Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's In A Name? If It's Cornell Edwards Way, Quite A Bit: Part One

Bill, Cornell's partner of five decades is collecting signatures supporting the co-naming of 13th Street "Cornell Edwards Way". Stop by at 143 E. 13th Street and sign the petition!

In the meantime, settle in, get comfy and read Part One of the story of how such a simple request to acknowledge Cornell's 43 years of contribution to New York City came about.

Once upon a time...
...maybe in the 60's if not before...

... Second and Third Avenue around 13th Street and 12th Streets and perhaps other streets in our little neighborhood were peppered with SROs and "hotels" with names like Dover, the Village East, the Regina, and the Sahara. Even Schneller's had SROs.

The neighborhood was filled with businesses and families that had been there for years and years and generations and generations. Hudsons Army and Navy took up most of Third Avenue between 12th and 13th and the 97 year old founder still worked the cash register. (I remember this place well, the sagging floors, the floor to ceiling shelves piled high with jeans and the couple of times a then-friend shoplifted there). The barber shop school was there too, a wide expanse of many chairs and many beginner scissors and buzzers.

Across the street was Harry's Haberdashery where you could get two suits for $29. The rest of Harry's was uninhabited but in his building on 13th Street, Harry rented a room it an old man, maybe 100 years old. Once a week the old man would appear and take fifteen minutes to cross the street. Cars had wait until he got far across for them to scoot around him.

Manufacturers lined 13th street which is why the American Felt building is called the American Felt building. There were felt manufacturers there. (Now it's just famous for luxury lofts and Tom Cruise.)

Bill and Cornell lost their apartment on Second Avenue, and were exiled to Yorkville. But they wanted to come home. They looked around the neighborhood and found 143 E. 13th Street.

At the time, it was SROs and perhaps a "hotel" that was rented by the hour. A older gentleman was entering his third decade of leasing the building when he had an unfortunate meeting with a gun from someone who might have been visiting one of his rooms. Well, the older gentleman's son put his foot down. That building and its business was too dangerous.

Bill stepped forward with an offer to buy out the rest of the lease for $2000 and take over the monthly rent of $225. This rent was not for one apartment. This was the rent for the entire building. He and Cornell moved in. As Cornell worked in the boy's department at Abraham and Strauss, Bill replaced the broken coal boiler, the water lines, patched up the apartments and every week would put another piece of rooming board furniture in the empty storefront with a sign "Furniture of the Week". The sales covered some expenses.

And then one day in 1966, Cornell quit the boy's department and said to Bill, "I want to open a flower store. It's going to be called The Flower Stall." And with a name but no store, the adventure began.

Part Two: The neighborhood