Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church

May 26, 2016

NormandieposterThe biggest bottle of champagne in the world helped christen the French luxury liner the S.S. Normandie when it first launched in 1932.

Too bad this nautical marvel and Art Deco beauty didn’t plough the Atlantic for long.

In 1941, after the Germans took over France and with the Normandie safely docked in New York, the U.S. Coast Guard seized control of the ship.

The plan was to renovate the 1,000-foot liner into a ship for troops and to rename it the USS Lafayette.

Workers were busily converting the 1,000-foot vessel when it caught fire and capsized in its berth on the Hudson in February 1942.

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The destruction of the Normandie—everyone thought it was sabotage, but that wasn’t the case—was major news in wartime New York City.

People lined up to view its remains, as Pete Hamill recalls in his memoir, A Drinking Life:

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“[His mother] took us there again and again, to gaze at its parched hull, more than a thousand feet long, its giant propellers high out of the water. In my memory, the ruined liner looks humiliated, like a drunk who has fallen down in public.”

After the Normandie was hauled away, its ruins were sold for scrap metal—with a few exceptions.

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NormandiechurchThe magnificent doors of the first class dining room from the Normandie’s luxury liner days were salvaged by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral (right) in Brooklyn Heights.

To this day, the doors—with their intricate medallions showing scenes and sights in Normandy and lovely carvings of trees and leaves—greet visitors to the church at two different entrances at Henry and Remsen Streets.

They’re a quiet remnant of New York during World War II, a time that fewer and fewer residents have any memory of.

An old Brooklyn phone exchange comes into view

May 16, 2016

Hidden behind the shrubs in front of a residence on West 12th Street is this small weathered sign for a fence company—complete with an original vintage phone exchange!

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Bucolic-sounding Cloverdale covered the Flatlands area of Brooklyn beginning in 1928. Like New York’s other two-letter neighborhood exchanges, it was officially replaced by seven digits in the 1960s.

JRMoyersonsadJ. R. Moyer Sons doesn’t appear to be in business on Utica Avenue in Flatlands anymore. The last Google-able trace of the company dates to the 1970s. I wonder how long the fence sign has been hanging there.

More hiding-in-plain sight vintage phone exchanges can still be found all over New York . . . if you look very carefully.

Beautiful ruins of a Brooklyn ketchup factory

April 25, 2016

It’s a haunting relic of New York’s manufacturing glory days, and it sits less than half a block past the corner of Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street in Crown Heights.

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The H.J. Heinz Company moved into this handsome red brick plant around 1920.

HeinzfactorynyplThey purchased it from the Nassau Brewing Company, which had a long beer-making run under various names in a complex of buildings beginning in the 1860s until 1914.

This 1941 photo from the New York Public Library offers a glimpse of the factory, looking from Franklin Avenue, on the far left.

“57 Varieties” and “Food Products” can still be read on the facade, a reminder that the laborers in this building produced a lot more than ketchup.

I’m not sure when Monti Moving and Storage came in to the picture, but they decamped in 2001, leaving their own fading imprint behind.

Today, the factory appears to be occupied by different kinds of makers: furniture designers, artists, and other light manufacturing and design groups, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

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And cheese makers too, who use the deep underground vaults leftover from the building’s brewery days as cheese caves, reports a fascinating article in Edible Brooklyn.

Down on his luck at the Brooklyn docks in 1938

April 11, 2016

Reginald Marsh painted the city’s extremes: gaudy, seedy Coney Island, sex at burlesque shows, Bowery revelry, and the might and strength symbolized by ships and industry.

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But his solemn forgotten man (and a second man, lying down on the left) perched at the edge of a dock in 1938’s “Docks, Brooklyn” reveals a loneliness and despair unlike anything depicted in his other paintings and illustrations.

And it just sold for more than $6,000.

Spring comes to brownstone Brooklyn in 1949

March 28, 2016

This is Brooklyn just four years after the end of World War II.

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In 1949, when Brooklyn on the north side of Prospect Park was still a collection of working-class and middle-income neighborhoods and urban decay had yet to take hold, a Life photographer went out and took some photos.

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In a Life spread titled “Spring Comes to Brooklyn,” Ralph Morse captured street life in the neighborhoods located in the shadow of the Williamsburgh Bank Tower.

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The images look like simple snapshots. Backyard gardens are planted. Kids play in the (strangely car-free) streets. Teenagers hang around corner candy stores and newsstands.

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Women clean off stoops while minding babies and toddlers. Neighbors stop to chat at the front door. Laundry hangs between buildings.

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It’s almost the 1950s, and the modern era has begun. But what’s interesting is how unguarded residents seem. It’s as if there’s no element of danger to worry about or shield their kids from.

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This part of Brooklyn would change dramatically in the next few decades. And of course, the brownstones of Brooklyn would then become some of the most sought-after housing in the entire city.

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But here is Brooklyn before all that, depicted by a very talented photographer in one moment in time. Many more photos are available to scroll through at the Life archives.

[Photos: Life/Ralph Morse]

The old city along the East River waterfront

February 8, 2016

Everett Longley Warner’s “Along the River Front” captures the city in 1912 on the cusp of change.

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The old New York waterfront, one of horse-drawn wagons loaded with packages heading to small commercial fish dealers and the office of a steamship line, have been dwarfed by the modern city’s enormous bridges and the traffic they carry.

Pier201900This photo, from 1900, gives an idea of what Warner was looking at. He changed the name of the steamship line from the New Haven Line to the Maine Line, for unknown reasons.

Warner was an impressionist painter who lived in New York in the early 1900s. Despite early notoriety, his lovely depictions of industry and commerce in the city haven’t made him a household name.

New York is a brick and mason wall ghost town

January 18, 2016

The construction boom across the city has this upside: after an old building has been flattened by the wrecking ball, its faded outline remains behind for a little while, before something new and shiny covers it up.

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These building phantoms give city streets an eerie vibe; they’re red brick and mason wall palimpsests of another New York. Look at the little chimneys that warmed what looks like a former Federal-style home on Bond Street?

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In Downtown Brooklyn, traces of a two-story tenement on the right hint at what kind of residences lined the streets of the independent city in the 19th century.

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On East 17th Street in is a reminder of what this Flatiron block looked like when it was all low-rises, not tall lofts.

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This corner building in Chelsea must have cut a handsome, sturdy profile. The rooms of the second floor are still outlined too.

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Back when Jane Street was just a tiny lane in the village of Greenwich, there was a little house under this steep little roof.

Two Brooklyn memorials to one 1960 plane crash

January 11, 2016

Newspaper headlines described a horrible scene. “Air crash rains death on city” screamed the New York Daily News on December 17, 1960.

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At 10:30 a.m. the day before, two passenger planes heading to LaGuardia collided over New York City.

A TWA airplane from Dayton, Ohio came down on Staten Island. A United DC-8 from Chicago hit the ground at Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue in Park Slope.

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The final death toll of what was then the city’s worst air disaster would reach 134, including six victims in Brooklyn who were going about their day when the TWA craft plunged out of the sky.

AircrashstephenbaltzToday, Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue has long been cleaned up, though a few signs of the destruction of the crash remain. There’s no memorial at the intersection—but there are two not far away in Brooklyn.

One honors an 11-year-old boy who survived the initial crash. Stephen Baltz (left) was flying on his own to join his mom and sister in Yonkers, where they were planning to spend Christmas.

Baltz was badly burned, but he survived through the night before dying at Methodist Hospital up Seventh Avenue the next morning.

Inside the hospital’s Phillips Chapel is this understated plaque, above. “Our tribute to a brave little boy” it reads, next to the bronzed dimes and nickels Stephen had in his pocket. His parents put them in the hospital donation box after he died.

AircrashdailynewsIn Green-Wood Cemetery, a newer memorial marks the burial site of the bodies burned beyond recognition in the fiery aftermath of the crash.

“In an era before DNA identifications were possible, three caskets of ‘Fragmentary Human Remains’ were filled from the Park Slope crash site and were buried in a grave in lot 38325 that was purchased by United Airlines,” according to Green-Wood Cemetery.

Fifty years later in 2010, a granite memorial went up on the site. Inscribed on it are the names of all the victims.

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Nearby a bronze and granite stone poking out of the grass simply says, “In this grave rest unidentified remains of victims of the airplane crash in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY, December 16, 1960.”

[Top photo: Brooklyn Public Library/Irving I. Herzberg; third photo: New York Times; fourth photo: airliners.net/moose135photography]

When Brooklyn teams played baseball on ice

December 28, 2015

The history of sports includes lots of nutty ideas. One of the strangest took off big in Brooklyn in the 1860s and 1870s: baseball on ice.

Baseballice

The game was huge in Brooklyn in the decades after the Civil War. Ice skating was trendy too. Why not combine the two into the ultimate winter activity, right?

Local papers covered the games enthusiastically. “Today a grand match at base-ball on ice will be played on the Capitoline Pond, Brooklyn, 2 pm., the contestants being the best players of the Mutual and Atlantic Clubs who are also good skaters,” wrote the New York Times in January 1871.

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[Capitoline Pond (photo below) was at the Capitoline Grounds, a baseball park on Fulton Avenue]

Problems cropped up though. First, regular skaters complained that the ballplayers messed up the ice. Then there was the freezing cold.

Captiolinegrounds

On January 5, 1879, the New York Times wrote about a game at the Prospect Park Lake, which attracted a “half-dozen shivering spectators.”

The game “was anything but interesting to the scorer and umpire, who became so thoroughly chilled by the fifth inning that they refused to act longer, and thus the game was brought to an untimely end.”

“The problem of living in New York” explained

December 14, 2015

“In no considerable, thoroughly settled city on the civilized globe is material living attended with so many difficulties as New York.”

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So begins a November 1882 Harper’s Weekly article that lays out why making a home in the city is such an exercise in frustration.

Lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living, of course. “Even in London, to which alone we are second in commercial importance, it is not hard to find a house or rooms within the municipal limits at any season.”

Problemofnymorrisparkad“But one of the greatest troubles of the average New-Yorker is to secure a roof to shelter him and his. He has no expectation of a home—anything like a home is reserved for the very prosperous few; the most he dares to hope for is a sojourning place for six months, or a year or two at furthest.”

“The effort he makes to this end, the anxiety he suffers, are incalculable.” Because Manhattan is a long, skinny island, land is “so dear that every square foot is naturally turned to the utmost profit.”

The article points to a possible breakthrough. In the late 19th century, French Flats were introduced to the city, rental apartments where a family unable to afford a stand-alone house could live respectably.

ProblemofnybaileyparkadThe “elegant” rentals could cost up to $4,000 a year. The cheapest flat that wasn’t a tenement could be had for $400 per year. But with the average middle-class salary $1,500 annually, neither option was affordable.

Even with the development of the Upper West Side in the 1880s (top image), rows and rows of brownstones and luxury apartment buildings like the Dakota were way out of reach.

“It is estimated that a man and his wife, with one or two children, can not possibly live here in any degree of comfort on less than $5,000 a year,” according to the article.

ProblemlivingnyctheworldadThe result? A middle class resident “must pitch his tent, as it may justly be styled, in the rear of Brooklyn, along the lines of the New Jersey railroads, among the sand knolls of Long Island, or amid the pastures of Westchester.” (The ads above attest to the rapid development of the Bronx in the early 1900s.)

“New York is a great, a most opulent city, a marvel of enterprise and progress, in all likelihood the future capital of the world,” the article concludes.

“When it has achieved its highest density, let us hope that amid its splendors and its blessings may be included a few more houses.”

[Images: NYPL Digital Collection]


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