Thursday, June 23, 2011

7 1/2 Sills

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.

1931, NYPL

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.

Also read:
Wu Tang
Inside 7 1/2
9 Second Avenue
The Loss of Mars
Before Mars Bar
Little Italy Valentine


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

In the 50s, early 60s gangs ruled the streets. The Untouchables and the Dragons were two notorious Spanish gangs that towered over the Lower East Side on about Ave B, C & D while the Italian greaser gangs controlled the rest from Ave A, reaching into Little Italy. When gangs ruled the streets they were safe in a way but with the hippies coming in with drugs and free love everyone wanted a little of it or whatever they could get. Life goes on, I suppose...

Laura Goggin Photography said...

The more I read about this building, the sadder I get. Thanks for sharing your research.

eatenbybears said...

Regarding the Houston Street gang, I came across this from 1873:

EV Grieve said...

I share Goggla's sentiment. Regardless, I appreciate all this history. Thank you for digging into the past here....

SadEnding said...

You give absurdly short shrift to the "Church of All Nations," who only served the community for about 80 years, saving countless lives, and turning around many who may have spent their lives in crime or dissolution.

Not cool.

See my blog:

Shame on you!

Anonymous said...

The Church of All Nations served my family and their friends since the late 1920's. The Cino's, Bainor's, DelSante's, Marino's, Farinello's. Mrs. Burdick was the director and at Christmas there was a magnificent Christmas Tree in the main hall. Also, the pool, arts and crafts, rooftop playing field. Thanks for the memories.
Joanie fron Third Street