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Hot Dog History in the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive

July is National Hot Dog Month (as designated by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council) and we have a few savory slices of NYC hot dog history in our Historic Image Archive.

Nathan’s Famous was founded by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker in 1916. The original still stands in Coney Island on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. Since then Nathan’s has since sold more than 500 million hot dogs at more than 53,000 outlets in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries (franchising started in 1971).

Coney Island’s Nathan’s Famous. Image by Meredith Marciano from the Meredith Jacobson Marciano Collection Part 2 of the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive.

In the 1960s and early 1970s Greenwich Village had our own Nathan’s Famous on the corner of 8th Street and 6th Avenue.

Greenwich Village’s Nathan’s Famous, 1969. Image by Doris Diether. Image from the Doris Diether Collection of the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive.

Sadly, the Greenich Village location closed in 1978, reporteldy after clashing with the local community board. Community Board 2’s District Manager at the time, Rita Lee, said that Nathan’s had lured ”the absolute dregs,” and that the service was unusual. ”Once when I went in,” she said, ”the security guard served me my drink. When I turned my back for a second, and looked back, a dog was eating out of my plate.

Greenwich Village’s Nathan’s Famous, 1969. Image by Doris Diether. Image from the Doris Diether Collection of the Village Preservation Historic Image Archive.

Some New Yorkers prefer Papaya King or Gray’s Papaya or the newer upstart Papaya Dog over Nathan’s. The combination of the fruity tropical drink with spicy mustard and crisp hot dog skin has earned a loyal fan base. After 90 years, the original Papaya King’s days are numbered on 86th and 3rd Ave (developer Extell purchased the property in December 2021 and filed paperwork to demolish the building on July 5th, 2022). Greenwich Village lost our Gray’s Papaya, also located on 6th Avenue, in 2014. The 14th Street and 1st Avenue Papaya Dog closed in 2021, but the Greenwich Village location on 4th Street and 6th Avenue is going strong.

The St. Mark’s Papaya King closed after only five years, in 2017 – but not due to lack of business. The historic property at 3 St. Marks Place was a modified 1830 house that Village Preservation fought to preserve while developers sought to demolish the building and construct an office tower 20% larger than zoning allows.

L: 3 St. Marks historic 1830 building that was home to Papaya King. R: Proposed office tower to be built on the site. Air rights which would have allowed the structure to grow 20% larger than zoning allows was blocked thanks to Village Preservation’s advoacy efforts.

Thankfully, we (partially) won this battle. While the 1830 property was demolished and we lost Papaya King and several other businesses, we did prevent the developers from increasing the size of the new office building greater than what zoning allows.

But back to hot dogs. A lesser-known part of NYC hot dog history was lost but rediscovered following the tragedy of September 11th, clues to which can also be found in our Historic Image Archive. German immigrant Charles Feltman is credited with inventing hot dogs in 1867 by putting sausage on a bun — groundbreaking! He then sold them via a cart on the sands of Coney Island, making them easily movable and “fast.” Nathan’s Famous’s founder Nathan Handwerker was a former Feltman’s employee who quit to open up his own shop nearby and eventually outperformed the original. Charles Feltman’s original Coney Island stand closed in 1954.

Michael and Joe Quinn lost their brother Jimmy in the 9/11 attacks. In 2015, Jimmy’s brothers Michael and Joe became entrepreneurs who resurrected the Feltman’s hotdog legacy in Jimmy’s memory. Jimmy is Michael and Joe’s inspiration and provides perspective, as Joe stated, “As far as the hot dog company is concerned, Michael and I made a pact to do this in honor of our brother. Other companies have greater reach and resources, but because of that pact — because of Jimmy — we’ll never stop. Jimmy drives us. He’s our competitive advantage.”

Michael and Joe donated the above image of Jimmy to our historic image archive as part of our memorialization of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in 2021 and their impact upon our neighborhoods. Read here about the Quinns’ deep family roots in our neighborhood.

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