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?