Archive for the ‘Animals with jobs’ Category

A pioneering photographer captures the 1910s

March 24, 2014

Born on the Upper West Side in 1890, Paul Strand became a pioneering filmmaker with his eerie silent Manhatta in 1921, among other motion pictures during his six-decade career.

[Below: American City, 1916]

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He’s also one of the first street photographers—credited with establishing photography as an art form in the teens and capturing haunting images of people amid the sleek, dehumanized early 20th century metropolis.

[Below: Wall Street 1915]

Paulstrandwallstreet1915

Strand’s interest in photography began during his student years at the Ethical Culture School. Photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine was his teacher, and Hine introduced Strand to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, artists who greatly influenced Strand’s work.

Paulstrandblind1916Stieglitz soon became a mentor. “In early 1915, his mentor Stieglitz criticized the graphic softness of Strand’s photographs and over the next two years he dramatically changed his technique and made extraordinary photographs on three principal themes: movement in the city, abstractions, and street portraits,” states the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“During the 1910s, New York thronged with pedestrians, carriages, and automobiles, and the streets became the unavoidable symbol of flux, change, and modernity.”

Strand did something revolutionary at the time: he abandoned posed photography in favor of portraits of people unaware of the camera.

[Above: Blind, 1916]

Paulstrandcentralparkscene1915-16

[Above: "Central Park Scene, 1915"]

He stated his reasoning: “I felt that one could get a quality of being through the fact that the person did not know he was being photographed … [and I wanted to capture] these people within an environment which they themselves had chosen to be in, or were in anyway.”

Paulstrandmanfivepntssqny1916Strand shot images of the poor, of immigrants, of workers, of the blind and disabled, of aging New Yorkers in parks. His work reveals the humanity amid a modern city on the move, bustling with traffic, crowds, and commerce.

“Treating the human condition in the modern urban context, Strand’s photographs are a subversive alternative to the studio portrait of glamour and power,” states the Met.

[Above: Man, Five Points Square, New York, 1916]

“A new kind of portrait akin to a social terrain, they are, as Sanford Schwartz put it, ‘cityscapes that have faces for subjects.’”

See the 10-minute Manhatta here—it’s a treasure.

Gorgeous neon signs illuminating the city

March 3, 2014

What’s more beautiful than block after block of glowing reds and blues and pinks and yellows, emanating light and heat?

Oldhomesteadsign

These food-oriented neon signs also make you hungry. The Old Homestead sign looks pretty old, though not as old as this steak house (two words!) itself, from 1868.

Donutpub14thstreet

The Donut Pub on 14th Street, a 50-year-old remnant of New York before cronuts and Starbucks, recently survived a competitive attack by an upstart Dunkin’ Donuts down the block, which quietly closed shop a few years ago.

DeRobertispastryshoppe

DeRobertis Caffe and Pasticceria has been baking sweets for 110 years on First Avenue near 14th Street, when this was an Sicilian immigrant micro-neighborhood featuring Russo Brothers, Veniero, and probably hundreds of small shops lost to history.

Queensign

Queen is an oddly named Italian restaurant (since 1958!) on Court Street in Brooklyn. You have to dig that crown.

Katzsign

And of course, Katz’s Deli, a treasure of New York neon and store signage—and sandwiches and Jewish soul food too.

More sublime neon beauty can be found here.

The tenement and alley cats of old New York

March 3, 2014

Lolcats they are not: They’re not cuddly, expressive, or internet-friendly. They don’t play the keyboard on YouTube. They’re not even the cute mousers who live in many of the bodegas in our contemporary city.

Catontenementsteps1890mcny

These felines are old-school apartment and alley cats who caught the attention of photographers—perhaps impressed by their toughness and ability to survive on the city’s mean streets.

Rhinelanderhousescat1937mcny

This cow-spotted furball is lounging on a fence post in 1937 at Rhinelander Gardens, a beautiful stretch of circa-1850s homes with decorative cast-iron torn down in 1957 to make room for P.S. 41.

Catinawindow1935mcny

Two years earlier, a similar-looking kitty hangs out on a window frame. No protective screens in that walkup.

Catincitygarbage1952

On Catherine Street in 1952, thanks to residents who failed to put their trash in cans, a hungry alley cat is sniffing out his dinner.

[Photos: MCNY]

The noisy, gritty Bowery north of Grand Street

February 20, 2014

Imagine the constant, ear-splitting roar of the Third Avenue elevated trains, the grimy shadows cast by steel tracks, the sounds of horse hoofs, wagon wheels, and streetcars traveling up and down the street.

Bowerypostcard

It’s the legendary turn-of-the-century Bowery, the seedy main drag memorialized in the refrain of the 1891 hit “The Bowery”:

“They say such things
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry!
The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there any more!”

The old men playing bocce on First Avenue

February 13, 2014

Bocce1940firstaveroyperryBocce is a rare sight in the city today.

But this bowling-like game used to be huge in neighborhoods populated by Italians, who brought it to New York during the great wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th century.

One popular bocce spot was near Peretz Square, the sliver of a park near First Avenue and East Houston Street.

Ephemeral reader Rich L. sent in this fascinating color photo below, snapped in 1970, of some older gentlemen engrossed in a game.

Boccecourts

“These bocce courts were just outside the subway entrance (F train, ‘Second Ave’ station) on the northwest corner of Houston St and 1st Avenue,” wrote Rich. “I lived in Flushing, and my future wife lived on 2nd St, so it was quite the trip to see each other.”

“I’d see these same men playing bocce week after week on these two impeccably kept courts. They were absolutely fascinating to watch. Shame they’re now paved over.”

Bocce1940firstavefedartprojectThe First Avenue/East Houston bocce court existed in 1940, the date of two wonderful photos (at top and left) from the photo collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

However, Ronald Sanders, author of 1979′s The Lower East Side, says they were built when Houston Street was widened in the 1950s.

These photos show the court attracted bocce players at least until 1975, the date the fourth photo was taken.

“Although bocce itself is a continuing reminder of the Italian presence on First Avenue, the inclusion of a growing number of Hispanics among the players and watchers shows another of the instances of ethnic succession on the Lower East Side,” wrote Sanders.

Bocce1975edmundgillonfirstave

Today, Peretz Square has no more bocce courts; it’s the gateway to Hell Square!

[Top photo: Roy Perry/MCNY; second photo: Rich L.; third: Federal Arts Project/MCNY; fourth: Edmund Gillon/MCNY]

A book of “tenement tales” on the city’s poor

February 6, 2014

When I first came across this vintage ad (or part of a cover?) for J.W. Sullivan’s 1895 book Tenement Tales of New York, I wasn’t sure if it was serious-minded fiction or pulpy stories filled with stereotypes and lurid drama.

Apparently it’s the former—a slim volume chronicling with sensitivity the lives of street kids, factory girls, and immigrant laborers.

Tenementtales

James W. Sullivan was a journalist and union organizer active in the growing labor movement of the late 19th century.

His Tenement Tales, one of many books Sullivan wrote about the city’s slum dwellers, “constitute a landmark literary achievement,” stated a chapter in The Irish Voice in America, edited by Charles Fanning.

Amazingly, Tenement Tales of New York is a free download available here. (Its “companion volume, 1895′s Slum Stories of London, is online too.)

[Ad: NYPL Digital Collection]

Caring for the East Village’s babies and derelicts

February 3, 2014

SaracurryIf you’ve spent any time on St. Marks Place between First and Second Avenues in the past year, you may have noticed that the block has been renamed Sara Curry Way.

Who was Sara Curry? This young transplant came to the city in the late 19th century and witnessed a tragic accident that strengthened her resolve to make working with poor children her life’s mission.

Born in Utica in 1863, Curry was orphaned as a child and went to work in a local factory.

There, she “studied the problems of other girls who worked long hours for a living,” her New York Times obituary noted. “In her spare time, she devoted her energies to helping them.”

SaracurrywaysignA wealthy New York City resident heard about her efforts to help working women upstate.

He arranged for Curry to come to New York in 1894 and help run a nursery for poor working mothers at the Mariner’s Temple, a circa-1795 Baptist Church on Henry Street. That led her to do missionary work in Chinatown with the disadvantaged, and then, in 1896, her true calling.

“One day, on seeing a child crushed by a truck, she resolved to devote her life mainly to children,” stated the Times.  The child was one of thousands of “street Arabs” who roamed the city in the late 19th century, because their parents worked or they had no homes to go to.

Littlemissionarysdaynursery2014“With only enough money to pay a month’s rent and immediate necessities, she rented a room at 204 Avenue C, which became her first nursery, and in it she cared for a dozen babies.”

In 1901, the nursery, now funded by benefactors, moved to larger quarters at 93 St. Marks Place, the heart of the city’s Kleindeutschland. There, Curry helped care for 200 children of poor mothers who had to work and had no safe place to bring their young children.

Called the Little Missionary’s Day Nursery , it was an homage to Curry’s small stature and nickname “Little Angel of the Missions.”

“Miss Curry never lost sight of social conditions in the children’s background, wrote the Times.

“She made thousands of visits to their parents, visited the sick, served Thanksgiving dinner by the hundreds.”

Littlemissionarysgoodhousekeeping

Sara Curry died in 1940. But her nursery school still exists on St. Marks Place.

[Top photo: Little Missionary's Day Nursery; bottom: Good Housekeeping, 1904]

The 1940s Lower East Side salvage collectors

January 13, 2014

Charles Cushman was a statistician, not a professional photographer.

But he clearly had an eye for the enchanting and poetic. As he traveled the country from the 1930s to the 1960s, he took photos—many in color, bringing scenes we’re used to seeing in stark black and white in gorgeous, enchanting hues.

Salvagecollectorscushman

Many of his color photos capture ordinary street scenes in New York in the early 1940s. Here, some salvage collectors on a Lower East Side street in October 1941 recycle the old-fashioned way.

A Houston Street park inspired by a Paris palace

January 2, 2014

Opened in 1900 on Houston and Pitt Streets, Hamilton Fish Park was one of the city’s first playgrounds.

Created after the 1887 passing of the Small Parks Act, it provided a gymnasium, outdoor play area, and later two pools for neighborhood kids living in tight quarters and no place to run and play.

Hamiltonfishparkbldg

Parks officials could have hammered together a functional yet unsightly gymnasium.

But with the idea in mind that public architecture should be inspiring, the city had Carrere and Hastings—the heralded firm behind Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, the Frick Mansion, and the Public Library on 42nd Street—to design a gymnasium building that would also serve as an entrance to the park.

Petitpalaisfacade

Carrere and Hastings used the Petit Palais in Paris as their inspiration. It’s not quite an exact replica of the circa-1900 gallery on the Champs-Elysees  built for the Universal Exposition that year.

But you can see the similarities and appreciate Carrere and Hastings’ attempt to bring something lovely to what was then an overcrowded, terribly poor neighborhood.

It’s not the first time New York architects were inspired by Europe; the Bronx’s main thoroughfare pays homage to the Champs-Elysees, while Jefferson Market courthouse takes a Bavarian castle as its inspiration.

Addresses carved into Lower East Side corners

January 2, 2014

These old-school street name carvings pop up in the city’s tenement districts—and few neighborhoods have as high a concentration of tenements as the Lower East Side and East Village.

Avenuecaddresscarving

Avenue C above Houston Street was rebranded the East Village in the 1960s. But this red-brick residence with the graffiti tag on the upper left has the vibe of the LES.

Orchardhestercornersign

Above, turn-of-the-century Public School 42 notes its address: on the corner of Hester and Orchard Streets.

Interestingly, this is now known as the Benjamin Altman school, after the department store founder, the son of German immigrants who opened his first dry-goods store on nearby Attorney Street.

Divisonandpikesign

Division and Pike Streets are firmly in Lower East Side territory. Thanks to Ephemeral reader Iman for the great snap!


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