Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

When New York winters were spent on the ice

February 16, 2015

One of the few activities open to both men and women in the 19th century city, ice skating was hugely popular.

“Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association for the 1868-1869 season.

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Above, skating at Brooklyn’s Union Pond in 1863, once in the town of Williamsburgh on Marcy Avenue.

“The millionaire and the mechanic, the lady of fashion and those of humbler rank, all meet together to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful exercise.”

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How democratic ice skating was is not exactly clear. Ice was plentiful, but you needed the money to buy or rent skates.

And the fashionable attire worn by ladies on the ice, as seen in this Winslow Homer painting from 1861, was not cheap.

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These sleighs and the handsome teams that pulled them were costly as well, afforded by only the richest New Yorkers.

This Currier & Ives lithograph shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in what looks like the 1860s.

A winter view of the Depression-era East River

February 9, 2015

“New York City goes about its varied daily businesses in [John] Cunning’s painting, despite the Depression,” explains the description of this evocative view of a wintry river and city, on the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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“Whether or not their offices were full of workers, the Farmer’s Trust Building, 120 Wall Street, the Bank of Manhattan, 60 Wall Tower, and the Singer Building towered proudly against the gray sky,” states the site.

“Commuters who still had jobs had come from the outer boroughs in the ferry boats shown tied up at the Manhattan docks.”

“On the Brooklyn shore, cargo ships are tied up for loading or unloading. The men in the foreground are removing snow from the roofs of a coffee warehouse on Water Street near the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Cunning, a WPA artist, completed “Manhattan Skyline” in 1934.

The Manhattan Bridge’s two lost lovely ladies

February 9, 2015

Look closely: in this 1920s postcard depicting the grand Manhattan Bridge approach from Brooklyn, you can make out two statues inside the granite pylons flanking the roadway.

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These heroic sculptures—created during the City Beautiful era, when art was meant to inspire and uplift—were known as “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn.”

Installed seven years after the bridge opened in 1909 and designed by Daniel Chester French, these 12-foot lovely ladies represented the attributes of each borough.

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Impressive, right? But by the 1960s, they were gone—victims of bridge reconstruction in the age of Robert Moses and the automobile.

Luckily, Manhattan and Brooklyn didn’t end up in pieces in a Meadowlands dump, the sad fate of parts of the original Penn Station.

ManhattanstatueInstead, they were brought to the Brooklyn Museum, where they’ve guarded the entrance since 1963.

Interestingly, the attributes of each statue represent the way we view the boroughs today.

For Manhattan, that means hubris. “The pose of the figure of Manhattan typifies splendor and pride, of which the peacock at her side is the emblem,” says a 1915 article.

Brooklynstatue“The right foot of the statue rests upon a treasure-box and a winged ball in the statue’s hand suggests the City’s domination in world affairs.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has a softer, more artistic and educational vibe.

“Beside the figure of Brooklyn stands a church and the arm of the statue rests upon a lyre, symbolizing music.”

“A Roman tablet which the figure holds on its knee indicates study, and a child at its feet reading from a book typifies the Borough’s well-filled schools.”

[Statue photos: Brooklyn Museum]

Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

February 2, 2015

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.

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This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.

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Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.

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His work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]

Looking down Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village

January 19, 2015

Sixth Avenue at West 10th Street looks about the same today, right? Well, except for the notorious women’s prison building hiding behind the Jefferson Market Courthouse turned Library.

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Walter Brightwell painted this scene, according to Artnet, naming it “Looking Down Sixth Avenue Towards the Jefferson Market Library Building.”

The painting looks like it was done in the 1940s, but interestingly, Jefferson Market didn’t became a NYPL library branch until the 1960s.

A Times Square neon sign through the years

January 19, 2015

Bondtimessquare1950sFans of old-school New York neon know the Bond Clothes billboard and sign, the enormous and spectacular signage that lit up Broadway and 45th Street in different forms from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Captured in countless photos (at left, on New Year’s Eve 1950), the sign that stood from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s—with a clock in the O of the Bond name—has become an emblem of Times Square’s postwar glory years.

“This sign was 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide, spanned two streets, and featured a 50,000 gallon waterfall,” states this page from the Sign and Billboard Blog.

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“Surrounding this waterfall were two classical-style figures of a man and woman who were nude during the day, but clothed in neon togas and dresses at night.” (Electric lights turned on at night gave the impression the figures were wearing clothes.)

Bondtimessquare1979By the late 1950s, Bond began leasing the billboard space to other brands, like Pepsi, which turned the two human statues into giant soda bottles.

As Times Square slid into decay (above, in 1979), part of the Bond sign continued to live on—even after the store went out of business in 1977.

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The venue became the Bond’s International Casino, a nod to the International Casino, a 1930s-era nightclub that existed on the site.

Bond’s was a short-lived disco and rock venue that featured dancing and live acts, most famously the Clash.

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The Clash played 17 shows in 15 nights there in 1981 (opening acts: Grandmaster Flash and the Dead Kennedys, among others).

This made the news because concert promoters oversold tickets, which led to the fire department getting involved, as Channel 7 reported live from the scene the night of one of the planned shows.

Today the site is the location of the restaurant Bond 45, which continues the neon sign tradition. (Second photo: Wikipedia; third photo: Bow Tie Partners)

8 uses for Central Park’s second-oldest building

January 19, 2015

One of only two buildings in Central Park constructed when the park was just a gleam in city officials’ eyes (the other is this stone fort), the Arsenal opened in 1851 as a state-run storage place for munitions.

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“It was considered at the time to be an ideally strategic position to deploy troops to the city, or to either shoreline,” notes centralpark.org.

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And in the ensuing 168 years (above, in 1862), this structure designed to resemble a Medieval castle on Fifth Avenue and 64th Street has been repurposed to serve a variety of city needs.

First, in 1857, it was purchased from the state by park administrators and used as an office and police precinct.

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In the 1860s, after many New Yorkers began dropping off exotic animals in the new Central Park, the Arsenal became the temporary menagerie, which was never part of the park’s original plan but proved to be a hugely popular attraction.

ArsenalrestaurantBy the 1870s, it housed the Museum of Natural History, whose quarters were under construction across the park. It was also home to the studio were a British artist created models of dinosaur bones.

An art gallery and weather station followed—the city’s weather instruments recorded the official temperature from the top of the Arsenal.

An Arsenal restaurant (right) appeared in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the building was falling apart, and after an overhaul reopened as offices for the Parks Department.

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By the 1980s, the Arsenal assumed the role it still plays today: “as a gallery and space for public forums related to Parks’ mission and may be reserved for private and public functions,” states the Parks Department website.

It stands guard on the east side of Central Park, its Ivy gone, a testament to a changing city.

[Top two images: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The tigress and her cubs feasting in Central Park

January 12, 2015

This bronze statue near the entrance to the Central Park Zoo pulls no punches. “Tigress and Cubs” depicts a mother cat devouring a peacock, her cubs eager for a bite.

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Designed by French animalier August Nicholas Cain, it’s one of the oldest statues in Central Park and was presented to park officials in 1867 by 12 prominent New Yorkers.

The only big cats at the zoo now are the snow leopards. But for years, the zoo was home to tigers, lions, cheetahs, and even a tiglon and a liger, the offspring of tiger-lion combos.

Blue snow on the Battery in wintertime

January 5, 2015

No one paints New York City in the winter, in all of its blue and white harshness and beauty, quite like George Bellows.

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Looking at “Blue Snow, the Battery,” from 1910, you can just feel the chill coming off New York Harbor, and how much colder it must be for the men standing in those shadows.

A chilling holocaust memorial at Madison Square

January 5, 2015

For such a stark yet provocative memorial, it’s easy to miss.

Appellatecourt25thstreetwikiBut if you head to 25th Street and Madison Avenue, on the facade of the circa-1900 marble Appellate Division Courthouse facing Madison Square Park, you’ll see it at eye level: a bas relief of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

It’s a grim and affecting aerial view of the camp. Buildings are arranged inside a high walls. “Torture Chamber” and “Commandant’s House” are inscribed beside two separate structures.

 “Execution Wall” and “Gas Chamber and Crematorium I” are chillingly noted as well.

Holocaustmemorialaerialview

A small plaque next to it lets us know that this is a “Memorial to All Victims of the Holocaust,” completed in 1990 by Harriet Feigenbaum, who used a photo as her guide.

Holocaustmemorial25thstreet“Feigenbaum’s choice of source material is used to question the moral character of the Allies, who, by the taking the photo itself, exhibit their awareness of the camp existence, and their simultaneous indifference to addressing that very existence,” wrote Nasha Virita at Untapped Cities.

“By doing so, she demonstrates the terrors that arise when law and justice are left by the wayside.”

The smokestack-like column that tops the memorial mimics the columns of the rest of the building. Note the flames carved on the side, above the words “indifference to justice is the gate to hell.”

New York’s postwar-planned Holocaust memorial in Riverside Park remains unbuilt.

[Top photo: Wikipedia]


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