Archive for January, 2010

The horse-drawn carriages of Union Square

January 28, 2010

It looks like a placid spring or summer day in the postcard of turn-of-the-20th-century Union Square, with carriages waiting for passengers. 

It’s hard to tell, but could that be the George Washington statue way on the left that’s now in the center of the park?

I know it’s not Gandhi. Among other tip-offs, that statue didn’t arrive in the park until 1986.

New York’s worst neighborhood name ever

January 28, 2010

It’s got to be Linoleumville. Seriously, this was actually the name of a hamlet on the west shore of Staten Island. 

Originally known as Long Neck in the 1600s, it eventually became Travisville, after a local landowner. Both are nice names.

But in 1872, the town was selected to be the home of the American Linoleum Manufacturing Company. The head of the company decided to rename it after the floor covering his factory produced, where two-thirds of its residents were soon employed.

In 1928, the factory closed. By 1930, the people of Linoleumville were ready for a change. “Imagine going into some of them big Manhattan department stores to buy and giving your home address as Linoleumville!” a Time magazine article that year quoted one resident.

So they took a vote. Four residents cast ballots to keep the name. They lost; more than 300 others decided to change the town name to Travis. 

The neighborhood is still called Travis today.

Snakes and urns in Prospect Park

January 28, 2010

Those are some menacing-looking Brooklyn snakes, aren’t they? They form the handles of a series of Grecian urns that greet passersby and park-goers at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park.

Fourteen urns just like this—that’s 56 snakes total—top a low wall. The bronze originals were placed there by Stanford White, part of the design team brought in to redo the park’s entrance in the 1890s.

Over the years, many of the urns disappeared—well, were stolen is more like it. These cast-iron replicas replaced them.

Rainy, moody afternoons on Madison Square

January 26, 2010

At left, Italian-American painter Alessandro Guaccimanni depicts well-dressed men and women, colorful flowers, and a rain-slicked street beside Madison Square Park in 1893.

Madison Square was ultrafashionable in Gilded Age New York City. The best-known structure on the Square was Madison Square Garden; the Flatiron Building won’t be constructed for another nine years.

This second painting depicts Fifth Avenue and 24th Street circa 1894.

Who was Guaccimanni, and what was his fascination with Madison Square? His paintings are haunting and moody, but there’s no biographical info on him to be found.

When the East Village was “up and coming”

January 26, 2010

The East Village has been deemed “over”—overpriced, invaded by hipsters and posers—since at least the late ’60s.

But there was a brief time in the mid-1960s when it was crowned the New Bohemia, a haven for authentic artists and bohemians living cheaply beside Ukrainians, Poles, and other ethnic minorities.

In 1965, the Inside Guide to Greenwich Village published this little gem on East Village/Lower East Side living in its “where to live” section.

Rents average $40-$70 for 2-4 rooms? I wonder what that translates into in today’s dollars.

1970s Brooklyn on TV: Welcome Back, Kotter

January 26, 2010

The plot lines are so moronic, and the jokes so awful, the show is practically unwatchable. But the opening credits—now that’s another story.

It’s 48 seconds of gritty mid-1970s Bensonhurst, featuring shots of graffiti-covered subway cars, the 86th Street elevated train, and New Utrecht High School.

New Utrecht is the real-life Buchanan High School on the show and alma mater of Gabe Kaplan, aka Mr. Kotter.

It’s also where David Geffen, Buddy Hackett, and Moe and Curly Howard went to school. That’s quite an illustrious list of alumni, almost as good as at nearby Midwood High School.

Looking for a job during the Great Depression

January 23, 2010

A photographer for Look magazine captured this circa-1930s image of men flocking around the help-wanted notices outside the Sherman Employment Agency, on Sixth Avenue.

Hopefully these guys weren’t too down and out to afford the 30-cents-and-under meals advertised next door.

The saint entombed in Washington Heights

January 23, 2010

Born in Italy in 1850, Frances Xavier Cabrini arrived in New York City in 1889, along with thousands of other European immigrants.

But instead of seeking a more prosperous life for herself in America, she came to New York to launch schools, orphanages, and hospitals for the poor—particularly in the impoverished Italian neighborhoods springing up all over the city.

By 1896, she had opened a school on the Lower East Side, an orphanage upstate, and Columbus Hospital in the East 20s. (It eventually morphed into Cabrini Medical Center, which closed in 2008.)

She even became a U.S. citizen in 1909 and lived for a time in Washington Heights.

Her death in 1917 was followed by beatification in 1938. Pope Pius XII then canonized her in 1946 and made her the patron saint of immigrants. 

Now, she’s back in Upper Manhattan.

Her body—well, actually a wax replica of it, according to The New York Times—has been on display in a glass box at a shrine at Mother Cabrini High School on Fort Washington Avenue for decades.

The birds and rosebuds of Bethesda Terrace

January 23, 2010

Split-level Bethesda Terrace, near 72nd Street overlooking the lake, was designed in the 1860s to be the heart of Central Park—a grand place of people-watching and socializing.

It’s the site of some of the park’s most beautiful features: Bethesda Fountain, the “Angel of the Waters” sculpture, and the tiles adorning the ceiling of the ground-level arcade.

But don’t overlook the gorgeous ornamental stone carvings on the staircases leading to the fountain.

British-born designer Jacob Wrey Mould created these whimsical reliefs of birds and foliage—a lovely reminder of spring and summer all year round.


A misty, muted view of the East River

January 20, 2010

“East River Scene” by American painter Elias Ben Delman gives us smoke-spewing tugboats, murky blue-gray water, and a Manhattan skyline that seems obscure and awfully far away.

This painting has something subdued yet magical going on. I wish I knew more about the artist and the scene he chose to depict.