Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

The Pilgrim statue standing alone in Central Park

November 23, 2020

Central Park has 29 statues, some popular (like Balto, the hero sled dog) and others more obscure (Fitz-Greene Halleck, anyone?)

But standing high and alone on eponymously named Pilgrim Hill is a statue of a Pilgrim, one of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 from England seeking religious freedom in the New World.

“An early American settler stands confidently with one hand leaning on the muzzle of a flintlock musket,” writes Centralparknyc.org, describing the statue. “On the pedestal beneath him are four bas reliefs referencing the era—including the Mayflower—as well as an inscription: “To commemorate the Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers on Plymouth Rock: December 21, 1620.”

The bronze statue, by John Quincy Adams Ward, was commissioned and dedicated here in July 1885 by the New England Society to mark the group’s 75th anniversary, according to NYC Parks. (A procession heading to the site passed President Grant’s house on East 66th Street, and an ill Grant saluted from his window, newspaper accounts noted.)

Whatever one thinks about early settlers to America these days, it’s worth noting that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims.

With Thanksgiving days away, consider heading over the Pilgrim Hill and seeing this mostly forgotten figure. The bas reliefs of the Mayflower and other symbols tell more of the Pilgrims’ story.

[Top photo: centralpark.com]

A Midcentury artist’s muted Manhattan beauty

November 2, 2020

You’ve seen paintings of Washington Square, Greenwich Village markets, and the New York Harbor before. But through the eyes and brush of Bela de Tirefort, these and other city scenes take on a muted, Impressionist beauty.

“6th Avenue El,” 1940

I didn’t find much information about De Tirefort’s early years. Born in Austria in 1894, he made his way to New York City and became instrumental in organizing outdoor art fairs, included something called the Greenwich Village Art Fair (maybe the Washington Square Outdoor Art Fair, which got its start in 1931?).

“Bleecker Square,” 1961

He organized an art fair in Brooklyn outside Grand Army Plaza in 1932, which the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seemed to get a kick out of. “Brooklyn is still the city of churches and homes—to artists,” the Eagle wrote. “Neurotic, erotic, exotic, and degenerative ‘art’ may go in Greenwich Village, but Brooklyn likes its art conservative.”

“Evening, Central Park” undated

De Tirefort comes off like a pragmatic artist in his reply to the Eagle: “We are not here to argue with the public. We are here to sell. We are guests. We do not want to offend.”

“Brooklyn Bridge,” undated

It’s not clear where de Tirefort himself lived, but Greenwich Village is a good guess. Many of his paintings focus on Washington Square Park, Bleecker Street’s Little Italy, and other Village icons. He also sold his painting directly from Washington Square, stated 1stdibs.com.

“Hansom Carriage Central Park” 1940

He tended to bathe his scenes in soft tones and thick brush strokes, presenting evocative city scenes that feel dreamlike but with decidedly Modernist touches.

“Park View, New York City” 1961

Through the 1940s and 1950s, de Tirefort exhibited his paintings in galleries and made a living as a working artist. In 1966, he moved to South Florida, where he died at age 99 in 1993, according to his obituary in the Tampa Bay Times.

“New York Harbor From the East River” 1951

“Using muted tones, strong silhouettes, and incisive textures, his paintings capture the structure of the city in the decades between the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the growth of the New York art scene,” wrote 1stdibs.com.

De Tirefort in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, 1932

De Tirefort’s work, often up for sale at auctions, commands the kind of prices you’d expect from a chronicler of Midcentury New York’s poetic moments and elusive beauty.

[Images 1-7, mutualart.com; eighth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1932]

Five ghosts who supposedly haunt the Dakota

October 26, 2020

New York City has no shortage of reportedly haunted houses—from the East Fourth Street home of 19th century merchant Seabury Tredwell and his large family to the Morris-Jumel mansion in Washington Heights, where a rich widow born in the 1770s lived out her days.

But when it comes to haunted houses that truly look spooky, the Dakota wins hands-down.

This landmark 1884 luxury apartment building on Central Park West and 72nd Street—with its steep roof, dormer windows, corner pavilions, and other architectural features that blend German Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles—is exactly the kind of place you would expect spirits to be hanging around.

One of these Dakota spirits is that of a strange little girl, reportedly first seen by workmen sometime in the 20th century.

“A beautiful blond child suddenly appeared in the corridor, wearing high white stockings, patent leather shoes with silver buckles, and a dress of yellow taffeta that seemed to come from another century,” wrote Stephen Birmingham in Life at the Dakota.

“She was bouncing a red ball. ‘It’s my birthday’ she said and, still bouncing her ball she disappeared down the corridor. The description of the little in the yellow dress matched no child then in the building, and she has never been identified.”

The little girl is still seen by residents today, “greeting them with a smile and a wave” from lower floor windows, reported a 2015 ABC News article.

Another ghost, “the man with the wig,” might have been that of the man who developed the Dakota, Edward Cabot Clark (above, left).

This apparition—with a short beard, large nose, and wire glasses, not unlike Clark’s—visited an electrician in the basement in the 1930s four times.

Each time, “the man glared fiercely at [the electrician] for several moments, then reached up, snatched off the wig he was wearing and shook it angrily in [the electrician’s] face,” wrote Birmingham, adding that Clark indeed wore a wig.

A ghost with a little boy’s face also apparently paid a visit to the building as well. It happened in the 1960s, when a “construction worker who was working near the apartments stated he saw a figure with the body of a man but the face of a young boy,” reported nyghosts.com.

This creepy specter didn’t say anything but made the workers feel “like they were being closely watched,” according to the site.

Finally, one Dakota ghost is also the building’s most famous former resident: John Lennon.

Some time before he was shot to death in the archway of the Dakota on December 8, 1980, Lennon himself reported seeing a woman he dubbed the “crying lady ghost,” which other residents supposedly spotted as well, according to the 2010 book, Ghosthunting in New York City.

After Lennon’s death, two people claimed to see his spirit at the entrance of the Dakota in 1983 “with an eerie glow about him,” stated Ghosthunting. One of the ghost spotters wanted to talk to John, but because of the way he looked at her she decided not to approach him, the book explained.

That wasn’t the only Lennon ghost experience. “Surely the most reliable and believable sighting of John Lennon’s ghost comes from his wife, Yoko,” Ghosthunting continued. “She saw him seated at his piano in their apartment. He looked at her and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am still with you.'”

[Top image: Wikipedia; second image: NYPL; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY 2013.3.1.401; sixth image: MCNY 2013.3.2.1759; seventh image: Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images; eighth image: Office of Metropolitan History]

The pageantry of The Drive in Central Park, 1905

August 10, 2020

As a social realist painter, William Glackens often depicted scenes of day-to-day life he witnessed in city parks, particularly Washington Square Park. (Makes sense; he lived on Washington Square South in the early 1900s.)

This time, he took his inspiration from Central Park. “The Drive, Central Park” was completed in 1905 and likely shows the East Drive, long the site of carriage parades among the wealthy.

It’s part of the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “In this canvas [Glackens] recorded the weekday ritual of wealthy Manhattanites parading through the park in their elegant horse-drawn carriages,” the caption states. “This tradition drew spectators eager to witness the pageantry, and for all involved, it was an opportunity to see and be seen.”

The mystery manhole cover on Central Park West

June 1, 2020

The most interesting manhole covers are the ones that tell us who made it and when it was put in place: the name of an ironworks company, the initials of a city department, a date.

This cover, on Central Park West south of 86th Street, doesn’t offer much in the way of clues.

The two decorative stars feel very 19th century. “Water Supply” could certainly mean it was part of the Croton Aqueduct system; its location outside Central Park could be evidence that it had something to do with the receiving reservoir that existed in the park.

It looks like no other manhole cover I’ve encountered in Manhattan. But there is an identical one in Brooklyn (above). It’s on Eastern Parkway near Prospect Park.

The 1955 plan to get rid of Central Park’s Ramble

May 18, 2020

Since Central Park opened in 1859, city officials have occasionally tried to tinker with its original intent—which was to replicate the woods and pastures of nature for industry-choked New Yorkers in need of R&R.

Among the plans that luckily never came to pass: a racetrack, a cemetery for the city’s “distinguished dead,” a 1,000-seat theater, building lots from parcels of park space, even pavement replacing the grass at the lower end of the park. And these are just the ideas proposed before 1920!

But one of the weirdest plans in Central Park’s history hit the headlines in 1955: bulldozing part of Central Park’s Ramble (below, in 1900) and turning it into an indoor/outdoor senior citizens center.

The proposal meant fencing off 14 of the Ramble’s 33 acres, putting up a building with a parking lot, and also constructing an outdoor activities area, which would include croquet and shuffleboard courts behind a fence.

Who came up with this one? Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, aka the “master builder” of the 20th century city, who took charge of the parks in 1933.

In his 27 years as parks czar, Mose fundamentally changed Central Park. In the 1930s, he built 20 playgrounds and created baseball fields—going against co-designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original prohibition of play areas, which they felt interfered with the natural landscape their Greensward plan called for.

Moses also restored and preserved sections of the park, including the zoo, and his overall stewardship of the “lungs of New York” and other city agencies is still being debated.

But back to the Ramble. The idea of destroying “the dense maze of meandering paths through rocky outcrops and lush vegetation” that was one of the earliest parts of the park caused an outcry, recalled The New York Preservation Archive Project (NYPAP).

One group of critics: birdwatchers, among them “Robert Cushman Murphy, former curator at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Birds,” stated NYPAP. “The Ramble, he argued, was ‘one of the park’s most important bird sanctuaries,’ which the new facility threatened to destroy.”

Moses countered that the new facility wouldn’t impede bird watching, and in fact it would be safer to have a senior center there due to the growing threat of being mugged or assaulted in the Ramble, according to one newspaper columnist.

New Yorkers voiced their opinions in the papers. “In a Moses park, everybody must do something—row a boat, ride a horse, play shuffleboard or checkers,” commented one East Side resident. “The Ramble is a place to just sit quietly and look at the trees, but Moses doesn’t understand that.”

Contemporary historians detect anti-gay bias in Moses’ plan.

“In the 1920s they called the open lawn at the northern end of the Ramble the ‘fruited plain,'” wrote Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People. The proposal may have been driven in part because “the Ramble was considered a gathering place for ‘anti-social’ persons,” they stated.

Because of the uproar, Moses backed down. The shuffleboard and croquet courts were never built, and the Ramble remains just the way Olmsted wanted it: a “wild garden” for getting lost in the restorative powers of the natural world (above, 1865).

[Second image: Medium; third image: MCNY X2010.11.1419; third image: New York Times headline, 1955; sixth image: MCNY 94.64.14]

The unused, unlit taxi signs across Manhattan

May 11, 2020

Sometimes you come across one outside tony pre- and postwar apartment buildings (and some businesses): a small sign that says taxi, or just a lone light bulb under the awning or affixed to the facade.

It’s probably unlit when you see it, but illumination is the whole point.

At night, if a resident needed a taxi, a doorman could turn on the sign from inside. A cabbie looking for a fare would see the lighted sign from the street and drive over. (Below, on Sutton Place and East 57th Street)

In a city whose yellow taxi fleet has been squeezed by ride hailing apps (not to mention this year’s stay-at-home orders), the idea of relying on a sign to get a cab sounds old-timey.

But even in the two decades before Uber came along, I’d actually never seen one turned on. Did anyone ever use these taxi beacons? (On York Avenue, right)

The New York Times asked the question in 2003, and doormen at the time said no. “‘They just drive on by,'” one doorman in a building on 79th Street and York Avenue told reporter Rob Turner. ”’We only do it to make the residents happy.”’

The Times posed the question o Andrew Alpern, author of Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History.

“[Alpern] suggests that these urban fireflies date to the 1940’s, or more specifically World War II. As men went off to war, a dearth of doormen ensued,” the Times article explained.

”Without a doorman to hail the cab for you,” the article quotes Alpern, ”they may have started putting in these lights so that the elevator man could flip on the taxi light. And that would be the extent of his trying to get a cab for you.”

So maybe no one uses them. But even turned off, these taxi signs—some elegant and stylish, others built for functionality—are unique urban relics of another New York.

I’ve only seen one recently in front of a business: for Tavern on the Green on Central Park West (top image).

A Midcentury artist’s storybook-like Central Park

April 27, 2020

If it’s been so long since you’ve walked through Central Park that you’ve forgotten how magical it is in the springtime, then let Adolf Dehn’s Midcentury lush and dreamy park paintings remind you.

Dehn, who started his artistic career as a lithographer of satirical scenes in the early 20th century, found more success as a New York City landscape painter in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

“Spring Blossoms, Central Park,” at top (exact date unknown), focuses on blooming leafs and love, perhaps, with couples lounging and walking in the forefront. “Central Park Stroll,” completed in 1942, above, gives us the park’s gentle, verdant hills and trees—with the Chrysler building and other skyscrapers surrounding the lawn like castles.

“Central Park,” from 1950, is a portrait of the park’s playful characters: strollers, dog walkers, boat rowers, and bench sitters. It’s a dollhouse-like miniature of the park at twilight, a reminder of the park’s dreamy enchantment. When the lockdown lifts, it’ll be waiting to greet you.

The most dazzling luxury apartment ads of 1935

February 24, 2020

It’s 1935, and you’re a New Yorker who needs a new apartment. The Depression is still raging, but your fortunes are on the upswing, and you’re thinking luxurious digs in Midtown or on the East or West Sides near Central Park.

Looks like you’ve got lots of options. The July 27, 1935 New Yorker (selling for 15 cents!) contains many classy apartment ads toward the back pages. These are the most amenity-packed ads for buildings that still exist and are still quite luxe.

The “most distinguished address in America” is quite a claim, but One Fifth Avenue beside the Washington Arch at Washington Square Park is still a beautiful building. This Art Deco gem was built in 1927.

I’m not sure the Parc Vendome of today still has a swimming pool. But it is an impressive fortress of a building fronting West 57th Street. (And the phone exchange: Circle for Columbus Circle?)

The El Dorado continues to shine on Central Park West, its two towers as impressive as other iconic West Side buildings like the Dakota and the San Remo.

Ten Park Avenue at 34th Street might not sound spectacular. But in the 1930s, this building maintained the hotel-style feel of many early apartment houses. Room service is available, and this one-bedroom pad is only $1300…per year, I believe.

“The trend is toward the river,” proclaims this ad for Southgate, a “fashionable colony” of five Bing & Bing buildings on East 51st and East 52nd Street designed by Emery Roth.

“Set apart from the rest of the town” for “smart New Yorkers”…I’m sold!

The unromantic tale of Bronx’s Valentine Avenue

February 10, 2020

Old New York had many romance-themed paths and street names.

18th century Chelsea used to have a meandering road called Love Lane; some city parks also had Lovers’ Lanes. And Brooklyn Heights still has its own Love Lane, a sweet former mews off Henry Street.

But with Valentine’s Day coming up this week, it’s only fitting to recognize the Bronx’s long, bustling Valentine Avenue.

Valentine Avenue really isn’t all hearts and flowers, unfortunately. This crowded corridor runs alongside the Grand Concourse from Fordham to Bedford Park, a long stretch of small apartment buildings and neighborhood shops.

The street didn’t get its name for any romantic reason, either.

Valentine Avenue likely honors Isaac Valentine, a young blacksmith and farmer who built a house near the former Boston Post Road in the village of Fordham in 1758—when the Bronx was a collection of farming hamlets and not even part of New York City.

Even after part of the Bronx joined New York, it was still quite rural—there was even a spring named after Valentine, seen in the photo above in 1897.

Valentine didn’t stay in his house for long. During the Revolutionary War it was used by American General William Heath and his troops, according to the Bronx Historical Society.

The war ruined Valentine, and in 1792 his house was purchased by Isaac Varian. Today, the Valentine-Varian House still stands, a monument to the old agrarian Bronx and the borough’s second-oldest house. (Above)

Speaking of Valentine, there was a Valentine Street in Queens…but it looks like it was renamed 66th Street at least a century ago and doesn’t appear on Google maps. If it does still exist, I’d like to know!

[Second photo: New-York Historical Society; third photo: Wikipedia]