New York Songlines: 39th Street

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HUDSON RIVER









S <===         12TH AVENUE               ===> N

The west end of 39th Street was nicknamed Abattoir Place; after 1898, it was one of only two places in Manhattan where slaughterhouses were permitted.

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The Javits Center

This convention center, built in 1986, is a series of glass boxes designed by James Ingo Freed, an associate of I.M. Pei's. It was named for Jacob Javits (1904-1986), who was U.S. senator for New York from 1956 until 1980. He's remembered for his work passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the War Powers Act of 1973.

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629-653: Formerly a slaughterhouse, known variously as Joseph Stein & Sons and the New York Butchers' Dresses Meat Company.





S <===           11TH AVENUE           ===> N

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Corner (500 10th): REMCO, "metal cleaning and pickling"

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Lincoln Tunnel

These on-ramps and off-ramps connect to the busiest vehicular tunnel in the world, handling 120,000 vehicles a day. Opened in 1937, it was the first major tunnel project to be completed without a single worker fatality.

507-511: Site of the Catholic Boys Club in the 1930s.



S <===           10TH AVENUE           ===> N

The Hell's Kitchen Flea Market-- recently merged with the famous Annex flea market, formerly in Chelsea--is on the block of 39th Street between 10th and 9th avenues every Saturday and Sunday.

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Lincoln Tunnel








Corner (523 9th Ave): H.K., modernist American; stands for Hell's Kitchen.

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Lincoln Tunnel



An 1881 New York Times article refers to a tenement on this block as "Hell's Kitchen": "Vice in its most repulsive form thrives here, despite efforts of the police to root out the horde of vagrants, petty thieves, and utterly depraved prostitutes who make the locality their headquarters." The name seems to have spread from the tenement to the entire neighborhood.


S <===           9TH AVENUE           ===> N

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Corner (522 9th Ave): Cupcake Cafe; celebrated bakery

352: Burritoville, local Mexican chain. See also No. 335 across the street.

350: R/GA Digital Studios, located in a former trucking terminal, has won an Oscar for applying computer technology to film; it did the special effects for Zelig and Predator, and the credits for Superman, Alien, etc. It produced the first commercial made entirely on a Macintosh. Now focused on interactive media, it created the virtual Van Gogh Museum.

346: Was the German Methodist Episcopal Church, then (c. 1929) the Greek Orthodox Congregation of Saints Constantine and Helen.

318-320: Finck Building; used to house printing companies, going back at least to 1916.

314: Family Visiting Program of the New York State Correctional Services Department/Parole Division.

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335: As revealed by a 1998 scandal, dozens of police officers in the Midtown South precinct were getting free sex at a 60-woman brothel here (and in an apartment across the street at No. 352) in exchange for protection from raids. The Troupe Theater was located here c. 1980.

301: La Nueva Escuelita ("The New Little School"); primarily black and Latino gay club with "the best drag shows in town"--Erotic New York


S <===           8TH AVENUE           ===> N

The eastern edge of Hell's Kitchen

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250: This building houses wholesalers like Z & S Textiles and Fabrics Garden (specializing in French and Italian silk), as well as La Button Boutique, one of a number of button purveyors on this block.

244: Swan Fabrics




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239: Fabrics for Less




205: Offices of Cavin Klein

Corner (550 7th Ave): Several major fashion designers have offices here, including Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Bill Blass.


S <===           7TH AVENUE           ===> N

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110: The address of Bustanoby's, a prominent ''lobster palace'' and cabaret from 1911 to 1916.

Corner (1407 Broadway): This building houses (among other things) the kosher restaurant Abigael's on Broadway, Harrie's Delicatessen & Bakery, Peter's Flowers (since 1937) and Via Rossi shoes.

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World Apparel Center

Block: With more than a million square feet of space, this block-spanning 1970 building is touted as the premier showroom for the Fashion District. A statue on the 7th Avenue plaza honors a garment worker, but more striking is the giant needle and button.

Corner (1411 Broadway): This was the site of the Metropolitan Opera House from 1883 until 1966. Built by Gilded Age businessmen like William Vanderbilt who were denied boxes at the Academy of Music on 14th Street, it soon eclipsed the older venue as the central stage of New York society (as depicted in Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country). It saw the American debuts of Enrico Caruso (11/23/1903) and Vaslav Nijinsky (4/12/1916). The beloved house was doomed by the Metropolitan Opera company, which insisted, when it moved to Lincoln Center, that the building's buyer tear it down so that a rival opera company could not use it.

Sculptor Karl Bitter was struck by a car and killed leaving the opera here on April 9, 1915, the day he completed the model for the Pulitzer Fountain.

There's a triangular space in front of the current building called Golda Meir Square--with a bust of the Israeli prime minister at the southern end.


S <===           BROADWAY           ===> N

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Corner (1410 Broadway): Where the Andrews Coffee Shop is now was the Casino Theater (1882-1930), said to be the best example of Moorish architecture in the country. It was the first theater with a roof garden, the first to be entirely lit by electricity, and the first to feature a chorus line--the Floradora Girls, who included Evelyn Nesbit, over whom Harry K. Thaw murdered Stanford White.

The X-ray machine was demonstrated here in 1896-- as a curiosity billed as the "Parisian Sensation."
















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104: Back entrance of the Courtyard Marriott/Times Square South

Back of the Springs Building; a Harrison & Abramowitz building finished 1963.

109: The location of the Maxine Elliott Theatre, built in 1908 and named for the actress who was its half owner. After housing numerous original plays by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory, Lord Dunsany and Somerset Maugham, it was leased to the Federal Theatre Project, under whose auspices Orson Welles produced The Cradle Will Rock-- which was shut down here by the government, the theater padlocked and surrounded by armed guards. After serving as a radio studio for WOR Mutual and CBS and as a CBS TV studio, the building was demolished in 1960.

Corner (1045 6th Ave): Was the Milliken & Company Building; offices for the textile giant, which made New York its headquarters in 1868. CEO Roger Milliken is Patrick Buchanan's chief financial backer. The modernist building was by James D. Stephen, who also designed the pagoda-shaped Chinese Merchant's Building in Chinatown. Now demolished.


S <===           6TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Corner (1036 6th Ave): Penguini Men's Fashion

20: Was Club Shelter, a four-story dance club, formerly known as Speeed, that had Twilo's old sound system--perhaps the best in New York. Now on Varick Street. The eponymous Shelter, a weekly house party that started in 1990, used to be at Vinyl.

2: The women-centered cafe chain Schrafft's had a small Italianate tearoom here.

Lord & Taylor

Corner (424 5th Ave): A New York fixture since 1825, the department store built this (once) elegant building in 1914-- breaking neighborhood tradition by looking like a store, not a mansion. When built, the window displays could be lowered on tracks to the basement, for instant replacement. Still noted for its Christmas displays.

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39: This was Carl Van Vechten's address when he first moved to New York in 1906 to be a music critic for the New York Times; Sinclair Lewis lived in the same building.

23: Windfall Lounge & Grill




Corner (438 5th Ave): Circus promoter P.T. Barnum used to live at this defunct corner address. Later this was the site of the Wendel mansion, home of the heirs to John Jacob Astor's partner in the fur trade. ''North of it [was] the 'million-dollar yard' which they refused to sell because... the three Wendel ladies, spinsters all, desired to keep the yard for their little dog to exercise in''-- Greatest American City


S <===           5TH AVENUE           ===> N

South:

Corner (445 5th Ave): Fifth Avenue Tower, 34 stories completed in 1985.


4: Keppel Building, a 1905 design by George B. Post & Sons noted for gargoyles and heads of Whistler and Rembrandt. Frederick Keppel was a print dealer, with Whistler and "modern disciples of Rembrandt" among his specialties.

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In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer moves after his marriage to East 39th Street: "The neighbourhood was thought remote, and the house was built in a ghastly greenish- yellow stone that the younger architects were beginning to employ as a protest against the brownstone of which the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce; but the plumbing was perfect."


S <===           MADISON AVENUE           ===> N

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24: Since 1924, this has been home to the Williams Club, associated with the oldest alumni association in the country (founded 1821).

28: The C.G. Jung Center has promoted Jungian psychology since 1962.

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Corner (90 Park): Sterling Drug Building (1964). This and the National Distilleries Building across the street were both designed by Emery Roth & Sons, who also designed the World Trade Center. Sterling, founded in 1901, owned Bayer aspirin and other popular over-the-counter remedies; it was absorbed by Eastman Kodak in 1988.


S <===           PARK AVENUE           ===> N

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120: W Tuscany; boutique hotel built in 1927, noted for being the world's first hotel to put a color TV in every room. The Tuscany Room restaurant attracted notables like Marilyn Monroe, Groucho Marx, Gregory Peck and Gloria Vanderbilt. Bought by W in 1996. The bar here is called Cherry.

130 (corner): W The Court; the Tuscany's sibling hotel, formerly known as the Doral Court. Features the Icon Restaurant.

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Corner (99 Park): National Distillers Building (1954). The company, which made Old Grand-Dad among other brands, was added to the Dow-Jones Industrials in 1934 to represent the newly legalized liquor industry. It was acquired by Jim Beam in 1987.

At this address was the house of Andrew Haswell Green, a city comptroller who helped establish the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, the American Museum and Central Park, along with Riverside, Morningside and Fort Washington parks. His work on the commission that consolidated the five boroughs earned him the title of "Father of Greater New York." He was shot to death on this sidewalk, November 13, 1903, by an deranged stranger.


S <===           LEXINGTON AVENUE           ===> N

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146: Katharine Hepburn lived here briefly before moving to Turtle Bay c. 1933.

150: Dryden East apartments, formerly the Dryden Hotel


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145: Ten-Eyck Troughton Memorial Residence for Professional Women and Students; a women's residence run by the Salvation Army. Was the Allerton Hotel (1919, Arthur Loomis Harmon, arch.), where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in 1920, at the time that he married Zelda.

149: Murray Hill East; suites hotel


S <===           3RD AVENUE           ===> N

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Corner (605 3rd Ave): John Wiley Building; offices of John Wiley & Sons. Founded in 1807, they published some of New York City's greatest literary figures: Herman Melville, Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving. Now known for technical books.






S <===           TUNNEL EXIT STREET           ===> N

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222(corner): Eastgate Tower, an Affinia hotel. Includes the restaurant Sonora.

234: This was the address of Griffin & Howe, a famous rifle-maker whose customers included Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Dwight Eisenhower. The company left this location in 1932.

240: Paramount Tower, 51-story apartment building built in 1998. Designed (by Costas Kondylis) to withstand an earthquake.

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S <===           2ND AVENUE           ===> N

In the Marvel Comics Universe, the Daily Bugle (where Peter Parker works) is located at this intersection.

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Corner: Was Jukebox NYC








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Corner (300 E 40th): The Churchill apartments; 32 stories, built 1967. Winston Churchill's mother, Jenny Jerome, was a New Yorker who grew up on Madison Square.






S <===           TUNNEL APPROACH STREET           ===> N

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330: New York Tower apartments; has been criticized for padlocking its "public" courtyard. A woman, unemployed after losing her Wall Street job, jumped to her death from her 27th floor apartment here in 2003, a day after being evicted. "It's definitely a money building," a neighbor told the New York Post. "If you don't have a lot of it, it's tough to stay here."

Corner: Schindler Elevator Company

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S <===           1ST AVENUE           ===> N

Con Edison Waterside Station

Con Ed plans to shut down this plant and increase power production at its 14th Street facility. This plant would be demolished and replaced with high-rise apartment buildings and office towers. There's talk of a riverfront park being built over the FDR Drive.

The section between 39th and 40th streets is actually quite handsome-- a classic old red-brick factory building. If they tear this down, it's highly unlikely that what they replace it with will be more attractive.



Is your favorite 39th Street spot missing? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

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