other large chain of drugstores was formed by Louis Liggett in Boston in 1903, and, by 1914, he had 52 stores. The 1922 advertisement mentioned below showed four Liggett stores in the neighborhood, on Broadway at 80th, 86th, 103rd, and 110th Streets.  Liggett also formed a “retailer’s cooperative,” the United Drug Company, that became the Rexall line of stores.

In a newspaper advertisement in 1922, a free tube of Listerine toothpaste was offered in numerous drugstore locations, including several in our neighborhood: Marcel at Broadway and 103rd; on Columbus there was Edward Ackerman at 740, Henry Buch at 661, C. J.W. Reed at 888, Richless Pharmacy at 775, Uran’s at 997, and Charles O’Connor at Columbus and 94th. Over on Amsterdam, there was Louis Klein at 876, Bedrick’s at 515, and S. Coden’s at 81st Street. Dorb Drug was at Broadway and 92nd Street, and William McDonald at 2781 Broadway.

This photo, taken at Broadway and 91st Street­­­­­­­­­, shows a Teitelbaum’s Drug Store.

Teitelbaum’s Drug Store

In October of 1908, The City Record listed places where men could register to vote in the 19th Assembly District which covered the Bloomingdale neighborhood. This listing gives a glimpse into the variety of stores serving the men of the neighborhood: tailor shops at 2669 Broadway and 870 and 906 Amsterdam; a cigar store at 2782 Broadway; barber shops at 203 West 104th and 948 Amsterdam. Much later, the Broadway Barbershop, owned by Mr. Demetriou, who took it over in the 1950s, would become a part of the collection of the Museum of the City of New York when it closed. Now, there a museum of New York City barbershops just opened in our neighborhood, at Columbus Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets.

In every neighborhood, the cigar store was ubiquitous. Initially there were United Cigar Stores and D. A. Schulte stores, one of those pictured here, next to the Riverside movie theater. There was another store at Broadway and 85th Street, as reported in a news story of a 1928 robbery.

Schulte’s at Broadway and 96th (Museum of the City of New York)

These large corporations were also able to put out public messages, like this United Cigar poster, issued during World War One, promoting daylight savings time.

In the late 1920s, Schulte thought it a good idea to merge with the Huyler candy company that had started a chain of luncheonettes, thus combining the cigar counter with the quick-lunch spot. A.D. Schulte was also known for its coupons, collected by men at purchase and used by women to order housewares from their catalogue. In 1919, Schulte leased the corner of Broadway and 104, including two buildings on 104th Street, although which specific corner is unknown.

Meanwhile, United Cigar had combined with the Whelan Drug stores, getting the cigar stand and the soda fountain combined too. The Depression hit these retailers hard, and resulted in United Cigars and Schulte merging.

Berenice Abbott 1936 photo of a Whelan’s Drug Store (New York Public Library)

The stores labeled “5, 10, 25 cent stores” were another popular chain store in the early 20th century. F.W. Woolworth and S.H. Kress stores were the two largest in numbers of locations, and both were based in New York City, (but neither started there). By 1914, Woolworth’s had 774 stores including 40 stores in Canada and 40 in England.  Woolworth’s was one of the first retailers to allow their customers to handle the merchandise before a purchase. The store made all prices either five or ten cents, until twenty-cent items were offered in 1932. In 1935 they discontinued these selling-price limits.

Mr. Woolworth’s family made news as his daughter, Edna, Mrs. Franklyn Hutton, who lived at 2 West 80th Street, until she committed suicide in 1924. Her daughter, Barbara Hutton, then five years old, went to live with her grandfather at his Fifth Avenue mansion. She became “the poor little rich girl” at her 1932 debut that was an ostentatious display in the Great Depression. Unfortunately, this New Yorker led a troubled life, spending her fortune, creating scandals and working her way through seven marriages and divorces.

Woolworth’s was on the Upper West Side in two locations: at 79th and Broadway in the 1930s, and also at 91st Street and Broadway. Much later, there was a Woolworth’s on Columbus in the retail space serving Park West Village. When Social Security began in 1936, Woolworth’s sold wallets containing a display-version Social Security Card, half the size of a real card with “specimen” written on it. Nevertheless, that fake-card number was used by over 5700 people by 1943. As late as 1977 the number was still in use!

Woolworth’s ended in 2008 during the Recession. New York City still has its stunning 1910 Cass Gilbert “Cathedral of Commerce” in downtown Manhattan, converted to residential space not long ago.

Advertising on top of certain buildings was part of the street scene; this photo (below) from the Museum of the City of New York shows Oliver A. Olson’s store with many billboards.  Olson’s had been a “high class” specialty store for women in its time on the Upper West Side. This view is of a 1907 postcard. Olson’s was mentioned in a 1919 article about the formation of a Mutual Protective Association formed with a number of New York City department stores, to protect against shoplifters and pickpockets. This member list  included many of the stores that have continued or disappeared over the years: Best & Company, Stern Brothers, Franklin Simon, Bloomingdale Brothers, Gimbel Brothers, Saks & Company, and Lord & Taylor.

Oliver A. Olson’s went bankrupt during the Depression and their corner at 79th and Broadway was taken over by Woolworth’s.

1912 photo of Olson’s store on Broadway at 79th Street

1914 photo of Olson’s with advertising signs on roof

1957 photo of Woolworth’s at Broadway and 79th Street

Girls shopping at Woolworth’s 1941 (Museum of the City of New York)

All of these mentions show the variety of shops meeting the personal needs of the Bloomingdale residents. An important supplier was Kayser’s shown in the photo below in their 1937 Art Deco form with a new kind of black glass. This store was on Broadway at West 83rd Street. Julius Kayser founded his silk glove company in 1880, and, by 1911, it had grown to silk gloves, hosiery and underwear — and patent leather gloves also. After Mr. Kayser’s death in 1920 the company grew and lasted into the 1960s, absorbing numerous other companies that made these items.

Kayser’s store at Broadway and 83rd Street (Museum of the City of New York)

Something we don’t see in the streetscape today: there was a gas station on Amsterdam Avenue at 90th Street, as shown in this 1936 photo.

Gas Station on Amsterdam Avenue at 90th Street, 1936 (New York Public Library)

Another one-of-a-kind store was the Broadway Bird Store, located at 93rd Street, in the 1920s. The store sold canaries and parakeets, and also aquariums and fish, as well as dog supplies.

Another retailer on the Upper West Side was a woman named Polly Adler who had a lingerie shop at 2719 Broadway in the 1920s.  The shop did not last for long. Polly’s real infamous talent was in the numerous brothels in apartments she established around town, many on the Upper West Side. She was arrested numerous times during the 1930s, and eventually left town for the west coast, writing a best seller in 1952, A House Is Not A Home, made into a not-too-good movie with Shelley Winters in 1964.


Federal censuses available at

New York Public Library photographs database

Trow’s Directories located at the New York Public Library and the New-York Historical Society

Trager, James. New York Chronology. New York, Harper Collins, 2003

Susi, Michael. The Upper West Side. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2009

The New York Times archive

West 102nd & 103rd Block Association Blog

Library of Congress Chronicling America newspapers database

Real Estate Record & Guide online

Museum of the City of New York photographs database.






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Provisioning Bloomingdale: Stores that fed the residents of Bloomingdale

Here is another post on the Bloomingdale neighborhood of the Upper West Side. It was written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. 

Bloomingdale’s residential development brought numerous retail food shops into the neighborhood, from the late 1880s to today, when the latest food store opening can still create excitement (see the frequent reporting on the new Trader Joe’s!). This post began as a search into our neighborhood food stores, focusing primarily on 86th to 110th Streets. This is a bit of an evasive topic, since most stores were small family-run businesses that did not advertise, and nor were publicly photographed.   Moreover, the stores were part of a larger food retailing history from which individual stores developed, and how certain common products were created.  Restaurants are another significant part of the neighborhood food story which were covered in an earlier post.

Food history is a popular topic among historians now.  A recently-published book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York 1790-1860, by Gergeley Baics gives a fascinating history on how “food provisioning” developed in New York City. This book details the changes in the city’s food distribution as it changed from restricted public marketplaces built by city government to privatized food distribution as a function of the marketplace. These food markets were once part of the city’s landscape: Fly Market (replaced by Fulton), Catharine Street, Essex, Jefferson in Greenwich Village, and the Washington Market, on the lower west side. By the 1870s, the Gansevoort Farmer’s Market, near the Washington Market, was established: a vast stretch of wagons, as pictured below. Meat, poultry and dairy purveyors as well became the distribution center for the wholesale merchants who supplied the retail stores. This section of the city eventually gave way to Hunt’s Point in the 1960s, and what we now call Tribeca emerged as a new residential neighborhood.

Washington/Gansvoort Market 1886, Museum of the City of New York

When Bloomingdale first developed, all the food retailers were private ventures, although one, Mr. Astor’s Market, was a marketplace concept, as described below.

The Upper West Side transitioned in the 1870s from an area of rocky terrain with small dwellings, many with market gardens, to fully urbanized streets by the early 1900s. In 1879, the opening of the Ninth Avenue El generated increasing real estate sales. Later, in the early years of the 20th century, the construction of the IRT subway under Broadway would generate another building boom. Numerous social-welfare institutions moved to the area or were created there, touting the fresh air as a primary reason. Even a few left-over country mansions remained from the early days of the Bloomingdale Road that brought families to upper Manhattan away from the dirty air and disease-prone lower Manhattan.

Here are a few of Mr. Bracklow’s photos taken in the late 1890s of the Bloomingdale neighborhood.

Bracklow photo of a farm on West End Avenue 1890

Bracklow photo of old wooden houses on Amsterdam Avenue 1899

A comparison of the 1880 Federal census to the 1900 census tells a story of Bloomingdale’s dramatic residential development. The census counts individuals in dwelling units, in family groups, so there are no notes on the existence of stores. However, the census taker sometimes makes a note on the neighborhood’s larger facilities housing many residents and also uses the column “occupation” to note a retail establishment.

In 1880, there are just two Enumeration Districts, 527 and 528, for all of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, covering a portion of the 12th Ward, from 86th to 108th Streets. ED 527 has 179 dwellings housing 1194 inhabitants, and ED 528 has 218 dwellings with 1453 inhabitants. Mrs. Skinner appears as the Matron for the “Children’s Fold,” an orphanage at 93rd Street and the Boulevard, the earlier name for Broadway. She is caring for 65 children ages 6-10 years. There is a small hospital at Ninety-Ninth Street and Eighth Avenue. Mr. Hiram Downs is operating the Downs Hotel at the Boulevard and Tenth Avenue. Mr. Marshall, the second owner of the Clendening mansion, covered in an earlier post on the hill at 104th Street and Ninth Avenue, is listed. Elm Park and its hotel, also covered in an earlier post, is on another West Side hill. Many of the residents of these Enumeration Districts are immigrants from Germany, Ireland and elsewhere.

The Downes Hotel on the Bloomingdale Road July 1888

How did these residents supply their homes and facilities? By the 1870s, milk was beginning to be bottled, and delivered by wagon; previously, the milk was in large cans, and scooped out into containers provided by the customer. It would be a while longer before pasteurization was established. In the 1850s, New Yorkers had come to realize that the milk from one or two cows established near a brewery and fed the discarded mash were producing swill milk that was making many children sick. The Dairy in Central Park was established to make this point: that cows producing fresh milk should be the healthier norm.

As the city grew, dairy farms developed north of the city, supplying dealers by either boat or train down to the city to the lower West Side where the wagons were loaded. By 1903, two major dairies were located just to the north of Bloomingdale, on 125th and 130th Streets, far to the west, near the railroad. The milk trains supplied them, and milk was then pasteurized, bottled and sent out for delivery in wagons to drop thousands of bottles around our neighborhood.

Numerous other items were delivered by wagon until stores were established: butchers delivered meat, fruit and vegetable dealers loaded up at Washington Market and moved through the neighborhood, and ice and coal were brought in. Perhaps those with market gardens in the neighborhood sold their fresh produce directly or by pushcart.

There is no Business Directory for the 1880s nor does the Robinson Atlas, online at the New York Public Library, note the existence of stores on the ground floor of the clusters of “flats” beginning to fill in the streets and avenues of Bloomingdale. The 1880 census column noting occupation sometime notes “retail bakery” rather than “baker” for a man, giving  a clue that a store exists. Most were small operations; it wasn’t until chain stores developed that we can find newspaper ads, some with location addresses. We have to assume that basic needs are being met with local retail and wagon-deliveries, with other shopping venues reachable downtown on the El or the streetcars.

The Ladies Mile shopping district was another source of groceries, although too far for daily shopping when refrigeration was still limited. Two of the largest stores there, Siegel Cooper and O’Neill-Adams had fully-stocked grocery stores along with their dresses, corsets, hats and other clothing.  The regular grocers of New York City made an attempt to put a stop to the selling of groceries in these “department stores” but were not successful. In addition to the oddity of selling groceries under the same roof as clothing, the Siegel-Cooper store also had a bank, barbershop, jeweler, drugstore, telegraph and post offices, a doctor’s office, manicure and hairdresser, a restaurant and a tearoom, a wine shop, hardware, pets, and, on occasion, exotic shows and lectures.

By the time of the 1900 Federal census, a massive population increase had taken place in Bloomingdale.  Just 97th to 108th Streets had twelve or more Enumeration Districts. One ED, covering Central Park West to Columbus, from 97th to 98th Streets, has 72 dwellings with 1269 individuals living there. There is a Trow Business Directory available for 1900, with the businesses arranged by type, as the Yellow Pages does today. The Directory lists many retail stores, especially along Amsterdam and Columbus. Many of the buildings along Broadway were just being constructed in the early years of the 20th Century as the IRT sparked development; stores were developed later there.

Bakers were numerous in the business directory; there are five on Amsterdam with street numbers 500-900 which covers the Bloomingdale neighborhood. George Barthold had his bakery at 968 Amsterdam. He immigrated from Germany in 1873, and lived with his wife, Augusta, two sons 18 and 20 years old who are also bakers, yet another baker named Otto living there too, along with other staff, Bertha the bookkeeper, Marta, the store tender, and Annie from Ireland, helping with the housework.

With a neighborhood of so many German immigrants, delicatessens were popular; there are eight on Amsterdam and six on Columbus in the area north of 86th Street, counted in a perual of the business directory. Numerous fruit dealers, retail butchers, and stores selling butter, eggs and cheese are there too. There are many other types of business too, to be covered in a later post: bootblackers, dressmakers, and numerous coal and ice dealers.

One delicatessen in our neighborhood, Richard Hellmann’s store at Columbus and 84th Street, operating after 1905, became famous much later as his wife Nina’s mayonnaise was served from a blue-ribboned jar on the counter. By 1916, Hellmann figured out how to stabilize his product and pack it in jars. He incorporated his company in Long Island City, delivering his mayonnaise by truck around the city, and eventually around the country. Check your Hellmann’s jar today: the blue ribbon is still there.

In his book of postcard images, The Upper West Side, Michael Susi captures the Park & Tilford store at Broadway and 101st Street, on the street level of the Chepstow apartment building. The Chepstow is one of several on the Upper West Side designed by architects Mulliken and Moeller who are known for their brick and terra cotta work; they also designed Bretton Hall at 86th Street and Broadway.

Park & Tilford was established in the mid-nineteenth century by two ambitious young men, John Tilford and Joseph Park, who were both grocery store clerks in downtown Manhattan. The establishment of their stores followed the development of residential Manhattan, and, by 1900, they were on Sixth Avenue at Ninth Street, two locations on downtown Broadway, on Fifth Avenue at 59th Street at the South East corner, and on the Upper West Side first at Columbus Avenue at 72 Street, and then in their Bloomingdale location. Their elegant Columbus Avenue building still stands, now a residential building. There’s no record found as to how long they were at the Chepstow but their presence, a grocery store catering to “the carriage trade” shows how the neighborhood was developing.

Park & Tilford at Broadway and 101 Street, image from Michael Susi’s book

Park & Tilford provided “first class groceries.” Besides many imported gourmet foods, they sold wines, confectionaries, cigars and personal items.

This advertisement from 1911 describes their wine selection (and lists the Bloomingdale location).

Park & Tilford advertisement 1911

Park & Tilford advertisement 1913

Mr. Park and Mr. Tilford played a role in the development of the product still around today: Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The grocers worked with William Lawrence, a farmer and cheesemaker,  to make a Neufchatel cheese; he added cream to the curds, labeling it “cream cheese” and went on to mechanize its production, eventually forming a new company. Cream cheese made in Philadelphia was already known, thus the name of the company, which wrapped its products in rolls in a foil wrapper and shipped it down to the city.

Park & Tilford was one of the earliest “chain store” grocers, but struggled with family changes after their founders died in the 1890s. Mr. Park’s children both married people he did not approve of, and he wrote them out of his will, leaving his million dollar fortune to charities while settling small annual amounts on his son and daughter. The son became an object of derision in the press when he sued the estate to recover more of his father’s fortune, claiming that he had been brought up “in idleness” and had no skills to take care of himself and his wife, an actress.  Mr. Tilford’s sons seem to have been raised to be part of the family business, and it passed into their hands. In 1928, the Schulte Retail Stores Corporation, a chain of more than 40 cigar stores, merged with Park & Tilford. Tom Miller, in his excellent blog post DAytonian in Manhattan, wrote about the Columbus Avenue store 

There were many other retail “grocery chains” that developed before 1900 and into the first years of the 20th Century. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Store, founded in a shop at 31 Vesey Street in downtown Manhattan, is perhaps the most famous and historical of all the retail grocers, lasting until the economic downturn of 2008. In 1914, there were over 800 stores across the United States, New York City included. Unfortunately, their daily newspaper ads do not list locations but suggest that there were many choices. One source notes that A&P established ”Economy Stores,” smaller shops located in many neighborhoods.

Early grocery stores were nothing like our supermarkets of today. Customers came into the store and waited their turn at the counter where assistants fetched what was required. Items did not come in consumer-sized packaging; the assistant had to weigh and measure precise amounts. Shopping became a social occasion with customers and store staff engaged on conversation while their orders were collected. This labor-intense system led to the change that was initiated at a Piggley Wiggley store in Memphis in 1916, the first self-serve market where customers walked around and chose their items and brought them to a “checkout” in a wooden basket.

Gristede Brothers started at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in 1888; they had five stores by 1903 and 45 locations by 1914.   There may have been a store on the SW corner of Amsterdam and 109th Street, as a real estate sale is noted there in 1910.  In a news report about a water main break on Broadway, there is a Gristede store mentioned at 89th Street.  Another chain, A. F. Beckman & Company is listed in the 1900 Trow Directory at 908 Columbus Avenue, and eight other locations. They grew to 25 locations in 1914. Andrew Davey owned 19 grocery stores according to an 1898 Trow Directory; there was one at 736 Amsterdam Avenue, and two others at 754 and 781 Columbus Avenue.

James Butler owned 43 stores by 1914; in 1898 he had three on Columbus at 620, 702, and 754, and one at 774 Amsterdam. In the early 1880s, Mr. Butler had invested his $2000 life savings in a grocery store on Second Avenue in Manhattan. The number of stores grew; when Butler died, he was worth $30 million, and had more than 1,100 stores, second only to the A & P. He too considered his shops as catering to “the carriage trade”; his locations on Columbus and Amsterdam were meant to serve the families living on Central Park West and west of Broadway.

Mr. Butler owned an estate in Tarrytown, New York, and was neighborly with the Rockefellers. He was also a prominent owner of racehorses, and built the Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers. He made home deliveries from his stores, and when his delivery horses became old, they left the streets to retire to his estate. He established Marymount College in memory of his wife. He made many gifts to the Catholic Church over the years, so many that the Pope awarded him a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory. Throughout his life, even as his fortune grew, he called himself “the Egg and Butter Man.” His son James Butler Jr. was more interested in horse racing than grocery stores, and as the Depression played out in the 1930s, the company sought “reorganization” and then bankruptcy. One lone store was still operating in 1940 in Queens. In October 1940, Butler Jr. died after being thrown from a horse. Mr. Butler’s store pictured here was in Astoria, Queens, but all of the establishments were branded in green and gold exteriors.

James Butler store in Queens, example of how these stores appeared

James Butler store ad

While there were many chain stores, most of the grocers were still independently single store operations. For instance, we find John B. Accietto, an Italian immigrant, with a store at 767 Columbus Avenue. In the 1900 Trow Directory he is listed as a grocer; in the 1900 census, he is listed as a fruit dealer. He is a widower with children, all girls, aged 20, 16 and 14. His 20-year-old daughter has married, and she and her husband, John Persilo, and child, live at 767 Columbus also. This example of a family business appears to be the norm for food purveyors in Bloomingdale.

The Astor Market opened on the SW corner of Broadway and 95th Street in 1915. Vincent Astor was a major property owner on the Upper West Side, inheriting numerous land holdings through family connections to the Apthorp estate, and other acquisitions.  While serving on the city’s Commission on Markets, Mr. Astor decided to build a model market to provide fresh food at lower prices to the neighborhood. The main floor had over 200 square feet of selling space, leased to butchers, greengrocers, and other merchants. A fish market was on the lower floor, where the Thalia space is today. A newspaper description described the Florentine style of the market, with high, arched windows and a great sgaffito frieze on the entire building cornice with the theme of food: “cattle, sheep, ducks, pigs and fish held in composition by garlands of fruit and vegetables.”

The market, in what the newspapers called “a high class apartment district” had clean white tile floors, and white Carrera glass counters.” Meat and poultry was in plate glass cases cooled by frosted coils first cooled by ice machines in the basement. The store had an incinerator that burned all waste and garbage. There was a plan to open a lunchroom in the complex, but no evidence that it happened. However, even with Astor’s subsidy, the market did not last. One resident is quoted in a New York Times article, saying that the new market “was not worth the time and carfare” and she would continue shopping at the stores closer to her home.  Thomas Healy, a successful restaurant owner, bought the site, transformed the market into a restaurant called the Sunken Garden and an indoor skating rink which later became the Symphony Theater, and today, Symphony Space. After he acquired an additional lot south of his facility on West 94th Street, he built Pomander Walk.

Astor Market on Broadway at 94th Street 1915

Opening Day at the Astor Market 1915

Another source, the 1912 real estate map of our neighborhood, notes a few of the businesses in certain buildings, confirming the pattern of small shops in the buildings now covering most of the Bloomingdale area. On the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 98th and 99th Streets, there is a bakery and a carpet store; between 97th and 98th a Chinese laundry and a drugstore on the corner of 98th. Columbus has the same pattern: a bakery, a confectionary store, and a drugstore on the North West corner of 96th.

Confectionary stores were a regular features of the neighborhood. Many also sold ice cream, although that treat was also available from wagons, as it is from trucks today. Sweet shops were often run by women who began by making candy at home and then opening small shops, as these did not require much equipment or capital. Of course ice cream was also a feature of the drug stores, another type of shop to be covered in a future post.  By the 1930s, chain candy shops were developing: Barton’s, Barracini’s, Huyler’s, and Loft’s. In the 1940 telephone directory, a Barracini is listed at 2345 Broadway, and a Barton’s, was located near our neighborhood, at Broadway and 81st Street. A man raised in our neighborhood also remembers one between 96th and 97th on Broadway, probably located there to also serve the patrons of the nearby movie theaters.

Barton’s Candy at Broadway and 81st Street, Library of Congress photo

One of New York’s most famous ice cream makers, James M. Horton, started out in the milk-producing business in Orange County, and then moved into ice cream production. One of his facilities, at 302 Columbus Avenue, at 74th Street, lasted until 1922. The building provides the memory of this company, whose ice cream was served at White House events and glamorous ocean liners.

Horton’s Ice Cream at 302 Columbus Avenue

Thanks to the New-York Historical Society, there is a readable copy of the 1922-23 Trow’s Directory available in digital format. However, there is no business directory in “yellow pages” format. Finding food purveyors in the Bloomingdale area is difficult, as the directory is now a multi-columned, thick book, more like our phone directories of today. The A&P stores which were undoubtedly here are not listed, nor are the other chains named above. Using the name “Academy” and “Riverside,” the area’s telephone exchanges, turned up a few shops, an Academy Delicatessen at 2746 Broadway, a Riverside Lunch Shop at 2566 Broadway, and an Astor Court Fruiterer at 2436 Broadway.

The 1940 telephone directory, online at the New York Public Library, does not have a yellow pages, but numerous Bloomingdale businesses are listed. There is just one Acker Merrall & Condit grocery store, at 2377 Broadway. Gristede’s has seven stores on Amsterdam between 77th and 115th Streets; seven on Columbus, with two at 93rd and 104th Streets, and eleven on Broadway from 75th to 111th Streets, with stores at 99th, 103rd, 108th in our neighborhod.  There is a Winkelmann Brothers grocery store at 2388 Broadway, next door to Reyman’s French Pastry Bakers at 2387.  The A&P stores are listed by their store number in the directory: there are A&Ps at 724 and 768 Amsterdam, 2507, 2732, 2827 and 2886 Broadway, and 727 and 908 Columbus, with nine stores along Columbus in total. This Berenice Abbott photo from the mid-1930s, while taken on the East side, serves as an example of a grocery store window during this period.

Berenice Abbott of an A&P in 1936, Museum of the City of New York


Another source for finding local stores is a 1940 Yearbook from Joan of Arc High School on West 93rd between Columbus and Amsterdam (now a junior high). Many local retailers took small ads in the back of the  book. On Amsterdam Avenue we find Hunters Food Market at 951, Kimker’s Delicatessan at 712, and H. Rudnick at 93rd. On Columbus Avenue, Tony River’s Fancy Fruits and Vegetables is at the corner of 97th Street, Gramercy Market between 96th and 97th Streets, Pfeiffer’s Market with high grade meats and produce at 731, Joseph Schmid offering meats, poultry and fish at 725, and Ralph’s “quality fruits and vegetables” at 711 Columbus. On Broadway, the New Riverside Market with meats, poultry and game, at 2749 Broadway between 105 and 106, Rosmar Butchers at 2603 Broadway between 98th and 99th Streets, and the New American Food Center at 2551, on the southwest corner of 96th Street. The Gristede Brothers placed a general ad representing all their Bloomingdale stores.

Caitlin Hawke, who covers many neighborhood historic spots in her marvelous blog for the 102-103 Block Association, helped identify this old sign from the Hudes Delicatessan, at the northwest corner of Broadway and 103 Street. The sign re-appeared recently when the storefront was under reconstruction. Caitlin quoted Manhattan Mark who comments on the West Side Rag and reports that the Hudes family started their business in the 1930s and lasted into the 1950s. In the 1940 telephone directory, this was B. Hudes & Sons, 2703 Broadway, AC (Academy) 2 4116.

Old delicatessen sign, Broadway at 103 Street

Caitlin’s work also uncovered a Hanscom’s Bakery at Broadway and 103 Street; in the 1940 Phone Directory, there are also Hanscom’s Bakeries on Broadway at 79, 93, 97, and 112 Streets. This Albok photo of a foggy New York Street in the 1930s uses a Hanscom Bakery to set the mood.

Mr. Albok’s photo of a Hanscom Bakery

The New York Public Library has a file of “Tenements and Storefronts” in their digital photo collection, but there is only one photo taken on the Upper West Side, of a butcher shop (with a butter and egg store next door and a delivery truck in the foreground) on Amsterdam Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets. Here it is, as a representative of the 1930s era.


Butcher shop at Amsterdam Avenue 67-68 Streets , New York Public Library photo

As this piece was being written, the 1940s New York City Tax Photos were offline. When they reappear, later this year (2018), there may be another batch of neighborhood photos to add to our work.


Federal censuses available at

New York City maps located at the New York Public Library

Trow’s Directories located at the New York Public Library and the New-York Historical Society

Baics, Gergely. Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy & Geography of Food in New York City 1790-1860. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2016

Smith, Andrew (ed). Savoring Gotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015

Susi, Michael. The Upper West Side. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing,  2009

The New York Times archive

Library of Congress Chronicling America newspapers database.

Museum of the City of New York photographs database.

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New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum

Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in 1863

Summary of Presentation by Dr. William Seraile on February 27, 2018

William Seraile is Professor Emeritus of History at Lehman College of the City University of New York.  He is the author of five books, including  “Angels of Mercy:  White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum.” 

The Colored Orphan Asylum (COA) was founded in 1836 by three Quaker women.   It was sorely needed, since youth of color were excluded from orphanages for white children. The orphanage faced many obstacles throughout its existence including financial panics, fires, diseases and chronic money shortage. Racism led to its complete destruction in the Draft Riots of July 1863, when its building at 43rd and Fifth Avenue was looted and burned by the mob.  The frightened children and staff escaped to the protection of a nearby police precinct and then to Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt Island).

1863 Draft Riots in New York City

Laundry work 1860

For most of its history, the COA typically housed and educated children to about the age of 12.  Older children, 12 to 18, were indentured, mainly to rural areas in New England, New York and New Jersey. Unlike indentured white orphans, indentured black children rarely had the opportunity to further their education by serving as apprentices to skilled laborers.

Children at play 1863


After the Civil War a new COA was built in 1868 at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue.  In 1907 it relocated to Riverdale.  It remained there until 1946, when the COA shifted from a residential institution to an emphasis in foster care and adoption.  The Riverdale site is today the Hebrew Home for the Aged.

By the time it closed in 1946, the COA had provided care for approximately 15,000 children, yet its trustees/managers were reluctant to treat African Americans as equal partners. With the exceptions of James McCune Smith who served as physician for twenty years, and a few teachers or matrons, the colored staff was limited to menial positions.  The first African American trustee was not brought in until 1939 and shortly thereafter the first Jewish trustee. It was also at this time that the trustees started to work with Harlem churches to strengthen their mission of providing for orphaned, neglected and delinquent

Despite its shortcomings, the orphanage providing nurturing, education, lessons in morality and stablity to children who otherwise would have been left on the streets.   After a series of mergers, the COA survives today in the Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services.  A recent merger with Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry has expanded its reach in providing family services.




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Bloomingdale’s Finest Mansion: From Elmwood to Elm Park, 1764-1891

This post covers another one of Bloomingdale’s lost structures. It was written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

When you walk from West 96th to 91st Streets on Columbus Avenue, or walk east from Broadway to Columbus on those streets, you’ll notice you are on a hill.  The crest of the hill on 91st Street, about 100 feet west of Columbus, is the location where, starting in 1764, a colonial mansion stood for 130 years.  Originally, it was surrounded by a 300-acre estate. Over the years, though, the land was whittled back through legacy gifts and real estate sales, as the development of the West Side played out until finally, just the mansion stood, surrounded by a small park. This structure and the land encapsulates the history of our Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is presented here.

In 1764, wealthy merchant Charles Ward Apthorp built what was widely recognized as one of the finest mansions in all of New York City. Like many of his contemporaries, Apthorp purchased land on the west side of Manhattan, no doubt picturing himself as one of the landed gentry of the American colony. He had moved to New York from Boston where his father, Charles Apthorp, was one of New England’s wealthiest merchants, and served as the paymaster and agent for the Royal Army and Navy, furnishing supplies and money to the British forces in Boston and Nova Scotia.  He also imported and sold many kinds of goods, including slaves.  His eighteen children married into many of the other prominent families of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Now in New York, Charles Ward Apthorp married Mary McEvers at Trinity Church in 1755. She was the daughter of John McEvers of Dublin, another successful New York merchant. They had ten children: Charles, James, George, Grizzel (named for her Boston grandmother), Eliza, Susan, Rebecca, Ann, Mary/Maria, and Charlotte; six of them lived to adulthood.

In 1762 and 1763, Charles Ward Apthorp purchased nearly 300 acres in Bloomingdale from two owners, Dennis Hicks and Oliver de Lancey, whose ownership can be traced back to Dutch landowners, starting with Bedlow.  I. N. Phelps Stokes, in his book The Iconography of Manhattan, details the purchases of the Apthorp Farm which was also known as Elmwood, recognizing the beautiful trees surrounding the mansion. The house was finished in the early summer of 1764, located on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

A short drive from the home led to the Bloomingdale Road, then the westside’s main thoroughfare.  The estate also included two lanes that served as shortcuts to neighboring estates, including Apthorp Lane that stretched all the way east through the land we know as Central Park to the Boston Post Road near today’s Fifth Avenue.

The estate was described in a later advertisement:

300 acres of choice rich land, chiefly meadow, …on which there are two very fine orchards of the best fruit …an exceeding good house, elegantly furnished, commanding beautiful prospects of the East and North-Rivers, on the latter of which the estate is bounded. Also, a two-story brick house for an overseer and servants, a wash house, cyder (sic) house and mill, corn crib, a pidgeon (sic) house, well stocked, a very large barn, and hovels for cattle, large stables and coach houses, and every other convenience. About the dwelling house is a very handsome pleasure garden, in the English taste, with good kitchen gardens well furnished with excellent fruit trees of most kinds.

Here is a sketch view of Elmwood:

Apthorp Mansion possibly 1839

Charles Ward Apthorp was one of the prominent Royalists of New York City, serving on the Royal Governor’s Council 1763-1783, through the turbulent years of the American Revolution. After the Revolution, he was charged and convicted of treason, but for reasons not documented, he was permitted to keep his estate, but lost his holdings in Massachusetts and other New England states.

One account of Apthorp describes his flight to the Royal Governor’s ship in June, 1776, when he was summoned before the provincial Congress as a suspected Loyalist. In 1779 he was indicted for treason and the following year his Bloomingdale estate was offered for sale. Nevertheless, he was allowed to return to New York and acquitted of the charges against him.

The Apthorp home in Bloomingdale played a role in the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights. As the British troops moved into Manhattan, the American Patriots moved up the island to the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Under the authorization of the Provincial Council, General Washington took over the mansion as his headquarters before moving uptown to Colonel Roger Morris’ mansion, today called the Morris Jumel mansion. On the evening of September 14, 1776, in the Apthorp drawing room, Washington and his men planned the operation that would send Nathan Hale to spy on the British on Long Island—which then cost him his life.

After the American patriots were pushed further north, the Apthorp home became the headquarters, at various times, of the British Generals Cornwallis, Clinton and Carlton for the duration of the British occupancy of the city, until 1783.

On January 3, 1789, Maria Apthorp’s wedding to Hugh Williamson took place at Elmwood. The family’s connection to the new United States appears to have been fully realized, as she married a delegate from North Carolina to the Congress which was meeting in New York City at that time. Williamson was 58 years old, compared to her 22 years—perhaps prompting James Madison’s remark to a friend that he hoped that this beautiful girl was “pleased with her bargain” and hoped she would “never repent.”  Maria died in the early 1790s, after having two sons, both dying as young men.

Hugh Williamson was both a doctor and a statesman. Older than all of the Apthorp children, he took charge of consolidating their Bloomingdale land under his name, and then paid-off a mortgage on the property. He never remarried, and when he died in 1819, he left the property to his niece Maria, daughter of Charlotte Apthorp, and the wife of Alexander Hamilton’s son.

Charlotte Augusta Apthorp married John Cornelius van den Heuvel, and they built their mansion on a portion of land south of Elmwood. Their mansion later became Burnham’s Hotel (1833) and eventually their land was the site of the Apthorp Apartment House, built in 1908.  Their granddaughter married John Jacob Astor III, thus bringing the Astor family name onto certain property deeds in the neighborhood; the Astor son, William, built the Apthorp.

Yet another Apthorp daughter, Rebecca, appears on early Bloomingdale maps as the owner of some remaining woodland lots totaling 50 acres—her name appears on mid-19th century maps.

Charles Ward Apthorp died in 1797.  In 1799, William Jauncey, a wealthy Englishman, purchased Elmwood and its remaining land. Apthorp Lane became Jauncey Lane. Accounts differ as to whether he was a married man with no children or a bachelor, but his niece, Mary Jane Jauncey (who may have been an adopted child), was destined to inherit his fortune. When she eloped with a Colonel Herman Thorne, her uncle was unhappy, but did not cut off her family. In Jauncey’s final will, he left the Elmwood estate to her son, William Jauncey Thorne, when he became 21 years old, and providing he changed his last name to Jauncey, dropping the Thorne name.

William Jauncey died in 1828;  in 1829 the Thorne family moved to Elmwood. They did not stay long, however, and moved to Paris in 1830 where they lived in lavish style in the leased Hotel Martignon on the rue de Varenne. Their son, William, never made it to his 21st birthday when he would have inherited Elmwood. He died in England at age 19 when he was thrown from a horse while hare-hunting with his Cambridge friends. A second son died while serving in the Mexican-American War; a third son eloped to South America with an Italian opera singer. A daughter ran away with a Frenchman (she later returned home); another daughter ran away to South America to become an opera singer. Still another married a French baron, but had to sue her parents to receive a promised dowry. The Thornes returned to New York in 1846, and in 1849 built a large home at 8 West 16th Street. There is no record found as to how or if they used the Elmwood estate, but retreating to the Bloomingdale countryside was still, no doubt, a popular summer activity.

News accounts of Colonel Thorne covered his ”fortunate marriage” and began to refer to “Colonel Thorne’s Elm Park.” An article about wealthy New Yorkers interested in horse racing discussed the “Elm Park Pleasure Ground Association,” a membership organization that leased the grounds of Elmwood for their track. The newspaper account indicated that the group investigated “antecedents” as part of their membership approval. No person was given access to the track “in Ninetieth Street” unless they were a member, and goes on to report “… these gentlemen, although seen with the habitues of Bloomingdale, form a quite separate class.” When Colonel Thorne died in 1859 the fast horse-racing gentlemen were concerned about the loss of their track, and were investigating moving it to the new Central Park, an early example of New Yorkers finding their space in the new park. (No such racing track was designated.)

On May 4, 1860, The New York Times printed a sad short piece about the auction of “Elm Park” and the end of an era of rural country living in Manhattan. The next day, the Times reported that the “large property belonging to the Jauncey estate, and more recently to the estate of Colonel Thorne, located between Eighty-ninth and Ninety-third Streets and Sixth and Tenth Avenues, and comprising about 500 lots,” was sold at the Merchants Exchange by Anthony J. Bleeckee. There appear to have been various bidders on pieces of the property, although not by name.

Nevertheless, some portion of the land and the old mansion house remained intact. Elm Park became a prominent feature of the Upper West Side neighborhood. In the 1860s it is referred to as “Conrad’s Elm Park.” In the 1860 federal census, a George Conrad, his wife and six children are listed as a household that the census taker labeled “Elm Park Pleasure Grounds and Elm Park Hotel.” The other people listed in the census are “three barkeepers, 3 domestics and 3 laborers.” All are German immigrants. This map of the mid-1860s shows the park’s dimensions and structures within.

Early map of the Westside showing Elm Park from NYPL Map Division

In the Civil War years, Elm Park was referred to in news accounts as the place used by various New York regiments to gather as hundreds of soldiers prepared to head to the South to fight.  Much of the city’s open space was used in this way—Jones’ Wood on the eastside, and numerous sites further downtown. These encampments in Elm Park at various times included the Lincoln Calvary, the New York Mounted Riflemen, and New York’s 29th Regiment, an all-German military unit under Col. A. von Steinwehr.

After the war, Elm Park continued to be used as a picnic ground usually following a military parade. The growing influence of German immigrants offering summer outdoor entertainments with music, dancing and beer-drinking in many places in the city included Elm Park. The Saengerbund, a confederation of German Glee Clubs, met in the city, and had picnics at Elm Park. A group gathered in the Park to watch a balloonist take off—a Frenchman who performed from a trapeze while he sailed out over the Hudson and landed in the water (he was rescued). The Spiritualist Society gathered there and generated numerous news reports, some making fun of this popular post-War activity of calling up the spirits of the departed.

Other accounts of the Apthorp Mansion indicate that it became a saloon and dance hall. Further, its abundant outdoor space could accommodate many thousands of people at summer events.  When the mansion was serving as a hotel, it was said to have a large outdoor platform for dancing at park events. Finally, when the property was sold in 1894 (after the mansion was removed) the owners/heirs were the Bernheimer family, although it was not clear how long they had been the owners. This is the same family that were owners of the Lion Brewery further uptown at Columbus Avenue and 108th Street. There is evidence of Bernheimer ownership of other lots of land close to Elm Park, as noted in real estate transactions reported in the newspapers.

On July 12, 1870, an event occurred at Elm Park that once again put this space at the heart of the city’s history. Several organizations of Protestant Irish Americans that together were part of the Loyal Order of the Orange marched uptown that day to a celebration and picnic at Elm Park. July 12 commemorated the date of the victory of the Battle of the Boyne of William III, the King of England and Prince of Orange, over James II in 1690. Just as we see this phenomenon of “race ascendancy” today, the Orangemen of New York City were in league with the nativist Anglo-Americans who were reacting to increasing immigration of Irish Catholics.

As they marched, the Orangemen passed work crews of Irish laborers laying pipe at 59th Street, and, further along, working on broadening the Boulevard (later named Broadway). They taunted the workers with slurs. The Irishmen gathered, armed with clubs, and followed the marching Protestants, and, when they reached the Park, a riot ensued. Some blamed the New York City Police Department who “withdrew” as they decided their duty had ended when the parade reached the Park. Eight people were killed on this day, and many more wounded.

This 1870 riot sparked an even larger riot in 1871, although not on the West Side. That year, the Tammany government first denied a permit for 1871, keeping their Irish constituents happy, but then succumbed to pressure from the city’s elites and issued the permit.  Historians of the city view this event as one of the key moments that loosened Tammany’s hold on the city government, as the city’s elites had “allowed” Tammany so long as the leaders could keep the immigrants under control. It took more time, but eventually Tammany was broken and a movement arose to take over city government by the ”wisest and best.”

The earlier riot in 1870 appears to have had no effect on the continuing operation of Elm Park. News accounts of the events that took place there began to refer to “Wendel’s Elm Park.” Louis Wendel had become the Park’s manager, and was linked to the management of other city spaces. If the Bernheimers owned the Elm Park space at this time, Wendel may have worked for them. By the 1880s, he had management over Elm Park, Lion Park (near the Lion Brewery), the Wendel Assembly Rooms on West 44th Street,  Schutzen Park in Brooklyn, and the West Side Casino.  When Elm Park was finally sold in the 1890s, a news story mentioned a brewery there, although there is no photo, map, or other reference to determine the existence of that facility.

Wendel was a New York character representing a time in the City’s history when Tammany still ruled. He became an Alderman in 1884 and was caught up in the “Broadway Railroad Steal” when nearly all the City’s Aldermen were said to have taken major bribes for the extension of the surface streetcar service south from Union Square. In a State Senate investigation in 1886, the Aldermen came to be known as “the Boodle Aldermen.” Eventually, some were brought to trial and convicted, but not all of them, and  Wendel escaped this fate.

Long after Elm Park had closed down, in 1907 Wendel was investigated, court martialed, and removed from his position as Captain of a New York Guard unit, the First Battery, based at the armory on West 44th Street next to his “Assembly Rooms.” Wendel was removed for stealing funds. He died in 1914, reported to be ”a broken man” living on a small allowance supplied by his wife.

In 1891, the Apthorp mansion was torn down. It was important enough in the City’s history that The New York Times wrote an “obituary” for the house, describing its history.

The Apthorp and Jauncey estates continued to create property problems in the Bloomingdale neighborhood until 1911 when a settlement was made and described in The New York Times. The little lanes crossing the Apthorp estate, as well as the Bloomingdale Road, running north/south between Amsterdam and the newly-named Broadway became parcels of land to which the heirs to the estates claimed ownership, initiating lawsuits to hold on to their parcels. Some say that these “paper roads” held up development in this West Side neighborhood until all cases were finally cleared.

Here are two photographs of the mansion just before it was demolished in 1891:

Apthorp Mansion before it was demolished

Apthorp Mansion

Bloomingdale’s Apthorp family lives on in New York City history in just a few places. Trinity Church has a family vault where Charles Ward Apthorp and other family members are interred. There is an Apthorp chair at the Metropolitan Museum, in their American collection, although it may be from the Boston branch. And, amazingly, the New York Botanical Garden has included the Apthorp Mansion in their depictions of important New York City buildings in their holiday train display.

Apthorp Mansion displayed in New York Botanical Garden holiday train show



Stokes, I.N. Phelps The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 Volume 6. New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1915-1928

The New York Times archive

Columbia University’s Real Estate Record

New York Public Library’s Digital Collections – maps

Museum of the City of New York’s photo collection

Daytonian blog posts

Library of Congress Chronicling America collection of New York City newspapers

McKenney, Janice E. Women of The Constitution: Wives of the Signers (online at Google Books).



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Bloomingdale’s West 96th Street Was the Focus of the 1925 Solar Eclipse

In this summer of 2017 as we prepare for the solar eclipse on August 21, a recent reference to the 1925 eclipse in The New York Times and the importance of our Bloomingdale neighborhood inspired further research.  This event, known as the Upper Manhattan Eclipse, did not occur in the heat of summer, but on a freezing, cold day: January 24, 1925.

Predictions of the path of a solar eclipse were pretty accurate by 1925, but not perfect.  Ancient societies—including the Babylonians, the Chinese, and the Maya—had developed the ability to predict solar eclipse patterns, but it wasn’t until 1715 that astronomer Sir Edmond Halley made his critical breakthrough, using Isaac Newton’s law of gravity. This achievement enabled predictions of exactly where the eclipse would occur and how long it would last at that point.

Astronomers had predicted that the total solar eclipse in January 1925 would travel across the U.S., and the edge of the “total darkness” would hit the west side of Manhattan around 72nd Street. Everyone north of this edge would experience total darkness, while those south of it would be in the “partial” area, just as all of New York City will be this year.

However, as the 1925 eclipse proceeded, and reached totality at 9:11 AM, the edge turned out to be somewhere between West 96th and West 97th  Streets. Scientists had learned something new and added to their knowledge base. Pundits named it “The West 96th Eclipse.”

There was the usual preparation for this event in 1925 —- the news warned individuals to look at it through tinted glasses, a bit of exposed film, or even a broken piece of dark blue or brown glass. The greatest new efforts appear to have been the need to get up high in an airplane. News reports of the day reported that the 25 airplanes that took off from the Army Air Corps’ Mitchel Field on Long Island.

Another exciting feature of the day was the U.S. Navy’s airship Los Angeles which they brought to Lakehurst, New Jersey, and flew out over Montauk on the morning of the event, loaded with cameras, telescopes, and 42 people. Here’s short film of that event:

Many spectators went up into the city’s skyscrapers, hoping to get a viewing post above ground. The Woolworth building opened their observation deck early. Although it was a Saturday, this was still a workday for many, and even the New York Stock Exchange was open, although with a delayed opening that day. Passengers on ocean liners in the harbor crowded the decks in the cold morning air.

Uptown, students crowded onto the Columbia and City College campuses, and others headed for open spaces in Central and Riverside Parks, and further uptown in Washington Heights. Many people must have been ready to just stay in bed on this Saturday morning, since the temperature was at just nine degrees, and a record-breaking 27 inches of snow had blanketed the city days before. (That record wasn’t broken until the 2011 snowstorm.)

Here is a photo owned by the Mystic Seaport Museum, Rosenfeld Collection; it’s identified as taken in New York City, and probably somewhere north of 96th Street.

1925 Eclipse photo somewhere north of 96th Street


On January 30, 1925, the Jewish Chronicle of Newark printed a thoughtful piece: “The Eclipse From a Moral Point of View” marveling at the work of scientists to gain every possible bit of information from the memorable event, and urging people to respect the precise methods of the scientific spirit in a world where wild rumors, malicious gossip, and subtle propaganda can often replace durable truth—something to remember this year also!

On March 7, 1970, in the mid-afternoon, there was a 96% totality solar eclipse in New York City that West Siders may remember, as many people gathered in Riverside Park to experience it. This one was made especially memorable as it was the first to be broadcast in color. (The first televised in black and white was in 1950.)

West Sider, Carly Simon, may have been inspired by this event when she wrote her hit “You’re so Vain,” singing “you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia/to see a total eclipse of the sun.”


The New York Times archive

Photo posted on

American Museum of Natural History Planetarium blog:

Other newspapers available on






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Dining Out in Bloomingdale

Here is another piece written on places that used to be in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. Thanks go to Chuck Tice and Marjorie Cohen as editors.  All of these blog posts have been moved to the BNHG new website:  We will continue to post in both places.

New York’s City’s restaurant history is a popular topic for many social historians. They have traced New York’s history of famous restaurants from the 1830s Delmonico’s on the corner of Beaver and William Streets, (moving twice as the city grew), to the lobster palaces of Times Square, to the bohemian dining of Greenwich Village. Worked into this panoply is the history of a developing middle class, the creation of social spaces where women could meet outside the home, the development of dining places for the growing office workforce of New York, and the growing acceptance of the food and cooking of the millions of immigrants who came to the city.

This post is a collection of “snippets” about restaurants found while focusing on Broadway from 86th to 110th Streets, with more emphasis north of 96th Street. The popular Automat and Schrafft’s located there already have well-researched general histories. Many old photographs of the city contain images of restaurants. Restaurant information is found in advertisements, appears in historic postcard collections, and in The Real Estate Record and Guide.  Searches through the menu collection of the New York Public Library revealed little for our Bloomingdale neighborhood. In the early twentieth century, there were no “restaurant reviews” as we have today; a restaurant was mentioned only when an incident occurred there, or changed owners, or was sold.

Restaurants as a regular feature on the city blocks of Bloomingdale did not begin until the population grew enough to produce dining patrons. From the earliest days of the Bloomingdale Roadlater the Boulevard, finally becoming Broadwaythere were inns, and they served food, but these were not restaurants in the modern sense with food offered throughout the day and evening, with a number of dishes to choose from. Typically, in an inn, the owner served a single meal at an appointed time, and the eating was communal. Saloons had been around for a long time, but their food was merely an accompaniment to drinking

The Downes Boulevard Hotel was located at Broadway and West 103rd Street. The Jones homestead between 101st and 102nd west of West End Avenue became the Abbey Hotel in 1844, but it only lasted until 1857.  In the 1890s, when the bicycling craze swept New York City, the enthusiastic cyclists streamed up Riverside Drive and Broadway, to a number of  “bicycle gardens” that served them, including Schaaf’s Bicycle Inn at the Boulevard/Broadway and 112th Street.  Some of these became the saloons and dance halls of Little Coney Island (click for previous post) along 110th Street that so irritated the real estate developers.

Downes Boulevard Hotel at Broadway and 103 Street

Downes Boulevard Hotel at Broadway and 103 Street

Cycling near Grant's Tomb NYHS photo

Cycling near Grant’s Tomb NYHS photo

Close to the Bloomingdale neighborhood was the Claremont Inn, which Marjorie Cohen wrote about in an excellent piece published in the West Side RagPeople out for a carriage drive and the cyclists relaxed at the Inn in the 1890s, and then, a little later, automobile touring groups found their way there. The Inn was recommended for summer dining in guidebooks in the 1930s-1940s before its demise in 1951.

Carriages at Claremont Inn 1895

Carriages at Claremont Inn 1895

This photo (below) shows the Colonial Restaurant on Broadway at the southwest corner of West 108th Street.   The photograph is dated circa 1910 which makes sense because the 1902 property map for that corner shows no building; on the 1912 map there is a building taking up about half the block.  The Columbia Spectator for November 1912 had an advertisement for the Colonial Restaurant at Broadway and 85th Street, with a branch at “Broadway near 110th Street. Steaks, chops and seafoods are featured, and the management also extends to the Oxford Lunch at 2546 Broadway near West 96th Street.”

Colonial Restaurant c1910 Broadway at 109 Street

Colonial Restaurant c1910 Broadway at 109 Street

From the earliest days on Morningside Heights, Columbia University students hung out at the Lion Palace on Broadway at 110th Street, which was the local saloon of the Lion Brewery located on Columbus Avenue at 107 to 109 Streets. The Lion Palace evolved into a theater, and then a movie house, the Nemo, by 1916. Another Columbia neighborhood restaurant was Kennelly’s, pictured here. Their ads in the Columbia Spectator ran from 1916 to 1922.

Kennelly's Restaurant Broadway at 111 Street

Kennelly’s Restaurant Broadway at 111 Street

Between 97th and 98th Streets on the west side of Broadway was a well-known German beer garden spot, the Unter den Linden, named for the boulevard in Berlin. Here it is on a 1916 map, showing a lot of empty space around the building, space that served outdoor diners in warmer weather.

1916 Bromley Map showing Unter den linden's location at Broadway and 97 - 98th Street

1916 Bromley Map showing Unter den linden’s location at Broadway and 97 – 98th Street

A 1933 article in The New York Times about New York’s German beer gardens mentions this particular location, as does Peter Salwen in his book Upper West Side Story. Salwen describes the shade trees, small tables and the colored lights overhead: “In May and June when the lindens shed their sweet-scented white blossoms, you could drop in after dinner to enjoy waltzes from the German band in a setting that was almost rural.”  This was also the type of place that attracted the cyclists on Sunday afternoon jaunts. Michael Susi has a postcard view of the Unter den Linden on page 72 of his Upper West Side book. By 1919, however, the Real Estate Record and Guide is reporting the sale of this corner where a 16-story apartment-hotel still stands today.

German and Austrian influence on the neighborhood is also reflected in this photo of Broadway at 104th Street, showing “Old Vienna” and “New Vienna” restaurants. This food was one of the first ethnic cuisines adopted by Americans, which eventually stretched from hot dogs to coffee cake and strudels, and to potato salad. In these early 20th century restaurants, no doubt there was Wiener schnitzel and apfelstrudel on the menu.

Old and new Vienna Restaurants Broadway and 104th Street

Old and new Vienna Restaurants Broadway and 104th Street

Another type of early 20th century restaurant is the tea room, a place where women could find light refreshment, either alone or together. Hard to imagine now, but “proper women” could not appear in a restaurant alone, or even with a female friend, in the early years of the 20th century. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Blatch, sued the Hoffman House in 1907 for refusing to seat a friend and herself. She lost her suit in 1909, and even an attempt by the New York State legislature to end this discrimination failed. Finally, restaurant owners recognized that a new generation of womenmore independent, educated, and earning an income should be accommodated, and they became acceptable customers. But for years, a woman dining alone was advised to “bring a book” lest anyone think she was there for a nefarious reason.

To accommodate women, department stores began to offer tea-room service. The Women’s Exchange Movement, established to help “gentlewomen” who had fallen on hard times, began to serve tea and light lunches at their locations, where women sold their hand-made items, like baby clothes, linens, and jam. The Schrafft’s restaurants, discussed below, grew out of this need to provide safe places for women diners. Here is a tea room in our neighborhood in 1935, on Broadway, between 105th and 106th Streets.

1935 Tea Room on Broadway between 105 and 106 Streets

1935 Tea Room on Broadway between 105 and 106 Streets

Restaurants developed in many of the apartment-hotels that became residential choices on the West Side. The Clendening Hotel, at Amsterdam Avenue and 103rd Street, the Marseilles at Broadway and 103rd Street, the St. George at 102nd Street, and many others had dining rooms for their guests and other customers. In their advertisements, hotels offered the European Plan (accommodation, no food) or the American Plan (room rent with three meals). At the St. George, lunch was priced from 40 cents, and dinner from 60 cents. This one from the West End Hotel on 125th Street is typical of this type of restaurant.

Clendening Hotel

Clendening Hotel

West End Hotel Menu 1

West End Hotel Menu 1

West End Hotel Menu 2

West End Hotel Menu 2


At both the northwest and southwest corners of 100th Street and Broadway there wereand still arerestaurants. The building that houses the Metro Diner today was established in 1871 as the Boulevard House; Peter Doelger bought it in 1894, adding to his line of saloons. For a while it became “Conroy’s”my friend Rich Conroy discovered one of his ancestors had lived upstairs there, Irish-born John Conroy, with his wife and four children. The building has never been landmarked, but it has been altered, and steel-beamed, and it’s a miracle that it still exists.

Old Saloon at Broadway and 100th Street

Old Saloon at Broadway and 100th Street

On the southwest corner, the two-story Carleton Terrace restaurant stood until, in 1923, the 15-story Carleton Terrace Hotel was built, and offered a roof-garden dining spot, another restaurant style of that era. Rooftop dining and dancing was popular in the hot summer days before air conditioning. Michael Susi includes a photo of the Carleton roof in his book on page 72. The Carleton Terrace later became the Whitehall Hotel.

Carleton Terrace at Broadway and 100th Street

Carleton Terrace at Broadway and 100th Street


View of Carleton Terrace and old saloon, photo thanks to Caitlin Hawke

View of Carleton Terrace and old saloon, photo thanks to Caitlin Hawke

Whitehall Hotel Restaurant, photo thanks to Caitlin Hawke

Whitehall Hotel Restaurant, photo thanks to Caitlin Hawke

Another popular restaurant, Archambault’s, was at the southwest corner of Broadway and 102nd Street. The owner, F. A. Archambault, was the “proprietor” of the Hotel Belleclaire at 77th Streetalso the site of a popular roof-garden restaurant. Archambault’s lasted for several years, gaining a newspaper mention in 1913 when Mrs. Strauss’ maid, “melancholic,” tried to jump from the fourth floor of the apartment building that housed the restaurant, bringing all the diners out to the street. Mrs. Strauss hung on to her maid, and she was rescued.  In 1929, William Childs of the Childs-restaurant family bought the restaurant to develop a chain of restaurants patterned after foreign destinations, naming it “Old Algiers.”

The opening of the IRT subway along Broadway in 1904 spurred the growth of the neighborhood. Early immigrants who had settled on the Lower East Side moved to the neighborhood, bringing what one writer called the Lower East Side’s “gift of the Jewish deli.” These food stores and restaurants soon became a popular feature. I could not find one north of 96th Street of the size and reputation of those stores at 86th Street and further south.  The word “delicatessen” was of German origin, and meant a place that served and sold cured meats and sausages. Barney Greengrass, on Amsterdam at 86th Street, with both meat and fish offerings, was established in 1908, and is still there, as is Fine and Shapiro on 72nd Street.  Artie’s at 83rd Street and Broadway is attempting a revival of this style.

Of course the new residents brought the dairy restaurants too. Steinberg’s Dairy Restaurant was on Broadway’s east side between 81st and 82nd; their sign was recently uncovered when the Town Shop moved, causing neighborhood memories to reawaken. But just because I did not find a photo or a mention in our neighborhood north of 96th Street, doesn’t mean one did not then exist.

Steinberg's advertisement

Steinberg’s advertisement

An eating craze that began before the turn of the 20th century was an adaptation of authentic Chinese food: chop suey. I found an 1911 advertisement for a chop suey place in the Columbia neighborhood, and others may have existed on our Bloomingdale blocks.  Much later, when Americans had been introduced to many other Chinese cuisines, our neighborhood became well-known for its Sichuan restaurants.

Much has been written about fast-food dining getting its start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our neighborhood developed three restaurants operating in this mode. At first I wondered why the Automat and Schrafft’s chose their locations, since we are not a commercial neighborhood of offices and big department stores. However, we were an area with a dense population, and had lots of movie theaters between 96th and 110th Streets, including the Nemo, the Olympia, the Midtown, the Stoddard, the Riviera, and the Riverside. Pre- and post-theater dining spots were necessary.

The Automat building on the southeast corner of Broadway and 104th Street is one of our neighborhood landmarks today. Built in 1930, it lasted until 1954. The popular Automats introduced “waiter-less dining,” standardized and predictable food items, and the added attraction of the mechanized offering of food when nickels were put in a slot. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart brought the Swiss-invented, German-manufactured equipment to Philadelphia, and then branched out to New York City in 1912.

When the last Automat closed in 1991 (on Third Avenue at 42nd Street) many nostalgic articles were written. Our Automat at 104th Street had the distinction of being the site of the mysterious deaths of two persons in 1934. A despondent man committed suicide by placing cyanide in a roll, and, after leaving it on a plate at a table to go to the men’s room, a neighborhood woman took the remains and also died. This story has become a cautionary tale, with the lesson of never, ever eating any leftovers in a restaurant.

Automat on Broadway at 104th Street

Automat on Broadway at 104th Street

On the northeast corner of West 104th Street, the Broadway View Hotel was built in the 1920s, replacing the Metropolitan Tabernacle that had been located there. Lost in foreclosure in 1933, the hotel became the Regent, and a Riker’s took the corner store in 1947. This chain of what we would call a coffee shop today had locations all around Manhattan, and even had its own dishes, as pictured.  One in Greenwich Village has been identified as the place Edward Hopper chose to make his famous painting “Nighthawks,” a work of art that has come to represent the loneliness of the large city.

Riker's China

Riker’s China

Our neighborhood Riker’s is best known for hiring ceramicist Michael Spivak to design swirling mosaic abstract murals for its corner columns, an artwork that has (miraculously!) partially lasted to today. The scaffolding currently around the building makes a good photo harder to take today, but here is a portion of the artwork.

Riker's mosaic Broadway at 104th Street Pam Tice photo

Riker’s mosaic Broadway at 104th Street Pam Tice photo

Mosaic detail Broadway at 104 Street, photo by Pam Tice

Mosaic detail Broadway at 104 Street, photo by Pam Tice

Our neighborhood Schrafft’s was located on the ground floor of the apartment building stretching from 107th to 108th Streets on the east side of Broadway, today the space occupied by the Garden of Eden. There was another one at Broadway and 82nd Street, where Barnes and Noble is now located. Schrafft’s began as a candy shop owned by a Bostonian, William G. Schrafft. Frank Shattuck owned a chain of the stores, and it was his sister who suggested providing light lunches for “ladies” and the idea took off, particularly in New York’s shopping districts where there were many lunching (and working) women  who wanted a place to eat where they would be comfortable. The shops were a “retreat” from the bustle of the city, and served predictable comfort food, like creamed chicken and lobster Newburg, but also offered banana splits and ice cream sundaes, as the “special treat” that dining out could provide, and a place to bring a deserving child. All of them had candy counters ready to provide a take-home box of chocolates. They became cultural icons, with The New Yorker providing regular comical snippets “overheard at Schrafft’s.” Even W. H. Auden composed a poem in 1947 “In Schrafft’s.”

Schrafft's at 2786 Broadway, 1930, MCNY photo

Schrafft’s at 2786 Broadway, 1930, MCNY photo

Schrafft's 2786 Broadway, interior, MCNY photo

Schrafft’s 2786 Broadway, interior, MCNY photo

Finally, there was a restaurant called Cecil at the Hotel Narraganset on Broadway at 93rd Street.

Cecil Restaurant Broadway at 94th Street 1924

Cecil Restaurant Broadway at 94th Street 1924

Moving away from Broadway, just a couple of other dining spots in the Bloomingdale neighborhood include:

  • The Campus Restaurant run by the Gossler Brothers, taking advantage of the El’s 104th Street stop, at 900-906 Columbus Avenue. This 1919 postcard shows the wonderful time everyone is having at this neighborhood spot. It’s mentioned numerous times in the 1920s in the Columbia Spectator as a place for student organizations’ dinner meetings.
Postcard of Gossler's, Columbus Avenue and 104 at the El stop

Postcard of Gossler’s, Columbus Avenue and 104 at the El stop

  • Chateau Stanley at 163 West 97th Street where PS 163 is located today.  Before Chateau Stanley was located there in the 1920s, the space was Peter’s Italian Table D’Hote Restaurant in 1910, a place I was glad to find, as Italian dining was another “foreign” food that Americans adopted as restaurants developed early in the twentieth century. Michael Susi has photos of both in his postcard collection book, page 91.
Chateau Stanley on West 97th where PS 163 is today

Chateau Stanley on West 97th where PS 163 is today

Chateau Stanley advertisement

Chateau Stanley advertisement


Michael V. Susi. The Upper West Side. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2009

James Trager. West of Fifth: The Rise and Fall of Manhattan’s West Side. New York: Atheneum, 1987

Peter Salwen. Upper West Side Story, A History and Guide. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989

Michael Lesy and Lisa Stoffer. Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century 1900-1910. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013

Michael and Ariane Batterberry.  On The Town in New York. New York: Routledge, 1999

The New York Times archive

The New Yorker archive

Real Estate Record and Guide available online

The Library of Congress newspaper archive, Chronicling America


Digitized photo and map collections of the New York Public Library

Digitized photo collection of The Museum of the City of New York

Numerous sites found while Googling restaurant names.





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¡Unidad Latina! — Political Activism on the UWS in the 1960s and 70s

On June 7, 2016, the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group presented a program about political activism on the UWS in the 1960s and 70s. The main speaker was Rose Muzio, Professor of Politics at SUNY Old Westbury and author of Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York. The program was rich in detail. The following is a summary of some of that program only based on notes I took during the presentations.  — Jay Hauben

PHOTO BY MAXIMO COLON Reprinted by permission

Reprinted by permission

Rose Muzio, who had been a member of El Comité-MINP which started in the UWS in 1970, began her presentation by describing the harsh conditions in NYC for Black and Latinos in the 1950s and 1960s. She asked why in the 1940s and 1950s did so many Puerto Ricans leave their beautiful island. Her answer was PR is a colony. Mainland companies took much PR agricultural land for manufacturing leading to high unemployment. Local governments encouraged migration so as to deal with the unemployment and discontent. For a while there were manufacturing jobs in NYC. When NYC deindustrialized in the 1960s and 1970s, more than 500,000 jobs were lost. Unemployment among Blacks and Puerto Ricans was two times the overall unemployment rate in NYC. Meanwhile school segregation was increasing and Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans were on average charged higher rents for worse housing than other people.

But this was a time of decolonization and rising expectations around the world. The anti colonial movements, the Cuban Revolution for a more equal society and the anti-VN War movement were inspirational. Resistance groups and movements in the US arose to oppose economic inequality and racism, e.g., the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and in NYC CORE, the Young Lords, student groups at Columbia and CUNY and worker groups. After emerging in 1969 in East Harlem, a branch of the Young Lords advocated for community control and independence for Puerto Rico. In a famous garbage offensive they gathered the garbage that NYC did not remove from East Harlem streets and made a big heap on Third Ave, lighting it on fire. The resulting media coverage raised the profile of Puerto Rican grievances.

Rose Muzio gave this as background for the UWS squatters movement called Operation Move-In* that opposed urban renewal (urban removal). In 1970, after a young boy, Jimmy Santos, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a first-floor apartment on West 106th Street, anger exploded. People broke into buildings that were boarded up waiting for demolition as part of urban renewal and occupied them by moving families in. This was followed by a group of young Puerto Rican and one Dominican softball players occupying a storefront on Columbus Ave near 88th Street. Those young Latinos became El Comité. Over time El Comité transformed into a political group which won the first district-wide bilingual program. That program benefited all the mono-lingual students. El Comité forced Channel 13 which was a public TV station (PBS) to do a series on Latinos in NYC. They did that by breaking into the station while it was on the air and making a statement that was broadcast live. El Comité started a Latina unity organization that gave strength to women to take on many challenges. El Comité formed a Black and Puerto Rican construction workers coalition which forced the city to open its construction jobs across race lines. They issued a bi-weekly newsletter, Unidad Latina, which routinely contained articles addressing local issues as well as the struggle for independence in Puerto Rican. There were also projects that did not succeed but El Comité inspired people and drew them into more collective action.

Rose Muzio ended her presentation by saying El Comité helped her set the foundation for her life and her life’s work and continues to inspire former members and those touched by the group which disbanded in 1986.

Next, Máximo Rafael Colón showed many of the wonderful photographs he took documenting the marches and struggles in the 1960s and beyond. In his photos were many of the activists that went on to be leaders in the movements that emerged. Interesting to me many of them became journalists** like Pablo Guzman and Juan Gonzales. Colón called attention to the Puerto Rican political prisoners over the years and especially Oscar López Rivera who is still in prison after 35 years. Oscar López Rivera committed no violent crime. His crime was called sedition, thinking that there has to be a change, independence for Puerto Rico. Colón called Oscar López Rivera the Nelson Mandela of the Puerto Rican people. In 1971, the Young Lords and El Comité objected to the Puerto Rican Day Parade appearing as a spectacle of Puerto Rican compliance with the institutions of oppression. Some of the photos showed the fight against the Parade Committee. One photo showed activists marching in the parade. Colón also called our attention to the Broadway Local whose members were white youth facing the same contradictions and fighting for progressive change and to the East Harlem Rainbow Coalition which marched in support of the presidential candidacy of Rev Jesse Jackson.

There followed a panel of four women, Carman Martell, Ana Juarbe, Annie Lizardi and Lourdes Garcia who lived and worked in the UWS and were politicized by the movement all around them. Coincidentally two of the women moved from PR to around 101nd St in the early 1950s. One of the women was three years old at the time the other was seven when they arrived from PR. The four women told about how they used their lives for social purposes. The last of the four panelists was Lourdes Garcia who told many details of the economic situation in PR today.

It was clear that the harsh conditions in the UWS in the 1950s and 1960s, the political activism these conditions gave rise to and the struggle for Puerto Rican Independence helped these women and many other people become conscious political actors for the rest of their lives.

*1970 Squatters’ Movement

Factors such as urban renewal, the physical expansion of major institutions like Columbia University, and the lack of sufficient public housing made it very difficult for low-income families to find housing in New York City during the late 1960s. During the summer of 1970, communities responded with a squatter movement which installed over 300 families in vacant apartments across the city. Most of these squatted apartments, frequently slated for demolition in urban renewal areas, were owned by the city or by large institutions. Led by African-American and Latino families, this squatter movement received support from Met Council on Housing in the form of help with repairs, negotiations with landlords and fighting evictions. Squatters succeeded in delaying institutional expansion into Morningside Heights. Some landlords yielded to demands, providing services in squatted apartments and for a few, the right to remain in their new homes. The squatter movement gained significant media coverage, giving exposure to critical housing issues such as urban renewal, property speculation, long-term vacancies and the need for affordable housing.


** Legendary New York City newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin once joked that the Young Lords, a militant Puerto Rican group, produced more great journalists than Columbia University’s journalism school. Several alumnae of the Young Lords did go on to careers as journalists after raising hell in the streets of Spanish Harlem. A few even made their marks in public media.

How a militant Puerto Rican activist group influenced public media

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Little Coney Island on West 110th Street

Here’s another post on something that no longer exists in our Bloomingdale neighborhood. The author, Pam Tice, is a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

For a short period, perhaps less than five years, West 110th Street became an entertainment district known as “Little Coney Island.” The story of its development and demise is a New York story with real estate, politics, the Police Department, vice and corruption, changing social values, and class conflict.

The Upper West Side rapidly developed in the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th century. Very quickly, sparsely-placed wood-frame houses were replaced by brownstones and tenements, and, over time, larger and larger apartment buildings. Development initially followed the new El train, spreading out from the station stops as land was sold and developed.

Up on 110th Street, real estate development proceeded a bit more slowly. Morningside Park was designed, but took a long time to build out, even after Andrew Haswell Green’s money-saving idea to retain the rocky wall between Morningside Heights and the Harlem Plain. On one end of 110 Street, near Central Park, the elevated train’s “suicide curve” provided a thrill to riders as the train moved from Ninth to Eighth Avenues. There was no stop there until 1903; when it did open, the speed of the trains was decreased on the curve, lessening the thrill of the ride.

On the western end of 110th Street, at the Boulevard (now Broadway) the Lion Palace—owned by the Lion Brewery—developed into a popular entertainment “resort,” as these places were called. While it’s unclear as to exactly when the Lion opened, by the end of the century the Palace had a summer roof garden and performers were regularly covered in newspaper entertainment listings. It became a popular spot for the nearby Columbia men. Perhaps because of the Lion’s popularity, other such “resorts” began to develop along West 110th Street, creating the entertainment district. Eventually, the vaudeville house on the SE corner became a movie theater (the Nemo), and finally a supermarket in 1964. The structure was torn down in the early 2000s replaced by an apartment building with stores on the ground floor.

The Dixon family had significant property on West 110th Street, particularly on the block between the Boulevard and Amsterdam. Courtlandt P. Dixon bought land and put up wood-frame houses for German and Irish immigrants; some called the area “Dixonville.”  His son, William P. Dixon, a Yale-educated attorney and socially-connected New Yorker, inherited the various holdings on the west side. The wood-frame structures came to house the saloons and dance halls that became so bothersome to the real estate community. When the sale of some of the Dixon lots took place in 1905, the Real Estate Guide noted that the property had been in the hands of the Dixon family for nearly fifty years.

Here are two images of the block, including one from the Real Estate Record and Guide published just before the structures were removed and replaced by the apartment buildings there today.

No images from the years when the saloons and dance halls were in operation could be located.

wood frame buildings on West 110th

wood frame buildings on West 110th

110th Street wood-frame structures from site

110th Street wood-frame structures from site

Another group of wood-frame structures may also have served the burgeoning entertainment district. The west side had become a popular bicycling area in the 1890s. Cyclists rode up the Boulevard and the other avenues to the Claremont Inn at 124th Street and Riverside. Other places for refreshment developed along Broadway. Peter Salwen included a photo of “William Schaaf’s Bicycle Inn” at the Boulevard and 112th Street in his book, Upper West Side Story.  This same photo, part of the recently digitized Bracklow collection, is labeled there as 120th Street and Broadway. Wherever it was, it is an example of the small shed-like buildings that could have been turned into places of entertainment.

Bicycle Summer Garden from the Bracklow Collection

Bicycle Summer Garden from the Bracklow Collection

As real estate development proceeded on the UWS, property owners formed associations to bring some degree of power to bear upon the city government.  The West Side Association formed early, in 1866, and eventually met with some success in getting the streets cut and utilities developed. The Morningside Park Association pushed to get Morningside Park built. Finally it was finished in the 1890s during the economic recession when public work was needed.  The Association also played a role in getting the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum out of the neighborhood.

In 1899 the Riverside and Morningside Park Association formed to help “the material and social advancement of that portion of the city that lies between 96th and 123rd Streets, and the Hudson, and Central and Morningside Parks”. Professor Burdick of Columbia Law School became the President, and other notable West Side businessmen and churchmen were on the Board.

Morningside Heights was dubbed the “Acropolis” of Manhattan. Planning for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine was started in 1887, and construction commenced in 1892. St. Luke’s Hospital planned their move to the area in 1892. Columbia College announced it would take over the Bloomingdale Asylum site, completing an initial campus plan in 1894 and commencing classes in 1897. Teachers College acquired their site in 1892, and Barnard College in 1895. Women’s Hospital at Amsterdam Avenue and 109th Street was developed 1902-1906. The National Academy of Design bought lots on Amsterdam and 109th Street in the late 1890s.

Shortly after the Cathedral began construction in 1892, West 110th Street from Eighth Avenue to Riverside was renamed Cathedral Parkway in an effort to construct wide roadways leading to the Cathedral. Many continued to call the street “110th Street” much as we still call Avenue of the Americas “Sixth Avenue” today. Both designations were used when the subway under Broadway opened its stop in 1904.

The entertainment district on West 110th Street was in sharp contrast to these lofty institutions. First, the words “Coney Island” were fraught with meaning. That famous Brooklyn beach resort had segmented areas from “low class” to “high class”, with West Brighton becoming known as “Sodom on the Sea” and tolerating all sorts of unconventional behavior. Many entrepreneurs opened “pleasure gardens” —beer halls and concert saloons—where immigrants could enjoy themselves without “bluenose interference.” It was this aspect of Coney Island that people saw on West 110th Street, where a group of entertainment providers flourished.

By the 1890s, New York City’s Protestant reformers were disturbed by the “wickedness” of New York’s entertainment areas, from the Bowery to the Tenderloin. Theaters, gambling dens, and brothels had become a part of New York City’s legend. In a famous sermon at his Madison Square Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Charles Parkhurst described the “disgusting depths of this Tammany-debauched town—rotten with a rottenness that is unspeakable and indescribable.”

Reformers got a new mayor in office, and the state began an investigation that confirmed the role of the police in taking payoffs and allowing illegal activity.  In 1894 the Lexow Committee of the New York State Legislature, operating out of the Tweed Courthouse, exposed the police corruption in fine detail. A police captain named Max F. Schmittberger, in order to avoid prosecution for his own misdeeds in exchange for immunity, described the process of taking bribes, and implicated several higherups. We will meet the captain again on West 110th Street.

1895 brought in Theodore Roosevelt as NYC Police Commissioner, and he made his reputation as a take-charge leader, although with mixed results.  He only stayed for two years before heading to Washington to the McKinley administration. During this time, the state legislature grappled with the issues of Sunday drinking and dancing—not everyone agreed with the esoteric levels of the Reverend Parkhurst’s social purity. The German community wanted to go to beer gardens on Sunday afternoons and listen to Strauss waltzes. The Jewish community wanted to relax on Sundays. Many complained of “the unfairness of shutting down poor men’s recreation while allowing champagne suppers at the Union League Club.” In response, Roosevelt raided Sherry’s, the watering hole of the rich.

The state legislature tried to help Sunday drinkers by enacting a statute that liquor could be served if accompanied by a meal. Then, in 1896, they passed the Raines law that permitted Sunday sales of liquor —but only in hotels, defined as establishments with at least ten rooms. Saloons quickly complied by adding rooms (many already had “backrooms” where alleged illicit activity took place). Soon “Raines Law Hotels” sprang up all over town. Sunday dancing was yet another complicated issue, as the forms of dancing ranged from dancing with strangers in dance halls to dancing at an “academy” where the elders could keep an eye on the young people.

West 110th Street’s Little Coney Island also raised the issue of how young women were behaving during this new era. Young, single working women from the city’s factories, shops and stores wanted to use their freedom to meet others—some young women came to be known as “charity girls”—not sex workers/prostitutes, but young women out on the town, meeting young men, flirting, and getting the guys to pay for drinks. The dance halls provided the place to meet, since women in saloons were all marked as prostitutes. In the early days, the dancing wasn’t as disorderly as it became later. When the arrests were made for dancing on 110th Street, described below, no women were ever listed as arrested.

In Timothy Gilfoyle’s book, City of Eros, he describes the growth of the sex industry on the Upper West Side when theaters and entertainment developed around Columbus Circle. He further describes Little Coney Island as being under the El on 110th Street, but the Bromley Atlas of 1891 shows no buildings between Eighth Avenue, Manhattan Avenue and Columbus Avenue. He names Waldron’s Dance Hall as having one hundred prostitutes working there by midnight on weekends. Waldron’s was at 216 West 110th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Waldron’s played an important part in the 1901-1902 activity described below.

Gilfoyle’s book also displays a map of numerous “houses of prostitution” just south of 110th Street on West 109th and West 108th between Broadway and Central Park.

By 1900, the West Side Association assigned the 110th Street clean-up work to the Riverside and Morningside Park Association.  In June 1900 the Association protested the issue of a “Police Board license” to a Mr. Webber to operate a resort at Broadway at 111th Street, a place Webber said would not be a dance hall, but a summer garden with a small stage for concerts.

The Association is featured in nearly every news article about the raids against “the resorts of ill repute” on West 110th Street that operated on Sundays.

Another group in opposition to Little Coney Island was the Anti-Saloon League. The New York Times featured an article in May 1900 about a meeting at the Methodist Church on West 104th Street, noting that in this district there was only one factory, but 511 saloons with “backroom accompaniments”. The article also notes that the neighborhood has “Little Coney Island and a repetition of the evils of the Tenderloin”.

(Note: the “Tenderloin” refers to the area of Manhattan in the mid-20s along Sixth Avenue where the Captain of the 29th Precinct, as he took his position, commented that he had been having chuck steak since joining the force, but would now have a bit of tenderloin, referring to the payoffs he would now gather.)

One of the entertainment venues on West 110th Street was actually named “Little Coney Island” and may have led to the naming of the whole area. When William Hammerstein of the famous entertainment family died in 1914, his obituary noted that he had established “a small vaudeville resort” on 110th Street known as Little Coney Island. However, a newspaper report of a fire there in 1900 referred to it as Philip Dietrich’s resort.

Even before the Riverside and Morningside Park Association began its focus of getting rid of the resorts on 110th Street, the police were raiding various saloons for “excise tax violations.” A report in The New York Sun in June 1899 noted 45 such raids, 23 of them in Manhattan, and focusing on “Maus’s Lion Palace” on Broadway and 110th Street for “running a bar and a concert together on Sunday.” This article made a distinction between the West 125th Street police station that had responsibility for the north side of 110th Street, and the West 100th Street police station that had responsibility for the south side of the street. Two “resorts” on the north side of the street were the Imperial Garden and the Columbus Casino.

In January 1901, the New York Times reported the arrest of Louis Waldron, the proprietor of Waldron’s Dance Hotel at 216 West 110th Street, on the south side of the street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. The charge was that he had violated the Penal Code which forbid the opening of dance halls on Sundays. The operator of a dance hall at the Southwest corner of Broadway and 110th Street was also arrested—a Mr. Edward Austin.  Their trial was held later that spring, and a Magistrate Zeller concluded that the New York Supreme Court had ruled that dancing was allowed on Sunday if it were pursued as a “pastime” and not as a “show” that people paid to attend. Waldron declared victory!

However, throughout the spring, and until the trial, arrests continued every Sunday at Waldron’s and were reported in the newspapers. Later in the spring, after the decision about dancing, the arrests were focused on serving liquor. The police detectives said that once a patron bought a “meal ticket” that did not satisfy the Raines Law, that liquor could only be served with food. An argument between the police and the operators involved sandwiches, and whether or not they met the definition of “meal.”  There were others around town who placed a brick between two pieces of bread to make fun of the law.

The Riverside and Morningside Park Association employed its own detectives who patrolled the resorts along 110th Street. One report noted a fistfight breaking-out between the private and public forces. Arrests were also made at Rophuro’s Dance Hall at the southwest corner of Broadway and 110th Street, where the building was in violation of building laws, as the hall was classified as a “shed” when the permit was issued.

There were no reports of arrests at the Lion Palace, and rarely at other saloons.  It’s not clear if the focus on Waldron’s had some other motive.

The Association even managed to get a law passed in Albany—named the Bennet Bill for the Assemblyman who introduced it—that “dance halls in a county with over 1.7 million inhabitants would not be lawful if the concert hall is situated within a half mile of any cathedral now in process of erection.” The governor was advised by his Attorney General not to sign it, as it was unconstitutional.

The police work in the spring of 1901 was under the direction of Max F. Schmittberger, the Captain of the Precinct at West 100th Street, located then on the south side of the street near Columbus Avenue. This was the same man who had “squealed” in his testimony to the Lexow Commission in 1894 against the higher-ups in the Department. Many of the New York “reformers” held the Captain up as a man who had seen the error of his ways—indeed a bit of a hero against corruption.  His detractors in the Police Department said that he worked it both ways throughout his career, sometimes taking bribes, sometimes not. When he was promoted to Inspector, Schmittberger faced great criticism as an admittedly former corrupt officer, but he was promoted anyway. Later, in 1906, the police department tried to pursue him for corruption again, after transferring him to Staten Island as a punishment. He was never convicted of any crimes, and, when he died in 1917, he had a magnificent funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Max Schmittberger

Max Schmittberger

While a Democratic Party Tammany-controlled administration was in power from 1897 to 1901, the police appeared willing to work with the “reformers” of the Upper West Side who seemed more interested in their property values than the immorality of Little Coney Island. The Police Commissioner was quoted in March 1901 that he was determined to crush the dance halls at any cost, and was happy with Schmittberger’s Sunday raids. He said he’d received letters from parents who were concerned about their daughters and sons going to the dance halls. Commissioner Murphy was hauled into court himself for his continuing pursuit of Waldron, angering the Magistrate at the West Side Police Court, as to how the police were doing their jobs.

After 1902, all news reports of the raids on 110th Street ceased. The next phase of property development began, and the wooden structures on 110th Street were eventually sold for the increasingly profitable land. By 1910, developers had constructed the solid apartment buildings we still have today.

The Lion Palace continued operation and lasted for many years until movies became a more popular entertainment than vaudeville. When the subway station opened at 110th Street, one of the images considered for its mosaic sign was a beer stein, but the tulip reminiscent of the old Dutch Bloomingdale was chosen instead.

110th Street stop on the Broadway line

110th Street stop on the Broadway line







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Making Music in Bloomingdale

A map of the musical history of Bloomingdale was recently created by Vita Wallace of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. The map is posted here, along with commentary from Vita and photos of a recent BNHG Program that presented the rich heritage of our  musical neighborhood.

THE MAP  (scroll down for Spanish version)






At one point, I was planning to have more explanatory text on the back of my map of musical history in the neighborhood.  Later, I redesigned it to have no back, but instead two “fronts,” one in English and one in Spanish. This made it impossible for me to highlight as many stories as I had originally intended to on the map, and I thought some of you might be interested in reading the draft of the original explanatory text below. It might help you to find your way into the final version of the map, and it also contains a lot of additional details that I enjoyed collecting.

This musical map uses scraps of melody to suggest musical events, musical venues, the homes and habits of musicians, neighbors’ musical memories, and a few elements of the neighborhood soundscape. It would have been impossible to be complete, so I strove instead to give a sense of the variety of musical styles and musical experiences that have occupied, moved, and delighted residents over the last 200 years. How lucky we are to have been a neighborhood of immigrants from many places for so many years! What a marvelous musical legacy we have to share, celebrate, and be inspired by! The cross-streets are represented by musicals staves, the avenues by bar-lines. How to use this map, I leave to your imagination.

Since the establishment of St Michael’s Episcopal Church (99th and Amsterdam) in 1807, churches in our neighborhood have rung the hours and given scope to fine organists (often composers) who organized dozens of choirs (English, German, French, Chinese, Eritrean…). The Cathedral of St John the Divine (110th and Amsterdam) has the oldest organ in the area (built 1906) and has employed some of the most celebrated American organ-improvisers of the past century, making it difficult to guess which one a neighbor remembers accompanying silent films over the summer many years ago. Ascension Catholic Church (107th between Broadway and Amsterdam) still has the case of its 1898 organ, but the works have been rebuilt. Area churches have also presented concerts and served as nurseries for both amateur and professional groups. The Falcons, the Paul Winter Consort, Early Music New York, Pomerium, Florilegium Chamber Choir, Shirei Chesid, Amuse, Westside Opera Society, the New York Piano Academy, Soh Daiko — these and many more were nurtured by our churches.

Unexpected, but a stroke of genius, was Bernardo Palombo’s idea to combine a Spanish language school with concerts featuring musicians from all over the Americas at El Taller Latino Americano, which has been at home at St Michael’s Church as well upstairs in the Automat building at 104th and Broadway during its 36-year history. Long before the Bloomingdale School of Music (founded in 1964 at West End Presbyterian Church, 105th and Amsterdam), the Master Insititute of United Arts  (founded in 1929 at the Master Building, 103rd and Riverside) offered lessons in strings, piano, organ, voice, theory, composition, conducting, even harp; the harp teacher was none other than Carlos Salzedo! The Master Orchestra and Chorus presented substantial and interesting programs. The Equity Library Theatre also produced musicals in the Master Theater from 1943-87. By the way, while churches often double as theaters, The Master Theater turned into a church, as did the Fox Theater (109th and Manhattan Avenue), now Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal.

Audiences enjoyed live orchestras and massive organs at the large, swanky Riverside and Riviera Theatres, 96th and 97th and Broadway (1912-1913). These were on the “subway circuit” for shows that had already played on Broadway (“legit,” vaudeville, and musical comedies). Later they featured burlesque revues and movies.  The Riviera’s organ was built in 1917 and Riverside’s in 1928. Even the smaller movie theaters such as the Rose Theater (102nd and Columbus) and the Park West (98th and Columbus) had organs (both built in 1926). The Park West’s stops included doorbell, horses’ hooves, train whistle, and fire gong (reiterated). Speaking of organs, there were several in grand houses in the neighborhood, including one in the main hall of “Satin Soap” heir David S. Brown (102nd and Riverside) from 1895-1910. And, speaking of the Riverside and the Riviera: what was designed in 1927 as a “comfort station” in the middle of Broadway in front of the two theaters, has become a charming gallery and venue for music run by West Side Arts Coalition.

Life in the Old Community on 99th and 100th Streets between Amsterdam and Central Park West was full of music, with St Jude’s Chapel at its heart. Rev. Floarda Howard was a musician himself and his wife Sadie encouraged children’s choirs during Lent, musical teas, hymn-singing in the garden during the summer (following showings of stereo-opticon slides), musical clubs all year round, even a church orchestra! The atmosphere was heightened by regular dances at the 98-99th St Association/Children’s Aid Society and frequent visits from stars including Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday, whose mother owned a restaurant on 99th Street.

Buskers, outdoor concerts, and music festivals have long enlivened sidewalks, subway stations, parks, community gardens, farmers’ markets, & city streets. Riverside Clay Tennis Association’s Sunset Concerts feature music from all over the world. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players made their debut in Straus Park in the early 1970s. Jazz has become a tradition on the Great Hill in Central Park since the 1990 celebration of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s birthday. Thomas Delaney made an impression playing the blues outside his apartment building in 2005 after a fire kept him and his neighbors from home for months. What a Neighborhood! was founded in 2003 by brother and sister Ishmael and Vita Wallace to celebrate the creative spirit in the area primarily through the music of living local composers. One of their projects, with composer Elizabeth Adams, has been to encourage neighbors to write songs about their blocks (“songlines”) and to sing them as they walk.

Around 1900, “Little Coney Island”(110th and Broadway) had several “concert halls,” one of which was described by the proprietor as “a Summer garden, with a little stage for singing” and by neighbors as a “dancehall… bringing a large number of the worst element of the city to the locality.” Since then, all sorts of music have been presented in the area’s restaurants, clubs, & bars. Peter’s Italian Table d’Hote Restaurant at 163 West 97th Street had a nice dance-floor c. 1910, and so did the “speakeasy” Chateau Shanley, which succeeded it and must have employed excellent musicians since the owner, Will Oakley, was a well-known singer. Perhaps the most famous hotspots were Mikell’s (97th and Columbus), Augie’s, now Smoke (105th and Broadway) and Birdland, which moonlighted on the same block from 1986-96.

Many thanks to the NYC Organ Project, Gary Dennis (of Cinema Treasures and NY Tours by Gary), Michael Susi (author of Postcards of the Upper West Side), the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s collection at the New York Public Library’s Bloomingdale branch, and the members of the group’s planning committee for information and inspiration.

Laurence Goldman, Lois Bellamy, and the Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

Laurence Goldman, Lois Bellamy, and the Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer


The New York Mandolin Orchestra with conductor Jeffrey Ellenberger. Photo by Judy Langer

The New York Mandolin Orchestra with conductor Jeffrey Ellenberger. Photo by Judy Langer

The Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

The Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Photo by Paul Lindberg

The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Photo by Paul Lindberg

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The Home for the Relief of the Destitute Blind

This is another post in a series by Pam Tice, member of the Planning Committee of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, covering buildings that no longer exist in our neighborhood.

New York Home for the Destitute Blind on Amsterdam at 104 Street

New York Home for the Destitute Blind on Amsterdam at 104 Street

From the mid-1880s, this beautiful red brick building stood at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street for more than thirty years, housing blind men and women in The Home for the Relief of Destitute Blind.

This photograph was taken in 1898 by Robert Louis Bracklow (1849-1919), a New York stationer who was also a talented amateur photographer. The photo gives us a sense of what Amsterdam Avenue looked like with its trolley tracks, fancy street lights, and telephone lines above the street. Mr. Bracklow’s extensive collection is posted HERE by the New-York Historical Society. (Warning: there are more than 2000 photos to look at!)

The Society of the same name that built the building had been founded in 1868 by an Episcopal minister, the Reverend Eastburn Benjamin. An 1856 graduate of the Theological Seminary of Virginia, he served as Assistant Minister of St. Ann’s Church for Deaf Mutes in New York from 1864 to 1868.   The Rector of that church was Reverend Thomas Gallaudet, whose son later founded Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. This experience may have given the Reverend Benjamin his interest in establishing an institution to serve the disabled.

New York City had established a residential school, the Institute for the Blind, to educate blind children in the 1830s, possibly modeled on the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. New York’s effort to educate blind children had been spurred on by a philanthropic physician who had removed three blind orphans from a public institution, housed them in a widow’s home, and proceeded to teach them using the materials of raised letters on a page. Braille wasn’t devised until the middle of the century.

The Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind was an effort to deal with the adult blind, whether schooled or not, to provide support and a means to earn a living. At a time when the gulf between abled and disabled people was so great, the fact that blind people could be educated must have been an important step in recognizing them as “worthy” recipients of aid.

Reverend Benjamin’s impetus to form a new charity to deal with a specific social problem came at a time in New York City’s history when industrialization and immigration created an increasing number of poor persons. Although there was some government aid, support came primarily from church-based charities. Reverend Benjamin—perhaps through his experience at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn—appears to have been skilled enough to form a charitable effort that succeeded. Like today’s non-profits, he had to create a funding operation that would sustain the organization.

In May 1868, the Reverend Eastburn Benjamin founded a Manhattan church to serve the blind: the Free Church of the Holy Light. Early advertisements for its Sunday services at the 37th Regiment Armory at Broadway and 37th Street were posted in the New York Herald. In January, 1869, an article about a Home for the Blind appeared in the New York Herald. The article notes that

There is in this city a very large number of persons who are affected with either total or partial blindness, who are thereby precluded from obtaining a livelihood by any other means than at the hand of charity. Many of them eke out a beggarly existence by peddling shoe strings and other trifles in the market places, or with placards on their breasts pitifully invoke the attention of passersby with their monotone, “Please help the blind.” All the State asylums for the blind reject applicants who are upward of thirty years of age, and for these there is no provision. They shrink from entering the county poorhouse; and this class of adult blind is very large, hence a great deal of suffering prevails among them, living in the most noisome cellars and garrets and feeding upon almost any refuse food. They do not need a church specifically devoted to them for worship, but they require physical assistance, and with a view of rendering some aid Rev. Eastburn Benjamin established in April last the Church of the Holy Light, having for its wardens Sylvester R. Comstock, president of the Citizen’s Bank, and Mr. George W.T. Lord and a number of eminent gentlemen as vestrymen. The Church has assumed as its mission the adult blind of New York and vicinity, and Dr. Benjamin leased a house at Second Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street for three years, at $3,500 per year, as a Home for the blind, and it has already upwards of twent-five inmates. Religious belief is no test of admission, and it is intended to introduce some branches of labor at which the inmates can work.

The article finishes with a note on where contributions can be made, to Mr. Lord at 199 Second Avenue, and to Dr. Benjamin at 48 West 37th Street.

As described in this news article, Reverend Benjamin was wise to get two prominent and wealthy New Yorkers involved: Mr. Comstock, a bank president; and Mr. Lord, of the Lord & Taylor retail business. There’s no evidence that Reverend Benjamin came from a moneyed family, nor did his wife Cornelia. When Mr. Comstock died in 1882, his obituary noted that the Reverend Gaudellet gave the burial service, so Reverend Benjamin may have recruited vestrymen from St. Ann’s Church for his charitable efforts for the adult blind. When Mr. Lord died in Paris in 1903, his obituary noted that he was a millionaire, the last son of Samuel Lord who had founded the store and left his sons in charge to return to England with his fortune to establish a 200 acre estate.

One early listing shows the Home for the Destitute Blind at 437 Seventh Avenue. An 1871 New York Episcopal Diocese report notes that the church had established a Home for the Blind in a building at 567 Seventh Avenue where 24 blind people of both sexes were housed and cared for, and noting that there was no other institution like it in the City, so that, if rejected here, blind people would find themselves in the almshouse (then on Blackwell’s Island).

The Reverend Eastburn Benjamin died in 1874, a young man only 38 years old. His Church of the Holy Light appears to have ended; the 1882 Episcopal Diocese report notes that it still existed but held no services. Both the Reverend Benjamin and his wife are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The Benjamin Family grave at Greenwood Cemetery

The Benjamin Family grave at Greenwood Cemetery

The Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind settled into a brownstone at 219 West 14th Street, and was a going concern. An 1877 news article reported that the Home had a “workshop” in operation and was ready to receive orders for mattress repair, mattress making, and chair caning. The female inmates (the word used in the Victorian era for anyone living in such an institution) were able to do “plain sewing and fancy worsted and bead work of various descriptions.” The Home was described as having large and comfortable “sleeping apartments,” and visitors were allowed twice a week. Like other institutions, the Society gave weekly support to “outside” recipients, the term applied to those who did not live in their Home.

In How The Other Half Lives (1890), Jacob A. Riis writes in his chapter on “Pauperism in the Tenements,” a description of the blind beggars of New York:

The blind beggar alone is winked at in New York’s streets, because the authorities do not know what else to do with him. There is no provision for him anywhere after he is old enough to strike out for himself. The annual pittance of thirty or forty dollars which he received from the city serves to keep his landlord in good humor; for the rest his misfortune and his thin disguise of selling pencils on the street corners must provide. Until the city affords him some systematic way of earning his living by work (as Philadelphia has done, for instance) to banish him from the street would be tantamount to sentencing him to death by starvation.

This piece describes the plight of the blind person, providing the charitable impulse that compelled the Protestant Episcopal New Yorkers (and others) who supported the work of the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind.

Although the Board was entirely male, the Society soon had what the newspapers called “Lady Managers.” These were the women who took on the cause, holding sales of goods made by the women “inmates,” organizing theatrical evenings, and spending afternoons reading to the blind. Performing such charitable work was a necessary part of an upper-class woman’s role in the life of the City. As noted in an earlier essay about the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Women, this work outside the family structure gave women organizing skills that were applied to abolitionist work, and then suffrage work.

One “Lady Manager” of special note in the 1880s was Mrs. August Belmont, the daughter of the famous Commander Perry who opened trading ports with Japan in 1857. Mrs. Belmont had married a German Jewish man who had converted to his wife’s Episcopal faith. Their son, the second August Belmont, was behind New York’s subway building in the early part of the 20th century. Both his father and mother died in the 1890s, leaving an estate of $10 million. One news article noted that Mrs. Belmont had left a legacy gift to the Home for the Destitute Blind, but did not state an amount. Another legacy gift was made by Eliza Osgood, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In the mid-1880s, based on news reports, the “Lady Managers” of the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind stepped-up their activities. The Home at 219 West 14th Street was running out of space, and plans were made to build a bigger facility. A news article from 1884 noted that tickets for a theatrical event were available, listing the women who had them for sale, including Mrs. Belmont at 109 Fifth Avenue. The fundraising must have gone well, for in 1886, the new Home opened on the southwest corner of Tenth (later Amsterdam) Avenue and 104th Street.

Kings Handbook 1895

Kings Handbook 1895

Like the Association Residence for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Women across the Avenue, the new Home took advantage of the Elevated train stop at 104th Street and Ninth Avenue. An elementary school had recently opened at the northeast corner of 104th Street and Tenth Avenue.

An article in The Real Estate Record and Guide noted that two rows of houses had been erected on both the north and south sides of 104th Street between Tenth Avenue and The Boulevard (later, Broadway). On the south side, there were three-story brownstones with “drawing, sitting and reception rooms” on the first floor, a kitchen in the rear, a dining room in the basement, and, on the second floor, two bedrooms, each with a salon of its own, with “ample closet room and hot and cold water.” The third floor had four bedrooms, and the home had electric bells throughout for communicating with the servants.

The New York Times 1886 description of the Home for the Relief of the Destitute Blind noted that the new home had space for 100 inmates. “It will be provided with fireproof staircases, bathrooms, a workshop and a chapel. The sexes will be domiciled in opposite sides of the building.” The New York Charities Directory described the Home as taking in “blind and friendless adults of both sexes of good moral character, free from infections or incurable diseases, irrespective of creed.” Here they would find “reasonable comforts, and have facilities for earning their livelihood, making mattresses, re-seating chairs, or doing all kinds of knitting work.”

Blind person weaving

Blind person weaving

The architect for the Home was Frederick Charles Merry who was born in England but had grown up in New Jersey.* He’d also designed the Parish House at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks south on Amsterdam Avenue, which may have been the connection to the Episcopal leaders who chose him to design the Home.

An 1893 listing of the Board of the Society listed men who were active in the Episcopal Church, and the Bishop of the New York Diocese, The Right Reverend Henry C. Potter, is listed as a “visitor” at the Home. The Board members were also professional men, including a banker, an attorney, a judge, and a commercial stationery merchant—not unlike today’s boards of New York’s non-profits.

The 1900 Federal census listing for the Home shows a Matron with overall responsibility, and a Superintendent—also a woman—in charge of the workshop. There are at that time 33 males and 31 female inmates living there. Both men and women are a mix of people born in the United States, most from New York and New Jersey, and about a third are immigrants, with many from Germany and Ireland. Most of the inmates are in their 50s and 60s, although there was one 20 year old male, and two 20 year old women. The female jobs included a cook, a laundress, a seamstress, and five women designated “waitress,” which may refer to over-all maid jobs. Male jobs included an engineer and a watchman.

In the 1910 Federal census, the Home had 98 inmates, demonstrating the need for a larger facility, a project the Board would undertake in just a few years. The overall management remains the same, with a Matron and an Assistant Superintendent, both women, but not the same two as in 1900. There are 16 workers, but now the female jobs are either “waitress,” “chambermaid,” or “servant.” There is a nurse, an engineer, a watchman, a cook, and a laundress. One man is labeled “Useful Man.” All of these staff members are immigrants, with the exception of the engineer and the two women supervising the Home.

Between this 1910 census showing the Home at full capacity and the fall of 1916, the Society for the Destitute Blind built a new Home in the Bronx. The Society purchased about twenty lots bounded by the Grand Concourse, Kingsbridge Road, Croton Avenue and 193rd Street. The red-brick somewhat Colonial structure was designed by architects M.L. and H.G. Emery. Newspapers reported that the Society would spend $400,000 to build the new facility. The expected opening was to be in the spring of 1917.

Not long after the old Home emptied out, the property was sold and the building taken down. Thanks to my two colleagues on the Planning Committee of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, Gil Tauber and Jim Mackin, we know that a building permit was issued in 1919 for the structure that was built in 1921 and still with us today.

1921 Real Estate Map

1921 Real Estate Map

1916 Real Estate Map

1916 Real Estate Map






The Home for the Destitute Blind operated for many years at its Bronx location, which became 2641 Grand Concourse. In 1969, the Society for the Destitute Blind merged with the New York Infirmary, whose origins were Elizabeth Blackwell’s Infirmary for Destitute Women and Children. That institution became the Beekman Downtown Hospital, and today operates as New York-Presbyterian Downtown Hospital. One contemporary directory has a listing for the Society for the Destitute Blind at 500 Greenwich Street, but that location houses a program called “Visions,” which provides services for the blind and visually impaired at various locations in the New York City area.

Today, the Society’s building on the Grand Concourse is the home of Public School 246, the Poe School.

PS 246 on the Grand Concourse

PS 246 on the Grand Concourse

*Thanks to Jim Mackin of the BNHG Planning Committee for finding Mr. Merry.


The New York Times archive, online

Newspaper archive at

New York Episcopal Diocese reports, found online

Federal census online at

Real Estate Record and Guide online at Columbia University.

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