Woody Guthrie Family Residence - 3520 Mermaid Avenue, Apr. #1R (first floor, rear), Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY - Nov. 1943-Sept. 1950
Woody Guthrie's life in New York City is pretty well documented photographically, but I hadn't even seen a photo of the building in Coney Island that Woody Guthrie and his family had lived in for seven years in the 1940's. These were the years when he wrote many of his famous songs, like Deportees, and where three of his children had been born; so I decided to see if I could get a photo of the building.
By Google mapping the address, 3520 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, you get to this....and by clicking on Google Street View....
...you get to this scene: the site of the house, but now long gone and replaced by low income housing for senior citizens.
The rectangle is where the small apartment building would have been.
Here's where that is in relation to Coney Island and the famous amusement park.
And here's where that is in relation to the rest of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
So I started the search by looking at the online photos of the New York Municiple Archives. The closest picture they had was a photo of a nearby building on Mermaid Avenue from the 1980's, when the neighborhood was in decay. This building would turn out to look very similar to the three-story apartment building where Woody and his family lived.
Next I wanted to find an outline of the block and lot it was on in Brooklyn, so I would know where on the block the building was. All the land in the 5 boroughs of manhattan is divided into blocks, then inside those, lots. The Guthrie's apartment at 3520 Mermaid Avenue turned out to be in lot 3 of Block 7046 in Brooklyn.
Next, I went online to the New York Public Library's collection of old photos, which include old "insurance" maps of neighborhoods. First, I found a map of the section of Coney Island where 3520 Mermaid was. 3520 is circled.
By zooming in on a similar map, I found the outline of the building at 3520 Mermaid Avenue.
Here it is closer up. Under the street number 3520 there's a number 2, Under that is number 3. That means the front porch is 2 stories high and the building is 3 stories high. There is also space for a backyard.
According to the book New York is My Name; Ramblin' Around Woody Guthrie's Town by Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives, the Guthries lived in a $35-a-month, one-room apartment on the ground floor in the back end of the building. It was a short, 2-block walk to the beach, where the family spent lots of time.
This is a shot looking down onto the building from 1954, well before it was replaced by the senior housing development.
This is a shot from 1980 and shows the apartment building that replaced the row of apartments like the Guthries on that block.
During 1939-1940 the City of New York photographed every building and labelled them with block and lot numbers. So I went down to the Municipal Archies near city hall to find a picture of 3520 Mermaid Avenue from 1939/1940, which was three to four years before Woody and his family moved in.
To find a picture from the 1939-1940 survey you first have to find it on mMicrofilm at the Archives. Here's the Brooklyn microfilm.
And here's what the apartment building that the Guthrie family lived in looks like on microfilm. You can see the 2-story porch and that it's a 3-story building. (You will also notice white dots all over the picture. I thought the picture was taken during a snowstorm, but it turned out to be mold on one of the inter-negatives. The final picture of the building that I received from the Achives has no mold on it, as we will soon see)
The sign below the building indicates "block 7046, lot 3, Brooklyn")
..but before we see that, I spiced together some photos of the neighboring buildings so you can see what the Guthrie's saw of the neighbohood as they walked down the street.
So I ordered the photo ($35+$4 shipping) and a month later it showed up crisp and clear, with no whites dots all over it, in the mail at my office. And here it is, below:
You'll note that the windows are boarded up. It may have just been built. This was 4 years before Woody and his family moved in.
Here it is in close-up. You can see that there is a kosher poultry market next door, with the produce extending in front of the Guthrie's yet-to-be-moved-into building. There even looks like there's a for-rent on the 1st floor window.
Here's a close-up on the poultry market. (Talk about farm-to-table food! If these chickens laid eggs, you couldn't get 'em much fresher than that!)
Now that I had the photo, I decided to go to Coney Island (an hour subway ride from midtown Manhattan) to get a background photo for the PopSpot. (Plus, partake of some Nathan's hot dogs with my daughter, Emily, who came along for the fun of it.)
Here's the view out the subway car window right before the Coney Island subway stop (The subway is actually elevated for much of the ride through southern Brooklyn). Way in the distance, behind the American flag, you can see the coast of New Jersey.
The wooden roller coaster you see is called the "Cyclone" and was built in 1927. In 1977 a coaster enthusiast rode it for 104 hours straight.
Next to the Coney Island subway stop is a bus that takes you the mile-long trip down Mermaid Avenue to 35th Street, where number 3520 was.
I arrived at the spot I had seen on Bing Maps.
On a lamp pole in front of the current building where the former apartment building was, I ran across a historical marker. I had seen this online. The website of the people who put it up is: www.coneyislandhistory.org.
Note: This marker says the Guthrie's lived here until 1952. The Guthrie Archives book says they lived there until September 1950. I'll go with the Archive's version unless other facts come in.
From the overhead maps I had looked at earlier, I figured Woody's house to have been be located right in the middle of this apartment building.
And here is what it looks like PopSpotted - past meets present.
In the book I mentioned earlier, My Name is New York, there's a series of photos of Marjorie Guthrie and her daughter Cathy Ann, taken in 1946, of them coming back from the beach.
There are two parallel "white" horizontal bands of concrete in the brickwork of the building next to them that matched those on the poultry store. So I could tell the photo was taken in front of their apartment building.
So I put this composite together to recreate a little history.
And while we are on the subject of the beach. Here's a shot of Woody and three of his kids (Nora, Joady, and Arlo - from Alice's Restaurant fame) playing near the rock jetty on Coney Island Beach. The photo is from a Billy Bragg and Wilco album.
Here's the jetty from the boardwalk.
And here it is in relation to the house.
Beginning in 1993, at the suggestion of Woody's daughter Nora, the English musician Billy Bragg and the American group Wilco, put together three albums based on some of the 1,000 unpublished songs Woody had written.
The cover of their first album is below this. It's a picture of a small apartment house on Mermaid Avenue.
I was looking for the location as I walked back to the subway from 3520 Mermaid Avenue, and I finally ran across it at 2810 Mermaid Avenue, between 28th and 29th Avenues, about half way back to the station. It turns out it was very simlar to the Guthrie's real apartment.
Here's the PopSpot overlay.
And here it is in a panoramic shot. The Coney Island amusement park is just a little past the end of the road out of sight.
After his death, the Guthrie family, scattered Woody's ashes in the Atlantic near the rock jetty we saw earlier. (About a mile east of this shot.)
Then, according to an online video at the New York Times website, the family all went to Nathan's for hot dogs with the thought that "That's Woody would probably have done." So Emily and I did, too.
ADDENDUM #1: (a work in progress)
Almanac House #1 - 4th floor - aka "The Loft" - 70 East 12th Street, New York, June 24 - July 8th, 1941.
One of Woody Guthrie's earliest residences was at 70 East 12th Street (at Fourth Avenue).
This is a composite photo of 70 East 12th Street from the NYC Municipal Archives. (I'm getting a better image.)
The Almanac Singers develop into the Weavers.
The Almanac Singers were a New York City folk music group that came together in 1940-1941.
The group consisted of Millard Lampbell, Lee Hayes, Peter Seeger, and Woody Guthrie.
After the group's dissolution three years later (1943), Seeger and Hayes founded "People's Songs" (1945-1948), then later joined with two of Hays' friends, Ronnie Gilbert (female) and Fred Hellerman to form "The Nameless Quartet" (1949), which soon changed it's name to the Weavers and had many hits for years after.
The origin of the Almanac Singers and "Almanac House."
While Seeger and Guthrie were out west in 1940, Lampbell and Hayes rented a small apartment together in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Pete Seeger soon joined then, and Woody sometimes visited. Together they wrote songs through the winter of 1941.
Early in 1941, Lampell, Hayes, and Seeger moved to a loft at 70 East 12th Street (at Fourth Avenue) near Union Square.
Because the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 12th Street was angled, The loft was wedged shape. Actually, except for the tip, was a right triangle shape, like the Flatiron Building, with the one side beings 53 feet long and the other being almost 45 feet long.
The width was 14.5 feet at the front and about 22 feet wide in the back, so it averaged about 18 feet across. That would make it about 900 Square feet.
So it was plenty big enough when, starting in April 1941, the Almanacs stated using their 4th floor loft for Sunday afternoon concerts to pay the rent.
They named themselves the Almanacs after the fact that many Americans had a Bible and an Almanac in their house and the name would be familiar.
In the winter of 1941, the Almanacs moved to a townhouse at 130 West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village. It was there that they began referring to their building as the "Almanac House."
The Almanac's loft from above (circled). It's at the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and East 12th Street.
A closer view of the triangular-shaped loft. The entrance to the upstairs would be where it says "70."
The left side of this picture shows the building across the street from 70 East 12th. It's the Northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and 12th Street.
The tall building in the background right is 111 Fourth Avenue (I know because I used to live there) and is directly East, across the street from 70 East 12th.
I've circled 70 East 12th, though it's hard to see in this photo from the NYC Municipal Archives.
This is a picture of the 4-story loft building at 70 East 12th Street, taken in 1938 during a photographic survey of all Manhattan buildings. The Almanacs lived on the top floor. The entrance was a door on the right side along 12th street.
Here we're looking directly at the building from Fourth Avenue. As far as I can tell, the "Almanac" building, which was only 14.5 feet wide along Fourth Avenue is only the right side. I can't figure out how the first escapes join what the Sanborn maps indicate are two different buildings.
This is what the southwest corner of East 12th Street and Fourth Avenue looks like today.
This shows the "Almanac" building superimposed on the present building.
And here's an actual photo of the building that came onto the Internet after this entry was posted.
(photo by Bill Riccio)
Here's what the entrance to #70 looks like today.
I recently attended a lecture that featured Nora Guthrie talking with John Cohen about his new book of photograhs which includes photos of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dyaln, among others. It's called Here and Gone: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, & the 1960s. You can hear and watch their discussion on the Strand Bookstore website. (The Strand is the largest used and rare bookstore in New York City.)
Here they are on the 3rd floor of the Strand. (The Strand coincidentally happens to just down the block from #70 East 12th Street - the first Almanac House.)
This is the cover of John's new book, available online and in bookstores. (For more about the series of photos of Dylan pictured on the cover, see PopSpots #22).
You can see some of the other shots in the book from this collage I found online.
Nora also spoke recently about the Woody Guthrie Archive's latest release; the oral walking guide and soundtrack to their earlier released book My Name is New York - Ramblin' Around Woody Guthrie's Town.
Her lecture and A/V show was the the Brooklyn Historical Society. (During the talk, she gave a shout-out to PopSpots for sending the Archives some newly-discovered photos of places Woody lived and visited. Thanks again, Nora.)
Here's a picture of the book next to the CD, available online and at most NYC bookstores.
And a close-up of the CD.
Here's what's on it.
3-CD narrated audio book guide to 19 locations in NYC where Woody Guthrie lived and wrote. Written and narrated by Woody's daughter, Nora Guthrie - you'll actually be able to hear these stories told by those who knew him best, in many different ways and through various encounters and circumstances; music partners Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Sonny Terry, and Bess Lomax Hawes, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and many others share their memories with you first-hand.
TRACK LISTING: DISC 1 ~ February 16, 1940 - November, 1942 1 - 59th Street at 5th Avenue 2 - Hanover House, 101 West 43rd Street 3 - 57 East 4th Street 4 - 31 East 21st Street 5 - 5 West 101 Street 6 - 70 East 12th Street 7 - 130 West 10th Street 8 - 430 6th Avenue 9 - 148 West 14th Street 10 - 647 Hudson Street DISC 2 ~ December, 1942 - October 3, 1967 1 - 74 Charles Street 2 - 3815 Atlantic Avenue 3 - 3520 Mermaid Avenue 4 - 49 Murdock Court 5 - 517 East 5th Street 6 - Brooklyn State Hospital 7 - 159-13 85th Street 8 - Creedmore State Hospital 9 - Final Resting Place DISC 3 ~ The Songs 1 - New York Town 2 - The New York Trains 3 - Union Maid 4 - My New York City 5 - Tom Joad 6 - Man's A Fool 7 - Vigilante Man 8 - Union Air in Union Square 9 - Round and Round Hitler's Grave 10 - Jesus Christ 11 - Beatitudes 12 - This Land Is Your Land 13 - Go Coney Island, Roll On The Sand 14 - Howdi Do 15 - My Name Is New York 16 - Go Down to the Water *Total time ~ 167:34
I'll end with a shot about another member of the Guthrie family, Arlo, of Alice's Restaurant fame. I was recently inside the Bitter End nightclub on Bleecker Street and they still have an Arlo Guthrie club date poster up from the 60's-70's.