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.

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“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.

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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]

Was a beloved book written on Macdougal Street?

August 30, 2014

Macdougal Street in the West Village casts a huge literary shadow.

In the 1920s and 1930s, writers like Theodore Dreiser, Ezra Pound, and Sinclair Lewis drank and ate at Polly’s and the Minetta Tavern. Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara hung out at the San Remo and the Kettle of Fish.

Allcotthousemacdougal

And around the corner, Edgar Allan Poe published The Raven while living at 85 West Third Street in the mid-1840s.

But there’s another literary claim to fame on Macdougal Street. In 1868, Louisa May Alcott reportedly wrote part of Little Women from her uncle’s double-wide red townhouse at numbers 130-132.

Louisamayalcott“In 1868, Louisa May Alcott sat at her desk before the second story window in her uncle’s house on MacDougal Street and penned the final paragraph of Little Women, states this New York University web page, by way of City Guide NY. (NYU owns the house now.)

The  joined houses at 130 and 132 MacDougal Street had been built in 1852 and purchased by Alcott’s uncle. Alcott remained in her uncle’s house until 1870.”

Despite what NYU says, there’s some dispute over whether Alcott wrote any of her story about the March family here.

Alcott reportedly wrote the novel at her family’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts.

Louisamayalcottb&wAn 1880 New York Times article on Alcott, by that time nationally famous, states that she wrote the novel in Boston.

“Most of her work has been done here; the first part of Little Women was written at the South End, and the second part in the Bellevue Hotel, on Beacon-Street, her favorite quarters. . . .”

LittlewomencoverAnd  in Susan Cheever’s Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography, Cheever references the “manufactured” fact that Alcott penned part of the book here.

“Even the amazing NYU archivists have only been able to find references to the fact that Alcott wrote Little Women on MacDougal Street, nothing about how that fact came to be manufactured.”

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.

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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.'”

Lower Manhattan at night, seen through an arch

August 25, 2014

What a view! We’re looking through one of the arches of the Municipal Building to a Manhattan night sky.

Lowermanhattanarch

There’s the Woolworth Building, City Hall, City Hall Park, and the Art Deco beauty known as the Transportation Building “raising [its] head in the background,” the caption of this 1940s-era postcard notes.

Too bad the postcard doesn’t offer a glimpse of the enchanting tiles on the vaulted ceiling above the Municipal Building’s arches. They are Gustavino tiles, installed before the building opened in 1914.

Hidden waterfalls in the tiny parks of Turtle Bay

August 25, 2014

New York has lots of lovely pocket parks that offer a hideaway from urban life.

But the stretch of East Midtown known by its wonderfully pastoral 17th century name, Turtle Bay, seems to have more of these patches of green than other neighborhoods.

Waterfallpaleypark

Even better, many of these parks have cascading waterfalls that drown out urban noise and heat and leaves us feeling calm and soothed. No need to head to Central Park for a waterfall fix—these do the trick.

Paley Park (top photo), on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues (not technically Turtle Bay but close) has a back-lit waterfall, along with ivy-covered walls and locust trees. Financed by a foundation set up by William Paley, former chairman of CBS, it’s attracted quiet crowds since 1967.

Waterfall51ststreet

Carved out of a space surrounded by modern apartment buildings and old-school tenements is Greenacre Park, above, created by a foundation organized by a Rockefeller family member in 1971.

The park is designed to be such a break from urban life, photography isn’t allowed (but no one will stop you from taking pictures from the street).

Waterfalls47thstreet2ndave

If the park with this circular wall of water has a name, I missed it. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in the blue-purple house, with the sight and sound of falling water accessible from your terrace?

Waterfallchurchpark

Across the street from the United Nations on 47th Street and First Avenue is lush, secluded St. Mary’s Garden, part of Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.

It’s hard to see the benches and walkways along the sides, as well as the small waterfall that feeds into the pond on the left.

What was the NYPD phone number before 911?

August 25, 2014

Before July 1968, if you had an urgent situation to report, you actually had to dial the NYPD’s seven-digit main number: 440-1234.

That all changed when the police department adopted the 911 system. Developed by the FCC and AT&T in the mid-1960s, New York was the first city to implement it, for police calls only.

NYPost911ad

It was a big success, increasing daily calls to central command from 12,000 to 17,000, cutting down on street crime, and leading to more police cars being dispatched, according to a March 1970 New York Times piece.

As this New York Post ad from December 2, 1970 shows, two years after the police began using 911, the fire department and EMTs adopted it too.

Peeking into the Brooklyn Bridge subway station

August 22, 2014

The opening of the subway was so incredible in the first decade of the 20th century, the new stations were frequently the subject of penny postcards, like this one, with its above ground and inside view.

Brooklynbridgesubwaypostcard

“New York City’s subway system is the most complex of any in the world,” the back of the card reads. “The Brooklyn Bridge Station is the busiest in the world. It is estimated that 2,000,000 pass here daily.”

“The subway consists of four tracks, two for express trains and two for local. During the rush hours the trains run on a minute schedule.”


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