exploring New Amsterdam

aka another beautiful Sunday with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy on their Colonial New Amsterdam tour. Until they added some new public tours this spring, this was the last one I hadn’t done so I was pleased to see it offered in the spring as I generally don’t do tours in November and December. I think the seeds of this tour were planted in my brain at Shorakkopoch Rock during the Great Saunter and further while reading James and MIchelle Nevius’ Footprints in New York.

While blissfully shorter, today’s tour started at Fraunces Tavern whose 300th birthday is coming up sooner than I realized. For as many times as I’ve been to the Museum & eaten at the restaurant, I didn’t know that much about the building or its history. Even if the current building only dates to 1904, it’s still amazing history happened here. [[NB: I learned the year of the current building and a lot more on the Lovelace Tavern from this Forgotten NY Tour, whose only clue as to its age is the comment on the planned rebuild of the Staten Island Ferry terminals. So much has changed in this neighborhood since 2005!]]

From Fraunces Tavern we headed south (or “under water”, as I learned that Pearl St. was the shoreline and where it drew its name from. We passed the old Battery Maritime Building which is slated to be a hotel sometime soon. I wonder what will happen to the ferry service to Governors Island once that happens. From there it was on to Peter Minuit Plaza, whose history  I learned more about recently. Somehow I never noticed the topographic map that allows you to “walk” New Amsterdam with your fingers, nor the Jewish Tercentenary Monument at the flagpole’s base.

After looping around and through Stone Street, home to approximately four billion and twelve historic signs, we ended up nearly where we started, diagonally across from Fraunces Tavern. As many times as I’ve walked that block, I never noticed that I was walking on top of Lovelace Tavern and somehow never even saw the above-ground signs to the Stadt Huys’ history. In my defense though, the potholes are mostly condensed over and nowhere near as visible as in the Forgotten NY link above. There’s some more fun history here.

the first Shearith Israel Cemetery
the first Shearith Israel Cemetery

From there we headed north on Pearl and out of the Financial District/New Amsterdam to Shearith Israel’s first cemetery on St. James south of Chatham Square and practically in the heart of what is now Chinatown. It’s amazing how far outside “the city” that was when you walk uphill from Wall Street to the Brooklyn Bridge and then back down. Walking past the Seaport is just sad with the recent news and more-or-less permanent closure of the museum’s galleries. There are some great images and maps of the cemetery’s history and it was a pleasant surprise to find it open. It turned out it was for a Memorial Day dedication and so we got a nice bit of history about those who were buried there. The 2006 restoration was done with some amazing detail to find new pieces of history.

The guide said, and I agreed, that this tour was a hard one because with the exception of Shearith Israel’s cemetery, we were talking about things that there’s no trace of. It’s not like the other tours where the buildings’ purposes may have changed but they still remain. I found it amazing that there are only two manmade structures that date back to the 18th century: the fence at Bowling Green and (maybe) Fraunces Tavern.

The end of this tour segued nice with Eric Ferrara’s Bowery tour, which I did two or three years ago. I especially liked accidentally finding Collect Pond Park on my way to the West Side after the tour.

Further reading:

Jewish Harlem

Another Sunday, another day of exploration with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy (LESJC). Another day of not actually visiting the lower east side with the Conservancy, although I’m desperate to learn more about the neighborhood I’ve somewhat explored the last two Sundays. This time was Jewish Harlem, an area I haven’t explored in really any sense of the word. Not too many photos, not because it wasn’t photogenic (although pieces of Harlem certainly aren’t), but because it was hot. Yes, I think this is the last tour until fall for me. Heat and I are not friends so I was grateful for the shade of the tour’s starting point – the shade of the Adam Clayton Powell office building.

There’s no question that 125th Street is a major shopping thoroughfare today with stores aplenty (soon to be joined by Whole Foods), but standing in the shade provides a nice view of the street’s shopping history including Koch & Co. and Blumstein’s turned Touro College (home of Powell’s Don’t shop where you can’t work protest) with the “Waldorf of Harlem”, the Hotel Theresa, between them.

While the Apollo will always stand out by virtue of its iconic marquee, it’s very easy to get lost amid the chaos of 125th Street and I was grateful when the tour headed south along is it Lenox Avenue or is it Malcolm X Blvd. (yes, Harlem likes to confuse people with its street signs!) to the relative quiet. Quiet and churches.

If you didn’t know that Harlem was once home to the world’s 3rd largest Jewish population (Krakow, 1 and Lower East Side, 2), you wouldn’t know it today. It seems to be the city of churches. Ephesus, St. Marten’s, Mt. Neboh, Abyssinian (not on this tour). Religions of Harlem is an interesting and fairly comprehensive site on the neighborhood’s houses of worship as well as their histories including Harlem’s last remaining active synagogue, the Old Broadway synagogue.

That said, if you knew where to look, Harlem’s Jewish history is hiding in plain site.

“In its churches, of all places, Harlem reveals its Jewish past.” David W. Dunlap

  • Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle (built as a Unitarian Church and the first north of 42nd Street before converting to Congregation Chebra Ukadisha B’nai Israel in 1918 and then finally to the church it is today in 1942.
  • Harlem’s Baptist Temple Church, under a state or two of demolition since its roof caved in, was a former home of Ohab Zedek, now on the UWS.
  • Salvation Deliverance Church, formerly Institutional Synagogue, aka the “shul with the pool, a predecessor to today’s JCC. Note: link covers a tour very similar to the one I took. A very interesting read from The Riverdale Press.
  • Mount Olivet Baptist Church at 120th and Lenox, formerly Temple Israel
  • Mt. Neboh, formerly the home of Ansche Chessed, now located on 100th St & West End Ave.
  • The Commandment Keepers whose former home beside Mount Morris Park is now under renovation.
  • The neighborhood was also home to entertainment luminaries including Milton Berle, Richard Rodgers, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, (“The Jewish Caruso”) and Lorenz Hart  as well as the founder of Lane Bryant.

Dunlap’s article, Vestiges of Harlem’s Jewish Past, referenced above, covers this in much greater depth then I could ever imagine. I’ll blame the heat for melting my tour brain.

Aside from its religious history (for Islam, Christianity, or Judaism), the neighborhood has some amazing architecture and history: the Mt. Morris aka Hispano Theater, the Renaissance Theater and Casino, and its many Queen Anne-style homes.  It’s also a treat for the nose and taste buds especially in summer with Sylvia’s, Rao’s, Red Rooster, the Malcolm Shabazz Market. It’s easy to lose a day or more in Harlem.

Above all, it’s a place of change. Harlem Opera House became the Apollo. Harlem’s churches became it’s synagogues, which became its churches. The Lenox Lounge closed and will become…

I’ll have to take the tour again in  2015 to find out.

Currently reading: Joseph Berger’s The World in a City, which I’d started years ago but never finished. Overlaps nicely with this weekend’s tour. Haven’t totally given up on Waterfront but the author’s style makes it almost unreadable.

#GreatManhattanLoop meets CitiBike and Egg Rolls

come again?Last year when I went to Egg Rolls & Egg Creams I had thoughts of completing some of the Lower East Side section of the Loop. Yeah, it didn’t happen. I did some exploring, but not along the river. In truth, some of the same happened yesterday.It was a beautiful day for the Festival, during which I learned a lot about the synagogue’s history. It really is amazing that it was saved and preserved in such wonderful detail. As a result, it stands out as a relic from another era and time among the 21st century chaos that is Chinatown.After leaving the Festival, I retraced my steps along Eldridge Street toward Houston (destination: Katz and Russ & Daughters) when I happened upon Adath Jeshurun of Jassy aka the Emory Roth synagogue at 58 Rivington Street. It’s apparently now a private house, but whatever it is, it’s in a sad state. It really highlights the value of restoring Eldridge Street, which apparently had pigeons roosting in its balconies at one point. The Lower East Side has some amazing history and I definitely need to explore it more.Katz and Russ & Daughters (best twitter bio ever, btw: After almost 100 years, it was time for a Twitter). I honestly didn’t have a great desire to visit, but it seems like one of those NYC Bucket List things. Walking up Eldridge, you hit Russ & Daughters first as it’s further west. When I first saw the marquee, I had no idea what the appetizer part meant–and I thought it was a secondary location. Nope, it means things that go with bagels. Lots more learnings in the blog, and now I’m hungry. I wish I had been yesterday because I’d probably have gotten lox. From there, it’s on to Katz’ which sits along side Lobster Joint and Cold Stone? There’s something very wrong with that.

Some of the change around the Bowery is a very good thing. Harvey Wang has captured a lot of that in his photos (A World of Change on the Lower East Side) and his writing (1,000 men in flop/lodging houses as of 2001, down from 25-75K men sleeping on the Bowery-wow!) Is all of it good? That’s subject to debate, although Annie Polland made a good point when she said:

“If you went to someone who lived in a tenement 100 years ago and said, ‘We’re preserving this tenement,’ they’d say, ‘What? Are you crazy?’” Ms. Polland said. “They’d rather see their grandchildren or great-grandchildren living in a luxury condo. ”

I think there has to be some middle ground between progress and Katz located in what is beginning to look like a strip mall.


That was the end of my planned exploring for the day, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. I happened upon a Citi Bike stand and thought possibly of biking to the craziness that is Magnolia to find Buckeye Balls, but I’m glad I didn’t as they don’t carry them. Does anyone know a bakery in NYC that has them?

I kept wiggling south and vaguely east-ish (still in search of Buckeye Balls) and hit: Essex Street Market and Economy Candy ( drool!) en route to DessertsNYC, which unfortunately is closed. Note to self: check Yelp before departing on wild goose chases. It was then that I essentially gave up on the buckeye ball quest and was again tempted by the CitiBike stand, this time at E. Broadway & Essex and I decided why not give it a whirl.

After a few false starts (machine not working, no available bikes), I got one at Cherry and Market and was off. With that 10 feet of road between the bike stand and the Greenway, I crossed riding a bike on a NYC street off the “bucket list” (nope, still no formal bucket list although I’m working on one — but this is definitely something that would be on it. I miss commuting by bike like I did in Osaka, but there’s no way I’d do it here.  Unsure of my pace on a road bike, I decided to check the bike in at Battery Park and then plan where I wanted to go. A break for a Diet Coke and A/C was nice and I checked out my next bike at State St. across from the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, another of those downtown sites I want to explore. One day. (NB: the $9.95 day pass doesn’t give you the bike for a day, just for unlimited 30 minute increments within the 24 hour period.)

From there it was back north along the path I’d just traced from Market St. to the Battery and up to E. 35th. I originally planned to swap bikes at Houston, but poor planning/timing led to me sucking up the overtime fee and finishing the ride.  The view heading north into Stuyvesant Cove is among the best in NYC with the water and skyline.

I pulled into the Citi Bike Station at E. 35th and the Ferry Terminal and with that, the Loop is done. I walked south along the East River Promenade to 59th St. and there is no Greenway (PDF) between these two points due to the UN. I’ve walked 1st Ave many times. I’ll do it again if the Greenway is ever completed. But for now, it’s done.

Thoughts on finishing it via bike:

  • the 6.21 mile ride was nothing. If I was ever to do the Manhattan Saunter, I’d do it via bike. But not a timed bike like Citi Bike — 30 minute increments is too short for me.
  • It certainly makes dull points (between the Battery and South Street Seaport) go quickly
  • It’s hard to stop and take photos — certainly nowhere near as easy as on foot. It feels more like a race than a meander, which is what I like about the Loop.

All in all, a gorgeous day for a walk/ride and much better than being in the gym.

Onto the next location/challenge.