Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The glam rock star who cleaned up Riverside Park

April 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.02 AMToday’s pop and rock royalty tend to get involved in headline-grabbing national and international causes.

But in August 1975, Alice Cooper lent a hand on a local level.

Cooper spent a summer day picking up trash in Riverside Park with a team of “Cooper Troopers,” with sun visors, arm bands, bags, rakes, and brooms provided by Atlantic Records.

“Alice Cooper himself appeared, in a chauffeur-driven sanitation truck,” an AP story explained.

Coopernewsarticle“After heaving filled garbage bags into the truck, Cooper said, ‘I think it would be a good idea for rock performers all over the world to take a few hours out of their schedule to involve themselves in community service-oriented programs.”

The mid-1970s was the height of Cooper’s fame—and it was also the peak of the anti-litter movement. Soda bottles, fast food wrappers, and cigarette butts were all over city parks and streets.

But did Cooper even live in New York at the time? And why Riverside Park?

Here’s how he explained it in his 2011 book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.50.22 AM“Sometimes I would do nice things, just to throw off my critics,” wrote Cooper. “In August of ’75 I grew a mustache and found time to assemble and join 300 volunteer Alice Cooper fans who worked for a day to clear away garbage out of Manhattan’s Riverside Park.

“I figured the deed would keep everyone off guard while at the same time emphasize that neither Alice Cooper nor his legions of young fans were necessarily rock monsters. We were capable of being Mr. Nice Guys too.”

[Photos: Waring Abbott/Getty Images]

Listening to the orchestra play in Central Park

November 9, 2015

A century before Summerstage and free shows by Diana Ross and Simon and Garfunkel, Central Park hosted free concerts.

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First given in the Ramble, “concerts soon moved to the Mall, where the tradition grew into the 20th century,” states nycgovparks.org.

“At the northern end of the Mall, an elaborate cast-iron bandstand once stood (on the present site of the bust of composer Ludwig von Beethoven). Thousands of people would attend open-air performances. To prevent the landscape from being damaged during musical performances, fences that also provided seating for concertgoers were cleverly designed by Calvert Vaux.”

The men in these crowds look like sitting ducks for the Straw Hat Riot instigators!

An East 10th Street townhouse inspired by India

November 2, 2015

The building materials of New York’s row houses don’t vary very much: brownstone, brick, mason, glass.

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But teakwood? This hearty wood native to South Asia is a rarity in the city, which makes the gorgeous 1887 townhouse at 7 East 10th Street so noteworthy.

TeakwoodhouseacrossstreetThe house itself isn’t remarkable, but the beautifully carved teakwood on the bay window and trim attracts many admirers.

Who made the house such a show stopper? Lockwood De Forest, an artist and decorator who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Asian-inspired artifacts were a popular design motif at the time, and De Forest himself was enamored with Indian woodcarving, arranging for craftsmen in India to make wood carvings that could be shipped to America.

While Asian decorative elements were often found inside late 19th century parlors, De Forest made the unusual decision to incorporate them outside on the facade.

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“His elaborately carved teakwood projecting bay and trim on the otherwise ordinary town house is one of this city’s marvels, both for its intricate artistry and for its having so heartily survived the elements all these years,” wrote Francis Morrone in Architectural Guidebook to New York City.

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For reasons lost to history, teakwood trim also ended up next door at 9 East 10th Street, built in 1888, a building called the Ava.

In 1900, House Beautiful magazine called it the “most beautiful Indian house in America,” according to nyc-architecture.com. These days, the dazzling and well-preserved home is owned by New York University.

Haunting desolation on South Street in the 1930s

October 26, 2015

South Street was a still and empty place of tenement dwellers overshadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge in “South Street Stoop,” painted in 1935 by O. Louis Guglielmi.

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“[Guglielmi’s] dreamlike works were critical commentaries on the social injustices of capitalism,” states Bruce Weber, author of Paintings in New York.

“The son of Italian immigrants, Guglielmi had grown up in Harlem and experienced  his own financial difficulties in the early 1930s and applied for federal relief. Beginning in 1935, he received a regular government paycheck as a member of the easel division of the Works Progress Administration.”

Hard times on Depression-era East 61st Street

October 12, 2015

Last week, Yale University launched an interactive digitized photo archive packed with 170,000 incredible photos taken during the Depression.

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The images, shot by various photographers, are also part of the Library of Congress. They cover faces and places across the nation—including ordinary residents of New York City working, playing, and rushing on their run.

But one subset of photos, shot by Walker Evans in 1938, is particularly haunting. These 40 or so images focus on one gritty tenement block on East 61st Street, and the unglamorous people who live there.

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This isn’t the East 61st Street of Bloomingdale’s or Fifth Avenue. This is the East 61st Street between Third and First Avenues, a poor neighborhood known at the turn of the century as Battle Row.

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In the middle of the Depression, East 61st Street looks like a regular workaday part of New York City—thanks in part to the corner cafeteria, an idling beer truck, and laundry-laden fire escape (below).

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The people seem ordinary too. Kids play on the stoop, men and women gather to talk, a lone woman hangs out a window. A solitary older gentleman sits on his stoop forlornly.

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Who were they? The photos reveal their quiet humanity, and their stony faces hint at hard times. They certainly don’t look like they enjoyed having Evans hang around with his camera.

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Above, a resident is moving in or out of one building—via a horse-drawn wooden cart. And are those Belgian blocks paving the road?

Evans and his camera lurked around other parts of Manhattan in the 1930s as well, like on the subway, where he surreptitiously shot random subway riders staring, reading, or lost in their daydreams.

This might be the spookiest house in Soho

October 5, 2015

With its boarded-up parlor windows, wispy lace curtains, and lone light coming from the attic dormer windows, the 1824 Federal-style house at 139 Greene Street certainly gives off a spooky vibe.

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Number 139 has an interesting history as a family home, brothel, factory, and longstanding renovation project. If any house in Soho is haunted by ghosts, this would be the one.

139GreenestreetnightIt all started in 1825, when the home was built by a merchant tailor named Anthony Arnoux, who ran a shop on Broadway and East Fourth Street.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Federal houses were all the rage, and the newly fashionable streets north of Canal Street on the west and east sides of Broadway were lined with similar residences built by the city’s elite.

Arnoux didn’t move in until the 1830s, but he and his five adult children (plus one female servant) occupied what must have been a lovely house at least through 1850, according to census data.

139GreenestreetsignSome of that loveliness remains: the arched dormer windows, red brick, marble stairs, and elegant front entrance.

The similar yet beautifully restored Merchant’s House Museum, across Broadway on East Fourth Street, is a Federal-style house that gives an idea of what the Arnoux house looked like in its prime.

As Greene Street became shabby, the Arnoux family didn’t stick around. By 1860, the neighborhood had become a bustling strip of hotels, shops, and brothels—lots of brothels.

Number 139 became a house of assignation, according to the Gentleman’s Companion, a guide to New York City’s premier red-light district in 1870.

Greene Street “has become a complete sink of iniquity,” the guide states, with 41 brothels luring in men between Canal and Bleecker Streets.

139Greenestreetnyt1867sept139 Greene Street was a third-class “disorderly house” with 7 “inmates” run by Patrick and Amelia Whalen. A fire broke out there in 1867, reported the New York Times.

After the prostitutes left, the millinery trade moved in, followed by light industry.

Perhaps the manufacturer of printers rollers (as advertised on the facade of the cast-iron loft building next door) had something to do with the bashing in of the front wall of the house, as well as the destruction of the marble front stairs.

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In 1968, with Soho’s fortunes rising, an art dealer bought it to use as a storage space, then sold it to an art conservationist—who has been restoring 139 Greene Street ever since . . . and perhaps allowing its 19th century ghosts free reign to haunt the premises.

[Third image: New York Times; fifth image: MCNY; 1970s]

The Greenwich Village vision of artist Alfred Mira

September 28, 2015

Alfred S. Mira and his realistic, gritty, intimate Greenwich Village street scenes should be better known.

[“Seventh Avenue, Greenwich Village”]

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Born in 1900 in Italy to a carpenter father, he left school and began working for an interior decorator, dreaming of going to art school but without the 50 cents a day it cost to attend.

[“Washington Square Rally,” 1942]

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He did make a career out of painting though; he listed his address as East 8th Street and his occupation as painter in the 1940 census. And he sold his work at the Washington Square outdoor art exhibit, a heralded event decades ago.

[“The El, View of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street,” 1940]

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Though he painted scenes from all over the city, Mira focused his work on the sites and monuments of Greenwich Village: the Washington Arch, MacDougal Street, and Seventh Avenue South.

His inspiration seems to come from the urban realists who made a name for themselves in the early 1900s, such as George Bellows and George Luks.

[Title unknown, but there’s Jefferson Market in the background]

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But his style is his own: honest, sometimes gritty, sometimes dreamy, and deeply atmospheric—a true street artist who captured the moods of the city.

[“Summer Morning”—anyone know what intersection this is?]

Alfredmirasummermorning

Alfredmiraselfportrait1934“Mira painted angled, bird’s eye viewpoints, thereby creating what one critic categorized as ‘moving camera eye impressions,’” explains gallery Questroyal Fine Art LLC.

He died in 1980 or 1981, depending on the source, and his work still inspires. It also still sells, with several paintings going for thousands of dollars at top auction houses.

[Self portrait, 1934]

Reading a 1960s Village writer’s “Lunch Poems”

September 21, 2015

Frankoharacedartavern“It’s my lunch hour, so I go for a walk among the hum-colored cabs.”

So begins Frank O’Hara in “A Step Away From Them,” one of his witty, observational Lunch Poems.

The name comes from the time of day when they were supposedly written: during O’Hara’s lunch hour in Midtown, when he worked as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

Born in Baltimore and a graduate of Harvard, O’Hara arrived in the city in the early 1950s, a time when abstract expressionist painters and Beat poets were hitting their stride.

FrankoharaapartmentAnd both were meeting and drinking at bars like the San Remo and the Cedar Tavern (top photo; O’Hara is in the center), next door to O’Hara’s apartment at 90 University Place (left), which he shared with then-partner Joe LeSueur.

The Lunch Poems were published in 1964, and they are of their time, with references to no-longer-there restaurants and long-gone starlets and sometimes a campy sensibility.

But the New York O’Hara writes about—the culture, the noise, the crowds, the way the Sixth Avenue bus “trunk-lumbers sideways” so full of people, is still the city of today.

In “Music,” he references Grand Army Plaza by Central Park and the statue of William Sherman on a horse, led by an angel:

Frankoharapoems“If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s

“The Day Lady Died” is about Billie Holiday:

“I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
Then go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfield Theater and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
Of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it”

O’Hara wrote other poems too, and he also made a name for himself as an art critic.

The Lunch Poems, though, were his last collected volume. He died prematurely after being hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island in 1966 when he was only 40.

FrankoharamomaPerhaps his most relatable verse, chronicling day-to-day life in a pre-Bloomberg city of smokers drinking coffee they made themselves, comes from “Steps”:

“oh god, it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much”

[Photo of O’Hara in front of MOMA: newyorkschoolpoets.wordpresscom]

Bits of Medieval France in the Joan of Arc statue

September 21, 2015

Jeanne d'ArcThe heroic, life-size bronze of Joan of Arc at 93rd Street and Riverside Park was created a century ago by a group of prominent city residents who wanted to commemorate the Maid of Orleans’ 500th birthday.

And incredibly, it was the first statue in the city that honored a real, nonfictional woman (as opposed to the Statue of Liberty or Mother Goose).

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But this monument to a Medieval martyr is distinguished and remarkable in other ways as well.

JoanofarcparksdeptSculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington sought to show not a warrior but a spiritual girl whose mission to defeat the British was inspired by the voices of saints.

“Well, the whole idea was that I remember reading before she went into battle she had acquired a new sword,” Huntington later explained.

“And when she went into battle, she unconsciously raised it to heaven to ask the blessing of the Lord on it before she went into battle.”

To invoke Medieval France, architect John Van Pelt made a granite base that contains actual stones from the cathedral in Rheims, where King Charles (who supported Joan’s fight before abandoning her) was crowned.

JoanofarcinscriptionHe also incorporated real limestone blocks from the Tower of Rouen, where Joan was imprisoned and tried for heresy and witchcraft before being burned at the stake.

“On December 6, 1915, the sculpture was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony, which included a military band and French Ambassador Jean J. Jusserand,” states nycgovparks.org.

JoanofarcdedicationThat Jusserand (left, at the ceremony, with Mrs. Edison) made it to the ceremony is impressive, considering that France was embroiled in the Great War at the time.

In front of a crowd of about 1,000, Thomas Edison’s wife unveiled the statue—a symbol of solidarity among America and France and one of the finest city sculptures.

Joan of Arc’s name lends itself to numerous city buildings—like these “French Flats” on 14th Street and this women’s hotel in Chelsea, formerly known as a home for “friendless French girls.”

[Second photo: nycparksgov.com]

The East Village hippie who ran for president

September 14, 2015

Third-party candidates for president tend to come from out of the mainstream. That’s the case with Louis Abolafia, a 27-year-old East Village artist.

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In the 1960s, Abolafia, the son of a florist, made a name for himself as an abstract expressionist painter who staged happenings around the Village and helped shelter teenage runaways in his East Fourth Street apartment.

LouisabolafiaposterA nudist who came up with the cheeky campaign slogan “What Have I Got to Hide,” Abolafia decided to run for president in the 1968 election.

His ticket was the “Love” party, according to a New Yorker article from 1967, and his campaign kicked off with a “love in” at the Village Theater.

“In running for the Presidency I’m trying to bring about a world unity,” he told a crowd there.

“We should be a country of giving and giving and giving. The way we’re going now, we’re all wrong. We could be giants; we should be 10 times above what the Renaissance was.”

Abolafia scored some attention from the media. He appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (as a candidate for the Nudist Party) and distributed a poster of himself naked except for a bowler hat.

Amazingly, he received 300,000 to 2 million votes that November, but it wasn’t enough to beat Richard Nixon.

Louisabafolia“Louis decided to run for president because he understood that to be an artist, you have to do something a little outstanding,” his brother Oscar, a celebrity photographer, told Bedford and Bowery in 2013.

“Even today, don’t we look for people who are a little off the wall? I think my brother started that whole movement, doing something that’s off the wall so people notice you.”

After the publicity died down, Abolafia moved to San Francisco. His next appearance in the national press was his obituary in 1995, after he died of a drug overdose.