One side of Haring’s handball-wall mural. Image courtesy of Medina Black.
In the late 1980s, just as the crack-cocaine epidemic gained momentum urban areas including New York City, artist Keith Haring stumbled across a very reasonable way to spread an anti-drug message to the demographic that needed it most: Why not paint a playground? He may not have known that the resultant mural, painted without the park’s permission, would survive as long as it did.
With the cool early fall nights comes that extra urgency to go out, to squeeze in every last moment of breezy fun before the season swings. Where better on such nights than a Harlem jazz club? Unfortunately, Harlem jazz clubs are an endangered species losing habitat quickly. But never fear, the Harlem Renaissance lives on–in maps.
We got a tip in the Untapped Mailbag about a “staircase that leads to nowhere” in Riverside Park so we went to check it out. “It’s located near a pair of train tracks,” the reader wrote, “On the other side, there’s a functioning staircase that connects Riverside Drive to the park, and when we went down to the water, we couldn’t believe how dirty the park was. There was tons of litter and trash everywhere, people grilling and setting up camp in tents. It was completely different from Riverside Park below 125th Street.”
The Cotton Club might be Harlem’s most famous surviving jazz venue, but during the Harlem Renaissance that started after World War I and ended sometime during the Great Depression, it was also the neighborhood’s most notorious. It had been opened by Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, as the Club Deluxe (or Club De Luxe) in 1920. White gangster and bootlegger Owney “The Killer” Madden bought and took over the club in 1923–the same year he was released on parole from what would have been a twenty year-long imprisonment at Sing Sing. He would use the venue, which he had renamed the Cotton Club, primarily as a means to sell bootlegged alcohol. The club was closed in 1925 for selling alcohol, but quickly re-opened. After prohibition, the club continued to feature some of America’s best jazz musicians, and attracted New York’s celebrities and socialites. (more…)
Up on 134th Street and Riverside Drive is a curious building, reminiscent of a Greek temple, which houses a Manhattan Mini Storage. Although it currently has one of Manhattan Mini Storage’s famous billboards (this one: Stop showering at the gym because your skis are in the tub.”), the facade of the building has a Greek pediment, fluted and non-fluted engaged columns and other Neoclassical ornamentation. There’s also a faded ad behind the billboard which include the word “MOVING” on it.
We thought these details, put together, suggest a prior history likely going back before the moving companies. Here’s what we found:
In New York City’s earliest days, Wall Street was the site of a wall constructed to keep the British out, Canal Street was a canal, and the rest of the Island was the countryside. As the City expanded northward, it enveloped and urbanized its rural backyard. However, the bucolic landscape of Manhattan was not the only thing to be overtaken by the encroaching City. The Island’s cemeteries were also evicted, ever northward, and finally banished to the outer boroughs.
Presented below is a roundup of some of Manhattan’s former cemeteries.
1. Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park, named after James Madison, was opened to the public in 1847. The land was home to a military parade ground, a United States Army Arsenal, and a House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents. Between 1794 and 1797, the land was also home to a potter’s field (a common burial ground for those unable to afford burial in another cemetery or for those who died unknown), after which it moved to Washington Square Park.