Walking New York

A fat lazy idiot tries to walk every street in Manhattan.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Streets You've Never Heard Of: Lispenard Street Edition

If you've ever gotten confused between West Broadway and Broadway and wandered around SoHo in a suit for 45 minutes worrying because you're really late for an interview and sweating because it's 5000 degrees but nevertheless buying one of those coconuts with the straws in it from Canal Street (overrated), then you might have been on Lispenard Street without knowing it. In more habitable parts of the city, 45th Street might be helpfully labeled West 45th or East 45th, just to remind stupid people where they are. But downtown, West Broadway, Broadway, and East Broadway are three different streets. Take note.

Lispenard runs the two blocks from West Broadway to Broadway just south of Canal Street. Crowd-wise, if Canal Street represented New York City, Lispenard would be Barrow, Alaska. I don't have any pictures of Canal yet, so imagine that classic picture of a dozen people in a phone booth, but spread out over about a mile of fish-smelling streets. I hate Canal Street, but somewhere inside of me, I think I'd miss it if it was gone. Like the movie North. Here's what Lispenard looks like:

Notice the theme of dangling fire escape ladders. This continued all the way up the street, at least 4 buildings in a row. I come from a place that when there's a fire, you walk out the front door with your dog and laptop and drive to a hotel to go back to sleep, so I guess I just don't understand these, but I can't really picture how they work. Do they just slam to the ground to make stairs? Is there a release button somewhere? What if someone's underneath it (like in the picture)?

Anyway, there's a post office garage on the block (possibly the back of the Canal Street Post Office, which is a pretty cool building if you're looking to get out of the air conditioning for a while), and the truck in the middle is some kind of super postal transport vehicle that I wish I took a better picture of.

Naturally, there were a lot of mail trucks parked on the block, which ruined the quiet residential feel, but I guess the dull roar of illegal commerce drifting down from Canal Street was already doing that.

Finally, at the Broadway end of Lispenard was another example of When Capitalism Attacks, a nice building that used to be the National City Bank of New York (click the photo and you should be able to see it etched in the building), but that's now home to a Payless Shoes. I guess it fits, because this building is right next to Canal Street, which is basically Payless Everything.


At 12:02 PM, Anonymous tamasha said...

So, this is my suggestion for a walk on the LES. Lots of "Steets You've Never Heard Of" like Rutgers, Madison, Jefferson, Pitt, Attorney, Ridge, Sheriff... The list goes on. Enjoy!

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I had been in New York but a few days, when Mr. Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took me to his boarding-house at the corner of Church and Lespenard ..."
This was taken from the Narative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas. The most compelling book I have ever read and I feel is a Must Read for anyone seeking to understand American History. He tells of his journey from slavery to freedom and mentions several geographic locations that I am tracing. Thankyou for your article highlighting this street.

At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fire escapes you mention are called "counter balanced fire escapes". The idea is they stay in the neutral position (as shown in the photo) unless they are needed. When a fire occurs people evacuating the building only have to put a little weight on the steps and they slowly lower to the ground allowing the user to reach the street without having to unhook, unlatch or operate anything. These loft buildings have been there for years and many of them are quite beautiful. The design of the fire escapes may not be so pleasing to the eye but when the structures built they were factories etc.
I don't know where you come from but escaping a fire is not as easy as walking out the front door with your lap top and finding a hotel room.

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At 12:01 AM, Blogger Jerome Williams said...

Lispenard Street is nice. It is home to Nancy Whiskey Pub (Bless all within) and the Civil Service Bookstore. Saluggi's, aka West Point Coffee Shop, sits on the corner of Lispenard and Church and is a righteous place to eat. Those buildings with the fire escapes are cool to look at. Thanks for the nice piece about Lispenard Street. I think that it was named after Stewart Lispenard (and there's another chapter in your story) Keep well.

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