Saturday, April 30, 2011

Historical districts of NYC

We thought we'd try a walking tour with NYC By Foot this morning (Saturday) so we made our way down to Spring Street in SoHo, just in time to meet up with Russ and a group of about 15 other people a little after 10.00am. We nearly didn't make it, with disruptions to the subway system and a couple of misdirections from people we asked for help along the way.

We started in SoHo, looking more closely at the history of this district and its amazing cast iron buildings. The area originally was the warehouse district of NY - for textiles, garments, everything you could think of that was manufactured in NYC in the nineteenth century. The builders were ambitious and anxious to impress. Cast iron was cheap and easy to mould so the buildings could be as decorative as they wished. Greene St has the most significant cast iron buildings in SoHo.


The need for warehouses declined at the start of the twentieth century so the area went into a 50-60 year decline. The building below at 102 Prince Street was used as the location for Patrick Swayze's and Demi Moore's apartment, under renovation, in Ghost in the early eighties, reflecting what was starting to happen at that time in SoHo as artists moved into the area and converted the warehouses to studios and apartments. Apparently the release of Ghost exacerbated this trend as lots of people were impressed by Demi Moore doing pottery in her lovely old apartment.

It's obvious that no struggling artists could afford to live in SoHo any more. It is a very luxurious area, full of galleries, high end luxury goods and designer shops. Very Parisienne!

Russ points out 421 Broome Street in SoHo, another beautiful cast iron building. Heath Ledger lived in the apartment, on the top floor. It was where he was found after his fatal overdose in January 2008.

The greater availability of steel and the capacity to build taller building more affordably meant that building styles in this district changed. This red brick and cast iron version is a good example of the experimentation that was happening.

Crossing Broadway and looking South we got a good view of the historic old Woolworth building, once the tallest building in New York city (about a hundred years ago)........

........and of this picturesque corner of SoHo.

Coming out of SoHo and into Little Italy and the Northern end of Chinatown we find Lombardi's at 32 Spring Street (corner of Mott St), New York City's oldest pizzeria (and the best some would say - more of that later!).

Continuing down Mott St and crosswise into Mulberry Street we see plenty of evidence of the tenement buildings that housed some of the successive waves of immigrants streaming into New York over the past hundred or so years - Germans, Irish, Italians, Eastern European Jews and most recently the Chinese/ Koreans.

The street outside the Metz building below was used as the location for filming the assassination of Don Corleone in Godfather 1. During filming in 1971 the area looked a lot more Italian with fruit barrows & markets in the street etc. Now it's increasingly being settled by the Chinese. Its NY's oldest Chinatown (but not the biggest). It looks really extensive compared to Chinatown in sydney.

Our walking tour ended at Columbus Park, filled this morning by hundreds of mostly older Chinese people, playing music, cards, mahjong or just chatting and drinking tea together.

Columbus Park is adjacent to the NYC Court House and the NY Prison (this district was NY's most crime ridden prior to about 20 years ago). Rob just happened to catch this little vignette of two people (handcuffed) as they enter the prison under police custody.

We're hungry by now so with all our new knowledge of the area we stop off at Cafe La Bella Ferrara at 108 Mulberry Street and choose a box full of the most wonderful authentic baked Italian pastries-including canoli to die for!

..and make Lombardi's on Spring Street our lunch stop for pizza. It's crowded so we wait for a table at the bar and a beer brewed in Brooklyn. That photo on the wall to the right of Rob's head is of Jack Nicholson when he visited Lombardi's. In fact the walls are covered with photos of luminaries who've visited this historic pizzeria.

The menu is simple - just pizza (and salad). Cooked in a brick oven, intensely flavoured tomato sauce, small amount of mozzarella and lots of fresh basil; that's it. I ordered extra roasted peppers & mushrooms and Rob ordered extra pepperoni on his portion. It was the best pizza I have ever eaten. Thin crisp base tasting of the smoke of the oven, very little cheese and no fat, wonderful intense tomato...perfect. We ate most of this HUGE pizza!

We decided to walk off our lunch, and Rob wanted to deserve his pastries, so we set off up Broadway towards Chelsea. On the way we caught our best view yet of the Empire State building.

We eventually got to Union Square, crowded with (mostly) young people this afternoon because it's market day (art/craft and farmers markets). We're not far from NYU here so its obvious there are a lot of students in the crowd.

This group doing their beaded jewellery looked a bit unusual.

At the Northern end of the Square was the farmers market.

Interesting, but not in the same class as the markets we saw in London, although the fresh fruit and vegies look better quality.

Continuing up Broadway and then crossing into 5th Avenue Rob sees this beautiful building. If we'd looked a little harder we would have realised it's the beautiful and iconic Flatiron building - except Rob took the shot from its "normal" side, not realising it had the iconic wedge shape on the other end. I had my head inside a beautiful clothing shop on 5th Avenue at the time so I didn't notice the building at all.

It was after 4.00pm by the time we got back to 208 W23rd Street and we both felt the last couple of days were catching up with us.

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Very enjoyable reading the blogs Judy. Great effort getting through that pizza!!!. But you really earned it with all the walking.