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The Universe of Union Square

Madison Square 23rd Street


Fifth Avenue

Sixth Avenue

Seventh Avenue

14th Street

ay adw Bro

8th Street

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UNION SQUARE University Place

Greenwich Village

Park Avenue South

Adrian Benepe


ay adw Bro

“This is the true crossroads of New York for New Yorkers. The intersection of storied neighborhoods. A place of historic importance.”

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Lexington Avenue

d Street

Rose Hill

Third Avenue

Irving Place


Stuyvesant Square

First Avenue


Second Avenue

Park Avenue South

Gramercy Square


“There’s a mix here – an alchemy of Uptown and Downtown and East Side and West Side that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and it gives birth to what is best about New York City.” Danny Meyer

14th Street

rth Fou

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East Village


nu Ave

Astor Place

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Lower East Side

St. Mark’s Place

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Contents 10


Peter Stuyvesant’s Harvest

Inventive Ventures

Chapter One

From “primitive” beginnings to great social and economic heights to seemingly endless decline…and then a glowing lurch upward


Chapter Two

Sculpting the Square Always in a state of tinkering, of becoming


Chapter Three

Democracy’s Stage

The ultimate showcase of unfettered public expression


Chapter Four

Creative Cauldron

A bubbling fanfare of actors, artists, writers making their mark

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Chapter Five

Galactic bursts of entrepreneurial zest


Chapter Six

Enlightened Streets The primacy of giving and getting knowledge


Chapter Seven

Expressions of Faith

A spiritual beat of egalitarianism and compassion


Chapter Eight

Fibers of the Future

Visionary and courageous stewards of the universe

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Introduction In a city that overwhelms with its vibrancy, power and dynamism, what happened in the few square blocks of the universe of Union Square stands out as an astonishing legacy of achievement, inspiration, folly and courage. This is where an unprecedented diversity of people, harmoniously or violently, triumphantly or dismally, shaped a piece of America’s restless, progressive soul. For this, dear reader, was once and is always hallowed ground: a place of experimenting, seeking and high drama in politics, the arts, commerce, entertainment, philanthropy, spirituality, education, advocacy, patriotism and more. A place that shouts from generations past to generations on the scene – THIS is where you, I – WE! unfurl our dreams.

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Peter Stuyvesant’s Harvest Chapter One

More than 500 years in the making from the European vantage – much longer by account of the indigenous population. From “primitive” beginnings to the pinnacle of “civilized” society. From great social and economic heights to dark, seemingly endless decay and then, like the Phoenix – a glowing flight upward. Half a millennium of cultivating and reaping the harvest that is the universe of Union Square.

View of Lower Manhattan from Union Square circa 1840s PETER STUYVESANT’S HARVEST 11

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Blue Bloods and Immigrants “Around Union Place new blocks of houses, capacious and stately, are springing up with surprising celerity. Fourteenth Street will doubtless be considered at the heart rather than the extremity of the town in the course of a few years.” New York Mirror, 1839 Union Square circa 1850



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Irving Place

Houses of the First Class In the 1850s, Daniel Drew, an infamous Wall Street stock manipulator, built a brownstone mansion on Union Square at 17th Street because “it gave me standing among the boys on the Street” and he could “live in the company of the money kings.” Italian statues, gobelin tapestries and Sevres porcelain filled half a dozen reception rooms in one mansion off Union Square. A bed inlaid with pearls and shrouded with satin and lace enfolded the slumbers of the mistress at a $100,000 mansion on Fifth Avenue’s Gold Coast. An 1846 ad for a residence near Union Square listed such amenities as, “Croton water, range, boiler, bath, water closets … furnace, dumb waiter from basement to attic, gas, and every other improvement introduced into modern built houses of the first class.”


Fifth Avenue


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Notable Edifices

Around, near and seen from Union Square A polyglot of mid-rise urban architecture. Such is the bricks and mortar tableau of the universe of Union Square. And within this hash glow a few jewels and maybe a few semi-precious gems, some historical and some contemporary. Nine buildings in and around the square are preserved as New York City landmarks. Row houses (1869) on 18th Street near Irving Place were the first of New York’s conventionbreaking “French Flats.” The lower floors had apartments and the top floors were artists’ studios. They were a hit with young couples of exemplary “old Knickerbocker” credentials.

First “French flats”

On 17th Street near Irving Place is what may be the oldest intact “genteel” apartment house (1879) in New York City. The first such abode in the U.S. – Stuyvesant Apartments on East 18th Street near Irving Place – was demolished in the First genteel 1950s. It was designed apartment house by Richard Morris Hunt (p. 198), a dean of 19th century architecture and a Gramercy resident.

from left: Century Building, Everett Building, Germania Life

Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (p. 153) was housed in the Queen Anne style, landmarked Century Building (1881) on 17th Street across from the park. It is now the flagship store of Barnes & Noble (p. 154). The landmarked Everett Building (1908) stands on the site of Everett House, one of Union Square’s grand hotels (p. 29). Its new-for-thetime functional design emphasized fireproofing, large windows and open floor space. Across Park Avenue, the landmarked 20-story former Germania Life Insurance Company Building (1911) is in a modern French style with a massive mansard roof crowned by what was originally one of the earliest examples of monumental neon signage. Germania Life

served the city’s growing German-American population and changed its name to Guardian Life during World War I (p. 45). It is now the W New York hotel. The landmarked former Century Association building (1869) on 15th Street near Union Square East, is the oldest surviving clubhouse building in Manhattan. It was among the first works of Henry Hobson Richardson, one of America’s most influential 19th century architects. Trinity Broadcasting currently occupies the building (p. 230).

Oldest genteel apartment house

Century Association building Building 32


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“A mixture of Chelsea, Liverpool and Paris” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson of Union Square and the city circa1880s

One of the first “skyscrapers,” the landmarked Lincoln Building (1890) at 14th Street and Union Square West combines steel construction and masonry bearing walls of limestone, granite and brick and includes carved stone and terra cotta detail. Landmarked Bank of the Metropolis building (1903), on Union Square West and 16th Street, adapted the tripartite form of the Ionic Column to the entrance of tall modern buildings. Twelve lion head gargoyles Roosevelt Building peer from the upper stories. Mixing Moorish and Venetian influences, the landmarked Decker Building (1893) was designed for Decker Brothers Piano Company (p. 181) and was the site of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and his attempted murder (pp. 43, 148).

Bank of Metropolis and Decker Building

Most imposing of the numerous investment structures built by the merchant and politically savvy Roosevelts is the terra cotta-embellished Roosevelt Building (1894) at Broadway and 13th Street. This blockfront once housed the mansion of Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, oft-visited by nephew Theodore who was born a few blocks north (p. 200).

Lincoln Building


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Infamies and Outrages

Violence that entered the annals

About a third of New York’s population – some 50,000 – were said to have watched John Johnson swing from the gallows for killing a sailor in 1824. He was hanged in a meadow at what is now Second Avenue and 13th Street. A sermon on “hell and the horrors of the damned” was being delivered at St. Francis Xavier Church in 1877 when a woman in the galleries shrieked hysterically and somebody hollered “fire!” In the ensuing panic, the nearly all-female congregation burst out onto 16th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, trampling to death six women and a little boy. Police conjectured that pickpockets had instigated the bedlam so “they could ply their nefarious vocation.”

Stanford White, among the celebrated architects of his day, was shot dead at a 1906 musical revue in the original Madison Square Garden – which he had designed. Laughter gave way to pandemonium as the audience realized this was not part of the show. White, it turned out, had a liaison with the actress and model Evelyn Nesbit, wife of the jealous millionaire who killed him. He lived on 21st Street off Gramercy Park.


Selig Silverstein tried to toss a bomb at police when a riot broke out at a 1908 Socialist Party demonstration in Union Square. Silverstein, a Russian-born anarchist, and a bystander were killed. Police sought to link the bombing to labor activist Emma Goldman (p. 98), who retorted: “You want to know who I think was at the bottom of the whole riot? The police. They do it to show their authority.”

“I stepped out on the running board and swung along; when I was near enough to make sure work of it, I pulled out the gun and fired.” So testified hoodlum “Boston Red Phil” after killing “Big Jack” Zelig in 1912 on a streetcar in the very spot where John Johnson had been hanged. Big Jack, one of the most feared gangsters in New York, was a member of the Monk Eastman gang. The murder occurred one day before Zelig was to testify in the trial of an allegedly crooked cop who, some alleged, had him rubbed out.

Survivors of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire testified the owners had sealed exit doors of the sweatshop believing workers were stealing materials. Most of the 146 victims were young Italian and Jewish women recently arrived from Europe. The owners, acquitted of criminal acts, lost civil suits but ended up paying only $75 for each life lost. This industrial tragedy at Greene Street and Washington Place rallied the nascent labor movement evolving around Union Square (p. 97) and gave impetus to employment reforms.


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The movie Gangs of New York featured a murderous character based on Monk Eastman, godfather of one of the city’s most violent gangs. Eastman carried a club that he notched upon bashing the skulls of unruly patrons at saloons that hired his gang to keep the peace. He was much appreciated by Tammany Hall (p. 237) for skills in convincing voters how to cast ballots. Lore has it that he ascribed the scars pocking his body to “a lot of little wars around New York.” He lost one of those wars in 1920, when a corrupt prohibition agent shot him dead at the entrance to the 14th Street subway at Union Square East. A World War I veteran, he was carried by soldiers to his final resting place.

“Mad Bomber” George Metesky terrorized New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, planting 33 or so bombs that injured 15 people. Nobody was hurt by explosions in the Union Square subway station and in a phone booth at the Consolidated Edison Building on Irving Place in 1951. A letter Metesky sent to the Herald Tribune after the Consolidated Edison bombing warned, “… justice will be served. I am not well, and for this I will make Con Edison sorry.” Metesky’s capture in 1957 brought to light a vendetta against Consolidated Edison resulting from a boiler explosion injury he suffered years before as an employee. Weatherman bomb explosion

Fascist supporters of Mussolini were among those conjectured to be responsible for the 1943 assassination of Carlo Tresca, internationally known publisher of the anti-fascist newspaper, Il Martello (The Hammer). Tresca was exiting his newspaper at Fifth Avenue and 15th Street when a gunman leaped from a sedan, fired at close range and sped away. Over 5,000 attended his funeral.

Anti-Vietnam war sentiment was blazing in 1970 as members of the “urban guerrilla” Weatherman (later called the Weather Underground) assembled explosives in a townhouse on 11th Street near Fifth Avenue. They planned to bomb Fort Dix or Columbia University, but the bombs went off prematurely, killing three and destroying the house. Into the rubble fell furniture owned by actor Dustin Hoffman, who lived next door.

Andy Warhol (p. 148) was pronounced clinically dead after being shot three times in 1968 in his studio in the Decker Building on Union Square West where his “Factory” was located. Valeria Solanis, a writer and feminist, said she tried to kill him “because he had too much control of my life.” She also wounded an art critic who happened to be there. Warhol never regained full health.


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“Our hearts are in communion When we gather down on Union Square, heigh ho! When whiskers are unshaven, One can always find a haven there, heigh ho! Though some may prefer the charming Bronnix, Though some sing of dainty Sutton Place, ‘Tis here we discover all the tonics That cure all the problems of the race. Oh, on boxes they put soap in, How we love it in the open air, heigh ho! We may not fill our stomics, But we’re full of economics Down on Union Square! Down on Union Square!” George and Ira Gershwin from Let ‘em Eat Cake, 1933

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Chapter Three The universe of Union Square as the ultimate showcase of democracy – for more than 150 years New York’s main stage for free expression of matters its citizens want to champion – that before all else makes this small piece of a giant city worth knowing and saluting.

Democracy’s Stage Union Square after the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861 DEMOCRACY’S STAGE

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“9/11 was when I was most deeply moved by how Union Square had become the progressive heart of the city. At that moment, with all the diversity of people and how they came together – Union Square became a really iconic symbol.” Paulette Cole

At about 8:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Stanley Bryant was crossing Union Square when the first of the hijacked jetliners appeared on Broadway’s horizon. ...

“I heard a roaring sound – and looked up to see a jet flying very low. I lost sight of it among the buildings. Seconds later, a woman ran toward me screaming, pointing – and I ran toward her and saw smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center.”



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Ground Zero in Spirit

In the days following September 11, when 14th Street was the farthest downtown the public could go, Union Square became a symbol for the world of how New York turned horror into a triumph of communal caring, good will and determination. What began as silent, isolated huddles around votive candles became a

massive, spontaneous outpouring of mourning and healing that enfolded the park for weeks. Families and friends penned notes of love and hope and left them with snapshots of those who had been lost. Leaders of towns, cities and nations paid their respects. People from every walk of life came together, holding hands, praying and singing through the days and nights.


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60s ic circa 18 emy of Mus l at the Acad al B rd ua G Light

“East Side, West Side, all around the town The tots sang ‘ring-around-rosie,’ ‘London Bridge is falling down’ Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke Tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York” 116

The Sidewalks of New York, also known as East Side, West Side – virtually the city’s anthem, was created by lyricist James Blake and vaudeville actor and composer Charles Lawlor in 1894. The song is based on Blake’s teenage years and friends, possibly including Mamie O’Rourke, who taught him how to dance or “trip the light fantastic.” Blake grew up in the Gas House District (p. 30) near Union Square – possibly on 18th Street.


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Creative Cauldron

Chapter Four

Bubbling up a fanfare of impresarios, actors, writers and artists of yesteryear and of today making their mark in the universe of Union Square.

The Fillmore New York at Irv ing Plaza CREATIVE CAULDRON

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Union Square’s “Slave Market” One veteran promoter remembered the hustling entertainment scene around Union Square: “The most prominent players, including the stars and their respective managers and agents, could be found parading the sidewalks, their datebooks in their hands. Those were the days of the barnstormer, when the ‘fly by night’ manager was in his element. All classes of showmen congregated here, and here the plans for the most important stage providers were matured for many years.”

In the post Civil War years, the new national railroad network enabled promoters to form touring theater companies that moved quickly and economically from city to city, extending the life and profits of productions. Seats went for a premium at Lester Wallack’s theater on Broadway and 13th Street – later the Star Theatre – considered the finest playhouse in the country for these touring shows. Creating new productions became big business for a new breed of producers and booking agents who struck deals in their Union Square offices and on the streets, in local restaurants and even on benches in the park – known by some actors as the “slave market.”

Edwin Booth (p. 137), America’s renowned Shakespearean actor and brother of actor John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, appeared frequently in and around Union Square. In 1869, he built The Booth Theatre at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Seats for opening night of Romeo and Juliet – “a great event in theatrical circles,” opined The New York Times – were sold at auction, grossing the unheard of sum of $10,000. Even so, The Booth ran up debts, and Edwin Booth lost control after five seasons. The Booth closed as a theater in 1883 and became a McCreery’s Dry Goods Store (p. 171).

The Booth Theatre

Edwin Booth

Booth Theatre



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Mae West Theda Bara

Lee Strasberg

Woody Guthrie

James Cagney

Some of the Noted Performers and Musicians Who Worked and/or Lived In/Near Union Square

Christine Nilsson

HISTORICAL Jacob and Stella Adler · Fred Allen · Mary Anderson · Wilson Barrett · Ethel and John Barrymore Jack Benny · Sarah Bernhardt · Edwin Booth · George Burns · George M. Cohan · Walter Damrosch · George L. Fox Lillian and Dorothy Gish · Harrigan and Hart · Helen Hayes · Henry Irving · David Kessler · Fritz Kreisler Jenny Lind · Walter Matthau · John M’Cullough · Helena Modjeska · Mogulesko · Lola Montez · Paul Muni · Molly Picon Adelaide Ristori · Pat Rooney · Lillian Russell · Ellen Terry · Boris Thomashefsky · Sophie Tucker · Oscar Wilde

Anton Rubinstein

MORE CONTEMPORARY Julie Andrews · Mikhail Baryshnikov · Tony Bennett · Blood Sweat and Tears · Michael Bloomfield · Marlon Brando · The Byrds · John Carradine Eric Clapton · Country Joe & the Fish · Brian De Palma · Johnny Depp · Four Tops · The Fugs · Jerry Garcia · Richard Gere · Grateful Dead Ethan Hawke · Jimi Hendrix · Dustin Hoffman · Buddy Holly · Jay and the Americans · Jefferson Airplane · Billy Joel · B.B. King · Kiss · Lovin’ Spoonful John Malkovich · Bob Marley · Murray the K · Judd Nelson · Al Pacino · Sean Penn · Prince · Joey Ramone · Molly Ringwald · Tim Robbins Julia Roberts · Rolling Stones · David Lee Roth · Winona Ryder · Susan Sarandon · Pete Seeger · Frank Sinatra · Skyliners · Wesley Snipes Bruce Springsteen · Sting · Barbra Streisand · Uma Thurman · Kathleen Turner · Tina Turner · Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention Joni Mitchell Marx Brothers

Elvis Presley


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Urban Art Crucible Some of America’s most lauded artists have found inspiration in the liberating, urban cacophony of the universe of Union Square. “Mr. Brady has done something to bring us the terrible reality and earnestness of the war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along streets, he has done something very like it.” So wrote The New York Times in 1862. Indeed, the Civil War photographs issued by the Brady Studio – some taken by Mathew Brady but most the work of uncredited others – propelled photography to the forefront of journalism. Brady was also noted for his photographic portraits of the

famous, including Abraham Lincoln. The Brady studio – starting in 1860 on Broadway and Tenth Street – was named the “National Portrait Gallery.”

When on 14th Street, by Frank Waller, depicts The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1870s. This early location – near Sixth Avenue – was fitting. Two decades before, on Broadway at 13th Street, Thomas Jefferson Bryan’s Gallery of Christian Art had opened as one of the city’s first public art galleries, charging a quarter for admission – to preserve “quiet and elegant taste.” And after the Civil War, other galleries had opened along Broadway, capitalizing on Ladies’ Mile shoppers (p. 170).


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Literary and Symphonic Lions History records many illustrious writers who touched down in and around Union Square, but the most famous of them all may never have even visited. ….

The Legend of Washington Irving “This house was once the home of Washington Irving.” So reads the time-worn plaque on the quaint threestory brick Italianate-style “Washington Irving House” at Irving Place and 17th Street. And so it was believed until 1927, some 83 years after the supposed residency, when plans to create a museum there brought a hue and cry from relatives that he “never crossed the front door” of that place. Nonetheless, the name of the “first American man of letters” had been appended to one of the more charming streets near Union Square and to the neighborhood’s giant, historically rich public school – Washington Irving High School (p. 211) – which has a bronze bust of its namesake out front – rendered by sculptor Friedrich Beer. Since then, not a shred of evidence has surfaced that Irving had lived anywhere near Irving Place, though he may have visited a relative on 17th Street.

Whence the legend? We know that Irving Place was the brainchild of Samuel Ruggles, builder of nearby Gramercy Square in the 1830s (p. 23). And Ruggles had convinced the city to do what towns and cities throughout the land were doing at that time – paying homage to America’s most popular author.

The notion that Irving had actually lived on Irving Place is the kind of mystery that the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, known for biting humor, might have appreciated. Possibly, the rumor originated with Elsie deWolfe, “a chic and stylish actress” and one of the first interior decorators. Elsie de Wolfe lived with Elizabeth Marbury, a literary agent, in Washington Irving House for nearly two decades, starting in the 1880s. “By most accounts,” reported the The New York Times, “they were the most famous lesbian couple in Victorian New York” and took pleasure in associating with society’s gossipy upper crust and “keeping happily in the public eye.” But when the Irving controversy erupted in the 1920s and deWolfe was queried, the selfpromoting lady – by then a former resident of Irving Place – was uncharacteristically silent. Was she preserving the legend?

William Cullen Bryant, the first American writer of verse to win plaudits internationally, built a national reputation from his powerful desk at the New York Evening Post, where he was editor in chief for 50 years, starting in 1828. Bryant was a vociferous proponent of “laissezfaire” economic policy, the Republican party, ending slavery, and the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln, whom he introduced at Cooper Union when the future president gave his “Right Makes Might” address (p. 92). He was known for ebullient optimism: “We are not without the hope that those who read what we have written, will see in the past, with all its vicissitudes, the promise of a prosperous and honorable future, of concord at home, and peace and respect abroad; and that the same cheerful piety which leads the good man to put his personal trust in a kind Providence, will prompt the good citizen to cherish an equal confidence in regard to the destiny reserved for our beloved country.” Bryant was living on 16th Street near Fifth Avenue at the time of his death in 1878.


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Inventive Ventures Chapter Five

The Ladies’ Mile offered a new twist on shopping: a multi-block urban emporium the likes of which had never been seen. It was the birth of modern department store retailing in America – a forerunner of the mall, if you will. And it was a harbinger of wondrous commercial enterprises that have since made the universe of Union Square fertile ground for gutsy entrepreneurs.


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Ladies’ Mile

Birth of a National Pastime Imagine being transported back to 1882: to Broadway south and north of Union Square and to Sixth Avenue from 14th to 23rd Streets; to a medley of shopping emporiums that has never since been reproduced on such copious, mammoth, elegant scale in city streets.

“All America goes to New York … for the fascinatingly alluring, irresistible shops below 23rd Street. What are the Parisian boulevards, or even Regent Street, to this magnificent panorama of mercantile display?” King’s Handbook, 1892

The Ladies’ Mile, it was said, had a “champagne sparkle.” Wrote historian Lewis Mumford, “If the vitality of an institution can be measured by its architecture, one can only say that the department store was one of the most vital institutions of the epoch from 1880 to 1914.” Why did the grand commercial palaces go up in Manhattan? Because post-Civil War New York City, apex of the nation’s newly industrializing economy, was hell bent on demonstrating a singular embrace of commerce unfettered by Victorian social and class constraints. And why around Union Square? Because nowhere else was there such a pastiche of bustling affluence. Thronged with theatergoers. Happy hunting ground for buyers of haute culture – pianos, books, paintings, Tiffany creations. Safe and comfortable for the burgeoning, proper middle class seeking the styles and other creature comforts that proclaimed their status in the capital of capitalism. Easily reached by the working classes in new marvels of steam-powered public transportation – quickly succeeded by electric locomotion. Union Square was so much the center of things, there was talk of moving City Hall there. R.H. Macy on 14th Street by the Sixth Avenue “El” at Christmas, 1899 One of the early R.H. Macy sites – on 14th Street near 6th Avenue 170


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One-offs Galactic was the entrepreneurial verve of Ladies’ Mile and the entertainment industry. But Union Square’s universe has been as impressive on an individual scale, showcasing an eclectic collection of ingenious enterprises.

Kiehl’s has operated out of its original location on Third Avenue at 13th Street since 1851, building an enviable niche in the global skin care products business. One would not think a store catering mostly to women would feature vintage Harley-Davidson and other motorcycles in its original, flagship showroom, but there they are – evidence of the company’s “notoriously quirky” heritage.

Piano Row

German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg and his sons were first in their industry to recognize that the entertainment hubbub of Union Square could catapult their young piano business. In 1864, the elegant showrooms of Steinway & Sons opened just west of the Academy of Music on 14th Street,

on the site where Zeckendorf Towers (p. 55) is now located, displaying over 100 pianos (p. 119). Steinway’s success attracted competitors, among them Decker, Chickering, Knabe, Sohmer and Weber. Over the next three decades, dozens of showrooms opened, and Piano Row flourished on Union Square’s south side. INVENTIVE VENTURES

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Enlightened Streets Chapter Six

Capitalism run amok – or so seems to be the prevailing character of New York. But probe beyond the mayhem and the panorama alters. We see a conglomeration of distinctive communities marshalling wits, energy and resources on less material, more fundamentally urgent matters – like preparing the young to find their way and make their contribution. And nowhere in the city is the primacy of education more pronounced than in the universe of Union Square. Descriptors like “among the first” and “most innovative” abound and, in keeping with the area’s progressive spirit, their origins are often traced to opening the doors of learning to those who had little or no access, especially the working class and dispossessed, “tempest-tossed” immigrants. Colleges alone represent a prestigious academic cosmos of more than 100,000 learners and thousands of teachers – many among the most distinguished in their profession. In all, over 60 institutions – grammar and high schools, pre-schools, conservatories, universities, libraries, museums – are dedicated to education and scholarship. Herewith a sampling. ...


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Expressions of Faith Chapter Seven



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In the heart of this urbane community is a spiritual beat of religious devotions from around the world. A beat that resonates egalitarianism, compassion, welcome.


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Fibers of the Future Chapter Eight

This book tells of many who changed the landscape of their time, adding novel dimensions of artistry, commerce, education and social activism that still enrich our world. We conclude with a salute to some of the others whose visionary, compassionate and often courageous citizenship show the way for new generations to create a grand future in the universe of Union Square.

Details from the facade of Sage House (p. 240) FIBERS OF THE FUTURE

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Politicians ... Noble and Otherwise Hamilton Fish, one of America’s most noted early statesmen, was a New York Governor, a U.S. Senator and served as President Grant’s Secretary of State. The son of Nicholas Fish and Elizabeth Stuyvesant (p. 20), he was born and raised on Stuyvesant Street. During the Civil War era, Samuel Tilden was one of the relatively few anti-slavery politicians in New York who was a Democrat. As a reformist governor after the war, he became a fierce opponent of Tammany Hall, advocating the impeachment of judges who were Tammany stooges. Tilden won the popular vote in the presidential election of 1876 but lost the electoral college vote to Rutherford Hayes. This most controversial election of the 19th century foreshadowed the presidential election of 2000 in that Florida was among the disputed states and many Democratic supporters were mystified by their candidate’s lack of enthusiasm for contesting the results. The Tilden mansion in Gramercy Park was Tilden’s home from 1860 to 1885 and is now The National Arts Club (p. 138).


Abram Hewitt was not one to mince words. Elected Mayor of New York City in 1886, he crusaded against Tammany Hall and municipal corruption, once informing top police officials he had the evidence to put them in Sing Sing prison for life. “I intend to keep it in my safe, so that whenever my orders are not executed properly it can be used by the district attorney.” Hewitt is also remembered as the “father of the city’s subway system” for his planning, financing and construction wizardry. Among his last words as he prepared to meet his maker: “And now, I am officially dead.” He lived on Lexington Avenue near Gramercy Square in the former home of Peter Cooper (p. 239), his father-in-law. James Harper, eponymous founder of the esteemed publishing house and a Mayor of New York City, lived in Gramercy Park for many years.

Elihu Root received the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments in international relations. One political leader said of his service as U.S. Secretary of War under President McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt, “no such intelligent, constructive and vital force” had occupied that post in American history. Root was U.S. Secretary of State for Roosevelt and later was a U.S. Senator from New York. He lived on Irving Place near 15th Street in the 1870s. President Lincoln appointed John Bigelow to the all-important positions of Consul at Paris and then Minister to France – roles in which he helped to keep France and other European powers from supplying the Confederacy with ships and armaments. Bigelow was later a founder and first president of the New York Public Library – hence John Bigelow Plaza at the main branch on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. His library initiatives were hailed as “an unprecedented example of private philanthropy for the public good.” Bigelow, also a New York Secretary of State, lived on 20th Street near Irving Place.


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Tammany Hall Tammany Hall conjures secretive bonds of Irish fealty, infamous associations of political corruption, and “bosses” who flaunted legal and moral norms and were the real power in America’s largest city for well over a century. But Tammany, located in and near Union Square for most of its reign, did not start out that way. The Tammany Society, organized in 1789 in the Wall Street area, takes its name from Tamanend, a leader of the Lenape Native Americans (p. 12). In 1867, the society moved to a hall – hence “Tammany Hall” – on 14th Street where the Consolidated Edison Tower now stands. Tammany affiliated with the Democratic Party, hosting its 1868 convention, and built a political dynasty by “earning the loyalty of the ever-expanding immigrant community.” The Tammany Hall “ward boss” became the vote gatherer and giver of patronage, providing social, economic and other extralegal services that amounted to a “rudimentary public welfare system” in a period when municipal services were mostly unknown. A diary entry of one ward boss speaks to Tammany’s role. In the course of a day, he “assisted the victims of a

Former New York Governor Horatio Seymour became the presidential nominee after 23 ballots at the 1868 Democratic Convention, held at Tammany Hall on 14th Street. Seymour lost the election to Ulysses Grant.

house fire; secured the release of six drunks by speaking on their behalf to a judge; paid the rent of a poor family to prevent their eviction and gave them money for food; secured employment for four men; attended the funerals of two constituents (one Italian, the other Jewish); attended a Bar Mitzvah; and attended the wedding of a Jewish couple.” Tammany Hall also helped immigrants to become naturalized citizens and, therefore, voters. William “Boss” Tweed was especially known for expediting Boss Tweed naturalizations through methods that often involved dubious dealings with judges. And, of course, those who got the vote were expected to repay Tammany’s largesse at the ballot box.

Tammany Hall on 14th Street circa 1914. The Academy of Music (p. 118) is to the left and looming in the background is Consolidated Edison, which just over a decade later bought this property and erected its Tower of Light (p. 34), requiring Tammany Hall to relocate and ending the Academy’s tenure which had begun some 75 years before.

bosses, gaining so much control of the ballot box that he won election to the New York State Senate. He was ousted and ended up in prison as the result of a reform movement led by Governor Samuel Tilden (p. 236). Pressure continued to mount on Tammany. Pastor Charles Parkhurst’s thumping denunciation in 1892 (p. 216) inspired other reformist, antiTammany politicians, including Theodore Roosevelt (p. 241).

By 1854, Tammany controlled businesses, politics and even law enforcement and functioned primarily to protect and augment its power, often to the detriment of the public good. Tweed was the most infamous of the FIBERS OF THE FUTURE

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