Ever wonder what those three brutalist towers are on the north side of Houston Street between LaGuardia Place and Mercer? One of them is a Mitchell-Lama co-op at 505 LaGuardia Place and the other two are called Silver Towers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em they are the brainchildren of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated architects, I. M. Pei. But how did these mid-century masterpieces (choke) come to stand on this ground which was once occupied by a combination of old foundries and timber-built hovels?In 1953, the Mayor’s Commission on Slum Clearance created the Washington Square Southeast redevelopment area. Originally, everything from West 4th to Spring Streets and Sixth Avenue to Mercer Street was to be completely bulldozed. People like Jane Jacobs went ape-shit and, because of them, only the three superblocks from West Fourth to Houston and West Broadway (now LaGuardia Place) to Mercer got a date with the grim reaper. The northernmost block was given to NYU for educational purposes with the other two going to the Washington Square Village Corporation. When sales faltered at the ghastly Washington Square Village apartments, the corporation was forced to sell the southern superblock, and in 1960, they found their buyer in NYU with the condition that the university build 175 low-income housing units (that’s the building on the left). So, in 1964, two years of construction began on these three towers (the third one’s hiding behind the edifice on the right). And after spending $12,500,000 on construction, NYU began moving faculty and graduate students into their couple of 275 foot high-rises and selling apartments in the third at 505 LaGuardia.I kinda hate these things, especially when I think about what would be there now had Robert Moses not rammed through the development of these superblocks. On the other hand, these monstrosities along with buildings like Penn Station stand as a reminder of the treasures that can be lost if we as a community do not respect our past while continuing to look forward. If Mr. Moses had been successful, most of now-landmarked Soho and a good portion of the Village would be tall and characterless apartment and office towers flanking an elevated expressway. Phew! In an ironic twist, these towers were themselves designated landmarks in 2008 to prevent NYU from building more towers on these superblocks. And with classroom tuition approaching $60,000 a year, the university has deep enough pockets to make an entire super-zipcode, if we all don’t keep a collective eye on ‘em.
You walk by it, run by it, watch it fleetingly pass by as your cab hangs a right on Ninth or a left on Eigth. But what the hell is it and why is it there? Here’s the quick, the bad and the spray painted on the Washington Arch at the north end of Washington Square Park and the south end of Fifth Avenue.Washington Arch was conceived back in 1889 by one Mr. William Rhinelander Stewart. We’re going to go ahead and speculate that he was getting his friends wasted and nostalgic looking for something to stage elaborate celebrations around to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration. He scrounged from them about 2,700 bucks (the price of a nicely outfitted MacBook today) to have Stanford White design and build a wood and plaster version of the great arches that adorned European cities over Fifth Avenue just north of Washington Square Park. A lark, friends, that clearly got the city planner’s noggins running. Three years later, they commissioned White to design a more permanent structure in the park that ended up being constructed of Tuckahoe marble. The anchor for today’s Fifth Avenue was born.Measuring 73’6″ x 56’10″ with a span of 30′, the arch has seen it’s fair share of societal celebrations, political demonstrations and, as of today, outright terrorism! In 1995, after decades of neglect, the arch was restored to it’s present glory where it stands tall watching over the newly redesigned park that continues to host multitudes of artists, musicians, students, pigeon people, pot smokers and little kids running their nannies ragged.
We here at ON THE REAL love to talk about New York City’s history and when we were walking by C.O. Bigelow this morning on Sixth Avenue we felt compelled to tell you a little about its history and remind you that C.O. Bigelow is a fantastic and old-time classic at which to procure a gift or two. You see, back in 1838 when Martin Van Buren was president, Dr. Galen Hunter formulated Rose Wonder Cold Cream and opened The Village Apothecary Shop. 15 years later, he sold it to an employee named George Hooper who in 1870 developed their Lemon Body Cream which is still a favorite today. In 1880, another employee bought the shop and renamed it C.O. Bigelow.Clarence Otis Bigelow and various employees ran the shop until 1939 when William Ginsberg bought the store, continuing the long tradition of the pharmacy being handed down from owner to employee. The Ginsberg Family still owns C.O. Bigelow and that is one of the many reasons why you should shop there instead of at one of the chains. They have a fantastic selection of skin care and apothecary products that you’re not going to find everywhere else. Guys, grab one of C.O. Bigelow’s incredibly helpful associates and have them put together a gift basket with amazing scents, creams and scrubs for her to enjoy while you take the kids for a long afternoon. Ladies, get him a new Made-in-England shaving set with their premium shave cream. Either way, you’ll be inspired when you walk in to C.O. Bigelow and witness how many amazing products they have packed in between this nearly 200-year-old establishment’s walls. Oh, and don’t forget to get your Xanax prescription filled while you shop. The in-laws will be here before you know it.
With the advent of downloadable music, there was pontification aplenty about the inevitable death of the traditional bricks and mortar New York City record store. And it’s certainly true that big megastores (remember the old Tower on East 4th? Or Virgin in Union Square?) went the way of the buggy whip pretty quickly. But in New York City, a handful of little record stores in the Village still thrive and not just because they just stock great product in every known format. I think they exist for New Yorkers because they manage to provide a unique and immersive experience. For a music lover, there’s something about the cramped aisles, creaky floors, and floor to ceiling displays of vivid album art that inspires a quasi-religious experience. Bleecker Street Records happens to be a favorite of mine.Whereas the internet specializes in immediate accuracy – just type in “45 rpm recording of Marvin performing ‘What’s Going On’ live in Germany” and bam, you find and order it – part of the beauty in a shop like Bleecker Street is it’s the exact opposite of that. Nothing is even alphabetized. Find your genre, locate the artist, and then just get in there and do some digging. Flip through albums you had forgotten you loved, and others you never even knew existed. It allows you to time travel through your own musical past in a tactile, dusty way that you will never, ever get clicking through iTunes at home.And of course the store has every damn recording new and old that you could ever want in there, but again, it’s not necessarily about the selection. Browsing is where it’s at, man, in the the old fashioned sense. So this weekend we highly encourage you to head down to Bleecker Street to do some crate digging and who knows? Maybe even maybe walk away with a rare B-side.
Before my daughter was born, I used to take weekly blues harp lessons (please don’t call it a “harmonica”) but I found it challenging to keep up with a newborn so I laid my harps down for a while. Now that she’s two and an independent woman, I knew I wanted to get back into playing. My teacher lives on Waverly in Greenwich Village on the fifth floor of a walk-up building. Maybe this is by design: if you can’t hack the climb up, you probably don’t have the wind to play the blues? Regardless, my teacher Leslie has been playing blues harp for decades and as soon as you hear a few notes you know you’re in the presence of someone who can play the hell out of this thing. It’s a seriously bad ass sound when done right. And the weapon of choice is Hohner’s Marine Band 1896.I’ve found the thing with playing the harp is you can become mediocre at it fast enough but to be good undoubtedly takes years. But at $40 a lesson with Leslie, it may be one of the more reasonable deals in town. Another reason to love New York City: can learn the blues from a serious Village great without having to hike to the crossroads.