Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Koster and Bial's Music Hall on 34th Street

Throughout the late 1800s Manhattan's Theater district crept northward along the city's Great White Way towards Times Square. Herald Square was home to several music and dance halls including Koster and Bial's. The theater's former location was a bit south at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street. Two days after closing the 23rd Street location, John Koster and Albert Bial opened a new music hall with the same name on 34th Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway.  On August 28, 1893 the hall opened its doors to the public, eight years before Macy's would buy the property, demolish the building, and build their famous flagship store.

Exterior of Koster and Bial's on the north side of  West 34th Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway, 1896. Image: MCNY

Interior of the 34th Street Koster and Bial's Music Hall, 1896. Image: MCNY

Strobridge Lithographing, 1896. Image: LOC

A popular vaudeville venue with varied stage performances, Koster and Bial's hosted burlesque and acrobatic acts, as well as a whole host of musical performances.
Fannie Leslie [1896]. Image: NYPL
Trick horse of Emile outside the music hall's 34th Street entrance, 1896. Image: MCNY
Among the many dancers who made regular appearances at the venue, was "La Carmencita," also known as "The Pearl of Seville." Carmen Dauset was born in Seville, Spain in 1868, and began performing at the age of 12 in 1880. She made her American debut at the 23rd Street Koster and Bial's in February 1890, but performed several times at the 34th Street location.
The dancer as portrayed by painter William Merritt Chase, 1888. Image via

One of a few portraits painted of the dancer by painter John Singer Sargent, 1890. Image via
The theater was also the chosen location for the first exhibition of Thomas Edison's Vitascope projector on April 23, 1896. Originally invented by C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armant, and called a Phantoscope in 1895, the two inventors both claimed the invention as theirs after dissolving their partnership. It was soon sold to Thomas Edison, in what sounds like a similar situation to the Emile Berliner gramophone incident in the late 1870s. The Edison Manufacturing Company renamed the machine the Thomas Edison Vitascope, and continued manufacturing it.

The first theatrical exhibition of a a film projection machine, the Vitascope. April 23, 1896 Image: LOC

Edison's company went on to produce 100s of "actuality" films -- watch them -- documenting real life scenes with little or no narrative. Here is a film of Carmencita made in 1894, most likely with one of Edison's previous camera inventions: the kinetograph or kinetoscope:

Almost since the day it opened, the theater was plagued with financial and management issues. On July 17, 1901 Macy's announced the purchase and future demolition of the property to make way for the flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway. Three days later, Koster and Bial's held their last performance on the rook garden, ending with a chorus of performers and loyal customers singing "Auld Lang Syne."

You can still find a plaque commemorating the Hall's existence just outside the 34th Street entrance to Macy's.

Other Sources:
-Snyder, Robert. The Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paterson, New Jersey, the SUM, and the Silk Strike of 1913

In 1791, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury convened a group of investors and  started the Society for Useful Manufacturers (SUM). He chose Paterson, N.J. for its proximity to the Passaic Falls and opportunity for future growth. It would be one of the first planned industrial communities in the United States; its design and function centered around the encouragement of stateside commerce and manufacturing. Using the power generated by the falls, developers built an intricate raceway system along the river, from where most mills generated power. The first mill was built and operational by 1796 on Mill Street and by the 1830s the area was known as the cotton capital of the United States.
Passaic Falls, N.J. [1890-1900]. Image: LOC
Locomotive manufacturing came to Paterson first in 1835 with the opening of Rogers Locomotive Works, followed by Danford & Cook and Grant Locomotive Company. All three produced over 10,000 steam engines.  Samuel Colt opened the Colt Gun Mill 1836,  all while the textile and cotton industries continued to flourish. Sanborn maps of the area from 1887 and 1899 show rapid growth during the late 1880s and into the 1900s.

Image: LOC

Paterson, N.J. in 1901. Image: Shorpy

By the early 1900s, with over 100 silk firms located in Paterson, the area was dubbed Silk City, and in 1910 SUM built the first hydro-electric plant. Before, each plant was powered by individual water wheels.

Silk Factory, stripping and dyeing, Paterson, N.J., early 1900s. Stereoscopic: Paige Family

Workers weaving plain silk cloth at a Paterson silk mill, early 1900s. Stereoscopic: Paige Family

The increased industrialization and poor working conditions of the early 1900s led to the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 (not the town's first strike). Among the demands were the establishment of an eight-hour work day and restrictions in child labor practices. Organized by Paterson workers with the help of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the strikers succeeded in bringing international attention to abusive labor practices endured by workers all over the world, as well as cohesion to the growing movement to stop them. A pageant was held to raise awareness and support at Madison Square Garden on June 7, 1913.

Children from Paterson, N.J. attend a May Day parade in New York City as part of the Silk Strike protest efforts, May 1, 1913. Image: LOC

More than 25,000 skilled and unskilled workers effectively shut down the town's 300 mills and dye houses, however, they were defeated in July of that year. There remained animosity on both sides, with manufacturers making small concessions to striker demands to avoid further unrest. Finally, in 1919, the eight-hour workday was granted.

This year is the centennial of the Paterson Silk Strike. If you find yourself near Haledon New Jersey, check out the  American Labor Museum's exhibit commemorating the Silk Strike's centennial. It's up for another month.

Other sources:
1. NARA's Lewis Hine WPA Research Project photo gallery on flickr
2. Library of Congress research guides by New Deal Program
3. The Great Falls Raceway and Power System, Paterson NJ, National Historic Mechanical and Civil Engineering Landmark, Dedication Program, May 20, 1977
4. National Parks website

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Nantucket Sea Monster

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float designer Tony Sarg owned a curiosity shop in Nantucket, Massachusetts. In the summer of 1937, and with the help of many others, he staged an unusual sighting off the coast using one of his Macy's balloons, the Nantucket Sea Monster.

The initial sighting off the coast of Nantucket, MA

Footprints are found and measured on the shore.

Spectators examine the beast

Some are more daring than others

Tony Sarg with fellow spectators and the Nantucket Sea Serpent.

The Nantucket Sea Serpent made its debut the following November in the 1938 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

All of the following images, plus more, can be viewed on the Nantucket Historical Association's flickr page.

Here is a video of the "discovery" from the NHA YouTube channel.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The holidays are upon us, and in a few weeks, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will wind its way down Central Park West and Sixth Avenue to the Macy's flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway.

The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade took place on November 27, 1924. At the time, it was called the Macy's Christmas Parade, and featured animals form the Central Park Zoo. In 1927 the parade featured the first giant character balloons, held up by store employees, and one year later, the parade debuted giant helium balloons designed by illustrator and puppeteer Tony Sarg.

From 1927 to 1983, every balloon was fabricated by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron Ohio. The University of Akron currently holds the company's archive, which includes a great collection of Macy's Parade float photos. All of the images below, except for the wartime poster, are from that collection.

Tony Sarg with one of his creations at the Goodyear Rubber and Tire Co. in Ohio, 1933. Image: University of Akron

Here, a 9-story tall Gulliver balloon is accompanied by several animal friends including "Tom-kat" and "Jerry the Pig," 1933. Image: University of Akron

In 1942, Macy's balloons were deflated, and the rubber and helium donated in support of the WWII effort.

The yearly parade resumed in 1945, two weeks after the end of WWII, and has been a highly anticipated event ever since.

Crowds gather outside of Macy's celebrated widows at the flagship store on 34th Street, 1945.Image: University of Akron

Other Sources:
1. Gripo, Robert; Christopher Loskins. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
2. Sullivan, Robert (Ed.). Life: America's Parade: A Celebration of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Los Angeles Aqueduct Digital Platform

Yesterday UCLA launched the Los Angeles Aqueduct Digital Platform on the Aqueduct's centenary. I'm proud to say that the woman largely responsible for the conception and implementation of this project is my very dear friend and fellow archivist Jillian Cuellar.

Growing up in Southern California, drought warnings are issued consistently and water usage has always been a highly debated topic among the state's politicians and citizens. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit how little I know of the Aqueduct's history, and that most of what I do know likely came from watching Roman Polanski's movie Chinatown.

This project fills a large void in resources devoted to California's history. Ignoring the Aqueduct's influence on the development of Los Angeles would be like ignoring Robert Moses' role in the development of New York City. It'll be exciting to see how researchers take advantage of their new resources. It already looks promising.  

The Aqueduct fills with water for the first time on November 5, 1913. Image via

Mule team. Image via

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Whale Fever at 35th and Broadway

One of the more outlandish things in Midtown Manhattan during the 1800s was The New York Aquarium, located at the NW corner of 35th Street and Broadway.

The aquarium was a short-lived, but very ambitious venture, founded by William Cameron Coup and Charles Reiche. Coup was already well-known for his collaborations with P.T. Barnum -- he helped set up and manage P.T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie and Circus.

 The New York Aquarium opened on October 11, 1876. The building was 20,000 square feet, and included space for exhibition as well as research. The centerpiece of the main pavilion was a 30-foot tank intended to house a whale, or, whales (plural). Additional tanks flanked the whale tank, intended for sea lions and elephant seals, and tanks along the pavilion's north and east walls housed fish.

Image: MCNY

In his memoir Sawdust and Spangles, Coup devotes a chapter to the Aquarium and it's specimens. It sort of reads like a manual on how not to transport aquatic animals from distant places. Even so, his enthusiasm and love for the creatures comes through. He starts with a description of a rare species of Japanese fish that has three tails (it's a goldfish), and continues with a description of whale transport  that involved a days-long journey by boat from the Norwegian coastline to Canada, then a 90-hour train ride from Canada to New York City. Three died en route on separate journeys before one was delivered alive and transferred to the aquarium on October 15, 1876, a few days after the aquarium's official opening.

The whale exhibited -- briefly, before it too died -- was most likely a beluga whale. 

White Whale, drawing, c. 1820: source

The year 1870 brought the aquarium's first sea lions, another main attraction. Pinnipeds have been exhibited in captivity since around the 1600s, but this exhibit was likely one of New York's first. The pinniped pen was located next to the whale tank, and drew guests from all over.

In 1879 Coup and Reiche disagreed on the practice of opening the business on Sundays --  Reiche was for it, and Coup against. Reiche bought out Coup's share of the company and went on to pursue other enterprises.

The aquarium closed in 1881, and the NW corner of 35th and Broadway soon became known for its theater venues, first as the location for the New Park Theater in 1883, and from 1894 until 1914, the home of the Herald Square Theater.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Halloween Costume Ideas

This Halloween, let's look at history for a little costume inspiration. You could dress up as . . .

An oil drum:

Image via the Kansas History Foundation
   A Rooster, or a Pigeon


Couples idea (!) and possible inspiration for Donnie Darko?

  A Leafy Green

 Or keep it simple with homemade paper bag and plate masks.

Diane Arbus

Friday, October 4, 2013

Chock Full O' Nuts

For many years a Choc Full o' Nuts lunch counter occupied retail space in the ground floor of the Hotel McAlpin, now, Herald Towers building, at 34th and Broadway. Like most restaurants in Midtown Manhattan, it was packed around lunchtime. 

December 1954, Alfred Eisenstaedt. Photo: LIFE via this blog post.
Choc Full o' Nuts opened its first store near Times Square at Broadway and 43rd Street, in 1926. The company continued to grow, opening its first cafe opened in 1932, and following with food trucks.

Possibly the first store, c. 1926 Photo: Pinterest

Food cart from the 1930s or 1940s. Photo: here
The company's founder was William Black, who, as his business grew, also became a well respected philanthropist. He donated a lot of money towards medical research, and in 1957 founded the Parkinson's Disease Foundation with an initial donation of $100,000.

One of Choc's most well known employees was famed baseball player Jackie Robinson. Shortly after retiring from baseball in 1956, he was hired as the company's Vice President and Director of Personnel. Mr. Robinson was an extremely vocal Civil Rights advocate as well. NARA has a great collection of his letters. 

William Black and Jackie Robinson at a store opening. Photo: NYT
The comments section of this post by Ephemeral New York includes many fond memories of the franchise in the city.

For a while, Choc Full o' Nuts at 34th Street and Woolworth's supplied Midtown workers with two solid lunch options flanking Herald Square. The 34th Street lunch counter closed in 1990.

Where do you go to get an Egg Cream now?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

N. Jay Jaffee

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

It's been over a month since my last post. I'm working on a bunch of small projects that will hopefully wrap up in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's a short post featuring one of the city's many street photographers.  

These gentleman are leaning up against a fairly marked up William Cullen Bryant monument in Bryant Park. The photo was taken in 1953 by photographer N. Jay Jaffee.

Bryant Park, W.C. Bryant Monument, 1953. Photo by N. Jay Jaffee. Image: Brooklyn Museum
People still sit with Bryant on a daily basis in the park, though, since 1992, they've had chairs.

Jaffee is one of my favorite photographers right now, so here are a few more of his images:

Another park scene, not Bryant Park.

Woman in Black, 1978. Photo by N. Jay Jaffee. Image: Brooklyn Museum
Signage, two ways:

Who Has Three or Four Rooms (Brownsville, NY), 1950. Photo by N.J. Jaffee. Image: Brooklyn Museum

Kishke King, Pitkin Avenue (Brownsville, NY) 1953. Photo by N. Jay Jaffee. Image: Brooklyn Museum

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, I was going through the MCNY digital archive for this post, and came across the Stanley Kubrick photo collection. It's awesome. I hadn't realized how much street photography he'd done prior to his film work. This image of a Columbia Professor messing with lights, taken in 1948, is especially good.

Image: MCNY

It reminded me of this shot of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (imdb).

There's a 16 year gap between when the image and film were made, but the aesthetic seems on point.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Knox the Hatter

Hats and fascinators seem to be making a comeback, and not just for specific occasions. In 1800s New York, hatters and milliners were all over the place, and it remained a reliable trade until at least the 1960s-ish? President Kennedy stopped wearing hats around then, and so did everyone else, though I'm sure there were other influences.

The Knox Hat Company was founded in 1838 by Charles Knox, a few years after a major fire wiped out most of lower Manhattan. The first store was located on Fulton Street, a couple blocks away from Barnum's American Museum, which was destroyed by another major fire in 1865. Though the store remained intact, looters managed to lift a good portion of the stock (mostly Panama hats) during the fire's aftermath. The Hatter moved again, this time to 212 Broadway, next door to the National Park Bank. 
Knox Hatters at 216 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, 1895. Image: MCNY
Seeing retail make its move north, the Knox Hat Company set its sites on the SW corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue for the store's next location.

The SW corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue. Before the Knox building, it was occupied by the mansion of Lawrence Kipp, who died in 1899. Image: NYHS
The Knox Building was designed by City Architect John H. Duncan, whose work included Grant's Tomb in Manhattan. The stunning Beaux-Arts commercial building was built in 1901-1902.

From the LPC Report: "Knox retained ownership of the Knox Building until his death. In 1903 he had split the company into the Knox Manufacturing Company and the E.M. Knox Hat Retail Company. Offices for the company and main retail store were located in the building."

SW corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, looking west on 40th Street, c. 1914. Image: NYHS

New construction was growing larger, taller, and more commercial throughout the early 1900s as retail moved north, and the city's  trains and trolleys brought increasing numbers of people into Manhattan for work and play.

In 1913, the Knox Hat Manufacturing Company was amalgamated with the E.M. Knox Retail Hat Company. The company Manufacturing building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, still exists, though it's now residential.

Knox Hattery advertisement, 1913. Image: NYPL
Pre and post Empire State Building:

Same corner, looking south on Fifth Avenue, 1928 Image: MCNY
NYPL Fifth Avenue terrace, facing south towards 40th Street. Photo by Mike Roberts, 1960. Image: MCNY
The "Jaguar," popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1964, the Republic National Bank, then owners of the building, modified it to suit banking purposes (see LPC report for specifics, page 4), and in 1980, began construction of a neighboring tower.  (That bank was bought by HSBC in 1999.)

SW corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, c. 1980. Image: BPC

The tower was completed in 1984 and the pair sort of give the impression of Sense and Sensibility meets Bonfire of the Vanities, architecturally speaking. . . .

SW corner of 40th and Fifth Avenue, 2013. Image: BPC, AK

Knox hats are still coveted by many on the interwebs, with many vintage men's and women's styles for sale on Ebay and Etsy.

Other Sources:
-Landmarks Designation Report, LP-1091
-NYT article on the development of 40th Street in the early 1900s.