Friday, November 30, 2007


ABOVE: Gerde's in its original location, circa 1960

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we'll be celebrating 'FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER', featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found HERE.

Few streets in Greenwich Village have more history than West 4th Street, which runs along the south side of Washington Square and became a lifeline to New York's art and bohemian culture. The teahouse Mad Hatter at 150 W. 4th was an influential artist destination, later becoming the lesbian bar Pony Stable Inn, where Allan Ginsberg first met close friend and fellow beat poet Gregory Corso. (It's now the ever reliable Washington Square Diner. I heartily endorse their grilled cheese.)

The Whitney Studio Club sprang up at 147 W. 4th in 1910, presenting Edward Hopper's first exhibit of his works, and later became the bohemian hangout Ristorante Volare. The Washington Square Methodist Church, a lovely Romanesque church built in 1860, on 135 W. 4th gave refuge to draft dodgers in the 60s and was appropriately called 'Peace Church'.

And we can't forget the notorious Golden Swan Café, a 19th century saloon formerly on the corner of W. 4th and Sixth Avenue, which Eugene O'Neil immortalized in 'The Iceman Cometh'.

But for music lovers, no place on this tiny street is more revered than the former location (now gone) of Gerde's Folk City.

You won't find the strange but fabulous Todd Haynes film 'I'm Not There' anywhere near West Fourth Street -- it was filmed in Canada! -- but this is the street where Bob Dylan, the artist, was born. The mousey Minnesota born musician arrived in 1961 and quickly caught the attentions of Village habitues. Although he performed in various places up and down the street -- including the NYU Loeb Student Center (once at 61 W. 4th) -- Gerde's was his best known haunt.

Owner Mike Porco took over Gerde's restaurant in 1952 and refashioned it as a coffeehouse with Monday night 'hootenannys', amateur nights for local musicians. However, when you're in Greenwich Village, the talent pool at Gerde's would be filled with future stars -- Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton. And of course, Dylan, who approached Porco and began performing in April of 1961, on a ticket that night with John Lee Hooker.

He threw the clientele for a loop. Dylan Roots quotes Happy Traum as saying, "I remember watching him, thinking 'This boy's unbelievable, he's going to become another Woody Guthrie.' I also thought that he would not become known outside of Greenwich Village."

He would become quite known, however, thanks to a performance at Gerde's in September that was reviewed by the New York Times critic Robert Sheldon. Dylan wasn't even headlining that night; he opened that night for a bluegrass outfit the Greenbriar Boys. By October, Dylan had a record deal with Columbia Records. Sheldon, by the way, would go on to write 'No Direction Home', a biography on Dylan that would be made into Martin Scorcese film.

Gerde's would move in 1970 to 130 West 3rd Street. Its now the home of the Village Underground, another great Village music venue.

I would suggest going on an ultimate Dylan excursion through the Village, even if you're not really into Dylan. Go check out 'I'm Not There' at the Film Forum, then walk up to Fourth Street to the other addresses associated with Dylan. On top of the previously mentioned Gerde's and Loeb Student Center, his former apartment is in 161 W. 4th and he snarfed down bagels at 168 w. 4th. New Pony has an entire map of Dylan-themed locations in downtown Manhattan!

I think we can conclude what Bob's 'Positively Fourth Street' was about.

Below: from R. Stevie Moore, a billboard from latterday Gerde's (1984) listing some of the headliners that month:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

PODCAST: The Original Bowery Boys / B'hoys

For our very special 25th episode, we give you all sorts of Bowery boys -- the cultural and fashion trend of the 1840s, the notorious enemy of the Five Points gangs, and that slapstick bunch of New York actors from the 1930s and 1940s. And of course, a little bit about us!

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

The Bowery Boys, on their way to battle the Dead Rabbits (or is that the Roach Guards?)

The 'Dead End Kids', circa 1938, fresh from their fame in 'Dead End' and 'Angels With Dirty Faces'

From the film 'Dead End'

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The unsweet view from Manhattan's oldest window

Sugar holds a sour spot in New York's revolutionary history. As the British swept through Manhattan, driving Washington and his Continental Army up to Harlem Heights, they collected a fair number of rebel prisoners. At first they thought to hold the prisoners in churches of 'dissenting sects' (i.e. non Anglican); finding those inadequete, they prepared to refit the city's sugar refineries as makeshift prisons. And so it was that Rhinelander Sugar House, on Duane and Rose Streets, held many early patriots of the American Revolution.

A surviving remnant of this prison can still be found, just steps off the Brooklyn Bridge, through the grand arch of the Manhattan Municipal Building. There you can find a strange barred window looking into nothing in particular.

However in the confusing and dangerous days of the Revolution, prisoners looked from it out into streets of British soldiers, rampaging fires and general mayhem. It is noted to have held those early New Yorkers 'suffering under the stigma of patriotism', often publishers of rebellious newssheets, sometimes even just those who happened to purchase them.

After the British were expunged from the city, the Rhinelander stood abandoned, eventually used for storage but largely decrepit and (according to superstitious uptowners) even haunted. By 1852, still in possession by the Rhinelander family, it was leased to a paper supplier.

In 1890, the prison was demolished and turned into an apartment building. But because nothing says comfortable living like a prison, part of the old prison and some of its bricks were incorporated into the new structure. In 1907, the Rhinelander apartment building was the scene of a horrifying elevator accident.

That building was later destroyed as well, in 1968, to make way for NYPD headquarters; however the prison window still remains as one of downtown Manhattan's living testaments to its contributions to American freedom.

If one Rhinelander prison window isn't enough for you, then you're in luck -- another
was removed and installed among the south grounds of Van Cortlandt Mansion at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ah, the bad ole days of Needle Park

BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature whereby we find an unusual movie or TV show that -- whether by accident or design -- uniquely captures an era of New York City better than any reference or history book.

The traffic island at 72nd and Broadway has always been one of the Upper West Side's most distinctive, with its vintage subway control houses on either side of the street sitting in two distinct 'parks' -- Verdi Square with its lovely shady patches and statue of composer Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi; and Sherman Square, a virtually barren traffic triangle that honors nothing in the way of its namesake, Civil War hero William Tecumseh Sherman.

It was a different world 35 years ago, when this area was known by another name -- Needle Park, your friendly uptown destination for junkies and dope fiends. The 1972 docudrama Panic In Needle Park vividly depicts this.

The film is primarily known as the breakthrough role of Al Pacino -- it's actually his second film -- and its easy to see why. He plays Bobby, a deal who continually fails to break the habit, and even lures his innocent sweet girlfriend Helen (Kitty Winn) into a world of dope scores and prostitution.

More surprising than finding Pacino here is the film's other contributors -- Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne wrote the screenplay, Dominic Dunne produced it, and showing up in early roles are Raul Julia and Paul Sorvino (as Helen's hapless john!)

The film is seen through Helen's eyes who clearly has a few opportunities to escape via a handsome police detective who has seemingly been assigned exclusively to her.

It's fascinating to see this now-clean stretch of Broadway through a lens of grit, a depiction of New York as a hopeless metropolis sinking into ever-stewing pools of urban decay. Most striking is the scene where Pacino attempts to score from a dealing in front of the Museum of Natural History*.

The raw, early indie style of director Jerry Schatzberg would go on to influence other films, although some of its techniques have been rendered into cliche. However, for lovers of 1970s New York cinema, this sobering and rather exhausting film is a must-see.

Below: a picture of the Sherman Square subway station today:

And Verdi Square:

*One could write an entire book about the depiction of the Natural History museum in film. See the last Bowery Boys Recommends article about Q: the Winged Serpent.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Broadway's first musical: The Black Crook

The stagehand strike on Broadway wages on, forcing curtains on all but a few shows and sending the holiday tourist season into a tailspin. It blunts a tradition that started all the way back in September 12, 1866, back when things like unions and fair wages and musicals based on movies and popular ABBA songs weren't really a consideration.

At a time when the largest theaters in Manhattan were all below 14th Street, the 3,200-seat Niblo's Garden on Prince and Broadway was one of the largest and most popular. In fact, it wasn't merely a theater but an entertainment park of mid-19th century fancies. William Niblo, an upper class PT Barnum of sorts, opened his version of a showy Las Vegas hotel in 1828, with elaborate gardens, gaslight illumination shows, vivid dioramas, traveling circuses, fireworks displays, and plenty of open saloons to keep his patrons happy. A theater was included in this complex, for many years one of the most popular amusements in the city.

In 1866, a variation on the usual theatrical spectacle debuted at Niblo's that soon proved to be his most popular offering. Plays had featured popular songs in the past, and variants of operas (or rather, sung plays or 'ballad-operas') were popular. But in September, The Black Crook debuted, with odd traits at the time that have now come to typify the modern musical.

It's considered the first American musical by many scholars for three reasons: 1) it included newly written songs with previously adapted music; 2) it included a flashy chorus of leggy dancers; 3) its success spawned a slew of 'extravaganzas' that evolve right into today's modern musical productions. By most accounts, it was also, from our perspective, really, really awful.

Evokative of German melodrama, "Crook" was really just a terrible play by Charles M. Barras that Niblo manager William Wheatley had refitted with a troupe of recently unemployed French dancers from another show that had the fortune (in William's eyes) of being booked in a theater that had just burned down.

The plot was all fainting spells and sulfur smoke. Young Rodolphe is enslaved by a sorceror Hertzog, who must grant the Devil the soul of one innocent every New Years Eve. Rodolphe saves a white dove from peril which just happens to be a good witch in disguise -- Stalacta, Fairy Queen of the Golden Realm -- who rescues him and sends all the bad guys straight to Hell. Damn it, why hasnt this thing been revived? I smell Tonys!

Well, for one, if you can believe it, the musical ran five and a half hours long each night. Despite this, it was a huge success, running 263 performances and, in a proud American tradition, spawning a sequel, The White Fawn.

The key to its success wasn't the drama, but all those sexy girls in flesh colored garments and a bevy of dazzling light and shadow effects that were lavish and magical. From a review from the New York Tribune: "One by one curtains of mist ascend and drift away. Silver couches, on which fairies loll in negligent grace, ascend and descend amid a silver rain." Although I'm sure they're nothing compared to the muses of today's Broadway version of Xanadu, they must have been spectacular at the time.

And, in keeping with perspective of our current strike, according to Mark Caldwell's New York Night, the show employed 80 carpenters and "twenty gasmen" just to run the elaborate mechanics.

Friday, November 23, 2007

PODCAST: The Copacabana

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we'll be celebrating 'FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER', featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found HERE.

During the 40s and 50s, any celebrity worth their weight in fame either frequented or performed at the Copacabana, a swanky nightclub known for its showgirls, its Chinese food and its mafia ties. On this mini-podcast, we take you on a night on the town with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and a rowdy table of New York Yankees.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

Two corrections to the podcast this week:

-- FREUDIAN SLIP -- I refer to Frank Costello as New York's leading 'media don'. Clearly, he's a 'mafia don'.
-- JUST PLAIN MISSPEAK -- The current Copacabana has closed to make way for the extension of the 7 train, not the 4 train.


To boost popularity of the club, first Copa owner Marty Proser helped produce a film called 'Copacabana' in 1947, starring Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda. The film was not a hit, however it gave some of the Copa Girls a chance at appearing on the big screen:

Some peppy flyers for the Copa:

I found some of these nostalgic flyers at a cool website calledBig Bands And Big Names.)

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis spun off their fame from the Copa to make corny movies like this one:

Although the Copa began to wane in popularity in the 1960s, artists like Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and the Supremes recorded live albums there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Once an Underdog, always an underdog

This year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature balloon representations of Mr. Potato Head, Kermit, Ronald McDonald, Scooby Doo, Flying Ace Snoopy, Shrek and Hello Kitty. And if you see a balloon that looks like Dolly Parton, don't flinch -- that's actually Dolly Parton.

What will not be flying by is Underdog.

Ask any person of a certain age -- say, late 20s to early 30s -- and they'll tell you that the most famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon without a question is Underdog, the superhero canine from the 1960s cartoon series often paired during his cartoon half hour with the likes of Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg and Klondike Kat. Many will tell you that Underdog is still in the parade. In fact, he made his last appearance as an elder participant in the parade in 1984. However, despite the fact that I have corroborated this fact in about four different places, I refuse to believe that is true. No. Underdog has been in every Macy's parade since I can remember, hasn't it? Hasn't it?

Underdog was on a few kids' minds this summer in a blasphemous theatrical remake turning Underdog into a real-ish looking dog. The cartoon itself debuted on NBC in October 1963, the first superhero to appear in a Saturday morning cartoon lineup. By the 1965 parade, Underdog was ready to make his debut among the other floating giants.

Parade emcees Lorne Greene and Betty White (pictured) presented actors dressed as Underdog girlfriend Polly Purebread and villain Simon Barsinister to mimic their ways through a few canned lines. Then all of a sudden, the voice of Underdog bellowed through a speaker just as the camera cut for the first time to the gigantic Underdog balloon -- "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!"

To delight children further, a special Thanksgiving episode of Underdog was broadcast immediately after the parade that year -- "Simon Says...No Thanksgiving!"

The balloon was so popular that it outlasted the series (last broadcast on NBC in 1973) although reruns would keep Underdog well on the minds of a new generation.

According to Robert M. Grippo, author of a history of the Macy's parade: “I have been a fan of the parade since the age of 4. The year was 1965 and it was Underdog’s first flight in balloon form. Underdog was, and still is, my favorite cartoon character.”

In 1975, Underdog made an unscheduled landing at 43rd and Broadway, when a sudden gust knocked him into a building and sent him crashing to the ground, not to be revived that year.

He's no longer in the parade now, but that hasn't stopped people from thinking he is. An entire episode of 'Friends' is based on Underdog's inclusion, literally titled "The One Where Underdog Gets Away." (It happens to be the ninth episode of the first season, for those who care.) As Monica torches her home-cooked Thanksgiving meal, the Underdog balloon escapes the parade and above the streets of New York.

The balloon makes one other significant pop-culture appearance -- in the Woody Allen film 'Broadway Danny Rose."

A video of his last appearance can be found here.

He may no longer be in Macy's parade, but Underdog occasionally makes appearances in other parades. The picture to the left is from a parade in Davenport, Iowa!

The Bowery Boys hope you have a great Thanksgiving! You can find our podcast on the history of Macy's here. There WILL be a new podcast this week so be on the lookout for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New York salutes America's favorite Frenchman

The Marquis de Lafayette might be a minor figure of the American Revolution for some people, but the French man takes center stage at the New York Historical Society with "French Founding Father: Lafayette's Return to Washington's America." (Pictured: the Marquis in Union Square)

The show opened this Saturday with a host of costumed actors milling about brightly refurbished exhibit rooms stretching from the third floor to the basement.

Lafayette -- or, as I like to call him, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Montier Lafayette -- was George Washington's right-hand man for much of the war and a potent symbol of America's dependence on the French to achieve victory.

"French Founding Father" is not a New York-centric show for the Historical Society; as the title implies, the meat of the exhibit concerns itself with Lafayette's historic tour in 1824 of the new United States five decades after assisting in its freedom from the British.

His appearance reactivated a new round of American patriotism, as each state (24 at the time) vied for his attention with lavish galas and processions. The show's cheekiest part involves an entire room devoted to Lafayette souvenirs and paraphernalia. One hasn't lived until sampling hot soup from a commemorative tureen depicting Lafayette at Washington's Mount Vernon grave site. (At right: why keep your snuff in anything but an official Marquis de Lafayette snuff box?)

And lest you think the Historical Society is making a big deal out of his American appearance, they list a lengthy list of cities, counties and monuments named after the Marquis to show their support for the French hero.

New York wasn't to be outdone. During his trip, he visited a number of locations downtown, culminating in an extravagant ball at Castle Garden (that's Castle Clinton in Battery Park to you and me). In the years after the visit, Lafayette would be immortalized all over the city:

-- A statue of the Marquis stands on the east side of Union Square, crafted no less by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and dedicated in 1876. Ten years later, Bartholdi would offer New York an even bigger gift from the French -- the Statue of Liberty.

-- Joseph Pulitzer liked Bartholdi's works so much that he commissioned him to create another Lafayette monument, "Lafayette and Washington," now the centerpiece of Lafayette Park in Morningside Heights at 114th Street.

-- American sculptor Daniel Chester French gives us the Lafayette tribute at Prospect Park West (see below), showing the Marquis standing next to his trustworthy steed. The piece was unveiled in the park by the French War Commission in 1917, surely a potent gesture in the midst of World War I. French, by the way, is better known for the ornate Four Continents monuments in front of the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, as well as for ole Abe at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.

"French Founding Father: Lafayette's Return to Washington's America" runs through August 2008 at the New York Historical Society. For more info on Lafayette, somebody has set up a loving fan page.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Manhattan's long-lasting caffeine high

Gothamist ran this disturbing list of Starbucks locations in 2006.

The history of the New York coffee house has taken a catastrophic twist in the 21st century.

Before I go further -- this is not a defacto attack on Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks is over-priced, often high-calorie burnt tasting swill. However it has a fairly good track record as a company for basic employee benefits, and they often do make attempts, however small, to assimilate into communities. I'll leave the for-and-against debate percolation for books, political tirades and Williamsburg loft parties.

At last count there were 171 Starbucks in Manhattan. (Here's a look at a few dozen of them.) Im sure since beginning this post, another store has opened. And I'm not even sure those numbers tally the various Starbucks tucked within other places, like Barnes and Nobles. And you can double that number of you if add up all the competing non-local chain coffee shops.

This certainly leads to the question -- where did Manhattan first get hit with the Starbucks infection? I found the answer surprising -- 2379 Broadway, at 87th and Broadway. The Seattle-based company took its time getting to Manhattan; opening in April 1994, this Upper West Side location was the 318th franchised store and, at the time, the largest Starbucks in the world.

That marks it as historically significant (no, really) although no Starbucks will ever achieve the fame of one of New York's first and most important coffee houses, the Tontine. The hangout for the Revolutionary set, the Tontine, located at Wall and Water streets, was located in the heart of the federal government. Members of the new Congress and the president's cabinet frequented the locale, most especially Alexander Hamilton. Although quite a different concept then our coffee houses today -- they were more akin to boardinghouses -- they still served as public meeting places with conversation and debate more important than the imported coffee.

In fact, the New York Stock Exchange was born at the Tontine, bankers and merchants who had signed the Buttonwood Agreement (creating the collective of traders under the name 'New York Stock & Exchange Board') gathering there at noon each day, until 1827 when the organization moved into a more offical Merchant Exchange.

Below, the Tontine in 1797, in a work by John Joseph Holland:

Over 160 years later, with coffee houses now most concentrated in Greenwich Village, the political and sometimes radical unrest of the 1960s would find receptive audiences there. And while its amusing to think back to the cliches of that scene (the beatnik, the poetry, all those bongos!), it's at coffee houses like Cafe Wha? that musicians like Bob Dylan got their start. It should be noted, I guess, that 60s coffee houses were essentially just bars without (and often, unable to get) liquor licenses.

Dylan at Cafe Wha? in 1961:

By the way, the Starbucks at 87th street will no longer be making history as it closed in 2003, to make way for the only thing in Manhattan more prevalant and harder to stop than a coffee or fast food franchise; it's now home to a bank branch (North Folk Bank).

Friday, November 16, 2007

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: the Palladium Ballroom

ABOVE: Millie Donay and Cuban Pete, the queen and king of Latin dance, cuttin' it up at the Palladium

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we'll be celebrating 'FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER', featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found HERE.

It's become almost cliche for me to bring up a New York nightclub with the credentials of popularizing a world renown dance style. The Peppermint Lounge has the twist, the Roxy breakdancing. But those moves are with us only as retro vestiges. The mambo, on the other hand, is still a popular ballroom dance, and it's around thanks to the lithe and lovely hoofers that frequented the Palladium Ballroom.

This is not the former Palladium nightclub on 14th and 3rd Avenue, a concert venue turned Peter Gatien-owned nightclub from the 90s (which, incidentally, in now a New York University dormitory!) Nothing is left of this Palladium, a former second floor ballroom on the corner of 53rd and Broadway, near the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Nothing, that is, except for an international dance craze.

The Palladium opened in 1947 just as the bittersweet residuals of a finished war were hitting the country. New York's Latin population boomed after the war, facilitating the need for larger entertainment venues outside of traditional Latin neighborhoods. This massive influx of people from Cuba, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico and other South American countries inlaid bursts of different cultures into traditionally white -- and whitebread-- notions of nightlife. The Palladium would not follow in the relatively sedate footsteps of New York's burgeoning 40s dance scene.

The epicenter of Afro-Cuban music would begin with a Jewish tailor Maxwell Hyman, owner of the Palladium, who introduced Latin music to his ballroom on a Sunday night, where it instantly caught fire. Hyman quickly filled every night with Hispanic and Caribbean entertainers and dancers, scouted from smaller venues and snatched up to fill the Palladium schedule.

As the club grew in popularity, it became the natural nesting ground for a new music craze jelling Cuban rhythms with African folk beats -- the mambo.

While composer brothers Oresto and Cachao López are considered the inventors of the style in the 30s, it was the Cuban-born Perez Prado who coined the phrase for American audiences. His RCA recordings brought the sounds to national prominence, particularly through his hit 'Mambo No. 5'. (Yes, that Mambo No. 5.)

It hardened into a sexy and athletic -- but somehow accessible -- dance at the Palladium. Those perfecting it at the ballroom fused the skills of ballet dancers and acrobats into acts of statuesque sweep and grace. Augie & Margo Rodriguez (seen below) were frequent performers here, dipping some flamenco into their mambo, and later touring the world to perform with Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis Jr.

Then there was Millie Donay and Pete Aguilar. To the sounds of 'house band' Los Ases del Ritmo, Millie and Pete would pack in capacity crowds on Wednesday night, hypnotizing them with Aguilar's mambo swagger and Donay's gyrating chachacha's. Aguilar would become so famous that Desi Arnez would write a song for him -- "Cuban Pete." The name would stick with him forever. Cuban Pete is now considered the father of mambo, and at 80 years old still trains dancers today. (Donay died in July of this year.)

At the Palladium the orchestras and music performers would threaten to overshadow the dancers. Popular artist Arsenio Rodríguez and his band would help define the mambo sound further with the introduction of conga beats and brass instruments into the mix. The ballroom platform saw the likes of Celia Cruz, Beny Moré, La Lupe, Tito Rodriguez, Machito and Tito Puente (pictured below).

In fact, the 'two Titos' were to have a vicious onstage Palladium rivalry -- playing out in musical barbs aimed at each other, such as "Que Pena Me Da (I Pity You)" -- that must have delighted crowds almost as much as the two disliked each other. Despite this, they and Machito were often referred to as 'the Big Three' and would tour with each other, obviously swallowing their contempt. They seem to be getting along in the picture below:

And, yes, like any New York sensation, the celebrities would soon come to fill the floors too; frequenters included Marlon Brando, Lena Horne, Henry Fonda and Bob Hope (!).

The popularity of the mambo and the cha-cha would spread other clubs, particularly to the influential La Bamba nightclub just around the corner, and to the Tropicana in the Bronx.

Although the Palladium closed in 1966, the results of years of amazing dancing there can probably best be seen on Dancing With the Stars. Methinks Millie and Pete would have swept the floor with those clowns.

And finally, this glorious picture from the final days of the Palladium --

Thursday, November 15, 2007

PODCAST: Macy's - the Man, the Store, the Parade

What year is this picture taken? (Click on it to view details.) Note the elevated rail line, no automobiles, and the New York Herald building still standing. You can also tell that the building's later additions have not yet extended it down towards 7th Avenue. A little research on the Hippodrome and when the shows 'Neptune's Daughter' and 'Pioneer Days' performed there reveals this picture was taken in Feb-March 1907 -- a little over one hundred years ago.

Did you know that the man whose name adorns one of the most successful department stores in the world was a sailor turned failed businessman? Or why Macy's Department Store ALMOST takes up an entire city block? Or how many clowns have been in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade? The Bowery Boys let you in on those answers and lots of other fun facts about one of New York City's premier retailers.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

The man who started it all -- Rowland Hussey Macy

The first Macy's store in Manhattan -- 204-206 14th street, near 6th Avenue

Herald Square....before Macy's, circa 1893. The Sixth Avenue elevated train dominates the right and a cable car cuts down Broadway. What we know as the park in Herald Square is nothing but a traffic triangle; however the Bell Ringer's monument sits anew on top of the New York Herald building. Macy's would soon sit wheter that sign with the coat of arms hangs.

A gigantic Macy's bag conceals the building which prevented the Straus brothers from expanding the store over the entire city block. It is probably the most advantageously placed Sunglass Hut in the entire world.

Macy's holiday windows, circa 1915

The Macy's famous star logo -- derived from the tattoo that founder Rowland Macy received during his stint as a sailor

Below, some funky looking balloons from the 1932 parade. Swapatorium has many, many more from this period that are simply breathtaking.

A wonderful tradition that we forgot to mention happens the night before the parade, in the grounds of the Natural History museum, as hundreds gather to watch the balloons being inflated. (Here's Grover and Big Bird being blown up.)

Forgotten NY explores the remnants of Macy's first store, as well as the gives you a birds eye view on Macy's wooden escalators. We talk more about some of the more dog-shaped parade balloons in this podcast. The Macy's Parade website has the details on times and route.

The City Room reports that this year's balloons got a trial run in Queens this week. Meanwhile, some people aren't happy with Macy's swallowing up the Marshall Field's department store brand.

Fun fact: Wartime demand in the 1940s halted the production of women's nylon pantyhose. When retailers were allowed to resell them, Macy's restocked their shelves with almost 50,000 pairs, all of which were sold in six hours.