Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

Painting prewar New York from the outside in

September 11, 2017

Art that captures a single moment of beauty and activity on New York’s streets is always captivating. But there’s something to be said for images that reveal something about Manhattan from a far away vantage point, showing a city not in the center but on the sidelines.

Leon Kroll, born in New York in 1884 and a contemporary of George Bellows, Robert Henri, and other social realists, gives us that sidelined city.

Kroll, who studied at the Art Students League and exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show, was known for his nudes and country or seaside landscapes, and he also painted Central Park, Broadway, and other city locations.

But he also depicted New York in the early 20th century from the outside in, illustrating the city’s rhythms from across the East and Hudson Rivers.

“Queensboro Bridge,” from 1912, the painting at the top of the page, is one such example. The majesty of the relatively new bridge (only three years old here) takes center stage, but the monolithic city looms behind it.

I’m not exactly sure where Kroll was when he painted the second image, 1920’s “Manhattan Rhythms,” the second image.

He presents us with a solid, impenetrable city high above the wharves and docks of the river, a metropolis that dwarfs the men who work there.

“View of Manhattan Terminal Yards From Weehawken” (1913) puts industry and commerce on display. The train tracks may be on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, but they and the boats sending smoke into the sky work to enrich Manhattan across the water.

“Terminal Yards,” the fourth painting (also 1913) gives us another, snow-covered view.

I love that the city skyline is barely in “Manhattan From Hoboken” (1915), another painting of the metropolis from the heights of New Jersey.

The vibrant colors and web of tree branches—not to mention the thick clouds and smoke coming from boats and trains beside the river—almost obscure the Empire State Building and the rest of the cityscape.

If you’re not there in the middle of it, New York is far enough away to feel like another country.

An Impressionist paints New York’s sand and surf

August 21, 2017

Impressionist artist Edward Henry Potthast, born in Cincinnati in 1857, never married and had no children.

[“Coney Island,” 1910]

But this devoted painter who made art his entire life (he even died in his studio overlooking Central Park) seemed to find deep delight in depicting scenes of families, especially young mothers and children, enjoying the sand and surf at the city’s seaside pleasure outposts.

[“Summer Day, Brighton Beach” date unknown]

After studying art in Europe, Potthast permanently relocated to Manhattan in the 1890s, working as an illustrator for monthly publications such as Scribner’s and Harper’s while painting and exhibiting his own work.

[“Saturday Afternoon, Rockaway Beach” 1915]

He lived and worked at the Gainsborough, a building of artists’ studios on Central Park South that opened in 1908. “After his move to New York, Potthast made scenes of people enjoying leisurely holidays at the beach and rocky harbor views his specialty,” states this biography.

[“Manhattan Beach” date unknown]

Although he painted scenes of bright sunny skies and sparkling blue water in out-of-state locales in Massachusetts and Maine, “[s]uch was his love of the beach that, when he resided in New York, he would journey out on fair days to Coney Island or Far Rockaway with his easel, paintbox, and a few panels.”

[“Brighton Beach” date unknown]

While Coney Island and the Rockaways have been popular with painters since these resorts began attracting massive crowds in the late 19th century, Potthast’s beach scenes don’t resemble not the tawdry Coney Island of Reginald Marsh or the foreboding Coney of Alfred Henry Maurer.

[“Brighton Beach” date unknown]

Instead, they show the gentle and genteel side of the city’s beaches in the 1910s—vivid with color, activity, and a dreamy innocence that makes one wish they could be instantly transported there, away from the complexities of contemporary life.

[“Rockaway Beach” 1910]

The 17th century millstones inside a Queens park

June 23, 2016

DutchkillsgreenwikiThey’re among the oldest artifacts in New York City: two twin millstones, weathered by the elements and with curious straight-line engravings, dating as far back as the 17th century.

On display in a Queens Plaza greenspace, the millstones are contemporary link to colonial-era Queens, where the two stones most likely worked in tandem grinding corn and wheat into flour in a nearby gristmill powered by East River tides.

“By 1770 some five tide mills could be found along the coast of western Queens, servicing the hamlets of Dutch Kills, Ravenswood, and Astoria, which later joined to form Long Island City,” states the New York City Parks Department.

Dutchkillsmillstonefar

The two millstones are thought to be from a gristmill founded by German immigrant Burger Jorissen in the 1640s. His mill was located on present-day 41st Avenue and Northern Boulevard, according to the Parks Department.

The mill operated for two centuries. It ended up in the hands of the Payntar family and was ultimately demolished in 1861.

DutchkillsmillstonecloseupThe Payntars put one of the millstones in the sidewalk in front of the family house—and a descendant in the early 1900s had it embedded in concrete in then-new Queens Plaza, states one source.

The second millstone was reportedly discovered in the 1980s. Both reunited stones ended up in a traffic island.

In concrete they remained, subject to wear and tear, until 2012, when they were moved to a new small park called Dutch Kills Green (top photo). The damage to these relics continues.

[Top photo: Jim Henderson/Wikipedia]

A July Fourth bomb goes off at the World’s Fair

June 20, 2016

There’s still a lot of nostalgia for the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940—an ode to progress and optimism that helped distract the city from the harshness of the Depression and an escalating war in Europe.

Bombapphoto

But amid the fun spread out on 1,200 acres along a former ash heap in Queens, the fair has a grim distinction.

It was the site of a mysterious bombing that killed two policemen. The crime remains unsolved 76 years later.

BombworldfairmcnyairviewThe blast happened on Independence Day in 1940. An electrician in the British Pavilion noticed a suspicious canvas overnight bag—then realized it was ticking.

The electrician brought the bag to his boss, who had security carry it out of the pavilion to a fence about 150 away.

The NYPD bomb squad was contacted. Squad members were already on alert, as a call came in two days earlier warning that the pavilion would be blown up.

“At 5 p.m., the peak of the pavilion’s teatime holiday business, two squad members, Detectives Joseph Lynch and Ferdinand Socha, squatted near a 20-foot maple tree, crouching over the little buff-colored bag,” explained the New York Times in a 2008 article.

Bombbritishpavilion“They gingerly cut away a two-inch strip. Inside, they could see sticks of dynamite.”

Almost instantly, the bomb exploded in their faces, killing them and critically injuring five other security and law enforcement officers.

Fair-goers nearby thought the explosion had come from firecrackers, which had been set off intermittently throughout the day for the Fourth of July holiday.

Police were unable to trace the call that warned about the bomb. While trying to gather clues, they rounded up “Bundists, Fascists, or members of the Christian Front” who were attending open-air meetings in Columbus Circle.

BombplaquelynchsochaNone of those suspects were charged, and the city apparently had no leads. Police thought maybe IRA sympathizers planted the bomb. An ex-Bund member was questioned but let go.

Despite a $26,000 reward, no one was ever arrested.

Before the start of the 1964 World’s Fair at the same site, a plaque was dedicated to Lynch and Socha, killed in the line of duty 24 years earlier.

[Top image: MCNY; second image: AP; third image: MCNY; fourth image: findagrave.com]

The never-built East River bridge at 77th Street

June 2, 2016

As the Brooklyn Bridge began rising to the south in the 1870s, plans for a second bridge linking Manhattan to Long Island were getting off the ground.

Eastriverbridge77thst1877nypl

“The projectors of this proposed bridge over the East River, between New York and Brooklyn at 77th Street, by way of Blackwell’s Island, have, in response to the invitation sent out, received ten separate designs and estimates from as many engineers,” an 1877 newspaper story stated.

“Ground will be broken as soon as a plan shall be decided on.”

Eastriverbridgearticle1881Of course, there is no East 77th Street bridge (and Queens is just across the East River, not Brooklyn).

So why didn’t the project go forward?

It started to, tentatively. In 1881, a caisson was sunk into the river on the Queens side, off the outpost of Ravenswood, according to the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s The Queensboro Bridge.

But it was the future Brooklyn Bridge that captured New York’s fancy.

With less money and interest, the company chartered to build a bridge to Queens put a stop to construction.

EastriverbridgethumbnailAlmost two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and only a few years since Brooklyn and Queens became part of greater New York City, plans for a bridge were drawn up again . . . resulting in the graceful cantilever span known as the Queensboro Bridge in 1909.

New York is a bridge proposal graveyard, as these images of other bridges never built attest.

[Top photo: NYPL; second image: Arkansas City Weekly Traveler; third image: Greater Astoria Historical Society]

 

New York’s last remaining soda fountain signs

May 2, 2016

Soda sales are down—and so are the number of soft drink–branded signs fronting the diners and newsstands on New York’s streets.

Labonbonniere

I don’t think anyone is officially keeping track of how many privilege signs—as these signs are technically called—disappear every year from the city’s dwindling number of independent diners, luncheonettes, and newsstands.

Though their numbers weren’t great 10 years ago, more signs are biting the dust (like two out of the three photographed in this post from 2008).

Eddiessweetshop

Luckily two stalwarts seem to be safe: the signs atop the West Village’s delightfully named greasy spoon diner La Bonbonniere and Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a 107-year-old ice cream parlor in Forest Hills.

Let’s hope the rest of the remaining signs scattered around the five boroughs hang on.

[Second photo: Google]

A plane collides with a Macy’s Thanksgiving float

November 9, 2015

Ever since Macy’s added balloon floats to their iconic Thanksgiving Day parade in 1927, mishaps and fails have become regular occurrences.

Tomcatfloatfelix1927

Felix the Cat (above) got tangled in telephone wires that year. Popeye dumped cold rainwater that had collected on his cap onto the crowd in 1957. And poor Kermit the Frog; his head sadly deflated in 1991.

ParadefloatairplaneheadlineBut at least it’s been 83 years since a float was hit by an airplane.

This midair collision happened in 1932 over a heavily populated area of Jamaica, Queens—long after the parade had ended and the helium-filled balloons were released into the sky (the custom in the early 1930s).

Annette Gipson, 22, happened to be at the controls of a biplane with her instructor, flying at 5,000 feet.

TomcatannettegipsonAll of a sudden, the brazen “girl flyer,” as newspapers dubbed Gipson, noticed the 60-foot Tom-Cat balloon coming her way.

“She shouted, ‘I think I’ll have a piece of the neck’ to [her instructor], as she took dead aim at the cat,” reports the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin and sped toward the ground out of control.”

Afraid that the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, Gipson turned off the ignition. “Witnesses in the surrounding neighborhoods, straining their necks to look skyward, gasped as they heard the engine die and saw the plane plummeting to earth.”

Before it did, her instructor managed to take over. As the craft came within 80 feet of rooftops, he got control and was able to land at Roosevelt Field, as planned.

Tomcatfloat

Considering that she almost crash-landed in the middle of Queens, Gipson was nonplussed.

Tomcatheadline2“It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind,” she told reporters who had rushed out to Roosevelt Field to speak to her after they’d been tipped off about her collision.

Gipson went on to become a prominent “aviatrix,” as the newspapers called her, touring the country and hosting headline-grabbing women-only air races at Floyd Bennett Field.

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.

Getting out of the water at Rockaway Beach

June 8, 2015

Coney Island may be New York’s favorite seaside playground, but at the turn of the century (and for many decades afterward), Rockaway Beach rivaled Coney as the city’s premier beach destination.

Rockawaybeachpostcardmcny

This 1907 postcard, from the Museum of the City of New York’s digital collection, shows us unspoiled sand, tents and hotels for guests, and a young girl in bathing attire that looks extremely uncomfortable by today’s standards.

Rockaway has been rediscovered again, supposedly by hipsters and surfers—but it’s doubtful that anyone will venture into the water in black tights.

Looking at the new bridge at Blackwell’s Island

November 17, 2014

Does any painter capture the raw, gritty energy of turn-of-the-century New York City like George Bellows?

This painting, “The Bridge, Blackwell’s Island,” was completed in 1909, not long after the Queensboro Bridge opened, solidifying the modern metropolis.

Georgebellowsthebridgeblackwellsisland

“The artist depicted the bridge from an unusually low angle to convey its overwhelming scale: the bridge’s stone piers dominate the canvas as they rest solidly on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island),” states the Toledo Museum, where the painting hangs.

“Bellows’ signature bold, swift brushstrokes recreate a steamboat’s struggle against the river’s natural force, while the gritty cityscape dissolves into a haze of mud-colored paint.”

“In the shadowed foreground stands a group of engrossed onlookers, peering through the railing at a rapidly changing modern American city.”