New York City Below Forty-Second Street – Part 5

Now, as you go north on Madison Avenue, you are approaching Murray Hill, which used to be celebrated for its fruit farms. There, in 1776, Dame Murray entertained Lord Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and their staffs. with cakes and wine and song whilst Washington’s Continentals got away to Harlem Heights, guided by Aaron Burr.

Murray Hill was subsequently a nursery for the `New York game'; for there were organized the famous amateur teams such as the Knickerbockers and Pioneers, whose members, as Will Irwin says, `in the course of our Western emigration, or of the Civil War, taught the game to the whole United States.’

When the elder J. P. Morgan felt that the vicinity of Stuyvesant Square was becoming too much encroached upon for dignified residence, he chose the summit of Murray Hill, at 36th Street and Madison Avenue, as the site of his new brown-stone mansion. On 36th Street, east of his house, he subsequently erected, from plans by McKim, Mead and White, the Morgan Library, one of the greatest treasures on Manhattan Island. The mansion of his son, the present head of the house, stands at the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street. But the father’s house was taken down, some time after his death, and replaced by an annex of the Library, providing accommodation for those who are permitted to use the treasures Mr. Morgan collected.

`A rare and precious book,’ Will Irwin reminds us, `stands in a different category from a painting or any other object of art. You put the painting under glass, hang it on a wall, guard it by a rail. But to use or appreciate a book the admirer must have access to it, must turn its pages.’ And only a few can be trusted to handle books not only worth their weight in diamonds, but irreplaceable.

The Morgan estate formed the Morgan Associates, who hold this treasure in trust for scholarship. Mr. Morgan’s magnificent collection of ivories, enamels, Gothic statuary, tapestries, ceramics, went into the care of the Metropolitan Museum.

A thousand choice paintings were sold to provide an endowment for the Library, which is to be kept up and further enriched — not for `the public’ at large, but for scholars, artists, craftsmen capable of using it to the benefit of many.

Any attempt to describe the perfection of the main building is beyond me. To summarize even a few of its treasures would take pages of this little book; but at least one may say that in original autographed English manuscripts, it stands alone. The collection of Bibles is perhaps the best privately owned Bible collection in the world.

Lacking credentials you may not be able to see many of the treasures of the Morgan Library; but you may walk one block west to Fifth Avenue, passing Tiffany’s great establishment at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, and find yourself just three short blocks south of the New York Public Library which plays an important part in the lives of a varied multitude of New Yorkers — from those who use it as a place of rendezvous, and those who seek a missing ancestor, to those who pursue serious studies and those who want a warm place to sit.

The square between 40th and 42d Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues was long occupied in part by the huge reservoir from which Croton water was distributed throughout the city. In 1895, three important libraries in New York consolidated to form the New York Public Library, and soon afterward were granted land on the Fifth Avenue side of the Square for a building to house the collections of the Astor Library, the Lenox Library, and the Tilden Trust. The cornerstone of the building, designed by Carrere and Hastings, was laid in 1902, and the library was not opened to the public till 1911. In 1901 Mr. Andrew Carnegie offered the city $5,200,000 for the construction and equipment of more circulating libraries, on condition that the city provide the land and maintain the libraries in Manhattan, the Bronx, and on Staten Island, circulating mil-lions of books each year.

The stately building on Fifth Avenue is mainly devoted to the Reference Department of the library and most of its two million or so volumes are for use within the building only; though there is a Circulation Room also. Back of the library, toward Sixth Avenue, is Bryant Park.

The library as a structure and as an institution is so important a part of New York that I’m sure you will wish to make some acquaintance with it.

And now you have seen the highlights of Lower New York and of the principal route north by the East Side.

Let us glance eastward on 42d Street, which is one of the busiest streets in the world, and remember that the section from Fifth Avenue east for three or four blocks is sometimes called `New Wall Street’ or `Little Wall Street.’

If, at any time, you have occasion to explore that section, don’t forget that the lobby of the Daily News Building, at 220, is well worth seeing, for its great revolving globe.

Now, having come north to 42d Street via the sections of New York lying east of Broadway and of Fifth Avenue, let us discuss what may be seen going south from 42d Street to Greenwich Village and Washington Square.

Whether you go by private car, sight-seeing bus, or regular bus, you will almost certainly go down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square, or at least to 14th Street.

South of 40th Street there are still a few of the high-class department stores which have not yet moved up closer to 57th Street. And two `dimeries,’ or 10-and-25-cent stores; that of S. H. Kress and Company occupies a site of which almost everybody has heard — there stood the Wendel mansion, at the northwest corner of 39th Street, and north of it the `million-dollar yard’ which they refused to sell because — ac-cording to popular legend which may have been truth — the three Wendel ladies, spinsters all, desired to keep the yard for their little dog to exercise in.

The original John G. Wendel was a partner with the first John Jacob Astor in the fur business; and like Astor made a practice of buying and holding New York real estate. At the death of the latest (and last) John G. Wendel, his holdings in Manhattan were second only to those of the Astors. He collected his own rents, would never lease to a saloon, and never sold a foot of property. You may remember the suit that was brought, after his death, by a man who claimed to be his heir.

Tiffany’s is at the southeast corner of 37th Street, and two blocks farther south is Altman’s, occupying the block between 35th and 34th Streets, Fifth and Madison Avenues.

And on the ground where the Waldorf-Astoria used to stand, rises now the colossal Empire State Building, 102 stories above the ground and two stories below. Go up, by all means, at least to the 86th floor where there is a wide esplanade with lounge and restaurant The view from there seems to me to be as good as from the top.

I never think of the Empire State Building without recalling the observation of a little French `slavey’ who, on being shown a postcard picture of this incredible pile, gasped: `What work for the janitor!’

I don’t know how many janitors the building employs; but for much of the time since its completion it hasn’t needed many. It was built too far uptown for such tenants as fill the giant structures of Lower New York, and too far downtown for such businesses as now find their natural center between 42d Street and 57th. The industries whose dense mass of employees make the district between 14th and 42d Streets one of the most populous in New York (in working hours) were not desired as tenants. So the building has stood as a gigantic monument to poor judgment. What its future may be, no man can guess. Governor `Al’ Smith, who had much to do with its construction, has his office on the 32d floor.

Thirty-Fourth Street was an elegant shopping street until after the Great War. Now it has become second-rate, although McCreery’s is still a good store and Altman’s is always de luxe.

A long block west of Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 34th Street, are several big department stores of which Macy’s may interest you most; the others are Gimbel’s and Saks.

In 1799 one John Thompson bought from the city for about $2400 a twenty-acre tract through which 34th Street was long afterwards cut. Altman’s stands on ground that was his, and so does the Columbia Trust Building, on the northwest corner of 34th Street; as for the Empire State Building, the land on which it rises skyward was once the site of A. T. Stewart’s `marble palace,’ and subsequently of homes belonging to William B. Astor and William Waldorf Astor.

At 29th Street (northwest corner) is the marble Collegiate Church, one of the six Collegiate Churches which trace their origin to the first church organized by the Dutch settlers in 1628. And on 29th Street, east of Fifth Avenue, is the famous `Little Church Around the Corner,’ which nearly every stranger in New York wants to see. Its `proper’ name is the `Church of the Transfiguration'; but its popular name is infinitely better known. It originated with a remark of a supercilious clergyman on Madison Avenue. It was just before Christmas, 1870, when George Holland, the English actor, died after a long illness. He had been on the American stage since 1827, when Junius Brutus Booth engaged him for the Bowery theater. Joseph Jefferson undertook to arrange for his funeral; and when the clergyman to whom he first applied refused to officiate because Holland had been an actor, Jefferson was told that `there is a little church around the corner which might consent’

`God bless the little church around the corner!’ exclaimed Jefferson.

Holland was buried from it, and ever since it has been beloved of actors; many of the great lights of the stage (which used to be a voice of the church, and then came to be contemned by it) have been buried from there. Thousands of couples have been married there.

The church is a low, rambling structure very like a country church in a small English town, and has a bit of greenery about it which adds ineffably to its charm. We enter through a lichgate. Birds twitter in the enshrouding vines. There is an air of brooding peace and kindliness.

Don’t miss this `little church around the corner,’ and its beautiful memorial windows, its tender `ghosts.’

Three blocks south you come to the north end of Madison Square, whose east bouDdary you skirted on your trip uptown (or will skirt, if you are taking this southbound trip first).

The big Fifth Avenue Building between 23d and 24th Streets occupies the site of the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, opened in 1859, which for nearly fifty years entertained many of the most noted persons who came to New York.

The Flatiron Building, at the angle of Fifth Avenue, Broad-way, and 23d Street, used to be a great objective of visitors; but no one seems to pay much attention to it now.

Twenty-Third Street is another street which once was elegant and now is not.

When I was a small girl (and, indeed, long after I became a big girl) the Eden Musee was there and in it I spent enchanted hours. It was on the order of Madame Tussaud’s in London and the Musee Grevin in Paris, but considerably inferior to either. There I used to stand gaping before the mechanical chess-player whom no one could beat (we found out, later, that there was a live champion inside!), and there I saw my first motion pictures — terrifying ones of horse-drawn fire engines dashing at us so that they seemed certain to mow us down. No one hailed with greater delight than I did the opening of the new Wax Museum at Broadway and 50th Street.

I knew Twenty-Third Street very, very well. London Ter-race, which was no different when I was a girl from what it had been when Mother was a girl (it has, in fact, in recent years given place to the vast block of new fiats called by the old name) ; and the Chelsea flats which were the first `grand’ flats in New York; and, as one approached the Hudson, the box factories and furniture factories whose smell of freshly sawn lumber still fills the air for me whenever I go by there. And oh! the ferry smells. They smell more now of gasoline than of horses; but for all that they are still very reminiscent of my childhood. The ferryboats have not changed at all. To my mind, New York is not really seen by anyone who does not ride on a few ferryboats. The beautiful, shiny `tubes’ beneath the Hudson are convenient, clean, airy, admirable; they should by all means be seen. The bridges which link Manhattan Island with Long IslaDd (over the East River) are superb. But DON’T fail to take at least one or two ferryboat rides across the Hudson — even if just to cross over and back.

It’s too much to expect that a visitor will have the feeling for the ferryboats that one has who has known and loved them all her life; but no one can fail to thrill at the grandeur of the river as seen from midstream.

You could have your ferry ride now, if you are in the mood for it and have the time. Take the 23d Street ferry to Jersey City and return on the ferry which goes from the same dock in Jersey City to Christopher Street, which is in the heart of Greenwich Village.

There is nothing of special interest on Fifth Avenue between 23d Street and Washington Square. Nothing of special interest to the stranger I would better say. To some of us who knew New York long ago, certain streets south of 14th Street and north of the Washington Arch are almost all that is left of the city of our childhood.

So, if you don’t take your ferry ride now, I suggest that you spend a little time on 14th Street, a maelstrom, and then go down to 12th Street or 10th Street to proceed west into the Village; then, back east to Washington Square; and thence to Broadway and the Battery, or back uptown.

Union Square was elegant, once; Tiffany’s used to face on it (at the southwest corner of Union Square and 15th Street) and did not move uptown until after the turn of this century. And many of the smartest shops in New York were on Broad-way between Tiffany’s and 19th Street, well within my memory and experience.

I dare say 14th Street was also elegant once upon a time. In fact, I know it was; some of the sadly surprised-looking mansions of an earlier day were still standing on the north side of 14th Street west of Fifth Avenue well within my day. But east of Fifth Avenue this busy street has changed little in fifty years.

You should see it at least from Second Avenue to Eighth. Restaurants of every sort, including Luchow’s which has been famous for half a century and the Kretchma which serves Russian food and Russian entertainment; picture theaters; penny arcades; cheap stores of many sorts.

Tom Sharkey, heavyweight champion of the navy, had a bar there after his losing battle with Jeffries; and `gobs’ used to mill about him. Adolph Zukor had a penny arcade there in 1904, and the next year he opened a `nickelodeon’ (five-cent movie) at No. 46. Shortly after that, when crude little stories had replaced railway trains and fire engines as the fare on ‘fillums,’ Mary Pickford used to work for long hours each day at No. 11 East 14th Street, directed by a young man named D. W. Griffith.

The most famous of the shops identified with 14th Street is S. Klein’s, which begins at 14th Street and Fourth Avenue and fills the block to 15th Street. Then starts north again toward 16th Street.

Mr. Klein’s personal income is said to be about a million dollars a year. He started business on a capital of $90, and now he has a turn-over of $25,000,000 a year.

He employs no salespeople. The women’s dresses, suits, coats, are hung according to size on racks where all may look ’em over and `feel’ them for other values than style. You may gather up as many as six at a time and carry them into a curtained dressing-room to try on. You `serve yourself,’ as in an automat.

Mr. Klein has had to give up advertising. When he used newsprint to tell about the special bargains he had secured (he is always ready, with practically unlimited cash, to buy up most advantageously what some ‘manufacturer must get rid of to have `ready money’), there were shocking scenes in Union Square as women battled with police.

He loses tens of thousands of dollars every year through shoplifting, though he is said to be merciless to professional shoplifters. Why his business is not boycotted because of the army of girls he doesn’t employ, I don’t know — except that the majority of his clients would rather be chic on a little money than righteous on anybody’s behalf. Mr. Footner tells us that when Mr. Klein discovered that much shoplifting was being done in his store by girls from the Washington Irving High School around the corner, he set aside a fund and notified the principal of the school that girls who were ashamed because of their shabbiness could be outfitted without cost at S. Klein’s.

Another store on 14th Street that is an institution in New York, and has been for many years, is Hearn’s, which is west of Fifth Avenue. Hearn’s has, apparently, never been tempted to desert 14th Street and move uptown; the bulk of its patronage comes from near-by, but Uptown, when it is on bargains bent, does not scorn to go down to 14th Street for them.

Once, as Mr. Footner tells, Hearn’s put on a free fashion show directed by Miss Elsa Maxwell, with entertainers that included Helen Hayes, Ina Claire, Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Fanny Hurst, Lanny Ross, and a lot more. He gives a very interesting account of it, which I’m sure you’ll like to read, in his `New York, City of Cities.’