Tag Archives: Books About New York City

New York’s Chinatown Described In 1898

Joss Houses, Chinese Restaurants and Opium Smoking

Chinatown 1896 looking at 22 Mott Street

Bing Chung Importers (near left) in the heart of Chinatown at 22 Mott Street in 1896

The great thing about reading old guidebooks to New York City is that you can see the world through contemporary eyes. This usually means all foreigners were viewed as curiosities with their exotic customs and provincial ways.

In 1897 the Chinese population in New York City was only 7,000 – almost all living in Chinatown centered around Mott Street. In 2015, New York City’s Chinese population is now over 500,000 people spread throughout the five boroughs.

The guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This portion is called “A Ramble At Night”, and the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. such as Little Italy and The Bowery. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Chinatown.  Continue reading

Part 2 – An Interview With Avery Corman “My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir”

Avery Corman Talks About: Dating, Restaurants, High School in The Bronx, The Advertising World, Getting Published and Having His Books Adapted To Film

We continue our interview with Avery Corman, author of the new book My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir (Barricade Books) 2014, and his story of growing up in the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s.

Divided into 5 parts the first two parts of the interview can be seen here.

In part 3 Avery Corman discusses dating, blind dates, sex, going to the movies, the differences between eating out and restaurants, dessert havens like Krum’s, Addie Vallins and Jahn’s and the coming of television.

Part 4 Avery Corman recalls his high school years at DeWitt Clinton High School and his decision to go to New York University. Upon graduating Continue reading

An Interview With Avery Corman “My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir”

Avery Corman, Author of Kramer vs. Kramer, Talks About His Latest Book: My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir

My Old Neighborhood RememberedThe neighborhood is the Bronx. The time is World War II and the post war years. And the writer is Avery Corman. His newest book My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir (2014) Barricade Books, is his first non-fiction book and is filled with wonderful recollections of growing up.

After graduating college Corman was working on the fringes of advertising and with the encouragement of a friend, Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns; I’m Not Rappaport; etc), he took a stab at writing a book. That effort was published as Oh God! A Novel (1971). After that hurdle Corman never looked back and he became a full-time novelist. Oh God! was eventually made into a very popular movie in 1977 starring George Burns and John Denver.

Some of Corman’s other acclaimed novels include The Bust-Out King (1977), The Old Neighborhood (1980); 50 (1987); Prized Possessions (1991); The Boyfriend from Hell (2006) and his most famous work, Kramer vs. Kramer (1977) which was adapted into a movie in 1979 and was the winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Avery Corman’s success must partially stem from his middle-class upbringing in the Fordham section of the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s, where he admits he was not the best student when it came to math and science, but did well in the humanities and was surrounded by a loving, extended family.

My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir is more a series of vignettes rather than a straight autobiography and that style comes off well. Corman shares his memories of childhood during World War II up until he becomes a successful author in the late 1960’s. He paints beautiful word pictures, sometimes tinged with sadness, of growing up in a wondrous place that no longer exists. Most of the stories offer short bursts of family life, games, food, education, sports and all the things that contributed to making the Bronx a special place to grow up in.

Corman’s stories resonate with a tender glow of friendships, family and the feeling that neighborhoods were once really neighborhoods, where the familiarity of rituals, people and places were ingrained in the surroundings.

Here are parts one and two of an exclusive interview with Avery Corman.

Part I, Avery Corman talks about what made the Bronx a special place during the war. His unique living situation and school life.

In part II Corman Continue reading

Things You Should Know If Visiting New York City In 1873

Thousands of children are imported from Italy each year to turn them into organ-grinders and street beggars.

12 Helpful Hints And Notes From 1873

Standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

A tourist standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

From the wordily titled – Wood’s Illustrated Handbook To New York and Environs: A Guide For The Traveller or Resident With Minute Instructions For Seeing The Metropolis In One or More Days Together With Numerous Valuable Hints To Visitors On Nearly Every Topic That Arises Upon The Subject of Sight-Seeing, G.W. Carleton Publishers, 1873, we learn surprising things about New York City.

If you lost something of value in public there was an excellent chance that it would be returned to you.

Saturday was the fashionable day for ladies to attend public entertainments – alone!

Wood’s Handbook’s aim was to point out interesting things about New York City without preaching to the reader.

As the guidebook says;

We think the sight-seer may now be safely left with the “Handbook ” to the guidance of the Index and Map and to his own inclinations and judgment.

He will speedily discover that our object in the preparation of this volume has been not to confuse and weary him by stale remarks and hackneyed observations about this or that, but to put him in a position to see, and admire, and criticize from his own stand-point of taste and opinion. We think the sight-seer requires ready hints, not stupid essays; and if we conduct him to a remarkable locality or a well-known structure, he will not care to have us stand perpetually at his elbow telling him what to admire, and what he ought not to be pleased with.

Since the book contains no “hackneyed observations,” the section called “helpful hints” are what we thought were worth highlighting rather than the sights to be seen.

From among the many listed, we have culled, a dozen of the helpful hints for visiting New York:

1- A GLASS OF BRANDY, in an emergency, can be obtained at any apothecary. No wines, ales, or liquors are permitted to be sold in New York at any bar on Sunday. The guests of a hotel can be served with them, however, at table or in their rooms.

2- ORGAN-GRINDERS and STREET-BEGGARS — Thousands of children are annually exported from Italy to the United States for the purpose of making them organ-grinders and street-beggars, of whom a multiplicity are to be seen in New York. A bill has been brought before the Italian Parliament, designed to put a stop to this disgraceful traffic in children. It punishes with five years’ imprisonment all persons exporting children under twelve years of age to foreign countries, under any pretext. Continue reading

Book Review – Yorkville Twins

Twins Grow Up In An Exciting, Post-WWII New York City

Yorkville twins coverIf there were more books like Yorkville Twins we would have a clearer picture and better understanding of what it was like for the everyday existence of ordinary people living in Manhattan in post-war New York City. Twins Joseph G. Gindele and John F. Gindele, weave funny, touching and poignant stories of growing up in Yorkville on the upper east side of Manhattan from 1944-1962 with their three siblings and immigrant parents.

Unlike many New York memoirs written by famous or infamous personages who lay their memories of privileged upbringings or Dickensian struggles in print, the Gindele’s recount the daily experiences of middle class family life in a New York that has now largely vanished. This is the New York of cobblestone paved streets where the milkman and the iceman made deliveries with horse drawn wagons. Pushcarts sold vegetables and kids played with erector and chemistry sets and took the time to cut out the backs of cereal boxes and  redeem them in the mail for prizes. Continue reading

Historic List Of Every Hotel In Manhattan In 1964

All The Hotels In Manhattan With Addresses and Telephone Numbers From 50 Years Ago

New York Guidebook John KouwenhovenFrom one of the best (and for some reason uncommon) guidebooks to New York City ever published, The New York Guidebook edited by John A. Kouwenhoven (Dell) 1964, comes this useful list of every hotel in Manhattan. We should clarify “every” with the word “approved” hotel and motel. In other words, the flop houses on The Bowery or other squalid hotels did not make the final cut.

The New York Guidebook was published with the 1964 New York World’s Fair visitor in mind as there is a special section devoted to it.

All together there are 183 hotels listed in the book. If you are wondering about the prices, they are not listed. But by checking another pamphlet from the time I discovered The Plaza Hotel was charging from $20 – $34 per night for a double room, while The Madison Square Hotel was charging $7 – $8 per night for a double.

You will note that all the telephone numbers begin with the letter prefix’s such as GR for Gramercy, BU for Butterfield, CI for Circle and RH for Rhinelander. This was because the telephone exchange corresponded with the neighborhood a person or business was located in.  It is a much more picturesque way of assigning a phone number and made remembering the number much easier. PEnnsylvania 6-5000 anybody?

What is also interesting to notice is how many of these hotels are still in existence today and how many which had been in business for such a long time have now vanished.

This is presented as a research tool, but for many the list will bring up a wisp of nostalgia when you see the names Hotel Astor, The Drake, Biltmore and Savoy. I wish there was a list like this available online for every decade in New York City from the 1800’s and on.

So here is our online contribution to researchers or those who are just curious.

Hotels of Manhattan –  1964:

Abbey Hotel, 151 W. 51st St., N. Y. 19, N. Y., (CI 6-9400)

Aberdeen Hotel, 17 W. 32nd St., N. Y. 1, N. Y., (PE 6-1600)

Adams Hotel, 2 E. 86th St., N. Y. 28, N. Y., (RH 4-1800)

Alamac Hotel, 71st St. & Broadway, N. Y. 23, N. Y., (EN 2-5000)

Albert Hotel, 23 E. 10th St., N. Y. 3, N. Y., (OR 7-0100)

Alden Hotel, 225 Central Park W., N. Y. 24, N. Y., (TR 3-7300)

Algonquin Hotel, 59 W. 44th St., N. Y. 36, N. Y., (MU 7-4400) Continue reading

7 Old Ads Of New York Businesses From 1874

How Macy’s, Tiffany & Co. And Other New York Firms Advertised Their Businesses In 1874

Macy's Ad 1874 The 1874 book New York Past and Present by Charles Edwin Prescott (Mercantile Publishing) contains interesting advertising which provides a look at how various companies sold their wares.

Some companies or the buildings they occupied in 1874 are still here today, other companies vanished long ago without a trace and are completely forgotten.

Click on any advertisement to enlarge.

R. H. Macy was down on 14th Street at the corner of Sixth Avenue. They had a collection of buildings joined together on 14th Street as the company kept growing throughout the late 1800’s. They moved to their Herald Square location in 1902. I remember up until the 1980’s looking up at some of the buildings on 14th Street and still being able to see the Macy’s red star emblazoned on the facades of a few buildings.

In 1874 Macy’s top line for advertising was that they were “importers and dealers of embroideries and lace goods.” The rest of the ad goes on to describe carrying goods:”various ladies’, gents’ and childrens’ furnishing goods,” “white goods,” “fancy goods” and “kid gloves”

Colton Dental Ad 1874The advertisement for the Colton Dental Association located at 19 Cooper Institute says they originated the use of “laughing gas for the painless extraction of teeth.” Who knew?

In the 19th century, people were really scared of the dentist because it was generally a painful experience. The interesting part of the ad: “77,228 patients without a failure or an accident.”

Zero Refrigerator Ad 1874Seeing the word “refrigerator” in an 1874 ad may cause you to do a double take. But this is not a modern refrigeration system advertised by Alex M. Lesley, the manufacturer of the Zero Refrigerator with offices located at 224 -226 West 23rd Street. The Zero Refrigerator was merely an icebox with “water, wine and milk cooler.” Mr. Lesley simply says the Zero “is the best food and ice keeper in the world.” The world’s first refrigerator was built in 1834. Refrigerators for home use didn’t come into existence until 1913.    Continue reading

150th Anniversary Of The New York City Draft Riots

July 13, 1863 The Civil War Draft Riots Begin + Related Book Recommendations

"The Battle in Second Avenue" from John Shea's 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

“The Battle in Second Avenue” from John Shea’s 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

If you’ve watched Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film The Gangs of New York, you saw a vivid depiction of what the Civil War Draft Riots may have looked like. In reality the tumult was probably a lot worse than what was portrayed on the screen. It was the most violent civil disorder in 19th century American history.

Protesting the conscription act, mobs of citizens went on a multi-day rampage of killing and looting.  The riots were quelled after four or five days. The estimated number of people killed was 105. The number of injuries was in the hundreds.

In a November 26, 1938 New Yorker story, journalist Meyer Berger wrote about combing through the original blotters at the West Forty-Seventh Street Police Station. Berger came across the station’s last riot related arrest which occurred on July 30, 1863.  Fergus Brennan, 35 was charged with being a leader of the rioters. He was held on $2,000 bail by Justice Kelly.

There are several books which cover the draft riots in detail. Among the best are: July 1863 by Irving Werstein (Julian Messner, 1957); The New York City Draft Riots by Iver Bernstein (Oxford University Press, 1990); The Second Rebellion by James McCague (Dial Press, 1968); The Devil’s Own Work The Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 by Barnet Schecter (Walker & Co., 2006) and The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 by Adrian Cook (University of Kentucky, 1974).

Part 5 Vintage New York City Books With Great Art Deco Dust Jackets

The Art of The Book #5 – New York City Deco Dust Jackets From The 20′s & 30′s

As we complete our look at New York City books from 80+ years ago, some of these dust jackets incorporate photography into their covers which the other dust jackets we have featured do not. (click on any photo to enlarge)

Art Deco dj Portrait of New YorkPortrait Of New York by Felix Riesenberg & Alexander Alland, New York: Macmillan, 1939 dj illustrator, Alexander Alland

Felix Riesnberg (1879-1939) was a civil engineer and master mariner. He was a polar explorer and wrote numerous books with nautical themes. Portrait of New York ventures among the populace and is an accurate description of the city and its people.

Alexander Alland (1902-1989) was a master photographer and the book shows a small sample of his immense talents. Continue reading

Part 4 Vintage New York City Books With Great Art Deco Dust Jackets

The Art of The Book #4 – New York City Deco Dust Jackets From The 20′s & 30′s

Continuing our look at the those great New York City books from 80 years ago, here are more great dust jacket covers. (click on any photo to enlarge)

Art Deco dj Hacking New YorkHacking New York by Robert Hazard, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930 dj illustrator, unknown

The first book of its kind – anecdotes of a New York taxi driver. Even back then the meter could be rigged and Hazard explains how it was done. The dust jacket is gorgeous and unfortunately the artist is unattributed. Continue reading