Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Skating on the Central Park Lake under twilight

October 18, 2014

It’s almost that time of year again—just not in Central Park anymore. Painter Saul Kovner’s twilight scene on the Lake casts an enchanting glow on Depression-era skaters.

Skatingincentralpark1934kovner

Before you get any ideas, keep in mind that skating on the Lake was officially banned in 1950! Kovner painted other winter scenes in New York as well, like this one of a snow day in Tompkins Square Park.

The roller skating craze fades in 1880s Brooklyn

August 30, 2014

A roller rink once packed in young people in Brooklyn Heights?

Here’s the proof: this late 19th century trading card, which puts the Brooklyn Heights Roller Skating Rink at Fulton and Orange Streets, a corner of old Brooklyn that no longer exists.

Rollerrinkbrooklynheights

The card is part of the fascinating collection of Victorian-era trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ads for the rink appear in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle. But there’s not a whole lot on the rink itself—though plenty of articles chronicle the roller skating trend of the 1880s city.

RollerrinkfadbrooklyneagleThis October 1886 Eagle article announces the craze as over.

“‘The roller skating craze has passed away, as regards popular favor,’ said a former proprietor of a Brooklyn roller rink to an Eagle reporter.”

“‘Roller skating is like love—once dead, it can never be revived. The first established rinks realized immense profits. At this time last year, no less than 20 rinks were open in this city.

“Many did a good business, but others lost money. The best year for roller skating was the Winter and Spring of 1883 and 1884.'”

Going for a swim at Madison Square Garden

August 9, 2014

Imagine if every summer, the interior of the current Madison Square Garden was transformed into an enormous swimming pool, with diving platforms, seats for spectators, and a 25-foot waterfall.

Madison Square Garden as a Swimming Pool

Pretty cool, right? A pool like this actually did exist during the summer of 1921—host to swim competitions and diving shows, and open to the general public too.

The pool was the idea of boxing promoter Tex Rickard, who leased the Garden, then on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, for a series of Friday night fights.

MSGpool1921popularmechanics

“In addition to a full slate of boxing matches, Rickard’s plan for the Garden included remodeling the structure, adding seating capacity (bringing it to 13,000 seats), and turning the giant amphitheater into the world’s largest indoor swimming pool during the summer months,” states Tex Rickard: Boxing’s Greatest Promoter.

MadisonsquaregardenIIUnfortunately the pool didn’t last much longer. Rickard gave up his promoter’s license after being accused of improper behavior with a couple of teenage girls.

That didn’t end his career though. He helped finance the creation of a new Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, which opened in 1925.

The circa-1890 arena, designed by Stanford White, with the new pool (above) was demolished.

The bicycle “scorchers” menacing the 1890s city

August 9, 2014

Cyclists racing down city streets at top speed, darting around pedestrians on sidewalks and roadways? It’s not just a contemporary New York thing.

ScorchersongbookThe Gilded Age city dealt with reckless bike riders first.

Called “scorchers” for their speed, they gave the very trendy new sport of cycling a bad name and were much-discussed in newspaper articles of the day.

“A new menace appeared in the streets: the ‘scorcher’ or bicycle speed fiend, ‘that idiot with head sunk between bent handle bars,’ body thrown forward and pedaling at top speed,” wrote Peter Salwen, author of Upper West Side Story.

The Upper West Side was especially popular with riders. From Columbus Circle to 72nd to Riverside Drive and Grant’s Tomb, the broad avenues were packed with riders—and some terrified residents.

“The Boulevard, in the vicinity of 72nd Street, is becoming a place very difficult to cross, and at times dangerous to limb and possibly to life,” one New York Times letter writer complained in November 1895.

Scorchersquad

“The number of ‘hoodlums’ scorching along there with heads down, with no regard to the safety of persons crossing, is rapidly increasing; and the matter certainly needs regulating by the officers of the law.”

One month later, police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt approved the formation of a “scorcher squad,” four men who were tasked with catching and ticketing these speeding cyclists.

Cyclistsfifthave124thst1897

Considered a success, the scorcher squad eventually expanded to include 100 officers (middle photo).

But as the cycling fad eased and the automobile took over city streets, the squad’s days were numbered. Considering that we’re in a new bicycle era and not all riders follow traffic rules, maybe it’s time for a second incarnation of the scorcher squad?

[Top image: via tubulocity.com; third photo, cyclists rounding the corner at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street in 1897 : MCNY]

How to outsmart the heat in summer 1899

July 21, 2014

MCNYsodawateradToday we survive summer heat waves with air conditioning and gelato runs.

But the “can’t-get-aways” of the 19th century city had to rely on other ways to keep cool, reports this cheeky New York Times Illustrated Magazine article from July 23, 1899.

One tactic was to loiter near electric fans: in offices, barber shops, and restaurants.

“When [fan loiterers] find a fan that suits them they plant themselves, so to speak, and remain as long as possible in placid enjoyment of the breezes furnished by other people’s money,” wrote the Times.

Fountains, Madison Sq. Park on hot day

“Every proprietor of an electric fan becomes acquainted during the heated term with these electric fan fiends.”

Some people engaged in “violent exercise.” These are the “misguided people who, given a temperature of a hundred in the shade, will choose a century run on a bicycle as the most enjoyable way of passing the time.”

Golf, baseball, and tennis “also have their enthusiastic hot-weather devotees, as a visit to Central Park any afternoon will testify.”

Ritzcarltonroofgarden

Socializing on a roof garden was an option, or heading to the mall at Central Park to hear free music, or splashing around “gleefully as dolphins” in the fountain at City Hall Park—though the latter was reserved for newsboys.

You could always catch a cool breeze by riding streetcars, transferring from car to car to the farthest and coolest parts of the city.

“The happiest man of the season is one who has just discovered that he can ride from the Battery up to Hastings-on-Hudson for 8 cents,” states the Times.

Streetcarnyc1906Then there was the “soda water habit,” which caused afflicted people to guzzle all kinds of creamy, bubbly concoctions and risk “dyspepsia.”

Finally, the article took New Yorkers to task for dressing inappropriately.

“Young professional men get an idea that dignity is a matter of dress, and go about on hot days wearing high silk hats and frock coats that give one a high fever only to look at them.

Centralparkmall1910concertnpd

“It is true that lanky young men with very lean calves affect knickerbockers in Summer, and stout elderly women appear in light, airy muslins that would be suitable for slender girls of sixteen, but beyond this, and the general appearance of straw hats and shirt waists, there are few indications in the dress of New Yorkers that Summer is with us.”

[Photos: soda water ad, NYPL; splashing in the fountain at Madison Square Park, LOC; the roof garden at the Ritz-Carlton, NYPL; a street car with open windows, NYPL; a free summer concert on the mall, NYC Parks Department]

The High Line could have been a swimming pool

July 3, 2014

Next time you’re strolling along the High Line, imagine yourself swimming it instead. If an idea generated from a contest had panned out, it might have been your city summer cool-off destination.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry

Back in 2003, the advocacy group Friends of the High Line held a contest seeking innovative ideas for the rusty, weedy rail viaduct that once brought goods in and out of the factories of the lower west side.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry2More than 700 entries from 36 countries were eventually displayed in Grand Central Terminal—among them a cow pasture, a wild meadow, and a roller coaster.

But probably the most whimsical entry  came from architectural student Nathalie Rinne from Vienna. She envisioned the High Line as a slender lap pool, a thread of blue amid brown and red warehouses and tenements.

The lap pool never stood much of a chance; the contest was mostly a way to get people thinking and generate support. In 2004, a traditional design contest resulted in the beautiful park that is the High Line today.

Yet on a sweaty summer day when even the breeze from the Hudson make the High Line feel stifling, a swimming pool won’t seem like such an impossible idea.

[Images: Friends of the High Line/Nathalie Rinne]

The elite “carriage parade” in 1860s Central Park

June 16, 2014

By the early 1860s, much of Central Park had opened, particularly the miles of drives meant for recreational carriage rides.

But with only five percent of city residents able to afford a carriage, these drives were mostly used by the very richest New Yorkers—who established an afternoon high-society ritual called the carriage parade.

Carriagescentralpark1869

In what could be considered a foreshadowing of our current celebrity-obsessed culture, poor and middle-class residents often turned out to watch, gawk, and critique the procession day after day.

Carriagecentralpark1869“The great, fashionable carriage parade—so rightly considered one of the notable ‘sights’ of the city—took place between the hours of four and five,” wrote Lloyd R. Morris in Incredible New York.

“To view this, crowds gathered along the walk that bordered the east carriage drive from Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue to the Mall.”

“In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Carriagecentralparknypl“When taking the air in the Park, many of them preferred to be concealed in their broughams, but some had progressed to public exposure in a landau.”

“Their horses were huge, fat, and slow; their coachmen and footmen, soberly liveried, were elderly; their carriages were funereally black.”

Not everyone was impressed by the spectacle of the new rich and their older counterparts on display in $12,000 carriages. One account had it that German schoolkids through rocks at the carriages.

Carriagecentralpark1880s

Walt Whitman “found the carriage parade ‘an impressive, rich, interminable circus on a grand scale, full of action and color,'” wrote Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People.

NY3DBox“[But] as he peered through the windows of the richest carriages, he saw ‘faces almost corpse-like, so ashy and listless.'”

For more information on the building and beginning of Central Park, check out New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Top and second photo: MCNY Collection; third: NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: MCNY Colletion]

The swimmobiles that cooled off a hot city

June 5, 2014

Bathhouses, beaches, community pools, floating pools docked off the East River—you can’t say New York hasn’t made an effort over the years to keep residents cool on hot summer days.

And for those who couldn’t get to a pool, the city brought a pool to them. These were the “swimmobiles,” pools attached to a truck which could be parked on a street all day and conveniently towed away at night.

Swimmobile1960s

“‘Swimmobiles’ began during the Heckscher administration [1960s-1970s] that literally took pools to the streets to underserved areas,” says the Parks Department website.

A 1976 New York Times article stated that the city owned five mobile pools, which were towed from Randalls Island to different corners of the city. Looks like fun, no?

A peek into a New York boyhood in the 1850s

May 19, 2014

Letterstophilcover1982“It seems hard to believe that Twenty-third Street—which is the first street in the city of which I remember anything, could have changed in so short a time,” wrote Edward Eugene “Gene” Schermerhorn in an 1886 letter to his young nephew, Phil.

“The rural scenes, the open spaces, have vanished; and the small and quiet residences, many of them built entirely of wood, have given place to huge piles of brick and stone, and to iron and plate-glass fronts of the stores which now line the street.”

It was the first of 10 letters Gene would address to his nephew, recently collected in a thin, enchanting volume, Letters to Phil, published by New York Bound in 1982.

Each chronicles his memories between 1848 and 1856 of a small-scale New York that had yet to experience the enormous growth that made it an international capital by the 1880s.

NYC1842mapGene’s city had a population of about 500,000 and a northern boundary barely exceeding 14th Street. A descendent of a prosperous family that came to Manhattan in the 17th century, he shows what it was like to be a curious, privileged boy before the Civil War.

“Twenty-third Street and in fact all the streets in the neighborhood were unpaved,” he wrote. “There was plenty of room, plenty of dirt (clean dirt), and plenty of boys; what more could be desired!”

Gene writes of the games he and his friends played: marbles, “base ball,” and kite-flying. The also chased the pigs that ran around Sixth Avenue.

His Manhattan was a rural paradise. “Up town at this time was almost inaccessible. Of course there was no Central Park. Third Avenue was open to Harlem passing through Yorkville which was quite a large village  about 86th Street. . . .”

Harlemlane

Chelsea was located to the west of Gene’s home; Murray Hill, to the east. “Eighth Avenue was open to Harlem, and in connection with the Harlem Lane (now St. Nicholas Ave.) was the great road for fast driving.”

Madisoncottage2The business district, at City Hall, contained “none of those magnificent buildings now so common in the lower part of the city. A building of any kind six stories high was very rare.”

Downtown had all the theaters, as well as Barnum’s Museum. “It was a delight to go there on Saturday afternoons.”

The rough side of town was at Broadway and Houston Street, the site of St. Thomas’ church. “[Sic] Opposite to it was a row of small two-storied wooden houses; many of them low grog shops—a very bad neighborhood.”

Gene and his brother skated on ponds at 32nd and Broadway and Sixth Avenue and 57th. They headed over to Park Avenue south of 42nd Street on Saturdays and “played among the rocks and watch[ed] the trains.”

“Sometimes we would walk in the region which is now the Central Park. It was a very rough and rocky place, with plenty of woods and scattered trees and very few houses except ‘Squatters’ shanties.”

New York’s industry centered around transportation. The East River housed “Dry Docks” and shipyards. “On the Bowery at 6th Street was the ‘Hay Scale’ where the loads of hay brought in on that side of the city were weighed.

Gothaminn1870

“Facing this was the ‘Gotham Inn,’ quite a noted sporting tavern. On the corner of 3rd Avenue and 13th Street stood an old pear tree, which was planted on Gov. Stuyvesant’s farm in 1647.”

Gene gives a wonderful account of a free-range boyhood in a slower-paced city. But what he did with his life isn’t clear. He apparently never married; he may have lived a life of leisure. He died in 1922.

His nephew Phil is also a mystery. His 1952 obituary in The New York Times, however, says he lived on East 78th Street, was survived by a wife, and became a painter.

[Map of NYC in 1842; images from the NYPL Digital Gallery]

Thousands of kids mob the city’s first playground

May 12, 2014

SewardparksignGilded Age New York was an era of great wealth. Yet if you were a poor kid living in a hardscrabble tenement district, you still didn’t have a decent place to play.

Sure, you had the traffic-snarled streets, which smelled of manure and trash. Or you could hang out in your tenement’s backyard or on the roof, both dirty and dangerous.

But it wasn’t until 1903 when the first city-run playground at the Lower East Side’s Seward Park—with gym equipment, a concert pavillon, and rows of rocking chairs for mothers with infants—opened to local children who desperately needed a place of their own.

Sewardpark1908

Seward Park playground was the end result of a “playground movement,” a moral push from the progressive reformers of the era, who, with political allies like Theodore Roosevelt and Mayor Seth Low, opened schools and settlement houses.

They formed groups, such as the Outdoor Recreation League and the New York Society for Playgrounds and Parks, to help poor kids gain access to fresh air, trees, and playtime that they believed could prevent “crime and juvenile delinquency,” according to one reformer.

Sewardparkmothers1904

The adults accomplished their goal. By 1905, nine playgrounds had opened, becoming an iconic part of the cityscape.

But what did the kids around Seward Park think? From the beginning, the playground was a huge hit.

Sewardparkboys1903On opening day, October 17, 1903, “the crowd of 20,000 children present took matters into their own hands, mobbed the gates and swarmed into the 5,000 seats which had been reserved for school children and others,” wrote The New York Times the next day.”The programme was supposed to begin at 2 o’clock, but long before that hour all of the great square bounded by Canal, Hester, and Rutgers Street and East Broadway was full of children from one to sixteen years of age.”

In the driving rain, politicians pontificated. Jacob Riis, one of the reformers of the playground movement, took a turn at the podium.

Sewardpark1941nyma

“As anxious as I was to get the children into this park, I am more anxious at this moment to get them out,” reported the New York Herald.

NYCGildedAgecover“I came here to talk to the children, but I will wait until a fair day. I have done all the talking to the administration that I care to, and it is no longer necessary to talk to them, thank God.”

[Second photo: NYC Parks Department, 1908; third photo: NYC Parks Department, 1904; fourth photo: NYPL Digital Collection 1903; fifth photo: NYC Municipal Archives photo 1941]


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