Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

The elegant remains of an 1857 church in Queens

August 5, 2019

St. Monica’s Church, a red-brick beauty opened in 1857 with an inspiring and unusual four-story bell tower, deserved better.

Abandoned by its congregation in the 1970s and beset by vandals, this Roman Catholic church in Jamaica, Queens, “endured a heavy snowfall [that] caused the main building to collapse right after money was set aside to study the possibility of a restoration,” explained Newsday in 2002.

But this hearty church, which served the Irish immigrants who came to Jamaica in the 1830s to be railroad workers and farm laborers, managed to escape the wrecking ball.

 

Purchased by the City University of New York and already on the National Register of Historic Places, this survivor on 160th Street south of Jamaica’s LIRR station was restored to something of its original glory.

The surviving Romanesque Revival facade continues to stand, along with new steel and glass walls and a roof. The new building with the remains of the old one opened in 2009 as the York College Child and Family Center. (York is part of CUNY.)

“Built in 1856-57 for $25,000, St. Monica’s is a basilica-shaped church,” according to CUNY. “It is one of the earlier surviving examples of Early Romanesque Revival architecture in New York and one of the only Roman Catholic Churches in the city executed in this style.”

It’s not the only 19th century church with a facade that’s been incorporated into a contemporary building. This is the story of St. Ann’s in the East Village, which was transformed into an NYU dorm.

[Second photo: New-York Historical Society, 1934]

Mystery monuments on the “East River Drive”

July 29, 2019

It towers above the FDR Drive at about 93rd Street: a rectangular monolith facing the parkway.

A forgotten Yorkville war memorial or monument to a long-gone neighborhood leader? I went to the end of East 93rd Street on the grounds of the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses to take a look.

Composed of stone blocks and set inside a small garden, the monument reads, “East River Drive” and then “Triborough Bridge Approach.”

The East River Drive part makes sense; this was the original name of the FDR Drive, built in the 1930s to run along the length of Manhattan’s East Side.

The “Triborough Bridge Approach” is more of a question mark. The bridge, opened in 1936 under the auspices of legendary Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, connects Manhattan to Randalls Island via 125th Street.

So why a sign announcing the approach to the bridge at 93rd Street?

It might be because the Triborough (now called the RFK Bridge), was supposed to be built at 103rd Street and be a direct conduit to Queens, according to NYCRoads.

“Moses originally proposed that the Manhattan arm of the Triborough Bridge be constructed at East 103rd Street so as to avoid the mental institutions on Randall’s Island,” the site explains. “However, the East 125th Street location that was previously procured for the Triborough Bridge was used instead.”

Why? Because of William Randolph Hearst, according to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of Moses.

“William Randolph Hearst had owned deteriorating real estate there [at 103rd Street] and he had wanted the city to buy it,” Mr. Caro wrote. Not willing to tangle with Hearst or his newspaper empire, Moses “left the terminus at 125th Street.”

The FDR Drive monuments, then, may have been built with 103rd Street in mind.

A glorious faded foundry sign in Long Island City

July 1, 2019

Before the Albra Metal Foundry began manufacturing aluminum and brass castings here in 1942, this red brick dowager of a building was home to a varnish factory in the 19th century.

The faded sign survives on 43rd Avenue in Long Island City, but Albra has been gone since 1978, according to faded sign aficionado Walter Grutchfield.

Today, it’s the event space known as The Foundry—a name that pays homage to Queens’ rapidly vanishing (or vanished entirely?) industrial past.

Blue and white tiles line the Queensboro Bridge

February 4, 2019

New York City’s many bridges are frequently praised for their beauty.

But The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (yep, the former mayor’s name was officially added in 2011) might be the most lovely.

The cantilever span itself is graceful and elegant, of course. But what sets the Queensboro apart might be the smaller design motifs and decoration the bridge architects insisted on before it officially opened in 1909.

Among these are the decorative lampposts at the entrance to the bridge, and vaulted, Cathedral-like ceilings lined with famous Guastavino tiles under the Manhattan-side bridge approach, the commercial space known as Bridgemarket.

Then there are the blue and white tiles built in to the facade under the bridge approach on First Avenue. They could be terra cotta; I’m not quite sure.

The circles and rectangles on each individual tile weave a spectacular pattern covering large swaths of the bridge approach.

But if you don’t look for them as you walk under the approach, you might miss out on this wonderful decorative touch that appears to exist entirely to charm pedestrians.

Past and present collide on Blackwell’s Island

April 30, 2018

We know it as Roosevelt island. But until the 1920s, it was Blackwell’s Island—the two-mile spit of land in the East River.

Here, the 19th century city put its poor, quarantined, and convicted in penitentiaries, a lunatic asylum, and a smallpox hospital, among other institutions.

Edward Hopper’s 1928 painting, Blackwell’s Island, contrasts the cobalt blue waters of the East River (so lovely a speedboat is whizzing along) with the island’s haunting past as a broken-down dumping ground for so-called undesirables.

There’s almost no one in the painting—but you can feel the humanity emanating from those buildings.

Hopper “painted this work at the height of his powers and it exemplifies some of the best of Hopper’s style: a complex architectural composition with a full range of light and shadow, few people and the drama of the past colliding with the present in the form of historic architecture meeting modern,” says Don Bacigalupi, president of Crystal Bridges, which owns the painting.

The bizarre 1916 plan to fill in the East River

February 12, 2018

“At first glance, a project to reclaim 50 square miles of land from New York Bay, to add 100 miles of new waterfront for docks, to fill in the East River, and to prepare New York for a population of 20 million seems somewhat stupendous, does it not?”

That’s the lead sentence in a fascinating article published in Popular Science in 1916, written with great enthusiasm by an engineer, Dr. T. Kennard Thomson.

Thomson had big dreams for New York City, and he laid them out in this article—his vision of making Greater New York a “Really Greater New York.”

The craziest idea? To turn the East River into a landfill extension of Manhattan, so “it would not be much harder to get to Brooklyn than to cross Broadway.” A new East River from Flushing Bay to Jamaica Bay would then be built.

Also nuts is the plan to lengthen Lower Manhattan so it just about touches Staten Island, and rework the Harlem River so it extends in a straight line from Hell Gate to the Hudson.

The point of his Really Greater New York? To rake in more money.

“Imagine the value of this new land for docks, warehouses, and business blocks! The tax assessments alone would make a fortune!” Thomson writes.

But like moving sidewalks, a West Side airport, and 100-story housing developments in Harlem, and an even weirder 1934 plan to fill in the Hudson River, this is another bizarre plan for the city that never came to pass.

[Images: Popular Science]

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]