On the Flatfoot Beat

In 1929, some of New York’s Finest also enjoyed working at one of the finest police headquarters to be found anywhere.

July 20, 1929 cover by Leonard Dove. Note the construction worker’s whoopee cap—a popular hat among laborers, especially auto mechanics, in the 1920s and 30s. Hardhats did not come into general use until the late 1930s and 1940s. In popular culture, the whoopee cap was worn by the gas station attendant “Goober” on the Andy Griffith Show. The character “Jughead” also sported one in the Archie comic book series.

NYPD’s elegant headquarters at 240 Centre Street, designed by architects Hoppin & Koen, were built in 1909 to serve a newly consolidated police department charged with overseeing the city’s five boroughs (which had been united a decade earlier). Made of Indiana limestone, the building included 75 basement cells, a drill room, and a gymnasium.

VROOM VROOM…New York City motorcycle police, circa 1929. (Pinterest)

Writing for the July 20, 1929 “Reporter at Large” column, Niven Busch, Jr. looked in on a day in the life of the 20-year-old headquarters:

WHERE THE ACTION IS…Clockwise, from top left: Postcard depicting the new police headquarters at 240 Centre Street, built in 1909 to serve the newly consolidated five-borough police department; a woman in a cell at the Tenderloin station, probably similar to the cells described in Busch’s article; prisoner posing for a mug shot; the building’s Rogues Gallery. All images from 1909. (Ephemeral New York/Library of Congress (3)) click to enlarge images

Busch described the morning routine of lining up prisoners in the gymnasium for their mug shots…

…and how confiscated weapons were stored, and periodically dumped into the Narrows…

AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA…Weapons seized in Chinatown by the NYPD in 1922. The police periodically dumped their inventory of seized weapons into the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island. (NYPD Public Records)

Busch also described the methods used by “drug peddlers,” and the prevalence of drug use among perps:

Where detectives gathered and where prisoners were once processed is now home to luxury condos in a posh district called “Nolita” (although some folks still call the area “Little Italy”)…

CRIME DOES NOT PAY?…The 1909 Police Headquarters Building at 240 Centre Street was remodeled into luxury co-op apartments in 1988. A contemporary photo of the lobby gives some idea of the elegance of the old HQ. Adding to that elegance, the area surrounding the building is no longer “Little Italy.” Rather, it is surrounded by posh shops in an area now known as “Nolita.” (street easy.com)
Another view of the sumptuous lobby at 240 Centre Street. (realtor.com)

…and in the gymnasium where hardened criminals once lined up for mugshots we now find a four-bedroom condo that has been priced as high as $31 million (but now valued at about half that amount)…

Architect Charles Gwathmey designed this 6,600-square-foot condo in what was once the police gymnasium—which also functioned as the room where mugshots were taken. On and off the market since 2008, at one point the asking price was $31 million. (6sqft.com)

…and at the top of the building, a 5,500-square-foot penthouse can be found in the central clock tower. Spanning four stories and including two kitchens, a media room, a library, an elevator, the space was once owned by Calvin Klein

The penthouse at the top of the old police headquarters spans four stories. It has been priced as high as $40 million. (Architectural Digest)

 *  *  *

Before Bow Bowed Out

One of the biggest stars of the silent film era, Clara Bow (1905-1965) made a successful transition to the “talkies,” thanks in part to her huge and loyal following. But as the Roaring Twenties slowly lost its fizz, one of its biggest icons also seemed a bit flat in the new age of sound motion pictures. And indeed, Bow herself would walk away from it all two years later, retiring to her Nevada ranch at the age of 25. In the July 20 issue, the New Yorker reviewed Bow’s first talking picture, Dangerous Curves:

Clockwise, from top left, Kay Francis and Clara Bow as circus performers in 1929’s Dangerous Curves; Bow with clown in publicity shot for the movie; promotional poster; with co-star Richard Arlen, who also appeared with Bow in the 1927 romantic war picture, Wings. (Pinterest)

And while we are on the topic of celebrity actors, “The Talk of the Town” looked in on Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959),a prominent member of the famed, multigenerational Barrymore acting family…

“Talk” mentioned Barrymore’s children, including an “oldest son, Russell,” but there is no mention of such a child in any records. My best guess is that her oldest son, Samuel, went by his father’s name—Russell Griswold Colt. Barrymore and Colt divorced in 1923, and she never remarried…

Clockwise, from top left, Ethel Barrymore circa 1930; Siblings John Barrymore (standing) Lionel Barrymore, and Ethel with John’s son, John Barrymore Jr, who was the father of Drew Barrymore (inset); cover of program for Scarlet Sister Mary; Ethel with her children Samuel Peabody Colt, Ethel Barrymore Colt and John Drew Colt in the 1930s. (crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/Playbill/Pinterest)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with an “open seat poncho” offered by B. Altman to those unfortunate souls who were relegated to the rumble seat. I am perplexed by this feature in some early autos—it looks kind of fun if you’re a kid, but I can’t imagine a worse place to sit in a car. Not only are you open to the elements, but you’re also subject to peltings by dust, gravel, rocks and other road debris, not the mention the exhaust your sucking into your lungs sitting near the tailpipe. And then you are positioned over the car’s rear axle—must have been a chiropractor’s dream…

…and that exhaust you were breathing likely contained tetraethyl lead, which helped to eliminate the “knock” in your engine…

…perhaps a better way to travel—if you could afford it—was a combination of rail and air, a service supervised by a “staff of experts” headed by none other than Charles Lindbergh

…when we think of the cigarette ads of yore, the “Marlboro Man” typically comes to mind. But Marlboro wasn’t the first to trade on the macho image of the working cowboy. That honor goes to the makers of menthol-cooled Spud cigarettes…

…and how was Marlboro being marketed at this time? Well, they were still exploiting young women who had been conned into participating in a “handwriting contest”…

…as for the makers of Lucky, they continued to get endorsements from some of the biggest celebrities of the day. In this ad we have English actress, singer and dancer Gertrude Lawrence (1898 – 1952). I have to say the drawing does not resemble her much at all…

SHE REALLY DID REACH FOR A LUCKY…Gertrude Lawrence enjoying a smoke with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr in 1939 (photo by Dorothy Wilding); a 1932 portrait of Lawrence by Paul Tanqueray; Lawrence and Noël Coward in Private Lives, 1931 (pinterest.co.uk/Wikipedia)
 * * *
…our comics are courtesy of Denys Wortman…

…and G. Wright…

Next Time: Ride of the Century…

 

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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