Nov 22, 2023, 06:27AM

Quarter Hash: 25th Street Highlights

Working Manhattan's 25th St. from East to West.

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Before the Great Infection, I spent a number of Saturdays (and some Sundays too) crisscrossing Manhattan via its numbered streets. Over the years, I’ve done this several times and was amazed at how much I missed. Today’s selection is 25th Street, which I worked from east to west.

Just west of the FDR Drive E. 25th St. encounters the north end of Asser Levy Pl. For a short street, it’s unusually wide. It was originally laid out as part of Ave. A; parts of Ave. A run intermittently from the East Village north to Harlem and are known as Ave. A, Asser Levy Pl., Sutton Pl., York Ave., and Pleasant Ave. depending on what part of town you’re in. Asser Levy was one of the first Jews in New Netherland, arriving from Brazil in the 1650s.

The centerpiece of Asser Levy Pl. is a magnificent bathhouse constructed in 1908. In the mid-to-late 1800s, NYC’s population increased dramatically in the era before running water and workable plumbing—good hygiene was an unattainable dream and communicable disease ran rampant. Thus arrived the idea of pubic bathhouses; they began to appear in 1901. The 23rd Street Bathhouse (later Asser Levy Bathhouse) was designed by architects Arnold W. Brunner and William Martin Aiken; the design was based on Roman baths of the early Anno Domini period. It was honored as a NYC Landmark in 1974. It now serves as a recreation center and swimming pool in the warm months. Probably the largest building in NYC based on a Roman bath was the first Pennsylvania Station that stood from 1910-1963.

The Lexington Building, 151 E. 25th St., was constructed in 1894 as a powerhouse for various streetcar lines running in Manhattan. It runs through to E. 26th St. a block north. The building was sturdily constructed and was considered suitable to contain heavy printing presses; the building also housed several printing firms, magazine publishers (Publishers Weekly), and bookbinders, as well as light manufacturing. Today it is home to the Baruch College Newman Library.

The “Fighting 69th” regiment of the US Army, a part of the NY Army National Guard, was founded in 1849 and has a rich history in the Civil War and Word War I and up to today; the unit has fought in the Iraq War. Between 1917 and 1992 it was also designated as the 165th Infantry Regiment, and its headquarters are still located at the 69th Regiment Armory at #68 Lexington Ave. fronting the entire avenue between E. 25th and 26th Sts. A substantial memorial to the “Fighting 69th” is found in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

In its early days the regiment consisted mostly of Irish immigrants. Its motto, “Gentle when stroked—"fierce when provoked” refers to the representations of Irish wolfhounds found on the regiment’s crest and dress cap badges in the 1860s. In some ceremonies, the regiment’s officers and senior non-commissioned officers carry shillelaghs as a badge of rank.

The armory, built from 1904-1906 by the architectural firm of Hunt and Hunt, doesn’t resemble the uptown, Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island armories constructed in the 1800s. They were built on the model of medieval-style fortresses, while Hunt and Hunt went for a then-contemporary Beaux-Arts look, adding a French Second Empire-style mansard roof, originally popular in the 1870s. As early as 1913 art shows were presented here, including the International Exhibition of Modern Art Armory Show, where Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” was first shown. Names of prominent battles of the Civil War and WWI are inscribed on the 25th and 26th St. ends.

The New York State Appellate Court Building at E. 25th and Madison was built in 1900 in Italian Renaissance style (James Brown Lord, architect); much care was lavished on the building’s limestone exterior and interior art, including statues of famous historic leaders and representations of civic virtues. On the Madison Ave. side, the sculptures, each by a different artist, are Confucius; a “Peace” allegorical group; Moses; Zarathustra, the Persian founder of Zoroastrianism; Alfred the Great of England; Lycurgus, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta; Solon, the Athenian statesman, lawgiver and poet; Louis IX (1214-1270), the only sainted king of France; Manu, a Hindu deity; and Justinian, the Byzantine emperor. Another pedestal once held a sculpture of Mohammed, but it was removed by request because in Islam, the Prophet is not supposed to be represented in art. In early 2023 it was temporarily replaced by a highly stylized representation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by artist Shahzia Sikander.

11-25 Madison Ave. was built in 1929 as the Met Life North Building, which is why it and the Met Life tower at E. 23rd are connected by skyways. One hundred stories were planned, but the Great Depression stopped construction at 29, leaving the building looking like the base of the Tower of Babel. Expansions took over entire the block by 1950. Designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett, it’s considered an Art Deco masterwork—particularly the amazing corner arcades. Price Waterhouse, Sony, and Credit Suisse are tenants here.

This 51-ft. tall obelisk, in a plaza known as Worth Square formed by the three-way intersection of 5th Ave., Broadway and 25th St., was dedicated in 1857. (Worth was buried temporarily in Brooklyn before being moved here, beneath the Manhattan monument.) It’s the second-oldest monument in Manhattan (an 1856 equestrian statue of George Washington in Union Square is the oldest) and, along with Grant’s Tomb, one of only two monuments in the city holding the remains of the person being honored. It’s tied as the smallest cemetery in NYC with the Amiable Child Monument near Grant’s Tomb: both have one interment.

The south face of the obelisk features a bas-relief depiction of the general on his horse, and an elaborate trophy with crossed cannons, armor, two eagles, flags and a variety of weapons. The east face has the Latin inscription “Ducit amor patriae”: “Love of country leads me. The north face bears a plaque reading, “Under this monument lies the body of William Jenkins Worth, born in Hudson, N.Y., March 1, 1794, died in Texas, May 7, 1849. The cause of death was cholera. The west face bears the dedication date along with the exhortation to “Honor the Brave.”

All four faces of the monument’s shaft list significant battles or postings from Worth’s career. The city of Fort Worth in Texas bears his name. The monument was designed by Hartford’s James Batterson, whose firm supplied a large number of Civil War monuments in Connecticut.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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