In my visit to the Wu Tang studio at 7 1/2 Second Avenue, I mentioned seeing a windowsill marked with ancient graffiti carved in another time. I include the photos here.
One says only "S. ROSEN," the name underlined for emphasis. The other says "HOUSTON ST GANG" and is accompanied by a Christian cross and what looks like the ruined outline of a Star of David.
The building, named on its cornice "Germania Flats," was built sometime in the mid to late 1800s. It was part of the sprawling complex known as Germania Assembly Rooms, a place for dancing, singing, and meeting, later a site of great vaudevillian debauchery.
New York Times, 1890
In the early 1900s, the building complex was taken over by the Church of All Nations, which catered to Jews and Christians together. We might assume, based on the inter-faith images in the graffiti, that the carvings do not date all the way back to the Germania Hall days, but come from the era of the Church of All Nations.
The graffiti could date to the 1920s, when Germania Flats' first floor businesses included a hatters and a luncheonette that sold buttermilk. Maybe the Houston Street Gang had buttermilk on their lips when they carved their names and symbols in the sills.
NYPL, circa 1920s
Or else the graffiti comes from a later time, from the 1930s or '40s. Maybe from the 1950s, when teenage gangs were the rage, and rebels without causes carried switchblades in their pockets, perfect for carving your name in a windowsill. Gang members were regularly welcomed into the community center here.
Maybe that's S. Rosen (was it Sam? or Schlomo?), dancing the Bunny Hop with his hands on the waist of a Lower East Side girl who will later kiss him behind the bleachers of the basketball court, inspiring him to climb to the third floor with his gang and carve his name into a windowsill for all eternity.
Or so he thought.
from the film Tao of 2nd Ave.
Inside 7 1/2
9 Second Avenue
The Loss of Mars
Before Mars Bar
Little Italy Valentine