Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

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.

Album covers from the 1970s shot in New York

February 1, 2016

Sometimes it’s obvious an album cover was shot in New York City—like Physical Graffiti, Billy Joel’s Turnstiles, or that wonderful New York Dolls cover of the band decked out in front of Gem Spa in the East Village.

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Other times it’s not so easy to tell. Take the cover for the Who’s The Kids Are Alright, photographed in 1968 by Art Kane.

With the band wrapped in a Union Jack flag, you’d never know they were leaning against the base of the statue of German revolutionary and New York reformer Carl Schurz, located at Morningside Drive and 116th Street.

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Neil Young doesn’t come across as a New York kind of guy; he’s more California or Canada. But here he is walking past NYU’s law school building on Sullivan and West Third Streets on the cover of 1970’s After the Gold Rush, captured by Joel Bernstein.

The website popspotsnyc.com has some incredible photos and backstory on After the Gold Rush and other New York–centric albums.

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Foghat—does anyone remember Foghat? In any case, the English band shot the front of their 1975 LP Fool for the City in the middle of 11th Street between Second and Third Avenues in the East Village.

The block hasn’t changed much, and the back of St. Mark’s Church is recognizable. Off the Grid, the blog for the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation, has a nice post covering the then and now.

Rock albums shot on New York streets must have been a thing in the 1960s and 1970s—like these here. Maybe it all started with The Freewheeling Bob Dylan on Jones Street?

Grand Central is filled with acorns and oak leaves

February 1, 2016

Even when you’re rush through Grand Central Terminal, it’s impossible not to glance up and notice its breathtaking treasures, like the beautiful light fixtures, clocks, and painted or tiled ceilings.

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But there’s a decorative theme running through the station that’s a little more subtle and easy to miss: acorns and oak leaves.

AcornswaterfountainAn acorn tops the iconic brass clock above the information booth.

Marble garlands of oak leaves and acorns decorate the original 1913 water fountains. They’re also on the ceiling, chandeliers, and staircases.

So what’s with all the harvest images?

It’s a Vanderbilt thing. The Vanderbilt heirs financed the construction of the terminal, and the family crest is all about acorns and oaks leaves.

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“From a little acorn a mighty oak shall grow,” was Grand Central builder Cornelius Vanderbilt’s motto, according to Christopher Winn’s I Never Knew That About New York.

AcornclockinterestingamericaI’m not sure if any of the Vanderbilt homes that lined Fifth Avenue in the Gilded Age also featured acorns and oaks. Those flourishes may not have gone with the decor in this chateau-style mansion, for example.

But Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Newport, Rhode Island summer “cottage,” the 70-room palazzo-inspired Breakers, is also decorated with acorns—a symbol of strength and long life.

[Third photo: via newyork.com; fourth photo: via interestingamerica.com]

Magical color lights of a New York City night

January 25, 2016

Vienna-born photographer Ernst Haas turned his camera to New York City’s skyscrapers and suspension bridges, creating a kaleidoscope of blurry color in this painterly 1970 image, Lights of New York.

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Haas started his career as a photojournalist for Life, Vogue, and other magazines. In 1962, he was celebrated with a retrospective show of his color photography at the Museum of Modern Art.

Over the years he captured a postwar, midcentury New York in all its poetic, weird, magical glory.

Alienation and anxiety in a 1950s subway station

January 4, 2016

Brooklyn-born painter George Tooker depicts the disquietude of a mundane trip into a contemporary subway station in The Subway, on display at the Whitney Museum.

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“Made in 1950 with egg tempera paint, George Tooker’s The Subway, takes as its subject the alienating effects of modern life,” states the museum website.

“Just as the positioning, color, and facial expressions of figures in the painting suggest a dark side to modern life, so too does Tooker’s choice of subject matter: a subway station,” according to the website.

“This location emphasizes feelings of alienation, as any New York subway passenger knows. Subways are labyrinthine and almost prison-like, with low ceilings and barred areas. Tooker accentuates this effect by removing all signs from the subway station of his imagination, so that a person who is lost might never find his or her way out.”

A New Year’s night in a wintry Gilded Age city

December 28, 2015

Frederick Childe Hassam painted his lovely and mysterious “New Year’s Nocturne” in 1892. He gives us a young urban couple bathed in brilliant light in the dark winter night.

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He’s dressed to the nines in top hat and tails, and she looks elegant in winter white and furs. They’re part of the in crowd, the smart set. Maybe they’re returning from the theater. Perhaps they are on their way to a New Year’s party.

In the shadows, other couples go on their way. Meanwhile, these two have stopped in front of a shop window display. If only we could ask Hassam, one of the great painters of New York’s Gilded Age, what has given them pause.

What’s a warplane doing on this office tower?

December 21, 2015

Unless you live or work at least 26 stories above the Financial District, you’ve probably never seen this British World War I fighter plane perched on the roof of the office tower at 77 Water Street.

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But it’s been there for more than 45 years, and it was the idea of the building’s owner, the William Kaufman Organization.

The company decided to put this unusual “crowning jewel” on the top of the building, complete with an Astroturf runway and landing lights, just before it was completed in 1970.

Waterstreetwarplane1969The aircraft “serves as an endless source of delight and fascination for visitors who catch a glimpse of the unusual object adorning the roof.”

And though it looks authentic in photos, it’s actually a “sculptured steel replica” of a World War I Sopwith Camel fighter plane.

77 Water Street sounds like a fun place to be a desk jockey. Inside the lobby is a “wood-framed, turn-of-the-century-style” candy store.

[Top photo: Rob Bennett for the Wall Street Journal; bottom: William Kaufman Organization]

The silk workers of a Fourth Street loft building

December 7, 2015

ThesilkbuildingtowerrecordsThe Silk Building (right, back in the day when Tower Records occupied the ground floor) has been a celebrity-studded condominium since the 1980s.

But as the name of this East Fourth Street edifice suggests, it began its life as a factory space for workers who produced silk garments.

The Silk Building fit right into the neighborhood at the time, which was packed with loft buildings housing clothing manufacturers, part of the city’s enormous garment industry.

Decades after the industry moved out of lower Manhattan, two friezes in the building’s handsome lobby continue to pay homage to the female workers who spun silk into clothes.

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The first, “Silk Textile Workers of New York,” shows female employees designing and sewing silk over machines and looms.

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The second depicts ancient silk production in China; explaining how silk is made, starting with the cultivation of silkmoth eggs.

Thesilkbuildingeggs The Silk Building isn’t the only manufacturing space from the city’s Garment Center days that has been repurposed for luxury residential or office use.

The Spinning Wheel Building and the American Thread Company are remnants of an older New York, and the bronze Silk Clock of this Park Avenue South loft building is an especially charming reminder.

[Top photo: City Realty]

A New York painter’s magical wintertime city

November 30, 2015

There’s no snow in the forecast just yet. But winter is right around the corner.

And even New Yorkers who have no love for cold weather concede that the city blanketed in snow, especially at twilight illuminated by streetlamps, is magical and enchanting.

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Guy Carleton Wiggins saw something enchanting about snow too.

An Impressionist painter who was born into an artistic Brooklyn family in 1883, Wiggins created many lovely scenes of a snowy 20th century Manhattan. (Above: “A Winter’s Evening in New York”; below: “The Circle”)

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He depicted blue-gray skies above snow-dusted horses and carriages, skyscrapers and statues, and masses of pedestrians, huddled under umbrellas or tucking their chins into their necks to stay dry.

The son of painter Carleton Wiggins, Guy Wiggins studied with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri and found early success. His snow scenes take place at Columbus Circle, along Wall Street, on Fifth Avenue, and at other less recognizable points on the cityscape. (Below: “Brooklyn Bridge in Winter”)

Wiggins452 Wiggins' "Brooklyn Bridge in Winter"

In an interview with the Detroit News (by way of the Rehs Galleries Inc), Wiggins explained how an elevated train chugging through a blizzard outside his studio window inspired his work. (Below: “A Winter Night in New York”)

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“One cold, blustering, snowy winter day (1912) I was in my New York studio trying to paint a summer landscape,” said Wiggins.

Wiggins1910“Suddenly I saw what was before me—an elevated railroad track, with a train dashing madly through the whirling blizzard-like snow that made hazy and indistinct the row of buildings on the far side of the street.”

“In a week, so to say, I was established as a painter of city winter scenes, and I found it profitable. Then suddenly I felt a revulsion against them and I stopped. . . . I couldn’t go on with winter stuff and that was all there was to it.”

[Wiggins, 1910]

A view of an unfinished Central Park in 1862

November 23, 2015

Isn’t that a not-quite-completed Bethesda Terrace and the Central Park Lake on the far left?

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Landscape painter George Loring Brown depicts a very rustic Central Park in 1862, after the park had officially opened but with much more work to still be done. The city looms to the south.


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