The Bowery Boys: New York City History
New York City history is America's history. It's the hometown of the world, and most people know the city's familiar landmarks, buildings and streets. Why not look a little closer and have fun while doing it?

The Lower East Side is one of the most important neighborhoods in America, with a rich history as dense as its former living quarters.  Thousands of immigrants experienced American life on these many crowded streets. In this podcast, we look at this extraordinary cultural phenomenon through the lens of one of those -- Orchard Street.

Its name traces itself to a literal orchard, owned by a wealthy landowner and Loyalist during the Revolutionary War.  By the 1840s the former orchard and farm was divided up into lots, and a brand new form of housing -- the tenement -- served new Irish and German communities who had just arrived in the United States.

A few decades later those residents were replaced by Russian and Eastern European newcomers, brought to the neighborhood due to its affordability and its established Jewish character.

Living conditions were poor and most tenement apartment doubled as workspaces.  Meanwhile, in the streets, tight conditions required a unique retail solution -- the push cart, a form of independent enterprise that has given us some businesses that still thrive on Orchard Street today.

You can see this century-old life along Orchard Street today, if you know where to look. Luckily that's what we're here for! With some help from Adam Steinberg at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where the best place to interact with a preserved view of the old days.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a patron.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

Direct download: 183_Orchard_Street.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:22 AM

Mae West (star of I'm No Angel and She Done Him Wrong) would come to revolutionize the idea of American sexuality, challenging and lampooning ideas of femininity while wielding a suggestive and vicious wit. But before she was America's diamond girl, she was the pride of Brooklyn! In this podcast, we bring you the origin story of this icon and the wacky events of 1927 that brought her brand of swagger to the attention of the world.

The Brooklyn girl started on the vaudeville stage early, following the influences of performers like Evelyn Nesbitt and Eva Tanguay. She soon proved too smart for the small stuff and set her aim towards Broadway -- but on her terms.

West's play Sex introduced her devastating allure in the service of a shocking tale of prostitution.  It immediately found an audience in 1926 even if the critics were less than enamored. But it's when she devised an even more shocking play -- The Drag -- that city leaders became morally outraged and vowed to shut her down forever.

From Bushwick to Midtown, from the boards of Broadway to the workhouse of Welfare Island -- this is the story of New York's ultimate Sex scandal.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 182_Mae_West_on_Broadway.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:37 AM

Park Slope – or simply the park slope, as they used to say – is best known for its spectacular Victorian-era mansions and brownstones, one of the most romantic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn.  It’s also a leading example of the gentrifying forces that are currently changing the make-up of the borough of Brooklyn to this day.  

During the 18th century this sloping land was subject to one of the most demoralizing battles of the Revolutionary War, embodied today by the Old Stone House, an anchor of this changing neighborhood.  In the 1850s, the railroad baron Edwin Clark Litchfield brought the first real estate development to this area in the form of his fabulous villa on the hill.  By the 1890s the blocks were stacked with charming house, mostly for wealthy single families.

Circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II reconfigured most of these old (and old fashioned) homes into boarding houses and working-class housing. Then a funny things happens, something of a surprising development in the 1960s – the arrival of the brownstoners, self-proclaimed ‘pioneers’ who refurbished deteriorating homes.

The revitalization of Park Slope has been a mixed blessing as later waves of gentrification and rising prices threaten to push out both older residents and original gentrifiers alike.

PLUS: The terrifying details of one of the worst plane crashes in American history, a disaster that almost took out one of the oldest corners of the neighborhood.

And special thanks to Kim Maier from the Old Stone House; Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society; and John Casson and Michael Cairl, both of Park Slope Civic Council.

Please help support the Bowery Boys by making a small donation at our site -- https://www.patreon.com/boweryboys
 

Direct download: 181_Park_Slope.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:02 AM

The Chelsea Piers were once New York City’s portal to the world, a series of long docks along the west side of Manhattan that accommodated some of the most luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century.  Passenger ocean travel became feasible in the mid 19th century due to innovations in steam transportation, allowing for both recreational voyages for the wealthy and a steep rise in immigration to the United States. The Chelsea Piers were the finest along Manhattan’s busy waterfront, built by one of New York’s greatest architectural firm as a way to modernize the west side.  Both the tragic tales of the Titanic and the Lusitania are also tied to the original Chelsea Piers.
 
But changes in ocean travel and the financial fortunes of New York left the piers without a purpose by the late 20th century. How did this important site for transatlantic travel transform into one of New York’s leading modern sports complexes?
 
ALSO: The death of Thirteenth Avenue, an avenue you probably never knew New York City ever had!
 
www.BoweryBoysHistory.com

Direct download: 180__The_Chelsea_Piers.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:28 AM

In our last show, we left the space that would become Bryant Park as a disaster area; its former inhabitant, the old Crystal Palace, had tragically burned to the ground in 1858.  The area was called Reservoir Square for its proximity to the Murray Hill Reservoir, the imposing Egyptian-like structure to its east, but it wouldn't keep that name for long.

William Cullen Bryant was a key proponent to the creation of Central Park, but it would be on this spot that the poet and editor of the New York Evening Post would receive a belated honor in 1884 with the re-naming of old Reservoir Park to Bryant Park.

With the glorious addition of the New York Public Library in 1911, the park received some substantial upgrades, including its well-known fountain. Over twenty years later, it took on another curious present -- a replica of Federal Hall as a tribute to George Washington.

By the 1970s Bryant Park was well known as a destination for drug dealers and most people shied away from its shady paths, even during the day.  It would take a unique plan to bring the park back to life and a little help from Hollywood and the fashion world to turn it into New York City's most elegant park.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

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Direct download: 179_The_Fight_for_Bryant_Park.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:46 AM

New York's Crystal Palace seems like something out of a dream, a shimmering and spectacular glass-and-steel structure -- a gigantic greenhouse -- which sat in the area of today's Bryant Park. In 1853 this was the home to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a dizzying presentation of items, great and small, meant to exemplify mankind's industrial might.

We take you on a breathtaking tour of the Palce and its legendary exhibition, including the Latting Observatory (the tallest building in New York!)

Whatever happened to the Crystal Palace? And what inventions contained within do we still benefit from today?

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 178_The_Crystal_Palace.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:06 AM

Little Italy is the pocket-neighborhood reminder of the great wave of Italian immigration which came through New York City starting in the late 1870s.  This was the home of a densely packed, lively neighborhood of pushcarts, cheese shops, barber shops and organ grinders, populated by thousands of new immigrants in dilapidated old tenements.

The area has some of New York's oldest still-operating shops, from Ferrara Bakery to Di Palo's.  But there's also a dark side to this neighborhood, memories of extortion plots by the Black Hand and a perpetual presence of organized crime.

The present-day Little Italy is completely charming but constantly shrinking. How long can the neighborhood survive in the face of a growing Chinatown and the threats of gentrification?

PLUS: Our love/hate relationship with Nolita -- REVEALED!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 177_Little_Italy_Grande_Storia.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:26 AM

 Grab your fedora and take a trip with the Bowery Boys into the heart of New York City's jazz scene -- late nights, smoky bars, neon signs -- through the eyes of one of the greatest American vocalists who ever lived here -- Billie Holiday.

This a tour of the three great jazz centers of the early and mid 20th century -- 133rd Street in Harlem, 52nd Street (aka Swing Street) in Midtown, and Greenwich Village.

Featuring snippets of some of Holiday's greatest vocal performances.

 

Please note our new website address: www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 176_Billie_Holidays_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:03 AM

When historians look back at the year 2014, what events or cultural changes within New York City will historians consider significant?  In this special episode, the Bowery Boys look back at some of the biggest historical headlines of the year -- the opening of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the troubling trend of mega-condominiums along 57th Street and the continuing gentrification of several New York City neighborhoods.  

 

We also answer some questions from listeners and present some resolutions and thought on how you can help protect and preserve the historical landscape of New York City -- whether you live here or not.  

 

And a big cheers and our hopes for great things in 2015!

 

NOTE: We recorded this episode on December 17, and so were unable to make note of events from the recent few days including the tragic shooting of two NYPD officers on December 20, 2014.

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 175_Bowery_Boys_2014_Year_In_Review.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:27 PM

The Radio City Rockettes are perhaps America's best known dance troupe -- and a staple of the holiday season -- but you may not know the origin of this most iconic of New York City symbols. For one, they're not even from the Big Apple!

 

Formerly the Missouri Rockets, the dancers and their famed choreographer Russell Markert were noticed by theater impresario Samuel Rothafel, who installed them first as his theater The Roxy, then at one of the largest theaters in the world -- Radio City Music Hall.

 

The life of a Rockettes dancer was glamorous, but grueling; for many decades dancing not in isolated shows, but before the screenings of movies, several times a day, a different program each week.  There was a very, very specific look to the Rockettes, a look that changed -- and that was forced to change by cultural shifts -- over the decades.

 

This show is dedicated to the many thousands of women who have shuffled and kicked with the Rockettes over their many decades of entertainment, on the stage, the picket line or the hallways of Grand Central.

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 174_The_History_of_the_Rockettes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:55 AM