Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Village 1920s’

A Village poet and the hospital she’s named for

July 17, 2014

Ednastvincentmillay1Edna St. Vincent Millay is an emblem of 1920s Greenwich Village.

Bohemian, free-love advocate, and a writer of passionate, sometimes cynical lyrical poetry, Millay lived in various places in the Village beginning in 1917, most famously at 75 1/2 Bedford Street.

Considering how connected she is to the Village, it’s still surprising to learn that Millay, born and raised in Maine, was actually named after another Greenwich Village icon: St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Giving her the middle name St. Vincent was a way to honor the hospital that saved her uncle’s life just before Millay was born in 1892.

EdnastvincentmillayarchWorking as a stevedore on a ship, he became trapped below deck for days without food or water.

When he was found, he was brought to St. Vincent’s and nursed back to health.

Shortly after Millay was born, her aunt wrote this in a letter to her uncle, “the Vincent is for St. Vincent’s Hospital, the one that cared so well for our darling brother,”  according to Nancy Milford’s wonderful biography of Millay, Savage Beauty.

Millay referenced the city around her in her poems: riding the Staten Island ferry, the “fruit-carts and clam-carts” of MacDougal Street. She died in her upstate home in 1950.

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Founded in 1849 and closed abruptly in 2010, St. Vincent’s (above, in 1931) was bulldozed out of its longtime location at Seventh Avenue and 11th Street over the past year.

A pioneering photographer’s Greenwich Village

January 27, 2014

Born in 1870 in Ontario, Jessie Tarbox Beals starting taking photos in 1888, the year she won a camera for selling a magazine subscription.

She then scored staff photographer jobs at national newspapers, mostly in upstate New York and New England.

Jessietarboxbealspatchinplace1910

Beals was the rare female news photographer in a field dominated by men—partly because journalism was generally closed to women.

But also, few women could lug the 50 pounds of camera equipment required for the job (while wearing a whalebone corset, no less).

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In 1905, she and her husband settled in New York City. Here she produced some of her most enduring images, particularly after she moved to Greenwich Village in 1917 and opened a studio in Sheridan Square.

Jessietarboxbealsinkpot

A favorite subject was Bohemian life: the tearooms and cafes where writers and artists congregated, as well as the Village’s crooked alleys and mews.

The Ink Pot, above, was a small magazine run from a Sheridan Square office, per the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

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She also trained her camera on street life scenes, particularly of city kids at school (below, a school lunch at P.S. 40) and at play, selling photos to leading magazines and newspapers and turning some into postcards.

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She credited her success with her ability to hustle work—and also her inner strength. “‘Mere feminine, delicate, Dresden china type of women get nowhere in business or professional life,'” she wrote in her diary, according to a 2000 New York Times article.

Jessietarboxbealsportrait“They marry millionaires, if they are lucky. But if a woman is to make headway with men, she must be truly masculine.'”

Beals (at left) moved away from New York in the late 1920s to work in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The stock market crash brought her back to the city, where she struggled to make a living in an increasingly crowded profession.

She died in the charity ward of Bellevue Hospital in 1942 at age 71, destitute.

[Top photos Library of Congress; school photo: New York Public Library Digital Collection]

A 1920s Village poet writes of heartbreak

September 9, 2013

teasdale“History has not been kind to Sara Teasdale,” wrote Katha Pollitt in a 1979 review in The New York Times.

But “in the teens and 1920s, her rhymed lyrics of love and loss were hugely popular—’her volumes were keepsakes and valentines, the co-ed’s unfailing companion, and the Bible of every disappointed lover,'” Pollitt quotes poet Louis Untermeyer.

VachellindsayBorn in St. Louis in 1884, Teasdale was a sheltered child who left home for Chicago and began publishing verse that was well-crafted, evocative, even fragile and focused on matters of the heart.

She also had an affair with poet Vachel Lindsay (left), but declined to marry him.

In 1914, newly wed to a businessman, she arrived in New York, living on Central Park West before moving to Greenwich Village.

Many of the poems she wrote through the 1920s use New York as a backdrop for heartbreak.

In “Union Square,” she writes:

Onefifthavenue“With the man I love who loves me not
I walked in the street-lamps’ flare;
We watched the world go home that night
In a flood through Union Square”

Summer Night, Riverside” also tackles heartache:

“In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.”

Sarateasdale2Her take on circling the block around Gramercy Park with a romantic partner, wondering why the gates were locked and the park private, ends with this:

“Oh heavy gates that fate has locked
To bar the joy we may not win,
Peace would go out forevermore
If we should dare to enter in.”

Like so many other poets, Teasdale battled depression. She won a Pulitzer in 1918, but when she learned Lindsay had killed himself in 1931, she was deeply affected.

“She divorced in 1929 and lived the rest of her life as a semi-invalid,” states Poets.org. Teasdale committed suicide in 1933 by overdosing on sleeping pills in her apartment at One Fifth Avenue (above).

An airplane view of Washington Square, 1925

June 27, 2013

“One of the most interesting sights to be seen during a flight over New York City is the historically interesting Washington Square,” states the back of this penny postcard.

I’m placing it in the early to mid-1920s, because One Fifth Avenue, the Art Deco landmark that should be on the right end of Fifth Avenue before the arch, hasn’t been built yet (it would be completed in 1927).

Washingtonsquarepostcard

“At the left of Washington Square is the well-known Greenwich Village section, the location of studios of many artists and  of the homes of some of New York’s oldest aristocracy.”

The card must be referring to the homes on Washington Square North, the most fashionable stretch of the city in the mid-1800s.

A vintage 1903 espresso machine at a Village cafe

December 21, 2012

CaffereggiodominicparisiSure Starbucks was the first retailer to mass market cappuccinos, lattes, and other espresso concoctions.

But it was Caffe Reggio, a dimly lit place with an old-school Bohemian atmosphere at 113 Macdougal Street, which brought the first espresso machine to America in 1927, introducing New York to Italian coffee drinks.

The huge machine, built in 1903, is displayed like artwork in the cafe. It’s a shiny, nickel-plated beauty with many mysterious spigots. And there’s a colorful story and character behind it.

“That machine represents the life savings of Dominic Parisi, it’s his pride, his occupation,” reports a New York Herald Tribune article from 1945 that can be read in full on Caffe Reggio’s website.

Caffereggioespressomachine[Above: Parisi with his prized machine, from cafereggio.com]

“Dominic was a barber until his sight dimmed. Forty years he held the razor—it’s the trade of his family,” states the Tribune.

“When he could no longer barber, he got together his savings, $1,000, and sent them to Italy for the machine magnificent, topped with an angel, its base surrounded with dragons.”

Another article, this one uncredited, explains, “Dominic spent his life savings of $1,000 to import the espresso from Italy. Only he is allowed to touch it.

“He rubs it with loving care. With it he makes a strong black cup of coffee or cappuccino (a marvelous blend of strong coffee, steaming milk, and cinnamon).

“Real coffee lovers haunt his cafe. They are all ‘my friends’ to Dominic, who never takes his hat off because, ‘Excuse me—it makes me sneeze.'”

Caffereggiophoto

The espresso machine isn’t the only antique at Caffe Reggio. This little curio shop of a coffee house boasts of “a dramatic 16th century painting from the school of Caravaggio and an antique bench which once belonged to the Medici family.”

The website has lots of photos from the 1920s through today of celebrities, locals, and bohemians hanging out at Reggio.


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