Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

All the arches that were built (and then bulldozed) in Madison Square

May 31, 2021

Arch fever at Madison Square Park started in 1889. That’s the year a pair of elaborate wood arches festooned with American flags were built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.

One arch went up outside the 23rd Street and Broadway entrance to the park (above photo), and the other was constructed on the 26th Street side (below). The city threw an impressive party for the first president, but after the festivities honoring Washington ended, the two arches were reduced to rubble.

But arches in general were quite popular all over the Beaux-Arts city through the end of the Gilded Age. So 10 years later, another arch was unveiled beside the Fifth Avenue Hotel at 24th Street and Broadway.

This impressive structure was the Dewey Arch (above), named for Admiral George Dewey, whose victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War earned him national hero status. Dewey was coming to New York to be honored with a parade and a flotilla of ships, and city officials hoped to welcome him in triumphant style.

The ostentatious arch reflected that spirit. “The Dewey Arch, designed by architect Charles R. Lamb, was based on the Arch of Titus in Rome and was produced by 28 sculptors,” wrote flatirondistrict.nyc. “It was topped by a quadriga, a chariot pulled by four horses running abreast. This one, in keeping with the occasion, depicted four seahorses pulling a ship.”

After the Dewey celebration, calls went out to turn this temporary arch (made from staff, a mixture of plaster and wood shavings) into a permanent one. Unfortunately, the Dewey Arch was “carted away” later that year, already picked apart by vandals, according to Daniel B. Schneider in The New York Times FYI column in 1999. The public lost interest in Dewey by then anyway.

But Madison Square Park wasn’t done with arches yet. In 1918, a fourth arch, called the Victory Arch, would be unveiled at Fifth Avenue and 24th Street. The Victory Arch was the brainchild of Mayor John Hylan, a way to honor the fallen soldiers from World War I as well as the men who were returning from Europe.

“The $80,000 triple arch was designed by Thomas Hastings in temporary materials and modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, with relief panels commemorating important battles, war service organizations, and industrial might—like munitions makers,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 1994.

As with the Dewey Arch, many New Yorkers wanted the Victory Arch to be permanent. Of course, it had plenty of critics as well. “Fiorello H. LaGuardia, as a candidate for President of the Board of Alderman in 1919, denounced the project as the ‘Altar of Extravagance,’ stated Gray.

By 1919, thousands of doughboys had marched through the Victory Arch during the many parades held by the city. It must have been quite a shock, then, to watch the arch be demolished in the summer of 1920—a victim of “bureaucratic infighting,” according to Allison McNearney in The Daily Beast.

Madison Square Park remains archless a century later—but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

[First image: MCNY, X2010.11.11029; second image: MCNY, X2010.11.11015; third image: NYPL; fourth image: NYPL; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: MCNY X2010.28.827]

The 1957 rallies to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn

May 24, 2021

By the mid-1950s, the writing was on the wall. Shabby Ebbets Field, opened in 1913, wasn’t cutting it for Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley. He wanted a newer, bigger stadium for his team.

But one key city official wasn’t on board with O’Malley’s plan for a Buckminster Fuller–designed domed ballpark with plenty of parking at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. That man “was Robert Moses, who basically held veto power over any city project budgeted at more than $250,” wrote David Hinckley in the New York Daily News in 2017.

While Moses was trying to convince O’Malley to build his new ballpark in Fresh Meadows, Queens, O’Malley began scouting out sites 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, according to Hinckley.

In the spring of 1957, Dodger fans still thought they had a chance. So a group of Brooklyn businessmen led by Henry Modell (of Modell’s Sporting Goods fame) formed an organization aptly called the “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn Committee,” based at the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn Heights.

Their goal, as outlined in a letter to the Brooklyn Tablet in May 1957, was to convince officials to go ahead with the domed stadium plan, have residents sign petitions, and “organize and stage borough-wide rallies and mass meetings to demand action.”

The rallies happened outside Brooklyn Borough Hall beside the imposing columns; adult and kid fans held placards, wore buttons, and hoped that a show of support would keep the beloved team in the County of Kings.

Unfortunately, these rallies didn’t make a dent. O’Malley announced his plan to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles at the end of the season. Ebbets Field was demolished in February 1960—by a wrecking ball designed to look like a baseball.

[Top image: Keyman Collectibles; second and third images: Brooklyn Daily]

The Brooklyn Bridge is celebrating its birthday

May 17, 2021

Work began in 1870 and was finally completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths). Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday on May 24.

What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and procession of 150,000 pedestrians walking across this engineering marvel for the first time on May 24, 1883? After politicians, including President Chester A. Arthur, gave speeches, the bridge was opened to the public just before midnight.

“From high water to roadway 120 ft—from high water to centre of span 135 ft—from roadway to top 158 ft—width of Bridge 85 ft—with tracks for steam cars, roadway for carriages, and walks for foot passengers, and an elevated promenade commanding a view of extraordinary beauty and extant,” the caption reads.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

George Washington never slept in this Bowling Green mansion built for him

February 22, 2021

It was called Government House—and despite its stodgy name, it was elegant and beautiful.

The Georgian-style, two-story stunner sat at the foot of Broadway with New York Harbor behind it and Bowling Green in front. Begun in either 1789 or 1790 on the former site of Fort Amsterdam, the elevated mansion looked upon New York’s most elegant neighborhood, surrounded by the fine houses and churches of the rich.

But this premier residence with a portico and carvings of the arms of the state wasn’t designed for any old member of Gotham’s elite. New York in 1789 was the capital of the new United States. And city fathers intended Government House to be the official home of all US presidents.

The immediate hope was that George Washington, sworn in as the first commander in chief on April 30 of that year, would move into Government House. After his inauguration, Washington lived in a borrowed mansion at One Cherry Street. Then in February 1790, President Washington made the Macomb mansion at 39 Broadway opposite Bowling Green his residence.

Unfortunately for New York, the city’s stint as the capital of the US was about to be cut short. Later in 1790, temporary capital status went to Philadelphia while a new capital between Maryland and Virginia could be built. Washington spent the rest of his presidency in Philly, never relocating the Government House or the White House.

Government House didn’t stay empty though. New York City was still the capital of New York State, and the mansion became the official residence of state governors like DeWitt Clinton and John Jay. But in 1797, Albany became the state capital, and Government House became the Custom House from 1799 to 1815.

In 1815, Government House met its end—some sources say the city simply dismantled it, another attributes its demise to a fire. Private residences were built on the site, but as the city’s elite decamped to more fashionable neighborhoods, the Bowling Green area became a commercial zone.

In 1907, the site became the home of the Alexander Hamilton Custom House—and today, that building houses the National Museum of the American Indian. A plaque marking Government House was put up in 1890 by the Holland Society of New York, which I didn’t find, but Wikipedia has it.

[Images: Wikipedia; NYPL]

A rich merchant’s wife becomes a Revolutionary War heroine

February 15, 2021

When important people visited New York City in the middle of the 18th century, they often stopped at the spectacular home of Robert and Mary Lindley Murray.

In the colonial-era city, the Murrays were a powerful couple. Robert Murray had immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family from Ireland as a boy; he worked his way up from a mill operator to a wealthy wheat and flour merchant. Mary Lindley Murray was the daughter of Quaker immigrants from Philadelphia.

Married in 1744, they moved to New York City in 1753, according to womeninhistoryblog.com. Nine years later they rented 29 acres far from the city center and built a mansion on an estate they called Inclenberg, Dutch for “beautiful hill,” seen below surrounded by trees on the Ratzer map from 1766.

“The two-story great house was located at what is today Park Avenue and 36th Street,” states womeninhistoryblog.com. “Grand Central Station stands on what was one of the estate’s cornfields.”

Eventually this neck of the woods would be renamed Murray Hill, after the couple and their 11 children; a 1926 plaque on an apartment building at that corner on Park Avenue memorializes Inclenberg (above).

But back to the 18th century city, which in 1776 became a battleground when the War for Independence broke out. Some residents were Loyalists to the British; others considered themselves Patriots and supported the Continental Army.

While Robert Murray reportedly was a Loyalist, Mary’s sympathies went with the Patriots, according to The Murrays of Murray Hill, by Charles Monaghan. And legend has it that she proved her allegiance in September 1776, when British General William Howe came ashore at Kip’s Bay to take on George Washington’s Patriot army.

While Howe and his officers was making his way through Manhattan and Patriot militiamen were retreating to Harlem Heights, Mary invited Howe and his men to her home. With her husband conveniently away, Mary and her daughters entertained their British guests for two hours with lunch and wine to stall them so the Patriots had time to get away. (Above and below images)

“After the catastrophe on Long Island, August 28, 1776, and the affair at Kip’s Bay, the Americans withdrew up the island, time for which retreat being gained, so it is claimed, through the instrumentality of Mary Lindley Murray, who entertained General Howe and his officers at luncheon on September 15, 1776, at her house at present Park Avenue and 36th Street,” wrote Hopper Striker Mott in The New York of Yesterday.

There’s another account of this story that has a slightly different take.

According to the military journal of James Thatcher, an army surgeon, the British army marching up Manhattan to catch up to the Patriots realized “there was no prospect of engaging our troops” and decided to “repair to the home of Mr. Robert Murray, a Quaker and friend of our cause; Mrs. Murray treated them with cake and wine, and they were induced to tarry two hours or more….It has since become almost a common saying among our officers, that Mrs. Murray saved this part of the American army.”

Whatever really happened, General Howe and his men apparently did stop off at the Murray mansion—and the Patriots made their way to Harlem Heights and beyond. The legend was solidified in 1903 when the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a plaque affixed to a boulder in honor of Mary at Park Avenue and 37th Street (above).

[Top image: by the Duskhopper via Cool Chicks From History; second image: Wikipedia; third image: Ratzer Map, 1766; fourth image: Wikipedia; fifth image: Alamy; sixth image: NYPL; seventh image: NYPL]

Free tickets to celebrate the history of suffrage—and the NYC women who fought for the vote

November 17, 2020

2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. This hard-fought battle began with the Seneca Falls Declaration of 1848 and ended when women went the polls in 1920.

Between these years, history was made—thanks to the early “strong-minded” activists who popularized the suffrage movement, as well as the wealthy women who helped fund parades, pageants, and protests…and even paid the bail for women who were arrested while fighting for the vote.

Historian Nina E. Harkrader, in conjunction with the Upper West Side historic group Landmark West, is offering Ephemeral New York readers free tickets to “Upper West Side Women and the Long Fight for Women’s Suffrage.” It’s a virtual event that focuses on the New York City women who helped make voting rights happen.

Not surprisingly considering the neighborhood’s activist roots, many of these New York women (and some men too) hailed from the Upper West Side. Harkrader’s presentation uses photos and headlines to tell their stories.

The event is on Thursday, November 19, from 6:30-7:30 pm. If you’re interested in attending, just follow the link here. Sign up starts now, and Landmark West has set aside 10 free tickets. The event will happen via Zoom.

[Top image: MCNY 47.225.8; second image: MCNY x2010.11.8826; third image: MCNY x2010.11.10841]

The election posters and banners all over the city

November 2, 2020

The internet, TV, and social media sites are today’s dumping grounds for campaign ads. But in a pre-digital New York City without mass media, political staffers got their candidate’s name out by taking to the streets.

A billboard in 1950: Dewey won, Corsi lost.

That meant putting up billboards on buildings, stringing banners across streets, and plastering posters on vacant storefronts.

McKinley and Hobart won, but Hobert died in office.

The banners seem to have been particularly common sights at the turn of the last century. This one above, for William McKinley’s 1896 presidential run, spanned Maiden Lane.

Competing campaign posters on Avenue C

On Avenue C between Third and Fourth Streets in 1936, campaign posters for Franklin D. Roosevelt are advertised just doors away from posters making the case for a voting for the Communist Party candidate.

FDR and Lehman, both winners in 1936

Here’s another FDR poster from the 1936 election, with Herbert Lehman running for governor, on the side of a store selling coal and ice.

This banner lays out TR’s campaign promises.

Does anyone remember who Fairbanks was? Charles W. Fairbanks was a senator for Indiana, chosen to run with Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 and promise “sound money and continued national prosperity” to Americans, per this banner on Maiden Lane.

Candidates in 1952, mostly lost to history

These posters, from 1950, covers local politicians. One name I recognize: Louis DeSalvio, an assemblyman for 38 years representing the Lower East Side and one of the namesakes of DeSalvio Playground on Spring and Mulberry Street.

[Top image: MCNY x2010.11.8821; second image: New-York Historical Society; third image: Oldnycphotos.com; fourth image: MCNY 2003.25.51; fifth image: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: MCNY x2010.11.8818]

Why Manhattan has two streets named Beekman

October 12, 2020

For such a small strip of land, Manhattan has a lot of duplicated street names. Think Jones Street and Great Jones Street, Washington Street and Washington Place, and Greenwich Street and Greenwich Avenue.

But there’s one shared street name that’s always been a curiosity: Beekman. Beekman Street lies south of City Hall near the South Street Seaport, while Beekman Place is a residential enclave between 49th and 51st Streets by the East River.

Beekman Street, south of City Hall Park

Both Beekmans are slender roads on the East Side, with Beekman Street running three blocks and Beekman Place two. Beekman Street has a rougher mix of 19th century walkups and 1970s-style buildings, while Beekman Place is a posh lane of charmingly restored townhouses and elegant apartment buildings.

Who were the Beekmans, and how did their family name end up in two places on the Manhattan street map?

Beekman Street is the older of the two, named after Wilhelmus Beeckman (right), “who came to New Netherlands with Peter Stuyvesant and became prominent,” states A Landmark History of New York. At some point after arriving in 1647, Beeckman anglicized his name to William Beekman and bought a vast farm, and then another, where Beekman Street sits today.

Beekman Street itself may have started out as a cow path on Beekman’s farm leading to today’s City Hall Park—a community pasture known as the Commons in the 17th century.

William Beekman was just 21 when he relocated to New Amsterdam. He became socially and politically popular, serving as sheriff, burgomaster, and then deputy mayor and acting mayor, both under British rule.

Beekman Place, Turtle Bay

He had many descendants who made their own name in the growing city. One, great-grandson James Beekman, is the namesake of Beekman Place.

Born in 1732, James Beekman (below right) was a wealthy merchant who built a mansion he called Mount Pleasant on an estate centered at today’s First Avenue and 51st Street.

James Beekman’s mansion served as a country respite for his wealthy family from the increasingly crowded city center.

But during the Revolutionary War, Mount Pleasant had some new residents: British generals, who made it their military headquarters. (Nathan Hale was also supposedly hanged here, but that’s a piece of history still in dispute.)

When the war ended, the Beekman family returned to Mount Pleasant; they stayed until 1834, driven away by a cholera epidemic, according to a 1977 New York Times article.

After the mansion was demolished two decades later, the Beekmans created a new street running through the former estate and sold lots to developers.

Brownstones replaces the mansion, but by the late 19th century, “the Beekman Place brownstones were abandoned to the poor, many of whom worked in the packing houses, slaughterhouses and coalyards along the East River,” states the Times.

Beekman Place’s restored townhouses

“The wealthy, drawn largely by the river setting, began to reclaim the neighborhood in the 1920’s.” This is the Beekman Place that remains with us today: quiet, hidden, and with some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

[Third image: Wikipedia; sixth image: MCNY 95.76.3; seventh image: Wikipedia]

A Bryant Park memorial for a Gilded Age crusader

August 3, 2020

When ground broke in 1912 on a new fountain on the east side of Bryant Park, New Yorkers assumed that what was dubbed the “Lowell Memorial” would honor James Russell Lowell, a popular 19th century romantic poet.

Instead, the fountain, which still graces the park today (though now on the Sixth Avenue side of the park), honors the poet’s niece by marriage, Josephine Shaw Lowell (right, at age 26).

In the years before and after the turn of the century, New York City—like many other booming cities entranced by the City Beautiful movement—went on a statue- and fountain-building frenzy.

But a fountain dedicated to this female social reformer was an interesting choice in an era that tended to honor war heroes, presidents, and political leaders.

Mostly forgotten today, Lowell was famous during the Gilded Age for her 40-year devotion to ending the deep poverty that affected so many New Yorkers—the “other half,” as fellow social activist Jacob Riis described the city’s poor in his 1890 book.

Like many social reformers of the era, Lowell came from a well-off background. Born in 1843 to an old New England family, she grew up on Staten Island and in Europe.

She was widowed when she was just 21; her husband was Union Army Colonel Charles Russell Lowell, who died in battle and is seen with his bride at left.

After her husband’s death, Lowell gave birth to their daughter, Carlotta, wore black every day for the rest of her life, and continued the Union Army charity work she had been doing for the Red Cross and the Women’s Central Association of Relief.

In the years following the end of the war, a movement toward charity and benevolence took hold in New York—sort of the flip side of the crass moneymaking that typically characterizes the Gilded Age. Lowell soon became its steward.

Basing herself first in Staten Island and then in a brownstone at 120 East 30th Street (above), Lowell founded the Charity Organization Society in 1882 (which helped various charities coordinate their efforts). In 1876 she was the first woman appointed to the New York State Board of Charities. And in 1890 she launched the New York Consumer’s League, lobbying for better conditions and pay for working women.

Lowell was arguably one of the most powerful women in the late 19th century city. For 40 years, she served as “a career woman in the growing field of organized philanthropy and government service,” states Virginia Commonwealth University’s Social History Project.

What made her controversial, however, was her reliance on what was called “scientific charity,” the idea that providing direct relief (in the form of food and housing, for example) to the poor fostered dependency and led to idleness.

Scientific charity was a generally accepted concept at the time, an era in which the city provided almost no direct relief to the “deserving poor,” and charity was supposed to be given in exchange for some kind of work.

Lowell held firm to her strong convictions. She advocated that some poor residents be “committed, until reformed, to district work-houses, there to be kept at hard-labor, and educated morally and mentally,” according to Mike Wallace’s Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.

Her dedication to eradicating poverty, though, was never in question. In a letter to her sister-in-law in 1883, Lowell wrote:

“‘Common charity, that is, feeding and clothing people, I am beginning to look upon as wicked! Not in its intention, of course, but in its carelessness and its results….If it could only be drummed into the rich that what the poor want is fair wages and not little doles of food, we should not have all this suffering and misery and vice.'”

The day after Lowell’s death from cancer in 1905 was made public, a tribute to her was published that included this summary of her life’s work: “She has championed unpopular causes when she believed they were right. She has known nothing of mere expediency, but she worked nevertheless with rare wisdom and with remarkable success.”

[Images 1, 3, and 7: Wikipedia; fourth image: Google maps; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: Bryantpark.org]

The Midtown corner where the Draft Riots began

July 13, 2020

It’s the worst riot in New York City history, and it kicked off 157 years ago today.

On July 13, 1863, with the Civil War raging, the New York Draft Riots began: four days of mostly working-class Irish men marauded across the city—burning homes and buildings and targeting police, abolitionists, pro-war newspaper offices, and black residents, among others.

“By far the worst violence was reserved for African-American men, a number of whom were lynched or beaten to death with shocking brutality,” states History.com. An estimated 119 people were killed, and countless buildings destroyed.

Though the riots spread to parts of Brooklyn on the third day, most of the violence took place in Manhattan. The atrocities kicked off on this unassuming East Midtown corner at Third Avenue and 47th Street.

Why here? This is where the Ninth District provost marshal’s office was located. A new federal conscription law had been passed, and the names of all men in the district who were deemed eligible for military duty were entered into a lottery here. Those selected would be called up to serve.

The draft law was unpopular among working men. “The complaints—and the violence that followed—focused mainly on two exempted groups: the rich, who could pay $300 to escape the draft, and blacks, who were not considered citizens,” wrote the New York Times in 2017.

The first day of the lottery, Saturday, July 11, was peaceful. The second drawing, two days later on Monday morning, took a dark turn.

“Employees of the city’s railroads, shipyards, machine shops, and ironworks and hundreds of other laborers failed to show up for work,” stated Stephen D. Lut in an 2000 article in America’s Civil War, via historynet. “By 8 o’clock, the workers were streaming up Eighth and Ninth avenues, closing shops, factories, and construction sites and urging their workers to join them.”

“The procession congregated in Central Park for a brief meeting, then formed into two columns that marched to the Ninth District provost marshal’s office. They carried ‘NO DRAFT’ placards.”

As the lottery got underway, the crowd of about 500 outside threw stones and bricks at the windows, terrifying families who lived on the upper floors of the building, according to a Times article written the next day.

The crowd battled their way inside, destroyed paperwork, beat the deputy provost marshal, and fought off policemen who tried to quell the disorder.

A fire was lit—possibly by firemen who joined in the rioting—and the entire block was consumed, touching off bloodshed and destruction all across Manhattan. A month after the riots were finally stopped by 4,000 federal troops, the draft lottery process resumed.

[Second image: Digital Library of America; third and fourth images: NYPL; fifth image: House Divided/Dickenson College]