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Archive for the ‘Five Points’ Category

mulberry-bend

Address: Mulberry Street Between Worth and Bayard Streets

Status: Partially Demolished in 1897 Now Columbus Park

 

A maze of back alleys and hidden passageways, the Mulberry Bend on Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. From the Dead Rabbits to the Gambino Crime Family, the Bend’s horrific conditions served as an incubator for the gangs of New York. Today, only a tiny sliver of this infamous neighborhood still exists.

 

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

 

According to 19th century social reformer Jacob Riis:

“Where Mulberry street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old depravity of the Five Points, is “the Bend” foul core of New York’s slums.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Mulberry Street was the aorta that pumped life though the slums of the Five Points. Located between Worth and Bayard Streets, The Mulberry Bend was a place where the poorest of the poor scrambled to survive. A home for the unwanted and unwelcome, the street existed as a multi-racial, multi ethnic, polyglot community, unplanned and predating the city’s grid system.

 

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

From Country Lane to Urban Slum

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the street was named for a grove of Mulberry trees on the banks of the Collect Pond, one of Manhattan’s freshwater reservoirs. The Pond’s marshlands forced engineers to route the country lane in a west to east bend, which would become Mulberry Bend.

 

By 1810, Mulberry Street became urbanized. Heavy industry congregated around the Collect Pond. Slaughterhouses, potters and blacksmiths choked the shores of the Collect, while raw sewage from the slums of Mulberry Street ran into the water, transforming the pond into a polluted bog.

 

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

 

In 1817 the City Council drained the pond by digging a canal, which still runs under Canal Street today. The city then filled and graded the empty pond and Mulberry bend was born.

 

Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

The Bend

 

By the time of the Potato Famine, the Bend ranked as one of the densely populated urban areas in the world. For most of the 1800s the Bend’s population consisted of Irish immigrants and free African Americans, but by the 1880s an onrush of Italian overtook the squalid streets. Day and night on the bend, peddlers hawked stale bread, questionable meats and stolen goods.

 

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

 

Squeezed by landlords and forced to live in apartments crammed well beyond capacity, diseases wracked the neighborhood annually, accumulating an astronomical infant mortality rate. In 1888, over 3,000 infants died on Mulberry Street before reaching 6 years of age.

 

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

The poorest in the Bend, lived and worked in maze of back alleys stretching over to Baxter (then Orange St.) Street. With few options and little hope, it’s no wonder the denizens of the Bend’s back alleys turned to a life of crime.

 

The Mulberry Underground

 

A warren of hidden passageways and back alleys, with insidious names such as Rag Picker’s Row, Bandit’s Roost and Dynamite Alley, the underworld utilized the ramshackle architecture of the Bend to their advantage, hiding from both the police and sanitary inspectors. According to Jacob Riis:

 

“The whole district, is a maze of narrow, often unsuspected passageways-necessarily, for there is scare a lot that has not two, three, or four tenements upon it, swarming with unwholesome crowds.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Rag Pickers, the lowest echelon of New York society, congregated in Rag Picker’s Row, another of the Bend’s enclaves where they would collect their rags scavenged from the city’s trash. Nearby at 50 ½ Mulberry Street, visitors could find Bandit’s Roost, a favorite haunt of murderers and thieves dating back to the antebellum period.

 

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

A Lineage of Crime

 

The Dead Rabbits, the Roach Guards, the Whyos, The Five Pointers and eventually the Mafia all called Mulberry Bend home. During the Civil War, the Dead Rabbits, an Irish street gang,  headquartered their gang on Mulberry Street, where they committed many depredations during the Draft Riots. By the 1870s, a gang called the Whyos, known for their call “Why-o”, dominated Mulberry Street and much of the Five Points. Naturally, the warrens of Mulberry Bend became their homeland. According to Herbert Ashbury:

 

“The Whyos maintained their principal rendezvous in Mulberry Bend, slightly north and east of the Five Points proper…”–Herbet Ashbury, Gangs of New York

 

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Bandits Roost. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

As demographics changed around the turn of the century from Irish to Italian, the Mafia emerged as lords of the Bend, but their reign would not last long. Appalled by the horrid conditions, the infant mortality rate and the rampant murder, photo-journalist Jacob Riis declared war on the slums with an unknown technological advancement, the camera.

 

Jacob Riis: Photo-Reformer

 

Armed with nothing more than his camera, Riis explored the back alleys, saloons and rear tenements, documenting the squalor of the Bend and other slums. Riis published his work in a landmark text titled: How the Other Half Lives. A best seller, Riis’ book  led to the demolition of Mulberry Bend.

 

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

 

The End of Mulberry Bend: Columbus Park

 

In 1897, the city completely demolished Mulberry Bend, except for a tiny sliver of land. In its place, the city erected the Five Points Park, hoping that the clean air and grass would reduce crime and give children a play to play. The largely Italian population of Mulberry Street renamed the park Columbus Park in 1910.

 

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

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Five Points Headquarters

57 and 59 Great Jones Street

Status: Standing

 

There weren’t many places in old New York where a goon could order up a beer, eat a plate of spaghetti, and kick back and watch a bare-knuckle boxing match, except, for the Little Naples Café and New Brighton Athletic Club located at 57 and 59 Great Jones Street.

 

These two squat interconnected buildings once headquartered the Paul A. Kelly Association, an organized hoard of repeat voters, ex-pugilists, pimps, and gangland heavies otherwise known as The Five Points Gang. The mostly Irish and Italian Five Pointers controlled every hustle west of the Bowery and were the sworn enemies of Monk Eastman’s Jewish mob that dominated everything east of the Bowery.

 

Little_naples_Today2

Paul Kelly’s New Brighton Athletic Club (right) and the Little Naples Cafe (left) today. Jean Michel Basquiat would later die of an overdose in the loft that was above the New Brighton.

 

Paul Kelly Gangland Dandy

 

Their leader, Paul Kelly, proprietor of the combination eatery and boxing arena, was a bucket-load of contradictions. The name he went by was Irish; yet the gangster was an Italian whose real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. Well
quaffed and well spoken, Kelly played the part of the gangland dandy who could bang with the best of them.

 

According to Richard Harding Davis, Kelly was,

“exquisitely scented, wearing silk socks, silk ties to his tan shoes, with rings on his well-kept fingers…”

 

Paul_Kelly

 

But Kelly’s manicured digits didn’t fool anyone in the know. A former flyweight boxer and catch-as-can wrestler of much renown, the leader of the Five Points Gang was always willing to throw down. Like the time Kelly floored Jake Shimsky, a 6 foot, 230 pound Eastman Lieutenant, with a left hook that put the giant’s brain to sleep.

 

Spoke Five Languages

 

To have said that Kelley was smart would have been an understatement. In addition to English, he spoke Spanish, French and Italian. To take advantage of a loophole, which legalized boxing matches in privately chartered athletic clubs, he opened the New Brighton Athletic Club in 1904 in a Civil War era stable located at 59 Great Jones.

 

A Gangland Nexus Is Born:

The New Brighton Athletic Club and Little Naples Cafe

 

Now free to hold bare-knuckle bouts without police interference, the customers flooded in. To feed his hardboiled clientele, Kelly opened up the Little Naples Cafe next door, and a gangland nexus was born. On any night, a hoodlum could find Chick Tricker, Louie the Lump, Kid Griffo, Rough House Hogan, 14th Street Biff Ellison, and the wrestler Leo Pardillo lounging around the bar.

 

Paul Kelly, Paolo Vaccarelli, Monk Eastman, Eat Em Up Jack McManus, Monk Eastman, Biff Ellison, Leo Pardillo, Five Points Gang

The Little Naples Cafe, 59 Great Jones St., was the headquarters of Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang

 

Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus

 

To keep the peace, Kelly brought in his best gorilla, the famed bar-room bouncer, Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus, but even McManus couldn’t keep the peace, and the gunplay was regular.

 

In less than a year, Kelly’s bare fisted spaghetti kingdom began to unravel. Led by Chick Tricker, Jimmy Kelly, Jack Sirocco, and Biff Ellison, the mutinous troop of Five Pointers loaded up their gats and plotted to knockoff the boss.

 

Eat_Em_Up_Jack_McManus_And_Paul_Kelly

Paul Kelly (right) poses with bar-room bouncer Eat ’em Up Jack McManus.

 

Five Points Lightning

 

The slugs started to fly just before dawn on May 26, 1905 when words between McManus and Tricker escalated into a full blown pistol duel in font of the Little Naples.

 

Dodging and weaving from stoop to stoop, McManus blasted a few slugs into Tricker’s calf and left him for dead in the gutter, but Eat ‘Em Up Jack Should have finished the job. Days later Kelly lost his greatest strong armer, when McManus was killed by a Tricker Assassin armed with a lead pipe.

 

Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker’s Revenge

 

Months later Jack Sirocco came looking for revenge for Tricker’s shooting, and earned a bullet in his arm. With their leadership full of lead, the Tricker Sirocco gang sent another team of torpedoes to the Little Naples the following Thursday.

 

With barking pistols in their hands, Biff Ellison and Razor Riley stormed into the Little Naples spewing bullets. The attackers caught Kelly and his bodyguard Bill Harrington completely by surprise. A shot pierced Harrington’s lung killing him instantly. Another shot knocked Kelly’s hat from his head, and bullet sliced through the sleeve of his coat.

 

As the shots rang out, showgirls dove for cover, and the lights were doused. For five minuets Kelly and his attackers traded gunfire in the darkened bar. The Little Naples and New Brighton Athletic club were closed by the police shortly thereafter. With his clubhouse padlocked, Kelly changed his name back to Vacarelli, moved uptown, and remade himself as a labor racketeer.

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