street book coverDid you ever wonder after whom Bleecker Street or Abingdon Square were named?  Is Union Square named so after Civil War soldiers?  Was there a spring running down Spring Street?  New York’s history can be gleaned from the history of its street names as outlined in Henry Moscow’s The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins, one of several books available about the namesakes of our city’s streets.

Here are excerpts from a few of many interesting ones:

Abingdon Square

The Namesake: Charlotte Warren, a pre-Revolutionary War Greenwich Village belle, who became the bride of the Earl of Abingdon.  Here father was Admiral Sir Peter Warren, a naval hero and New York social lion, and her mother was the beautiful and wealthy Susannah de Lancey. (page 20)


The Namesake: Peter Stuyvesant’s farm, bouwerij, to which the road led from the more settled parts of New Amsterdam,  The farm’s main house stood between 15th and 16th streets, just east of First Avenue.  (page 29)

The mansion of Sir Peter Warren, through whose property Bleecker Street ran.

The mansion of Sir Peter Warren, through whose property Bleecker Street ran.

Bleecker Street

The Namesake: Anthony Bleecker, an early 19th-century Greenwich Village literatus.  The street, the land for which was deeded to the city in 1807, already ran through the Bleecker family farm.  … Bleecker was a friend of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. His prose poetry appeared in a variety of periodicals during some thirty years, and Bryant once reported that Eliza Fenno had left town in 1811 simply to get away from Bleecker’s puns. (page 29)

William Bedlow Crosby (1786-1865) painted by Samuel Lovett Waldo

William Bedlow Crosby (1786-1865) painted by Samuel Lovett Waldo

Crosby Street

The Namesake: William Bedlow Crosby, early 19th-century philanthropist.  When both of his parents died two years after his birth in 1786, Crosby was adopted by his mother’s uncle, Henry Rutgers.  Crosby inherited the Crosby wealth and devoted his life to good works. (page 42)

Rivington Street

The Namesake: James Rivington, publisher of the pro-British newspaper Royal Gazette in New York during the Revolutionary War. …Because the paper printed both sides of every poitical issue, an unprecedented practive, its plant was wrecked by patriot extremists and put out of business.  Under British occupation of the city, Rivington resumed publication, and supported the King.  Rivington Street was named for him during thewar.  The street name was retained and Rivington himself was allowed to stay after British evacuation because he publicly repented his Tory sympathies and because, it was said, he had secretly aided Washington’s spies in the city.

Spring Street

The Namesake: a spring that originated there, at West Broadway, and once served as a source of water for residents.  (page 96)

Union Square

The Namesake: the junction of many roads and streets there. The square was named Union Place in 1808, when the commissioners who were laying out the city onthe grid plan decreed that the area should remain open.  It was renamed Union Square in 1832. (page 102)


This and other books about New York street names:

Feirstein, Sanna. Naming New York: Manhattan Places & How They Got Their Names. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

McNamara, John. History in Asphalt: The Origin of Bronx Street and Place Names, Borough of the Bronx, New York City. Harrison, N.Y: Published in collaboration with the Bronx County Historical Society [by] Harbor Hill Books, 1978.

Moscow, Henry, and Thomas Tracy. The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins. New York, N.Y: Fordham University Press, 1978.

Rogerson, Don. Manhattan Street Names Past and Present. New York: Griffin Rose Press, 2013.

Ulmann, Albert. A Landmark History of New York: Also the Origin of Street Names and a Bibliography. New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1906.

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City Notebook by McCandlish Phillips

City Notebook by McCandlish Phillips

Earlier this year, New York lost one of its all-time greatest chroniclers.  Mclandlish Phillips, a reporter for the New York Times who later left journalism to spread the Gospel, became known for his local reporting, as well as his lyrical articles about vanishing institutions in an ever-changing New York.

In his 1962 collection of writings, City Notebook: A Reporter’s Portrait of a Vanishing New York, Phillips remembers “Book Row,” the area just south of Union Square centered on Fourth Avenue that used to be New York’s used book center.  He recalls a conversation between Jack Biblio and Jack Tannen, founders of Biblio & Tannen at 63 Fourth Avenue:

“We came from a slum neighborhood—East New York in Brooklyn,” Mr. Biblio said.  “In those days, a penny was a lot, but a bunch of us were terribly interested in books and the rental of a Tarzan book in a store on Pitkin Avenue was ten cents for three days.

“Five of us kids each chipped in two cents, and all five of us read that whole book in three days.  We didn’t need a quick-reading course.”

“To work for one dollar a day in a bookstore—just to be in a bookstore—that was Nirvana,” Mr. Biblio said.  “Kids today won’t start for ninety dollars a week.  It’s nothing today for a boy ten years old to come in and pull out a ten dollar bill.  It’s quite a different world.”

“We started the business in 1928,” Mr. Tannen said.  “We slept in the back room and we worked eighteen hours a day and we each took a dollar-a-day out for the first three years.”

“We didn’t have hours.  As long as a customer was in the place, we stayed open,” Mr. Biblio said.

“If a customer came in and spent one dollar—big sale—we’d go out and have coffee and,” Mr. Tannen said, implying Danish.

Phillips’ book is chock full of anechdotes such as these, that only a seasoned reporter, who was also a seasoned New Yorker, could amass.

McCandlish Phillips getting the lowdown from a highly placed circus source (image: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

McCandlish Phillips getting the lowdown from a highly placed circus source (image: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

The breadth of Phillips’ coverage is also evidenced by the headlines to which his byline is attached, such as: “City Surlpus of Elks, Rams and Yaks Declines: High Bids Totaling $793.50 Accepted for 34 Left-Over Animals from Zoos,” “In Van Cortlandt: Bodies Washed Up on Lake Shore—Park Aide Says Silt Cut Off Oxygen,” “Singer Takes Charm to Rikers Island,” and “Aged Wait in Stony Solitude, But Not for Buses.”

Phillips’s most renowned article appeared on Page 1 on Sunday, Oct. 31, 1965, under the headline “State Klan Leader Hides Secret of Jewish Origin.”  In this article, that won him widespread praise and notice, Phillips reveals that Daniel Burros, a 28-year-old Queens man who was the Grand Dragon of the New York State Ku Klux Klan, a chief organizer of the national Klan and a former national secretary of the American Nazi Party was also a Jew — a former Hebrew school student who had been bar mitzvahed at 13.

While still working at the Times, Phillips helped found The New Testament Missionary Fellowship, a Pentecostal congregation.  In 1973, Phillips left the Times and journalism to preach the Gospel on the Columbia University campus and to work with the fellowship.  Phillips died in April of this year at the age of 85.

McClandish Phillips in 1962 (image: John Orris/The New York Times)

McCandlish Phillips in 1962 (image: John Orris/The New York Times)

Phillips will be remembered by fans of New Yorkiana for his unique flair for New York writing and his commitment to getting the story straight.  The  New York Times obituary for Phillips quotes his 1969 article about the closing of Lindy’s Delicatessen, a New York institution:

“What kind of a day is today? It’s the kind of a day that if you wanted a slice of cheesecake at Lindy’s, you couldn’t get it.”

Near the end of the article, he wrote, with plain-spoken, impeccable logic:

“The locusts stripped the place of menus and ashtrays and other mementos. There were conflicting claimants to possession of the last bagel. As a souvenir, a bagel is not much good. It is perishable and it also lacks proof. Anyone can hold up a bagel and say, ‘This is the last bagel from Lindy’s.’ ”

Phillips, McCandlish. City Notebook: A Reporter’s Portrait of a Vanishing New York. New York: Liveright, 1974.

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golemandjinni_pbkTHE GOLEM AND THE JINNI
By Helene Wecker
486 pp., Harper, $26.99

From the Harper Collins website:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.


riddle of the labyrinthTHE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
By Margalit Fox
Illustrated. 363 pp, Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers, $27.99

From the back cover:

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history—Linear B—and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. There was Evans, who had discovered the script but could never unravel it; Alice Kober, the fiery American scholar whose vital work on Linear B never got the recognition it deserved; and Michael Ventris, the haunted English architect who would solve the riddle triumphantly at the age of thirty only to die four years later under circumstances that remain the subject of speculation even now.

For half a century some of the world’s foremost scholars tried to coax the tablets to yield their secrets. Then, in 1952, the script was deciphered seemingly in a single stroke—not by a scholar but by Ventris, an impassioned amateur whose obsession with the tablets had begun in childhood. The decipherment brought him worldwide acclaim. But it also cost him his architectural career, his ties to his family, and quite possibly his life.

That is the narrative of the decipherment as it has been known thus far. But a major actor in the drama has long been missing: Alice Kober, a classicist at Brooklyn College. Though largely forgotten today, she came within a hair’s breadth of deciphering Linear B before her own untimely death in 1950. As The Riddle of the Labyrinth reveals, it was Kober who built the foundation on which Ventris’s decipherment stood, an achievement that until now has been all but lost to history. Drawing on a newly opened archive of Kober’s papers, Margalit Fox restores this unsung heroine to her rightful place at last.


topsyTOPSY: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison
By Michael Daly
288 pp., Atlantic Monthly Press, $27.00


In 1903, on Coney Island, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted, and over the past century, this bizarre, ghoulish execution has reverberated through popular culture with the whiff of urban legend. But it really happened, and many historical forces conspired to bring Topsy, Thomas Edison, and those 6600 volts of alternating current together that day. Tracing them all in Topsy The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison, journalist Michael Daly weaves together a fascinating popular history, the first book on this astonishing tale.


HarrietSpy1When I grow up I’m going to find out everything about everybody and put it all in a book.

—Harriet M. Welsch in Harriet the Spy

 Harriet M. Welsch would have made an excellent blogger.  The title character in Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 young adult novel is a spunky Upper East Side kid with a constant burning desire to record her observations of those around her as well as her own feelings toward them.  She has probably inspired a generation of aspiring writers, including myself, to observe and record their worlds, no matter how small or mundane.

Harriet’s world revolves around her uptown neighborhood and the characters who inhabit it.  She wants to be a spy and a writer when she grows up.  And to this end, she fills notebook after notebook with notes gathered during her spy route, a series of homes she clandestinely visits each day, and snarky comments about her classmates.  Through Harriet’s eyes, we see the struggles of the local grocer’s family, the loneliness of a cat-loving bachelor, the neuroses of a bed-ridden hypochondriac, as well as many other characters, all through the eyes of an eleven-year-old child.

We also see Harriet’s life as an upper-middle-class New York kid as she is often ignored by her self-involved parents and left in the care of Old Golly, her wise and loving nurse and, after the nurse leaves the household, the cook.  When Harriet gets into a fix, she does not rely on lessons learned from her mother or father but, rather, tries to imagine what Ole Golly would advise her to do.

An illustration by the author from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

An illustration by the author from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet’s keen powers of observation get her in trouble when her classmates find and read one of her notebooks, revealing her many harsh criticisms (as well as compliments) about them.  Harriet later apologizes for her comments by printing a retraction.  The book quietly condones, within reason, eavesdropping as well as (white) lying and praises those who stick to their convictions even if it means talking back to elders.  In a letter, Old Golly tells Harriet, “Little lies that make people feel better are not bad, like thanking someone for a meal they made even if you hated it, or telling a sick person they look better when they don’t, or someone with a hideous new hat that it’s lovely. But to yourself you must tell the truth”

When the book was first published, some tried to have the book banned, stating that it “teaches children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse,” but this effort was unsuccessful and Harriet the Spy went on to become a juvenile classic.  It spoke to many audiences, but especially to readers who sympathized with Harriet’s status as an outsider at school.  An NPR report on the book explains:

Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy

Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy

These days, girls can read books about all kinds of kids, facing all kinds of real problems. But back in the 1960s, when Kathleen Horning, the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, was growing up, the pickings were slimmer.

“There was a whole genre called the ‘tomboy story’ where a girl rebels in that way, but at the end everything is wonderful because she really is a girl and she gets very feminine,” remembers Horning.

Horning says she was a tomboy who didn’t want to reform. Later on, she realized she was a lesbian. What does that have to do with Harriet the Spy? A lot, says Horning. The book’s author Louise Fitzhugh, was also gay, and although Harriet’s sexuality is never touched on in the book, her boy’s clothes and bravado sent a message to some kids who felt different and didn’t know why.

“I have talked to so many adult lesbians who felt the same way about Harriet,” Horning says. “Particularly if you were growing up in the sixties when you really didn’t have any other people like you, Harriet was it. What the book told us is that we could be ourselves and survive.”

Harriet was a role model for all children who struggled with difference.  She shows readers, girls and boys alike, that belief in oneself, regardless of how others see you, is not only essential but liberating.  Although she apologizes publicly for what she wrote about others, she never apologizes to herself for being honest, boldly declaring, “I love myself.”  She is still the same Harriet we met at the beginning of the novel, only a bit older, and a lot wiser.


Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet, the Spy. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.


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jernigan bookCandy Jernigan’s (1952-1991) world extended way beyond the streets of New York City, yet she lived in New York during much of her too-short life, and it was the streets of her adopted hometown that were often her muse and canvas.

Jernigan was born in a decidedly unglamorous part of Miami, attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, moved to Provincetown, MA and then back to New York again in 1980 when she began collecting her “evidence,” which Jernigan described as “any and all physical proof” that she had been somewhere.  In his introduction to the monograph Evidence: The Art of Candy Jernigan, Stokes Howell explains:

In collecting and creating her art, Candy operated like a forensic pathologist.  Traveling down the street with her, you quickly got into her habit of examining the ground in front of you to see what treasures might have been tossed away on the sidewalk or into the gutter.  If she was on the lookout for pop tops from soft drink cans, you found yourself walking with your head down scanning from side to side looking for pop tops, too, even though you had no reason to, because Candy only used objects she herself collected and documented.  But you did it anyway, because you had begun to look at the world through her eyes.

New York City Rat by Candy Jernigan

New York City Rat by Candy Jernigan

Howell also quotes Ken Tisa, Jernigan’s friend and fellow artist, who says:

She made me rethink things I would ordinarily dismiss or run from.  She was one artist who pointed us in the direction of beauty within the scum of the city.  Everyone who wants to see art in New York looks up.  Candy looked down.  She was interested in what was most banal, what people didn’t want.  She wanted to make us desire the undesirable and she succeeded.

Pot Crushed on Houston by Candy Jernigan

Pot Crushed on Houston by Candy Jernigan

Jernigan framed a crushed pot she found on the street and titled the work, “Pot Crushed on Houston.”  She found a dead rat, had it stuffed, and titled it “New York City Rat.”  Her work “Found Dope II” consists of crack vials and caps she found in her neighborhood and an accompanying map indicating the place and time at which each item was found.  She also drew sketches of food and landscapes that she sometimes embellished with labels, photos, or found text and collected objects and ephemera during her travels abroad that she compiled into elaborate travel journals that included dust from the Sistine Chapel, anise seeds from India, and a coffee stain from Gambia.

To look at Jernigan’s work, documentation of the ordinary that was specific to her own life, is quite moving, even in reproduction.  She gives us glimpses of her New York life, her New York story, and it makes us realize that hers is just one of millions of interconnected yet unique stories, each as significant and meaningful as the next and reminds us that our own stories rely on those of others to be told.


Jernigan, Candy, Laurie Dolphin, and John B. Taylor. Evidence: The Art of Candy Jernigan. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999.

New York: 24 Cheez Doodles by Candy Jernigan

New York: 24 Cheez Doodles by Candy Jernigan


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here is new yorkAs I was looking though my bookshelf for something to read on the train, I noticed two slim volumes sitting quietly side by side: E.B. White’s Here is New York and Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York.  I grabbed them both and used my time on the subway to revisit them, one on the way uptown, the other on the way down.

These two works have found themselves in each other’s company before, no doubt.  They are, at least on the surface, ripe for comparison, in that they are both brief, personal love letters to New York City, though their authors are separated by, among other things, time and circumstance.

White’s essay, originally published as an article in Holiday magazine, and then in book form, was written in his sweltering hotel room during a visit to New York in the summer of 1949. He observes:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

colossus of new yorkWhite falls into the third category of New Yorks—born in Mount Vernon, he was a New York settler until 1938, when he moved to Maine.  Colson Whitehead, on the other hand, is a born and bred native.  On being a true New Yorker, he writes in his 2003 book The Colossus of New York:

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ”It happened overnight.” But of course it didn’t. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can’t remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people’s other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.

Being a native New Yorker myself, I can relate to Whitehead’s idea of having one’s own New York, how each person here sees his or her own story in the city’s streets, all of them unique and specific to that person.  I can also confirm that the starry-eyed transplants, the third of White’s New Yorks, give our fair city an energy that is unique to cities where almost everyone is from someplace else.  But I must protest when White asserts that “[i]t is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

It is the very fact that we have all three of White’s New Yorks, the commuters, the natives, and the settlers, that this city has a passion that attracts the passion of others.  Without a perfectly-balanced cast of Whites, Whiteheads, as well as throngs of itinerant men and women in white shirts, the curtain would go down on the never-ending universal drama that is New York.  It is the constant ebb and flow of the tension and relaxation created by the intermingling of these three cities that allows New York to constantly generate the high-strung passion that is its life force.

Toward the end of Colossus, Whitehead writes that “Talking about New York is a way of talking about the world.”  In the micro you see the macro, or as White movingly observes:

A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.

All this, for the price of two swipes of a Metrocard.


White, E B. Here Is New York. New York: Harper, 1949.
Whitehead, Colson. The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts. New York: Doubleday, 2003

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A publicity pamphlet for The Sunwise Turn Bookshop (image: Make It New: The Rise of Modernism)

In her September 1, 2011 New York Times essay, “A Portal to 1920s Greenwich Village,” Jennifer Schuessler discusses the new online exhibition from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin entitled, “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.”  At the center of the exhibition is a door from Frank Shay’s 1920’s Greenwich Village bookshop that is covered with 244 signatures of the shop’s visitors.  It includes those of famous writers such as Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis, as well as neighborhood eccentrics and unidentified book enthusiasts and reflects the lively literary world of 1920’s New York.  Shay “not only sold and published books, but ran a circulating library, lectured on bookselling, edited volumes of plays for other publishing houses, and even won a prize for his window displays. Most importantly, he cultivated a community: publishers, writers, artists, book collectors, magazine editors, cartoonists, academics, book designers, theater directors and more.”

Also at the Ransom Center, though not part of this exhibition, are the records of The Sunwise Turn Bookshop, purchased by the Ransom Center in 1977.  Sunwise Turn, founded and operated by Mary Mowbray-Clarke and Madge Jenison, was located in midtown Manhattan from 1916 until it closed in 1927 was concurrent with Shay’s shop.  One of the first bookstores in the U.S. to be owned by women, Sunwise Turn sponsored lectures by Robert Frost, Theodore Dreiser, and Amy Lowell among others.  It was the first “gallery” to exhibit the work of the painter Charles Burchfield among other new artists of the time, which perhaps influenced the artistic tastes of their young intern named Peggy Guggenheim.

Of the store’s interiors, Madge Jenison writes in her memoir Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling that they “intended the room to look like a place in which you could read a book.  We were to conduct it like life, and it was to look like life.”  In the catalog for a past Ransom Center exhibition entitled “Make it New: The Rise of Modernism,” Edward Bishop explains that by lavishly decorating the interior of their store, the proprietors of Sunwise Turn were “creating a space for reading, not just buying books,” and that they “saw themselves as cultural missionaries in the capitalist jungle of Manhattan.”  Like Frank Shay, they also published books and worked hard to cultivate a literary community, but, in the end, the store was bought out by Doubleday and became part of the “jungle” it was fighting against.  Christopher Morley’s description of Shay’s store in his essay “Wine that Was Spilt in Haste” (1931) applies equally to its contemporary, Sunwise Turn:  It was too personal, too enchanting, too Bohemian a bookshop to survive indefinitely, but for five or six years it played a very real part in the creative life of New York.

Bishop, Ted. “The Sunwise Turn: The Modern Bookshop.” Make It New: The Rise of Modernism. Edited by Kurt Heinzelman. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Harry Ransom Center.  “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.”  Accessed October 11, 2011.

Jenison, Madge. Sunwise Turn: A Human Comedy of Bookselling. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1923.

Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Portal to 1920s Greenwich Village.”  The New York Times. September 1, 2011.

This post originally appeared on 10/3/11.

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New York Bound Books at 50 Rockefeller Plaza

New York Bound Bookshop at 50 Rockefeller Plaza

There’s no turning back the clock, but one way I always tried was by visiting New York Bound…with its passing goes one bookstore in which we could find, if only for an hour, what we have lost since bookstores lined Fifth Avenue.  The city, no less than its customers, is left with a hole in its heart.                                 

—Frank Rich, The New York Times, June 29, 1997

Stoddard Corner Bookshop in Hudson, New York is honored to offer the stock of New York Bound Bookshop and selected volumes from Barbara Cohen’s private collection to a discerning public– large holdings of New York material, as well as books on books, art, European history, and a significant amount of ephemera.

The story of Ms. Cohen’s distinguished, forty-year career as a respected bookseller began and fittingly, concludes, in Columbia County, New York. In the early 1970s, her late husband, Myron, converted a toolshed on their Gallatin property where Ms. Cohen specialized in old, rare, and out-of-print books, maps, prints, and ephemera about New York. In 1976, New York Bound Bookshop moved to South Street Seaport’s Fulton Market, then to West 54 Street, and finally, with business partner Judith Stonehill, to the Associated Press Building lobby at 50 Rockefeller Plaza.

BG-Letters to PhilDuring the early years, the New York Bound Bookshop played a vital role in the completion of the popular Anderson Isometric Map of Midtown New York and published four books about New York—from a rare 19th century manuscript to the reprint of a fascinating 1932 book about New York—including Letters to Phil: Memories of a New York Boyhood 1848-1856 by Gene Schermerhorn with a foreword by Brendan Gill.  She also co-edited Trylon and Perisphere, a book about the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and a compilation of literature and art of New York entitled New York Observed, published by Abrams. After New York Bound Bookshop closed, Ms. Cohen and Ms. Stonehill worked together to bring about reprints of E.B. White’s Here is New York, Tony Sarg’s 1927 portrait of the city renamed New York Up and Down, Charles Lockwood’s seminal Bricks and Brownstones, and the Milos Sasek’s beloved classic Here is New York.  Over the years, Ms. Cohen has served on the jury for the New York Society Library’s awards that honor the best books about New York as well as the Small Press Center, a non-profit organization to benefit small press publishers.

Stoddard Corner in Hudson, NY

Stoddard Corner in Hudson, NY

After the bookstore closed in 1997, Ms. Cohen began assembling a bibliography of books on New York using the knowledge she gathered over her forty years devoted to acquiring antiquarian books and printed matter about New York and advising authors on little-known works.  This research resulted in the launch of a website,, that offers obscure and invaluable bibliographic data on New York City, with editor Yukie Ohta at the helm.  Ms. Cohen’s interests have also recently evolved from bookselling to showcasing “Biblioarte,” works that celebrate books as art and art as books.

Join us as Barbara Cohen and New York Bound Books close the final chapter where it all began—in upstate New York.


June 22 – 23 & June 29 – 30, 2013

11 AM – 5 PM
Ms. Cohen will be present.

Stoddard Corner Bookshop
757 Columbia Street
Hudson, New York 518.478.3660

Catalogue at



whalen 1The saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  This expression came to mind the other day as I was browsing in Housing Works Bookstore and came upon a book by Richard J. Whalen entitled A City Destroying Itself: An Angry View of New York.  Whalen, a native New Yorker, originally wrote a shorter piece on the same theme for Fortune Magazine that was so popular, he expanded the article to a book-length diatribe about all the myriad things he feels are destroying New York.  Written in 1965, it is noteworthy that the complaints he had then are the complaints we still hear today in 2013.

The opening of chapter 3 reads:

New York shows alarming signs of spiritual malnutrition and death-by-inches. It is frowning, tight-lipped, short-tempered, the most nervous city in America.  It is a city without grace.  It is humorless, able to mock and taunt, but too tense to gain the release of laughter.  It is a city that cried “Jump” to a would-be suicide perched on a window ledge.

Richard J. Whalen

Richard J. Whalen

I, too, am a native New Yorker, and I happen to disagree with Whalen here, but I have heard this sentiment expressed by countless others, although usually from those who were born and raised in other, more peaceful and bucolic, places where people are polite, even if they don’t mean it.

Whalen opens the book with:

All but a few years of my life have been spent in and around New York City, but I cannot claim an intense feeling of identification with the city.  In a sense, one is cheated by being born here.  The newcomer never entirely recovers from his stunning first impression, while the native becomes aware of the city gradually and without a thrill of wonder.

whalenPoint well taken.  I do find newcomers to New York have a strong reaction to it, whether negative or positive.  The excitement in the eyes of those whose lifelong dream it was to move to “The Big Apple” is almost blinding, whereas this is all I ever knew, I thought everyone grew up riding graffiti covered-subways and having year-round access to the world’s greatest museums.

Here is another refrain, oft heard, especially from old-time natives:

New York exists only in he present tense.  Just as there is no sense of obligation to the future, so there is no feeling of pride in the past.  Although Manhattan is quite old—it was first settled in 1615—is, as Alexander Woollcott once remarked, “a town without any attics.”  The city seems to regard the past with contempt and hastens to obliterate its heritage.

In 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission New York was a newly established institution, and was born too late to save the old Penn Station:

Symbolic of New York’s self-destructive frenzy is the demolition of Pennsylvania Station. Now being razed to make way of a $120 million complex including a new Madison Square Garden arena, an exhibition hall, bowling alleys, and a thirty-three-story office tower.  This will be the fourth Madison Square Garden in eighty-five years.  There will never be another Penn Station.

I wonder what Whalen would have to say about our city’s current plans for Moynihan Station, an attempt to harken back to a time when trains arrived in terminals both grand and central.

What fun I had perusing this volume of complaints and criticisms that also contains thirteen illustrations by Feliks Topolski.  The jacket copy declares, “Here is a city of endless human discomfort, inconvenience, harassment and fear…one which strives and dehumanizes its inhabitants…a city destroying itself.”  Though obviously rather one-sided, Whalen’s prose is very readable and his arguments astute.  Had he been writing today, he would have made a first-rate blogger!

Whalen, Richard J. A City Destroying Itself: An Angry View of New York. New York: Morrow, 1965.


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McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in Manhattan

McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in Manhattan

Sarah McNally is a matchmaker. But please
 do not go to her for dating advice. McNally matches readers with books the old-fashioned way, by placing them in your hands. She carefully and thoughtfully curates the books sold in her independent bookstore, McNally Jackson, at 52 Prince Street just east of Lafayette.

Brimming with enthusiasm, McNally reigns over her modest bookselling empire with an almost maternal concern for her patrons. She has made it her goal to make sure their curiosity and intellect are nourished and comforted by making available an array of hand-picked titles in a pleasant, airy environment conducive to both contemplation and interaction. What is the secret to McNally Jackson’s success at a time when bookstores, and even books, are falling by the wayside
in the electronic age? McNally cannot put her finger on it, but she credits it to alchemy—the interaction of people and place and books, something that you cannot duplicate online.

McNally is not only a bookseller, she is an avid reader. She leads the bookstore’s international fiction reading group and is a member of a Proust reading group. She is also often present
at the bookstore’s numerous book talks and signings that have made McNally Jackson the cultural hub of the neighborhood. Their roster is a who’s who list of writers, editors, and critics that more often than not attracts a standing-room-only crowd. These events, along with the reading groups, storytimes for children, and even puppet shows, make it so much more than just a bookstore. It verges on being what Ray Oldenburg termed a “third place,” where one goes to spend time as a bridge between home and work life, a place that facilitates creative interaction among people.

McNally is thus truly a matchmaker. Through her bookstore, she not only unites reader and book, she brings people together to discuss literature, ideas, and fairy tales. She clearly does this all from the heart and not with an eye on some bottom line, though she is undeniably an astute businesswoman. Sincerity and business acumen—now there’s a perfect match!


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