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From Sparks Steak House, to the landfill where bodies were known to be dumped, the streets of New York are steeped in mob history.
A photographer visited some of the most notorious New York Mafia sites to see how they have survived the passage of time.
Many of America's most infamous gangsters were creatures of New York. I've been hearing stories about the five New York crime families of La Cosa Nostra ( Gambino, Genovese, Colombo, Bonanno, Lucchese) for as long as I can remember. It's part of the lore of living here, as common as discussing real-estate prices.
For this project, I set out to see what has become of some of the most notorious settings for wise guy activity in the city. New York's past has been shaped by the ebb and flow of new immigrants arriving and mixing with, then replacing, the ones who came before. Every neighborhood has layers of that history, buried beneath the newest construction project or the renamed, gentrified neighborhood.
The stories - the larger-than-life, the disturbing, the braggadocious - are worth holding onto, because they are part of the history of this city.
St John's Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens
The mausoleum of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who's widely considered the founder of the American Mafia, sits quietly in St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. After joining forces with Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in the 1930's, Italian-born Luciano set up the Commission, a governing body for the Italian-American crime families spread across the US.
In 1936, Luciano was locked up on a prostitition conviction. He was released early, during the Second World War, as part of a deal to help keep an eye out for German sabotage on the Brooklyn docks, which he controlled, and to help coordinate the United States' invasion of Sicily. Luciano's sentence was commuted, and he was deported back to Italy in 1946. His status as a founding father of American crime families remains to this day, and John Gotti requested, before his death in a Federal prison in 2002, to be buried in the same cemetery.
Umbertos Clam House, Little Italy, Manhattan
The corner of Hester and Mulberry streets is in the heart of what's still known as Manhattan's Little Italy, though most of the Italians and Italian-Americans are long gone.
This was once the location of Umbertos Clam House - the site of one of the city's most notorious wise guy assassinations. In the early hours of April 7, 1972, Colombo family rebel and 1960's media celebrity Joe ("Crazy Joe") Gallo was gunned down while celebrating his 43rd birthday at the restaurant. In the next day's paper, the New York Times reported that Gallo was the "third gangland murder victim in 24 hours." Gallo was portrayed by Sebastian Maniscalco in Martin Scorsese's film The Irishman, and he's the subject of Bob Dylan's song "Joey."
Umbertos eventually moved up to 132 Mulberry St., where it's still serving clams. The original site is now home to Da Gennaro, an Italian restaurant.
Ratner's, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Ratner's, a Jewish deli on Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, was a favorite haunt of local gangsters Meyer Lansky and "Bugsy" Siegel, both of whom would rise to prominent positions within the American mafia. At his death in 1983, Lansky was dubbed the "Financial Wizard of Organized Crime" for mastering the arts of bootlegging, gambling, and loan-sharking. He was known to especially enjoy Ratner's cheese blintzes. Siegel would go on to build the Las Vegas Strip, until a killer took him down in his Beverly Hills home in 1947.
When Ratner's was struggling to stay in business in the 1990's, it briefly pivoted to catering to hipsters and was renamed "Lansky's Lounge." It's now the site of a City MD and a Dunkin' Donuts.
Palma Boys Social Club, East Harlem, Manhattan
Harlem's East 115th St. block, between 1st and Pleasant Avenues, was once the location of the Palma Boys Social Club. It was the headquarters of powerful Genovese family mobster "Fat Tony" Salerno, who ruled over parts of Harlem and the Bronx for decades, despite the neighborhood's declining Italian-American population.
In 1985, federal prosecutors indicted leaders from the five families of La Cosa Nostra, including Salerno. The next year, he topped Fortune Magazine's list of the most powerful gangsters in America. An old school powerbroker who did not believe in talking to the media or the government, "Fat Tony" was convicted of RICO charges at the Commission Trial, and sentenced to 100 years. He died in a federal prison six years later, in 1992, at the age of 80.
The club, located at 416 East 115th street, is now a private residence.
Columbus Circle, Manhattan
The skyline around Columbus Circle has changed dramatically over the years, with several of Manhattan's tallest skyscrapers going up nearby. But the circle itself, anchored by the statue of Christopher Columbus by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, has remained unchanged since it was built in 1892.
In 1970, Joe Colombo, the boss of the Colombo crime family, organized the first "Italian Unity Day rally" here through his newly-formed Italian-American Civil Rights League. The group was looking to give elements of organized crime a more public-friendly façade.
But it would seem that those efforts were not appreciated by everyone: At the next rally, on June 28, 1971, Colombo was shot three times at point-blank range, leaving him paralyzed, as thousands of horrified spectators looked on. "Pandemonium engulfed the area, sending hysterical spectators, many of them women clutching small children, spilling uptown toward 61st Street," one news report said.
Sunbrite Bar, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, on the western edge of Midtown, got its name from its crowded tenements. By the 1980s, the Irish-American community was moving on, and the area was starting to diversify. But a new generation of Irish-American gangsters, known as the Westies, formed an alliance with Italian Americans they had met in jail, and they started acting as contract killers for the mafia.
The Sunbrite Bar, on 10th Ave., was a favorite hangout for the Westies. It's where local killer Ed "The Butcher" Cummiskey chopped up his victims. Cummiskey was himself murdered while drinking at the bar in 1976, to make way for the mafia's control of the lucrative Jacob Javits Convention Center.
During the 1990's, under new ownership, the Sunbrite became Druid's Bar, where Theater District patrons could sip their cocktails and still see bullet holes in the brick wall of the back room. It's now home to The Waylon, a country western bar.
Todt Hill, Staten Island
The suburban streets of Todt Hill, Staten Island, have long attracted well-to-do wise guys. Gambino family boss Paul Castellano lived here in a 15,000-square-foot Benedict Rd. mansion, before he was murdered outside Sparks Steak House in 1985. Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the hit man who helped the feds put away John Gotti, also called this place home.
On March, 13, 2019, Gambino family crime boss Frankie Cali was shot dead in the driveway outside his Todt Hill home. New York's tabloids immediately speculated that a new power struggle or mafia war had begun, reminiscent of a more violent era in mob history. Later, after detectives arrested Anthony Comello for the killing, it began to emerge that the killer might have been a lone wolf, a follower of QAnon conspiracy theories.
The Majestic Apartments, Central Park West, Manhattan
For two decades, from the 1930's to the 1950's, mobster Frank Costello ruled the slot machines from New York to New Orleans, bringing in millions of dollars for the Luciano crime family. Enjoying a life of luxury, he purchased a nine-room apartment on the 18th floor of the Majestic Apartments, a high rise building overlooking Central Park at 72nd Street. From there, he socialized with Manhattan's elite while ruling the underworld. In 1957, when Vito Genovese moved to take over the crime family, he sent assassin Vincent Gigante to kill Costello. Gigante ambushed Costello in the lobby of the Majestic and shot him.
Costello was only wounded, but he got the message, and retired as boss. He died of natural causes in 1973.
It's a lot harder to get into the lobby of the Majestic these days, where three layers of doormen guard the building and photographs are forbidden.
The Motion Lounge, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The Motion Lounge, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, was the headquarters for Sonny Black Napolitano, a capo in the Bonanno crime family.
Sonny Black might have remained a rather obscure leader of local gangsters if he had not taken Donnie Brasco under his wing. Donnie Brasco was the alias for Joseph Pistone, an undercover FBI agent who for six years in the late 1970's and early 1980's infiltrated the Bonanno crime family. An FBI surveillance photograph from the day Sonny Black was informed of Donnie Brasco's true identity seems to indicate he knew what was coming: Sonny Black saying goodbye to his prized pigeons, which he kept on the roof above the lounge. On Aug. 17, 1981 he was summoned to a meeting that he never returned from.
Today, Graham Avenue has been touched by the gentrification that has transformed Williamsburg from a working class and industrial neighborhood to an expensive playground for the young and affluent. The corner of Withers Street and Graham, where the Motion Lounge once stood, is now the office if an architectural firm, and there's an upscale barbershop next door.
Joe and Mary's Italian-American Restaurant, Bushwick, Brooklyn
What was once Joe and Mary's Italian-American Restaurant, in the heart of Bushwick on Knickerbocker Ave. and near the corner of Troutman St., is now a shuttered storefront. On July 12, 1979, the restaurant's back patio was the site of one of the city's most notorious mob killings. Carmine Galante, the leader of the Bonanno crime family, was there smoking a cigar with several other Bonanno associates when three gun men rushed in and killed him and two others. A news photograph of his corpse became famous, in part, because a cigar was still clutched in his mouth when he died. Known as a ruthless killer, with over 80 murders attributed to him, Galante seems to have been targeted for assassination by other mob families, including a faction of his own, for trying to corner the heroin distribution market in America.
This side of Troutman St. would soon be dubbed "the most notorious drug bazaar in Brooklyn." Today, Bushwick Avenue has kept some of its working class Latino character despite gentrification all around it.
Midnight Rose Candy Store, Saratoga and Livonia Avenues, Brownsville, Brooklyn
A 24-hour convenience store occupies the northeast corner of Saratoga and Livonia Avenues, right next to the elevated 3 train subway stop in the heart of Brownsville. This innocuous deli was once, in the 1930's, the Midnight Rose Candy Store, the headquarters for Murder Inc.
Murder Inc was a group of Jewish and Italian American gangsters from Brownsville who formed an organization to carry out contract killings for the newly formed National Crime Syndicate, which would become what is known today as the Mafia, ruled by a commission set up my Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. Several of Murder Inc's assassins ended up being executed in New York State's Sing Sing electric chair, and their leader, Albert Anastasia, was murdered in 1957. Today, Brownsville is one of the city's few neighborhoods to have escaped gentrification, and while the Italian and Jewish residents are gone, the area is still poor and working class.
Half Moon Hotel, Coney Island, Brooklyn
A broken police barricade marks a sinkhole near the Coney Island boardwalk, at the end of West 28th Street, where the Half Moon Hotel once stood. Named after the ship that Henry Hudson sailed to these shores in 1609, the 16-story, 400 room hotel was built in 1920s as a resort vacation get away on the beach. By the 30s, it had fallen on hard times.
It was there that police were hiding Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, the Jewish assassin of Murder Inc, who was trying to save himself by agreeing to testify against his boss, Albert Anastasia. It wasn't to be. On the night of Nov. 12, 1941, the day before he was due to take the stand, Reles fell to his death from a 6th floor window facing 28th street. The police officers who had been guarding him claimed he had tried to escape by tying bed sheets to a radiator and climbing out the window - a tale that sounded as unbelievable then, as it does now.
Today, the Seagate Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has replaced the Half Moon, which closed in the 1950's and was torn down in 1995.
Belt Parkway Service Road, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
The service road to the Belt Parkway runs through the northern edge of the Brighton Beach neighborhood. It was approximately here, on November 6, 1990, near an entrance ramp, that two rogue cops pulled over Gambino gangster Ed Lino in his in his Mercedes and murdered him.
Detectives Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, known as the "Mafia Cops," were convicted in 2006 for the murders of eight people, while working for Lucchese family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso during the 1980s and early 1990s. Gaspipe found the two detectives to be more than willing to pass on crucial information and to use their police badges to help him eliminate rivals. In 1986, the detectives supplied Gaspipe with the wrong address for a gangster, Nicholas Guido, resulting in the murder of a 26-year-old phone company worker with the same name.
Wimpy Boys Social Club, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
An empty storefront with a for-rent sign 7506 13th Avenue, in Dyker Heights, is all that's left of the Wimpy Boys Social Club, the 1980s-era headquarters for the Colombo capo Gregory Scarpa, who probably chose that name as an inside joke. Even amongst a fraternity of killers, Scarpa was known as the "Grim Reaper" for his willingness to resort to violence.
He was also, for 30 years, a high-level informant for the FBI. It is difficult to determine who was using who, as Scapa received valuable information on gangland rivals from the federal government, which he used to murder with impunity.
In 1964, following the murder of three civil rights workers - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner - in what became known as "Mississippi Burning case," the FBI was under mounting pressure to find the bodies. While this account has since been challenged, the widely-told version of events is that the FBI decided to fly Scarpa from Brooklyn to rural Mississippi to assist with the case, and Scarpa promptly got to work: He kidnapped a local Klansman, tortured him for information, and then informed the FBI where to find the bodies. Being an enforcer for the Colombos during a violent civil war within the family, and at the same time a well-paid informant for the government, was a dangerous game, but Scarpa survived an assassination attempt.
In 1993, he pleaded guilty to murder and racketeering charges, and died in prison a year later at the age of 66. At the New York Times noted in his obituary, he had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.
Fountain Avenue, East New York, Brooklyn
Fountain Avenue serves as the dividing line between Brooklyn and Queens, and for a time it stopped at a desolate landfill built along the marshes of Jamaica Bay. Since many mobsters lived nearby, profiting from the easy pickings of cargo coming and going out of John F. Kennedy Airport, the landfill and surrounding wetlands became known as a dumping ground for victims of organized crime. Murder Inc assassins, whose headquarters were in nearby Brownsville, dumped bodies there in the 1930s.
Feared Gambino soldier Roy DeMeo took it to another level in the 1970s and 80s, disposing of 200 bodies. DeMeo was known to lure his victims to a bar he owned called the Gemini Lounge to execute them. His trademark execution style, which minimized the flow of blood, became known as the Gemini Method. DeMeo himself was murdered in 1983, probably by his own crew members.
Grass and trees now cover the former landfill, and the recently opened 407-acre Shirley Chisholm State Park features bike paths, rolling hills, and bay views.
Triangle Civic Improvement Association, Sullivan Street. Greenwich Village, Manhattan
It is hard to imagine the streets of Greenwich Village, with its sky-high rents and scores of NYU students, as being a bastion for mob activity. But for decades, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante ruled the Genovese crime family from the Triangle Civic Improvement Association, a non-descript street level club at 208 Sullivan Street, just south of Washington Square Park. While John Gotti received the majority of the media spotlight as the godfather in the 1980's, many think that Gigante held the real power in the American mafia.
Quiet and reserved, Gigante was known to walk through the neighborhood wearing a bathrobe, muttering to himself, perhaps hoping to build an insanity case if he was ever locked up. Few were fooled. The Chin's mother, Yolanda, also lived on Sullivan Street, and when she was robbed of her wallet by a petty thief in 1994, the mugger quickly plead guilty and apologized, through the media, to the Gigante family. After Gigante ended up in prison, and the government was able to prove he was still running the crime family from behind bars, he pleaded guilty to additional charges in a deal that let his son off with a lighter sentence. He died in a federal prison in 2005.
Today, there is little trace of the family on Sullivan Street, or of the mob more broadly. But in a city with so many layers, one never knows.
Sparks Steak House, Midtown, Manhattan
On the evening of December 16, 1985, Gambino boss and godfather "Big Paul" Castellano was assassinated on the sidewalk outside Sparks Steak House, along with one of his associates, as he arrived for dinner. As a report in the New York Daily News detailed the next day, Castellano had been in the midst of his trial on federal racketeering charges "involving three murders and an international stolen car ring." The hit was later discovered to be a "murderous coup," ordered by John Gotti, a rising mobster in the Gambino family who quickly consolidated power to replace Castellano at the helm of the American mafia.
Sparks Steak House, on East 46th street, is still open, and serving 60-dollar steaks.
Park-Sheraton Hotel barber shop, Midtown, Manhattan
On Oct. 25, 1957, former Murder Inc leader and organized crime powerbroker Albert Anastasia was getting a shave at the in-house barbershop of the Park Sheraton hotel when two men rushed in with guns blazing and shot him dead. The reasons for killing Anastasia were complicated, involving a power struggle at the top levels of the mafia. No one was ever charged for the murder.
The hotel is now known as the Park Central Hotel, and a Starbucks now occupies the northwest corner of 55th street and 7th Avenue.
John Gotti's Family Home, Howard Beach, Queens
Not far from Kennedy Airport, 85th St. is a quiet, tree lined residential street in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens. It's here that John Gotti, the leader of the Gambino crime family and thus the 'Godfather' of the American mafia, lived and raised his family.
On March 18, 1980, Gotti's backdoor neighbor, John Favara, was driving home from work when Gotti's 12 year old son, Frank, darted into the street on a borrowed minibike. In what was ruled a traffic accident, Favara struck and killed the boy. In the weeks that followed, Gotti's wife, Victoria, attacked him with a baseball bat, and Favara was warned to leave the neighborhood. But his departure was too slow for the grieving Gotti family.
On July 28, 1980 Favara was abducted from his work place in Long Island and never seen again.
PJP Landfill, Jersey City, New Jersey
Across the Hudson River from New York City, underneath the Pulaski Skyway and along the banks of the Hackensack River, is the newly constructed Skyway Park, which, when finished, will be a memorial for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a Superfund sight, where for years mobsters would illegally dump toxic chemicals, creating underground fires.
No one seems to really know where Teamster's President Jimmy Hoffa's remains were disposed of after he disappeared from a Detroit suburb restaurant on July 30, 1975. Most observers of organized crime believe Genovese mobster and President of Teamster's New Jersey local 560 Anthony Provenzano played a role in Hoffa's murder. One rumor is Provenzano had Hoffa's body shipped back to New Jersey, to be closer to home, where it was stuffed inside of a barrel and thrown into the PJP landfill.
Some mob secrets have remained secrets.
Read the original article on Business Insider