21 February 2007

The Gangster Next Door

You can learn a lot from your neighbors. Take Eli Wallach. The actor was born at 166 Union Street (above) between Hicks and Henry in 1915, and grew up in the days when that area was mob heaven.

Years later, he was called upon to play Albert Anastasia, the whack job gangster who founded Murder Inc. When he complained that he didn't know how to play a cold-blooded killer, he was given a tape of Anthony "Tough Tony" Anastasio, Albert's brother, talking to the Kefauver committee. One of the first things Tony said was "I live at 167 Union Street." After that, Wallach knew how to play the Lord High Executioner, who, one would assume, would have visited his brother from time to time.

Both buildings still stand. Wallach's is on the south side of the street. Anastasia's is on the north side at the corner, a four-story brownstone, a much grander affair (below). It currently has cheery St. Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day decorations in the windows.

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