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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The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

This post is written by local historian Jim Mackin based on his presentation for the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History group on November 16, 2015. The topic covers two of our themes: the medical history of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, and another building that (almost) is no longer in existence.

Jim Mackin is a member of the BNHG’s Planning Committee, presenting popular presentations on behalf of the group, as well as leading monthly neighborhood history walking tours.

It all began in 1769. Two students were graduating with medical degrees from King’s College. Twenty-eight-year old Dr. Samuel Bard gave the commencement speech that so moved city leaders that enough funds were pledged to establish a hospital. In 1776, New York Hospital became the 3rd oldest hospital when it opened just in time to treat some rag-tag colonials wounded by shot from British men-of-war ships moving up the Hudson.

Mentally ill patients were treated from the very beginning of the hospital along with all other patients. But the number of mentally ill patients was rising greatly. In 1802 a committee was formed to consider an addition to the building, and any other planning, to accommodate the increase of what were the called “lunatics.” But more radical action was taken by the establishment of a separate and new department in the hospital to accommodate mentally ill patients, and the construction of a separate and new asylum building in 1808. This asylum of 80 beds was the only one of its kind in New York State.

New approaches to treatment of the mentally ill by Dr. Pinel in Paris and William Tuke who established the Retreat for the Insane in York, England. Patients were to be no longer kept in seclusion, let alone in chains. Treatment was becoming understood as “moral” instead of “medical”. The changes had sweeping implications: patients were “visited” and physical activity for patients was encouraged.

A committee consisting of Thomas Eddy, John R Murray, John Aspinwall, Thomas Buckley, Cadwallader Colden, and Peter A Jay decided on a site in Bloomingdale for a new and separate institution for the treatment of the mentally ill. They purchased land from Gerald DePeyster on what is now where Columbia University resides in Morningside Heights. The cornerstone for the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was laid on May 7th, 1818, and the building was officially opened on June 1st, 1821. This is how it appeared on the early Randel Farm Maps (1818-1820):

Randal Farm Map of 1818-1820 showing The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

Randal Farm Map of 1818-1820 showing The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

The building was made mostly of limestone and was 60 ft. wide and 211 ft. long. That would make it as long as say from 103rd to 104th St. By 1824, there were 120 patients.

In 1829, a building was erected 117 ft. northwest of the main building to house noisy and violent men. The building was made of brick, 57 by 32 ft., 3 stories high, with 33 rooms, and iron bars on the windows. A similar building for noisy and violent female patients was erected in 1837. Here is an image of how the Asylum looked in 1834:

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1834

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1834

In 1834 when there were 134 patients, 38 acres southeast of the grounds were sold (for $24,755) to the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum. In 1839, “pauper patients” in the Bloomingdale Asylum were moved to the new Lunatic Asylum that was opened by the City on Blackwell’s Island, today called Roosevelt Island. A Superintendent and a Matron administered the Asylum. The Asylum also had a resident physician from the beginning in 1821. By 1848, and for $75 a year, Croton Water came to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum.

In 1843, Dorothea Dix visited the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. In 1851, she visited the BIA again, this time rendering her comments to the Board of Governors. From this, some $52,000 was raised to build two additions to the facilities that separately housed the noisy and violent men and women. They were each two stories high and 100 ft long and housed about 150 patients. In 1862, additional funds expanded the asylum further and connected the buildings into a wing-type design. In response to a point made by Miss Dix about a noisy engine and laundry, a separate 3-story building, 75 ft. by 40 ft., was built for laundry and as a residence for domestics. In 1875, pumping water from wells was ended with a direct connection to the Croton water supply that ran down present Amsterdam Avenue. Also in 1875, a conservatory of brick, wood, and glass, containing a plant house, aviary and aquarium was erected.

On September 16, 1876, as many as 10,000 people were estimated to have congregated to Bloomingdale Heights to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Harlem Heights.

In 1880, the BIA site was given consideration, along with another site in Inwood and another site at Port Morris in the Bronx, for the 1883 World’s Fair Exhibition that would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Revolutionary War (Treaty of Paris). Here is an image of the proposed plan:

Plan for the 1883 World's Fair site in Morningside Heights

Plan for the 1883 World’s Fair site in Morningside Heights

In 1880, the $130,000 John C. Green Memorial Building for female patients was opened with a donation from his widow. John C. Green made his fortune in the China trade, and he gave much of it to Princeton University and the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The Green building was attached to the main building on the west side. When Columbia University moved to the site in 1897, this building was renovated and used by Columbia as “College Hall.” Here is a photograph of the Green Building whose architect was Ralph Townsend:

John C. Green Memorial Building circa 1890

John C. Green Memorial Building circa 1890

Ralph Townsend was also the architect of the Macy Villa that survives to this day.

Columbia University has used the Macy Villa in various capacities with the names of Buell Hall, and Maison Francaise. Trustee and donor, William H. Macy, funded it for use by wealthy male patients. William H. Macy was a cousin to R. H. (Rowland Howland) Macy of department store fame and he made his fortune in oil and becoming part of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Here is an early photograph of the Macy Villa:

Macy Villa circa 1890

Macy Villa circa 1890

As early as the 1860s various factors compelled the trustees of New York Hospital to consider moving the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. In the late 1860s they purchased nearly 300 acres in White Plains and established a farm facility for patients. Some serious though was given to moving New York Hospital from its location on lower Broadway to the Bloomingdale site. In 1889, the Asylum began selling property to finance a complete move to their White Plains property. They sold lots that were between 112th and 114th Streets and between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. Here is a map of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891:

Map of The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891

Map of The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891

In 1892, the Asylum sold its land between 116th and 120th Streets to Columbia University. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been Columbia’s president (1948-1953), used his influence to have 116th St between Amsterdam and Broadway closed to traffic and bricked over to commemorate CU’s bicentennial.

When the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum moved to White Plains, the street on which it was located then and now was named Bloomingdale Road. Very recently, a Bloomingdale’s department store opened on Bloomingdale Road.

Here is the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom):

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom)

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom)


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