Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The West Side girl who swam the English Channel

April 21, 2014

GetrudeederlepicGood thing the heavy Victorian female “bathing outfit” of the late 19th century evolved.

Thanks to lighter, tighter suits, women began taking up swimming—like young Gertrude Ederle. Born in 1906 to German immigrant parents, Trudy learned to swim at the Jersey shore. She dubbed herself a “water baby” and broke dozens of distance records.

She medaled in the 1924 Paris Olympics. But her greatest achievement was yet to come.

GetrudeederlesouvinerphotoIn the 1920s, crazy competitions of strength and endurance were all the rage, among them attempts to swim across the English Channel.

Men had made the 21-mile trip, but no woman had—until August 1926, when 20-year-old Trudy left Dover, England smeared in grease and made it ashore in Cape Griz-Niz, France after 14 hours and 20 minutes in choppy, rough waters.

On August 27th, when she arrived home from Europe, New York City went wild with celebration.

“Airplanes circled overhead as her ship steamed up the Narrows, the harbor swarmed with the biggest fleet of small craft ever seen, and cheering admirers packed Broadway as she rode to City Hall in a blizzard of ticker tape, confetti, and flowers,” wrote Peter Salwen in Upper West Side Story.

“The Daily News gave her seven full pages of coverage and a new road roadster, and after a stop at City Hall to accept the key to the city from Mayor Walker, she rode home to a neighborhood that had become a sea of flags, bunting, and ‘Welcome, Trudy’ signs.”


Her father’s butcher shop at 108 Amsterdam was decorated with bunting. The next day 5,000 people turned out on West 65th Street for a block party in her honor (above).

GertudeederleparadeTrudy received offers from Hollywood and Broadway and was deluged by marriage proposals. But after the hoopla died down, she mostly returned to living a quiet, unassuming life.

 She moved to Queens and working as a swimming instructor for deaf children (her hearing was seriously damaged in the water of the Channel).

The swimmer dubbed “America’s Best Girl” by President Coolidge after her feat died in 2003 at age 98.

She hasn’t been totally lost to history; in 2013, the city opened the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, complete with a pool, in her old neighborhood on West 60th Street.

The Mets fan who parachuted into Shea Stadium

April 12, 2014

MichaelsergiostudiousmetsimusIt happened during the first inning of Game 6 of the World Series, in October 1986.

The Mets had taken the field; pitcher Bob Ojeda had just thrown the ball to catcher Gary Carter. The crowd of 55,000 at Shea was pumped and excited.

All of a sudden, something, or someone, came out of the sky. A man in a white jumpsuit with a parachute on his back glided into the infield.

He touched down carrying a homemade “Go Mets” banner. After scoring a high-five from Ron Darling and enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, he was escorted off the field by cops. Who was this rabid and fearless fan?

AP86102501051.jpgMichael Sergio was an actor in his 30s living in Midtown, who made the jump from a plane into the Queens nighttime sky to show his support, he told a New York Mets sports blog in 2011.

That night, he watched the Mets win the game at the police station. The next day, a judge released him on his own recognizance.

He later pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and paid a $500 fine for his spectacular descent into Shea, which is preserved forever on YouTube.


Can you imagine if this happened today? Sergio would be tackled by stadium security and federal agents and be thrown in federal prison!

“Shea under the lights was the most beautiful sight imaginable, like a crystal-green pool,” Sergio told Sports Illustrated in a 1989 article about his famous jump, which foreshadowed an incredible game and series.

RIP Shea Stadium.

[Top photo: Studious Metsimus; middle: New York Post; bottom: New York Daily News]

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.


“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.


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]

The sea-inspired windows of a Midtown clubhouse

January 20, 2014

Yachtclubphoto1901West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is packed with architectural gems.

It’s kind of a clubhouse and hotel district, with the headquarters of the Harvard Club and General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen there, as well as the old Algonquin and Iroquois Hotels.

Still, I think the six-story headquarters of the New York Yacht Club just might be the most enchanting building of all.

It all comes down to those incredible nautical-themed windows, with their shells, seaweed, and raging dolphins.

Completed in 1900, the “street side of the building is regarded as one of the most expressive examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in the country,” states the NYYC website.


“It draws on a number of classic motifs,” the NYYC website explains.

Yachtclubwindowcloseup“But its hallmark is the elaborate bay windows set into sculpted framework depicting the sterns of fancifully carved baroque sailing vessels, with garlands of seaweed and shells hanging from wave-like consoles and dolphins spewing into the overhanging wakes of the departing ships.”

Inside the clubhouse, things look pretty spectacular as well, as these NYYC photos and a virtual tour of one of the rooms reveal.

The “great dog show” thrills the Gilded Age city

January 16, 2014

Dogs have always had a place in New York: as guardians, beloved pets, police partners, and firehouse mascots.

WestminsterdogshowSo it’s no surprise that the world’s most prestigious canine event, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, got its start in a dog-happy 19th century city.

It all began at the upscale Westminster Hotel on Irving Place and 16th Street.

The hotel bar was the meeting place for elite “sportsmen” who enjoyed boasting about their prized sporting dogs.

The men decided to form a club, and when they couldn’t agree on a name, went with Westminster Kennel Club, after the hotel.

The first dog show was held in May 1877 at Gilmore’s Gardens, on the site of the future Madison Square Garden at Madison Avenue and 27th Street. It was a huge hit with the public.


About 1,200 dogs were entered: pointers, setters, St. Bernards, spaniels, collies, Newfoundlands, dachshunds, harriers, beagles, wolfhounds, and other purebreed pups, all vying for a ribbon.

WestminsterimageUp to 8,000 New Yorkers visited on the first day. “Everybody was fashionably dressed and wore an air of good breeding,” wrote The New York Times.

“One the second day, there were 10,000 visitors, and on the third, the same,” stated The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster.

“This led the club to extend the show by a day. Proceeds of that day, minus expenses, were to go to the ASPCA as the nucleus of a fund to open a home for stray and disabled dogs, similar to one in London.”

The show moved to Madison Square Garden and grew in subsequent years; the first Best in Show award was given in 1907 (to a smooth fox terrier named Warren Remedy, below).

Warrenremedybestinshow1907In the teens, firehouse Dalmatians had their own contest, and a World War I hero German Shepherd named Filax of Lewanno earned a special salute.

The show is back at the Garden on February 10—one of only four events to be held at every incarnation of Madison Square Garden.

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.


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.


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.

The skateboarding kids of 1960s New York

October 21, 2013

New Yorkers who complained about skate rats back in the 1960s would be positively terrified of the skaters in the city today.


Skateboarding “is the most exhilarating and dangerous joyriding device this side of the hot rod,” wrote Life magazine in 1965, in the text accompanying a photo essay of the early skateboarders riding New York’s streets and Central Park.


“A two-foot piece of plastic mounted on wheels, it yields to the skillful user the excitement of skiing or surfing. to the unskilled it gives the effect of having stepped on a banana peel while dashing down he back stairs.”


“It is also a menace to limb and even to life.”


The captions to Life photographer Bill Eppridge’s images helpfully explain this new “fad or menace” to readers.


“Skylarking through Central Park and along crowded Manhattan streets. exuberant young New Yorkers epitomized the perils of the skateboard. In the park they take over paths made for peaceful strollers and elsewhere they scorn the sidewalks because ‘they wear out the wheels’ and ride on the busy streets through, besides, and all-but-under the cars.”

Julian’s pool hall and an Automat on 14th Street

October 14, 2013

Certain defunct New York businesses are remembered with great fondness.

One is the automat—actually the 50 or so Horn & Hardart automats that used to exist all over the city. The fast food of their era, they dispensed hot coffee, sandwiches, baked beans, and pie to millions of busy New Yorkers cheaply and efficiently.


Another is Julian’s pool academy, a seedy but popular venue for decades that’s been gone from East 14th Street since 1991.

Who knew these two beloved establishments once shared the same building at 115 East 14th Street?


An Ephemeral reader did, and he sent this photo, from 1933, showing the original location of Julian’s upstairs from an automat. The building was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for Zeckendorf Towers, and Julian’s moved across the street to the old Palladium building, once the Academy of Music.

The second photo, from the NYPL Digital Gallery, was taken two years later, showing the new revolving door at the automat. What a treat!

An 1880s shooting gallery on St. Mark’s Place

May 23, 2013

Stmarksshootingclub1893kingsNo, not that kind—an actual shooting gallery.

It’s a remnant of Kleindeutschland, the “Little Germany” that encompassed the East Village from the 1840s through the early 1900s.

The shooting gallery was at 12 St. Mark’s Place, east of Third Avenue. A bas relief carved into the facade gives away the building’s original purpose: it depicts an eagle, crossed guns, and a symbolic target, with the words Einigkeit Macht Stark (“unity is strength”) carved above.

This was the home of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schuetzen Gesellschaft, or German American Shooting Society.

Built in 1888, it housed a saloon, lodge rooms, bowling alley, and a small shooting range in the basement (club members did most of the actual shooting in Queens).


“By the 1880s, shooting became a middle class pastime, and most halls had moved to the suburbs along with many residents of Kleindeutschland,” states a Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

Stmarksshootingclub2013“However, the German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse remained an important link to the old neighborhood despite the migration.”

“It served as a headquarters for meetings of twenty-four such groups, and was the site of fund-raisers for the construction of rifle ranges and travel to Germany for international shooting contests.”

The Shooting Society owned it until 1920, and in subsequent decades, it served as a Ukrainian Culture Center and St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Today it’s a yoga studio . . . of course!

[Top photo: King's Handbook of New York City, 1890s]

What took the place of Ebbets Field after 1957

April 10, 2013

Ebbetsfieldopeningday1913Everyone knows the story: At the end of the 1957 baseball season, the Dodgers moved out of their Crown Heights ballpark and decamped to Los Angeles.

But the 45-year-old stadium on Bedford Avenue didn’t sit empty.

It was used by semipro leagues and college teams before the wrecking ball, painted to resemble a baseball, finally arrived in February 1960.

Following two years of construction, the Ebbets Field Apartments—beige, monolith buildings rising 20 stories—opened to the public as rentals.


The apartments are still there, looking worn. And somewhere on the property this plaque also exists, a small commemoration of the fabled ballpark that opened 100 years ago this month.

Ebbets Field wasn’t the only city stadium to get the ugly apartment building makeover. The Polo Grounds, former home of the New York Giants, is now the Polo Grounds Towers, a public housing complex.

One small, faded plaque marks the former site of home base.


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