Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

5 wildly different sign styles outside New York’s subway entrances

June 20, 2022

The New York City subway system has 472 stations, according to the MTA. Some of these stations made up the original IRT line that debuted in October 1904; others opened in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and beyond (looking at you, Second Avenue Q train).

190th Street/Fort Tryon Park

The nice thing about a subway system constructed in different decades is that there’s no one uniform subway sign above ground outside station entrances. The wide range of sign styles reflects the era the station opened and/or the feel of the surrounding neighborhood. Each has a different magic.

Fifth Avenue/59th Street

At the 190th Street IND station at Fort Tryon Park is this subway sign (top photo), with what looks like hand-cut lettering. The station opened in 1911, and I don’t know when the sign appeared. But it’s certainly a vintage beauty in an exceedingly beautiful section of Upper Manhattan.

Lexington Avenue/51st Street

These twin lantern-like subway signs outside Central Park give off a more old-timey vibe. You can find them at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street N/R station. When illuminated at night, they’re enchanting.

Downtown Brooklyn

The Jazz Age comes alive thanks to this subway signage at the 6 train station on Lexington Avenue and 51st Street (third image). The chrome and lettering seem very Art Deco—as does the building beside it, the former RCA Building/General Electric Building, built between 1929-1931.

The subway signs lit up in green in Downtown Brooklyn look like they’re giving off radiation! It’s all part of the sleek, unusual design that feels very 1930s or 1940s to me.

The last photo features a more elegant, business-like sign design, perhaps from Lower Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn again. It’s the only one that doesn’t appear to be a lamp, though it’s possible it might light up when the skies darken. Sharp-eyed ENY readers identified the location at One Hanson Place, the address of the circa-1929 former Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower.

An awe-inspiring arch in Central Park’s North Woods

June 13, 2022

Most of Central Park is a pleasure ground of playgrounds, pathways, gentle hills, and rolling meadows. As you head north at about 102nd Street, however, much of the terrain transforms into a woodland wildlife landscape with thick woods, waterfalls, and a ravine.

Amid this more rustic, secluded environment—intentionally designed by co-creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to feel like the deep woods of the Catskills or Adirondacks—is Central Park’s most incredible bridge.

Huddlestone Arch isn’t the biggest of the park’s 36 bridges, and it’s not necessarily the prettiest. But it’s the one that takes its stones straight from the park itself and earns top prize as an engineering feat.

The enormous boulders that make up the arch, placed together by hand, stay in place not because of mortar or other supporting material but gravity.

The boulders are arranged so they “huddle” together and keep their place, making the bridge strong enough to support the East Drive above it and act as a gateway to the Loch, the stream that winds its way through the ravine.

Huddlestone Arch in 1895

“Only gravity and pressure keep the massive boulders in place,” explains the Central Park Conservatory.

Huddlestone Arch was completed in 1866, and it’s parallel to roughly 107th Street closer to Fifth Avenue. On the other side of the arch is the Lasker Rink and Harlem Meer. The Rink is currently under construction, and right now the arch is fenced off. The footpaths to the arch are accessible.

Much of Central Park may be an illusion; Olmsted and Vaux brilliantly recreate unspoiled nature across the park’s 843 often rocky acres. But if you’re feeling adventurous and can’t get to New Paltz, this awe-inspiring engineering marvel is waiting for you.

[Third image: MCNY X2010.11.1274]

What makes Central Park’s “whisper bench” so unusual and enchanting

June 10, 2022

Some parts of Central Park encourage loud noise—the ballfields, the playgrounds, and the areas under Bethesda Terrace and certain bridges, where buskers play to enthusiastic crowds.

Other sections call for quiet and softness, and park visitors know to lower their voices. That’s where the whisper bench, inside the lush and lovely Shakespeare Garden, comes in.

Officially known as the Charles B. Stover bench, this smooth granite half-circle earned its nickname “because a whisper spoken into one end of the bench can be heard on the other side,” explains the Central Park Conservatory.

The 20-foot bench that curls inward at the ends is unlike any of the 10,000 mostly wood benches spread out across Central Park. It’s also one of the park’s most enchanting places to sit, surrounded by four shady acres of flowers, herbs, and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

The Shakespeare Garden was a favorite of Charles Stover, who served as city parks commissioner in the 1910s. Stover was a longtime advocate for New York’s parks and playgrounds, according to the Conservatory.

The bench bearing his name was dedicated in 1936, two decades after the Garden was established. Since then, it’s been popular with curious park-goers who test out the acoustics, as well as those seeking peace and contemplation. It’s also a romantic setting, so expect couples to stop and sit close.

There’s another place in Manhattan also famous for whispers: the “whispering gallery” of Grand Central Terminal. It’s on the lower level of the station. Supposedly if you stand against the wall and whisper, your words can be heard across the space thanks to the vaulted ceilings.

The amazing survival story of the last 3 single-family row houses on Central Park West

May 9, 2022

If you find yourself facing the corner of Central Park West at 85th Street, you’ll see three stunning row houses, each with different Queen Anne-style touches. They’re charming, confection-like holdouts from the Gilded Age, dwarfed (but not outshined) by their Art Deco apartment tower neighbor.

247-249 Central Park West

But before 1930, these three beauties were part of a row of nine spanning the entire block. While their sister buildings met the wrecking ball, they managed to survive—and now are thought to be the last remaining single-family row houses on all of Central Park West.

Their story begins with the Dakota. When this Gothic-inspired apartment building several blocks south was completed in 1884, Gilded Age real estate developers began to imagine Central Park West as a parkside avenue of similarly grand, luxurious apartment buildings.

One builder who apparently didn’t share that vision was a speculative developer of other properties on today’s Upper West Side named William Noble. In 1887, Noble hired architect Edward L. Angell to construct nine single-family row houses between 84th and 85th Streets along what until 1883 had been known as Eighth Avenue.

The “Noble houses,” as numbers 241-249 Central Park West were later called, spanned the entire block, which Noble outfitted with six ornamental lampposts. The fairy tale-like Queen Anne style served as an antidote to the cookie-cutter brownstones lining so many Gilded Age Manhattan streets.

The original nine Noble houses are in the background, 1925

“Not only did [Angell] vary his designs for the houses, but he varied the materials too, from red brick to buff-colored brick, from brownstone to carved limestone,” wrote Margot Gayle in 1979 in the New York Daily News.

“The corner houses were the most elegant, each having two exposures, windows with panels of stained glass and a bay-windowed tower terminating in a peaked roof.” Though each row house had different architectural bells and whistles, the gables and chimneys of all the houses reflect the design of the Dakota, the article pointed out.

By 1928, streetcars were long gone from Central Park West

Central Park West as a luxury thoroughfare was in its infancy, and a horsecar line ran up and down the avenue. Still, the Noble houses were pricey. “The houses were at the upper end of the market—they cost $37,000 each in construction alone, exclusive of decoration—and the first occupants were all prosperous,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 1990.

Among the first occupants was William Noble; he took number 247 for himself, per a 2014 New York Times article. His neighbor at number 248, a wealthy colonel named Richard Lathers, made news by arranging a reception in his home where relatives of Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant were invited to bring “North and South together in an informal and quiet way,” according to a biography.

Number 248’s beautiful detailing

As the decades went on, the Noble houses changed hands. Meanwhile, Central Park West’s fortunes boomed. Stylish, modern Art Deco apartment buildings that scaled new heights and commanded high prices lined the avenue.

The 1920s marked the beginning of the end for six of the Noble houses. “In 1925, Sam Minskoff, a builder, sued to break the private house restrictions so he could build what was ultimately erected in 1930 as the tall apartment house that replaced 241-246 Central Park West,” wrote Gray.

Number 247 stained glass loveliness

Why didn’t the entire row of Noble houses get demolished? Thank the strong-minded holdout owner of number 249. “Probably all would have been taken down had not the owner of the northernmost of the remaining houses stubbornly refuse to sell,” wrote Gayle. “A neighbor recalls him as a man who knew his own mind, liked to view the park from his windows, wore a bowler, and walked a poodle twice a day.”

This stubborn neighbor was identified in Gray’s article as W. Gedney Beatty, an “architect-scholar.” As a result, “247, 248 and 249 have since survived in the shadow of their taller neighbor,” he wrote.

The 3 remaining Noble houses in 1975

They were expensive when they were new, and the prices of the remaining Noble houses in today’s real estate market are mind-blowing.

In 2014, number 247—beautifully restored and with its own lap pool—sold for $22 million. Number 248, also renovated to its original beauty, just set an Upper West Side real estate record earlier this year by finding a buyer at $26 million, according to Ilovetheupperwestside.com.

Number 249 Central Park West

[Third image: New-York Historical Society; fourth image: NYPL; seventh image: MCNY 2013.3.1.34]

The favorite way the Gilded Age elite enjoyed Central Park in the 1860s

February 28, 2022

Central Park was conceived as a respite from the noise and pollution of the industrial city—a tranquil landscape where New Yorkers could relax and refresh in a natural environment.

But in the first years of the park’s existence in the 1860s, it was the wealthy who enjoyed it the most. After all, in the early Gilded Age, they were the ones who had the leisure time to spare and the vehicles to bring them to this green space far from the center of the city.

So how did they use the park? By driving—or being driven. With fancy carriages and a coachman or two handling the road, New York ladies and gentlemen spent late afternoons traversing the park’s many drives. Sometimes a Gilded Age sportsman would take the reins on his own trotting horse.

“Another notable feature of former days was the driving in Central Park,” according to the book Fifth Avenue, from 1915. “Here might be seen old Commodore Vanderbilt, driving his famous trotter, ‘Dexter’; Robert Bonner, speeding ‘Maude S.’; Thomas Kilpatrick, Frank Work, Russell Sage, and other horsemen driving to their private quarter- or half-mile courses in Harlem; leaders of society or dowagers in their gilded coaches; and even maidens of the ‘Four Hundred’ driving their phaetons.”

[Image: Currier & Ives after Thomas Worth]

Clearing Gilded Age Fifth Avenue of its shacks and shantytowns

February 14, 2022

Fifth Avenue has been New York’s most exclusive thoroughfare almost since the first section of the avenue, between Waverly Place and 13th Street, was laid out in 1824.

Shacks at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, by Ralph Blakelock in 1868

It’s easy to see why. Fifth Avenue was ideal in terms of privacy and comfort; it’s as far as possible from the industry of the Hudson and East Rivers and removed enough from the retail that crept up Broadway as the decades progressed.

Fifth Avenue also lacked a streetcar line or elevated train, so the slender avenue wasn’t clogged with traffic and crowds of strangers.

A Fifth Avenue shantytown, cross street not known

As the 19th century went on and the Gilded Age was in full swing, a Fifth Avenue address became even more sought after. Old money New Yorkers and new rich titans of industry built their mansions on what was dubbed ‘Millionaire’s Row’—from Fifth Avenue in the 50s to the stretch along Central Park in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The rows of brownstone mansions and marble chateaus arrived by the early 1900s, and images of these massive houses have come to symbolize the wealth made during the Gilded Age.

Mansions of the old and new rich lining upper Fifth Avenue; that’s Mrs. Astor’s house on the corner of 65th Street in 1895

But what became of the shacks and shanties that formerly lined Fifth Avenue, especially the upper end, before it became a millionaire colony?

Fifth Avenue above 59th Street “at one time…was invaded by more than five thousand ‘wastrels,’ and was known as ‘Shantytown,’ and its queer inhabitants as ‘squatters,'” stated Fifth Avenue Old and New, a book published in 1924 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the avenue.

Fifth Avenue shacks, 1895

Not all of the shanties were residential. A New York Times article from 1901 that focused on the eventual mansion Andrew Carnegie was building on Upper Fifth Avenue referenced the “relics” of another era, when this section of Fifth was an undeveloped road.

“This upper section of the avenue shows many strange contrasts, for alongside the palaces of millionaires are to be found old-fashioned roadhouses and buildings that are little more than shanties, relics of the former days of the avenue when it was a road,” the Times wrote.

Headline in the New York Times, 1905

A squalid shack next door to Carnegie’s stunning mansion at Fifth and 91st Street was the subject of another Times article in 1905.

“Within a stone’s throw of Andrew Carnegie’s mansion, the marble-colonnaded twin residence of G. L. and C. W. McAlpin, and the somewhat less pretentious home of Carl Schurz stands a gabled shanty within 20 feet of Fifth Avenue of such scant dimensions and poverty-stricken appearance that it would be despised among the hovels that house some of the poorest of the city’s residents.”

The Times goes on to describe the family of 5 kids headed by an Irish father who works as a stevedore (and their dog, an “ugly-tempered canine brute”). “The space of the dwelling that serves as home for those six human beings and the beast is probably something like 20 by 12 feet, divided into two rooms.”

Illustration from “Fifth Avenue Old and New” by Henry Collins Brown via Columbia University Digital Collections

What happened to this family, and other owners and inhabitants elbowed out of upper Fifth Avenue? There’s no follow up, but it’s safe to say their rickety homes, built on land they didn’t own, were condemned once the lot was sold and construction was to begin on another mansion.

“The owners of the land are simply awaiting purchasers at fancy figures, and meanwhile do not care what sort of building remains on the land,” the 1901 Times piece states.

Fifth Avenue wasn’t the only millionaire mile in New York City with shantytowns. Riverside Drive, lined with Queen Anne and Beaux Arts mansions in the early 1900s, was also dotted by shanties and squatter shacks.

[Top image: Corbis; second image: MCNY, MNY227520; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY, MNY219239; fifth image: New York Times; sixth image: Fifth Avenue Old and New via Columbia University Digital Collections]

The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue

December 13, 2021

If you’ve ever passed the Sherman monument at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park, then you’ve seen her likeness before—she’s the Greek goddess Victory, with wings and sandals, leading General Sherman astride his horse to Civil War triumph.

But who was the real-life woman who lent her image to this Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture, which has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1903?

Researchers, including her own descendants, have pieced together some of her story as a sought-after model in Gilded Age New York, and it holds some surprises.

With Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor of the Sherman monument, in an 1897 sketch by Anders Zorn

She was born Harriette Eugenia Dickerson in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873. “Research, including findings by her cousin Amir Bey, shows that before the Civil War the government designated Anderson’s family ‘free colored persons’; they owned land and earned wages,” stated the New York Times in August 2021.

“But the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South and financial hardship eventually drove Anderson and many of her relatives northward,” the Times continued.

She and her mother moved to New York, probably the 1890s. They settled into a “sepia-colored brick building on Amsterdam Avenue at Ninety-Fourth Street,” wrote Eve M. Kahn in an October 2021 article for The Magazine Antiques. (Below, Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910)

Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910, a block from where Anderson lived in the 1890s

Going by the name Hettie Anderson, she began working as a seamstress “and occasionally as a store clerk, while modeling and likely studying at the then-new Art Students’ League on West Fifty-Seventh Street,” stated Kahn.

Anderson was soon in demand as an artist’s model, and she was lauded for her looks. “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H.E. Anderson,” wrote the New York Commercial in 1896, referring to the artist model in the George du Maurier novel. “She is a charming young woman, whose beauty of form and face make her in constant demand among artists.”

Those artists included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John La Farge. “Miss Anderson’s coloring is quite as exquisite as her shapeliness,” the Commercial stated. “She is richly brunette in type, with creamy skin, crisp curling hair, and warm brown eyes.”

Whether the artists who she posed for knew she was African American is unclear. “New York census takers listed her as ‘white,’ wrote Kahn. “But she definitely did not ‘pass’ or ‘cross the line’—that is, she did not hide her ethnicity by cutting off family members.”

After the turn of the century, she continued modeling, and Saint-Gaudens used her likeness on $20 coins and also gave her the portrait bust he used when working on the Sherman monument.

“Anderson’s likeness can be seen in French’s sculptures at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; in cemeteries in northern New Jersey and Concord, Mass.; and in entryways to the St. Louis Art Museum and Boston Public Library,” wrote the Times.

She might also be the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “Civic Fame,” on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building (above)—though Audrey Munson, another top model of the era, is often credited for that 1914 sculpture.

In the 1910s, modeling jobs became harder to come by. French and sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman helped her find work as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote Kahn, and by the 1920s, her health was failing.

Daniel Chester French’s “Spirit of Life,” in Saratoga Springs, based on Anderson

According to [her brother] Charles’s granddaughters, she suffered a breakdown after seeing a lover killed in traffic on Amsterdam Avenue,” stated Kahn. “Every evening, she would inexplicably open and shut a window, shouting the name of a cousin, Sarah ‘Sallie’ Wallace Arnett, a church leader who likely disapproved of modeling careers.”

Like many models then and now, her name was mostly forgotten as the decades went on. She died in 1938, and “her death certificate listed ‘model’ as her profession,” wrote Kahn, adding that she and her mother are buried in her hometown of Columbia.

For any readers interested in learning more about Hettie Anderson, Landmark West! is hosting a Zoom event featuring author and scholar Eve Kahn. The event is on December 15 from 6-7 p.m., and Ephemeral readers can get a complementary ticket by contacting ephemeralnewyork @ gmail or via DM.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth, fifth, and sixth images: Wikipedia]

The understated war memorials inside a private Central Park South club

November 8, 2021

The New York Athletic Cub on Central Park South might sound like a strange place to honor Veterans Day. But if the doormen let you take a look around this “Italian Renaissance Palazzo style” club founded in 1868, wander through the cavernous lobby.

On the right amid the club chairs and lounge areas is an entire wall with a plaque dedicated to the New York Athletic Club members who served in World War II. Within the plaque is a list of men who make up their “honored dead.”

World War II isn’t the only war worthy of a memorial. Besides the WWII wall are smaller plaques honoring those who died in Korea and Vietnam.

To my knowledge, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t have their own monuments inside the building—which opened in 1930 at Seventh Avenue on the former site of the magnificent circa-1880s Navarro Flats, one of the city’s most spectacular apartment complexes.

But there is a plaque commemorating the event that started those wars, listing the names of club members who were killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive

September 20, 2021

Central Park was a work in progress when Winslow Homer produced this richly detailed scene in 1860. But that didn’t stop New York’s fashionable set from coming out to the park in stylish carriages to see and be seen in a daily ritual known as the “carriage parade.”

Every afternoon between 4-5 p.m., the east side carriage drive from 59th Street to the Mall came alive, explained Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York. “In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Perhaps Homer isn’t capturing just the carriage parade but the various ways Gotham’s wealthy and their horses used new park. Take the woman in the foreground, for example. Thanks to the carriage drive, riding was now socially acceptable for ladies, according to Morris.

“The fashionable hour for equestriennes was before breakfast,” he wrote. “You could see them elegantly togged out in silk hat draped with a flying veil, tight buttoned bodice and flowing skirts….A lady riding alone was invariably attended by a liveried groom or a riding master.”

Men in positions of power indulged in the trotting fad, riding expensive fast horses to Harlem Lane and back to the park. “When General Grant visited the city at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to be taken out to Harlem Lane,” stated Morris. “He shared New York’s passion for trotters, and agreed that ‘the road’ of a late afternoon was one of the most thrilling sights in the country.”

[Lithograph: up for auction at Invaluable]

What happened to the big whale at the Central Park Children’s Zoo?

September 16, 2021

If you were young in New York City in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, then you probably remember the thrill of visiting Jonah’s Whale at the Children’s Zoo in Central Park, with that smiling open mouth you could practically walk into.

Jonah’s Whale had been part of the Children’s Zoo since its 1961 opening, according to The New York Times. But this star zoo attraction got the boot in the mid-1990s, after the zoo fell into disrepair and the whale was “derided as kitsch,” as the Times put it.

“A new generation of sober-minded zookeepers, trained to re-create natural habitats, questioned its educational value,” the Times wrote. “And critics wondered whether a sculpture depicting the biblical tale of Jonah, who spent three nights in the belly of a whale, was appropriate in a public park.”

In the mid-1990s, Jonah’s Whale was carted away to the Rockaways, where it was supposed to live in a happy retirement. But apparently the whale was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, per a 2014 article in Rockawave, which covered an attempt to raise money to rebuild it.

The fate of Whalemina, as the whale was renamed in the Rockaways, isn’t clear. But Baby Boomer and Gen X New Yorkers surely are hoping that this zoo icon is safe and in one piece again somewhere.

[Top image: eBay; second image: NYC Parks]