Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

Emptying the ash barrels on a tenement block

April 23, 2018

It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Sidewalks in late 19th century New York were lined with ash barrels—where people dumped the ashes from their furnaces as well as rotting food and household refuse. (And very sadly, infants too.)

Similar to the sanitation workers of today who empty trash cans into hulking vehicles, the ash men came by to empty the barrel’s filthy contents into a horse-drawn cart. The ashes would then be transferred to a dump—like Queens’ infamous “Valley of Ashes” in Corona.

Louis Maurer’s painting shows what the job was like. In “View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue,” you can practically hear the roar of rowdy kids and the Ninth Avenue El screeching overhead.

This was Longacre Square in 1883, the center of the city’s horse and carriage trade—an area that earned the nickname “Thieves Lair” for its sketchy reputation.

Faces in the shadow of the Third Avenue El

April 16, 2018

New Yorkers no longer plow through the sky on hulking elevated trains. But the great crowds of commuters and the traffic below the steel rails feels very familiar.

John Sloan’s Six O’Clock, Winter gives us the scene under the Third Avenue El in 1912. (Not the Sixth Avenue El, the subject of some of his other paintings.)

“The shop girls, clerks, and working men and women who are massed in the lower part of the canvas seem absorbed in their own actions, rushing to their various destinations, generally unaware of the huge elevated railway looming high above them,” states the website of the Phillips Collection.

“The figures are illuminated by the glow of the train’s electric lights from above and from the shops at street level, with those in the lower left of the composition cast in strong light. Loosely brushed in, the faces have a masklike appearance, while those on the right are almost hidden in shadow, obscuring their features.”

The daises hidden on a Stanford White building

April 9, 2018

The weather is still chilly and skies are wintry gray. But on the facade of a building on East 30th Street, pretty white daisies have been popping up for at least a century.

You can see them on the underside of The Nottingham, a handsome apartment residence designed by Stanford White that has kind of a Byzantine or Tuscan look to it.

Bright white daisies with yellow centers surrounded by blue tiles appear under a second-floor juliet balcony.

When The Nottingham was built is a bit of a mystery. Real estate website say the late 19th century; an article on reinforced concrete from 1907 implies the early 1900s.

Did Stanford White have a hand in adding the daisies? It could be the kind of ornamental whimsy he enjoyed.

An artist on the Carpathia paints Titanic survivors

April 9, 2018

By 1912, Colin Campbell Cooper had made a name for himself as an Impressionist painter—one who found inspiration in the skyscrapers and modern cityscape of New York, where he lived since 1904.

But two paintings he was moved to create after one of the most famous disasters of the 20th century might be his most personal.

On April 11, Cooper and his wife boarded the steamship Carpathia in New York, bound for Croatia.

The voyage was unremarkable, until midnight on April 15. That’s when a wireless operator reported getting a distress call from the Titanic, which had hit an iceberg 70 miles away.

The Carpathia turned around and raced toward the Titanic in hopes of rescuing passengers. Finally at 4 a.m., two boatloads of women and children were picked up from the Atlantic, Cooper’s wife later detailed in a letter.

Like others on the Carpathia, “[Cooper] and his wife gave up their cabin to the exhausted, emotionally numb passengers,” wrote Stephanie Sammartino McPherson in her book, Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the Titanic.

“But Cooper wanted to do something more. The beauty and tragedy of the rescue scene haunted him.”

After the Carpathia delivered weary Titanic survivors to Chelsea Piers and the ship continued to the Mediterranean, “Cooper completed two paintings,” McPherson wrote.

“One shows the Carpathia cruising past icebergs against an early morning sky. The other shows five small lifeboats approaching the ship, perfectly poised in the middle of the picture between choppy blue water and a pale pink sky.”

The second painting is one of the few first-hand accounts of what it was like to be greeted by the survivors who rowed into the frigid night and watched their unsinkable ocean liner descend into the Atlantic.

Cooper also apparently painted the icebergs he saw in the ocean—cold white and dark blue against a pinkish twilight.

[Last photo: Encyclopedia Titanica]

Spring rain and black umbrellas in Union Square

April 2, 2018

Few painters capture the enchantment of New York in the rain like Childe Hassam, an American Impressionist who had studios at Fifth Avenue and 17th Street and 95 Fifth Avenue in the 1880s and 1890s.

“Rainy Late Afternoon, Union Square” captures the southern end of the park looking very much as it does today, with rain showers turning the pathways into seas of black umbrellas set against gray skies and a hint of green lawn.

Hassam painted the city in all seasons, but his images of New York in rain and snow are especially magical.

The end of a one-screen East Side movie theater

April 2, 2018

On a walk along East 59th Street between Second and Third Avenues, something caught my eye—a former movie marquee fronting a row of tenements.

Was this little space, now a high-end workout studio, once a theater?

A quick investigation showed that it was the site of the former D.W. Griffith Theatre, a single-screen movie house that appears to have opened in the 1960s. At some point underwent a name change and became the 59th Street East Cinema.

“The 59th Street East Cinema, originally called the D.W. Griffith Theatre, was an art house theater located in midtown Manhattan,” explains Cinema Treasures.

“It belonged to a cluster of single, twin, and triplex movie theaters; all of which were within two blocks of each other.”

“One of many subterranean venues around the city, this single screen theater was reached through a small entrance that originates on E. 59th Street,” continued Cinema Treasures.

“The entrance continued past a modest concession area and then ended at a staircase, descending to theatre level.”

The 59th Street East Cinema looked like a wonderful place to hide away for a few hours in a pre-multiplex era.

It seems like the kind of theater that felt like a secret, transporting you to a cinematic world of thoughtfulness and reflection, and perhaps exposed you to new artists.

Alas, the art-house thing didn’t last. By the 2000s this little jewel box was renamed ImaginAsian (at right), showing Asian films, according to Cinema Treasures.

In 2010 it became Big Cinemas Manhattan, playing Bollywood flicks. Today, the theater is an exercise studio run by workout star Tracey Anderson with motivational wisdom rather than movie titles on the marquee.

It’s a transformation similar to what’s happened to other small city theaters, like this one in Greenpoint that now has Starbucks on the marquee!

[Third image: Cinema Treasures; fourth image: Yelp]

Rushing by the relics of the Union Square subway

March 26, 2018

The concrete maze that is the Union Square/14th Street subway stop is a patchwork of what was once three subway stations built in 1904, 1918, and 1930.

It doesn’t have a lot of charm, but it does have subway history—especially in the form of the six crumbling pieces of masonry, tile, and terra cotta all in a line on the mezzanine level that bridges the various train lines.

These are the remnants of the original walls of the 1904 IRT station. Long thought to have been lost to the ages, they were unearthed during a 1997 renovation and then incorporated into a permanent art exhibit the following year.

Next time you’re rushing from the L to the 6, stop and take a look at them, and behold subway history.

“Artist Mary Miss created standalone panels using historic architectural elements recovered during the renovation of the 14th Street/Union Square station complex,” states the always-informative nycsubway.org.

“The six ’14’ eagles were original elements of the 1904 station construction but most were hidden in disused side platforms along the Contract One IRT route.”

The photo above, from Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site (originally included in the Board of Rapid Tansit Railroad Commissioners’ year-end report for 1903), shows the eagles against a station wall.

Miss’ urban archeology exhibit includes dozens of other subway remains scattered across the staircases, passageways, and platforms of the station, all of which have the same red border as the subway walls.

These relics, “offer a sense of intimate engagement: to look into one of the framed spaces is as though a secret is being sought and slowly revealed,” states Miss on her website. It’s something to think about next time you’re transferring trains.

[Third Photo: Abandoned Stations by Joseph Brennan]

Art Nouveau flower petals on a Chelsea factory

March 12, 2018

It’s not a factory anymore, of course—working-class Chelsea has long since bit the dust.

But outside the former Hellmuth printing ink building at 154 West 18th Street, the company name still decorates the entrances, with lovely Art Nouveau floral ornamentation in terra cotta above on beside the doorways.

It’s hard to imagine a time when industrial businesses commissioned architects to build inspiring factories and work spaces.

And though the rest of the 8-story Hellmuth building may seem like a pretty typical loft building turned co-op, the two entrances on 18th Street near Seventh Avenue still inspire.

Art Nouveau’s naturalism and curvy lines didn’t take hold in New York the way it did in other major cities in the early 20th century.

But this design style can be found in small pockets of the city, like this Park Row building and this low-rise holdout on a Midtown corner.

[Third photo: Condo.com]

The dreams of the pigeon trainer on a city roof

February 26, 2018

Raising pigeons on tenement roofs doesn’t seem to be a popular thing in contemporary New York. But years ago it was a not-uncommon hobby, and John Sloan makes it the subject of this painting—done from his West 23rd Street studio in 1910.

Sloan loved watching what transpired on rooftops. His roof paintings “convey a sense of the freedom and escape the roofs provided from the suffocating confines of New York tenement living,” states Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which has “Pigeons” in its collection.

“Here Sloan depicts the then popular pastime of raising pigeons, which were let loose daily to fly for exercise. Witnessed by their trainer and a young boy perched on the tenement wall, the birds circling above seem to give visual expression to the men’s dreams of a flight of fancy high above the city,” states the MFA.

Old New York and the contemporary city collide

February 19, 2018

Looming skyscrapers and small buildings come together in this painting of a snowy city under pink-gray skies and thick chimney smoke by Everett Longley Warner.

The painting is undated, but Longley lived in New York between 1903 and 1924, according to one biography.