In the 19th and early 20th century coal usurped wood as the most common heat source in New York City. The environmental and health costs of millions of homes heating with coal were enormous, and an army of coal merchants and their employees had to get coal to homes come rain, shine, or snow.
To store coal for heating and for cooking, most buildings in Harlem and New York City in general, were outfitted with a coal storage area, underground, typically extending to the property line – even if the building was setback to allow the stairs or stoop to reach the elevated 1st floor. To access this coal storage area, builders created an 18 to 22 inch hole that reached the sidewalk or front patio, that was then covered with a heavy cast iron, circular coal chute cover. Coal companies looked at these coal cute covers as marketing opportunities, and frequently embellished them with their company name, address, and logo.
Here are a few of the coal covers that remain in our neighborhood, as discovered on meandering walks.
The coal chute (above) has lost its cast iron cover, and is simply cemented over.
The one below is cracked and now inaccessible because of a modern metal fence.
Ray DeCarava, the black and white mid-century photographer of Harlem and the 1950’s jazz scene, took this photo of a child on a sidewalk with a coal chute cover in the foreground.
This coal chute cover, today is shown below. Note how much more worn the stars are after an extra 70 years of foot traffic.
Chaiwali’s Founder and Executive Chef, Anita Trehan
Thrillist has a list out of women-owned restaurants with innovative and exceptional cuisine. Chaiwali’s very own Anita Trehan is profiled:
For self-taught chef and owner of Harlem-based eatery, Chaiwali, it was Anita Trehan’s natural talent in melding flavors—not family recipes or maternal influences—that led to opening her popular plant-based Indian restaurant.
“I’ve never been to culinary school, or to a restaurant school. I’ve never taken a single cooking class in my life, never followed a recipe book. Just like when you write something you know what you want to express—I know what I want my food to taste like,” says Trehan.
Even naming her restaurant was an intuitive blend: Merging the word chai (the centering start to her day) with wali (the feminine version of the term, signifying “someone who does”) was the perfect alliance—recognizing it is women who are the true nurturers and center of any home or space.