The Bowery Boys: New York City History

Tom Meyers, Greg Young

The tides of American history lead through the streets of New York City — from the huddled masses on Ellis Island to the sleazy theaters of 1970s Times Square. The elevated railroad to the Underground Railroad. Hamilton to Hammerstein! Greg and Tom explore more than 400 years of action-packed stories, featuring both classic and forgotten figures who have shaped the world.

  • 1 hour 33 minutes
    Rewind: History of the New York City Subway

    The New York City subway system turns 120 years old later this year so we thought we'd honor the world's longest subway system with a supersized overview history -- from the first renegade ride in 1904 to the belated (but sorely welcomed) opening of one portion of the Second Avenue Subway in 2017.

    New Yorkers like Alfred Ely Beach had envisioned a subway system for the city as early as the 1870s. Yet years of political delay and a lack of funding ensured that dreams of an underground transit would languish. It wasn't until the mid-1890s that the city got on track with the help of August Belmont and the newly formed Interborough Rapid Transit.

    We’ll tell you about the construction of the first line, traveling miles underground through Manhattan and into the Bronx. How did the city cope with this massive project? And what unfortunate accident nearly ripped apart a city block mere feet from Grand Central?

    You'll also find out how something as innocuous sounding as the ‘Dual Contracts’ actually became one of the most important events in the city’s history, creating new underground passages into Brooklyn, the Bronx and (wondrously!) Queens.

    Then we’ll talk about the city’s IND line, which completes our modern track lines and gives the subway its modern sheen.

    Through it all, the New York City subway system is a masterwork of engineering and construction. In particular, after listening to this show, you won’t look at the Herald Square subway station the same way again.

    Today's episode is a remastered and re-edited edition of two 2011 Bowery Boys podcasts, featuring newly recorded material to take the story to the present day.

    Visit the website for more information and images



    Other Bowery Boys podcasts on the subway and mass transit:

    Miss Subways: Queens of the New York Commute
    Opening Day of the New York City Subway 
    The First Subway: Beach's Pneumatic Marvel
    Subway Graffiti 1970-1989
    Cable Cars, Trolleys and Monorails
    New York's Elevated Railroads 
    The East Side Elevateds: Life Under the Tracks



    10 May 2024, 4:05 am
  • 1 hour 19 minutes
    #431 Park Avenue: History with a Penthouse View

    The story of a filthy and dangerous train ditch that became one of the swankiest addresses in the world -- Park Avenue. 

    For over 100 years, a Park Avenue address meant wealth, glamour and the high life. The Fred Astaire version of the Irving Berlin classic "Puttin' on the Ritz" revised the lyrics to pay tribute to Park Avenue: "High hats and Arrow collars/White spats and lots of dollars/Spending every dime for a wonderful time."

    By the 1950s, the avenue was considered the backbone of New York City with corporations setting up glittering new office towers in the International Style -- the Lever House, the Seagram Building, even the Pan Am Building. 

    But the foundation for all this wealth and success was, in actually, a train tunnel, originally operated by the New York Central Railroad. This street, formerly known as Fourth Avenue, was (and is) one of New York's primary traffic thoroughfares. For many decades, steam locomotives dominated life along the avenue, heading into and out of Cornelius Vanderbilt's Grand Central (first a depot, then a station, eventually a terminal).

    However train tracks running through a quickly growing city are neither safe nor conducive to prosperity. Eventually, the tracks were covered with beautiful flowers and trees, on traffic island malls which have gotten smaller over the years. 

    By the 1910s this allowed for glamorous apartment buildings to rise, the homes of a new wealthy elite attracted to apartment living in the post-Gilded Age era. But that lifestyle was not quite made available to everyone. 

    In this episode, Greg and Tom take you on a tour of the tunnels and viaducts that helped New York City to grow, creating billions of dollars of real estate in the process. 


    Listen to these related Bowery Boys episodes after you're done listening to the Park Avenue show:

    The Pan Am Building
    It Happened In Madison Square Park 
    The Chrysler Building and the Great Skyscraper Race
    The Rescue of Grand Central Terminal


    This week we're suggesting a few historic designation reports for you history supergeeks looking for a deep dive into Park Avenue history. Dates indicated are when the structure or historic district was designated

    St. Bartholomew's Church and Community House (1967)

    Seventh Regiment Armory/Park Avenue Armory (1967)

    Consulate General of Italy (formerly the Henry P. Davison House) (1970)

    New World Foundation Building (1973)

    Racquet and Tennis Club Building (1979)

    Pershing Square Viaduct/Park Avenue Viaduct (1980)

    Upper East Side Historic District Designation Report (1981)

    Lever House (1982)

    1025 Park Avenue Reginald DeKoven House (1986)

    New York Central Building (1987)

    Seagram Building (1989)

    Mount Morris Bank Building (1991)

    Expanded Carnegie Hill Historic District Report (1993)

    Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (1993)

    Pepsi-Cola Building (1995)

    Ritz Tower (2002)

    2 Park Avenue Building (2006)

    Park Avenue Historic District Designation Report (2014)

    26 April 2024, 4:05 am
  • 1 hour 35 minutes
    #430 The Story of Flushing: Queens History, Old and New

    Few areas of the United States have as endured as long as Flushing, Queens, a neighborhood with almost over 375 years of history and an evolving cultural landscape that includes Quakers, trees, Hollywood films, world fairs, and new Asian immigration.

    In this special on-location episode of the Bowery Boys, Greg and special guest Kieran Gannon explore the epic history of Flushing through five specific locations -- the Bowne House, Kingsland Homestead (home of the Queens Historical Society), the Lewis Latimer House Museum, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and a downtown dumpling restaurant named Old Captain's Dumplings.

    Built on the marshy banks of Flushing Creek, the original Dutch village of Flushing (or Vlissingen) was populated by English settlers, Quakers like John and Hannah Bownewhose home became one of America's first Quaker meeting places -- and the site of a religious struggle critical to the formation of the future United States.

    By the early 19th century, Flushing was better known for its tree and shrub nurseries which would introduce dozens of new plant species to North America. After the Civil War, Flushing became a weekend getaway and commuter town for the residents of western Long Island. The former civic center of town -- the 1862 Flushing Town Hall -- is still a vibrant performance venue today.

    The creation of the borough of Queens in 1898 brought surprising changes to Flushing -- from the arrival of the early silent-film industry to the development of new parks and highways (thanks to our old friend Robert Moses).

    But the most stunning transformation of all came after 1965 when American immigration quotas were eliminated and Flushing gained thousands of new residents from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, and other South Asian countries.


    Visit the website for more images and information about visiting the places featured on this show

    12 April 2024, 4:05 am
  • 1 hour 5 minutes
    #429 The Moores: A Black Family in 1860s New York

    In today’s episode, Tom visits the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side to walk through the reconstructed two-room apartment of an African-American couple, Joseph and Rachel Moore, who lived in 1870 on Laurens Street in today’s Soho neighborhood.

    Both Joseph and Rachel moved to New York when they were about 20 years old, in the late 1840s and 1850s. They married, worked, raised a family – and they shared their small apartment with another family to help cover costs. 

    Their home has been recreated in the Tenement Museum’s newest exhibit, “A Union of Hope: 1869.” The exhibit reimagines what their apartment may have looked like – and it also explores life in the Eighth Ward of Manhattan, and, specifically, within the black community of the turbulent and dangerous decades of the 1850s and 60s.

    This is the first time the museum has recreated the apartment of a black family – although, as you’ll hear, the museum’s founders had long planned for it. And the exhibit is also the first time the museum has recreated an apartment that wasn’t housed in one of their buildings on the Lower East Side, but in another neighborhood. 

    So, just who were Joseph and Rachel Moore? And how and why did the Tenement Museum choose to put them at the center of their new exhibit? 


    Tales from a Tenement: Three Families Under One Roof (episode #246)
    Nuyorican: The Great Puerto Rican Migration to New York (episode #384)
    The Deadly Draft Riots of 1863 
    Seneca Village and New York's Forgotten Black Communities

    29 March 2024, 4:05 am
  • 48 minutes 15 seconds
    The Age of Innocence: Inside Edith Wharton's Classic Novel

    Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence is a perfect novel to read in the spring — maybe its all the flowers — so I finally picked it up to re-read, in part due to this excellent episode from the Gilded Gentleman which we are presenting to you this week. 

    The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s most famous novel, an enduring classic of Old New York that has been rediscovered by a new generation. What is it about this story of Newland Archer, May Welland and Countess Olenska that readers respond to today?

    Noted Wharton scholar Dr. Emily Orlando joins Carl Raymond on The Gilded Gentleman podcast to delve into the background of this novel, take a deep dive into the personalities of the major characters and discuss what Wharton wanted to say in her masterpiece.  

    Edith Wharton published The Age of Innocence at a very important moment in her life. 

    When the novel came out in 1920, she had been living in France full-time for nearly 10 years and had seen the devastating effects of World War I up close. Her response was to look back with a sense of nostalgia to the time of her childhood to recreate that staid, restrictive world of New York in the 1870s. A world that, despite its elite social cruelty, seemed to have some kind of moral center (at least to her). 

    22 March 2024, 4:05 am
  • 1 hour 9 minutes
    #428 The New York Game: Baseball in the Early Years

    Baseball, as American as apple pie, really is “the New York game.” While its precursors come from many places – from Jamestown to Prague – the rules of American baseball and the modern ways of enjoying it were born from the urban experience and, in particular, the 19th-century New York region. 

    The sport (in the form that we know it today) developed in the early 1800s, played in Manhattan’s many open lots or New Jersey public parklands and soon organized into regular teams and eventually leagues. The way that New Yorkers played baseball was soon the way most Americans played by the late 19th century.

    But it wasn’t until the invention of regular ball fields – catering to paying customers – that baseball became truly an urban recreational experience. And that too was revolutionized in New York.

    Just in time for spring and the new Major League baseball season, Tom and Greg are joined by the acclaimed Kevin Baker, author of The New York Game: Baseball and the Rise of a New City to discuss the early history of the sport and its unique connections to New York City.

    This show is truly the ultimate origin story of New York baseball, featuring tales of the city’s oldest and most legendary sports teams – the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants. AND the New York Metropolitans – a different team than today’s Mets located in Queens.

    Where was baseball played? Kevin shares the secrets of New York baseball’s earliest venues – from the many Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn

    This is a true five-borough origin story! With stops at Hilltop Park (Manhattan), Yankee Stadium (Bronx), Fashion Race Course (Queens), Washington Park (Brooklyn), and St. George Cricket Grounds (Staten Island) among many other sites.

    FEATURING the surprising link between baseball and Boss Tweed and his notorious political machine Tammany Hall

    PLUS How did segregation distort the game and where did Black ballplayers play the sport? What was baseball like before Jackie Robinson?

    Visit our website for more information

    15 March 2024, 4:02 am
  • 1 hour 25 minutes
    #427 The Chrysler Building and the Great Skyscraper Race

    The Chrysler Building remains one of America's most beautiful skyscrapers and a grand evocation of Jazz Age New York. But this architectural tribute to the automobile is also the greatest reminder of a furious construction surge that transformed the city in the 1920s.

    After World War I, New York became newly prosperous, one of the undisputed business capitals of the world. The tallest building was the Woolworth Building, but the city's rise in prominence demanded new, taller towers, taking advantage of improvements in steel-frame construction and a clever 'wedding cake' zoning law that allowed for ever-higher buildings.

    Into this world came William Van Alen and H. Craig Severance, two former architectural partners who had unamicably separated and were now designing rival skyscrapers. Each man wanted to make the tallest building in the world.

    But Van Alan had the upper hand, backed by one of America's most famous businessmen -- Walter Chrysler. His automobiles were the coolest, sleekest vehicles in the marketplace. His brand required a skyscraper of radical design and surprising height.

    In 1930, the Chrysler became the tallest building in the world, a title it held until the Empire State Building.

    Just ten years ago, the Chrysler Building was the fourth tallest in New York City. Today, however, it's the thirteenth tallest building in the city. And that's because of a new skyscraper surge shaping the city's skyline, with supertalls making the skyscrapers of old feel very small in comparison.

    It can be bewildering to see the skyline change so rapidly. But that's exactly how New Yorkers felt exactly one century ago.

    Visit our website for pictures and other episodes

    1 March 2024, 5:01 am
  • 1 hour 13 minutes
    #426 Behind the Domino Sign: Brooklyn's Bittersweet Empire

    The Brooklyn waterfront was once decorated with a yellow Domino Sugar sign, affixed to an aging refinery along a row of deteriorating industrial structures facing the East River.

    The Domino Sugar Refinery, completed in 1883 (replacing an older refinery after a devastating fire), was more than a factory. During the Gilded Age and into the 20th century, this Brooklyn landmark was the center of America's sugar manufacturing, helping to fuel the country's hunger for sweet delights.

    But the story goes further back in time -- back hundreds of years in New York City history. The sugar trade was one of the most important industries in New York, and for many decades, if you used sugar to make anything, you were probably using sugar that had been refined in New York.

    Sugar helped to build New York. Thousands and thousands of New Yorkers were employed in sugarhouses and refineries. And of all the sugar makers, there was one name that stood above the rest -- Havemeyer!

    The Havemeyers were America’s leading sugar titans and by the 1850s they had moved their empire to the Brooklyn waterfront – and the neighborhood of Williamsburg. Their massive refinery helped establish the industrial nature of Williamsburg and led a rush of sugar manufacturers to Brooklyn, most of which would then be absorbed into the Havemeyer’s operation.

    But this story is even larger than New York, of course. It encompasses the transatlantic slave trade, political influence in the Caribbean, Cuba-United States relations, and the sorry working conditions faced by Hayemeyer's underpaid employees.

    PLUS: It's Dumbo vs Williamsburg in the Coffee and Sugar War of the 1890s!

    Visit the website for more information and images of places from this week's show

    16 February 2024, 5:01 am
  • 1 hour 24 minutes
    #425 It Happened at Madison Square Park

    So much has happened in and around Madison Square Park -- the leafy retreat at the intersections of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street -- that telling its entire story requires an extra-sized episode, in honor of our 425th episode.

    Madison Square Park was the epicenter of New York culture from the years following the Civil War to the early 20th century. The park was really at the heart of Gilded Age New York, whether you were rushing to an upscale restaurant like Delmonico’s or a night at the theater or maybe just an evening at one of New York’s most luxurious hotels like the Fifth Avenue Hotel or the Hoffman House.

    The park is surrounded by some of New York’s most renowned architecture, from the famous Flatiron Building to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, once the tallest building in the world.

    The square also lends its name, of course, to one of the most famous sports and performing venues in the world – Madison Square Garden. Its origins begin at the northeast corner of the park on the spot of a former railroad depot and near the spot of the birthplace of an American institution -- baseball.

    The park introduced New Yorkers to the Statue of Liberty ... or at least her forearm and torch. It stood silently over the bustling park while prize-winning dogs were championed at the very first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show nearby, held at Gilmore's Gardens, the precursor to Madison Square Garden.

    Today the region north of the park is referred to as NoMad, which recalls life around Madison Square during the Gilded Age with its high-end restaurant and hotel scene.

    Tom and Greg invite you on this time-traveling escapade covering over 200 years of history. From the days of rustic creeks and cottages to the long lines at the Shake Shake. From Franconi's Hippodrome to the dazzling cologne fountains of Leonard Jerome (Winston Churcill's grandfather).

    Visit the website for more information.

    This episode was edited by Kieran Gannon


    -- The Delmonico Way with the Gilded Gentleman and current Delmonico's proprietor Max Tucci 
    -- The Murder of Stanford White
    -- The Flatiron Building



    2 February 2024, 5:00 am
  • 52 minutes 22 seconds
    Rewind: Truman Capote and the Black and White Ball

    FX is debuting a new series created by Ryan Murphy — called Feud: Capote and the Swans -- regarding writer Truman Capote's relationship with several famed New York society women. And it's such a New York story that listeners have asked if we’re going to record a tie-in show to that series. Well, here it is

    Capote -- who was born 100 years ago this year -- and the "swans" are part of the pivotal cast of this podcast, the story of one of the most exclusive parties ever held in New York. Tom and Greg recorded this show back in November of 2016 but, likely, most of you haven’t heard this one.

    Truman was a true New York character, a Southern boy who wielded his immense writing talents to secure a place within Manhattan high society. Elegant, witty, compact, gay — Capote was a fixture of swanky nightclubs and arm candy to wealthy, well-connected women.

    One project would entirely change his life — the completion of the classic In Cold Blood, a ‘non-fiction novel’ about a horrible murder in Kansas. Retreating from his many years of research, Truman decided to throw a party.

    But this wasn’t ANY party. This soiree — a masquerade ball at the Plaza Hotel — would have the greatest assemblage of famous folks ever gathered for something so entirely frivolous. An invite to the ball was the true golden ticket, coveted by every celebrity and social climber in America.

    FEATURING: Harper Lee, Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Sinatra, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Halston, Katharine Graham and a cast of thousands (well, or just 540)

    Visit our website for fabulous pictures of this star-studded affair


    The History of the Plaza Hotel
    The Beatles Invade New York
    Leonard Bernstein's New York, New York
    At Home With Lauren Bacall



    19 January 2024, 5:05 am
  • 50 minutes 27 seconds
    #424 Kosciuszko! The Man. The Bridge. The Legend.

    The Kosciuszko Bridge is one of New York City's most essential pieces of infrastructure, the hyphen in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that connects the two boroughs over Newtown Creek, the 3.5 mile creek which empties into the East River.

    The bridge is interestingly named for the Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko who fought during the American Revolution, then attempted to bring a similar revolutionary spirit to his home country, leading to the doomed Kościuszko Uprising of 1794.

    Kościuszko, the man, is a revered historical figure. The bridge, however, has not always been loved. And many non-Polish people even struggle to pronounce its name, inventing a half-dozen acceptable variants.

    The original Kościuszko Bridge was not exactly beloved by drivers, vexed by its inadequate handling of traffic and its poor roadways. Its glorious replacement, installed in two phases in 2017 and 2019, lights up the night sky -- and the filmy waters below.

    In this episode, Greg tells the entire story -- of both the man and the bridge. But it's also a story of Newtown Creek, the heavily polluted body of water which runs beneath it. How did this once placid creek become so notoriously filthy? And how did the most prominent bridge over that waterway become associated with an 18th century hero?

    PLUS The return of Robert Moses!

    Visit the website for more information

    5 January 2024, 5:05 am
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