Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

An 1890 spring morning in the heart of the city

April 14, 2014

Frederick Childe Hassam’s “Spring Morning in the Heart of the City” gives us an overcast, lush view of Madison Square Park’s (yes, once the center of New York!) carriage traffic and well-dressed pedestrians.

Hassam frequently painted Madison Square; this elite area of the Gilded Age city was near his studio on 17th Street.

Childehassamspringmorning

“While discussing the picture in 1892, Hassam said his intention was to focus upon the group of cabs in the foreground and to have ‘the lines in the composition radiate and gradually fade out from the centre.’” states the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“He also noted that ‘all those people and horses and vehicles didn’t arrange themselves for my especial benefit. I had to catch them, bit by bit, as they flitted past.’”

Times Square: crossroads of the world in 1910

April 12, 2014

Is this Times Square, or 23rd Street facing the Flatiron Building? It’s clearly 42nd Street, with the card focused on the New York Times building that gave the square its name in 1904.

Timessquarepostcard

But when I first looked at the postcard, I immediately thought Flatiron.

Trolleys, traffic, ladies carrying umbrellas . . . and the Hotel Cadillac is on the left. What stories that building would be able to tell, if only it still existed.

The 1950s plan for a Washington Square Highway

April 12, 2014

The history of New York City is littered with never-realized proposals: moving sidewalks, a burial ground in Central Park, and these 100-story apartment houses meant for Harlem.

Washingtonsquarenyu1950

Another half-baked idea that (luckily) never got off the ground was a plan for a highway running through Washington Square Park, proposed many times through the 1950s by “master builder” Robert Moses.

Washsquareparkplan1940As Parks Commissioner in 1940, Moses originally wanted to build a “double highway” snaking along the side of Washington Square Park (left).

At the time, a narrow roadway let vehicles go south from Fifth Avenue to Washington Square South (above, in 1950).

That double highway was shot down thanks to opposition from local residents, business owners, and NYU officials. But Moses wasn’t giving up so easily.

Washsquare1950splanIn the early 1950s, he proposed bisecting the park with a 48-foot-wide highway connecting Fifth Avenue to West Broadway—which would be widened and illustriously renamed Fifth Avenue South.

Naturally community leaders were outraged. In 1955, plans were submitted for a “depressed, four-lane highway running through the park in an open cut from Fifth Avenue under the Washington Arch,” wrote The New York Times.

Washsquare1960s“Mothers and children, New York University students and others who use the park would be able to cross from one half of the park to the other by a foot-bridge thirty-six feet wide.”

Again, opposition was fierce. Jane Jacobs led the fight, with Eleanor Roosevelt and Lewis Mumford in her corner.

They were fighting not only the Washington Square Highway plan but another Moses’ idea to raze 14 blocks of prime Greenwich Village real estate and build a series of apartment complexes.

By the end of the decade, Moses retreated. Washington Square Park has been remodeled and revamped, but at least it’s not crisscrossed by a superhighway.

[Photos: the Square in the 1950s and 1960s, New York University Archives]

Waiting for word about the Titanic survivors

April 7, 2014

On the morning of April 15, 1912, at least one New York newspaper carried the grim announcement: the Titanic had sunk. What wasn’t clear for several days, though, was how great the loss of life was.

Whitestarlineofficestitanic

So anxious New Yorkers with friends and relatives aboard the unsinkable ship went down to the Bowling Green Offices Building at 9 Broadway, which housed the headquarters of the White Star Line.

Whitestarlineofficebowlinggreen

A crowd outside the building soon grew, spilling over onto the sidewalk and then across Bowling Green. At first, a White Star spokesman assured everyone that the ship was safe.

Whitestarlineofficestoday

Then wireless reports began to trickle in. But only when the Carpathia docked on the rainy night of April 18 did people really learn whether their loved ones were safe or if they had gone down with the ship.

The White Star Line is long gone, but their former headquarters remains—now home to a Subway.

New York City’s other Washington Bridge

March 31, 2014

There’s no scandal surrounding this lovely, smaller-scale steel-arch bridge, which links Washington Heights to the Bronx.

This postcard is undated, but it depicts a very sleepy Upper Manhattan.

Washingtonbridgepostcard

The Washington Bridge isn’t very well known and gets little love by New York residents.

But it should. It opened to pedestrians in 1888 and vehicles in 1889, making it older than its similarly named, much bigger counterpart by a good 40-odd years!

A 19th century painter’s moody, snowy New York

February 27, 2014

His impressionist paintings, veiled in twilight-like shades of blue and gray, reveal city’s beauty and enchantment.

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls him “the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century.”

Childehassamwinterdaybrooklynbridge

["Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge"]

But you may never have heard of Frederick Childe Hassam—a popular and prolific painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work is still acclaimed, but perhaps not to the degree it deserves.

Childehassamnewyorkstreet1902

["New York Street," 1902]

Born to a well-off family in Boston, Hassam worked as an illustrator and then began exhibiting his paintings, earning accolades for his lovely cityscapes of Boston and Paris.

After moving to New York in 1889, he fell in love with the city. It certainly shows. His depictions of the Gilded Age city may be his most striking, illuminating city streets, parks, and people with radiant strokes of color and light.

Childehassamcalvarychurchinthesnow

["Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square"]

Hassam was not without critics. Some admonished him for not showing the struggle and hardship brought on by industrialization, while others questioned his so-called pedestrian subject matter.

“The man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Hassam said in 1892.

Childehassamfifthaveinwinter1892

“Fifth Avenue in Winter,” above, was reportedly one of his favorites. It was painted from the studio space he rented on Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

Childehassamsnowstormmadsq1902

["Snowstorm, Madison Square," 1890]

Hassam’s moody, magical scenes of New York covered by snow show us a city very similar to the wintry New York of today.

Cabs wait for passengers, confident, fashionable young women stroll unescorted, and weary pedestrians in black hats and lace-up boots trudge through the snow on their way to and from Brooklyn.

Hassam painted wonderful scenes of rainy day New York too, like this one near Madison Square.

Three centuries at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

February 24, 2014

“The pace was leisurely, with bicycles, horsecars, broughams, and hansom cabs comprising traffic,” states the caption to this 1898 photo looking north on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. It’s from New York Then and Now.

42ndfifth1898

The twin lamppost makes a nice contrast to the twin Moorish-style towers of Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and a mainstay of this section of Fifth Avenue until 1927.

The building on the northwest corner at 42nd is the circa-1875 Hotel Bristol. See the stone wall with a low fence on the far left? There’s no New York Public Library Building yet.

The year this photo was taken, the Croton Reservoir would be torn down—the wall looks like part of the reservoir structure.

42ndfifth1974

What a difference 76 years make. Fifth Avenue’s residential era is long over; it’s now the city’s commercial heart.

The temple, lampposts, and Hotel Bristol are gone, but the six-story building from 1870 on the far right still exists, with a Russell Stover candy store at the ground floor.

5thave42ndstreet2014

Thirty-eight years later, in 2014, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street is still a crowded commercial corner, with one church steeple still in view.

What happened to the six-story building at the far right? It was swallowed up by H&M!

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.

SWreservoirbridge

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.

Westsidebridgecentralpark

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

Rusticwoodbridgeramble

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.

The WWII servicemen’s hangout at Grand Central

February 20, 2014

ServicemensloungeWartime New York City was a very hospitable place for the thousands of enlisted men (and women) going off to fight in World War II or returning home on furlough.

Take Grand Central Terminal, for example. During the war, the East Balcony was turned into a “Service Men’s Lounge” by the New York Central and New Haven Railroads.

According to the back of this postcard, the lounge was “equipped with ping pong and pool tables, library, piano, easy chairs, lunch counter, etc.”

Servicemensloungepostcard

The lounge was “a meeting room for men of all nations,” wrote John Belle in Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives. “On any given day, it was not unusual to see a kilted Highlander at the coffee bar learning from an American soldier how to dunk a doughnut.”

In 1943, Life ran this warning about the lounge to travelers: “Busiest on weekends when thousands travel on furlough. To give them more room on weekend trains, plan trips you must make for mid-week.”

Beauty and vitality at the Columbus Avenue El

February 10, 2014

Gifford Beal may not be as well-known as fellow Ashcan School artists John Sloan and William Glackens. But that makes discovering Beal’s enchanting impressionistic paintings such a joy.

“Elevated, Columbus Avenue, New York” was completed in 1916, and it’s likely an El stop near Beal’s own apartment, states the New Britain Museum of Art.

Bealcolumbusaveel

“Beal’s impressionistic rendering does indeed capture the ceaseless movement that invigorates city life,” states the museum website.

“His figures are carefully arranged dabs of color that lack precise detailing. Yet within this blur of activity, Beal offers small vignettes that humanize the anonymous crowd: a woman posts a letter, a top-hatted gentleman steadies his friend on the slippery walkway, a worker clears snow with a broom.”

“Whereas some artists of the day, such as the members of the Ashcan School, focused on the poverty and alienation that could be found within the city, Beal saw the beauty and vitality that existed there as well.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,421 other followers