Manhattan Police Headquarters was “Bombed”


Air Raid Sirens, Major Records


PM, October 8, 1943, p. 13

Our Town in Pictures… Centre St. ‘Bombing’
Air Raid Wardens of the Fifth Precinct were mobilized late yesterday when Police Headquarters and the Press Headquarters Building at Centre Market Place were “bombed.” Frank Lava smokes a cigar right next a smoke bomb.
Shavey Lee (left), the Mayor of Chinatown, looks over his warden contingent with approval. Althogether, 200 wardens from the precinct answered the call, and 100 from neighboring precincts moved in to help. Photos by Weegee, PM.

Our chronological presentation of Weegee’s work (with musical accompaniment) made in October 1943 continues with a pair of photos (and a pair of MP3s) that were used only in an early or late edition of PM on October 8, 1943, (and not in the early or late edition that I have). The captions appear to be reversed and these photos are not in the Weegee archive. Weegee didn’t have to travel very far to make these two photos. If one were walking uptown from Grand Street, the Press Headquarters Building was at 4 Centre Market Place, Weegee lived at 5 Centre Market Place, Frank Lava’s gun shop (CA nal-0494) was at 6 Centre Market Place and the “bombed” Police Headquarters was across the street (260 Centre Street).


PM, October 8, 1943, p. 13. “Frank Lava smokes a cigar right next a smoke bomb.”

In the 1930s Frank Lava was employed by John Jovino Inc., a police equipment store, at 5 Centre Market Place (CA nal 6-9755), to teach the proper use of firearms. In May 1933, at the shooting range below Jovino’s, Lava gave marksmanship lessons to five accusers or “witnesses who remained voluntarily in jail until the thugs they accused were convicted in the Bronx County Court of conspiracy to coerce poultry dealers into submitting to an extortion racket.” (The New York Times, May 14, 1933) By 1937 Lava had his own gun shop at 6 Centre Market Place. Lava, born in 1895, was 48 when this photo was made. In July 1953 Lava was living in Flushing, Queens and was arrested on firearms charges. He was charged with acting in concert with William Cox who was arrested for illegal possession of firearms. 118 unregistered revolvers and automatic pistols in packing boxes were found when detectives raided the gunsmith’s shop at 6 Centre Market Place.


PM, October 8, 1943, p. 13. “Shavey Lee (left), the Mayor of Chinatown, looks over his warden contingent with approval. Althogether, 200 wardens from the precinct answered the call, and 100 from neighboring precincts moved in to help.”

Weegee, Lava, and Lee were cigar smokers. Shavey Lee, for thirty years, beginning in 1925, was widely acknowledged as the unofficial Mayor of Chinatown. Lee died, aged 52, on March 15, 1955, of a kidney ailment. Born (at 32 Mott Street) Lee J. Waye acquired his nickname in school because his father (who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s) kept his son’s head shaved. Lee helped many people with immigration and naturalization issues and ran a restaurant (Tung Sai, 32 Mulberry Street) where Mayor Fiorello La Guardia often ate lunch. Lee enjoyed dressing up and playing Santa Claus at Christmas parties for children. His obituary in The New York Times, March 16, 1955, begins: “New York lost one of its most colorful personalities yesterday with the death of Shavey Lee.” And concludes: “Shavey wasted no time carrying grudges against people. He once summed up his philosophy this way: ‘I figure you’ve got just so much time in life. And there’s no use going around being aggravated all the time.'”


Weegee, [Men posing in front of Headquarters Press Building, 4 Centre Market Place, New York], ca. 1942 (14035.1993)


Weegee, [Weegee covering the morning line-up at police headquarters, New York], ca. 1939 (E.L.1986.38)


Berenice Abbott, Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, February 4, 1937 (386.1983)


Chinatown My Chinatown, by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra; Jean Schwartz; William Jerome, 1932

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