Thursday, December 13, 2007

A walk down St. Marks Place, Part I

A walk down St. Marks Place, Part I

Written by Eric Ferrara,
Friday, 30 November 2007

For over half a century, this three block stretch of E.8th St has
exemplified the East Village's reputation as a counterculture and
artistic haven. It has become tradition for punk rockers, performance
artists, street musicians, activists, hippies, squatters, and people
watchers to congregate here. Even though the landscape had changed
quite dramatically, (your now more likely to see students, young
professionals and tourists), St. Marks Place still hosts an edge that
is unique to the rest of NYC.

Soon after World War II ended, groups of artists and intellectuals
began moving to New York City from all over America, in search of an
alternative to small town life and mainstream culture. Many arrived
to attend local universities like NYU and Columbia University; some
just wanted something more, something different. Back then the East
Village was still called "The Lower East Side" and were still
considered slums, so these students were originally attracted by the
cheap rents. They also found that they fit in well with the rooted
community of anarchists, communists, and general anti-establishment
folk who paved the way for radical politics and ideals carried over
via recent immigration from Europe.

Some of these students/residents/artists became known as the Beat
Generation (William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg); while others became
known as the first wave of Abstract Expressionist painters (Jackson
Pollack, Mark Rothko, Willem DeKooning).

These are the artistic pioneers who set the bohemian tone of the area
between E.14th and E. Houston Streets. The Jazz musicians soon
followed (Charlie Parker); then in the 1960s the folk musicians (Bob
Dylan), Avant Garde artists (Andy Warhol), and radical activists
(Abbie Hoffman); In the 70s the punk rockers moved in (The Ramones);
and in the 80s, the urban contemporary artists (Jean-Michel Basquiat)
helped reintroduce America as a heavyweight in the world's art scene.

Many of the businesses along St. Marks Place have catered to the
counter culture ideals of the community. Here are a few for you to
consider, the next time your on your home from one of the three
Starbucks in Astor Place.

Starting at 3rd Avenue, walk East towards Second Avenue:

2 St. Marks Place:
The St. Marks Ale House, on the ground floor of the St. Marks Hotel,
was the location of the legendary jazz club, The Five Spot. The Five
Spot was originally located around the corner at 5 Cooper Square
(between 4th and 5th Streets), but moved to St. Marks Place in the late 1950s.

The new Five Spot made its debut with a groundbreaking 7 month
residency by Thelonious Monk in 1957, where he was backed by John
Coltrane on tenor sax. It was the first time Monk had performed in a
New York club since losing his New York City Cabaret Card in 1951,
after being arrested in Delaware due to "disorderly conduct" at a
segregated hotel. (It is hard to imagine in today's world, that being
black in a white hotel was considered "disorderly").

Other legends who performed at and recorded at the Five Spot were
Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Charles Mingus, Cecil
Taylor, and many, many more.

4 St. Marks Place:
Currently, this landmark 1831 Federalist style building houses the
clothing store Trash And Vaudeville, which opened in 1971, and has
sold spandex to famous and not so famous rock and rollers ever since.

In the 1960s, this space was home to avant garde and fluxus
performance space, The Bridge Theater, where artists like Yoko Ono
and The Fugs performed. Police closed the theater in 1965 during a
screening of the movie Flaming Creatures and again in 1967 for
burning an American flag during a performance, when the theater was
ultimately shut down forever.

The great American novelist and author of Last of the Mohicans, James
Fenimore Cooper lived in this building in the 1830s. During this time
period, many of Cooper's contemporaries lived within a few blocks of
each other, including Walt Whitman and Herman Melville.

6 St. Marks Place:
What is now Kim's Video, was, in 1911, site of the anarchist
institution, The Modern School. Modeled after the philosophy of
educator and anarchist Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, the school intended
to "provide education to the working-classes from a liberating,
class-conscious perspective." One of the founders of the Modern
School was the great American writer and poet, Emma Goldman, and
philosopher Will Durant was principle.

8 St. Marks Place:
On the site of this Italianate style building (built c.1889) once
stood a four story row house that housed the office of Madame Van
Buskirk; one of America's most famous and notorious abortionists in
the 1860s and 70s. In the late 1800s, this poorly regulated procedure
was undergoing a drastic change in public opinion. What was once
never a prominent social topic, abortion began coming under fire
because of a series of high profile and sensationalized cases
involving patient deaths.

By 1876, abortion had become illegal, and Juliete Corson opened The
New York Cooking School on this site. This was the first cooking
school in the US, where you can officially train to become a chef.
Juliet Corson was known as a champion of the poor, educating women
how to prepare nutritious meals on just dollars a week.

By the 1880s, The Cooking School had moved on and the space was
turned into La Trinicria Italian restaurant, where in 1888, the first
recorded Italian mob hit in America took place. Antonio Flaccomio was
stabbed to death by the Quarteraro brothers, after a night of
drinking and dining at the restaurant. It was the first time word
"mafia" made its way into American newspapers.

12 St. Marks Place:
Built for the German American Shooting Society in 1885 and served as
their club house until c.1904. This building is a registered NYC landmark.

13 St. Marks Place:
In the 1960s, comedian Lenny Bruce lived in the building. Lenny Bruce
was an American icon who pushed the limits of freedom of speech and
first amendment rights in this country. Everyone from Richard Prior
and George Carlin to Howard Stern cite Bruce as their biggest
influence. His 1964 conviction in an obscenity trial led to the first
posthumous pardon in New York history. Lenny Bruce passed away of a
drug overdose while awaiting the outcome of his trail.

17 St. Marks Place:
In 1885 was the site of the Hebrew-Christian Church, whose goal was
to convert Jews to Christianity.

20 St Marks Place:
In 1832, St. Marks Place was still a dirt road which ran through wide
open landscaping. This landmark building, sister building to #4 St.
Marks Place, was built for Dan Leroy, a Hamilton Fish in-law. Walk
down the worn-down solid marble steps and into the Grassroots Tavern
and get a feel for old time New York.

19-25 St Marks Place:
These buildings now house the St. Marks Market and the CBGB retail
store and bare no resemblance to the original structure built in the
early 1800s. Up until about five years ago, this was only a two-story
structure. The brick condos you see are brand new, and the facade and
interior have been completely renovated.

In the 1880s and 90s, this was a famous German dance hall, known as
Arlington Hall. This was also a popular place for residents to rent
out and hold weddings, banquets and social events.

The German community moved on by the first decade of the 20th century
but the hall continued as a social club -- and Jewish mob hang out.
In 1914 there was a famous shootout between "Dopey" Benny Fein's
(Jewish) Eastman gang and Jack Sirocco's (Italian) Five Points gang;
It was one of the biggest failed hit attempts in mobster history and
the incident helped eventually dissolve the Eastman gang's rule of
the Lower East Side once and for all.

In the 1920's, The site became the popular Polish National Home and
restaurant, known as The Dom.

By 1960, Stanley Tolkin ran the famous "Stanley's Bar" downstairs
(which featured such bands as The Fugs) and rented the upstairs for
psychedelic light shows.

In 1966 Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey began renting the upstairs
space and created The Dom nightclub. The Velvet Underground was the house band.

From 1967 to 1971, The Electric Circus was opened by Jerry Brandt,
a former William Morris agent. Brandt had previously managed the
likes of Carly Simon and was a heavyweight in the music world. The
Electric Circus was an infamous psychedelic nightclub and mixed media
performance space. Promotions encouraged patrons to "play games,
dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on". It was
not uncommon to mix together live music, theater, light shows, and
circus performers in one night's performance.

Brandt used his connections to book some of the greatest acts of that
generation. Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Jimi Hendrix,
Grateful Dead, Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane, and many more
performed in this space.

By the early 70s, the psychedelic culture was in decline and Jerry
Brandt moved on. He sold the The Electric Circus to Joyce Hartwell's
All-Craft Center, a non-alcoholic community meeting place which gave
retail space to local artists, taught women carpentry skills, and
acted as a rehab and half-way house for recovering addicts.

This community center lasted until 2003, when the entire building was

24 St. Marks Place:
This building (the old Dojo's restaurant) housed the offices of the
Children's Aid Society in the early 1900's. The CAS was founded in
1853 on 9th Street and Avenue B (across from St. Brigid's Church)
where between 1853 and 1929, more than 150,000 abandoned, abused and
orphaned children were rescued from the streets and slums of New York
City and taken by train to start new lives with families on farms
across the country.

27 St. Marks Place:
Was the Children's Aid Society's Girls' Lodging House in the early 1900s.

28 St. Marks Place:
From 1967-71 was Underground Uplift Unlimited (UUU), a head shop
that invented and produced iconic buttons and posters with slogans
like "Make Love, Not War" and "More Deviation, Less Population". UUU
was the largest seller of protest pins in the country and sold
hundreds of different political, social and Vietnam protest pins for
25 cents each, many of which today can be worth hundreds of dollars.

30 St. Marks Place:
American icon Abbie Hoffman invented the Yippie movement in this
building, where he lived with his wife Anita in 1967-68. The Yippie
offices then moved to 9 Bleeker Street (which is now a Yippie museum).

Hoffman was dissatisfied with the way "Hippies" were so passive with
their activism. He did not believe you can make any progress with
"love-ins" and "sit-ins", so he came up with the term "Yippies"
(which stood for Youth International Party). Hoffman held disruptive
publicity stunts, including the planting of a tree on the corner of
3rd Ave and St. Marks Place (back when the streets were still
cobblestone), which stopped traffic for hours. In another famous
stunt, he threw a thousand dollars in dollar bills onto the NYSE
trading floor and watched as the traders bumped heads trying to grab
up the cash. (Since then, the NYSE have implemented severe security measures).

Hoffman found himself on trail at the State Supreme Court as part of
the infamous "Chicago Seven", on trail for inciting a riot at the
1968 democratic national convention in Chicago.

Hoffman was cleared of all charges in the Supreme Court case, and
went on the write several best selling books, including Steal This
Book and F**k The System. He was also recently portrayed in the
motion picture Forrest Gump, in a scene at the podium of the
Washington Memorial. Hoffman's overdose death in 1989 is shrouded in
conspiracy, having to do with George Bush senior.

131 Second Ave/Corner of St. Marks:
The Gem Spa is is where the Egg Cream, a NY culinary icon, was
created in the late 1940s/early 1950s. They used to make their own
syrup in the basement. Allen Ginsberg, in the 1950s, called this 24
hour coffee and magazine shop "an oasis in the middle of a jungle",
before there was a coffee shop and magazine rack on every corner.
Still has two old fashioned soda fountains.


No comments: