Roger Morris, 1727 - 1794. Loyalist in the American Revolution, b. Yorkshire, England
Roger Morris came to America in 1755 as aide-de-camp to General Edward Braddock and fought under James Wolfe at Quebec. After his service in the British army he settled (1764) in New York City with his wife, Mary Philipse. They lived in the famous Morris Mansion (later the Jumel Mansion). At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Morris was sympathetic to the British but refused to fight against the patriots. His wife, Mary Philipse Morris, 1730 - 1825, inherited her wealth from her father, Frederick Philipse. Handsome and imperious, she is said to have attracted numerous suitors, among them George Washington. After her marriage (1758) her property holdings-including a large estate in Putnam co., N.Y.-were passed on to Roger Morris. Soon after the outbreak of the American Revolution the family's property was confiscated by an act of attainder of the New York state legislature. Subsequently, she left (1783) for England with her husband and four children. Her heirs (who by Mary Philipse's marriage settlement had a right to those estates and had not themselves been attainted) sold their reversionary interests to John Jacob Astor for £20,000. To this the British government added £17,000 in compensation for Morris's losses incurred by New York state's confiscation.
Jumel Mansion Historic House
The sturdy Georgian mansion was completed in 1766 by Roger Morris, one of the city's wealthy merchants. In the American Revolution it served as headquarters of George Washington and Sir Henry Clinton, American and British commanders in chief. After the war it was used as a tavern. It was purchased (1810) by a rich wine merchant, Stephen Jumel (d. 1832), for his wife, Eliza Brown Jumel (1775 - 1865). After Jumel's death she married (1833) Aaron Burr, wrangled with him over family finances, and procured (1834) a divorce. When she died, the mansion passed to members of her family. In 1903 it was purchased by the city. By 1945 it was completely restored and opened to the public under the auspices of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Movie Palaces of Washington Heights and InwoodFor four generations, theaters in Washington Heights and Inwood have entertained the residents of the area with vaudeville acts and motion pictures and have served as havens where dreams could be lived out in a neighborhood where, at times, it was difficult for dreams to come true. These theaters entertained the public during good times and bad, helping to relieve the tedium of everyday life. They also created work for local businesses such as restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream parlors.
The RKO Coliseum on 181st Street and Broadway boasted to be the third largest theater in the United States, with 3,500 seats, when it opened in 1920. In its heyday, many of the city's most famous acts came to the stage of the Coliseum. The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Uncle Don's Kiddie Show and Gertrude Berg of the television show "The Goldbergs" were among the shows. This was part of the RKO circuit, a group of three shows - Radio, Keith and Orpheum - which traveled around the city at all of the RKO Theaters.
In the early 1980s, the Coliseum was made into a triplex. It was then reduced to a duplex by eliminating the orchestra seats and stage to make way for stores, thus leaving the mezzanine split into two theaters. At this time the ornate ceiling could still be seen and appreciated by those who had a passion for nostalgia. The Coliseum closed for a year due to financial problems and reopened as a quad in July 1991. It closed again in 2002, leaving residents wondering if it will open in the forseeable future.
In 1930 the Loew's 175th opened and culminated the Coliseum's brag with 3,600 seats. The facades were decorated in terra cotta with hints of Egyptian, Aztec, Mayan, Moorish and Persian design. Some of the earliest shows presented there were Shaw and Lee of the Capitol Theater and a movie with Norma Shearer called "Their Own Desire."
One of the other features of the Loew's 175th was an organist called "Wild" Oscar. He played the organ while the bouncing ball was going across the screen for a sing-a-long between the feature shows. Oscar retired and moved to Texas. The theater closed in 1967 and was purchased two years later by Reverend Frederick Eikerenkoetter (better known as Reverend Ike) and became the Christ United Church - Science of Living Institute. The church maintained the former glory days of the theater by keeping its original charm. Presently, the theater is used for concerts for the community.
The Audubon Theater and Ballroom on Broadway between 165th and 166th Streets was opened in 1912 by William Fox, who eventually became the founder of the 20th Century Fox movie chain. Upstairs on the second floor was the ballroom that was used for social occasions and special events. It had a dance floor, tables, booths and a stage for live entertainment.
On the facade was a terra cotta design of a boat (representing the Argo from Jason and the Argonauts). With it was a bust of Neptune. Other features were fox heads, which represented the owner of the building.
The movie theater was first known as the "William Fox Audubon," then the "Beverly Hills," and finally the "San Juan." In 1927 it became the first theater to have talking motion pictures. The movie "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson was one of its first major features.
On February 21, 1965, the Audubon was the focus of the assassination of Malcolm X. The city was forced to take over the building because of the lack of payment of back taxes. Within a few years the San Juan Theater was forced to close its doors to the public. Since then, the main floor of the building has been used for the Department of Housing Preservation as well as for offices for educational facilities for Latino groups in the community.
Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center wanted to tear down the building for a new medical research center and to attract more jobs to the area. African-American groups wanted the building to remain as a memorial to Malcolm X. The final agreement was to make part of the new center into a memorial on the second floor, and the Broadway facade of the original building was to be kept intact.
Three movie houses of moderate proportions graced 181st Street between Saint Nicholas and Audubon Avenues. These opened between 1918 and 1923. The Astral Theater at 544 West 181st was originally called the Empress. During its last years, the Astral ran movies in Spanish or with subtitles. When it closed, it became a flea market.
The Lane Theater located at 550 West 181st closed its doors in 1959 with its last motion picture feature: "The Ten Commandments." Prior to it becoming a theater, there was an indoor ice skating rink that extended into what is now the Washington Bridge Post Office on 180th Street. The site of the theater is now Glauber's Gift Shop. The third theater on this block was the Gem Theater located at 564 West 181st. This site now houses a furniture and electronics store.
Other theaters that have fallen to the wayside in Washington Heights and Inwood are: the Alpine (now McDonald's) on Dyckman and Broadway, the Loew's Inwood on Dyckman Street between Sherman and Nagle avenues, the Bridge Theater on Saint Nicholas and 176th Street, and the Loyal (formerly the Majestic) Theater on Saint Nicholas Avenue between 184th and 185th Streets.
The Loew's Rio on Broadway and 159th Street opened in 1920 and lasted for 45 years. A faint image of advertising the name of the Rio could be seen on the 158th Street side of the theater's water tower, which was taken down due to lack of use. The Uptown Theater on Broadway and 170th Street opened in 1926 only to close 46 years later. The Rio and the Uptown are now supermarkets, but if the customer looks hard enough, the remnants of these theaters can still be seen, such as the ornate ceilings, the top of the stage, organ pipes and remnants of the mezzanines and box seats.
In time, these palaces of dreams gave way to the modern technology of television, videotape and DVDs. Gone are the days in northern Manhattan of theater-made popcorn, candy bars, sodas, cartoons, newsreels, organ players, double-feature films on the weekends, and ushers with flashlights.
Coogan's Bluff and The Polo Grounds
At the southernmost end of Highbridge Park is a part of Washington Heights that has been neglected and disused because of the lack of pride that was once a part of baseball history. Coogan's Bluff played an important role in bringing the residents of Washington Heights and Harlem out on a warm afternoon to watch a baseball game without having to pay for it.
The bluff's original boundaries extended from 155th Street to 160th Street and from Edgecombe Avenue to the Harlem River. There is also a deep escarpment that descends 175 feet from Edgecombe Avenue down to the Harlem River which creates a grassy knoll called Coogan's Hollow. Today the section of parkland known as Coogan's Bluff is only .08 acres.
Coogan's Bluff was named in honor of James J. Coogan (1845-1915) who was the Manhattan Borough President from 1899 to 1901. Coogan was also an unsuccessful two-time candidate for the New York City mayoral race. Coogan, a real estate merchant, owned much of the property in the area that included the site of the Polo Grounds ballfield.
The Polo Grounds, as we know it today, was originally called the Brotherhood Park when it was constructed in 1890. But it was not always thus. The original Polo Grounds stadium was constructed in 1876 and was located at 111th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues as a field for playing polo. By 1883 the New York Giants and the New York Metropolitans took over the field and played there until 1889 when it was abandoned for the new site at 155th Street. By then the name of the 155th Street ballpark was changed.
The ballpark was destroyed by fire on April 13, 1911, forcing the owners to rebuild the stadium with concrete and steel instead of wood. Initially, the new park had a seating capacity for 38,000 paying fans. In time the seating capacity was increased to hold 55,987 people. The dimensions from home plate were: 279 feet to left field, 483 feet to center field and 258 feet to right field. The main entrance was on Eighth Avenue behind the center field bleachers. Home plate was on the western side of the field.
The main entrance of the stadium was connected to the Ninth (or Columbus) Avenue elevated line, which had a stop on Eighth Avenue and 155th Street. The storage and repair yards connected to this line and were located between the ballfield and the Harlem River. A ramp at track level accommodated the fans who came by train. This ramp funneled onto long ramps leading to the main grandstand after passing through the turnstiles. The main entrance and Club House of the Polo Grounds were accessible to the street.
From a logistical point of view people who were at Coogan's Bluff, which was above the western side of the stadium, could get an excellent view of the field and the games. To many of the paying and unpaying fans the Polo Grounds looked like an oversized bathtub.
Various sports teams played at the Polo Grounds. The New York Baseball Giants played there until 1957. The New York Mets played at the Polo Grounds from 1962 until 1963 when Shea Stadium opened at Flushing Meadow, Park not to far away from the World's Fair of 1964 and 1965.
The last game of the New York Baseball Giants was played on September 29,1957, with an attendance of 11,606 paying fans. The Giants were up against the Pittsburgh Pirates and lost with a score of 9-1. The Polo Grounds saw a brief revival when Casey Stengel and the New York Mets played for the 1962 and 1963 seasons. The last game the Mets played at the grounds was against the Philadelphia Phillies with 1,752 paying fans in attendance and lost with a score of 5-1.
In 1948 a unique relationship was started when the New York Cubans became the farm team of the Giants. The Cubans, a Negro League team, had to relocate from the Dyckman Oval on Dyckman Street and Tenth Avenue because the site was to be razed for urban renewal.
The New York Football Giants played at the Polo Grounds from 1925 to 1955. Presently, they are at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. There was a football field adjacent to the Polo Grounds called Manhattan Field that was used until 1903, when it was abandoned and razed. The lot remained vacant until 1955 and was used as a parking lot.
Several boxing matches were held at the Polo Grounds. In 1923 Jack Dempsey KO'ed Luis Firpo in front of 90,000 hysterical fans. Sugar Ray Robinson fought against Randy Turpin on September 12, 1951, before an audience of 61,370 paying fans. On June 20, 1960 Floyd Patterson fought and defeated Ingemar Johansson to regain the heavyweight championship of the world in front of 32,000 fans.
One of the few trivial ballpark stories to come out of the Polo Grounds was that of the hot dog. The term was coined by New York Journal cartoonist Tad Dorgan who could not remember how to spell dachshund used to describe the red hot dachshund sausage that was sold at the stadium.
The Polo Grounds was dismantled in 1964 to make way for a real estate development now known as the Polo Ground Houses. One note of historical significance: The wrecking ball used to raze Ebbets Field was used for the same purpose at the Polo Grounds.
Within the Coogan's Bluff section of Highbridge Park is a stairway and a memorial plaque honoring the field. The stairway located at 157th Street and Edgecombe Avenue is closed off because it is in disrepair. On one of the landings is a marker that states, "The John T. Brush Stairway presented by the New York Giants." The stairway honors Brush, the owner of the Polo Grounds, and was used by fans to get to the ticket booth behind home plate. On a rock outcropping facing the Harlem River Drive near the stairs is a plaque honoring the New York Giants.
Coogan's Bluff has loaned its name to various industries. For example, in 1968, the film "Coogan's Bluff" with Clint Eastwood and Lee J. Cobb is about an Arizona lawman who comes to New York City to capture a wanted criminal. This movie became the basis for the television series "McCloud," starring Dennis Weaver and J.D. Cannon. A local restaurant on Broadway and 169th Street is called Coogan's in honor of the site .
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