West 23rd - 7 Blocks


The picture above is a satellite view of West 23rd Street, my block in New York.  This picture starts near the water at the upper left and hits Madison Square park in the lower right.

I recently found a web site that tells the history of many blocks in the town and was amazed at how much history there is on my block just in the stretch between the Hudson and Madison Avenue.  Here’s a block-by-block blow:

565 on the corner of 11th is a strip club called Privilege.  In the 1980’s it was a restaurant that was called Jerry’s Bar & Mesquite Grill where Billy Idol and Duran Duran used to visit.

519 was the home of the WPA theatre which debuted Little Shop of Horrors and Steel Magnolias.

10th Avenue is the original shoreline of the Hudson.

420-424 is the approximate birthplace of Clement Clark Moore who owned Chelsea, developed it into the flats it is today and wrote  “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.  Santa himself likely visited number 422-424.

Across the street is the massive London Terrace (1,670 units built in 1930) which were built over a series of houses that had been known as “Millionaire’s Row”.

313 was the site of the mansion of financier Jim Fisk; just down the street at the corner of 23rd and 8th he bought the Grand Opera House as a showcase for his mistress.  After he caused the 1869 “Black Friday” Panic, he purportedly hid in its vaults.  After being shot by a rival of his mistress, his funeral was held there.  As for the building, it was converted to a cinema in 1917 and torn down in 1960 (apparently Fred Astaire used to practice dancing there).

314 is now home to Patsy’s Pizza (home of enormous and tasty pizzas).  However, in 1932 it was home to a drugstore where Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll was murdered by Dutch Schultz’s gang-he’d killed a child during a shoot-out and brought too much attention to the Mob.

This all sits on the corner of 8th Ave, which is where the original location of the “Chelsea” Estate was (1750-1777).  It was owned by Captain Thomas Clarke and his grandfather, Clement, had named it after an old soldier’s home in London called Chelsea.

256 used to be a restaurant called Cavanaugh’s (1876-1970) that was a hangout of many of the politicians of Tammany Hall, including Diamond JIm Brady as well as other figures like Lillian Russell and John L. Sullivan.  It’s now part of a movie theatre.

235 is the Communist Party national headquarters.  Too bad I can’t vote, as otherwise I’d feel the need to try and get a local national party leader elected...

222 is the Chelsea Hotel.  It was built in 1883 and was NYC’s tallest building until 1902.  So who’s stayed here?  Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell, Dylan Thomas (who drank himself to death at the nearby White Horse Saloon), Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Vladimir Nabakov, William Burroughs, William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Patti Smith and Sid Vicious.  Books that have been written here include Naked Lunch and 2001.  It’s also been the inspiration for songs by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

206 Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe used to have a loft here.

215 is the former McBurney YMCA and was here from 1904 to 2002.  Amongst the notable happenings here, “Merrill” met “Lynch” in the pool here in 1913.  Several interesting folks have been members or stayed here during their trips to NYC: Edward Albee, Al Pacino, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring.  Also, the stream room scene of The Godfather was shot here.

You’re now at 7th Ave.  On the corner sits Bloomie Nails, where half rate hip hop start Foxy Brown assaulted a worker in 2002 for not giving her the right pedicure.

There’s not too much on the strip between 6th and 7th, but just across 6th is a complex called The Caroline, that sits on the former Edwin Booth Theatre (demolished 1975).  Edwin was John Wilkes’ brother; in the basement was a saloon that was purportedly the hangout for all the forgers in America.  Here’s an old photo:

Across the street at 71 is where the old Mason Hall used to be; the band Kiss recorded part of their album Chelsea here.

53 was once the Eden Musee (1884-1916) which featured freaks, fire eaters, midget, sword swallowers, a chamber of horrors and “Ajeeb, the Chess Mystery” (whatever that was-apparently a hollow figurine inhabited by a child dwarf).  This place was so popular it used to have its own streetcar stop.

32-36 is the home of Manhattan’s first Home Depot; it was used as the facade of a toy company in the old Tom Hank’s movie Big.

14 is the birthplace of the novelist Edith Wharton (nee Jones, of the ones that may have been the cause of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”).  Next to her lived Benjamin Nathan, a former vice president of the NYSE.  He was beaten to death in Number 12 on July 28, 1970 as his sons slept in another room; the murder was never solved.

The Western Union building on the corner of 5th used to send messages two and a half miles downtown to head office via pneumatic tube.  Across the street from it used to be the Fifth Avenue Hotel (1858-1908)-once the most exclusive in the city; it was a hangout of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Flatiron Building is at the intersection of Fifth and Broadway; you’ve seen it in Spiderman amongst other movies.  Apparently loiterers used to hang around to see if the odd winds generated by the odd-shaped intersection would blow up women’s skirts.

Across Broadway is where Wonder Drugs was; this was the location of what was the worst fire in FDNY’s history until the 9/11 attacks.  12 firefighters were killed here on October 17, 1966.

More Kiss at number 10: they first rehearsed on the fourth floor loft here.

Finally, at 1 Madison is the former Met Life head office.  This was the tallest building in the world from 1909 to 1913 (when it was replaced by the Woolworth Tower).


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

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