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225 Sullivan Street- Mother’s apartment

208 Sullivan Street-Triangle Civic Improvement Association

67 East 77th Street Just off Park Avenue- Townhouse

Status: All Standing

 

Was he mentally ill or a criminal mastermind?  A brain damaged ex-pug, or the leader of the Genovese Crime Family? These questions dominated New York’s tabloids for much of 1990s. Despite the notoriety, for much of his life of crime Vincent “the Chin” Gigante lived with his dear old ma, Yolanda, at 225 Sullivan Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, a place the FBI once called:

“One of the most impregnable mob strongholds in the country” The New York Times, 1988

Born in 1928 in the slums of Greenwich Village to a watchmaker and a seamstress, Gigante came up from the streets swinging. He Graduated from P.S. 3 elementary school, but dropped out of Textile High in 9th grade to make his way in the world as a boxer.

Vito Genovese and his Greenwich Village henchmen: Tony Bender Strollo and Tommy Eboli ruled Chin’s universe. Genovese’s bodyguard and top hitman, Eboli loved boxing in big way, and he brought the talented Gigante under his wing, managing both his fight career and his crime career.

 

Vincent-Gigante's-Apartment

The Gigante family tenement. FBI agents once found Vincent here standing in the shower under an open umbrella.

Becoming Vinny the Chin

Gigante boxed all over New York, in club fights and in the backs of bars. Like an actor waiting tables at night, Gigante moonlighted as mafia enforcer of Beat Generation Greenwich Village, amassing arrests for illegal guns, theft, arson and more.

From there, Vincent, whose mother called him Vincenzo, fought bouts in St. Nick’s Arena and Madison Square Garden transforming his ma’s nickname into a gangland moniker, The Chin. Veteran boxing manager, Lou Duva would reminisce in Jacobs Beach, The Mob, The Garden & The Golden Age of Boxing:

“When you boxed in the Garden, you got the recognition. You’d arrived as a fighter.”Lou Duva

With a record of 20 wins and 4 losses, what caused the Chin to quit the fights and become a full time mobster? (Click to see Gigante’s Boxing Record) Perhaps Gigante got sick of getting his brains knocked in for peanuts, or was there something else?

 

The Return of Vito Genovese

Genovese, returned from his self-imposed exile in fascist Italy during WWII, had plans for the young boxer who would become a mafia superstar serving as Genovese’s chauffeur, bodyguard and top triggerman.

 

Vincent-the-Chin-Gigante-Apartment,-Triangle-Civic-Club-Mafia-Map

For most of his life, Vincent Gigante lived at 225 Sullivan Street with his Ma, Yolanda. His headquarters, the Triangle Civic Association was across the street at 208 Sullivan Street.

 

Vito Genovese vs. Frank Costello

With Genovese’s return, a confrontation loomed with Frank Costello, the reigning boss of the Luciano Crime Family. Gigante was tasked with rubbing out the boss to make way for Genovese. The ex-boxer took to an underworld shooting range beneath the streets of Greenwich Village to ready his trigger finger.

On May 2nd, 1957 the Chin struck, but the botched the job, grazing Costello. However, the flesh wound paid off and Costello retired from the rackets (Click to read the full story).

 

1957, A Bad Year for the Mob, Apalachin and More

Despite the successful takeover of the Luciano Family,  it would be a bad year Gigante. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics(FBN) had The Chin and Genovese’s global narcotics operation in their sites. On November 11, 1957, Apalachin put the mob on prime-time television and in 1958 the FBN convicted Genovese and Gigante for narcotics trafficking. Genovese would never walk the streets again.

 

The Odd Father

Gigante clearly did not enjoy prison. After his release he became increasingly paranoid, secretive and reclusive. By the late 1970s, he regularly checked into mental institutions and wandered the streets of the Village in slippers and a bathrobe. According to Selwyn Raab, author of the Five Families,

“Gigante’s bizarre behavior was also exhibited in his mother’s fourth-floor apartment. One day, agent Pat Marshall and Pat Collins knocked on Yolanda Gigante’s apartment with a subpoena for her son. Chin was standing in the bathtub, under a closed shower head, wearing a bathrobe. He had an open umbrella over his head…”Selwyn Raab, The Five Families

 

The Triangle Civic Association

Despite the crazy act, Gigante ruled over the crime family, positioning East Harlem Mafia kingpin, Fat Tony Salerno, as a front boss and buffer.  Chin held court across the street from his mother’s apartment at The Triangle Civic Association, 208 Sullivan Street. The nondescript club had little more than a bar and an espresso machine but it served as a low profile command center, which he had swept for bugs regularly.

 

Triangle-Civic-Association-

Once a hub of gangland intrigue, Vincent Gigante’s Triangle Civic Association is now a tea shop.

 

The FBI bought the crazy act but most mobsters knew better. Sammy the Bull Gravano later reminisced to Peter Maas,

 

“But it was clear as a bell that he was the boss. So why was he doing his nut act? Sometimes I would think that he really was crazy and took medication when he had to be sane.” Sammy the Bull Gravano, Underboss.

 

 

VIncent-Gigante's-Townhouse

Vincent the Chin Gigante’s posh townhouse just off of Park Avenue.

 

 

Chin’s Townhouse

By the 1980s, Chin grew even more eccentric. He had two separate families, and a wife and a mistress both named Olympia. One family lived in Old Tappan New Jersey and the other in a posh Upper East Side townhouse, just off Park Avenue, located at 67 East 77th Street. The luxurious white bricked home was purchased by record executive Morris Levy in 1983 for $490,000 and gifted to Gigante’s mistress for a mere $16,000.

Despite the 20 year crazy act, the FBI eventually caught up with the Chin, convicting him of racketeering in 1997. He would die in the same penitentiary as his mentor Genovese.

Vincent-Gigante's-Town-House-Infamous-New-York

Gigante’s townhouse was located at 67 East 77th Street.

Joe Petrosino Square

Location: Corner of Lafayette and Kenmare streets
Status: NYC Park

Crammed into a small triangular plot of land in SoHo, Lieutenant Joe Petrosino Square pays homage to one of the most intrepid cops in NYPD History. In the course of his career, Petrosino would go from street sweeper to NYPD Lieutenant only to be cut down by assassin’s bullets on the streets of Palermo. More recently, Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing Joseph Petrosino in his new movie, The Black Hand, based on a book by Stephan Talty.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Black Hand

Named for NYPD detective Lieutenant Joe Perosino, Petrosino square honors the famed detective cut down by mafia assassins on the streets of Palermo. He traveled to Sicily to investigate the Black Hand.

 

Crime Sweeper: The White Wings

Born Giuseppe Petrosino in 1860, the detective got his start with the New York Police Department in an unusual way, sweeping streets. In those days, street cleaners or whitewings, as they were known, fell under the command of the New York’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Petrosino scrubbed the bloody streets of the tenderloin district, a rowdy neighborhood populated by brothels and casinos. The raucous quarter was commanded by police inspector Alexander “Clubber” Williams, a famous brawler who earned his nickname as a beat cop in the Five Points. Clubber once bragged:

 

“There is more law in the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.”

 

Sensing Petrosino’s linguistic skills, Williams put the Italian street sweeper to work as a special assistant in tenderloin cases involving Italians. At age of 23, the 5’7” Petrosino became the shortest patrolman on the force, a favor that came courtesy of Williams, who forced the Police Board to wave the height regulations.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand

Alexander Clubber William brought the young Petrosino into the NYPD to help with Italian crimes.

 

On the Trail of The Back Hand

By 1890, Petrosino moved up to the investigation section, policing the crime wave sweeping little Italy. Dubbed the Black Hand or La Mana Nero by the papers because of the distinct extortion letters signed with a black handprint, Black Hand gangsters specialized in kidnapping, extortion and bombings.

The newspapers failed to realize that the Black Hand was actually a myth dreamed up by a New York Tribune reporter. The papers could not have imagined that the real culprit behind these crimes was a secret criminal society known as the Mafia, a term unknown at the time.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand

Know as the Black Hand for their distinctive extortion notes often featuring black hand prints, the criminal organization often served as a front for mafia activities.

 

Prince of the Black Hand:

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello:

 

Ruled by a cutthroat mustachioed scoundrel with a deformed hand, Giuseppe “Peter” Morello ruled New York’s first crime family, an organization that would one day be absorbed by Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese. Morello made his bones in the old country as an assassin, counterfeiter and kidnapper before fleeing to America to avoid murder charges.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand, The Clutching Hand Morello,

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello, leader of America’s first Mafia family.

 

Petrosino and Teddy Roosevelt

While Morello sailed across the Atlantic, Petrosino carved out a name for himself in the NYPD. By 1890, he moved up to the investigation section. A master of disguise, the young sleuth possessed an array of costumes.

Petrosino’s antics amused Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt and the pair became instant friends. A shrewd politician, Roosevelt realized that the influx of Italians would further his political base if he had his own inside man. For this reason, Teddy promoted Petrosino to Sergeant Detective, the first Italian-American to attain that rank.

 

Uncovering the Mafia: The Italian Squad

By 1903, there were more Italians in New York than there were in Rome. Collectively the Italian population was 1/4 of the entire city, however, only eleven police officers spoke Italian.

After a rash of tenement bombings, the NYPD formed the Italian Squad. The five-man band included Maurise Bonil, Peter Dondero, George Silva, John Lagomarsini, and Ugo Cassidi. The great grandfather of the NYPD Bomb Squad, the Italian Squad specialized in bomb disposal.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand, The Clutching Hand Morello, Joseph Petrosino

Joseph Petrosino leader of the New York Police Department’s Italian Squad.

 

Meanwhile, it seemed that every Italian thug with a scrap of paper and a pen was turning to Black Hand extortion while true Mafioso, like Giuseppe Morello, worked to solidify their criminal empires. Upon arriving in America, Morello enlisted the help of a savage enforcer, Ignacio Lupo “the Wolf”, and Don Vito Cascioferro, an unusual Mafioso by all accounts. Ferro started life as an anarchist who took part in uprisings, protests, and political assassinations in Sicily and later served as president of the Fasci of Bisaquino.

 

The Death of Joe Petrosino

Petrosino quickly became the bane of the Morello Crime Family. After Cracking the Barrel Murder, Pertrosino issued an arrest warrant for Cascioferro, who fled to Sicily. In 1909, Lt. Petrosino traveled over 4,000 miles to Palermo to uncover the secrets of the Mafia. It would be the detective’s undoing. Cascioferro’s assassins caught up with Petrosino murdering him on the Piazza Marina.

Thumb 11th_Street_Catholic_Cemetery2

 

It was a neighborhood of potent ugliness, a wasteland of rubble and rust strewn with monstrous gas tanks, and belching gasworks, pumping out noxious sulfurous fumes, the byproduct of cooking bituminous coal to produce the gas which fed the streetlights of New York. Authorities around the turn of the last century called the slum the Gas House District, and a hunchback mobster was its king.

 

A rare view of one of the last gasworks in the Gas House District circa 1938., years after Humpty Jackson's reign.

A rare view of one of the last gasworks in the Gas House District circa 1938, years after Humpty Jackson’s reign.

 

A bare-knuckled Dickensian creature, well-armed and well-read, Thomas “Humpty” Jackson and his band of colorfully nicknamed hooligans like Monahokky, The Grabber, Candy Phil, Maxie Hahn, Spanish Louie, and the Lobster Kid, terrorized the neighborhood from the ruins of an ancient cemetery that has long since vanished.

 

Thomas "Humpty" Jackson lead his turn-of-the-century gang from the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery.

Thomas “Humpty” Jackson lead his turn-of-the-century gang from the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery.

 

According to Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, the cemetery was, “…bounded by First and Second Avenues and Twelfth and Thirteenth streets,” yet today, not a single headstone remains, and anyone searching for the remnants of the boneyard will be befuddled by Asbury’s erroneous directions.

 

The infamous hunchback of East 11th Street, Thomas Humpty Jackson

The infamous hunchback of East 11th Street, Thomas Humpty Jackson

 

The 11th Street Catholic Cemetery

 

Built in 1832 to replace Old St. Patrick’s overflowing graveyard on Mulberry Street, the Eleventh Street Catholic Cemetery stretched from the east side of First Avenue to Avenue A. Fifteen years, and forty thousand corpses later, tenements sprouted up around the graveyard, and the city banned burials in Manhattan, forcing the Eleventh Street cemetery to lock its gates.

11th_Street_Catholic_Cemetery

 

In 1883, the New York Times wrote,

“The old cemetery has been neglected and has become a scene of desolation. The fences have been broken by boys, and… it has become a great source of trouble to the church…” –The New York Times, 1883

 

It’s impossible to say when Humpty, who was born in 1879 according to the 1925 census, first jumped the fence of the cemetery.  After he quit the rackets and started giving interviews (hotlink), Humpty would later reminisce:

 

“Take the Gas House District… no playgrounds and no gymnasiums. Nothing for strong kids to do…but commit depredations…”—Humpty Jackson

 

And depredations he committed.

 

Humpty’s First Pinch

 

At the age of thirteen, Jackson caught his first pinch for stealing a horse blanket. For his heinous crime, he was sent to the reformatory on Wards (Now Randall’s) Island, turning the little hunchback into a lifelong cop hater. By twenty, Humpty was a professional stick-up kid, heisting grocery stores up and down the Lower East Side, which eventually landed Jackson his first holiday in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island.

 

After his release, Humpty Jackson earned his first newspaper mention for stabbing a policeman in the hand and neck, but by now the Hump was a well known character in the Gas House District, the domain of Tammany overlord Silent Charley Murphy.

 

Tammany Boss Silent Charlie Murphy employed Jackson as a key election rigger.

Tammany Boss Silent Charlie Murphy employed Jackson as a key election rigger.

Election Rigging 101:

Tammany Hall Recruits Jackson

 

The veteran election rigger immediately saw potential in the young hunchback. With the help of Big Tim Sullivan, Humpty was soon stumping for Tammany Hall. Repeat voting, ballot box stuffing, and good old Republican slugging, granted Humpty a license to steal. Humpty later bragged to Collier’s Magazine:

 

“…we’d gang the joint. Smack a couple of Republican ballot watchers over and swipe the boxes and throw them in the river.”

 

Armed robbery, assault, and vagrancy charges disappeared like magic courtesy of Tammany Hall, and with political backing, Jackson carved out a fiefdom strong enough to repel both Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang. But the infamy brought the heat. According to the newspapers, every mugging, shooting, and petty theft in the district was the work of the Humpty Jackson gang.

 

The Battle for 11th Street

 

The tipping point came on the night of September 12, 1904. That night Humpty and his pals were lounging on the headstones in their graveyard hangout. The gangsters sat up and took notice after they spied Fredrick Keller, a former member of the gang, strolling down 11th Street.

 

The remains of the 11th Catholic Cemetery today.

The remains of the 11th Catholic Cemetery today.

 

In instant the wolves jumped him. A fist fight broke out, and one of Humpty’s goons put a revolver to Keller’s head and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired.

 

Keller broke away and sprinted to the Police precinct on 5th Street. Seeing an opportunity to put Jackson away for good, Capt. McDermott raced to the cemetery with five plainclothesmen, Detective Ed Reardon, and a team of reservists. The small army of cops put the collar on Humpty Jackson, the Riley Brothers, and William Noble and marched them back to the precinct.

 

An Army of Mobsters

 

Suddenly an army of 30 mobsters appeared on 11th Street, a pistol shot rang out and the cops ducked for cover. They returned fire with their service revolvers and roaring gun battle erupted.

 

From the tenements, bricks and potted plants and bottles rained down on the police. Jackson pulled a hidden revolver and beamed four shots at Detective Ed Reardon, those shots would earn Humpty 2 ½ years in Sing Sing where the hunchback was treated to a regimen of: “Twelve hours a day in solitary…paddling, and thumb hanging exercises…” However, his time in the can wasn’t all bad.

 

Humpty spent the majority of his stretch reading: Herbert Spencer, Thomas Paine, Darwin, Voltaire, and Huxley. He even penned a book on police brutality. When he emerged from the big house, Humpty was smarter and tougher than ever before, but unfortunately things had changed on the sidewalks of New York.

 

Humpty Jackson on the Transformative Power of Reading

Humpty Jackson on the Transformative Power of Reading

 

When he got out of prison, Humpty headed back to his home away from home, the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery. As he began to reorganize his mob, the police, led by Detective Ed Reardon, torqued up the pressure. Police arrested Jackson on sight for vagrancy, disorderly conduct, and anything else they could pin on the hunchback.

 

The Gat in the Hat

 

To prevent the law from planting weapons on him, the ingenious mobster sewed up his pockets so that:

 

“Cops couldn’t slip a gun in a gun in my pocket and pull me in for carrying a rod…”

 

But the pressure grew, making it impossible for Humpty to steal for a living.

When Jackson opted to go strapped he,

 

“…Invent[ed] a pistol holster for my hat. I got away with that for a long time until a young cop got wise and slapped me on the nut with his night stick.”

 

Humpty Jackson often carried a pistol in his hat.

Humpty Jackson often carried a pistol in his hat.

 

Unfortunately, sewed up pockets and his secret holster did little to keep the eccentric mobster out of the papers, and Tammany’s support waned. By 1908 the Hall had backed a new tough, former light weight prize-fighter and Chinatown bouncer, Jimmy Kelly.

 

The Feud With Jimmy Kelly

 

Called the Human Pin cushion by his pals, Kelly, whose real name was Giovanni DeSalvio, was as rough-and-tumble as they came. Kelly and his Chinatown mob, opened the Folly 212 East 14th on the outskirts of Humpty’s turf, and it was clear that a bloody confrontation loomed.

Humpy Jackson's rival, Jimmy Kelly, John DeSalvio would go from gangster and nightclub owner to Tammany Hall politician.

Humpy Jackson’s rival, Jimmy Kelly. Kelly’s real name was John DeSalvio. DeSalvio would go from gangster and nightclub owner to Tammany Hall politician.

On November 1, 1908 Tammany Hall and Big Tim Sullivan symbolically backed their new goon when the Jimmy Kelly Association held a ball at Tammany Hall.

 

Enraged that Big Tim had backed his rival, Humpty stalked Kelly, his wife Stella, and his bodyguard Chink Marello to restaurant on 15th Street and 3rd Ave. When Kelly left the restaurant to get a bottle of wine, Humpty followed him to 13th Street, raised a revolver and shot the ex-prizefighter in the neck. As Kelly lie dying in a pool of blood, Humpty put another bullet in his groin for good measure. Kelly survived.

 

Humpty Goes Down

 

After the shooting of Kelly, Tammany abandoned the hunchback and his downfall quickly followed. Arrested for stealing a $1,000 seal skin coat from the Adams Express Company, Humpty was tried as a habitual criminal. Facing a life sentence, Humpty pled guilty and was sent to Sing Sing for three years.

 

Return to the Graveyard

 

When Humpty returned from the joint, he found that the world had changed. The gasworks were closing down because of the adoption of electricity, but more strikingly the 11th Street Cemetery had vanished. While he was in Sing Sing, the church sold the property and moved the remains of 5,000 bodies to section 4b of Calvary Cemetery in Queens, leaving behind the remains of 35,000 burials.

 

After going straight, Humpty and his wife Bertha opened a pet shop.

After going straight, Humpty and his wife Bertha opened a pet shop.

 

Humpty Quits the Rackets

 

With the closing of the cemetery an era had ended, and the Hump decided to go straight. Humpty later told a Collier’s reporter:

 

“…I got Tired, tired of being pinched every time somebody I never heard of did something, tired of the same old burglar racket, slugging punks and not being able to go around outside my own district.”

 

Jackson settled down, got married, opened a pet shop, and went on to a new found fame as the hunchback gunman who had quit the rackets.

Hello everyone,

 

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been working on this mobster puppet series that I wrote, edited and puppeteered (I also built all of the puppets). I’m working on some new Infamous New York posts and hope to have them up in the coming weeks. I’m also in talks with a company to start doing walking tours if anyone has any interest.

 

Thanks! (check out the gangster puppets of the Mob Speak Institute Below)

 

 

 

Lucky Luciano Apartment Waldorf Astoria

Status: Standing

Location: 301 Park Avenue, Suite 39C

 

Sidestepping bullets, one-way rides and innumerable gang wars, he grew to be the master of prohibition era New York. He was vain, narcissistic, and volatile, a textbook sociopath, but he was also fabulously wealthy, an attribute about which most people could not boast during the Great Depression.

 

By the mid-1930s, Salvatore Lucky Luciano wanted to kickback and enjoy the fruits of his ill-gotten swindles. He had outgrown his “modest” suite in the Barbizon Plaza overlooking the Lake in Central Park and he wanted something a little nicer.

 

800px-Lucky_Luciano_mugshot_1931

 

The Toniest Address in New York

 

Driven by a massive inferiority complex, Lucky needed something bigger, something better, something swankier. He wanted no less than the toniest address in the whole City of New York. He wanted to live in the Waldorf Astoria Towers.

 

He later reminisced to Richard Hammer and Martin Gosch, authors of The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

 “I figured if everybody was gonna call me the boss, I was entitled to live in an apartment that was above Frank’s… the Towers was the best class address in New York.”

According the to Waldorf’s website:

“The Waldorf Towers represents the pinnacle of New York grandeur, with a long-established legacy of providing guests with exceptional privacy and personalized service.”

 

Privacy and personalized service were exactly what Luciano received at the Waldorf. He rented apartment 39C as Mr. Charles Ross and paid his $800 a month rent in hundred dollar bills.

 

Lucky Luciano Apartment, Frank Costello, Longy Zwillman, Meyer Lansky

Lucky Luciano lived in apartment 39c under the alias Charles Ross.

 

The gang lord could count on secrecy in his rooms where he entertained the moguls of the mob such as Longy Zwillman, Tony Bender, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. His criminal conspirators could then sneak out of Lucky’s pad and disappear into the city through the hotel’s packed arcade. A parking garage allowed the gangster to park his car and ride a private elevator to his room.

 

Lucky Luciano Waldorf Hotel

 

For kicks, Lucky would give the famed madam Polly Adler a ring and she would dispatch her best call girls. When Lucky felt more domestic, he spent evenings with his showgirl girlfriend, Gay Orlova.

 

Waldorf Int

 

It was a gangland dream come true, but things nearly went south when one of Lucky’s goons showed up at the front desk asking for Charlie Lucky. An outraged clerk stormed up to Luciano’s suite demanding answers.

 

Lucky recalled in The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

“…I knew the towers wasn’t gonna throw me out. After all, I was payin’ my rent regular, which was more than they could say about some of the bluebloods that was freeloadin’ there. So I figured it was payoff time.”

 

Greasing the Waldorf’s Wheels

Lucky placed the Astoria’s desk clerk on the payroll, greasing him with $200 a month.The bribes eventually paid off in March of 1936 when detectives from Thomas E. Dewey’s office stormed the lobby looking for the gangster. The clerk tipped off Luciano, and he hopped into his private elevator and roared off in his car.

 

Dewey eventually caught up with Lucky Luciano in Hot Springs Arkansas. He was sentence to 30 to 50 years for operating a massive prostitution ring. Lucky was sent to the frigid Dannemora Prison on the Canadian border where hoped for a day when he could return to linens, massages and private elevators.

 

Luciano would eventually return to the lap of luxury courtesy of the United States Navy.

Infamous-New-York-240-Centre-Street-Old-Police-Headquarters

Location: 240 Centre Street

Status: Landmarked (click for landmark report)

 

For over sixty-four years, police officers called it the big white castle, the nerve center of the nation’s largest and most sophisticated police department. Over the years, the New York City Police Department’s Centre Street headquarters would combat mobsters, bootleggers, jewel thieves and serial killers.

 

Built by the architectural firm: Hoppin, Koen and Huntington for approximately $750,000, Old Police Headquarters, or the Central Office as it was once called, represents one of the most beautiful Beaux-Arts masterpieces Manhattan has to offer.

 

The architect, Francis Hoppin stated:

“The building was not intended to look like a police station, but was inspired by the dignity of City Hall, the handsomest building on Manhattan Island… designed to impress both officer and prisoner…with the majesty of the law.”

 

Old NYPD Headquarters Infamous New York 240 Centre Street Police Building

The New York City Police Department headquarters stood at 240 Centre Street from 1909 to 1973.

 

Built between 1905 and 1909 on a wedge shaped parcel of land bounded by Grand, Centre and Broome Streets where the old Centre Market had stood since 1817, the new Headquarters was needed following the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898, when the police force quadrupled in size.

 

240 Centre Street Old Police Headquarters Infamous New York 2

 

On midnight November 29, 1909, Police Commissioner William F. Baker inaugurated New York’s era of scientific policing when telephone switchboards at the old police headquarters at 300 Mulberry were simultaneously shut down and transferred to the new Central Office.

 

240 Centre Street Old Police Headquarters Infamous New York

 

On the first floor of 240 Centre Street, visitors would find an ornate reception room. To the left of reception, guests could find the Chief Inspector’s office, the Bureau of Information and the Boiler Squad, a NYPD unit responsible for testing steam heaters in buildings throughout the city.

 

NYPD, Old Police Building, 240 Centre Street, Police Headquarters

The old New York Police Department headquarters was located at 240 Centre Street.

To the right of the reception room, the chief detective’s office could be found next to the line up room for criminal suspects, the homicide room and Lt. Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino’s famed Italian Squad.

 

The Italian Squad

 

Formed to investigate the growing threat of a criminal organization known as the Black Hand, Lt. Petrosino and his Italian speaking squad uncovered the existence of a secret criminal society known as the Mafia lurking in the shadows of New York’s Little Italy. Assassinated while investigating the Mafia in Sicily, Petrosino never had the chance to see the new Police Headquarters.

 

Michael Fiaschetti 2 Italian Squad Infamous New York

After the assassination of Joseph Petrosino, Michael Fiaschetti took command of the Italian Squad at 240 Centre Street.

Petrosino’s second in command, Michel Fiaschetti ran the Italian squad from 240 Centre street well into prohibition when the unit was disbanded. In addition to combating the Mafia, the Italian squad developed the nation’s first bomb squad to defuse bombs planted to extort Italian shopkeepers.

 

On the Second floor of Police Headquarters was the Commissioner’s office and the Bureau for Theatrical Licenses. On June 10, 1970, a bomb planted by the Weathermen exploded in a bathroom on the floor, blowing out windows and injuring eight people. (Click to read the story)

 

Another flight up was the Chief Clerk’s offices and a police science library, a room stocked with the most up to date texts on investigation, forensics and criminal identification.

 

The Police Academy

 

Housed on the fourth floor, the City’s Police Academy operated at 240 Centre street until it moved to 400 Broome Street in 1928. The facilities included a gym, a drill room, heavy bags and a running track.

 

The NYPD’s Nerve Center

 

The fifth floor existed as the Police Department’s nerve center, housing a sophisticated switchboard and dispatch system for the entire city. According to the New York Evening Post:

 

“The Switchboard is the most complete and costliest in the world, and every known improvement in telephones will be found there.” —New York Evening Post

 

3a46281r

Equipped with the latest technology of its time, the switchboard room was located on the 5th floor of 240 Centre Street.

 

Nearby in the Bertillon room, officers photographed and meticulously measured and recorded different parts and components of known criminals’ bodies. Their findings were then printed on 5”X3” index cards, an early system of criminal identification, and sent to the Old Police Headquarters’ Rouges Gallery. Fingerprinting eventually replaced the Bertillon system.

 

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The Rouges Gallery in 240 Centre Street. After criminal identification cards were created, the documents were stored here.

Secrets Beneath 240 Centre Street

 

The cellar boasted a pistol shooting range, the property clerk, 72 cells for high profile Detective Bureau prisoners, and most notably a secret tunnel. During prohibition, officers went to great lengths to get their drink on, digging a tunnel under Centre Street to O’Neill’s tavern so that the coppers could drink in uniform. Parts of the tunnel live on today as a wine cellar.

 

Gun Dealer’s Row

 

Almost overnight, gunsmiths and gun dealers sprouted up behind headquarters on Centre Market Place where officers could buy guns, billy clubs and uniforms. Famous gun dealers such as John Jovino and Frank Lava operated here for many years. According to the Village Voice:

 

“At one time, six gunsmiths—all Italian—operated out of storefronts along that block, A few yards down Broom Street, a single German plied the trade”—The Village Voice (click to read the article)

 

The Police Department officially closed 240 Centre Street in 1973, moving headquarters to 1 Police Plaza. Rather than relocating the historic records into an archive, the department unceremoniously dumped a half-century worth of police records into the East River. Headquarters was later converted into a luxury apartment building named the Old Police Building.

Socks Lanza, Yakey Yake Brady, Fulton Fishmarket, South Street Seaport, Corlears Hook, The Bridge Café, Roxy Vanella, Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano, NYPD, Harbor Patrol, Socco the Bracer, Patsy Conroy, Saul and Howlett, River Pirates, Paris Cafe, NYPD Museum

Click to enlarge map in a new window.

Murder, mayhem and river pirates are not among the listed tourist attractions at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, but that’s exactly what a sightseer would have encountered during much of the district’s history.

Once a major port in the 1800s, this salty strip of land on the East River attracted merchantmen from around the globe for its deep waters and ice free docking, but with millions of dollars of cargo arriving daily came the dreaded specter of New York’s earliest organized crime syndicates—river pirates.

Today’s boutiques were once brothels and the gastro pubs rum holes. To walk these streets at night was to play a real-life game of Lets Make a Deal. Behind door number one: a whorehouse. Behind door number two: a dog-fighting pit. Behind door number three: shanghaiing, murder and death. Allow this South Street Seaport Walking tour to take you back to the days when river pirates and mobsters ruled South Street.

 

Gangs of the South Street Seaport Walking Tour Map

 

1 First Precinct: NYPD Museum

Location: 100 Old Slip, www.nycpolicemuseum.org

Status: Closed for Renovation

1st precinct 20

There’s probably no better place to start a tour of the criminal history of the South Street Seaport than the New York City Police Department museum. Sandwiched between looming skyscrapers, the landmarked 1909 neo-Renaissance First Precinct building represents the first modern police building in the U.S. and a must see for law enforcement buffs. Usually ringed with vintage NYPD vehicles parked curbside, the NYC Police Museum is under restoration because of flooding during Hurricane Sandy. When it reopens, guests will be treated to vintage uniforms, Willy Sutton’s lock picks, old mug shots, and the Tommy gun used to assassinate Frankie Yale.

 

2 Fulton Fish Market

Location: Pier 18 South Street

Status: Landmarked

Fulton Fishmarket Project Underworld Navy and the Mafia WWII

It was the heart of the Seaport and the queen of South Street, an insular, self-regulated 188-year-old world populated by fishmongers and scoundrels and sea captains and Mafiosi. Now desolate and rusty, the battered, but landmarked, corrugated metal Tin Building on Pier 17 once stood as the district’s high temple of brine. If you get there early enough and squint into rising sun you might see them, the ghosts of the fish men who toiled from 1822 to 2005 in their blood spattered aprons under the predatory gaze of the gangs of New York.

The Mafia arrived in 1919, when a twenty-year-old character exploded onto the scene. His name was Joseph Lanza, but his mafia co-workers called the 230-pound bulldozer “Socks” because of the knockout force in his meat hooks. With the help of his knuckles, the mobster organized the United Seafood Worker’s Union, Local 202, and a goon squad incorporated as the Fulton Market Watchmen and Patrol Association on behalf of Joe “The Boss” Massaria and later Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese. Lanza died in 1968 amid the constant probes of both federal and state organized crime task forces.

The Romano twins, Carmine and Vincent, picked up where Socks left off, extending the reign of the Genovese crime family into the late 1990s. The Federal Government convicted the Romano’s for violations of the Taft-Hartley anti-monopoly act in 1981, which paved the way for Rudolph Giuliani to initiate a lawsuit that placed the Fish Market under Federal Custodianship. In 2005, the reek of fish and crime wafted from the Fulton Fish Market for the last time when the entire industry packed up for the Hunt’s Point in the Bronx.

 

3 Water Street

Location: Water Street

Most visitors who stroll over the uneven cobblestones of Water Street fail to realize that the social reformer Oliver Dryer once called this thoroughfare:

“…the wickedest block in the wickedest ward in the wickedest city in America…” –Oliver Dryer

By the mid-1800s, Sailors arrived daily on Water Street to booze and whore the night away, but the seamen were always one step away from death. Consisting of one block of bars, brothels, rat pits and gambling dens, Water Street existed as the nexus of waterfront crime—a place where pirates plotted their next score, fixed elections and wrapped the corpses of murdered sailors in chains for disposal. On Water Street violence was endemic. The dives and whorehouses and hellholes that lined this street had fitting names. There was Long Marry’s at No. 275 and Mother McBride’s at No. 340, but none were more infamous than Kit Burn’s Rat Pit.

 

4: Kit Burn’s Rat Pit

Location: 273 Water Street

Status: Landmarked

Web Kit Burns the Ratpit today 273 Water Street

Now luxury apartments, 273 Water Street once represented the heart of Water Street’s “sporting culture. Officially named Sportsmen’s Hall, Kit Burn’s Rat Pit existed as New York City’s premier dog fighting and rat baiting venue. In the pit, a gaslight illuminated octagon, eighteen inches high, sixteen feet long, and eight feet wide, Kit pitted dogs against dogs and terriers against gigantic wharf rats in gladiatorial matches that would have made the Ancient Romans blush.

The pit was a family affair, and Kit ran business with his wife and daughter, Kitty, a dame well acquainted with the business end of a wooden club. For fun Kit brought in his son-in-law Jack the Rat, a character who would bit the head off a rat for a quarter a chomp. Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, eventually put the bite on the Rat Pit and closed the establishment with the help of the NYPD. For a longer story on Kit Burn’s Rat Pit: https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/10/22/kit-burns-rat-pit/

 

5: The Bridge Café

Location: 279 Water Street Status: Closed for Renovation

http://bridgecafenyc.com

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bride Café on Water Street was once known as the Hole-In-The-Wall Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity.

Nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, the Bridge Café exists as New York City’s last remaining pirate bar. Back in the 1870’s, the café was called the Hole-in-the-Wall Saloon. Owned and operated by Jack Perry and his wife, Mag Perry, the infamous Gallus Mag. A suffragette, before women’s suffrage became popular, Gallus earned her nickname from the unthinkable act of wearing trousers, rather than dresses, and holding them up with galluses or suspenders. When clients gave her trouble, Gallus often bit off their ears and dropped them in a pickling jar behind the bar. One-Armed Charley Monell later took over the bar and converted the upper floors into a brothel. By the 1900s, the Bridge Cafe became a hangout for the Yakey Yake Brady gang. For a longer story Gallus Mag the Bridge Café: https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/11/14/save-the-bridge-cafe-new-york-citys-last-pirate-bar/

 

6: Vanella’s Funeral Chapel

Location: 29 Madison Street Status: Open

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An original member of Johnny Torrio’s James Street Gang, Roxie Vanella (Namesake of Vanella’s funeral chapel) followed Torrio to Chicago, leaving a crime spree in his wake. After killing a corrupt police officer and beating the charges, Vanella returned to Corlears Hook in New York and opened this funeral chapel at 29 Madison Street. For the complete story on Roxie Vanella: https://infamousnewyork.com/tag/vanellas-funeral-chapel/

 

7: Yakey Yake Brady and the Rumble for Cherry Street

Location: Cherry Street

Yaley Yake Brady

They came from the west with plunder on their minds and bucking revolvers in their hands. It was hard to say why in the spring of 1903 the thousand strong Monk Eastman mob turned their greedy paws on the slums of Cherry Street, but for John “Jake Yakey Yake” Brady it meant war.

Raised in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Yakey Yake carved out a fiefdom in the Irish slum known as The Gap in the northerly hollow of Cherry Street. A former jockey and barrel maker, Brady’s professions didn’t prevent him from mixing it up with the rowdies. Arrested dozens of times for scores of “accidental” and intentional shootings, Brady became the most feared man in Corlears Hook with a reputation so dreadful that when a longshoreman pressed assault charges on Yake; the dockworker hanged himself rather than face the hoodlum’s retribution.

When Monk Eastman came for Yake’s waterfront kingdom, the blood of gangsters turned the East River red. As the New York Sun put it:

“Under the bridge, revolver shots have echoed by twos and threes and by hundreds.”—The New York Sun, 1903

Because of the Monk’s superior numbers, Yake formed an alliance with Eastman’s perennial rival, Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang, who had a nearby outpost on James Street garrisoned by Johnny Torrio and Roxy Vanella. To dam the tsunami of violence, the police ringed the district with undercover officers with orders to frisk and arrest any armed goons. The cops put Yakey Yake under such pressure that the gang leader wagered his barrel making firm on a card game and won a wagon team that he used to relocate to Jersey City, where he died in 1904.

 

8: The Sinking of Socco the Bracer

Location: Pier 27, Foot of Jackson Street

Flash, fire and smoke, lit up the night sky on May 29, 1873, when members of the Patsy Conroy mob exchanged gunfire with the harbor police at Jackson Street’s Pier. Earlier that evening, Joseph “Socko the Bracer” Gayle, Danny Manning, and Benny Woods hijacked a rowboat and rowed out in search of the ship, Margaret. Two skiff-borne harbor cops noticed the river pirates scampering up the ship’s anchor chain. Officers Musgrave and Kelly opened fire.

The rogues dove into their rowboat and pulled away into the darkness. A champion rower, Officer Musgrave gave chase while his partner scanned the horizon with a lantern, which was greeted by a pistol blast. The police answered with their six-shooters and traded broadsides with the thugs like a man-o’-war until a bullet tore through Socko. His companions pitched him overboard and the river bandit sunk to the bottom like a lead plated mackerel. The authorities apprehended Benny Woods the next day. Unfortunately, the Margaret sailed for China with the witnesses, ending any chance of a conviction.

9: Murder on the East River: The Saul and Howlett Story

Location: East River, Foot of Oliver Street

On the night of August 25, 1852, a pistol shot rang out from the Thomas Watson, a cargo ship anchored at the foot of Oliver Street. As Charles Baxter, the ship’s night watchman bled to death, two pirates rifled through the dying man’s clothing. The thieves then heard the rapping of a police nightstick against the cobble stone street, the signal for reinforcements in the days before police whistles.

A dozen lantern-carrying police officers sprinted to the scene, collaring William Saul and Nicholas Howlett, two river-borne rogues that Herbert Asbury incorrectly identified as leaders of the Daybreak Boys. (Former Chief of Police George Walling believed that the two men were the leaders of the Hook Gang) Whatever their affiliation, Saul and Howlett terrorized the waterfront for over a decade and the Chief credited the pair with twenty murders. The Baxter murder; however, would become one of the most sensational stories of the decade, signaling the end of the East River pirates. Saul and Howlett were found guilty of the murder were hanged in the Tomb’s courtyard on January 28, 1853. Bill “The Butcher” Poole attended the hanging to wish his river pirate friends farewell.

 

10: The Wickedest Man in America:

John Allen’s Dance Hall

Location: 304 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Priests, police and just about everyone else in New York City called John Van Allen the wickedest man in New York, and he reveled in it. In less than twenty years, Allen amassed over 113 arrests for running disorderly houses across the city, but his most infamous den was this now demolished Water Street dancehall.

The three-story bordello at 304 Water Street offered several dance floors, an orchestra pit and booths for sex serviced by Allen’s crew of twenty ladies of the night. A natural self-promoter, Allen set the tabloids aflame with his wacky antics even attracting the attention of Mark Twain who described Allen as, “a tall, plain, boney, fellow, with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water Street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face.” In reality, Allen probably wasn’t the wickedest man on Water Street by a long shot (his brother’s The. And Wes were far more wicked), but after his ceaseless campaigning for the title, the moniker stuck when the fishmonger transformed his whorehouse into New York City’s wackiest religious revival.

 

11 The NYPD Harbor Patrol

The murder of the ship watchman Charles Baxter by the infamous desperados Nicholas Howlett and William Saul alerted the public to waterfront crisis. Chief Walling commented on his battles with Saul and Howlett in his autobiography. He wrote,

“My investigations in this murder opened up to me a chapter in the annals of crime, of full horrors of which I never dreamed…human monsters prowled around our river fronts…who thought no more of the life of a man than that of a chicken.” Police Chief George Washington Walling

Following the Saul and Howlett case, the Police Department organized its first harbor patrol of several rowboats and took the war to the seas. The department purchased a steam ship named the Deer, which functioned as a fulltime floating station house. In 1858, the Metropolitan Police Force expanded the harbor unit to 57 men, six rowboats and the paddle wheel steamer, Senica. The men of the harbor police used to joke that the steamship was only fast when she was tied to the pier. The Senica was an abject failure that only made one arrest before burning to the waterline in 1880. Despite the failure of the flagship, the harbor force brought the pirates to their knees, pacifying the waters of the East River by the turn of the century and driving crime to the shores.

 

12 Meyer Hotel, The Paris Café and Project Underworld

Location: 119 South Street

Status: Landmarked

To complete your tour of the South Street Seaport, step into the Paris Café and have a drink at its original, hand-carved bar and ponder its history. Home to longshoremen, sea captains and mobsters, the Paris Café has served beer since 1873.

Constructed by alcohol merchant Henry Meyer, the Meyer Hotel and its Paris Café stood out as the poshest hotel and bar in the district. Thomas Edison, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Theodore Roosevelt all spent time in the building before beginning voyages to Europe and South America. When the passenger steamship lines moved their docks to the new Chelsea Piers terminal, the hotel fell into disrepair and the mafia took control.

By the 1930’s, Albert Anastasia and Louis Lepke Buckhaulter regularly met in the bar. Upstairs in the hotel, Socks Lanza orchestrated his fish empire. Socks controlled the Seaport with such impunity that the U.S. Navy came calling for the racketeer in the 1940s with an unusual proposition. They wanted him to help fight the Nazis.

Eventually with Lanza’s help, naval agents embedded themselves on the Atlantic fishing fleets to observe German submarines. Lucky Luciano was even contacted in Dannemora prison to help plan the invasion of Sicily.

For more information on Project Underworld: Allegiance between the Navy and the Mafia.

New York Prison Archives Digitized- Free to New York Residents
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