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The Five Points is personal to me. In 1914, my mother was born at 104 Bayard Street, the youngest of 12 children. I grew up around the corner at 134 White Street, corner of Baxter. During my youth, the area was called Little Italy. But at the time of my mother’s birth, it was still called the Five Points
The term the “Five Points” was derived in the early part of the Nineteenth Century because its Ground Zero was a five-point intersection formed by Orange Street (now Baxter Street), Cross Street (First Park and now Mosco Street – Frank Mosco was my Little League coach), Anthony Street (Now Worth), Little Water Street (which no longer exists), and Mulberry Street.
In the early-1800s, the Five Points neighborhood bounded by Centre Street on the west, and the Bowery/Chatham Square on the east. Canal Street was the northern border and Park Row – the southern border. The boarders of the Sixth Ward have since lengthened on the north side, going as far as Houston Street.
Across the street from the front entrance to my tenement building and close enough to touch with three or four leaping bounds, was the ominous-looking city prison called the Tombs. The dark and dreary structure was the third incarnation of this monstrosity; the first two being located one block to the west on Centre Street. The Tombs played an integral part of the Five Points sordid history. Hundreds of dastardly individuals were hung at the Tombs, and hundreds of thousands more had the Tombs as their mailing address, some permanently.
In 1896, at the prodding of journalist Jacob Riis, the hideous Mulberry Bend was demolished by the city, and Columbus Park was built in its stead. Before then, the Five Points was predominantly Irish, and it is estimated that 10,000 – 15,000 people, mostly Irish, lived in horrendous squalor in the four square blocks that comprised “The Bend.” When The Bend’s buildings were razed, the Irish were displaced. Most moved north to Hell’s Kitchen, the area bounded by 42nd Street and 59th Streets, and 7th to 12th Avenues.
After the demolition of Mulberry Bend, the Five Points became the domain of Italian Immigrants sprinkled with a few hundred Chinese, who claimed parts of Mott, Pell, and Doyers Streets as their turf. In fact, over the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, the Five Points district evolved into two intertwining neighborhoods: Little Italy and Chinatown.
It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that the term “Five Points” started to fade from the vocabulary of the area’s residents. In fact, as a child growing up, when I spoke to my aunts and uncles, the term “Five Points” came up quite often and never in favorable terms.
Most remnants of the original Five Points have long been gone. But the names of its former inhabitants still flicker across the lips of many New Yorkers, never in a flattering context.
In this book, the history of the Five Points is detailed in alphabetical order; not in chronological order, which I found overlapped to such a degree to make it unwieldy.
So, fire up your Kindle and read about some of the most distasteful creatures ever to roam the face of the earth. They all inhabited my old Five Points neighborhood in times gone by.