Writing Manhattan

Welcome to the Appendix for Writing Manhattan, our literary map of New York City produced in collaboration with the stellar folk at Herb Lester Associates. Following are some of bits and pieces we uncovered in our research but were unable to include on the map. For a bigger picture of the many connections between the printed word and the physical city we hope you'll buy the map.

Washington Irving

Oh, you know he's on the map, no worries there. But the man who managed to give New Yorkers two nicknames that stuck — Gotham and Knickerbocker — was bound to have a surplus of material. For instance, we could have used Irving's birthplace, 131 William St., although  the building is long gone, or Colonnade Row on Lafayette St. below Astor Place, where he lived for a short time. Colonnade Row is a spectacular example of Greek Revival architecture built in the 1830s, certainly worthy of our map. Another place we came very close to using for Washington Irving was St. Marks Church in the Bowery, E.10th St. and 2nd Ave., formerly the site of Dutch colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant's farm. Dietrich Knickerbocker speaks very highly of the peg-legged strongman in Irving's A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, and Stuyvesant is buried in the churchyard at St. Mark's. So what site did we use for our entry on Washington Irving? There's only one way to find out.

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber was one of the most widely read novelists of the ‘20s and ‘30s. She had a knack for best-sellers that would get made into successful movies, like ShowBoat, Cimarron and Giant, to name three. Ferber was among the core group of regulars at the Algonquin Round Table, but this didn’t prevent an epic feud with Alexander Woolcott. She likened him to a “New Jersey Nero” who "mistakes his pinafore for a toga." Aleck didn't care for friends who wouldn't offer the deference he required, and he responded with the vitriol of which he was famous. The upshot was they never talked again. For a time Ferber lived in the exquisite Hotel des Artistes, 1 West 67th Street. Originally built as artists' co-operative apartments, this has been the address of many notables including Isadora Duncan and Noel Coward. The Café des Artistes, recently reborn as Leopard des Artistes, is worth a visit for the sumptuous murals painted in 1934 by Howard Chandler Christy of naughty nudie wood nymphs in full frolic.

Ernest Hemingway

Though he had never made New York City his home, and had always stayed in hotels, in the fall of 1959 Hemingway rented a one-bedroom apartment at 1 E.62nd St. He was looking for a place with privacy — a "safe place" — to stop at when he came to New York City. Sorry, Papa, we ran out of room, but at least you made it on to our appendix.

John O’Hara

John O’Hara published Butterfield 8 in 1935.  While researching Writing Manhattan, we learned that Butterfield 8’s Gloria Wandrous was based on a real person with the equally glam name of Starr Faithfull.  Alas, this “pleasure-seeking madcap” was the subject of a true-crime news item from the pages of the Herald Tribune, the newspaper O'Hara worked at for a time in the 1920s. 

“I’m going downstairs.”

When John O’Hara or one of his fellow newspapermen at the New York Herald Tribune would utter those words, it could only mean Bleeck’s.  For years now we’ve read mentions of Bleeck’s, the popular newspaperman’s bar, and never fear, your Grade "A" snoops have found its location.  The Herald Tribune was (from 1924-66) at 230 West 41st Street, but the more important address was the employees’ entrance, 219-220 West 40th. At 213 was The Artists & Writers Club, the bar’s official moniker, but it was rarely referred to by its formal name.  It opened as a speakeasy in 1925 under the proprietorship of Jack Bleeck and soon became the clubhouse for Herald Tribune employees.  It is said that when the walls of the saloon started to shake when the presses started running the bar cleared out as newsmen ran upstairs to check their copy.  Bleeck’s was a busy joint.  It attracted opera singers from the Met (the old one, which was a block away), manufacturers and models from the nearby Garment District and writers from upstairs and around town.  Dick Schapp interviewed Norman Mailer there to coincide with the publication of An American Dream.  Tallulah Bankhead (remembered to be wearing mink and slacks) played dice with French sailors.  Bogart brought Bacall to learn the famous “match trick.”  (Must have been more fun that it reads.)  The Newspaper Guild union was practically formed there in 1933 when Heywood Broun encouraged Bleeck’s habitués to join. 

The former employee entrance is today the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.  Bleeck’s was destroyed by fire in 1981 and 213 West 40th Street now houses not a whole helluva lot. So perhaps it is best saluted with flask in hand for a plein-air cocktail visit, we'll squint our eyes, try to conjure the spirit of the joint, and toast a phenomenon which has almost completely disappeared from our town, the occupational saloon. 

James Fennimore Cooper
One blockbuster of the 19th century we don't pay much attention to anymore is James Fennimore Cooper. Beginning in 1820 Cooper churned out historical potboilers by the score in a prolific and popular career. In 1830 he dished up The Water Witch, a ripping yarn of New York City in the 1710s combining broadly played Dutch burghers and wily American smugglers (who both shared a resentment at the British Crown’s onerous taxation of the Colony), with the supernatural overtones of the Flying Dutchmen legend for spice. Much of the action takes place on waterways ranged from Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay up through the Harbor and into Long Island Sound by way of Hell Gate, a notoriously tricky bit, the scene of many deadly mishaps. As Cooper tells us,
… it is permitted to poetic license to say, that at the narrowest part of the channel, the water darts by the land like an arrow parting from its bow. Owing to a sudden bend in the course of the stream, which makes two right-angles within a short distance, the dangerous position of many rocks that are visible and more that are not, and the confusion produced by currents, counter-currents, and eddies, this critical pass has received the name of "Hell-Gate.”
When the British seem to have him boxed in, master smuggler and “Skimmer of the Seas” Tom Tiller boasts, "We shall run the Hell-Gate, and gain the open sea by the Connecticut Sound."
We really wanted to put Hell Gate and Cooper on the map, but they got squeezed out. Maybe when you get your copy you can pencil it in?

Ian Fleming

Sorry, spy fans, the creator of James Bond didn't get on the map. But if Writing Manhattan is about New York City, we hear you asking, why was a Brit who spent much of his life in Jamaica on our shortlist at all? Simple answer, we wanted to talk about the fabulous King Cole Bar, that's why! In Live and Let Die Bond stays at the St. Regis Hotel, where he meets up with his C.I.A buddy Felix Leiter in the King Cole Bar before a trip uptown to Harlem to take a squint at "Mr. Big." This is one of the most beautiful rooms in town, named for the enormous painting of Old King Cole which hangs over the bar. The St. Regis, built by John Jacob Astor opened in 1904. However, the Parrish painting was originally commissioned for another of Astor's hotels, the Knickerbocker, at Broadway and 42nd Street. When The Knickerbocker closed in 1921, Old King Cole made its way cross town to the St. Regis, but not before it made another important literary cameo, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (1920):

THE KNICKERBOCKER BAR, beamed upon by Maxfield Parrish's jovial, colorful "Old King Cole," was well crowded. Amory stopped in the entrance and looked at his wrist-watch; he wanted particularly to know the time, for something in his mind that catalogued and classified liked to chip things off cleanly. Later it would satisfy him in a vague way to be able to think "that thing ended at exactly twenty minutes after eight on Thursday, June 10, 1919." This was allowing for the walk from her house—a walk concerning which he had afterward not the faintest recollection.

As he fumbled clumsily with the olives at the free-lunch table, a man approached and spoke to him, and the olives dropped from his nervous hands.

When you get your copy of Writing Manhattan you'll find we went with another location for our F. Scott Fitzgerald entry, but it wasn't easy to cut out the King Cole Bar. Next time you're there you can raise your Red Snapper (or your Vesper) to the Bond between Fleming and Scott and Zelda.

Countee Cullen

It's a shame we couldn't get a few more figures from the Harlem Renaissance on the map, but that's the cartography biz. Countee Cullen certainly fills the bill as an important poet we would have liked to include. The branch of the New York Public Library at 104 West 136th St. has, since 1951, been called the Countee Cullen Library. It was built in 1942 on the site of a townhouse belonging to A'lelia Walker, daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the pioneering African American beauty products entrepreneur. A'lelia Walker was a patron of the arts and a magnet for the major lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. She opened a floor of her home as a salon for artists which she called "The Dark Tower." That's a lot of history in one address!
The NYPL has a fine triple presence on the block.  The 135th Street branch, designed by the masterful McKim, Mead and White was erected in 1905; that building is now part of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture facing Malcolm X Boulevard, just around the corner from the Countee Cullen Library.

Attention People of Earth! There's a new map from the good people at Herb Lester Associates you will want to check out if you dig reading and/or New York City. It's called Writing Manhattan and it is a guide to literary locations in the borough. We wrote it and designed the map. A lot of research went into this little baby, but because of the constraints of space, many choice bits were left on the cutting room floor. It is bursting at the seams with 78 fascinating entries, if you can believe it, but we still couldn't cram in all the goodies we collected. In some cases we found too much material on an author and had to make a hard choice on what to include; other writers had to be left out entirely. So we thought it would be fun to make this page an appendix to Writing Manhattan.


Mae West NYC said...

Hello. This link to your map at Herb Lester Assoc. is broken.
When you click, you get a "PAGE NOT FOUND" message. Tsk tsk.
- - - I visited you in July 2016 - - -
Broken link located here: Attention People of Earth! There's a new map from the good people at Herb Lester Associates you will want to check out if you dig reading and/or New York City. It's called Writing Manhattan and it is a guide to literary locations in the borough.

the Publishers said...

Thank you for identifying that busted link Mae. Fixed now.