Wednesday, 28 January 2009


The Hip Sing Association (formerly known as the Hip Sing Tong) was a Chinese-American criminal organisation based in and around Pell Street during the early to mid 20th century which waged violent and bloody Tong wars for the control of Chinatown, with rivals the Four Brothers and On Leong Tong. Many still hold the firm view that the Hip Sing Tong is still active in Pell Street, maybe however, not quite to the same extent, in range of criminal activity and violence, as in its heyday.
The properties that featured in the Hip Sing's activities and history still exist in Pell Street, albeit behind different storefronts.
Hip Sing Tong HQ at 16 Pell Street

The "United in Victory" association, the first major secret society in Chinatown, was based here for decades. In 1898, roughly 12% of Chinatowns residents were said to be members. A war stated with rival On Leong Tong when they tried to storm this building on October 7th, 1924; by the time things quietened settled down, 70 people were reported dead.

13 & 15, Pell Street

No 15 housed the command of Hip Sing Associates Inc - a thinly disguised corporate trading entity for the Hip Sing Tong.

From about 1905 until 1911, 13, Pell Street was the address of Sing Dock, the "Scientific Killer," chief hitman of the Hop Sing Tong. He was known for methodically planning his murders, including the Chinese Theater massacre that left four dead. He was killed in 1911 at the Hip Sing headquarters across the road at 16 Pell Street.

12 Pell Street (left)
12, Pell Street was the address of the Chinatown Music Hall, the first Chinese theater in the Eastern U.S, which later became The Pelham, a saloon where Irving Berlin got his start as a singing waiter. It was also an opium den; Yee Hoy, the Hip Sing member (nicknamed "Girl Face") who killed Sing Dock, lived at this address and was assassinated on the street here in 1912.
11, Pell Street

King Son Cafe, at no. 11, was the principal hangout for the Flying Dragons, the street gang affiliated with the Hip Song Tong.

10 Pell Street

The building at no. 10 served as the Hip Sing's original headquarters when they came to New York City in the 1890's. It was also an opium den.

On the corner of Pell Street and 18 Bowery (above) is the oldest surviving townhouse in Manhattan, it was built sometime between 1785 and 1789 - in Georgian mixed with foreshadowing of Federal style. In the 1830's and '40's it housed a brothel - which cannot be accredited to the Hip Sing as it was before their time!


Cornelia Street Cafe at 23, Cornelia Street in the heart of Greenwich Village
New York is renowned as the toughest of markets for new dining projects - even in good times, 70% of new restaurants close down or change owners in their first five years. This statistic must give a reliable pointer to the pedigree of the Cornelia Street Cafe, which has successfully come through nearly 32 years of providing good food, wines and cultural inclined entertainment to the local 'literati', poetry aficionado's, modern music buffs, performance freaks, and visitors to the area alike.

The property on the quiet, charming and leafy restaurant row off Bleecker Street, was stumbled across by three artists in 1977. Robin Hirsch, a writer and director, Charles Mckenna, an actor, and Raphaela Pivetta, a visual artist, and thought it the perfect place to open a cafe.
From the outset it was a artists' cafe. Within a month there were poetry readings and music performances; and then a play written for the cafe; and fiction writers; and Eskimo poetry; and puppeteers; and a living portrait of James Joyce; and the Four Quartets and the entire Iliad; and mime shows on the street outside the cafe; and comedians; and fairy tales and storytellers and Punch and Judy Shows. Over the years it has presented an enormous variety of artists, from singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega to poet-senator Eugene McCarthy, from members of Monty Python to members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It also provides a performance home to many literary and artistic groups such as the Songwriters Exchange and the Writers Studio.

And there is a real kitchen, which has garnered all kinds of acclaim, including the Village Arts Award for "inspired cuisine" knocking out good, tasty, well-presented, value cuisine. The colorful, if dated, eclectic menu is consistent with the cafe's 'bohemian' roots and leaves very few unsatisfied. In an age when 'must-find-something-spiteful-to-write' food critics moan about any establishment that is bold enough to keep to a more traditional and proven popular menu, it is refreshing to find one that 'bucks the trend' and eschews over-elaborate, much fingered, unnecessary-add-nothing ingredients and tepid food.

The performance space is downstairs where the tradition of theater, performance, and music is alive and well.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Thomas Nast "Father of the American Cartoon"

Thomas Nast (1840 -1902) was born in Germany and immigrated to New York City with his parents in 1846. After leaving the National Academy of Design at 15, Nast started working as a draftsman for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, before joining Harpers Weekly, three years later. Nast drew for Harpers Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886. In 1860 he went to England for the New York Illustrated News to depict one of the major sporting events of the era, the prize fight between the American John C. Heenan and the English Thomas Sayers. A few months later he joined Garibaldi in Italy and his cartoons and articles about the Garibaldi military campaign to unify Italy captured the popular imagination in the U.S.

During his career, Thomas Nast used the power of the cartoon to challenge issues such as slavery, segregation, the inflation of the currency and the Ku Klux Klan and was instrumental in the presidential election of Ulysses Grant in 1868 and 1872; in the latter campaign, Nast's ridicule of Horace Greeley's candidacy was especially merciless. Nast became a close friend of President Grant and the two families shared regular dinners until Grant's death.

His cartoons were, however, at their most 'poisonous' and effective in the downfall of Boss Tweed, who so feared Nast's campaign that an emissary was sent to offer Nast a $500,000 bribe (a huge sum at that time) to "drop this Ring business" and take a trip abroad. Declining the offer, Nast pressed his attack, and Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud.

Many cartoons were produced by Nast in this campaign to rid the City of the embezzlement and corruption rife within the Tweed City Hall administration including one which depicted all the main characters standing in a circle, each pointing the finger of blame at another.

Nast's first use of the famous cruel and avaricious Tamany Tiger symbol
Nast's cartoon's still came back to trouble Tweed after his conviction, as when he attempted to escape justice in December 1875 by fleeing to Cuba and from there to Spain, officials in Vigo, Spain were able to identify the fugitive by using one of Nast's cartoons.

With the death of Fletcher Harper in 1877, Nast lost an important champion at Harper's Weekly Journal, and his contributions became less frequent. He focused on oil paintings and book illustrations, but these are comparatively unimportant. He quit Harper's Weekly in 1886. Nast lost his forum and in losing him, Harper's Weekly lost its political importance.

It is, perhaps, unarguable, that any other political cartoonist's work before or since Thomas Nast has had a greater impact on the course of history.

Monday, 26 January 2009


The present Chelsea Market block is a collection of 18 separate buildings, totaling about 1 million square feet of space. Its origin is the former factory of the National Biscuit Company and now occupies the space from 15th to 16th Streets between Ninth and 10th Avenues. The earliest buildings, near Ninth Avenue, date from the 1890's with a number of additions being made in 1910, the 1920's and the mid 1930's. The National Biscuit Company (NABISCO), where Oreos were invented in 1912, left the complex in the mid 1940's. After a decade and a half, it was reborn as the New York Industrial Center, which was not a success and so the buildings continued their decline and neglect.

Chelsea Market today
In the 1990's, the investor Irwin B. Cohen organized a syndicate to buy the principal NABISCO buildings, and over the next several years reinvented the older complex into Chelsea Market on the ground floor and re-renting the upper floors to an emerging group of technology companies. He, and his designers, Vandeberg Architects, created a long interior arcade of food stores, now a well known destination in Manhattan, as well as million dollar lofts and office accommodation elsewhere.
To walk through the Chelsea Market is to stroll through a sort of post-industrial theme park, carefully festooned with the detritus of a lost industrial culture, interspersed with food stores and restaurants. The central hall is a jumble of disused ducts, an artificial waterfall, the original train shed (served by the High Line) old signboards and other elements.

This gourmet mall features many independent establishments like Fat Witch brownies, the Green Table organic wine bar, Hugh McMahon the Pumpkin Man, Amy's Bread, Manhattan Fruit Exchange, Buonitalia and much more. Chelsea Market has established itself as a highly recommended food shopping and visitor destination - a cut above ordinary mall shopping - with tours available which include sampling the goods.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


Tompkins Square Park is a 10.5 acre public park located near the East River in Alphabet City, that once consisted of marshland and open meadows, but has since been filled in. It is named for Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825), Vice President of the United States under President James Munroe and the Governor of New York from 1807 until 1817. The park was opened in 1850 when it included a large parade ground for drilling the New York National Guard.

The park has become a center piece for demonstrations and riots. In 1857, immigrants protesting about unemployment and food shortages were attacked by the police. In 1883 the deadly Draft Riots occurred in the park an had a serious effect on Manhattan with many lives lost. On January 13, 1874, the Tompkins Square Riots flared up in the park (see above illustration) when police brutally crushed a demonstration involving thousands of workers. The riot marked an unprecedented era of labor conflict and violence. In 1877, 5,000 people fought with the National Guard when they amassed to hear Communist revolutionary speeches.

More recently the park became the nursery of demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960's and by the 1980's had become synonymous with the city's increased social problems. The park at that time was a high-crime area that contained encampments of homeless people, and it was a center for illegal drug dealing and heroin use. In August 1988, another riot erupted when police attempted to clear the park of homeless people; 44 people were injured. However, increasing gentrification of the East Village in the 1990' and 2000's, as well as enforcement of a park curfew and the eviction of homeless people, have changed the character of Tompkins Square Park. It is now a very popular recreational park with playgrounds, sports facilities and entertainment events attracting young families, students and seniors as well as tourists from all over the globe.

The Tompkins Square Park Dog Run was the first dog run in NYC, and spawned others. It has undergone a $150,000 renovation, much of which was funded by the NYC government and fund-raising by dog run patrons. One such fundraiser is the Halloween party the run hosts and is the biggest dog Halloween party in the United States, boasting an annual attendance of more than 400 dogs in costume and 2,000 spectators.

Among many events held in the park, is the outdoor very colourful drag festival "Wigstock", (a play on the word Woodstock) and part of the Howl Festival. Other events include the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the New Village Music Festival, and an annual "Riot Reunion" concert every summer called "Cracktoberfest" that features the neighborhood squatt-punk, "crack rocksteady" band Leftover Crack or one of their many other incarnations such as Choking Victim.

Or just come along to the park during the sultry NTC summer days with a good book and a towel, strip off and relax.


As legend tells it, Arthur Felig earned the nickname Weegee during his early career as a freelance press photographer in New York City. His apparent sixth sense for crime often led him to a scene of crime well ahead of police. Observers likened this sense, actually derived from tuning his radio to the police frequency, to the Ouija board, the popular fotune-telling game. Spelling it phonetically, Felig took Weegee as his professional name.

Born in Austria in 1899, Weegee emigrated to America with his family and grew up in a tenement on Lower East Side. Around 1923, he joined Acme Newspictures as a darkroom technician, occasionally filling in as a news photographer. Later, around 1935, armed with his Speed Graphic camera and working out of Police Headquarters in lower Manhattan, he began a career as a freelance press photographer. His images of dead gangsters and his own flamboyant personality established his reputation as NYC's resident "crime photographer," a personna he nutured to the point of ultimately stamping the backs of his own pictures, "Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous."

His territory expanded from the Bowery to Greenwich Village to the activities of the uptown social elite and his clients included such periodicals as Life and Vogue as well as the legitimate newspapers, the daily tabloids and everything in between.

A Weegee trademark 'dead body'

To avoid the heat of summer - children sleeping on a fire-escape

Dwarf in bar

Transvestite in police wagon
Weegee also worked in Hollywood as a filmmaker, performer, and technical consultant. His 1945 book Naked City was the inspiration for the 1947 film The Naked City. The Public Eye (1992), starring Joe Pesci, was based on the man himself. He died in New York in 1968.

Friday, 23 January 2009



There is something about this quietness, the sun having gone down and the sky so full of color.

What are all those ferryboats doing going down so slowly, all by themselves, down the river?

What is all this darkness?

Where are all the people?

O, they'll be all around again, don't worry, they'll all come back again.

They'll be all around again after the darkness, after the dawn: they'll all be here again.

Robert Clairmont from "Quintillions"

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Map showing the route of the High Line
The line passed through warehouses for the purpose of delivery and collection of freight

The High Line elevated railroad was used to transport freight along the Westside waterfront, replacing the street-level tracks at 10th and 11th Avenues that justifiably earned the nickname "Death Avenue." Built in 1929 at a cost of $150 million (more than $2 billion in today's dollars), it originally stretched from 35th Street to St. John's Park Terminal, now the Holland Tunnel rotary. Partially torn down in 1960 and abandoned in 1980, it now stretches from Gansevoort almost to 34th Street, mostly running mid-block, so as to avoid dominating an avenue with an elevated platform.

High Line Facts

* Constructed 1929-1934

* Spans 22 blocks

*1.45 miles long

* 6.7 acres of space atop elevated rail track

* 30-60 feet wide and 18-30 feet high

*Built to support 2 fully loaded freight trains

* Primary construction materials: steel and reinforced concrete

* Owner: The City of New York

The abandoned railroad in 2003

In its abandonment, the High Line became something of a natural wonder, overgrown with weeds and even trees, accessible only to those who risked on private property. However, bold and imaginative plans are underway, led by the Friends of the High Line, to turn it into a park, open to the public - the first phase being due to open next spring.

Showing the corner of Gansevoort & Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, the High Line's southern terminus. This will be the site of a major access point and street-level plaza.
Showing the point where the High Line's only lawn 'peels up' at 23rd. Street, where the line widens, providing crosstown views of the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River. There will also be a stepped seating area.
Showing a straight walkway running alongside the railway tracks, surrounded by a landscape of native species that ensure bloom throughout the growing season.

Friends of the High Line believes the historic High Line rail structure offers New Yorkers the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind recreational amenity: a grand public promenade that can be enjoyed by all residents and visitors to New York City. It will be proof New York City no longer casts aside its priceless transportation infrastructure but instead creates bold new uses for these monuments to human power and ambition.


Mayor Walker in 1926

James John Walker (!881-1946) or Jimmy Walker, sometimes known as Beau James, became Mayor of NYC in 1926 with the backing up of Governor Al Smith and Tammany Hall. An Irish-American, Walker grew up in Greenwich Village and served in the State Assembly, representing Greenwich Village's district, and then in the state Senate before coming mayor. His earl years as mayor in the 1920's were successful as the city grew prosperous during the Jazz Age, and his term coincides with the many speakeasies of the Prohibition era.

His residence at 6, St. Luke's Place, is perchance in close proximity to Chumley's, a favorite of the Mayor, (now undergoing extensive repairs following a collapsed wall last year) with a speakeasy past. Walker's girlfriends tended to be chorus and show girls, and when he left office he also left his wife, a vaudeville performer, for Betty Compton, a showgirl.

The mayoral residence at 6, St. Luke's Place

Jimmy Walker wrote songs, penning the words for the 1908 hit "Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May?". A supporter of public life, He backed the legalisation of boxing and opposed Prohibition. He liked going to the theater and staying up late at nightclubs. One potential issue, however, was that he didn't care all that much for showing up for work at City Hall. When the Depression deepened in the earl 1930's, the Mayor's response was casual, urging people to look on the bright side by going to cheerful movies.

When members of the state legislature decided to investigate city hall finances, they found that Walker routinely pocketed donations from businessmen seeking city franchises and licences. He resigned in 1932 before Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, could decide whether or not to remove him. The Governor would become the next President.

On Hudson & Clarkson Streets named to honour "Beau James"

After leaving office, Walker left New York to live in Europe for a couple of years in Europe with his second wife. Returning to New York only when he was sure that he would not be indicted for the improprieties committed whilst mayor, the couple adopted two children, and divorced eight years later. However, back home in NYC, he still enjoyed popularity with the public, often cited as the viable alternative candidate to incumbent LaGuardia.

His background, lifestyle and reluctance to engage in serious hard work might have rendered him unlikely to have become Mayor of NYC but it goes to show the potency of the Tammany Hall political machine at that time.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


The external face of Chinatown is that of a brightly coloured bustling, slightly down-at-heel, commercial center that is home to many Chinese American immigrant families, which periodically erupts into even greater frenetic activity with fabulous street parades and celebrations. However, scratch this seemingly agreeable surface and a less pleasant aspect lurks - the "Tongs" a term used for a type of secret society found among Chinese American immigrants

Although tongs were originally created for mutual support and protection, especially from other local ethnic groups hostile to the rapid rate of Chinese immigration, their activities often flouted the law or became outright criminal. Worldwide, Tongs are also known as hui, hongmen, and triads, and were all descended from the Tiandihui, a secret society established to overthrow the Qing dynasty in China in the 18th century.

The On Leong Merchants Association headquarters at 83-85 (corner) Mott Street

The early days of New York's Chinatown were dominated by Chinese "Tongs" (now sometimes rendered neutrally as "associations"), and each of these associations was aligned with a street gang, such as the On Leong Tong which operated out of its territory in Mott Street. Established in November, 1893, this tong fought a violent and bloody war for control of Chinatown's rackets and businesses with the Hip Sing Tong. In recent years the On Leong Tong has been linked to the Ghost Shadows street gang led by Wing Yeung Chan. Currently, there are over 30,000 registered On Leong members, the majority of them with a commercial or industrial background.

Looking down Mott Street with the On Leong Merchants HQ on the corner - in 1962...

The the 1930's and 40's, On Leong rivals, the Hip Sings were involved in drug and trafficking operations, forming alliances with tongs in Chinese American communities throughout the United States in major cities such as Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, which despite extensive attention and raids by the authorities, is still believed to be trading in narcotics.

....and today

The Ghost Shadows, prominent in NYC's Chinatown from the late 1980's, was believed to be under the control of the On Leong Tong, and was often engaged in bloody turf wars with other Chinatown gangs. Their activities include extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and gambling and had links with Italian-American Mafia families. The gang suffered some setbacks in 1995, when boss Wing Yeung Chan was indicted on murder and racketeering charges and secretly started 'spilling the beans.'

None of this need worry a visitor to this unique part of NYC, from taking in the vibrant street environment, buying some 'themed' memento's, or sampling the delicious and varied regional Chinese cuisine available in profusion. Just avoid remarking loudly that you can see many business opportunities in the area and wouldn't mind grabbing a chunk of the action or you could find yourself meeting up with the local tongs sooner than you think!

Monday, 19 January 2009


Investigative journalists today invariably strut along the moral highway, with the successful ones being publicly lauded, highly remunerated and showered with prestigious awards. Jason Leopold, was a recent example with his investigative work which shed light onto the murky machinations of Ken Lay and the Enron debacle.

Perhaps the most well known press luminaries of the truth are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodford, who when working for The Washington Post exposed the Watergate Affair which caused the resignation of the President, Richard Nixon. For their revelations they became incredibly famous, universally feted and now have sideboards heaving under the weight of awards and citations including the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

However, there was a time when investigative journalists did not march the road to glorious adulation and were viewed as willful nuisances - Ida Minerva Tarbell (1857 - 1944) came in this category.

Hers is the story of how a female journalist based in NYC, brought down the world's greatest tycoon and broke up the Standard Oil Company. Before the rise of mega-corporations like Microsoft, Standard Oil controlled the oil industry. Undaunted by the ruthless and far-reaching power of its owner, John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937), the fearless and ambitious reporter, Ida Tarbell, confronted the company known as "The Trust". Through her fact gathering and devastating prose, Tarbell, a reporter at "McClures Magazine", pioneered the practice of investigative journalism. Her discoveries about Standard Oil and Rockefeller led to a dramatic confrontation that culminated in the landmark 1911 Supreme Court antitrust decision which altered the landscape of American industry forever.

Ida Tarbel lived relatively modestly at 120, East 19th Street (above) from 1913 - 1940. It was said that the inspiration for her pursuit of the Standard Oil Company came from her father being bankrupted by oil billionaire Rockefeller.
Her work at that time was known as "Mudraking", (a term that President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with originating,) which she didn't like and wrote an article "Muckraker or Historian" where she justified her efforts for exposing the oil trust.

On September 14th, 2002, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Tarbell as part of a series of four stamps honoring women journalists.

"Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists - with it all things are possible." Ida Tarbell.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


For the 100th blog in this series, it was important to find something that would "knock your socks off." After much research that objective is within our grasp - Katz's Delicatessen is the answer to a maiden's prayers, well it certainly was for Sally (played by Meg Ryan) in the 1989 romantic comedy film "When Harry met Sally."

Katz's Deli, is a Jewish kosher style delicatessen on the Lower East Side of New York City, located at 205 E. Houston Street, on the south-west corner of Houston and Ludlow Streets. Since its founding in 1888, it has become very popular among locals and tourists alike for its pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs, both of which are widely considered among New York's best. Each week, Katz's serves 5,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 12,000 hot dogs.

Aside from the advent of refrigeration, little has changed at Katz's Deli since then, as it still retains a grungy sheen to its throngs of tourists, regulars and celebrities, many of whose signed framed photographs are to be found adorning the walls. Several U.S. Presidents have been served including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Morty Weiss patron of over 80 years certified that the hot dogs as "the best in the world."

a regular pastrami 'Rubens' sandwich
During World War II, with the owner's three sons overseas and a family tradition of sending food, Katz's encouraged parents to "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army." To this day, they will still ship anywhere in the world. It became one of the deli's famous catch phrases, along with "Katz's, that's all!" which is still painted on the side of the building.

Now back to Harry (played by Billy Crystal) and Sally, the table at which they sat for the fake orgasm scene, is marked with a sign that says "Where Harry met Sally.......hope you have what she had!" Nothing else needs to be said really is there other than, perhaps, go there and find out for yourselves.