Tag Archives: Harlem

Old New York In Postcards #15

Postcard Views of 125th Street – The Heart of Harlem 1905-1910

A dreamy view of 125th Street looking east from the elevated station circa 1910

A dreamy colored sky hangs over 125th Street looking east from 8th Avenue circa 1910

What was 125th Street like at the turn of the 20th century? It was the commercial center of a genteel neighborhood, the heart of Harlem. Restaurants, hotels, businesses and entertainment venues lined the prosperous street. 1900 census data shows the area was white with almost no blacks living around the surrounding streets. Residents around the area were primarily Jewish, Italian, German or WASP.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

By 1910, things were changing and blacks now made up around 10 percent of Harlem’s population.  That gradual change occurred after real estate speculators built apartments when  the subway was being constructed between 1900 and 1904. The anticipated housing boom was a bust and these buildings were slow to fill with white tenants. A shrewd black real estate manager and developer Philip Payton Jr. was instrumental in changing the demographics of Harlem starting at 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue around 1905. Payton seized the opportunity in filling new and vacant buildings with black families. Soon other surrounding blocks were attracting black families.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor's sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor’s sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

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The Woman Who Almost Killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Story Of Izola Ware Curry and The Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arrest Ms Curry stabbed Martin Luther King 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King’s attacker being booked

As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day we’ll recount a story many people are not familiar with.

It’s a forgotten story in which the Civil Rights movement narrowly escaped a crippling blow in 1958.  It’s also the story of the woman who tried to be an assassin and failed and is now very old, free, and living a mostly anonymous life here in New York City.

Ten years before being cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came within a fraction of an inch of losing his life in an assassination attempt in New York City.

At 3:30 pm on September 20, 1958 Dr. King was in Harlem on the ground floor of  Blumstein’s Department store at 230 West 125th Street signing copies of his new book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. With about 20 people on line, a 42 year-old woman, Izola Ware Curry burst through the line, asking Dr. King if he was in fact Martin Luther King. When King affirmed he was, Curry said either “Why do you annoy me” or “I’ve been after you for six years,” and opened her purse, took out a letter opener, closed her eyes and suddenly plunged the steel blade into his left chest.

The stunned Dr. King remained seated in his chair with the blade buried deep into his chest. Curry tried to leave the store but was seized quickly by those standing near Dr. King and held for the police. It was later discovered Curry also had an automatic handgun hidden in her bra.

At the book signing there was no police protection for Dr. King and the first police officers who responded to the scene, Al Howard and Phil Romano, were nearby in their police car when they received a report of a disturbance at Blumstein’s. They arrived to see King sitting in a chair with the steel letter opener protruding from his chest. Officer Howard told King, “Don’t sneeze, don’t even speak.”

Officer’s Howard and Romano escorted Dr. King, still in the chair, down to an ambulance and rushed him to Harlem Hospital. After waiting for the proper surgical team to arrive to perform the delicate operation, the Chief of Surgery Aubre Maynard attempted to pull out the letter opener, but cut his glove on the blade. At 6:30 pm Dr. King underwent a two and a quarter hour operation. A surgical clamp was finally used to pull out the blade.

After the surgery Dr. King was listed in critical condition. He contracted pneumonia while convalescing, but recovered completely and was released from the hospital two weeks after the attack.

In his posthumously published autobiography King wrote, “Days later,when I was well enough to talk with Dr. Aubre Maynard, the chief of the surgeons who performed the delicate, dangerous operation, I learned the reason for the long delay that preceded surgery. He told me that the razor tip of the instrument had been touching my aorta and that my whole chest had to be opened to extract it. ‘If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting,’ Dr. Maynard said, ‘your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.'” Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #30

Heat Waves In New York And Children Cooling Off

NYC Kids Playing at Hydrant

As New York City endures a heat wave this week, realize that for the majority of the 20th century there was virtually no air conditioning in most homes. The streets provided the easiest and most accessible way for children to cool off.

In New York, it is only recently that a heat wave has been defined as at least three straight days with temperatures reaching 90 degrees or more. Who decided this I do not know. Every region of the world has their own definition of what comprises a heat wave. Years ago, any sustained combination of high heat and humidity used to qualify as a heat wave.

This undated photograph above from the mid-1940’s shows city children on a Manhattan street playing and wallowing in the water. I like the fact that some of the people are looking directly at the photographer who is perched high above the street capturing the scene.

Cooling off Harlem 1933

This photo shows a Harlem street in 1933 with children gathering around a center stand sprinkler connected by a hose to the fire hydrant.

A four day heat wave in New York City that began June 7, ended on June 10, 1933 with a violent thunderstorm which dropped the temperature down to 86. The day before, the thermometer in the city reached the mid 90’s and reportedly hit 120 degrees in Hammonton, NJ, wilting strawberries right on the stem.

Joe Funranolla and Ray Bardini beat the heat by diving into the river July 22 1955

As unthinkable as it is now, for decades up until the 1970’s, to cool off many children would swim in the polluted East and Hudson Rivers. With the FDR Drive and the United Nations Secretariat Building in the background Joe Funranolla and Ray Bardini beat the heat by diving into the East River July 22, 1955. The temperature hit 96 that day.

It was the eighth day in July 1955 that the mercury went above 90 degrees. According to the New York Times, the record up to that time for 90 degree days in July was ten, which was accomplished in 1876 and 1952.

Boys Swimming East River 1937

This 1937 photograph shows teen boys making daring dives into the East River. The Williamsburg Bridge is in the background. I wonder how long it took to get back up to where they were diving from?

Hell Gate Bridge bathers Astoria Pool 1937

One thing has remained the same over the years: if they can get to one, kids still flock to the city pools. In this 1937 photograph the Astoria Pool entices a huge crowd, while the Hell Gate Bridge looms in the background.

The current heat wave will soon be over and when winter arrives, you can bet your bottom dollar many New Yorker’s will be saying they can’t wait for the warm weather.

Old New York in Postcards #6

Rare Postcards Of The Upper West Side And Harlem 1900 – 1915

Broadway and 141st Street Looking North circa 1903

Broadway and 141st Street Looking North circa 1903

Most old postcards depicting turn of the century New York City usually show the typical tourist attractions, landmarks and notable buildings of the city.

It was uncommon for the big postcard manufacturers to produce postcards of average streets, buildings or scenes in New York City for people to send to their friends back home. After all who wanted to see an apartment building on 117th Street and Seventh Avenue?

That is what makes these scenes of New York City and upper Manhattan rather unique. They feature the areas not frequented by tourists. They are photographs, rather than illustrations, and were typically produced in small quantities by smaller or unnamed card manufacturers. The absence of vehicles and people on the streets belies the rapid housing development that occurred in upper Manhattan during the time.  Click on any postcard to enlarge.

Broadway 86th St Euclid HallEuclid Hall Apartments 2349 Broadway, northwest corner of Broadway and 86th Street. This view shows the Euclid Hall Apartments which was built in 1903 by Hill and Turner is a heavily ornamented seven story red brick building. It is still standing and the ground floor has been modernized and now houses commercial businesses.

Broadway 98th Street The WilliamThe William Apartments looking west at 243 West 98th Street, northwest corner of Broadway and 98th Street. The William, a seven story building was completed in 1899 and is currently a condominium. To the right of The William behind the trees is the Arragon at 2611 Broadway. Continue reading