Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

A 1960s downtown rock club with an 1860s name

January 16, 2017

When the Academy of Music opened in 1854 on 14th Street near Third Avenue, it was New York’s premier opera house, an anchor of the city’s buzzing new “uptown” theater district.

academy-of-music-palladium-rock-landmarks

It was also a favorite of the city’s Old Money elite in the 1860s and 1870s, who socialized in its “shabby red and gold boxes,” as Edith Wharton put it in her 1920 novel The Age of Innocence, while shutting out the New Money families they despised.

academyofmusic1870Considering what a haughty place it was in its heyday (right), it’s fitting that after the Academy was demolished in 1926, a movie-theater-turned-rock-venue opened up across the street and adopted the Academy of Music name, reported Bedford + Bowery.

More name borrowing: The rock version of the Academy of Music became the Palladium in the 1970s (with Julian Billiard Academy on the second floor). Today, the site is occupied by NYU’s Palladium dormitory.

[Photo: Harold C. Black of Teenage Lust via rockcellarmagazine.com]

Cornelia Street has barely changed in a century

January 9, 2017

Okay, Cornelia Street today is a little different—the Sixth Avenue El no longer rattles by and casts a dark shadow over the northern end of the street.

corneliastreetjohnsloan1920

But otherwise, doesn’t this one-block lane, tucked between West Fourth and Bleecker Streets, still look the same as it does in this John Sloan painting from 1920?

Sloan had a studio in the Flatiron-style tower in the center, officially called the Varitype Building. He often painted Sixth Avenue and Cornelia Street—like this scene of three women drying their hair on a Cornelia Street rooftop.

The beauty and magic of New York City on skates

January 5, 2017

What is it about skating that captivated so many New York City illustrators and painters during the 19th and early 20th centuries?

[Below, “Skating in Central Park,” 1910]

glackensskatingincentralpark1910

It could be the challenge of capturing the motions of skating, the gliding or rolling skaters do, kind of an unchoreographed dance even the clumsiest person can master.

Or perhaps in the case of ice skating, artists can’t resist the glorious winter colors that frame New York’s frozen ponds and lakes.

[“Skaters, Central Park,” 1912]

glackensiceskatingcentralpark

Skating might also have been seen as a little risque. During the Gilded Age, ice skating was one of the few social activities men and women could do together without upsetting the boundaries of the era’s gender-specific spheres.

[“Roller Skating Rink,” 1906]

glackensrollerrink1906

Ashcan School artist William Glackens painted these three images of New Yorkers on skates. He may have simply enjoyed depicting spirited scenes of day-to-day life in the city where he lived and worked (his studio was on Ninth Street off Fifth Avenue).

The roller skating rink painting, however, stems from an actual trip to a city rink Glackens made with Robert Henri and other Ashcan painters.

“The hilarious evening, in which Glackens was the first to fall, encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the modern city and its popular attractions,” wrote the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has this work in its collection.

Who passed through Ellis Island a century ago

January 2, 2017

ellisislanddutchwomenOn January 1, 1892, seven hundred immigrants from three ships waited in New York Harbor to board barges that would take them to Ellis Island.

These newcomers were the first to be processed at the brand-new, federal government-run facility, where a total of 12 million immigrants over 62 years were registered and then given medical and legal checks before being allowed onto the mainland.

(This was only for third-class passengers, of course—those in first and second class were given a quick inspection on the ship, then allowed to proceed to New York City.)

ellisislandgreeksoliderAfter arriving at Ellis Island, immigrants spent an average of two to five hours before getting the go-ahead to embark on a new life in the United States.

Two percent, however, were turned back across the pond for a variety of reasons: bad health, mental issues, anti-American sentiment.

Capturing the faces of many of these new arrivals in their native dress was chief registry clerk Augustus Sherman, who was also an amateur photographer.

Sherman took about 250 photos of people he encountered between 1905 and the 1920s.

ellisislandromanianshepherd“The people in the photographs were most likely detainees who were waiting for money, travel tickets or someone to come and collect them from the island,” stated The Public Domain Review.

Sherman took the photos for his own enjoyment. “Augustus Sherman was fascinated by where the immigrants were coming from and their traditional clothing,” states the National Park Service.

“He usually photographed immigrants that were detained briefly and used mostly dull backgrounds so the immigrants themselves were the main focus.”

ellisislanditalianwoman“Though originally taken for his own personal study, Sherman’s work appeared in the public eye as illustrations for publications with titles such as ‘Alien or American,’ and hung on the walls of the custom offices as cautionary or exemplary models of the new American species,” explained a summary of a book that collected Sherman’s Ellis Islands photos.

Regardless of how they were used a century ago, these photos are incredible portraits of what some of the people who made it to Ellis Island looked like.

ellisislandhinduboy

Dressed in folk outfits from their native countries, they have unsmiling yet hopeful faces.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverFor more about what it was like to arrive in New York City as an immigrant in the 19th and early 20th centuries—first at Castle Garden, then at Ellis Island—check out The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Countries of origin: 1. The Netherlands; 2. Greece; 3. Romania; 4. Italy; 5. “Hindu” is how the boy is described]

The bums and barflies on a 10th Avenue corner

December 27, 2016

“Well-bred people are no fun to paint,” Reginald Marsh once reportedly said.

reginaldmarsh10thave27thstreet1931

Known for his exaggerated, carnival-like paintings of crowds of showgirls, shoppers, and Coney Island beach-goers, Marsh was deeply taken by the forgotten men of 1930s New York—casualties of the Depression who gathered at bars and on breadlines.

reginaldmarshcorner2016His 1931 etching, “Tenth Avenue at 27th Street,” gives us a detailed look at a crowd of anonymous men lined up along the side of a shadowy saloon in a rough-edged neighborhood.

The men either look away, leaning against the bar like it’s a lifeboat, or leer at a lone woman.

Hmm . . . what would Marsh think of this same corner 86 years later, with the High Line and art galleries drawing the well-bred people who never made it into his sketchbook?

[Second image: Google]

A cast-iron jewel sits behind this glass facade

December 19, 2016

tiffanys2016If only we could peel back the black reflective glass obscuring 15 West 15th Street and knock off some of the coffin-shaped boxes from the upper floors.

Because underneath what looks like another modern commercial building is the skeleton of Tiffany & Co.’s 1870 headquarters, a spectacular cast-iron building designed for New York’s legendary “palace of jewels” (below).

This is where the famed jeweler relocated after starting out on Broadway across from City Hall in 1837 before moving to Broadway and Prince Street in the mid-19th century.

tiffanys1885mcnyx2010-11-3352

“To call John Kellum’s design for the 5-story building ornate would be an understatement; its decorative columns, cornices, and other projections attempted to render in cast iron a symbol of the ‘palace of jewels’ inside,” wrote John Hill in Guide to Contemporary New York Architecture.

tiffanysunionsquarenewstore1870nyplUnion Square was an ideal spot for the new Tiffany’s.

After the Civil War, Ladies Mile, New York’s premium shopping district, moved to the fashionable stretch between 9th Street and 23rd Street along Broadway.

Tiffany’s wanted to be part of the action. On Union Square East, the store occupied prime real estate betwen the best dry goods emporiums of the day, like Lord & Taylor, which also relocated “uptown” in 1870, to 20th Street.

Throughout the Gilded Age, Tiffany’s dazzled New Yorkers with its jewelry collection and what the New York Times in 1873 called its “spacious galleries” of home furnishings and objects of art.

tiffanyinteriornypl

Imagine the store during holiday time in the late 19th century, with well-heeled wives perusing the display counters for gifts of gold and diamonds (above) . . . and thieves looking for a way to break in and rob the place, which happened all too often, according to newspaper accounts.

tiffanys1899nyplTiffany’s stuck around Union Square until the 1900s before following other retailers to a new midtown spot at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in 1905. In 1940, it moved to its present address up the avenue at 57th Street.

So how did the Union Square store end up swathed in black, as if it’s in mourning?

Amalgamated Bank took over the building in the early 1900s, then stripped it of its ornamental loveliness (a safety precaution, as a chunk fell off and killed a pedestrian) in the 1950s.

tiffanyfacade1953-1954mcny54-37-18For five decades the featureless, white-brick building (right) housed various tenants. In the 2000s, it was redone as a pricey apartment residence.

The architects for the new residence removed the white brick. “With the brick and [much of the] cast iron gone, the new zinc-framed glass walls sit two feet in front of the remaining 1870 cast iron structure,” wrote Hill.

Apparently at night, if you look closely, you can see the original arched windows—a ghostly remnant of one of the city’s most famous emporiums.

[Second photo: MCNY, 1885, x2010.11.3352; third photo: NYPL, 1870; third image: NYPL, undated; fourth photo: NYPL, 1899; fifth photo: MCNY, 1953, 54.37.18]

Santa as we know him was invented in New York

December 19, 2016

New Amsterdam’s 17th century colonists celebrated “Sinte Klaas” every December 6. The “jolly old elf” who drops toys down chimneys dates to 1823, when “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in an upstate newspaper.

santacivilwarachristmasfurlough

But the Santa we know today was refined and modernized by Harper’s Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast, whose first depiction of a gift-giving, rotund father figure was published during the December 1862 holiday season, with Civil War raging.

“Nast’s Santa appears on the cover of the paper in an illustration titled ‘Santa Claus in Camp.’ states a website called Civil War Profiles.

santaharpersweekly131863

“Nast drew a patriotic Santa dressed in striped pants and a coat covered with stars sitting on his sleigh beneath a waving American flag. Two drummer boys in the foreground of the sketch appear fascinated with a jack-in-the-box toy. One soldier is shown opening his box to find a stocking stuffed with presents, while another soldier holds up the pipe he received as a present.”

santaharpersweekly131863chimney

To make it even clearer which side Santa took in the War Between the States, Nast drew Santa holding a wooden effigy of Confederate president Jefferson Davis by a rope.

This cover illustration is one of two that feature Santa Claus on a sleigh in that January 3, 1863 issue. Inside is a more sentimental Nast drawing.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverIn one panel, a young mother prays for her soldier husband’s safe return from war. In the second panel, the husband is sitting beside a fire, ostensibly thinking of his family.

And atop the roof is a small bearded man, his reindeer-drawn sleigh parked beside him as he looks down the chimney.

Santa Claus, electric Christmas tree lights, the first tree lighting in a park—New York pioneered many of the holiday celebrations we take part in today, as The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, explains.

Slumming it with the 1898 Bowery Burlesquers

December 12, 2016

If only we could go back in time and buy tickets for this musical theater number, which poked fun at the new pastime of slumming—upper class New York curiosity seekers checking out the Bowery and other down-and-out city neighborhoods.

boweryposterloc

The Bowery Burlesquers performed way off-Broadway theater in the 1890s, and audiences couldn’t get enough of it.

[Poster: LOC]

The missing terra cotta bank clock on Avenue C

December 12, 2016

It’s a wonderful burst of color among the tenements and occasional weedy lot on Avenue C: a three-story 1920s building with an elaborate terra cotta and tile ornament above the entrance.

terracottaclock

Painted in bright green, blue, red, and orange, the ornament—flanked by urns and adorned with an eagle—was supposed to have a clock in the center.

terracottaclockwholebuildingFor years it has been empty, a mosaic-like place holder for a long gone neighborhood time piece.

Street clocks were a popular feature on bank buildings, which is what this 1923 Modernist structure used to be. A branch of The Public National Bank of New York was located here, the northeast corner of Avenue C and Seventh Street, according to a 2008 Landmarks Preservation Committee Report.

Back then, this was a thriving, busy bank in a typical New York working class neighborhood, with “tellers in the monumental banking floor on the ground story,” as the Landmarks report put it.

terracottaclock1983But times and neighborhoods change, and by the 1950s, the building was being used as a nursing home.

In the 1970s, it passed through various hands before getting made over into apartments in the 1980s (at right, pre-makeover, in 1983)

And the missing clock? That’s still a question mark.

Since it’s been MIA so long, it seems doubtful that anyone affiliated with the building has plans to install a replacement inside the empty space.

terracottaclock1926

So it’s left to us to imagine (with the help of old photos of the clock, above) the lost timepiece.

Think of the neighborhood residents who, in an age before smart phones and digital watches, relied on street clocks to keep appointments and know when the next streetcar would appear.

[Third photo: Landmarks Preservation Committee report; fourth photo: NYC Department of Records]

Times Square used to be a festival of neon light

November 24, 2016

Behold Times Square when it was New York’s premier entertainment district, a festival of neon lights emanating from billboards and theaters.

times-square2

The postcard carries a 1945 postmark, but it appears to depict Times Square in 1940. Two films released that year, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and The Westerner, with Gary Cooper, blaze across movie marquees.