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.

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[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]

What remains of a once-proud Bronx borough hall

September 13, 2014

Would anyone try to put a photo of the current Bronx Borough Hall on a souvenir postcard today? Probably not. But the Bronx’s first city building, now that’s another story.

Bronxboroughhall

Completed in 1897, the year before the Bronx joined the new five-borough New York City, this brick and terracotta Renaissance-style edifice was situated high on a bluff in today’s Tremont Park, facing Third and East Tremont Avenues.

BronxboroughhallnyplA grand staircase was added in 1899 to ease the way down the sharp incline toward Third Avenue.

Lovely, right? Too bad it’s one of those structures that never received much affection.

By the 1900s, as the Bronx was transforming itself from a more rural “annexed” district to a crowded urban enclave, borough officials complained that the building was too small.

StaircaseparkodysseyWhen a new borough building went up on the Grand Concourse in 1935, most city offices moved with it.

By the 1960s, only the Bronx marriage license office stayed behind. After a fire, the city knocked down Old Borough Hall in 1968.

All that remains is the ghostly grand staircase, seen above in a 2014 photo from the website Park Odyssey.

 [Middle photo: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Gilded Age nightlife venues live on in today’s city

September 13, 2014

Hippodrome1900sApartment buildings in the city do it all the time: they take their name from a previous structure that once occupied the site in an older New York.

There’s the Lafayette apartment building on East Ninth Street, which harkens back to the old Lafayette Hotel that attracted artists and writers in the early 1900s.

And Harsen House, on West 72nd Street, got its name from the 19th century West Side village of Harsenville.

Hippodrome2014

But it seems like fewer commercial structures take the name of the building they’ve replaced—which is why it’s refreshing to see that a 1950s office tower at 1120 Sixth Avenue calls itself the Hippodrome.

Hippodromewiki2014What’s the Hippodrome? Built in 1905 by the creators of Coney Island’s Luna Park, it was a 5,200-seat theater of vaudeville stars and spectacular exhibits, many with animals.

New Yorkers flocked to the Hippodrome to see operas, the circus, and even a famous 1918 show where Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear.

Tastes and neighborhoods change, and by the 1930s, the Hippodrome was hosting Jai Alai and wrestling before being demolished in 1939.

An even more illustrious spot in New York’s entertainment graveyard is the Haymarket, the notorious dance hall that was the center of the Tenderloin.

thehaymarket1

This was the late 19th century city’s vice and sin neighborhood, the subject of a famous John Sloan painting from 1907 (above).

050 Headlines se FINAL.inddThe Haymarket, which featured risque can-can dances and female customers who were actually prostitutes, was situated at 66 West 30th Street from 1878 to 1911.

The building is gone, of course; right now, the site remains unoccupied. But not far away at 135 West 29th Street, a loft building rose earlier in the 20th century.

Haymarketbuilding2014The owners officially dubbed it the Haymarket Building and installed a nice plaque with some interesting backstory, a nod to one of the most famous nightlife venues in New York history.

[Hippodrome building today: from Wikipedia]

One photographer’s abstract, shadowy New York

September 8, 2014

Some photographers turn their cameras to the faces of people, capturing depth and unguarded emotion in human expression and behavior.

Alvin Langdon Coburn found quiet, abstract beauty in the light and shadows of the landscape of turn of the century New York City.

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["The Coal Cart," 1911]

Born in 1882 in Boston, Coburn received his first Kodak as a child in 1890. Infatuated with this relatively new medium, he learned the craft and experimented in the darkroom.

In his 20s, he traveled to New York City and Europe to study with greats such as Edward Steichen. Like leading photographers Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, Coburn was part of the Pictorialist movement.

Coburntheoctopus1912

["The Octopus," 1912, taken from the top of the Met Life Tower in Madison Square Park]

Pictorialists “argued that photography was a creative art form, on a par with other visual arts including painting, and not simply a mechanical means of objectively recording the world,” states this post from amateurphotographer.co.uk.

“They used a wide variety of techniques to express emotion and mood, and were particularly known for producing atmospheric, soft-focus portraits and landscapes.”

["Fifth Avenue From the St. Regis," 1913]

Coburn exhibited photos in galleries and was commissioned to do portraits of notable men of the era, such as George Bernard Shaw and Henry James. Soon, his work took a more abstract turn.

“Like many photographers associated with Stieglitz, Coburn by 1910 sought to shed the romanticism of the pictorial movement and bring photography more in step with abstract painting and sculpture,” states the National Gallery of Art website.

“He made photographs looking down from the tops of tall buildings to explore the use of flattened perspective and geometric patterning. During World War I he became involved with the Vorticists, a group of British artists, including Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, who sought to construct a dynamic visual language as abstract as music.”

Coburnbroadwayatnight1905

["Broadway at Night," 1905]

“As a photographer of cities and landscapes (1903–10), he concentrated on mood, striving for broad effects and atmosphere in his photographs rather than clear delineation of tones and sharp rendition of detail,” states MOMA.

Coburnflatiron1912

["Flatiron Building," 1912]

“He was influenced by the work of Japanese painters, which he referred to as the ‘style of simplification.’ He considered simple things to be the most profound,” continues the MOMA website.

AlvinlangdoncoburnselfportraitCoburn didn’t stay in New York long. He moved permanently to the UK in 1912.

By 1918 he had given up photography professionally, devoting the rest of his life to the study of mysticism and the occult.

He died in Wales in 1966, leaving a legacy of enchanting images of the New York of a century ago: the soft glow of early electric lights, 22-story skyscrapers casting monstrous shadows over parks and sidewalks, and the presence of powerful machinery interrupting the serene beauty of nighttime streets.

[Right: self-portrait, 1905]

A long-gone Chelsea alley called Franklin Terrace

September 8, 2014

West26thstreetsignWhile flipping through a book of New York City street maps from 1996, I noticed a section of West 26th Street off Ninth Avenue marked as “Franklin Terrace.”

It’s nowhere near Franklin Street in Tribeca. And it doesn’t seem related to nearby London Terrace, developed in 1845 as a residential stretch on Ninth Avenue at 23rd Street and now the name of the famous apartment complex on the same site.

FranklinterracemapFranklin Terrace was new to me. But a little research revealed that old New York did have a tiny courtyard off the south side of West 26th Street with this name.

“Here is a whole community of five or six houses with a little yard and a fence around it, all its own, in one of the most congested sections of the city, and the best part of it all is that a whole house of eight or nine rooms may be had for $30 t o $35 a month!” states a 1915 article in the New York Press.

Franklinterraceheadline

The piece puts Franklin Terrace at number 364 West 26th Street, and describes it as a “blind street.”

Franklinterracenyt1912

“An ordinary gateway with a small iron gate leads to it. There is a paved yard with a row of old-time dwellings one one side and a couple of old-time trees that persist in bloom” (below left).

Franklinterracemcny1900Franklin Terrace dates to the 19th century, as the article makes note of the lack of “modern” conveniences. “Gas and hot and cold water, perhaps, but no electric lights, steam heat, or furnace,” the writer adds.

When did it fade into history? It’s unclear.

A 1925 New York Times short mentions that the houses here were being redeveloped and modernized “with  exteriors of old English type architecture with court and gardens (below right).”

Franklinterracenypl

Within four decades, Franklin Terrace was gone. Since 1962, the 10-building Penn South cooperative, from 23rd to 28th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, with its lawns and playground, has occupied the site.

Why a book of tourist street maps from 1996 lists long-demapped Franklin Terrace is a mystery.

[Third image: New York Press article, 1915; fourth image: New York Times, 1912; fifth image: MCNY Collections Portal; sixth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The fading 9/11 Memorial under Union Square

September 8, 2014

Unionsquare9:11memorialhallwayInside the Union Square subway station, just past the small transit police precinct, is a long, sparsely populated corridor. At about the halfway mark is an understated wall of remembrance to the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

It’s right out there in public along a wall of white tiles. As visible as it is, it’s also one of the quietest and most unassuming 9/11 memorials in the entire city.

Office-like paper labels have been affixed to the tiles, each with the typed name and hometown of one of the dead.

Unionsquare9:11memorialwall

There’s no bronze plaque, no poetry, no pomp, no statues. Just names on tiles, some marked by poignant handwritten notes from loved ones.

Unionsquarememorialfisher

It’s been up since 2002. “Erected this month by the Manhattan-based nonprofit group ArtAid, the memorial’s missives grow daily,” states a Daily News article from March 30 of that year, which noted that the MTA had no plans to take it down.

Unionsquarememorialdavid

Time has taken its toll on the wall. Some of the labels have fallen off or otherwise disappeared, while others are fading out and hard to read.

Still, if you like your public memorials to be uncrowded and inconspicuous, or you remember how Union Square become kind of a gathering place for New Yorkers in the days after the towers fell, this is the place to be on September 11.

A winter view of the Brooklyn Waterfront in 1934

September 2, 2014

I’m not exactly sure where this scene of a much more industrial Brooklyn waterfront is. WPA artist Harry Shokler painted it in 1934, in the middle of the Depression.

Titled simply “Waterfront—Brooklyn,” it shows us factories, smokestacks, trolleys, and diners . . . and it hasn’t resembled the Brooklyn waterfront for decades.

Henryshoklerwaterfront

“Many artists during the 1930s focused on laborers and industrial scenes to emphasize the value of hard work in pulling the country out of the Depression,” states the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where the painting hangs.

“The smoking chimneys, groups of workers, and tracks in the snow evoke a sense of activity and perseverance in the face of hardship. To Americans in the 1930s, the skyscrapers of New York symbolized the city’s achievements and sustained the hope that the country’s economy would recover.”

A golden goddess topping Madison Square Garden

September 2, 2014

She was the second statue of Diana to grace the top of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden, the sportsman’s playground with the glamorous roof garden that opened in 1890 on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.

Dianamadsquaregarden1905

But this figure of the gilded goddess was the most famous, a 13-foot huntress who balanced on one toe aiming a bow and arrow for 32 years.

Illuminated at night by electricity, her slender form, the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, could be seen as far away as New Jersey.

Dianamadisonsquaregardenfaraway

And it goes without saying that her nudity offended some New Yorkers, particularly Anthony Comstock, head of the self-created New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Newyorksocietysuppressionvicelogo“The naked figure immediately caused outrage in some, and delight in others; it became known as the Statue That Offended New York,” states Atlas Obscura. “Critics led by the moralizing Anthony Comstock demanded it be taken down, whilst others flocked to see the sensuous Diana, glittering in the sunlight.”

To shush the critics, White had Saint-Gaudens drape a pennant over the statue to obscure Diana’s private parts. It quickly blew off in the wind, much to White’s delight.

DiananytDiana scandalized some residents, and she was witness to a scandalous murder on the roof in June 1906.

That’s when White was shot dead by Harry Thaw, the jealous husband of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit. White had carried on a relationship with Nesbit since she was 16.

In 1924, Madison Square Garden was set to be demolished. Diana’s fate was hotly debated.

Some wanted her to grace the Municipal Building; others thought she should go atop the New York Life tower, which was replacing the Garden.

Where did she end up? In storage for six years, and then the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she greets visitors in the entrance hall to this day.

Four beauties in a row an Upper East Side block

September 2, 2014

East67thstnyplEveryone has their most beautiful street in the city. I’m always stunned by East 67th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Situated one after the other on his quiet block are four distinct Gilded Age institutional buildings with lovely design features and architectural grace.

First from the Third Avenue side is Park East Synagogue, a circa-1890 Moorish building with asymmetrical towers, stained glass windows, a stunning rose window, and arcades. Considering the ethnic mix of this rough-edged neighborhood at the time, it must have been a crowded congregation.

“The Orthodox congregation at the Park East Synagogue was largely German, but included many Polish, Russian, and Hungarian Jews as well,” states The Landmarks of New York: Fifth Edition.

East67thstsynagogue

Next down the line is the Fire Department Headquarters at 157 East 67th. Constructed in 1886-1887 and designed by Napoleon LeBrun, the architect who standardized the look of New York City firehouses in the late 19th century.

This Romanesque beauty was built to house the telegraph operations and offices.

East67thstfireheadquarters

Too bad the top of the 150-foot lookout tower was lopped off in the 1940s (it’s visible in the first photo). Here at the pinnacle of Lenox Hill, firemen in the tower could supposedly see flames all the way down to the Battery.

East67thstpoliceheadquarters

Third in the row is the 1887 19th Precinct Station House. There’s a lot of architectural styles here, according to the AIA Guide to New York City: “A Victorian palazzo: brownstone and red brick borrowing heavily from the Florentine Renaissance.”

East67thstmtsinai

Like all precinct houses, this one has two green lights flanking the doorway—a tradition established by the men of the “rattle watch” of New Amsterdam, who carried green lanterns with them while on patrol.

Last but not least at 151 East 67th Street is this handsome brownstone opened in 1890 by Mount Sinai Hospital, then around the corner on Lexington Avenue at 66th Street, as a dispensary and clinic. It’s now called the Kennedy Child Study Center.

The Labor Day parade hits Union Square in 1887

August 30, 2014

A contingent of tobacco workers packed into a horse-drawn wagon turn west through the north end of Union Square in this Labor Day parade photo from 1887.

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It’s another first New York City can lay claim to: the first Labor Day parade was organized by the Central Workers Union to show “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” in the city.

At the time this photo was taken, the parade is only five years old. But it caught on quick. By 1894, the nation begins to celebrate “National Labor Day” on the first Monday of September.

[Photo: MCNY Digital Gallery]


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