By Jennifer Young
The white stone-and-brick Beaux Arts building at 80 Fifth Avenue stands at the southwest corner of 14th street, its Palladian windows reflecting a passing parade of New School students. Built in 1908, the classical style of the sixteen-story Hudson Building (also known as the Van Schaik) evokes Gilded Age New York. A 1921 advertisement encouraged “only high-class tenants,” to seek office space in the building; “only well-rated, non-manufacturing concerns” need apply. Despite the white-glove ambitions of its owners, by the onset of the Depression the building housed a variety of immigrant and left-wing organizations, including the Communist-affiliated International Workers Order (IWO), a fraternal order offering low-cost health and life insurance. By 1940, the IWO occupied a significant portion of the building, from the tenth through the sixteenth floors. In the summer of 1944, as the IWO was rapidly becoming one of the largest leftwing organizations in the country, the FBI broke into the IWO offices for the first time. Over the next decade, the FBI tapped the IWO’s phones, read employees’ mail, and searched the offices multiple times, monitoring the organization’s “Red” tendencies. By the end of the decade, information provided by the FBI helped New York State shut down the IWO, and 80 Fifth Avenue lost one of its most remarkable features: the IWO’s flagship birth control clinic.
“Does the United States Need a Medical Revolution?” Communism, Birth Control, and National Health Insurance in 1940s New York
By Richard Howe
By the end of the 19th century most of the streets and avenues laid out on the island of Manhattan by the 1811 Commissioners Plan and its 1870 northern extension by the Central Park Commissioners had been opened to traffic and as much as two-thirds or more of them had been paved. The island’s rural estates had been broken up and sold after having been subdivided into building lots conforming to the blocks in the street plan. Most of the island up to about 168th Street had been densely built up, with nearly 100,000 buildings —- over 80,000 of them residential -— carpeting the built-up area. At least 90% of all the buildings on the island -— and 99% of the residential buildings -— were no more than six stories tall; the average height was about five stories: 60 feet at a nominal 12 feet per story. And at least 75% of the buildings were 20–25 feet wide and 60–80 feet deep. But why? Why so many buildings, and why so many in just this range of sizes?
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