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Posts Tagged ‘Mulberry Street’

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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John Gotti's Ravenite Social Club

Address: 247 Mulberry Street

Status: Shoe Store http://cydwoq-ny.com/

 

On first glance, 247 Mulberry Street looks like nothing more than another high-end boutique in NoLita, but the cracked tiled floors of the CYDWOQ shoe store offers a glimpse back to the days when the mob ruled New York. Once a mafia nerve center entrenched in the core of Little Italy, the Ravenite Social Club hosted the Anastasia and later Gambino Crime Family for 66 years.

 

ravenite

 

The Knights of Alto Social Club

The mafia social club started life in 1926 as the Knights of Alto Social Club. A regular den of thieves, patrons included Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia and his chief enforcer, Aniello Dellacroce.  Tzar of the Brooklyn docks, Albert Anastasia operated the Knights of Alto Social club as his Manhattan outpost and drop off point for pay offs.

 

Father O’Neil Dellacroce

Neil Dellacroce, an old time Murder Inc. hitman, made his bones with Anastasia in the wild days of prohibition. The mobster, who lived across the street from the Ravenite, had a slew of nicknames including Neil, Mr. Neil, O’Neil, The Polack, The Tall Guy and most interestingly: Father O’Neil on account of the time he went on a hit dressed like a Roman Catholic Priest. According to NYPD Detective Ralph Salerno:

 

“You looked at Dellacroce’s eyes and you could see how frightening they were…The frigid glare of a killer.” Organized Crime Detective Ralph Salerno

 

dellacroce

Aniello Dellacroce

 

The 1963 Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics hearings had this to say about Mr. Neil:

 

Aniello Dellacroce, he is known as O’Neil. He is in gambling, shylocking, and extortion and strong arm. He has 10 arrests, 5 convictions…he has been involved in floating dice games, gambling, shylocking. He was involved with Al Anastiasia in Cuba in gambling and dice.” –Hearings on Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics, 1963

 

aniello-dellacroce

Dellacroce lived across the street from the Ravenite in this tenement.

 

The Ravenite Under New Management:

After Carlo Gambino and Vito Genovese toppled Albert Anastasia, Gambino purchased 247 Mulberry Street, renamed the club the Ravenite and installed Dellacroce as his underboss. The relationship proved to be incredibly lucrative with Gambino providing the brains and Mr. Neil providing the trigger-men. With Dellacroce’s help Gambino inched his way into total control of the Mafia Commission. By the time of his death in 1976, the Gambino Family boasted 500 made men and thousands of associates, but with Carlo gone, a chasm threatened to rip the Gambino’s in half.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

 

Showdown With Big Paul Castellano

On his deathbed, Don Carlo named his son in law Big Paul Castellano the new boss of the Gambino family.  A schism immediately erupted between the Dellacroce’s blue collar soldiers and Castalano’s white collar followers. Big Paul had dreams of taking the Gambino’s legitimate, but Mr. Neil’s followers preferred gunplay and drug dealing.

 

To prevent an underworld war, Dellacroce swore fealty to Castellano and all was well in mob land. Around this time, Dellacroce would take an up-and-coming hoodlum named John Gotti under his wing.  The Queens based Gotti would do much to exacerbate the friction between Mr. Neil and Big Paul. Gotti openly trafficked narcotics, despite Castellano’s ban, punishable by burial in the East River.

 

By the mid-1980’s the center did not hold. Dying of cancer Dellacroce, Castellano,  and the rest of the Mafia Commission were facing a RICO trial with 100 year prison sentences. After the death of Dellacroce, Gotti struck, rubbing out Big Paul.

The Short Reign of Gotti

To celebrate his status as the new Gambino chieftain, Gotti picked up his headquarters, moving it from Queens to the Ravenite in 1985.  With Castellano in the morgue and the other bosses imprisoned for 100 years, Gotti became the FBI’s top target. Gambino capos paraded in and out of the Ravenite to give Gotti their blessings as the new boss, providing FBI surveillance teams with a road map of the Gambino Family. However, the FBI needed more, they needed wiretaps.

 

ravenite-floor

The original floor within the Ravenite Social Club still remains.

 

 

The Ravenite Gets Bugged

To take Gotti down, the FBI knew it needed to penetrate the Teflon Don’s inner sanctum: The Ravenite.  Jim Kallestrom’s FBI electronics wizards bugged the club in 1988 but their recordings proved to be fruitless. According to Jules Bonavolonta’s The Good Guys:

 

“Once it was in, however, the thing was virtually worthless. Gotti and his boys played jazz and old show tunes on a radio—constantly… ”-Jules Bonavolonta, The Good Guys

 

The paranoid gangsters even went as far as to install a white noise machine to further thwart FBI bugs. Bruce Mouw’s Agents listened and waited. Gotti it seemed disappeared for long stretches of time and nothing incriminating was recorded.

 

 

Perplexed, the agents questioned their informants and discovered whenever Gotti needed to discuss “real heavy stuff” he exited the Ravenite. Using a side door that entered into the apartment building’s hallway, Gotti crept to an apartment on the third floor rented by the widow of a former wiseguy.
An FBI special operations team planted wiretaps in this apartment and hit paydirt. In this inner sanctum, Gotti discussed murders, mayhem and a bevy of other crimes with his top henchmen, Sammy the Bull Gravano and Frankie Loc Locascio.  The Teflon Don was convicted in 1992 of murder, illegal gambling, bribery, tax evasion and a host of other crimes. Federal Marshals later seized the building and auctioned it off to the highest bidder.

 

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