Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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.

Studio 54 invites you to a party in the 1980s

August 17, 2015

Opened in 1977, Studio 54 continues to hold up as an emblem of late 1970s exclusivity and disco decadence.

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After Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager sold the club in 1981, it still attracted crowds—though not quite the way it did during its heyday.

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Instead of velvet ropes keeping people out, the club seemed to do everything they could to pack patrons in, apparently by hosting very mainstream events and giveaways.

It looks like anyone and their guest who could pay the $8-$12 gained entry.

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A party for the premiere of The Search for Spock? It doesn’t sound like the movie is even part of the itinerary.

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The club closed for good in 1991, long after its cache was over.

These party invites are part of the digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

A Spanish dancer captivates 1890s New York

August 10, 2015

Her nickname was the “Pearl of Seville,” but she was known to audiences in Europe and America by the one-name moniker Carmencita.

This “Spanish Gypsy Dancer” first blew away audiences at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. A theatrical agent arranged for her to come to New York, making her debut at Niblo’s Garden on Prince Street later that year.

LacarmencitasingersargentThe New York Times wasn’t impressed with the musical Carmencita had been cast in. But they called out the “novelty and witchery” of her dance moves.

She developed a following, and by 1890 was appearing at Koster and Bial Music Hall on Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.

Koster and Bial’s, in the middle of the lowlife Tenderloin district, was a leading vaudeville house that often showcased the kind of bawdy performers New Yorkers loved.

Carmencita was a sensation. “Some of her admirers feel that their enjoyment of her piquant dancing is increased by the sense that they are doing something naughty by going to a concert-hall,” stated The Illustrated American in 1890.

“This is true particularly of the female sex and of church-members.”

KosterbialsnyplIt was also true of painter John Singer Sargent, who met Carmencita in Paris and called her a “bewildering superb creature.”

He painted a portrait of her (above) and titled in “La Carmencita.” William Merritt Chase and John Beckwith painted her as well.

Carmencita made a name for herself in another art form: she is considered the first female star to be filmed by Thomas Edison.

A clip of her in motion survives, giving us a glimpse at the dance moves that thrilled her fans and gave her such a following in the 1890s city.

[Second image: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Third image; NYPL Digital Collection]

Madison Square’s sensuous “throbbing fountain”

August 10, 2015

When painter John Sloan arrived in New York City in 1904, he first settled in Chelsea, not far from Madison Square Park.

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The park soon became one of his favorite haunts, partly because of the diverse mix of people he could observe there, but also due to a 30-foot fountain at the south end of the park.

In his diary he called it the Throbbing Fountain. “Sat in Madison Square,” he wrote on September 9, 1906. “Watched the Throbbing Fountain.”

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“Think I’ll soon tackle a plate on this subject,” he continued. “The sensuous attraction of the spurts of water is strong subconsciously on everyone.”

Sloan painted two views of the fountain, one in 1907 and one at night in 1908 (painted from memory, as it was apparently dismantled by then), and both show a fountain with its own hypnotic pull.

A relic of a 1920s theater on East 80th Street

August 3, 2015

The remains of some of New York’s loveliest buildings can sometimes be found in the most unlikely places.

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Take this carved stone head of a goddess. For decades, it’s sat outside the parlor floor window (between the garbage cans and coal hole cover) of the 1883 brownstone at 52 East 80th Street.

Ziegfeld19272The goddess head’s original home? The facade of the Ziegfeld Theater, an Art Deco gem that stood on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street for 39 years.

The theater, financed by William Randolph Hearst, opened to great fanfare; Florenz Ziegfeld’s renowned Follies were staged there.

But within six short years, it became a second-run movie house. By 1966, it met the wrecking ball.

Yet the goddess head survived the demolition—and it ended up on East 80th Street (below, with the copper bay window) because the owner of the home, a theater producer named Jerry Hammer, asked the right person for it.

Ziegfeldhousegoogle“Mr. Hammer said that in the 1960s he was riding in a limousine with the developer Zachary Fisher, who motioned to the old Ziegfeld Theater, at 54th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, and said he was going to demolish it for a new office building,” stated the New York Times in 2004.

Hammer asked Fisher jokingly if he could have it. About four months later,  ”’I hear noises outside, and it’s a truck with a crane, and a head, and they ask me where I want it,'” wrote the Times.

Hammer moved out, but the goddess head remains, a glorious relic of Roaring ’20s New York City.

[Second photo: Cinema Treasures; third photo: Google]

What Brooklyn looked like in summer 1820

July 20, 2015

Landscape artist Francis Guy painted “Summer View of Brooklyn” in 1820 from the vantage point of 11 Front Street in today’s DUMBO.

That means this collection of tidy barns and houses would be located under the Brooklyn Bridge. That even looks like a nascent Manhattan skyline, with steeples, in the distance.

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Things have changed a lot in 195 years. A summer view of today’s Brooklyn from Front Street would look more like this, with crowds sweltering on line at Grimaldi’s pizza.

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Guy painted the same scene from Front Street in winter 1820 as well. The winter scene is more detailed, with various residents working and going about their day.

Who were the hardy Brooklynites he depicted? This key from the Brooklyn Museum decodes their names and which house belonged to who.

The summertime beauty of Brooklyn in the 1880s

July 13, 2015

Indiana-born William Merritt Chase lived and painted in Manhattan, Munich, Venice, and the Netherlands.

[“Prospect Park, Brooklyn”]

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But he also spent about four years residing in Brooklyn. Between 1887 and 1890, he and his new bride (and eventually their first-born daughter) lived with his parents in a home in the progressive, thriving city.

[“In Navy Yard”]

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He was apparently taken by Brooklyn’s lovely new parks and more bucolic sections, as he painted many landscapes and scenes of everyday life in the borough’s less urban outposts.

[“Gravesend Bay (the Lower Bay)”]

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His favorite places seemed to be Prospect Park, Tompkins Park (below, now renamed Herbert Von King Park), Gravesend Bay, and even the Brooklyn Navy Yard (above, his wife is holding the parasol).

[“The Park”]

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Chase painted these pastoral parts of Brooklyn, “not only because they were part of his Brooklyn surroundings at the time; he also wanted to present them to the world as examples of ‘civilized urban landscapes’ that accorded with the European avant-garde model of modern life,” states the New York Times in an article on a Chase retrospective from 2000.

Chaseharborscenebrooklyndocks

[“Harbor Scene, Brooklyn Docks”]

By the 1890s, after relocating to Manhattan, he depicted Central Park in several paintings. They are lovely, but his Brooklyn work captures the beauty of the City of Churches in full summer bloom.

An early photographer’s shadowy, soft-focus city

June 29, 2015

Born in 1886, Karl Struss distinguished himself as a cinematographer in early black and white movies, working with Cecil B. Demille and Charlie Chaplin, among others.

But before his film career took off, he worked as a commercial photographer in his native New York City. His moody, atmospheric images capture the lights and shadows of a horse-powered, low-rise city as it enters the modern, mechanized 20th century.

[West Street, 1911]

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As a child, Struss became entranced by his brother’s wooden folding camera. He then learned his way around the darkroom and taught himself printmaking. Later he took classes at Columbia University with Clarence White, a member of the Photo-Secessionists, a group of artists who argued that photography wasn’t about merely recording an image but capturing something artistic and creative.

Through White he met Alfred Stieglitz, who invited Struss to exhibit his work in a 1911 show.

[Manhattan Bridge, 1910]

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“Any portfolio of his work from 1909 until 1916 alternates Old World scenic and pastoral vistas with the harder-edged urban lines of New York City, especially its long, ominous night shadows and brilliant source lights,” states a profile of Struss on the American Society of Cinematographers website.

“For several years Struss had been working assiduously to promote himself as a commercial as well as an art photographer; his personal goal was to demonstrate that the two kinds of work were not incompatible.”

[Herald Square, 1911]

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His print photography days were numbered. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army but never left America because of rumors reportedly spread by his photography world colleagues that he was disloyal to his country.

[Mercedes Autobus, Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, New York, 1912]

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Struss1912clarencewhite“This ugly episode may have been the catalyst that led him to leave the chummy world of New York art photography for the freewheeling film scene in Hollywood,” states a New York Times article from 1995.

Struss remained in the movie industry, earning awards and working through the 1950s. He died in 1981, in time for his own resurgence as a leading photographer who helped elevate photographer to an art form—along with other pioneering picture-takers, like Paul Strand and the more abstract Langdon Coburn.

[Right: Karl Struss in 1912, by Clarence White

The magic of the Queensboro Bridge at night

June 15, 2015

The Queensboro bridge was only one year old when Impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir depicted it and the surrounding cityscape in muted blue, green, and gold tones in “The Bridge: Nocturne.”

Thebridgenocturne

It’s not clear what street is lit so bright here, but it hardly matters.

The bridge is like a mountain poking out of the fog, looking down on the rest of the city, which appears miniaturized. Few pedestrians go about their way on the rain-slicked pavement, and random lights from store signs and office windows glow in the nighttime sky.

Art Nouveau beauty on a gritty Midtown corner

June 8, 2015

Beloved in European cities such as Paris and Prague at the turn of the century, the naturalistic Art Nouveau style of architecture—with its curvy lines and showy ornaments—never caught on with New Yorkers.

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But one lovely example from 1903 survives at the gritty Garment District corner of Eighth Avenue and 38th Street.

West38thstreet1926mcnyThis three-story holdout building, originally an actor’s hotel, is currently dwarfed by the 20-story loft towers that went up around in 1926 (at left).

It’s also partially hidden by garish store signs advertising $1 pizza and sex DVDs.

But its stunning beauty still comes through, and it can take your breath away.

 The copper roof and cornice, blond brick, bay windows, and lovely female faces decorated with shells and garlands staring down pedestrians on Eighth Avenue—taking it all in transports you to another era.

300 West 38th Street was designed by Emery Roth just before his career took off. Roth is the creative genius behind the Eldorado, the San Remo, and the Hotel Belclaire.

Unlike those luxury residences, however, 300 West 38th Street was intended for more modest use.

200West38thstreetsideview

“The building application, signed by Roth, describes it as a ‘dwelling and office’ but later accounts call it a hotel,” states a New York Times piece from 2002.

300West38thstreetdecoration“The 1910 census lists 14 lodgers living on the second and third floors, among them the widower London McCormack, 49, an actor; Philip Blass, 44, a shoe salesman; and John and Phyllis Ellis, 48 and 30, actors.”

More than 100 years later, 300 West 38th Street remains a diamond in the rough.

It’s a perfect example of a holdout building that’s somehow survived the passage of time, a little European flair amid the Garment District’s cavernous loft buildings and office towers.