by Peter Salwen
Excerpts and images from Upper West Side Story:
A History and Guide (Abbeville Press, 389 pp.), an affectionate
anecdotal history of Manhattan's Upper West Side from colonial
times to the trendy present, illustrated with over 100 drawings
and vintage photos.
The New York Times called Upper West Side Story "an engaging
romp through time and space, filled with charming period photographs,
spicy folklore, outrageous personalities and even a walking tour," while
Smithsonian Magazine declared, "Salwen . . . tells his lively story with
irreverent good humor.”
To order your copy ($25.00, postpaid) send email for details, or order
directly from this page via PayPal by clicking the Buy Now button at
the right. We try to fill all orders the same day.
Meanwhile, here is an Upper-West-Side trivia challenge to test your
knowledge of New York City. (Answers to all questions are in the book.)
Q. What gregarious Upper West Sider popularized the phrase "A House Is Not a
Home" as the title of her best-selling autobiography?
A. Polly Adler, the most renowned madam of the Jazz Age.
Q. What Upper West Sider claimed to be the "real" designer
of Central Park?
A. Brigadier General Egbert L. Viele, a West Point-educated civil engineer. He sued the city
over the Park issue, and eventually won a court award of ten thousand dollars.
Q. What famous old Upper West Side institution once occupied the present site of
A. The Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum. Morningside Heights was also known as "Asylum
Q. Early in the century, Mary Mallon was arrested while working as the cook for a
family on West 89th Street. Why?
A. "Typhoid Mary" was a carrier of the deadly typhus bacillus. The city health department
had repeatedly warned never to work as a cook, but it was the only trade she knew. She
ended her days in quarantine on an island in the East River.
Q. Several square blocks of tenements were torn down to make way for Lincoln
Center, yet you can still see them today. Where and how?
A. The empty streets were used for location shooting and dance numbers in the movie
West Side Story.
Q. In 1896 two Upper West Siders, Arthur Smith and Henry Bliss, crossed paths in a
tragic landmark event. What and where?
A. As Mr. Bliss turned to help a lady alight from a streetcar at Central Park West and West
72nd Street, taxi driver Smith ran over him, crushing his chest. Bliss dies the next day, the
country's first auto fatality.
Q. Besides Mr. Bliss's accident the peaceful-looking corner of Central Park West and
West 72nd Street has an extraordinary number of associations with violence and
crime. How so?
A. Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper-killer of the Lindberg baby, worked
as a carpenter in the Majestic Apartments on that corner at the time of the crime. Later,
mob bosses Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello all lived in the Majestic.
Costello was shot (not fatally) in the lobby in 1957. And across the street, John Lennon
was murdered in front of his home in the Dakota Apartments in 1980.
Q. What Upper West Sider was the first woman to be honored with a ticker-tape
A. Seventeen-year-old Gertrude Ederle, daughter of an Amsterdam Avenue butcher,
became a hero to New Yorkers in 1926, when she became the first woman and the first
American to swim the English Channel.
Q. What Upper West Sider was the first New Yorker to own a private car?
A. The flamboyant James Buchanan Brady, of West 86th Street -- known to history as
Diamond Jim. (Diamond Jim may actually have been beaten out for the honor by another,
quieter Upper West Sider, the industrialist- lawyer-publisher Isaac L. Rice.)
Q. Some historians take a rather cynical attitude toward the famous Maine monument
on Columbus Circle commemorating the Spanish- American War. Why?
A. William Randolph Hearst, who raised most of the money for the monument, owned
most of the nearby real estate. Through his newspaper chain, Hearst had also done more
than anyone else to get the U.S. into war with Spain -- and in any case, research now
shows the Maine was sunk by accident, not by Spanish sabotage.
Q. What national dance craze was introduced in an Upper West Side musical?
A. The Charleston, introduced in 1922 by Elizabeth Welch in the last act of the all-Black
musical Runnin' Wild at the Colonial Theatre, Broadway and 63rd Street.
Q. Another Upper West Side production was the first black musical to reach the
Broadway stage. What, where, and when?
A. Shuffle Along, with words and music by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, opened at the
63rd Street Theatre in 1921. The show introduced the immortal "I'm Just Wild About Harry,"
and Langston Hughes credited the show with "kicking off" the Harlem Renaissance of the
Q. In August 1926 a crowd of 80,000 mobbed the street outside Campbell's Funeral
Church on Broadway and West 67th Street, even broke through the plate-glass
window before the police restored order. Who or what was inside?
A. The body of silent-screen Sheik Rudolph Valentino, who had died at a nearby hospital.
Interestingly, Valentino had started his show-business career just a few blocks away and
13 years earlier as a "taxi dancer" in a cabaret on Upper Broadway.
Columbus Circle, c. 1907
Charles Schwab mansion,
Riverside Drive, "the largest and
most lavish home ever built on
A suitably grisly death
awaited Arthur "Dutch
long-time Beer Baron of
the West Side.
World premiere of Babes In
Toyland at Columbus Circle's
Majestic Theatre, 1903.
UPPER WEST SIDE STORY:
A History and Guide