Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guns of Centre Market

There used to be signs shaped like guns hanging above Centre Market Place in Little Italy. They're gone now. The block is all condo-style townhouses, boutiques, and salons. Says Wikipedia on the subject, "Most locals consider Centre Market Place a part of Nolita, a series of blocks known for cute little stores and fancy living."

Technically, the block was Novogratzed in 2004, but once it was a veritable gun district.

Daily News: original Jovino shop

The Novogratzes moved into #5. Said Courtney to the Daily News at the time, "We look for the most condemned, gross places we can find." Said Bob, "The basement here had bullet holes in the walls from the former gun range. The owner had turned down offers from others. We got to know him and we're still friends. We couldn't believe we had a chance to get half the street."

#5 was the original home of the Jon Jovino gun shop--founded in 1911, this is its 100th year in business. It moved to Grand Street after the sale. The gun-shaped sign went with them. People still love to photograph it.

Portrait of Weegee

Before the Novogratzes got there, #5 was the home of the great photographer WeeGee, who lived in a cluttered one-room apartment above the gun shop from the mid-1930s until 1947.

Back then, wrote the Times, "the street was a drab block of tenements inhabited by reporters and photographers who worked the crime beat.... Every morning the narrow block was crowded with paddy wagons (Weegee called them “pie wagons”), bringing in the night’s arrests from various precincts for booking and processing. The newshounds crowded the sidewalk for the morning 'perp walk,' when cops paraded their handcuffed catch."

Now, instead of perps, the block is flocked by "it girls" who shop then drop into Pipino Day Spa for a $300 haircut while enjoying "Playlists compiled by New York's hottest and finest deejays," supplying "a groovy vibe befitting the hip d├ęcor."

Weegee: two gun signs

#6 Centre Market was the home of the Frank Lava gun shop, which also featured a gun-shaped sign, believed to be the inspiration for Jovino's, which came later. Frank Lava's shop was founded in 1850 by Eli Parker.

Writes the Fairlight blog, "The shop later passed into the hands of the Belgian 'Lavatatas' family, whose third-generation descendant Frank Lava ran the business into the 1960s. Lava reported that a growing number of his customers belonged to the 'crank trade'-- hobbyists who needed professional help with the finer details of gun repair."

Berenice Abbott, 1937, MCNY

In 1937 Berenice Abbott captured the shop and the impressive wooden revolver in all its glory. Today this is the home of the No. 6 boutique, for all your furry clog boot and Kim Gordon word painting needs.

Berenice Abbott, 1937, MCNY

#7 was more recently the home of Sile gun distributors and before that, it was George F. Herold's gun shop. Herold was a retired NYPD officer.

Weegee photo, via WeegeeWeegee

His name is stamped into many antique guns and police equipment, including this badge, complete with the address "7 Centre Market Place." That spot is now occupied by the Built by Wendy boutique--here you might find some Italian-Americans, like Sofia Coppola and James Franco, buying Mean Streets t-shirts.

Next door at #8 is a showroom for haute couture knitted things.

via WeegeeWeegee

Like much of the city, this whole block turned very glossy very quickly. Its transformation was dramatic and complete. Said one real estate agent, the block is "extremely popular with the young professional crowd." Take a look at what the house of WeeGee and Jovino looks like today--with no memory of the grainy, noirish nights that once passed beneath its windows.

The only gun you can still see here is a small gold-painted revolver, partially covered in graffiti, its barrel peeled off, in the sign for Sile Distributors, dealers in "humane police equipment," once of New York City and Brescia, Italy.


Theresa M. Collins said...

maybe mention, or xref former headquarters of the New York Police Department—now a luxury apartment building— 240 Centre Street, between Broome and Grand Streets.

Melanie said...

Boy those were the days!!Weegee rocks! Thank you Bernice Abbott for the photo too.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Yes, the location adjacent to the beaux-arts Police Headquarters building explains why this was gun territory (headquarters moved here from its location on Mulberry Street, where Theodore Roosevelt was police commissioner.) For those interested, the new incarnation of the Jon Jovino shop on Grand Street was featured in the 2007 film "The Brave One", wherein Jody Foster purchases a handgun. If you stand on the corner of Center Market and Grand, you will undoubtably witness crowds of women unloading from tour buses to eat at O'Neal's restaurant, because a 2-minute scene from Sex & The City was filmed there 8 years ago.

Unknown said...

I have two distinct memories about Centre Market Place. The first was when I was back in college. I had a part time job at United Parcel to pay for my Masters degree. Well, I was assigned to load the truck that delivered goods to these stores. My first experience of how heavy lead really is! Yes, you'd get cases of ammunition and even rifles/shotguns delivered this way. Second memory was when I got my NYC Pistol License - this was the first place I went to go shopping. I never really liked the feel at Jovino's, instead preferring the friendly atmosphere at Sile down the block. Guess that the vibe of the scene still matters, no matter what you're looking to buy.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Interesting post! I would have loved to have walked the beat with Weegee and seen this area when Roosevelt was commish.

srl said...

a 2 minute scene from 8 years ago? that brings business? that much business? i love sex & the city but these people have like no lives.

Jeremiah Moss said...

what would Weegee photograph today?

Melanie said...

Wee Gee would be inside the projects where a killing went down--at the Courthouse perp walk--maybe even Ave. A late at night hijinks. He'd be on the beat.