New York City History: The Bowery Boys
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 glory of early New York City came from its role as one of the world's great ports.  Today the South Street Seaport is a lasting tribute to that seafaring heritage, a historical district beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that contains some of the city's oldest buildings.

 

But there are many secrets here along the cobblestone streets.  Schermerhorn Row, the grand avenue of counting houses more than two centuries old, is built atop of landfill.  Historic Water Street once held a seedy concentration of brothels and saloons. Not to mention a very vibrant rat pit! And the Fulton Fish Market, the neighborhood's oldest customer tradition, once fell into the river.

 

The modern South Street Seaport, a preservation construct of concerned citizens, become popular with tourists during the 1980s but saw severe damage during Hurricane Sandy.  It's now the subject of some potentially dramatic changes.  How much of an adherence to the traditions of the past will determine the Seaport's future?

 

ALSO: The FDR Drive -- How it almost went below the Seaport!

Direct download: 163_South_Street_Seaport.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00 AM

The George Washington Bridge is surprisingly graceful, but politically scandalous.  And we're not talking about the current crisis being faced by current New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

 

Figuring out a way to cross over the Hudson River (not using a boat or ferry) between New York City and New Jersey has been a challenge engineers and builders have tried to solve for over two hundred years.  With the formation of the Port Authority in 1921, there was finally an administrative body with the ability to bring a Hudson River bridge to life.

 

At the core of this story is a professional disagreement (or betrayal, depending on how you see it) between Gustav Lindenthal, the dreamer of a monumental crossing twice the size of the Brooklyn Bridge, and his protégée Othmar Ammann, who envisioned a simpler crossing in a less populated part of town. 

 

The eventual bridge was built thanks to a few strategic, political moves by the New Jersey governor, but some of its original ornamentation was left off during the Great Depression. Still, even today, it's considered one of the most beautiful bridges of the Hudson River. Here's the story of an under-appreciated masterpiece that two states are proud to share.

 

ALSO: The story of the little red lighthouse and the great big flag!

 

Direct download: 162_George_Washington_Bridge.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:16 AM

The New York Fire Department protects the five boroughs from a host of disasters and mishaps -- five-alarm blazes, a kitchen fire run amok, and even those dastardly midtown elevators, always getting stuck!  But today's tightly organized team is a far cry from the chaos and machismo that defined New York's fire apparatus many decades ago.

New York's early firefighters -- Peter Stuyvesant's original ratel-watch -- were all-purpose guardians, from police work to town timepieces.  Volunteer forces assembled in the 18th century just as innovative new engines arrived from London.  By the 19th century, the fire department was the ultimate boys club, gangs of rival firefighters, with their own volunteer 'runners', racing to fires as though in a competition. Fisticuffs regularly erupted.  From this tradition came Boss Tweed, whose corrupt political ways would forever change New York's fire services -- for better and for worse.

Volunteers were replaced by an official paid division by 1870.  Now using horse power and new technologies, the department fought against the extraordinary challenges of skyscraper and factory fires.  There were internal battles as well, as the department struggled to become more inclusive within its ranks.

But the greatest test lay in the modern era -- from a deteriorating infrastructure in the 1970s that left many areas of New York unguarded, and then, the new menace of modern terrorism that continues to test the skill of the NYFD.  From burning chimneys in New Amsterdam to the tragedy of 9/11, this is the story of how they earned the nickname New York's Bravest.

Direct download: 161_Fire_Department_of_New_York_FDNY.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:03 AM

Central Park has frequently been called 'the people's park," but we think Tompkins Square Park may have a better claim to that title.  From its inception, this East Village recreational spot -- named for Vice President Daniel D Tompkins -- has catered to those who might not have felt welcome in other New York parks.

Carved from the marshy area of Peter Stuyvesant's old farm, Tompkins Square immediately reflected the personality of German immigrants who moved here, calling it Der Weisse Garten.  With large immgratns groups came rallies and demands for improved working conditions, leading to more than a number of altercations with the police in the 19th century.

Progressives introduced playgrounds here, and Robert Moses changed the very shape of Tompkins Square.  But the most radical transformation here took place starting in the late 1950s, with the introduction of 'hippie' culture and infusion of youth and music. By the 1980s, the park became known not only for embodying the spirit of the East Village through punk music and drag shows, but also as a haven for the homeless.  Clashes with police echoed the altercation that happened here one century before.  The park still maintains a curfew left over from the strife of the late 1980s.

FEATURING:  Lillian Wald, the Grateful Dead, Charlie Parker, Lady Bunny ... and Chevy Chase? 

Direct download: 160_Tompkins_Square_Park.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:48 AM

The Broadway Musical is one of New York City's greatest inventions, 150 years in the making! It's one of the truly American art forms, fueling one of the city's most vibrant entertainment businesses and defining its most popular tourist attraction -- Times Square.

But why Broadway, exactly? Why not the Bowery or Fifth Avenue? And how did our fair city go from simple vaudeville and minstrel shows to 'Shuffle Along', 'Irene' and 'Show Boat', surely the beginning of the truly modern American musical?

This podcast is an epic and wild musical adventure in itself, full of musical interludes, zipping through the evolution of musical entertainment in New York City, as it races up the 'main seam' of Manhattan -- the avenue of Broadway.  We are proud to present a tour up Broadway, past some of the greatest theaters and shows that have ever won acclaim here, from the wacky (and highly copied) imports of Gilbert & Sullivan to the dancing girls and singing sensations of the Jazz Age.

STARRING: Well, some of the biggest names in songwriting, composing and singing. And even a dog who talks in German!

And featuring our new sponsor Squarespace!

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Twitter: boweryboys

Direct download: 159_The_Broadway_Musical__Setting_the_Stage.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:55 AM

The Hotel Theresa is considered a genuine (if under-appreciated) Harlem treasure, both for its unique architecture and its special place in history as the hub for African-American life in the 1940s and 50s.

The luxurious apartment hotel was built by a German lace manufacturer to cater to a wealthy white clientele. But almost as soon as the final brick was laid, Harlem itself changed, thanks to the arrival of thousands of new black residents from the South.  Harlem, renown the world over for the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and its burgeoning music scene, was soon home mostly those who identified as black.  But many of the businesses here refused to serve black patrons, or at least certainly made them unwelcome.

The Theresa changed its policy in 1940 and soon its lobby was filled with famous athletes, actresses and politicians, many choosing to live at the Hotel Theresa over other hotels in Manhattan.  The hotel's relative small size made it an interesting concentration of America's most renown black celebrities.

In this podcast, I give you a tour of this glamorous scene, from the corner bar to the penthouse, from the breakfast table of Joe Louis to the crazy parties of Dinah Washington.

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 158_Hotel_Theresa.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:01 AM

This is the Bowery Boys 7th annual Halloween podcast, with four new scary stories to chill your bones and keep you up at night, generally doused with strange and fascinating facts about New York City.

For this episode, we've decided to go truly old-school, reaching back to old legends and tales from the years of the Revolutionary War and early 19th century.  These ghosts have two things in common -- George Washington (directly or indirectly) and ghosts! Although no ghosts of George Washington.

We venture to the haunted woods of Van Cortlandt Park for the tale of an Indian massacre and a forlorn servant girl, looking for her master's silver.  From there, we head to the early days of Greenwich Village and a tormented vice president waiting for his daughter's return.  Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, the ruins of an old Revolutionary War fort provide the setting for a horrific tale of a late-night booze run gone wrong.  And, finally, no Bowery Boys Halloween podcast would be complete without the ghost of a dramatic actor -- in this case, one without his head!

www.boweryboyspodcast.com


Direct download: 157_Early_Ghost_Stories_of_Old_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:56 AM

As New York City enters the final stages of this year's mayoral election, let's look back on a decidedly more unusual contest 100 years ago, pitting Tammany Hall and their estranged ally (Mayor William Jay Gaynor) up against a baby-faced newcomer, the (second) youngest man to eventually become the mayor of New York City.

John Purroy Mitchel, the Bronx-born grandson of an Irish revolutionary, was a rising star in New York, aggressively sweeping away incompetence and snipping away at government excess.  Under his watch, two of New York's borough presidents were fired, just for being ineffectual!  Mitchel made an ideal candidate for mayor in an era where Tammany Hall cronyism still dominated the nature of the five boroughs.

Nobody could predict the strange events which befell the city during the election of 1913, unfortunate and even bizarre incidents which catapulted this young man to City Hall and gave him the nickname the Boy Mayor of New York.

But things did not turn out as planned.  He won his election with the greatest victory margin in New York City history.  He left office four years later with an equally large margin of defeat.  Tune in to our tale of this oft-ignored figure in New York City history, an example of good intentions gone wrong and -- due to his tragic end -- the only mayor honored with a memorial in Central Park.

Direct download: 156_The_Boy_Mayor_of_New_York.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:10 AM

In the third part of the Bowery Boys Summer TV Mini-Series, I give you a grand tour of the New York City television production world from the 1970s to today, from the debut of Sesame Street in the Upper West Side to the flourishing 1990s, where the city was represented by a few iconic shows, including Sex And The City and Seinfeld.

Along the way, hear about the debuts of public access, HBO, MTV, the Cosby Show, NY1 and, of course, the TV show that employed thousands of New Yorkers during its two-decade run -- Law and Order.

Bong-bonggg!

Direct download: 155_Sesame_Street_to_Seinfeld.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:50 AM

It's the second part of the Bowery Boys TV Mini-Series, covering the years of New York City television production from the late 1940s to the 1960s. This podcast is arranged a little bit like a leisurely Midtown walking tour, taking you past four of the greatest locations in NYC televison history. And we guide you through the stories of the greatest shows in TV history -- from Howdy Doody to the Ed Sullivan Show!

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 154_NYC_in_the_Golden_Age_of_Televison.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:24 AM