The Bowery Boys 2010: A Year of Podcasts In Review

Here's the whole menu of our 2010 podcasts. As always, you can download them all for free from iTunes and or your favorite podcast aggregator. The original blog page for each is listed below, along with a link to download directly from our satellite site. See you in 2011!

Blog page / Trinity Church: Anchor of Wall Street, New York's Landlord
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Blog page / Manhattan Bridge: New York City's dysfunctional classic
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Blog page / Madison Square Garden, World's Most Famous Arena(s)
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Blog page / Robert Moses: Did he save New York -- or destroy it?
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Blog page / The Bronx Zoo: the tale of NYC's biggest animal house
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Blog page / Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach, at your leisure
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Blog page / Case Files of the New York Police Department 1800-1915
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Blog page / CBGB & OMFUG: Punk music history on the Bowery
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Blog page / Newsies vs. The World! The Newsboys Strike of 1899
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Blog page / The Staten Island Ferry: its story, from sail to steam
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Blog page / New York City's Elevated Railroads: Journey to a spectacular world of steam trains along the avenues
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Blog page / Cable cars, trolleys and monorails: Moving around on New York's forgotten transit options
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Blog page / The New York City Subway and the creation of the IRT
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Blog page / Modern history of the New York Subway: Expansion from the 1-2-3, A-B-C, Second Avenue and beyond
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Blog page / The wild times of the subway graffiti era 1970-1989
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Blog page / Gracie Mansion: How a bucolic summer home survived a couple wars, a society feud and a few live-in mayors
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Blog page / Niblo's Garden: New York's entertainment complex and home to the first (bizarre) Broadway musical
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Blog page / Supernatural Stories of New York: spooky seances, violent Jazz Ages ghosts and an island of despair
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Blog page / African Burial Ground: History from underneath the city, and the secret tale of New Yorkers once forgotten
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Blog page / American Museum of Natural History: Digging up the past
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Blog page / Mark Twain In New York, or His Adventures on Fifth Avenue
Download here


Blog page/ Times Square: History in stages, chronicled in lights
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Top picture courtesy NYPL; courtesy lines for all other pics can be found on original blog pages

Happy Holidays from The Bowery Boys!

The Bowery Boys wish you all a spectacular holiday season! To celebrate, just hit the play button above and warm yourself in front of a great New York tradition.

Many New Yorkers have fond memories of the WPIX Yule Log, which first ran in the evening of December 24, 1966, the first and most famous video yule log in the United States. After a brief interruption in the 1990s, it was returned for the holidays in 2001, when the city definitely needed the extra cheer.

Believe it or not, the original burning fire was filmed at Gracie Mansion, with the blessing of Mayor John Lindsay. (See, he really was the cool mayor!) During filming, the cameramen had to move a fire grating to achieve maximum glow and warmth for viewers. Unfortunately, this freed some flying sparks which proceeded to burn a nearby antique rug.

The fire above is a replica that WPIX filmed after the original footage became drab with age. (The replacement fire was also filmed in California in 1970; the official website explains.) PIX11 plans to once again show off their friendly fire this year, with simulcast on Turner Broadcasting stations throughout the country.

We'll be back with new postings to the blog on December 31.

The little engine that could in downtown Manhattan

Once upon a time, in December 1900, there was a toy store on 67 Cortlandt Street with very, very sad display windows. The store's owner, Robert Ingersoll, was best known for his 'dollar watches' and, on the success of those, had branched out to include other items for sale, including a great variety of toys and novelties.

But he was not advertising wizard. Ingersoll tried to emulate the windows of the great department stores uptown, but try as he might, the items in his display just sat there, garnering little interest. The fire engines for play, the little trains and boats, toy elephants and clown dolls. People rushed by without a second glance.

They caught no one's eye, until one day came along Joshua Cowen, a tinkerer and inventor with some training at the Cooper Institute and gifted with a wild imagination. He made small electrical trinkets at an office on 24 Murray Street, just a few blocks north from Ingersoll's little store, and reveled at coming up with unique ways to utilize electrical power.

Cowen saw the display of toys and immediately thought of an invention he was working on. He ran into Ingersoll's shop and proposed an idea to the shop owner. What if we could make something that the big department stores hadn't thought of yet? What if we grabbed the attention of shoppers by putting a little momentum into your window display?

Ingersoll liked the idea and soon installed Cowen's ideas among his merchandise -- a rudimentary electric train, "resembl[ing] the maintenance cars...towed around the city by work trolley" [source], an ingenous little device that wove between toys along a small track.

It did the trick. In fact, the electric train, which Cowen sold to Ingersoll for four dollars, was then itself sold to a customer. So Ingersoll asked for six more. From there came demand from other stores, and Cowen suddenly had himself a new business, manufacturing the new toys under a brand taken from his own middle name -- Lionel Trains.

From this odd start -- built as an advertising ploy -- Lionel Train become the leading name in toy trains and a perennial favorite of the Christmas season. In 1999, the Lionel train was named the 4th greatest toy of the 20th Century, beating all by crayons, yo-yos and Barbie dolls.

By the way, do you think Cohen, busily making his miniature trains above ground, knew that right underneath his office at 24 Murray Street was the sole tunnel made for New York's very first underground train from the 1870s -- the pneumatic transit of Alfred Ely Beach?

America's first holiday Nutcracker, before Balanchine

Ballerinas in their first flight of The Nutcracker: the Ballet Russe at the 51st Street Theater, 1940 (Picture courtesy the New York Times)

Few ballet productions of the last century had more influence on American culture than George Balanchine's 1954 edition of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, as performed by the New York City Ballet. Although not purely conceived as a Christmastime show, the characters of The Nutcracker were welcomed into the pantheon of holiday images from the moment they appeared on opening night, February 2, 1954, fueled by multiple television appearances during the '50s and '60s.

Far from simply presenting the show as originally seen in Russia and throughout Europe in the 1930s, Balanchine made notable changes to the full-length work that have stayed firm even within modern presentations of the ballet. Balanchine's footwork has also been largely preserved.

But if Balanchine is responsible for making The Nutcracker a valuable holiday tradition, then it is with grief that I inform you that Balanchine's troupe was not the first to perform The Nutcracker in New York. In fact, his was 14 years too late for that distinction.

The first appearance of The Nutcracker on American soil was performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, an offshoot of the great Ballet Russe that eventually splintered into two rival companies. As a united company, they had toured the country in the 1910s, making their New York debut on January 17, 1916, with a selection of shows, including Schéhérezade. By the 1930s, they were two separate, warring ballet troupes; both toured the United States, sometimes to great confusion.

The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, under the direction of Sergei Denham, made the 51st Street Theatre their home for their 1940 season. On October 17th, they unfurled their version of The Nutcracker for the very first time, an abridged, one-act version staged by choreographer Alexandra Fedorova.(At left, the cover of a Ballet Russe program from the 1940-41 season.)

It can't have been that well received because it took four whole years for another production to appear, in San Francisco in 1944.

Balanchine of course was quite aware of these productions; he'd choreographed for both versions of the Ballet Russes, was an adviser on the San Francisco show and had even danced in the show himself, back as a young man in St. Petersburg. He would bring all these experiences into his version which would eventually pirouette into an annual holiday tradition.

The New York City Ballet still performs the show annually; you can check in here for tickets and showtimes, through January 2. If you want to look in on the original stage on which the ballet was first performed, it'll definitely be open on Christmas Day. The 51st Street Theater now houses the inter-denominational Times Square Church.

HOW NEW YORK SAVED CHRISTMAS Throughout the week I'll spotlight a few more events in New York history that actually helped establish the standard Christmas traditions many Americans celebrate today. Not just New York-centric events like the Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Rockettes, but actual components of the holiday festivities that are practiced in America and around the world today. We started this series last year; click hereto read past entries.

A Christmas Tree for the ages in Madison Square Park

The misty Madison Square Garden greets a stranger to the park: America's first community Christmas tree. (Courtesy LOC)

HOW NEW YORK SAVED CHRISTMAS Throughout the week I'll spotlight a few more events in New York history that actually helped establish the standard Christmas traditions many Americans celebrate today. Not just New York-centric events like the Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Rockettes, but actual components of the holiday festivities that are practiced in America and around the world today. We started this series last year; click here to read past entries.

The New York Tribune from Christmas Eve 1912 cheerfully attempted to use the symbol of the Christmas tree as totem for class struggles between the rich and poor. In case you missed what they were doing, the headline proclaimed: "HOW THE CHILDREN OF THE RICH AND POOR ENJOYED XMAS TREES -- BUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS."

The story recounts two Christmas events. On Ellis Island, children sang carols and patriotic anthems in glee and appreciation around two large trees bedecked with candles. Meanwhile, at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton at 46th and Madison, the children of wealthy New Yorkers gathered around an opulent tree with what is being described as holiday malaise. "Children in broadcloth and furs, accompanied by their mammas in silks and velvets and sables, smiled in well bred manner when something pleased them, but showed no other emotion."

But it's the Christmas tree mentioned in an adjoining article that would be more historically relevant. "2,300 LIGHTS ON CHRISTMAS TREE, FINE PROGRAMME IN MADISON SQUARE FROM 4:30 TILL MIDNIGHT, FREE TO MULTITUDE."

The Christmas Eve Madison Square celebration was derived from the well-meaning progressive push by social activists to care for the city's poor. Plans for an outdoor public Christmas tree were devised by Emilie Herreshoff, wife of the prominent chemical scientist J.B.F. Herreshoff, in emulation of European civic customs. (Mrs. Herreshoff's other claim to fame would be her messy divorce from Mr. Herreshoff just a few years later.)

It would be a clean, proper, somber affair, closely tied to Jacob Riis's equally non-riotous New Years Eve celebration scheduled the week after -- righteous counter-programming to the Times Square celebration. Riis believed that the holidays were not a time wild behavior, and these events would provide the poor with 'acceptable' alternatives.

Below: Madison Square, how it looked in 1907 (with the Flatiron to the right. (Courtesy LOC)

The organizers knew they were doing something unique, but probably did not realize the special significance of the event. Their 70-foot-tall imported tree from the Adirondacks, festooned with lights from the Edison Company, would be the first outdoor community Christmas tree in the United States.**

This is not an insignificant milestone, especially today in a age where public displays of holiday expression and religious belief are constantly being debated. This 'Tree of Light', mounted in cement, was such a novelty that almost 25,000 people showed up that night to witness it and enjoy an evening-long slate of choral entertainment.

The location was significant as well, as the nearby Madison Square Garden sometimes hosted Christmas celebrations. Those mostly charged an admission price, however, and certainly left the poorest of New Yorkers out in the cold.

The New York Times laid it on thick the following day, reporting, '"The Almighty put snow on the tree to make it prosper," said an old lady who hobbled along in crutches.'

They also ran this poem about the Madison Square tree:

By the following year, the Salvation Army would take the reins of the popular event, offering up "10,000 hot sausages and 10,000 cups of hot coffee" for arriving crowds. According to the same article, 'moving pictures' were even shown in a different area of the park.

Today the Star of Hope monument in the park commemorates these early Madison Square celebrations.

**The Tribune article says that "Boston and Hartford, Conn., following the example set here, will have public trees to-day," so one could generously say at least that the honor is shared.

Times Square: History in stages, chronicled in lights

The canyon, as seen from the Empire State Building. (Photography by the Wurts Brothers, courtesy NYPL)

PODCAST: Times Square is the centerpiece of New York for most visitors and a place that sharply divides city residents. Nothing about it sits still. Even its oldest buildings are severely transformed and slathered with electronic imagery.

In 1900, the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue was the drab Longacre Square, the heart of the horse and carriage industry, and few dared put a legitimate theater or restaurant so far north. But with the construction of the subway came big changes, and when the new headquarters for the New York Times arrived, so did a new name.

Listen along as we travel through the decades, through Times Square's glory days of lobster palaces and celebrities, the introduction of electric advertisements, its gritty slide and eventual rebound. Is the new Times Square an extraordinary transformation? Or a travesty?

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Times Square

1909, when things weren't quite so insane. I believe this is Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets. You see the Gaiety Theater on the left, as well as Churchill's Restaurant. Long Acre Riggery sits next door, proving that the neighborhood's transformation wasn't as quick as you might have thought. There's also an ad for Turkish Trophies cigarettes.

Rector's Restaurant, the greatest of the so-called 'lobster palaces', where opulance and celebrity mixed with musical entertainment in an occasionally rowdy environment.

1910: The strangely orderly streets are still mostly filled with horse-drawn carriages and trolleys. Theaters have worked there way in by this time, including the New York Theatre on the left, and the Gaiety and Globe theaters on the right. (Courtesy Spooner Central)

Between 1911-1915: Standing on 42nd Street, looking north, the Times Building and the subway entrance to the right. The theater built and named for George M. Cohan was completed in 1911. (Courtesy LOC)

1921: People readily embraced Times Square as a place for instant news information. Thousands of similarly dressed men wait impatiently outside the Times Building on a hot July afternoon awaiting news of the Jersey City boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier.

1931: No sign of a Great Depression here. Trolley tracks are still very much in evidence. (Courtesy Flickr/straatis)

1935: The Paramount Building astride the Hotel Astor dominate the plaza. I'm not sure I would like negotiating this seemingly chaotic cross street.

1945: Thousands arrive in Times Square to celebrate the end of the surrender of the Japanese and the end of World War II.

1955: Times Square's subtle shifts can be seen here -- larger than life electric beauties overhead, dancing girls across the street. The RKO Mayfair (later the DeMille sat at Seventh Avenue and 47th Street. (Courtesy Flickr/Christian Montone)

By the 1960s, old stages and movie theaters were giving way to a new form of entertainment, the adult kind.

1965: The neon shines as bright as ever. Bonds Clothing Store thrived for years at this central location and provided one of its most memorable sign. Previously the space had been the swanky nightclub International Casino. In the late '70s, the clothing store closed, and, in some clever combination, it became the nightclub Bond International Casino, home of the Times Square Riot of 1981. (Courtesy Panoramio)

1970s: A strange mix of entertainments and ideas now permanently intermingle in Times Square. Cohan represents the past, while TKTS booth (which opened in 1973), providing discounted Broadway tickets and a safe haven for visitors, presents a possible key to its future.

1985: By this time, the city had worked through almost two decades of improvement ideas for Times Square. (Courtesy Flickr/Jim In Times Square)

The New Amsterdam Theater, before it was renovated by Disney. (Courtesy Flickr/GuanoReturns)

2008: Most of the seedier element of Times Square was eradicated by this time. (Courtesy zero null)

A fabulous video of various New Years Eve ball drops throughout the years, starting in 1978:

And to tie it all back to the beginning, here's an Edison film shot from the top of the Times Building, from 1905. Most interesting, actually, is the view of Bryant Park and the large, stately Hippodrome.

This episode was so packed, we barely even talked about New Year's Eve! For some historical nuggets on that annual event, you might like to listen to our old show on One Times Square. Also, if theater history interests you, check out out podcast on Florenz Ziegfeld.

A trip to Times Square 1969: A world of colorful decline

(Postcard picture courtesy the marvelous Vintage Chromes blog)

Sixty-five years after the birth of Times Square, it was apparent that things were taking a rather bizarre left turn. The old Times Building, a building so critical to the neighborhood that its address was now One Times Square, had been stripped of its architectural finery and encased in a banal concrete uniform, the property of Allied Chemical.

The outdated Hotel Astor was completely gone. In its place within a year or so would rise One Astor Plaza. From the angle of this postcard, there is simply nothing there.

The building that once housed the Packard Motor Cars showroom had also disappeared. In 1969, that address 1540 Broadway belonged to the Loew's State Theatre. For a time, it was one of Times Square's great destination theaters, a 3,327-seat behemoth that opened in 1921 and hosted the premieres of 'Ben-Hur', 'Some Like It Hot', 'The Godfather' and many others. It was essentially demolished (along with those structures below the Kent Cigarette sign) with the construction of the Bertelsmann Building in 1989; but for many years afterwards, the business on the ground floor, Virgin Megastore, hosted smaller movie theaters in its basement.

The flamboyant movie theater to the right has a more glamorous background. It was once the Gaiety Theater, a grand original from the early days of old Broadway, opened in 1906 by theater impresarios Klaw and Erlinger. The Gaiety was truly a variety house, presenting legit theater, burlesque and vaudeville (Gypsy Rose Lee and Abbott and Costello performed here), and then straight into legitimate films under its new name, the Victoria. Today the Marriott Marquis rises here, after the controversial demolition of it and several other theaters on the block in 1982.

Just out of frame to the right, movie patrons could leave their film and discuss it at the Howard Johnson's across the street.

Back under that Kent Cigarette ad is one for Beefeater gin -- booze and smokes, good times. And underneath that is the refreshment stand Elpine Drinks, best known for its fruit juices. (Lost City has a nice write up about this forgotten establishment.)

The Paramount Building, its clock tower rising in the background, is one of the few structures virtually intact and looking close to how it did when it was built in 1926. In recent years, this building has been invaded by the Hard Rock Cafe.

Another survivor from this era -- that tried, dependable statue of George M Cohan, standing in silhouette in the foreground. The statue was placed here at the tip of Duffy Square ten years before this postcard was made. Even then, in 1959, very little of Cohan's Broadway remained to greet him.

A trip to Times Square 1904: The Hotel Astor arrives

The Hotel Astor in its opening year, 1904. The Astor was a Waldorf; the Knickerbocker was an Astor. Makes sense? (Photo courtesy NYPL)

Longacre Square didn't become Times Square without the Astor family making a lot of money. Much of the area had been farmland that had been purchased by John Jacob Astor in the 1830s. Later members of the family were not merely content to be landlords. In fact, the great family feud of the Astors and the Waldorfs brought the area its first two luxury hotels.

William Waldorf and his cousin John Jacob Astor IV were famously at odds with each other, but their disagreements produced a few striking landmarks. When Waldorf built a hotel next to the home of his old aunt, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, her son John moved her uptown and built an even bigger hotel. Voila! The two became one, the original Waldorf-Astoria on 34th Street.

A lesser known manifestation of this real estate feud waged in Times Square. Waldorf would build a spin-off of the Waldorf-Astoria at Broadway and 44th Street, an area once considered too far west for a luxury hotel. However, with the imminent arrival of a major subway station and a host of theaters, the time had arrived.

The Hotel Astor was the brainchild of German businessman William C. Muschenheim, a restaurateur and former proprietor of the New York Athletic Club. Muschenheim's great dream was to build a hotel. Although planning one at Longacre Square seemed like a risk, it was Astor family property, and the Astors were known for their successful hotels.

With backing from William Waldorf, Muschenheim oversaw the construction of the Hotel Astor, an eleven-floor Beaux-Arts jewel stylistically related to the Waldorf-Astoria. When it opened on September 9, 1904, it seemed the gamble had paid off. Its lush ballrooms, lounges and restaurants would host the biggest soirees of Times Square's inaugural year. A year later, its sumptuous roof garden would open, providing one of the most romantic views of the city.

John Jacob Astor IV would not be outdone by his cousin. He would soon take over a hotel project that was being constructed on the other side of the Times Building, at the southeast corner of Broadway and 42nd Street. His Hotel Knickerbocker would open in 1906.

An old McClure's Magazine outlines the rivalry: "John Jacob also flatters William Waldorf by imitation. The latter can hardly make a move not obediently followed by his cousin. He builds the Waldorf and demonstrates his success; John Jacob follows with the Astoria. He goes up to Longacre Square and builds the Hotel Astor; John Jacob takes the hint and puts up the Knickerbocker."

But John Jacob, who would perish on the Titanic in 1912, would have the last laugh. The Knickerbocker still sits in Times Square today, no longer a hotel but graced with a Gap clothing store on its ground floor. The Hotel Astor would vanish in 1967, to be replaced with the office tower known as One Astor Plaza today -- the home of Viacom and The Lion King (in the third floor Minskoff Theatre).

The scene so far: The Packard Motor Car store (which I wrote about Monday) is on the left. The new offices of the New York Times are in the middle. The Hotel Astor is at right. The photographer of this scene has his back facing the Trimble Whiskey written about yesterday.

A trip to Times Square 1904: Lights and old whiskey

From atop the Times Tower, in 1904, another world lights up below.

The year that turned a ragged, uptown intersection into the place known as Times Square also brought an important work of advertising to the area, for a product that has been all but forgotten.

Oscar J. Gude was already a master of outdoor billboards and electric-light signs when, in 1904, his company installed a sophisticated advertisement for Trimble Whiskey, featuring two glasses in mid-toast nestled by the liquor's fancy logo. (The glasses don't seem to be on in the picture above.)

Gude had much better and more memorable ads throughout the city; his firm was perhaps best known for its Heinz pickle ad that hung above Madison Square. But the Trimble sign was placed on the north side of 47th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue, making it the first in a long line of dazzling electronic advertisements to be placed at this key intersection.

Times Square was already an advantageous place to hang things due to the sight lines created by long, even avenues. As one of the first electric signs, the Trimble name could be seen from almost a mile away down certain corridors. At night, the words 'Trimble Whiskey' could be seen reflecting into the new Times Square across the plaza. Theater goers leaving one of the new stages on 42nd Street stopped to take a gander at the glowing lights before boarding a trolley, or entering the crisp, new subway station.

As you can tell from the picture above, Trimble was quickly joined by a few other night lights. Bur for a time, only the street lamps, a couple small marquees and the haunting glow from the Hotel Astor were its competition.

Just a few years later, a bold corset advertisement would scandalously light that very wall. From the 1910 journal Printers Ink, the electric corset-wearer "stands out boldly against the night, at the spot where late a Trimble Whiskey sign has been wont to create thirsts by the thousand, which only the nearby gilded palaces could satiate properly."

As for the liquor itself, it reportedly originates from one George Trimble who "brought this brand over the Allegheny Mountains on a Conetogas wagon" in the 1820s or '30s. (The ad below dates its creation even further, to 1793.) It was distinguished by a green label and, despite its handsome advertisements, didn't seem to last but for a few years more.

Below, a print ad for Trimble, featuring their signature clinking glasses, from an April 1904 issue of LIFE Magazine. [from}