Posts Tagged ‘Irving Berlin’

Tong War Gangs of Chinatown Map Title

Tong Wars: Gangs of Chinatown Map Click to Enlarge in a New Window
Tong Wars:
Gangs of Chinatown Map
Click to Enlarge in a New Window

1.Hip Sing Headquarters

15 Pell Street

This non-descript building is the current headquarters of the over 100-year-old Hip Sing tong. Founded in San Francisco during the gold rush, the Hip Sings were brought to New York City by Laing Yue in the 1890s. Mock Duck (see 15) would eventually become their most infamous leader. The Hip Sings still control much of the vice in Chinatown through their association with gangs like the Flying Dragons.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Dragons


2. Chinese Theater Massacre

5-7 Doyers Street

On August 7, 1905, Hip Sing headman, Mock Duck, ordered several of his boo how doy, or hitmen to go on a rampage. Led by his top gunman Sing “The Scientific Killer” Dock, they entered the Chinese theater and opened fire using exploding firecrackers to cover their gunshots. 4 On Leongs were killed.

Click to read a more detailed story on the Chinese Theater Massacre. https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/09/01/the-chinese-theater-massacre/


3.  Chinatown Tunnels Entrance

5 Doyers Street

Back around the turn-of-the-century, Chinatown was infested with a warren of tunnels that were used for smuggling, gambling, and quick getaways from the cops. 5 Doyers Street is the last accessible vestige of this tunnel network known today as the Wing Fat Shopping arcade. Oh, and by the way, they don’t like guests.


4. First opium den in the city

13 Pell Street

Wah Kee, one of Chinatown’s first residents, set up shop here some time around 1868. On the ground floor he sold Chinese curios and exotic foods, but upstairs was where the real action was. Along with a fan-tan gambling parlor, Kee ran Chinatown’s first opium den, which was completely legal at the time.


5. Tong War Peace Treaty

7-9 Mott

Following the Chinese Theater Massacre (see 2), Chinatown was in lockdown. The bombings, shootings and hatchet murders had completely disrupted vice in the district, and Tammany Hall’s Big Tom Foley stepped in to end the bloodshed. With the help of General Sessions Judge Warren W. Foster, Foley brokered a peace, making Mott Street On Leong territory, Mott Street Hip Sing territory and Doyers Street neutral ground.

To celebrate the truce, the rival gangs headed to the swankest joint in all of turn-of-the-century Chinatown, The Port Arthur Restaurant, and proceeded to get hammered. Tom Lee (see 13) supposedly guzzled 107 mugs of rice wine at the shindig.


6. Nom Wah Tea Parlor

13 Doyers Street

In business since 1920, the Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the closest you’ll get to authentic early 20th century dim sum. The restaurant has nothing to do with crime or tongs, but if you’re touring the Bloody Angle (see 8) be sure to give the traditional eggrolls a try.


7. Mike Salter’s Saloon

12 Pell Street

One of Big Tom Foley’s chief election captains, Mike Salter ran a gang that included Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker from this ragtime saloon named The Pelham Café. Irving Berlin worked here as a singing waiter, and under the threat of a beating, Salter forced him to write his first song, launching Berlin’s music-making career. Upstairs, Salter ran a multiple story opium den managed by Big Mike Abrams.

Click to read more about Mike Salter’s Pelham Café https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/08/12/mike-salters-pelham-cafe-birthplace-of-irving-berlin/


8. The Bloody Angle, Doyers Street

Sandwiched between Pell and Mott, Doyers Street has one of the most crooked histories in town. Neutral ground for the feuding On Leong and Hip Sing Tongs, Doyers has been the site of more than one full-scale kung-fu rumble, earning it the nickname, “The Bloody Angle.”


9. On Leong Headquarters

83-89 Mott Street

This awe-inspiring pagoda towering over Chinatown is the current headquarters of the hundred-year-old On Leong Tong. Led by Tom “The Mayor of Chinatown” Lee (see 13), the tong still presides over much of the vice in Chinatown today trough the use of gangs like the Ghost Shadows. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Shadows


10. Bow Kum Murder

17 Mott

In 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law deliberately designed to artificially limit the number of Chinese women in America. By 1890, less than 3.6 percent of all Chinese residents of America were female, a drastic sex imbalance that would lead to many Tong wars, such as the case of Bow Kum, a Chinese slave girl purchased at auction in San Francisco for $3,000 by Hip Sing member Low Hee Tong.

After Christian missionaries freed Bow Kum from slavery, she traveled to New York and married Tchin Len, a farmer who also happened to be a member of the On Leongs. When Low Hee caught up with his expensive ex-wife, he demanded her back, the On Leongs refused, and the tongs went to war. On August 15, 1909, a Hip Sing hatchetman slipped into Len’s apartment at 15 Mott Street and hacked Bow Kum to death, instantly kicking off one the bloodiest tong struggles.


11. 5th Precinct

19 Elizabeth Street

Opened in 1882, the 5th Precinct has policed Chinatown for more than 100 years, raiding opium dens, busting up fan-tan games, and bringing justice to the tongs. Designed by NYPD sergeant and architect Nathaniel Bush, the precinct contained 12 cells for women and 16 cells for men.


12. The Death of Funny Man Ah Hoon

10 Chatham Square

During the Bow Kum War, the Hip Sing Tong posted a public death threat against the On Leong comedian Ah Hoon. Apparently Hoon’s act of skewing the Hip Sings had pissed off the gangsters for the last time. On December 30, 1909, two patrolmen from the 5th precinct protected Hoon during his act at the Chinese Theater and escorted him though the Chinatown tunnels to his home.

The cops left him with a warning not to leave his room before they left him for the night, but a thirsty Hoon ignored their warning and opened his door for a glass of water. Hip Sing gunmen waiting in the shadows opened fire killing him instantly.


13. The Mayor of Chinatown’s Home, Tom Lee

18 Mott

People called him the Mayor of Chinatown and for good reason. Tom Lee was the headman of the On Leong Tong, controlling much of the gambling, prostitution, and opium in Chinatown. His power was so great that Tammany Hall politician Big Tom Foley made him a city sheriff. He lived here at 18 Mott Street for much of his life.


14. Wing Fat Mansion: Chinatown Tunnels

7 Chatham Square

Built in 1920, this condominium’s lobby is the exit to the Chinatown tunnels. They really, really, do not like visitors.


15. Mock Duck Strikes Again

23 Mott Street

One of the most vicious gunmen in Chinatown, Mock Duck was a gangster known for going about the streets armed with two revolvers, a hatchet, and a suit of chain-mail armor.  He was tried three times for murdering a tailor here, but he was never convicted.


16. The Big Flat

96-98 Mott Street and 9 Elizabeth Street


The Big Flat started with the greatest of intentions. It was supposed to be a model for the future housing of the poor. Built as the first model tenement, the building was eventually devoured by the people it hoped to save, becoming one gigantic opium den. On December 8, 1884, detectives from the 5th Precinct raided the building. Fifteen people were arrested including Tom Lee’s (see 13) nephew.

If you think I’m missing a good map point that I can include, let me know!

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Mike Salter. Pelham Cafe

12 Pell Street

Status: Standing

Nestled among the steaming chop suey joints and smoldering opium dens of turn of the last century Chinatown, there was a dingy saloon that spilled ragtime piano into the moonlight.

On any given night, the bar played host to a packed crowd of millionaires and murders, pickpockets and tourists, all on account of The Professor on the piano and a seventeen year old singing waiter named Izzy Baline, who would one day be known as Irving Berlin.

Mike Salter's Pelham Cafe. Birthplace of Irving Berlin.

12 Pell Street today. The site was once home to Mike Salter’s election rigging gang. The ragtime piano saloon was the birthplace of the Irving Berlin.


The place was The Pelham Café, headquarters of the unbelievably politically incorrectly nicknamed Nigger Mike Salter, a Russian-Jewish gangster. The papers called Mr. Salter the uncrowned prince of Chinatown, and the prince had his hands in everything: prize-fights, dice games, opium parlors, and most of all, politics. He was rumored to have killed ten men on the road to becoming Big Tom Foley’s chief election captain, and Salter’s specialty was getting out the vote.


The House of a Hundred Entrances


False registration, ballot box stuffing, and good old fashioned repeat voting earned Salter a special place in the heart of Tammany Hall. As a reward in 1904, the Hall permitted him to open a saloon in the Chinatown vice district in a tenement known as the house of a hundred entrances located at 12 Pell Street.

Salter spared no expense decorating the joint. Ivory inlaid teak furniture filled the front room. Red burlap wallpaper, framed by gold paint, lined the walls. Sawdust covered the floors, and a dense, ever-present fog of bluish cigar smoke hung above the bar, a bar that sat the A-list of the New York sporting set.


A Den of Ragtime and Vice


Characters like Big Mike Abrams, Chuck Connors, Staten Island Sally, and Hoboken Harriet, wined, dined, and danced the night away. At the bar, Sulky, a homicidal loanshark that kept a tidy ledger, served brews to gangland’s finest. Part time pugilist and full time gangster, Jack Sirocco, and his chief gorilla, Chick Tricker, could be found there on the regular.

In the back room, the Professor, “Nick” Nicholson manned a tinpan piano while Izzy the singing waiter belted out raunchy versions of hit songs that kept Chinatown abuzz.


Mike Salter Pelham Cafe Irving Berlin

Mike Salter’s Pelham cafe was located at 12 Pell Street in the heart of the old Five Points district.


Nobility Visits The Pelham


Word spread of Izzy’s musical talents, and Chuck Connors guided legions of celebrity slummers through the saloon’s double doors. John Jacob Astor, Sir Thomas Lipton (of tea fame), and August Belmont all came to sample the hullabaloo, but nothing could top the visit by Prince Louis of Battenberg, a Rear Admiral in the British Navy and the fourteen reporters following him.

Before leaving the prince remarked to Izzy:

I have had a delightful time, not dreariness, not weariness, and not one bit lonesome.



Prince Louis of Battenberg.


When the prince attempted to tip Izzy, the singing waiter waved away the coin, exclaiming:

No, sir, it was my honor to sing.

On the Prince’s way out, Izzy and the orchestra of banjos, coronets, and fiddles stuck up a ragtime version of God Save the King.


The Making of Irving Berlin

By this point Salter knew he had something. Inspired by booze, he badgered Izzy and The Professor into writing a song because of the success of “My Mariucci Take a Steamboat”, a ditty written in a rival saloon on Doyers street.



The result of their collaboration was: “Marie from Sunny Italy.” The effort earned Izzy a whopping thirty-seven cents; but more importantly, the sheet music listed the lyricist as I. Berlin, and Irving Berlin was born.




Berlin later reminisced:

It was an important song, though, because it did get me out of Chinatown.


However, Salter’s success was short lived. In 1907, the police arrested The Prince of Chinatown on charges of false voter registration. Marshals closed down his bar, and Salter skipped bail and skidooed off to Canada for three years. Berlin wouldn’t see his boss again until 1922, when he came to pay his respects at Salter’s Funeral.

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