Archive for September, 2014

Homicide police cat New York

This is not Homicide, but he looks the part.

From the day he was born, Homicide was destined to be a police cat. No one knows where he came from, or if he ever attended Police College, but the flat-footed feline knew exactly what it meant to be on the job in New York City.

Homicide sauntered into the New York City Police headquarters building at 240 Centre Street sometime in January 1934. The large black cat with translucent green eyes and prominent whiskers couldn’t have chosen a more magnificent place to work and live.

240 Centre Street New York Police Headquarters

The monumental Beaux-Arts style building, which opened in 1909, featured a grandiose entrance hall and such amenities as a basement shooting range and printing center, carpeted offices for the commissioner and officers on the second floor, third-floor library, fourth-floor gymnasium with drill room and running track under the roof dome, fifth-floor radio broadcasting station and telephone exchange (formerly a telegraph bureau), and a rooftop observation deck. Museum of the City of New York

Homicide’s arrival was not welcomed by Arson, the black and orange Tammany tiger who, up until that point, had been on mouse patrol at police headquarters. Arson was so upset by his replacement, in fact, that he reportedly ran down the Centre Street steps just minutes after Homicide went on post and never came back.

For the one thousand or so men attached to police headquarters, Arson’s departure was not a mournful event. You see, Arson was more like a Keystone Cat who was simply not cut out for the job. Although Arson loved his beat, he never made a collar. What he did make was noise – so much so, that even when he walked on carpeted floors the mice could hear him in time to scamper away to safety.

“And that’s why we called him Arson,” Lieutenant James R. Smith told reporters from The New York Times. “He was all burned up because he never caught a mouse.”

The entrance foyer at Police Headquarters.

The entrance foyer at Police Headquarters.

Homicide, on the other hand, was very light on his feet. He was also a very conscientious police cat, always starting his beat every night at 6 and covering every mouse hole from the basement to the roof. He may not have attended police academy, but he did have great respect for the Police Rules and Regulations book – he often took cat naps on top of the great book.

Down in the cellar Homicide would search all the prisoner cells, and from there he’d move up to the first floor, where he would search the safe, squad rooms, Bureau of Criminal Identification, and Criminal Alien Bureau. And, unlike Arson, who simply passed up a room if he couldn’t get in, Homicide would stand in front of every locked door and give his best police whistle meow until one of the sergeants came to assist him.

New York Police Headquarters, 300 Mulberry Street

The 5-story, 90-foot-wide police headquarters building at 300 Mulberry Street was constructed of white marble and pressed brick with white marble trimmings. The building was erected in 1862 and first occupied in 1863.

Homicide Gets His Mouse
On one particularly warm night in July 1934, Homicide ambled down to the cell blocks, where a few prisoners were drowsing in the heat. He quietly perched over a particularly dangerous mouse hole, narrowed his eyes, and patiently waited for the perp to appear. When it did, he leaped at the good-size mouse and captured the convict in his jaws.

As the prisoner struggled to escape, Homicide ran up the stairs to the first floor, sprinted down the corridor, and jumped up onto the main desk, where Lieutenant Smith was sitting. He dropped the exhausted prisoner on the desk blotter, gave Smith a salute with a nod of his head, and ran back down to the basement to continue his beat.

“I’ve seen them come and go, in my time, but never before a cat that brings ‘em back alive and books ‘em,” Smith told the news reporters. “I’m recommending a citation for an extra ration of liver. Homicide’s a first-grade cat, from now on.”

Centre Market and the New York City Police Headquarters

Arson and Homicide were no doubt two of the most fortunate police cats in the history of the feline force. Not only did they get to live in police headquarters, but their beat was immense, with enough rooms and hiding places to satisfy any cat’s curiosity. Consider that today movie stars like Leonardo DeCaprio and Cindy Crawford are paying millions of dollars to live in one of the luxury condos in the renovated building – now called the Police Building Apartments.

Mulberry Street police headquarters, Orange Riots

The police headquarters on Mulberry Street had to be protected with a strong militia during the Orange Riots of 1871.

Early records show that the first principal office of the New York Police Department was in City Hall in 1844. There was also a branch office at the corner of Bowery and Third Street during that time.

In 1857, headquarters were established at 88 White Street, and six months later, at 413 Broome Street. In 1863, the department took possession of its new headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street.


Central Market New York

Police Commissioner Partridge wanted to build a new police headquarters on the site of the Central Market, a large meat and produce market bounded by Broadway, 7th Avenue, West 47th and West 48th Street.

Right from the start, the location of the Mulberry Street headquarters was a strategic mistake. Sandwiched between tenement houses and isolated from major north-south and crosstown avenues, it was in actual peril during the Draft Riots of 1863, and had to be protected with a strong militia during the Orange Riots of 1871.

In September 1902, Police Commissioner John N. Partridge suggested the site of the Central Market on 7th Avenue between West 47th and 48th Streets for a new police headquarters building. But one month later, Chief Engineer Eugene E. McLean of the Department of Finance submitted a report on the decrepit condition of the public markets in Manhattan. In this report, he recommended demolishing the Centre, Clinton, Union, Tompkins, and Catharine markets. McLean also suggested constructing the new police headquarters on the site of the old Centre Market, which was located on a large triangular lot on Centre Street between Broome and Grand streets.

Centre Market New York City

The Centre Market derived its fame from being the only centrally located market in the city. This original Greek-Revival building was expanded in 1822, and again in 1826 and 1831.

The Old Centre Market

In 1812, a proposition was made to establish a public market on a site located between Orange (Central Market Place) and Rynders Street (Centre Street), facing Grand Street. Located on what was once the Nicholas Bayard farm, this site was formerly known as Bayard’s Mount, as it was the highest and steepest elevation on the south end of Manhattan island. During the early stages of the American Revolution, the elevated land was fortified and called Bunker Hill.

The proposition was tabled due to the War of 1812, but in July 1817 the city purchased the lot from Morris Martin for $5,000. A market house, measuring 80 by 25 feet, was also planned at an estimated cost of $1,000. The market opened in November 1817, and the 14 butchers holding stands at the Collect Market (located between Broadway, Cortlandt Alley, and Walker Street) transferred to the new Centre Market.

Centre Market New York

On January 17, 1839, the $140,000 Centre Market opened with a grand ball and supper given by the butchers in the large upper rooms. These room would later become a drill hall for the military. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Business was good in the beginning, and vendors like Thomas Monk — who sold the first beefsteak at the market to Daniel Spader of Mulberry Street — Thomas Varian, William Bowen, and sisters Aunt Katy Burr and Aunt Fanny Watson, prospered with their meat, fish, floral, and produce stands.

Upstairs from the market stalls was a large drill room for the Seventh Regiment (until it relocated to the Central Park Arsenal in 1848), and later, for the Sixth, Eighth, and Seventy-First Regiments. Up until about 1857, several upper rooms were also occupied as a station house for the 14th Patrol District (later the 14th Police Precinct).

Demolishing Centre Street Market

Paper box manufacturer and grand prankster Brian G. Hughes was leasing part of the Centre Market when it was purchased by the city for the police department. Here, his section of the market is being demolished in preparation for the new construction. Museum of the City of New York Collections

By 1902, Chief Engineer McLean believed that all of the city markets had outlived their usefulness and could be put to much better use. He thought the Centre Market site would be ideal for police headquarters, as it was centrally located and fronted three major thoroughfares.

Centre Street police headquarters

The top floor of the police headquarters building at 240 Centre Street was constructed in 1906. The opening of the new building was delayed by construction of the Lexington Avenue subway, which runs directly under it. Museum of the City of New York Collections

On April 24, 1903, the Board of Estimate approved a new police headquarters building, and Francis L.V. Hoppin and Terence Koen of 244 Fifth Avenue were selected as architects. A year later, on June 27, 1904, the Board approved the old Centre Market site.


Theodore Roosevelt, a former police commissioner, reportedly laid the cornerstone for the new headquarters, and, six years later, in November 1909, the transition from Mulberry Street to Centre Street began.

Police Commissioner William F. Baker formally opened the new police headquarters building at midnight on November 29, 1909. His first act was to press a key that switched all the telegraph and telephone lines from the old building at 300 Mulberry Street into the telegraph bureau on the fifth floor of the new building.

One Police Plaza

The boxy One Police Plaza looks more like a dormitory building one would see on a college campus.

One Police Plaza

By 1929, New York City Police Commissioner Grover Aloysius Whalen was already complaining about the 20-year-old building, saying he wanted to replace it with a bigger place – perhaps a skyscraper, about 20 stories tall. It would be another 44 years before he got his wish, and the new headquarters were six stories short of his ideal.

In 1973, the New York City Police Department moved to  One Police Plaza, a red-brick box on Park Row near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. The glorious old headquarters building sat empty for years until finally, in 1983, the city accepted the proposal of developer Arthur Emil to turn it into luxury condominiums. Emil paid the city $4.2 million and spent another $20 million on renovating the building.

Today the building has 55 high-end condos, including one of the most unique residences in New York City: the 10-room apartment in the former gymnasium. Click here for a look at this spectacular unit, which hit the market a few years ago for $14.5 million. Or, take a look at a few other apartments for sale.

I think all that’s missing from these condos are a few good police cats, like Homicide and Arson.

Police Building lobby

The grandiose entrance hall of the old police headquarters has been preserved and restored, but most of the interior was gutted and redone. Today, residents of 240 Centre Street — aka Police Building apartments — have access to several luxury amenities, including a 24-hour doorman, concierge, fitness center, and large, private garden. Pets, including cats, are allowed.

“I said anything could be done in New York, including rodeo. And I proved it.”—Tex Austin

Tex Austin Rodeo Yankee Stadium

Frank McCarroll steer wrestling at Tex Austin’s rodeo, Yankee Stadium, 1923. From the Collection of P. Gavan

Every time I sit in the nosebleed seats at Yankee Stadium, I laugh at the placards on the back of every seat that say “Be alert for bats and/or balls.” Ha, like a bat or foul ball is going to make its way all the way up to the grandstand seating!

I laugh now, but for 10 days in August 1923, just four months after the brand-new Yankee Stadium opened at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, the spectators did need to be alert – but not for bats and balls. It was stray bulls they had to worry about.

Bryan Roach of Fort Worth, Texas, came in third place in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest.

Bryan Roach of Fort Worth, Texas, came in third place in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest. The other contestants were Charles Aldrich, “Red” McDonald, Tony Pagano, Joe Bell, Bill Hurley, Jack Rogers, Roy Kivett, John McDonald, Tim Carmine, Bill Getz, Ed McCarthy and Verne Elliot.

Tex Austin Brings His Rodeo to the Bronx

In 1922, American rodeo promoter John Van “Tex” Austin brought his popular western-style rodeo to Madison Square Garden. The inaugural event was such a big success, he needed a bigger venue. So in August 1923, while the New York Yankees were playing out west, Tex Austin brought the west to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

To generate publicity and excitement for the 10-day event, Tex organized a benefit event for Catholic Big Brothers that featured about a dozen cowboys in western garb “riding” cow ponies across the Harlem River. Called the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest, the event attracted 10,000 spectators who loudly cheered on the ponies and cowboys.

Tony Pagano won $300 in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest

Tony Pagano won $300 in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest. To ensure safety at the event, Commander Edward F. Otto of the Orchard Beach Life Saving Station was on hand with 27 men equipped with life rings and Pulmotor artificial respiration devices.

The rodeo officially opened at 3 p.m. on August 15. Almost overnight, Yankee Stadium had been transformed into the Wild West. About 900 hands of livestock were corralled under the stadium grandstands. And a huge, 100,000 square foot mat made of cocoa and weighing 58 tons was pegged down with iron spikes over the infield and part of the outfield in order to protect the ground from the cloven hooves. The running track was widened to accommodate relay races on horseback, and 30 enormous flood lights were perched on the roof for night events (lights and night games didn’t come to Yankee Stadium until May 28, 1946!).

The rodeo featured almost 200 contests, including bronco riding, steer wrestling, cow roping, cowgirl trick and fancy riding, relay races, bareback bronco riding, and more. Just over 100 cowboys and cowgirls competed for $50,000 in prize money, and thousands of spectators paid $2 or $3 to watch all the action.

Ruth Roach cowgirl Yankee Stadium

Ruth Roach, the wife of Bryan Roach pictured above, was one of many cowgirls to compete for prize money in the rodeo at Yankee Stadium. “Western girls are at home in the saddle as New York girls are in a subway seat.” —Evening Telegram, August 12, 1923

Be Alert for Foul Bulls

As Time magazine noted on August 20, 1923, “At bronk riding and steer bull-dogging [events], contestants are frequently seriously injured, occasionally killed. Tex Austin imports from the West and Southwest steers and broncos selected especially for their lack of amiability.” In other words, foul bulls.

Tex Austin Rodeo, Yankee Stadium

Eddie Steidler is thrown from his horse during Tex Austin’s rodeo at Yankee Stadium in 1923.

Speaking to the New York press before the rodeo began, Tex Austin explained that the contestants could ride whatever they pleased at the event — including the subway if they found the horses and steers too tame. I think some of the cowboys and cowgirls should have stuck to the subway.

Each day of the event, the New York newspapers reported on the numerous mishaps at the stadium. Ruth Wheat was thrown and trampled by her horse; Frank Studenick broke his arm when he was thrown from his horse (they both came back to compete the next day). Buford B. Polk was thrown during the steer riding competition and was taken, unconscious, to Fordham Hospital with a fractured skull. Earl Thode was kicked in the spine by a steer and taken to Harlem Hospital; Floyd Schilling was thrown from a bucking bronco and went to Lincoln Hospital with two broken arms. You get the idea.

Tex Austin Rodeo Yankee Stadium

Wooden promotional poster for the rodeo.

Numerous spectators were also injured — or, at least, almost frightened to death — when several bulls decided to make their way into the stands. One steer went on a rampage and headed into the lower left-field seats, causing people to run for their lives (some cowboys had to jump over seats to catch the animal). And two steers took off into the right-field bleacher seats — it took 12 men to capture them.

A Brahma Steer Goes Wild

A few days after the rodeo ended, a convoy of motor trucks began transporting the livestock from the stadium to the railroad yards at 152nd Street. One particularly brazen Brahma steer who apparently did not want to leave the big city jumped from the vehicle and made a mad dash through Macomb’s Dam Park.

Pursued by rodeo cowboys on horseback and several policemen in commandeered taxi cabs, the steer ran north on Sedgwick Avenue to Jerome Avenue. There, it struck Mrs. Mary Merrill of 407 East 136th Street. Mrs. Merrill was not injured, but the steer quickly met his demise when Patrolman Powers of the Highbridge Station shot him in the head from a moving taxi cab. (And we thought the 1970s were dangerous times!)

Yankee Stadium 1923

This circa 1923 photo provides a rare aerial view of Yankee Stadium, Macomb’s Dam Park, and the Polo Grounds across the Harlem River. It was along these dusty dirt streets that the Tex Austin rodeo steer led cowboys and police on a wild chase.

Yankee Stadium: From Swampland to Cathedral

Although it would be astounding to see a bull running down Jerome Avenue today, in 1923 the Highbridge (formerly Highbridgeville) neighborhood of the Bronx was still quite rural and mostly farmland. Here’s a quick visual history of the 10 acres of hollowed ground that the American Baseball League delegates chose for Yankee Stadium – the Cathedral of Baseball – in February 1921:

Keskeskeck Bronx

On August 3, 1639, the West India Company received from native tribes a tract of land between the Kil and Great Kil (Harlem and Hudson rivers), which they called Keskeskeck. From this tract, Daniel Turneur was granted 81 acres bounded by the Harlem River and Cromwell’s Creek, and comprising the high lands of Devoe’s Point near today’s Macombs Dam Bridge (Frederick Devoe was a descendent of Turneur’s daughter.) About 1,900 acres of land to the east of Cromwell’s Creek was granted to Colonel Lewis Morris in 1676.

Morrisania map 1879

The site of the original Yankee Stadium was once swampland along Cromwell’s Creek, a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and ice skating in the 1800s. Cromwell’s Creek, shown in this 1879 map, was named for the descendants of John Cromwell, a nephew of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. In the late 1700s, James Cromwell used the waters of the creek to propel his mill.

Macombs Dam, 1814

In 1813, Robert Macomb constructed a dam across the Harlem River for his mill on Devoe’s Point (his toll bridge opened in 1816). Although the state required Macomb to operate a lock to keep navigation open, only small boats could pass through the 7 x7 foot lock. In 1838, Lewis G. Morris and irate residents along the riverbank paid a coal barge crew to break through the dam with axes. Charges were filed, but the court declared Macomb’s dam a “public nuisance” (Renwick v. Morris). The Central Bridge opened in 1861 and was replaced by the current Macombs Dam Bridge in 1895.

Cedar Jack's Last Stand Clam Bar

In the 1800s, Highbridge was a popular destination for tourists and sporting men who traveled to the area by Harlem River steamers. The town had numerous wood-frame road houses and eateries, like George A. Huber’s Hotel and Casino (formerly Judge Smith’s road-house tavern) at Jerome and 162nd Street and Cedar Jack’s Last Stand Clam Bar along Cromwell’s Creek at 161st Street (shown here), which was run by John Burns. There was also Schumacher’s Saloon at 161st and River Avenue, which was the exact spot of the 1923 Yankee Stadium.

162nd Street Bronx 1880s

On April 21, 1880, William H. Morris and his wife conveyed about 500 lots to John Jacob Astor for $437,983. The lots comprised about 140 acres plus water rights, and were bounded by Mott Avenue, Cromwell’s Creek, Central Avenue (Jerome Avenue), 155th and 167th Street. The Astor’s had many tenants, including coal dealers John M. Tierney, William F. Porter, and Carrie T. Porter (Tierney & Porter), who opened shop at 161st Street and Jerome Avenue along Cromwell’s Creek in 1888, and Clifford L. Miller & Co., a brick and cement manufacturer, who began operating on this site in 1891. New York Public Library Digital Collection

Morrisania Map 1900

By the late 1800s, the city had begun allowing contractors to dump dirt, boulders, and other excavated materials from building sites into Cromwell’s Creek in order to cover it over. For example, in 1902, when the rapid transit tunnel at Morris Avenue and 149th Street was excavated, all the stones and dirt was dumped into the creek. By about 1905, much of it was covered over; Macombs Dam Park (green) was in use by local ball clubs like the Unions of Morrisania and the empty lot to its west was awaiting something big.

Lumberyard, pre Yankee Stadium, 1921

In 1903, American Baseball League delegates began looking at a swampy piece of land owned by the Astor estate. It wasn’t until February 1921 that the owners of the New York American League Baseball Club, Jacob Rupert and Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston, announced that they had selected a location for the future home of the Yankees — a garbage-strewn 10-acre plot between 161st Street and 157th Street at River Avenue that was currently being used as a lumberyard. The owner paid $675,000 for the lot and the lumberyard was demolished. The rest, they say, is history. Brooklyn County Historical Society

Click here for a month-by-month photo collage of the construction of Yankee Stadium, starting February 11, 1921.

Yankee Stadium 1923

Taxis line up in front of Yankee Stadium during its inaugural season in 1923.