Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Ear Inn

The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street.

Tomb of General Worth in Madison Square.
I saw the Flatiron Building on 23rd, 5th and Broadway on my way down.
The 1812 Ear Inn building in the 1940s.
The other day, I thought I'd take a walk down to the Ear Inn, a little relic far on the west side of Spring Street, that's been there since 1812. Inside, it's like a little country cottage, a big contrast from the outside surroundings. Like many of these old bars, it's decorated with tributes to the past, a marker that shows that the building used to be right on the shore of the Hudson River before landfill extended the width of Manhattan Island, and inside, among other clutter on the walls, a campaign poster for Wendel Wilkie, who ran for president against FDR in 1940. The building was supposedly built and first owned by a free black man named James Brown (no, of course not that James Brown, and, no, I don't know if they're related), who ran a tavern and tobacco shop. Legend has it that he is the black man shown in the famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, rowing the boat up front.

On the way, I took a little rest by the grave of General Worth, one of only three personal graves in Manhattan. (The other two are in Morningside Hights: General Grant's Tomb, and the small Tomb of the Amiable Child across the street, of a 5-year old who died from a fall there in the 1790s, and whose resting place was always respected through the centuries. By I digress ... that's for a whole other blog.) There are a lot of tables and chairs set up there now, as well as by the Flatiron Building and other squares around the city ... the latest attempt by Mayor Bloomberg to improve New York. I like it, personally ... especially in the Times Square area. Drivers don't like it in general, but as a pedestrian in this city, I'm all for it. It almost makes Times Square worth going to ... almost.

These long walks are always a hoot because I can watch the city gradually change, from the tall office buildings and big tourist crowds in Midtown, to the quainter neighborhoods downtown. Despite their popularity, they're never as crowded as places like Times Square or Madison Square Garden. And I hope it never gets that way down there, because it would completely ruin those places. Anyway, it was getting late, so it was time to start heading home. If you're ever down on Spring St., check out Lombardi's in Little Italy, the first pizza place in the United States, dating back to 1894, and then walk a few blocks west to the Ear Inn. It'll be a very pleasant New York experience.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

St. Brigid's

St. Brigid's Church on 8th and B, being heavily renovated.
Kumon, a math-tutoring course I took in the summer of '92 (awful memories).

St. Brigid's on 8th Street and Avenue B has been a favorite church of mine since I read about it's near destruction a few years back, and the last minute anonymous $20 million donation that was made to save it from the wrecking ball, so I thought I'd take the time to write about it.

"The Famine Church", as it is sometimes called, was built from 1848 - 1850 for the swarm of Irish immigrants who came to New York's shores to escape starvation and poverty. From then on, it served as a safe-haven for Irish, Germans, Puerto Ricans, and any other group that landed on its doorsteps.

So I decided to walk down there to see if the scaffolding had been taken down at all. The walk is kind of long, but I've gotten pretty used to it. On my way down, at about 51st Street, I walked past Kumon, a summer school for reinforcing math skills. I did this when I was a kid. It was awful ... what a way to put a damper on summer vacation. The simple, forlorn face in the "O" says it all. Maybe I oughtta sign up again ... I didn't do much else this summer.

Anyway, I made it down there, through Alphabet City and Tompkins Square Park, to the church, still covered in scaffolding. It's obviously being redone top to bottom, and definitely needs it. Between this old church and 7B, the old bar a block down that has been used in numerous movies and TV shows from The Godfather Part II to Crocadile Dundee to Rent to Law and Order to the new Electric Company, Avenue B from 7th to 8th Street is a true contender for my favorite block in the city.

The second pastor of the church, Reverand Thomas Mooney, was also pastor of the 69th Regiment during the Civil War, and the regiment often drilled in the park across the street. Although the Ancient Order of Hibernians often note Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott and Prince Streets as being at the center of the spiritual lives of the soldiers of the Irish Brigade, it is clear that St. Brigid's, especially in its heyday, played a very important role in the lives of the Irish people who flocked to the United States. When the men returned from Gettysburg, they gathered for a mass here to honor Father Mooney for his valiant service. The church always had troubles, though, and an 1890 article I found from the New York Times archives described that the church wasn't even officially consecrated by the Archbishop until forty years after it first opened up due to debts incurred during construction.

During the seventies and eighties, when the neighborhood went into decline, St. Brigid's was considered a safe haven for people, and the pastor, Rev. George Kuhn, was committed to helping the homeless who set up camp in the park.

All in all, this church has been through a lot, and it is no wonder it is beloved by so many. Going around to the back, I can see the large cracks where the back wall nearly separated from the back of the church. There's clearly a lot of work to be done, but I'm very much looking forward to that day it reopens so I can look around inside.