Archive for the ‘Upper West Side/Morningside Hts’ Category

New York City’s “open-air” schools for sick kids

September 13, 2014

Despite advances in sanitation, New York City at the cusp of the 20th century was a breeding ground for illness, especially in the city’s crowded downtown slums.
Outdoorschooljacobriis19103

Trash- and manure-filled streets combined with dark, dank tenements enabled the spread of a host of communicable illnesses, with tuberculosis among the most dreaded.

Outdoorschooljacobriis1910mcnySo education officials launched an unusual type of school for children thought to have or be predisposed to the White Plague: outside classrooms.

Holding class outside, or in an unheated indoor area with all the windows wide open, meant exposure to fresh air and light, and both were thought to combat tuberculosis.

The idea came from a German “open air” school started in 1904. Other cities adopted them, and New York’s first outdoors school launched in 1908 on an abandoned ferry.

Over the next few years, other outdoors schools opened their doors to tuberculosis kids, malnourished kids, even kids described as “nervous, irritable, or anemic.”

One school was located on Carmine Street, on top of a public baths building. Another opened at Public School 33 (which may have been on West 28th Street).

Outdoorschooljacobriis1910mcny2

Horace Mann, the private school then in Morningside Heights, also started a rooftop school, described as “closed on three sides only, the south side being entirely open with a drop curtain to close that side in time of storm,” explains a 1914 report.

Outdoorschoolsittingoutbagbeals“The floors are made of wood. Indoor toilet rooms are provided and also an indoor room where children may go to get warm if necessary in exceptional cases.”

Kids handled the bracing weather by wrapping themselves in “sitting out bags” (right).

Well-meaning as it was, this educational movement apparently died out quickly. In 1914, the medical director of New York City’s open-air schools came out against them, citing bad weather and the expense of building truly stable structures on the roof.

“With the changeable climate of New York City, and the extremely raw weather in the winter, I am distinctly in favor of keeping classes within buildings,” he says in this 1918 book on open-air schools.

Openairschoolps51anemicclassesloc

[Top three photos: Jacob Riis, 1910, MCNY Collections Portal; fourth photo: Jessie Tarbox Beals, Library of Congress; fifth photo: PS 51 "anemic classes" from the Library of Congress]

A Riverside Park Holocaust memorial never built

August 18, 2014

Riverside84thstsign“On Sunday, October 19, 1947, fifteen thousand people gathered in the rain to witness the dedication of the site for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial in Riverside Park,” wrote Wayne Jebian in the Columbia Journal of American Studies in 1995.

On that gray day, Mayor O’Dwyer spoke; Jewish leaders and 100 survivors of Buchenwald and Dachau appeared at the ceremony.

RiversideparkmemorialnytThe stone plaque placed in the ground was supposed to be the cornerstone of a larger Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, one of the first Holocaust monuments planned in the United States.

But it was never built, and 67 years later, the cornerstone and the plaza surrounding it have become the memorial.

Considering that the postwar Upper West Side was home to many concentration camp survivors and Jews who fled war-torn Europe, what happened?

“Over several decades sculpture proposals for this location were submitted by Jo Davidson, Percival Goodman, Ivan Mestrovic, and Erich Mendelsohn and Nathan Rapoport, among others, but none received funding,” states the NYC Parks Department website.

Riversideparkholocaustmemorial

That’s because city officials in charge of approving sculptural monuments rejected the proposals as “too ugly, too depressing or too distracting for drivers on the West Side Highway,” wrote The New York Times in 1993.

One sculpture that did get city approval. “On June 17, 1951, the New York City Art Commission unanimously backed the design by Mendelsohn and Yugoslav sculptor Mestrovic,” wrote rememberwomen.org.

Riversideparkholocaustplaque

“The sculpture was to be of an eighty-foot pylon of two tablets on which the Ten Commandments would be inscribed, a 100-foot wall of bas-relief depicting humankind’s struggle to fulfill the Commandments, and a giant carving of Moses. When Mendelsohn died in 1953, the momentum seemed to die with him.”

The idea for a memorial was scrapped in the 1960s. These days, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is commemorated every April at the cornerstone, the Upper West Side’s de facto public Holocaust monument.

How Columbus Circle almost became Hearst Plaza

July 28, 2014

For miles up Broadway, New York pays tribute to its greatest newspaper and media figures, from Newspaper Row near City Hall to Herald Square, Greeley Square, and Times Square.

Columbuscircle1912

William Randolph Hearst (right) must have realized this after he came to town in the 1890s.

HearstbuildingAlready a San Fransisco newspaper baron, he arrived to take over the New York Journal and build a media empire here too.

But waging war with against other papers with his sensationalist journalism wasn’t enough. He also began buying real estate at sparsely populated Columbus Circle, near the New York Journal offices (at left, in 1912).

His intention: to add to the map of the city something called “Hearst Plaza,” which would be the headquarters for his growing company and would rival Herald Square and Times Square in size and prestige.

Williamrandolphhearst“William Randolph Heart envisioned a headquarters building as early as 1895, and began purchasing huge amounts of property—in and around 57th Street and Eighth Avenue in the Columbus Circle area,” states the Hearst Corporation website.

He finally broke ground for a Hearst headquarters building on 57th Street and Eighth Avenue in the 1920s.

“The selection of this site was directly related to the commercial and cultural development in the Columbus Circle area and to Hearst’s intention to establish Hearst Plaza in the area.”

HearsttowerThe headquarters (above), a six-story Art Deco beauty with allegorical figures representing art and culture, opened in 1928.

But what happened to the great plans to turn Columbus Circle into a monument to his empire?

The Depression hit, and then World War II, both of which made a huge dent in the Hearst Corporation’s bottom line.

Columbus Circle didn’t need the Hearst name to thrive; it went on to become a bustling commercial center and gateway to the Upper West Side.

Hearst headquarters was built to support a skyscraper on top, in anticipation of the development of Hearst Plaza.

Newyorkjournal1898Yet wasn’t until 2006 when a skyscraper was actually completed there—the glass trapezoidal Hearst Tower (above).

Hearst did make one other contribution to Columbus Circle: he made the call for funds to build the Maine Monument, completed in 1913, honoring the battleship that exploded in 1898 off Cuba.

Is this patch of green New York’s smallest park?

June 27, 2014

Septuagesimounonycparks2If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss Septuagesimo Park.

At .04 acres, this slender gap in a row of brownstones on West 71st Street (hence the name) has been called the city’s smallest official park.

By contrast, Central Park has 843 acres, and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is three times Central Park’s size.

This postage stamp of a park, originally known as “71st Street Plot,” owes its existence to Mayor John Lindsay.

“New York City acquired this property through condemnation on March 28, 1969,” explains the Parks Department website. “Mayor Lindsay’s vest pocket park initiative supervised the landscaping of the parcel.”

Septuagesmiounonycparks

By 1981, as the Upper West Side was emerging from decades of decline, it was put under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. In 2000, commissioner Henry Stern gave it an illustrious new name that sounds like a cafe in Rome.

In New York, of course, small is good. Septuagesimo Park’s one bench-lined lane is framed by gardens and a few shady trees—all you really need to take in summer in New York.

[Photos: NYC Parks Department]

Summer night enchantment on Riverside Drive

June 9, 2014

Ashcan School painter and social realist George Bellows recreates the magic and mystery of one moment in time from a summer’s night in 1909.

Summernightriversidedrive1909

What a glow from both the street lamp and the moonlight! The light and colors are similar to this Bellows’ painting, done in 1920 closer to his home turf inside Gramercy Park.

The sad decline of an Art Deco movie theater

May 22, 2014

Metrotwinmidtown1933nyplIt started out in 1933 with great promise in the cinema-crazed Depression.

The auspiciously named Midtown was a gem of a movie house on Broadway and 99th Street that played first-run films (Ann Harding! William Powell!)

By the 1950s and 1960s, it had switched to foreign movies, showing European flicks like Belle de Jour, Breathless, Repulsion, and other non-mainstream fare.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The neighborhood was still rebounding after decades of decline, and the Metro took on second-run films, then porn flicks, according to Cinema Treasures.

Metrotheaternyarchimges

After a resurgence as an art house venue in the 1980s (and a name change to the Metro), it served as a first-run theater in the 1990s, only to shut its doors in 2004.

MetrotheateremblemSince then, it’s been abandoned, a shuttered eyesore in a neighborhood of higher-end development.

Over the years, new tenants were announced—including retail outlets and a movie theater chain that serves beer—yet never moved in.

Metrotheater2014At least the unique facade, with its Art Deco emblem representing comedy and tragedy amid two female figures, scored landmark status back in 1989.

A piece of another era, the theater haunts the upper Upper West Side, a reminder of something lovely that entertained the community.

A word about the theater’s original name, the Midtown: I suppose the owners thought that this corner at 99th Street and Broadway would soon be the city’s new midtown?

[Photos: top, New York Public Library Digital Collection; second: New York Architectural Images]

Riverside Drive and the lazy Hudson beside it

May 16, 2014

It looks like a pleasant spring or summer day on Riverside Drive and in the park beside it, based on this postcard stamped 1916.

Riversidedrivepostcard1916

We’re at 93rd Street. Grant’s Tomb can be seen over the treetops; open-topped automobiles and a double-decker bus share the road. Pedestrians linger on the sidewalks or on the teardrop-shaped green.

And in the distance, there’s no George Washington Bridge.

New York’s wonderful old-school pizza signs

May 3, 2014

With pizza gone high-end and foodie these days, it’s time to pay homage to the classic corner pizza parlor and pizzeria restaurant, where a slice of cheese generally costs the same as a subway ride and the store signage screams no-frills 1970s.

Royalpizzasign

Royal Pizza has been feeding pies on Third Avenue and 39th Street since 1973. This privilege sign looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades.

V&Tpizzeriasignneon

With its wonderful pink and blue neon sign (decorated with illustrations of Venetian gondoliers!), V&T Pizzeria has been slicing pies since 1945.

Stevespizzasign

I don’t know the age of Steve’s Pizza, in the Financial District. But this is classic New York corner pizza signage.

Samspizzasign

Sam’s, on Court Street in Brooklyn, goes all the way back to 1930. In an otherwise good review, New York describes it as looking like a set from The Sopranos and having “the faint smell of a 1970s basement.”

Above-ground remnants of the Croton Aqueduct

April 28, 2014

CrotonwatermanholeIt was an amazing engineering feat: the construction of an aqueduct from upper Westchester to Manhattan that would bring fresh water to New York City.

Built between 1837 and 1842, the Croton Aqueduct fed a growing metropolis’ huge need for clean drinking water as well as water for fighting fires.

The water had quite a journey to travel. From the Croton River it crossed the Harlem River over the beautiful High Bridge.

Crotonaqueductgatehouse

Then it flowed into a receiving reservoir in the West 70s between Sixth and Seventh Avenues (not quite yet the middle of Central Park; the park hadn’t been built yet).

From there it reached the Egyptian revival–style distributing reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, and then to streets and households all over Manhattan (who paid an annual fee for the water, of course).

CrotonaqueductinsideThe old Croton Aqueduct was in use until the 1890s (the Harper’s Magazine illustration at left is called “Shutting Off The Croton”), when it was replaced by a new aqueduct by the same name and used through the 1950s.

Amazingly, some of the 19th century aqueduct gatehouses (where the inverted siphon pipes that carried the water connected) still stand.

One is fenced off at Amsterdam Avenue and 118th Street (above). Completed in 1895, it replaced an older gatehouse at Amsterdam and 119th Street.

Another gatehouse, at Amsterdam and 113th Street, has been repurposed into a senior center.

Crotongatehouseharlem

A third gatehouse is on Convent Avenue and 135th Street in Harlem—it’s a beauty (above).

The gatehouses and manhole covers aren’t the only visible reminders of the aqueduct. Incredibly, part of an old reservoir wall appears to remain in the south wing of the New York Public Library building, which was built on the site of the distributing reservoir. Catch a glimpse of it here at Daytonian in Manhattan.

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.”

Getrudeedlerlecrown

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.


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