Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fur District

New York City's Fur District consists of a few blocks in the western upper 20s and lower 30s, just south of Penn Station. It began vanishing 30-some years ago. In 1979, there were 800 manufacturers here, by 1989 there were 300, and today there are certainly much fewer.

Recalled furrier Nat Berkowitz to the Times in 1995, "It used to be that when you drove up the New York State Thruway to the Catskill resorts, there would be a mink stole hanging in every car window." Times changed. Fur lost much of its luster. Protesters protested.



There are still fur dealers here, but not as many as there used to be. I remember walking through in the evening when I worked near the area, looking into the fur traders' shops--not showrooms, but wholesale rooms--bare little spaces painted hospital green, filled with racks of pelts on hooks, where men in yarmulkes and shirtsleeves plied their trade. Are they still here?

What does remain, and what will remain long after the furriers have vanished completely, are the stone carvings on the buildings that mark this place as the Fur District. On 29th Street, a pair of gargoyle furriers do their work--in one, a squirrel appears to be biting the furrier's finger, in the other, a mink is either being skinned or given a spanking.





There are other such fur-related carvings in this neighborhood. On 30th, a pair of handsome foxes guard an elegant doorway.



Until the planned Bloombergian rezoning, which aims to completely transform the Fur District into an extension of upscale Chelsea (Amanda Burden seeks to "enliven" it), this area remains very much itself--a bit down at the heels, desolate, and still interesting to the passing eye with its barber schools and crummy eateries, its kung-fu dojos and music rehearsal spaces, its guitar shops, cigar shops, and second-story signmakers.

This swath of the old city still exists. For now.

17 comments:

myprivateconey.blogspot.com said...

Like Orchard Street, that area is quite intimate to me, my first office job at 17 in that area. Those were "normal" streets to travel.

My 92 year old father also just talked about working part-time for a furrier doing deliveries... carfare was a penny or two in those days, and when he accidentally went to the East Bronx not the West Bronx, he had to walk across the Bronx to save the fare.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Yes. There are still all kinds of Julius Kipling remainders here.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I worked the the Garment District one year in the 1960s pushing bundles and racks of clothes around. Was no fun at all, I quit. You may think its romantic but it wasn't at all, that's for sure.

Dave - Everywhere said...

When my office was located on Park Ave South I used to walk down 28th, 29th and 30th streets everyday on my way to and from Penn Station. During that time the disappearance of the furriers and to a smaller extent, the "Garden District" was obvious and a little saddening. Their replacements - costume jewelry and custom embroiderers don't fill the spaces as well. The Eventi Hotel (on 6th between 29th and 30th) was the harbinger of imminent "upscaling".

Anonymous said...

Not trying to get all hippie, but considering how cruel the fur industry treats live animals I'm happy they're gone.

Brendan said...

I hope the architecture is preserved.

Good riddance to the furriers.

Anonymous said...

I miss Tin Pan Alley. And, 52nd Street. Those were the days!

Goggla said...

I used to live in this area and would find scraps of fur all over the sidewalks on my morning walk to work. I always thought I should collect them and make something.

I cannot support the fur industry, but these gargoyles and relics are cool.

Grand St. said...

I have no use for the fur trade, and little more for Graydon Carter, but I think the flavor of much of Jere's post is captured in that Carter quote: " Where once we had foundries and factories on Manhattan island, men now make muffins." ...'coz that's what's coming to this district.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Oh, Knipl got auto corrected to Kipling, but maybe there's a Julius Kipling too!

Mike said...

I had a design office at 429 W 29th st in the height of the Silicon Alley boom of the late 90's. our building had those gargoyles outside, and our office had a fur vault in it. We used to sleep in there!

Uncle Waltie said...

@Anonymous 9:16AM: "Real people wear fake furs." Another seventies slogan that left a lasting impression on me.

laura said...

will they tear down all those old buildings w/the carvings? or renovate them? there is no more industry in NYC. it is not a real place, its a tourist trap. furs are ok if they use the rest for food, like mongolian lamb from china.

Brian Dubé said...

The entire industry is riddled with controversy lately, so I'm sure opinions run the gamut. I remember first coming to NYC and, having never experienced fur, touching it for the first time. http://newyorkdailyphoto.com/nydppress/?p=1468
Either way, with these carvings, I'm sure the fur industry's history in this area has the last word.

Anonymous said...

David Lindley's from LA. How did his handsome visage end up on a NY building with a couple of animals?

Anonymous said...

Yeah I'd say the 20's/30's, especially at night, seem to be one of the last slices of weirdness the City still has. It's just crappy around there and desolate. Old school.

Jade said...

I am a little late in the discovery of the fur district. Didn't realize it was there until the late 80's. I love fur and some of the furrier that still work there are great people. Politics aside, one woman's mess is another's woman's treasure. Although I travel to NY quite often from NJ, I am really just discovering so much about the city. As much as I am in the fur district, I really never noticed the buildings. Guess I have to pay better attention.