The Bowery Boys: New York City History (general)
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?

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

patreon.com/boweryboys

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

The ruins of the New York State Pavilion, highlight of the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, have become a kind of unofficial Statue of Liberty of Queens, greeting people as they head to and from LaGuardia and JFK airports.  Its abandoned saucer-like observation decks and steel arena have inspired generations of New Yorkers who have grown up with this oddity on the horizon.

 

The Pavilion holds a great many surprises, and its best days may be yet to come.  Designed by modernist icon Philip Johnson, the Pavilion was saved from the fate of many of the venues in the World's Fair. But it's only been used sporadically over the past 50 or so years, and the fear of further deterioration is always present.

 

For the first part of this very special episode of the Bowery Boys, I take you through the pavilion's presence in the World's Fair, a kaleidoscopic attraction that extolled the greatness of the state of New York.  In its first year, however, a battle over controversial artwork was waged, pitting Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller against the hottest artist of the day -- Andy Warhol. Other controversies at the Fair threatened to derail the message behind its slogan 'Peace Through Understanding'.

 

In the show's second half, I head out to record at the Queens Theater -- the only part of the New York State Pavilion that's been rehabilitated -- to explore the venue's 'lonely years' with filmmaker Matthew Silva, a co-founder of People For The Pavilion, an organization that's successfully bringing attention to this weird little treasure.  Matthew gives us the scoop of the pavilion's later years, culled from some of his interviews in the film Modern Ruin: A World's Fair Pavilion.

 

This is crucial time in the history of this spectacular relic. With public attention at an all time high, we may now be at the right time to re-purpose the Pavilion into a new destination for New Yorkers. What do you think should be done with the New York State Pavilion?

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 173_Ruins_of_the_Worlds_Fair.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:06 AM

Brooklyn is the setting for this quartet of classic ghost stories, all set before the independent city was an official borough of New York City.  This is a Brooklyn of old stately mansions and farms, with railroad tracks laid through forests and large tracks of land carved up, awaiting development.  These stories also have another curious resemblance -- they all come from local newspapers of the day, reporting on ghost stories with amusement and more than a little skepticism.

 

-- The Coney Island and Sea Beach Railroad took passengers to and from Brooklyn's amusement district.  But nobody was particularly amused one evening to be stopped by a horrific gangly ghost upon the tracks near the neighborhood of Mapleton.

 

-- In Clinton Hill, a plantation-style house built in the early years of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has survived hundreds of unusual tenants over the years, but certainly the scariest days in this historic home occurred in 1878 with a relentless, invisible hand that would not stop knocking. 

 

-- The Oceanic Hotel was one of Coney Island's first great hotels, an accommodation for almost 500 near the increasingly popular beaches of Brighton Beach.  But in 1894, the hotel was virtually emptied out and reportedly haunted.  Did it have something to do with the murder upstairs in Room 30?

 

-- And finally, the area of Bushwick nearest the Queens border are populated with various burial grounds like the Evergreens Cemetery, borne of the rural cemetery movement which transplanted thousands of previously buried bodies from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  In 1894, with Bushwick prepared for a spate of new development, the sudden appearance of an oddly dressed spirit threatens to disrupt the entire neighborhood.  During one evening, a drunken party of 300 ghost hunters, brandishing swords and revolvers, come across one terror that proved to be very real indeed.

 

ALSO: Secrets of The Sentinel, a 1977 horror film set in an old house along the Brooklyn Promenade.

Direct download: 172_Ghost_Stories_of_Brooklyn.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:42 AM

Gramercy Park is Manhattan's only private park, a prohibited place for most New Yorkers. However we have your keys to the history of this significant and rather unusual place, full of the city's greatest inventors, civic leaders and entertainers!

 

Literally pulled up from swampy land, Gramercy Park naturally appealed to the city's elite, a pocket neighborhood with classic old brownstones so vital to the city's early growth that two streets sprang from its creation -- Irving Place and Lexington Avenue.

 

In this show, we give you an overview of its history -- a birds eye's view, if you will -- then follow it up with a virtual walking tour that you can use to guide yourself through the area, on foot or in your mind.  In this tour, we'll give you the insights on an early stop on the Underground Railroad, the house of a controversial New York mayor, a fabulous club of thespians, and a hotel that has hosted both the Rolling Stones and John F Kennedy (though not at the same time).

 

ALSO: How DO you get inside Gramercy Park? I mean, really?

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

 

Direct download: 171_Gramercy_Park.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:22 AM