Friday, October 26, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Jefferson Market Library

Iwalked New York City’s Jefferson Market Library - The Jefferson Market Library, with its Victorian Gothic style 172-foot pyramidal turret, was voted as one of the five most beautiful buildings in America in 1885. The largest tower features a four-sided clock and stained glass windows throughout. The building is largely reminiscent of the 19th century Neuschwanstein castle in Germany that was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria. It is constructed primarily of red brick from Philadelphia and a lighter-colored stone quarried from Ohio.

Jefferson Market Library
Jefferson Market Library
The site of the Jefferson Market Library began as a marketplace in 1833 that was named for the third President of the United States. Alongside this marketplace was a wooden fire lookout tower, also constructed in 1833. From here sentinels would signal to the masses below a fire’s locale based upon the number times a bell atop the tower was rung.

This tower was replaced by the construction of the Third Judicial District Courthouse which was built based upon designs of Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux. A majority of the oversight fell upon Wither’s shoulders though as Vaux was in the final stages of work on a handful of other significant projects including Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. The courthouse was constructed over a period of 1874-1877 at a cost of $360,000.

The Third District Courthouse, formally known as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, was the site of a series of famous trials over the years. In 1906, millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw was tried here for the murder of famed architect Stanford White (best known for his designs of the second Madison Square Garden and Washington Square Arch). White was allegedly having an affair with Thaw’s wife and was ironically murdered within White’s Madison Square Garden during a chorus song of “I Could Love a Million Girls” from the musical Mam’zelle Champagne.
In 1927, actress Mae West was arrested and arraigned here on obscenity charges for her role in the Broadway play Sex. West was sentenced to a fine of $500, one day in women’s detention, and nine days of labor on Roosevelt Island. Her sentence would, however, be reduced to eight days for “good behavior.”

The Women’s House of Detention where Mae West would serve time was known as being a bit of a thuggish facility that contained windows opening along 6th Avenue. It was not uncommon for pedestrians walking by this facility to be harassed by occasional curses and obscene gestures.

In 1945 the Jefferson Market Courthouse officially closed its doors and the building remained vacant for a number of years. The building near faced demolition in the 1950s before a group of activists including E.E. Cummings fought to preserve the historic structure. In 1967 the Jefferson Market Courthouse was officially unveiled as the new Jefferson Market Library. Today visitors can envision the existing Reference Room as a former holding area for prisoners, or imagine how the Children’s Room may have looked in its days as the police court.

  • Website:
  • Address: 425 6th Avenue, New York City, NY
  • Cost: Free

Friday, October 5, 2012

Iwalked New York City Sparks Steak House Big Paulie Castellano MurderSite

Iwalked New York City's Sparks Steak House Big Paulie Castellano Murder Site - Sparks Steak House is one of the most popular steak joints in all of New York City. It was started in 1966 as Sparks Pub by two brothers, Pat and Mike Cetta. Based upon the success of their venture they decide to move it from its original home on East 18th Street up to Midtown where they have now been located since 1977. Sparks is continually rated as one of New York City’s finest steakhouses and is also well known for its lamb and veal chops.

Our interest here, however, does not lie in prime rib or extravagant wines, but an incident which went down here on December 16, 1985. It was here outside of Sparks at approximately 5pm that the head of the Gambino crime family, Big Paul Costellano was murdered in broad daylight as per a hit put out by John Gotti. This incident instantly elevated Gotti to the ranks of mafia chieftain.

Paulie Castellano MurderSite
Paulie Castellano MurderSite
To explain how this incident went down let’s begin by exploring the characters involved in our tale. First there is the former head of the Gambino family, Paul Castellano. Castellano lived his life by a series of contradictions. He attempted to legitimize many of the mobs activities and expressly forbid activities such as selling drugs. Those caught doing such activities were executed; however Castellano was known to have sold on occasion himself. Castellano also did not believe in the world of “excess” and often dressed down in public to emphasize this fact. In turn, he built a 3.5 acre, 17-room estate on Staten Island that he had constructed to mimic the White House. Lastly, Castalleno was a dedicated family man but he was openly having an affair with his maid, Gloria Olarte.

Gloria was an immigrant who most described as rather ordinary looking and whom spoke almost no English. Castellano was so infatuated with Gloria though that he often brought her with on family vacations and he even bought her a brand new sports car, despite the fact that she didn’t drive or have a valid license. It was also suspected by members of Castellano’s crew that he had secretly had a penile implant to help consummate his affair and to remedy impotence brought on by his diabetes. Ironically it was Gloria who attempted to frame him in 1983 and allowed the FBI to tap phones within his version of the White House. From these taps officials were able to gather sufficient evidence to charge Castellano with 24 counts of murder in 1984. These charges were still outstanding and pending upon his assassination the following year.

Last in our tale is the conspirator of the whole incident, Mr. John Joseph Gotti, Jr. Gotti in many ways was the antithesis of Castellano. Whereas Castallano outright forbid the selling of drugs. Gotti was prone to either turn the other cheek if not engage in the activity on occasion himself. Also, Gotti was a man who liked to flaunt the extravagances to which he was privy. Despite only living on a reported annual salary of $100,000 as a salesman of plumbing supplies, Gotti was often seen sporting new $1,000 suits and wearing monogrammed socks. In truth it was estimated that Gotti brought in approximately $10-$12 million of cash annually. He took his arrogance even further when he would catch police officers watching him while on stakeouts. He would be so bold as to walk directly up to the vehicles and tell the officers, “Naughty, naughty.”

It was probably in part due to Gotti’s arrogance that led him to plot the murder of the head of the Gambino family. Gotti, along with other members of Castellano’s family, had become increasingly upset with him over numerous affairs including the contradictions to which Castellano had long been running the Gambino family. Gotti, in fact largely expected that Castellano was planning action versus him for selling drugs. Thus Gotti concocted a plan to take matters into his own hands.

On the afternoon of December 16, 1985, four men all dressed in trench coats and hats approached a vehicle which was unloading passengers outside the front entrance of Sparks Steak House. All men appeared identical (a detail not lost in Gotti’s plans) and even simultaneously drew their hidden weapons to open fire on the unsuspecting mobster boss along with his number two man, Tommy Bilotti. Both men were killed instantly and the gunmen casually away from the incident towards Second Avenue. One of the men was seen speaking into a walkie-talkie just prior to being picked up by their getaway vehicle (which had been parked one block over on 47th Street) and driving off.

While police largely suspected Gotti for this crime they were never able to pin the charges upon him. They did bring federal charges versus him for violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for which he went to trial in August 1986. The jury ultimately ended up finding him non-guilty though, although it was later discovered that Gotti had actually bribed the jury foreman (who was later convicted himself on bribery charges).

Needing a new plan, federal agents began to track Gotti’s whereabouts to the Ravenite Social Club where he often frequented. Through the usage of bug devices planted in the apartment above the Ravenite, the Feds gathered audio evidence which implicated Gotti on thirteen charges, including five murders. He was arrested within the Ravenite Club in December 1990 and found guilty on all accounts on April 2, 1992. For his crimes, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison. He served his time in a federal prison in Springfield, MO where he would pass away at the age of 61 in 2002. - iwalkedaudiotours -