Archive for the ‘central park’ 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]

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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]

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[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.

Central Park West’s most enchanting apartments

March 17, 2014

SturbantallThe wonderful thing about New York is that you can pass a building hundreds of times before discovering its magic.

Which is how, on a rainy late afternoon with just a slant of sunlight left in the sky, I discovered the beauty of the Beaux-Arts gem the St. Urban.

It’s a 12-story apartment house at 89th Street, one of many French flat–style residences built in an almost unbroken line along Central Park West at the turn of the last century.

The building’s neighbors, the Dakota and the San Remo, are perhaps more flamboyant. The St. Urban’s beauty is more understated, and it stands today as an elegant throwback—described in one book as a “splendid anachronism” of gracious, Gilded Age living.

SturbancherubFacing the park is a porte-cochere—a magnificent recessed carriage entrance—illuminated by golden globes affixed to the limestone entrance.

The St. Urban’s sloping mansard roof and dormer windows give it a castle-like feel, which is underscored by its rounded, domed tower crowned with a copper lantern.

I’m not the only one enchanted by the St. Urban. In 2001, writer Andre Aciman had this to say about the building, in a New York Times Magazine issue that focused on the specialness of New York City.

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“As with Monet’s portraits of the Rouen cathedral, does the St. Urban stir so many images that changing the season, the cast of light or time of day changes the building as well?,” wrote Aciman.

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“All I know is that something in me is forever grafted here—which is why I dare not think of the city without this building, or of me without this city, or of this building without me.”

A bear and a goat dancing at the Central Park Zoo

February 27, 2014

DancinggoatAlive or cast in bronze, all the animals at the Central Park Zoo are pretty charming.

Case in point: two creatures flanking the entrance gate of the Children’s Zoo since 1937, both hoofing it and having a blast.

Honey Bear is on the north side. She (he?) is on hind legs, playfully (or hungrily?) sticking her tongue out, standing on a basin surrounded by five bug-eyed water-spraying frogs.

On the south side is the Dancing Goat.

A little more ornery looking, Dancing Goat is also on hind legs in a basin, five bold little ducks who serve as fountains at his feet.

Honeybearfrogs

These two whimsical statues are the creation of Brooklyn native Frederick George Richard Roth.

HoneybearstatueAn accomplished artist born in 1872, Roth was the head sculptor of the city Parks Department in the 1930s.

(Who knew the parks department once had a head sculptor?)

If you’ve spent time in Central Park, you’ve probably seen his work. Roth designed the Mother Goose monument as well as the statue of hero husky Balto.

You know Balto, the sled dog who helped deliver medicine to sick kids in an Alaskan Blizzard in 1925.

This dancing goat isn’t the only one in Central Park.

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These two bronze miniatures flanking a frolicking boy sit on top of the Lehman Gates at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo, along with other bronze critters. As if this part of the park could get any sweeter.

The most beautiful bridges of Central Park

February 20, 2014

At least 36 arches and bridges curve and bend along the 843 acres of Central Park, tucked into the rolling landscape like little treasures.

Some were part of the original vision for the park, developed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1850s. Others came in the 1860s and 1870s.

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Some span land, some cross water—but all are lovely, especially covered by snow, and they represent a range of styles and designs.

The elegant, cast-iron Southwest Reservoir Arch, above, built in 1865, crosses the Bridle Path.

Oakbridge

Oak Bridge, which spans Bank Rock Bay at the entrance to the Ramble, was originally constructed in 1860 from white oak, with decorative cast iron in the railings.

The wood deteriorated over the years, and in 2009 the Central Park Conservatory rebuilt Oak Bridge using steel on the bridge itself and wood for the railings.

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Dalehead Arch is on the West Side near 64th Street. Made of sandstone and brownstone with pretty cutouts, it dates back to the 1860s.

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If this rustic bridge in the Ramble has a name, I couldn’t find it! It’s an homage to the natural vision Olmsted and Vaux had for the park.

“Curving gracefully over the narrow neck of the Pond at 59th Street, Gapstow is one of the iconic bridges of Central Park,” states the Central Park Conservatory website. “Design aficionados might notice a striking resemblance to the Ponte di San Francesco in San Remo, Italy.”

Gapstowbridge

“Originally designed by Jacob Wrey Mould in 1874, the then-wooden bridge with cast-iron railings suffered great  wear over 20 years. It was replaced with the current stone structure in 1896, designed by Howard & Caudwell.”

And of course, probably the most iconic bridge in the park is the one at Bethesda Terrace, with its dazzling ceiling tiles.

Chronicling a city “shrouded and mute in snow”

February 10, 2014

JosemartiMarch 11, 1888, a Sunday, had started out spring-like, with temperatures hitting 40 degrees by noon. But afternoon rain turned to evening sleet, then heavy snow overnight.

New York’s surprise blizzard of 1888 had set upon the city. Before the 60 mile-per-hour winds and blinding snow ended on Tuesday, 20 inches would blanket the metropolis, paralyzing the city for days and killing about 200 people.

During the blizzard, Jose Marti wrote. Marti (above photo) was a Cuban journalist who had moved to New York in 1881 after leading his country’s fight for independence from Spain.

Blizzardstreetsceneloc

In exile, Marti wrote dispatches about life in New York for Spanish-language newspapers and continued his fight for Cuban freedom. He chronicled the “white hurricane” for the Argentinian paper La Nacion in searing, poetic language, capturing a city stuck without the communication and transportation systems it greatly depended on.

Blizzardmadisonave“[T]he first straw hats were just beginning to be seen on the streets of New York along with the glad, bright clothes of Easter, when the city opened its eyes one morning shaken by the roar of a storm, and found itself shrouded, mute, empty, buried in snow.”

“The snow was knee deep, and the drifts waist-high. The angry wind nipped at the hands of pedestrians, knifed through their clothing, froze their noses and ears, blinded them, hurled them backward into the slippery snow, its fury making it impossible for them to get to their feet, flung them hatless and groping for support against the walls, or left them to sleep, to sleep forever, under the snow.”

On Tuesday, a shaken city began to dig out. Trains that had been grounded resumed running, and residents set out to their workplaces.

“The elevated train, encamped for two days in sinister vigil next to the corpse of an engineer who set out to defy its gale, is running again, creaking and shivering over the treacherous rails that gleam and flash.”

Blizzardwest11thst

“This city of snow dotted with brick-red houses is terrible and astonishing, as if flowers of blood were suddenly to bloom on a shroud. The telegraph poles broadcast and contemplate the mess, their lines lying in tangles on the ground like disheveled heads.”

Blizzard14thst6thave“The city awoke this morning without milk, coal, mail, newspapers, streetcars, telephones, or telegraphs. . . . All businesses are closed, and the elevated train, that false marvel, struggles in vain to take the angry crowds that pack the stations to work.”

“The city is coming back to life, burying its dead, and pushing back the snow with the chests of horses and men, the ploughs of locomotives, and buckets of boiling water, sticks, planks, bonfires. And there is a feeling of immense humility and sudden goodness, as if the hand we all must fear has resting on all men at once.”

After the blizzard, Marti continued to write and push for Cuban independence, returning to Cuba in 1895. Later that year, he perished on the battlefield.

Blizzard of 1888 Bdwy at 31st St.

A bronze statue heralding Marti as an “apostle of Cuban independence” was dedicated in Central Park in 1965. On the pedestal, a plaque notes his literary genius.

[Photos: Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, New York Public Library Digital Collection, New York Times]

The front page of the Sunday paper in 1896

February 3, 2014

At 40 pages with a color cover, the Sunday Journal in the late 19th century was quite impressive.

Sundayjournalfrontpage

What I love about it, besides the cyclist in her winter riding outfit, are the headlines: “The Death Traps of New York,” “Smallest Baby in the World,” something about a millionaire’s house—it’s the same sensationalist copy peddled in print and online these days.

The 10-page pullout from the Patriarch’s Ball rounds it out. The Patriarch’s Ball was an annual party for the cream of the crop of New York’s social scene . . . the same kind of celebrity event given wall to wall media coverage today.

The sheep pen turned restaurant in Central Park

January 30, 2014

From 1934 to 2010, Tavern on the Green was the kind of touristy New York restaurant that a lot of city residents shunned.

Tavernonthegreen

But the place had surprising roots in post–Civil War New York.

The gabled Victorian building where diners once feasted and danced (in the 1950s, at least, according to the back of this postcard) was constructed as sheepfold for a flock of sheep that grazed, yep, today’s Sheep Meadow.

Sheepfoldcentralpark

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s designers, created a pastoral landscape—and 200 or so sheep hanging around and keeping the grass clipped certainly gave the park the feel of a retreat from urban life.

In 1934, the sheep got the boot by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who had other ideas about how Central Park should serve the city.

Sheepcentralpark1910

Plus, on a more gruesome note, apparently there were fears that the hungry, desperate men who built a Depression-era Hooverville in the park would kill and eat the flock!

[Bottom photo: sheep grazing and cutting the lawn, about 1910]

The sleighs and sleds of snowy old New York

January 6, 2014

Rapid transit in early to mid-19th century New York consisted of horse-pulled “omnibuses” that could seat a dozen or more passengers and followed fixed routes up, down, and across the city.

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And after a winter snowfall, omnibus lines often used sleighs to navigate snowy or icy streets. This illustration depicts some jovial riders on an omnibus sleigh heading downtown on a Broadway line.

Centralparkcurrierivesmcgowan

Maybe a sleigh ride through freezing-cold Manhattan wasn’t always so cheery.

In his diary, lawyer George Templeton Strong described commuter sleighs as “insane vehicles” that “carry each its hundred sufferers, of whom about half have to stand in the wet straw with their feet freezing and occasionally stamped on by their fellow travelers, their ears and noses tingling in the bitter wind, their hats always on the point of being blown off.”

Sleighcentralpark19thcentury1

Having your hat blown off—not much fun. A sleigh ride was a form of winter recreation too, especially on a vehicle that that glided through Central Park or flew through semi-rural Harlem.

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Speed freaks liked to race each other’s sleighs as well, as the above Currier and Ives image of a part of the park then called McGowan’s Pass, near East 106th Street, shows.

Centralparksledkids1897mcny

On snowy days, city parks were also filled with kids soaring down hills on sleds . . . or enjoying being pulled along a flat snowy surface, like these little ones.

[Images: New York Public Library Digital Collection; last image MCNY]

The visionary who created New York City

December 30, 2013

The name Andrew Haswell Green typically draws blank stares from today’s city residents, who are unfamiliar with his accomplishments helping to build the parks, museums, and zoos of 19th century New York—not to mention the consolidated city itself.

AndrewgreenIn the late 1850s, Green was a member of the Central Park Board of Commissioners, tasked with selecting the design for the new park.

It was Green who recognized the beauty and brilliance of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s Greensward Plan, with its woodsy and pastoral landscapes. He shepherded the plan, helping it become reality.

The New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, Central Park Zoo—give props to Green, now city comptroller, for these late 19th century achievements.

His 1868 proposal to consolidate the city, however, was a harder sell.

Nicknamed “Green’s Hobby,” the idea of combining Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other towns and cities along the city’s port barely gained traction.

Andrewgreencentralparkbench

But Green persisted. In 1890, the city council created a task force to look into the idea. By the middle of the decade, after much debate (and grumbling from Brooklynites), consolidation was approved; the new city was born on January 1, 1898.

Andrewgreenconsolidation1

Consolidation was an economic and practical success. But Green didn’t live long enough to see the results.

In 1903, while arriving at his home on Park Avenue, he was killed, ambushed by a gun-wielding man who mistook Green, then in his 80s, for someone else with the same last name.

The “father of New York City” was memorialized in Central Park with a bench bearing his name. He now also has a riverfront park named for him overlooking the East River at 60th Street.

[Middle photo: NYC Parks Department]

New York’s most spectacular apartment building

December 7, 2013

Incredible, right? Called the Navarro Flats, this massive fortress of Gilded-Age extravagance was built on Central Park South at Seventh Avenue in the mid-1880s.

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Twice the size of the Dakota, the Navarro Flats was also early example of apartment-style living. At the time, most New Yorkers of means still preferred living in a single brownstone or townhouse.

But “French Flats” were catching on, and the developer, Jose Francisco de Navarro, expected to make a mint selling luxury apartments to new-money New Yorkers.

Navarroapartments

He spared no expense. The seven-bedroom duplexes had as much as 7,000 square feet of floor space, including a drawing room, library, and billiards room (but only two bathrooms per apartment).

Navarroflats2Each $20,000 duplex was part of one of eight townhouses within the complex, an arrangement thought to make the idea of apartment life more palatable, reports Nathan Silver’s Lost New York.

So why isn’t such a spectacular mishmash of Queen Anne and Gothic architecture there anymore?

Some apartments sold, but mostly, New Yorkers didn’t bite. In 1888, de Navarro was fending off lawsuits from mortgage holders, and the enormous complex met with foreclosure.

By the 1920s, it was gone–replaced by newer luxury residences the Hampshire House and Essex House.

[Middle Photo: NYPL Digital Collection]


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