Archive for the ‘Urban beauty’ Category

A celebrity mobbed by cameras in Union Square

November 18, 2013

Posing for the paparazzi may be too much for Alec Baldwin.

But it’s a walk in the park for this relaxed (maybe slightly sick of all the attenion?) red-tailed hawk, snapped hanging out in Union Square Park this afternoon.

Unionsquarehawk

He’s perched on the low fence surrounding the playground—maybe eyeing a toddler for dinner?

UnionsquarehawkcloseupPerhaps he flew over to Union Square from Tompkins Square Park, where EV Grieve photographer Bobby Williams regularly catches him swooping in for a snack.

These hefty raptors aren’t that rare anymore; at least a dozen breeding pairs have made the city their home recently. This New York City Audubon report gives more background.

An Adirondack forest hiding in mid-Manhattan

September 5, 2013

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Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan for Central Park in 1857 was to bring the serenity of nature to a swampy, rocky stretch of the city.

After bulldozing shantytowns and draining swamps, they (and masses of laborers) spent the next several years fabricating pastoral lawns, hills, ponds, and lakes.

The also created the North Woods: a 90-acre refuge at the northern end of the park designed to replicate the secluded Adirondack forests of central New York State.

Centralparkmap1875

“Although much less was done to rearrange the northern end’s rugged topography than had been done elsewhere, park workers built a twelve-acre lake called the Harlem Meer on the swamp, carved out and planted the Ravine and Waterfall, and constructed another mile of drive, a mile and a half of walks, and several rustic bridges,” reports centralparkhistory.com.

Northwoodscpconservatory2The result: “Within the woodlands, traffic disappears, buildings are hidden by trees and a gentle stream bubbles over sounds of the city, states the Central Park Conservatory website.

It really does feel like a slice of the Adirondacks just yards from the subway. And hidden in the thick forest is one of the city’s oldest structures: a blockhouse from the War of 1812.

[Top and bottom photos: Central Park Conservatory]

Night descends on the Empire State Building

May 20, 2013

A different New York comes alive at night than the daytime city, one with its own magic and enchantment.

Whoever wrote the caption on the back of this 1940s postcard understood this well.

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“Spectacular sight as this is typical of all New York which is truly a fairyland when night begins to descend,” the caption reads.

“The Empire State Building, guardian of the skyscrapers, keeps faithful watch over her charges throughout the night.”

Manhattan’s 19th century temperance fountains

May 4, 2013

Temperancefountaintompkinssquare2Just as abortion and the death penalty are hot-button issues today, temperance divided Americans in the 19th century.

The millions of members of the American Temperance Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and other groups believed that banning alcohol could eliminate major social problems like poverty and crime.

These organizations were pretty powerful. But it was hard to persuade people to give up booze when alcoholic beverages were often safer to drink than water.

That’s where the temperance fountain comes in.

“The premise behind the fountains was that the availability of cool drinking water would make alcohol less tempting,” wrote Therese Loeb Kreuzer in a 2012 article in The Villager.

Temperancefountaintomkinssquare3“In the 19th century, temperance fountains could be found in cities and towns from coast to coast. Now few of them remain.”

Two still stand in Manhattan. One is in Tompkins Square Park, a strange place for a temperance fountain considering that the area was packed with beer-loving Germans at the time.

Donated by a wealthy temperance crusader who had it cast in 1888, it features a bronze figure of the Greek Goddess Hebe, cupbearer to the Gods, on top of a pedestal supported by four columns.

Blocks away on the west side of Union Square is New York’s second remaining temperance fountain. Paid for by another rich temperance convert and dating to 1881, it’s a figure of Charity that really works the innocent mother and children angle.

Temperancefountainunionsquare“Bronze dragonflies and butterflies frolic above the lions,” wrote Kreuzer in The Villager. “Then comes a richly sculpted band of acanthus leaves and birds. The ensemble is topped by a figure of a mother dressed like the Virgin Mary in a Renaissance painting. She holds a child in her right arm, while dispensing water from a jug to another child who looks at her adoringly.”

Both statues are the legacies of the movement that gave us Prohibition—and speakeasies—in the 1920s.

[Top two photos: Wikipedia]

A founding father’s country home in Harlem

April 8, 2013

Today, wealthy New Yorkers boast of luxury estates upstate and in the Hamptons. But two centuries ago, prominent residents chose Upper Manhattan as the location of their grand manors.

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These scenic estates had names like Pinehurst, Minniesland, and Mount Morris (former home of Aaron Burr and his wife and now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion).

Hamiltongrangeengraving1880Ex-Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the face of the $10 bill, also had an uptown estate, which he called the Grange, after his father’s ancestral home in Scotland.

In 1802, disenchanted with Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he “threw himself into building a house in northern Manhattan nine miles from town,” writes Richard Brookhiser in Alexander Hamilton, American.

Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb Jr. (the designer of Gracie Mansion) to build a Federal-style mansion on 32 acres near today’s 143rd Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem.

ThegrangesecondlocationIt was a simple, dignified house on a high foundation amid fields and woods.

“The bay windows had sweeping views of the Harlem River to the east and the Hudson River to the West,” writes Brookhiser.

Front and rear porticos were complemented by side piazzas. On the lawn, Hamilton planted 13 sweet gum trees (for the 13 colonies), gifts from George Washington.

Hamilton only had the house for two years. In 1804, he was fatally wounded during his infamous dual with political rival Burr.

AlexanderhamiltonportraitYet the Grange lived on. After changing owners several times, it was moved to Convent Avenue and 141st Street in 1889.

There, sandwiched between a church and an apartment building (above photo), it fell into disrepair as Harlem became urbanized.

In 2008, the Grange was trucked to its third location: inside St. Nicholas Park at the end of brownstone-lined Hamilton Terrace, with the Gothic City College campus overhead.

Maintained by the National Park Service, the Grange has been beautifully renovated and is open to the visitors.

[Second and Third photos: NYPL Digital Collection]

The long-gone ironworks of an older Manhattan

March 29, 2013

You don’t always notice them underfoot as you walk down New York’s sidewalks. But these old manhole and coal chute covers—the ones with the name and address of the ironworks company that created it—provide clues about an older, vanished city.

IClamanstoverepairscover

Take this one above, made by the homey-sounding I. Claman Stove Repairs company. It was spotted on Washington Place in the West Village.

I. Claman was located at 94 Orchard Street, an address now occupied by a craft brewery that caters to a young, social, moneyed crowd.

BMasormanholecover

B. Masor & Co. used to make manhole covers like this one, found off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, at 721-31 East 133rd Street.

I’m not sure if the address is for Manhattan or for the Bronx. Either way, the business is kaput.

Abbotthardwaremanholecover

Abbott Hardware, once at Columbus Avenue in the West 90s, created this coal hole cover. It’s still part of the sidewalk on St. Luke’s Place off Seventh Avenue South.

But the days of upper Columbus Avenue housing an ironworks company are long over. The old tenements there were razed decades ago to make way for big-box apartments—strangely all in the same shade of beige.

A municipal photographer’s city on the move

March 18, 2013

He was just an anonymous staff photographer for New York’s Department of Bridges, a 40something descendant of a French noble family who moved to New York from New England and found a job chronicling the changing infrastructure of the 20th century city.

Brooklynbridge1914

The man did his job diligently, leaving behind 20,000 photographs taken between 1906 to 1934. After his death in 1943, his work and identity remained unheralded—until the late 1990s.

[Above: painters on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1914; Below, opening day of the Queensboro Bridge, 1909]

Sesalignacqueensborobridge1909

“In 1999, Michael Lorenzini, the senior photographer for the New York City Municipal Archives, was spooling through microfilm of the city’s vast Department of Bridges photography collection when he realized that many of the images shared a distinct and sophisticated aesthetic,” writes Carolyn Kleiner Butler in the September 2007 issue of Smithsonian.

“They also had numbers scratched into the negatives. ‘It just kind of hit me: this is one guy; this is a great photographer,’ Lorenzini says.”

[Below: Newsies on Delancey Street, 1906]

Desalignacnewsiesdelancey1906
After pouring over records, the man’s name emerged: Eugene de Salignac. Little is known about his back story or if he had any formal training. No one even knows what he looked like.

But his images of New York’s bridges, roadways, subways and the workers who maintained them reveal a playfulness and artistic eye. They capture the hardware of the city with a sense of tenderness and beauty.

Desalignacbrooklynbridge1918

[Above: under the Brooklyn Bridge, 1918]

De Salignac has been steadily getting his due as an artist. The Museum of the City of New York exhibited his images in a 2007 show. His work was also collected in New York Rises: Photographs by Eugene de Salignac.

More examples of his work can be found in the vast, fascinating collection of the Municipal Archives.

Charles Cushman’s full-color 1940s New York City

February 13, 2013

When you’re used to seeing the mid-century city in grainy black and white or stylized shades of gray, Charles Weever Cushman’s vivid, explosive color photos are a revelation.

[Below: "Poverty, young and old, black and white," October 4, 1942]

Povertyyoungoldblackwhite1942

An editor turned statistician from the Midwest who pursued photography as a hobby, Cushman traveled extensively and took photos wherever he went. From 1938 to 1969 he shot landscapes, landmarks, and ordinary people all across America.

Cushmanclintonstresidents1941

But it’s his incredible scenes from the shopworn, slightly tattered nooks and corners of mostly World War II-era New York that are most captivating.

[Above: "Residents of lower Clinton Street near East River Saturday afternoon," September 27, 1941]

In these Kodachrome color images, he aimed his lens at corner bars and luncheonettes, pedestrians on stoops and sidewalks, and other bits of day-to-day life that may not have seemed so remarkable then but today feel poetic and serendipitous.

Cushmancornerpearlst1942

[Above: "A busy corner of Pearl Street at noon," October 7, 1942]

After his death in 1972, 14,500 of his Kodachrome slides were donated to his alma mater, Indiana University. The university digitized his entire collection.

[Below, "Three bums from South Ferry Flophouses" at Battery Park, June 6, 1941]

Cushman3bumssoferry1941

Cushman (below) kept detailed notes about each photo he took, but who he was and what he was hoping to preserve are shrouded in mystery. His second wife reportedly had this to say, via the biography about him on the Indiana University archives website:

Charlescushman“Charles was a shrewd individual . . . a sharp evaluator of people, and was very prudent and shrewd in his securities selection. He loved life—music, good books, sports, the outdoors, travel, integrity . . . and could not tolerate ignorance.”

[All photos copyright Charles W. Cushman Photography Collection/Indiana University Archives]

The secret wild boar of a Sutton Place park

January 2, 2013

There’s a sweet little vest-pocket park tucked off Sutton Place at the end of East 57th Street.

Besides the quiet East River view, the park has another magnificent, little-known feature: a statue of a wild boar, cast in bronze, sitting on a granite pedestal along with snakes, crabs, salamanders, and other creatures.

Suttonplacewildboar

If the boar looks familiar, you may have seen it in Italy. There, Renaissance sculptor Pietro Tacca’s bronze Porcellino (“piglet”) decorates a fountain in Florence.

SuttonplaceboarbaseTacca based his much-loved boar (below), whose snout is rubbed for good luck, on an ancient Greek marble original discovered in Rome in the 16th century.

IlporcelinowikiThe Sutton Place boar is a copy of that replica, installed in 1972 by a neighborhood philanthropist who also donated the bronze Peter Pan statue to Carl Schurz Park, about 30 blocks north along the East River.

This wild boar is a powerful piece of animal art, one of many across the city.

Of course, it’s not exactly a cuddly sculpture for kids—especially on the base, where there’s a bronze snake munching on a mouse!

George Bellows paints the raw New York winter

December 27, 2012

Realist painter and longtime East 19th Street resident George Bellows is best known for his bold views of amateur boxers as well as the grittiness of urban life in the early 20th century.

He painted scenes showing every season. But there’s something about his depictions of New York beneath cold gray skies, covered in snow, or surrounded by ice that captures the city’s abrasive, isolating winters.

Bellowspennstationex19071908

“Pennsylvania Station Excavation,” from 1907-1908, puts the fiery equipment brought in to clear out 31st to 33rd Streets between snowy ground and an icy sky.

“The scene has an infernal quality, with the digging machinery circled by small fires and rising smoke near the center of the snowy pit, and all overshadowed by a massive building from which soot streams across the acid blue of a winter sunset,” states the website for the Brooklyn Museum.

Bellowssnowdumpers1911

“Snow Dumpers,” painted in 1911, shows us overcoat-clad city workers and snorting horses tasked with carrying loads of snow from Manhattan streets to be dumped into the choked-with-traffic East River.

The skies over the river and Brooklyn Bridge look gray and frigid, and the snow has streaks of blue.

Bellowssteamingstreets

“Steaming Streets,” from 1908, reveals winter as an agent of chaos. “[The painting] is dealing with a fleeting, highly charged moment during winter in New York when weather and traffic conditions have combined to create havoc in the street,” explains the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“Immediately one feels that the vapors from the melting snow and slush are unsettling the horses and adding to the annoyance of the driver, who is forcibly braking them against the oncoming trolley and team to its left.”

The Met’s George Bellows exhibit runs until February 18, a powerful collection of paintings by an artist with a sharp eye for the moods of his adopted city.


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