Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Miniature yachts set sail inside Central Park

May 11, 2015

Most New Yorkers know this body of water as a the sailboat pond, a peaceful spot near Central Park’s East 72nd Street entrance that often has toy sailing boats gliding along the surface.

Conservatorywater

But Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s brilliant designers, conceived it as the “Conservatory Water,” a pond that was originally supposed to be part of a large glass conservatory, or greenhouse.

Financial problems made building the conservatory impossible. But the water remains, a lovely place to sit and enjoy the park’s gentle beauty.

When the Yankees were on top (of 168th Street)

May 11, 2015

Hilltoppark1912Broadway and 168th Street, with its rocky terrain, isn’t exactly the best place for a baseball stadium.

Which partially explains why in 1903, New York’s newest baseball team, the appropriately named Highlanders, only played in a ball park at the site for the next 10 years.

Called American League Park and nicknamed Hilltop Park, it was hastily built in six weeks, just in time for the start of the spring season.

Hilltoppark1912entranceA New York Times piece summed up the challenge of turning a hilly nine-acre trapezoid of land into a worthy stadium:

“From Broadway looking west, the ground starts in a low swamp. It rises into a ridge of rocks perhaps twelve to fifteen feet above the level of Broadway. From the top of the ridge the land slopes off gradually to Fort Washington Road.”

“As the property is today it will be necessary to blast all along the ridge, cutting off a slice eight feet or more. … There are about 100 trees to be pulled up by the roots.”

Hilltopparkhudsonriver

With the help of Tammany insider Thomas McAvoy, construction on the park began. Five hundred men (paid $2 a day) set to work digging, blasting and carting away 12,000 cubic yards of bedrock.

“In a remarkable six weeks, the McAvoy construction crew had converted a picturesque but forbidding mesa into a serviceable, if unfinished, venue for major-league baseball,” states the Society for American Baseball Research.

HIlltopparkcolor

“Fans would be accommodated in three grandstand sections ringing the home-plate area and extending along the baselines. Single-deck bleacher areas extended from the grandstands to the outfield fences while an adequately sized scoreboard was erected near the left-field foul line.”

Over the decade, the Highlanders didn’t win many games. But they attracted big crowds to the 16,000 person venue, especially with the help of the new subway system.

DSCN5324-copyThe 1912 season was their last at Hilltop Park, which was constantly beset by flooding and other problems.

The team now known as the Yankees shared the nearby Polo Grounds with the Giants, then moved into their own stadium in the Bronx in 1923.

Nothing appears to remain of Hilltop Park, bulldozed to make way for a tabernacle and then Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1925, which occupies the hilltop today.

hilltopplaqueBut there are a few interesting remnants. First, the lone tenement apartment building that stood out so prominently in early photos of the park still exists on 168th Street, long surrounded by other apartment houses.

And a small base-shaped plaque in a hospital courtyard marks the site of home plate.

[Top photos: Library of Congress; fifth photo: copyright David B. Stinson; bottom photo: Uptown Collective]

When New York winters were spent on the ice

February 16, 2015

One of the few activities open to both men and women in the 19th century city, ice skating was hugely popular.

“Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association for the 1868-1869 season.

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Above, skating at Brooklyn’s Union Pond in 1863, once in the town of Williamsburgh on Marcy Avenue.

“The millionaire and the mechanic, the lady of fashion and those of humbler rank, all meet together to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful exercise.”

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How democratic ice skating was is not exactly clear. Ice was plentiful, but you needed the money to buy or rent skates.

And the fashionable attire worn by ladies on the ice, as seen in this Winslow Homer painting from 1861, was not cheap.

Currierandivescentralparkwinter

These sleighs and the handsome teams that pulled them were costly as well, afforded by only the richest New Yorkers.

This Currier & Ives lithograph shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in what looks like the 1860s.

Skating on the Central Park Lake under twilight

October 18, 2014

It’s almost that time of year again—just not in Central Park anymore. Painter Saul Kovner’s twilight scene on the Lake casts an enchanting glow on Depression-era skaters.

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Before you get any ideas, keep in mind that skating on the Lake was officially banned in 1950! Kovner painted other winter scenes in New York as well, like this one of a snow day in Tompkins Square Park.

The roller skating craze fades in 1880s Brooklyn

August 30, 2014

A roller rink once packed in young people in Brooklyn Heights?

Here’s the proof: this late 19th century trading card, which puts the Brooklyn Heights Roller Skating Rink at Fulton and Orange Streets, a corner of old Brooklyn that no longer exists.

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The card is part of the fascinating collection of Victorian-era trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ads for the rink appear in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle. But there’s not a whole lot on the rink itself—though plenty of articles chronicle the roller skating trend of the 1880s city.

RollerrinkfadbrooklyneagleThis October 1886 Eagle article announces the craze as over.

“‘The roller skating craze has passed away, as regards popular favor,’ said a former proprietor of a Brooklyn roller rink to an Eagle reporter.”

“‘Roller skating is like love—once dead, it can never be revived. The first established rinks realized immense profits. At this time last year, no less than 20 rinks were open in this city.

“Many did a good business, but others lost money. The best year for roller skating was the Winter and Spring of 1883 and 1884.'”

Going for a swim at Madison Square Garden

August 9, 2014

Imagine if every summer, the interior of the current Madison Square Garden was transformed into an enormous swimming pool, with diving platforms, seats for spectators, and a 25-foot waterfall.

Madison Square Garden as a Swimming Pool

Pretty cool, right? A pool like this actually did exist during the summer of 1921—host to swim competitions and diving shows, and open to the general public too.

The pool was the idea of boxing promoter Tex Rickard, who leased the Garden, then on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, for a series of Friday night fights.

MSGpool1921popularmechanics

“In addition to a full slate of boxing matches, Rickard’s plan for the Garden included remodeling the structure, adding seating capacity (bringing it to 13,000 seats), and turning the giant amphitheater into the world’s largest indoor swimming pool during the summer months,” states Tex Rickard: Boxing’s Greatest Promoter.

MadisonsquaregardenIIUnfortunately the pool didn’t last much longer. Rickard gave up his promoter’s license after being accused of improper behavior with a couple of teenage girls.

That didn’t end his career though. He helped finance the creation of a new Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, which opened in 1925.

The circa-1890 arena, designed by Stanford White, with the new pool (above) was demolished.

The bicycle “scorchers” menacing the 1890s city

August 9, 2014

Cyclists racing down city streets at top speed, darting around pedestrians on sidewalks and roadways? It’s not just a contemporary New York thing.

ScorchersongbookThe Gilded Age city dealt with reckless bike riders first.

Called “scorchers” for their speed, they gave the very trendy new sport of cycling a bad name and were much-discussed in newspaper articles of the day.

“A new menace appeared in the streets: the ‘scorcher’ or bicycle speed fiend, ‘that idiot with head sunk between bent handle bars,’ body thrown forward and pedaling at top speed,” wrote Peter Salwen, author of Upper West Side Story.

The Upper West Side was especially popular with riders. From Columbus Circle to 72nd to Riverside Drive and Grant’s Tomb, the broad avenues were packed with riders—and some terrified residents.

“The Boulevard, in the vicinity of 72nd Street, is becoming a place very difficult to cross, and at times dangerous to limb and possibly to life,” one New York Times letter writer complained in November 1895.

Scorchersquad

“The number of ‘hoodlums’ scorching along there with heads down, with no regard to the safety of persons crossing, is rapidly increasing; and the matter certainly needs regulating by the officers of the law.”

One month later, police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt approved the formation of a “scorcher squad,” four men who were tasked with catching and ticketing these speeding cyclists.

Cyclistsfifthave124thst1897

Considered a success, the scorcher squad eventually expanded to include 100 officers (middle photo).

But as the cycling fad eased and the automobile took over city streets, the squad’s days were numbered. Considering that we’re in a new bicycle era and not all riders follow traffic rules, maybe it’s time for a second incarnation of the scorcher squad?

[Top image: via tubulocity.com; third photo, cyclists rounding the corner at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street in 1897 : MCNY]

How to outsmart the heat in summer 1899

July 21, 2014

MCNYsodawateradToday we survive summer heat waves with air conditioning and gelato runs.

But the “can’t-get-aways” of the 19th century city had to rely on other ways to keep cool, reports this cheeky New York Times Illustrated Magazine article from July 23, 1899.

One tactic was to loiter near electric fans: in offices, barber shops, and restaurants.

“When [fan loiterers] find a fan that suits them they plant themselves, so to speak, and remain as long as possible in placid enjoyment of the breezes furnished by other people’s money,” wrote the Times.

Fountains, Madison Sq. Park on hot day

“Every proprietor of an electric fan becomes acquainted during the heated term with these electric fan fiends.”

Some people engaged in “violent exercise.” These are the “misguided people who, given a temperature of a hundred in the shade, will choose a century run on a bicycle as the most enjoyable way of passing the time.”

Golf, baseball, and tennis “also have their enthusiastic hot-weather devotees, as a visit to Central Park any afternoon will testify.”

Ritzcarltonroofgarden

Socializing on a roof garden was an option, or heading to the mall at Central Park to hear free music, or splashing around “gleefully as dolphins” in the fountain at City Hall Park—though the latter was reserved for newsboys.

You could always catch a cool breeze by riding streetcars, transferring from car to car to the farthest and coolest parts of the city.

“The happiest man of the season is one who has just discovered that he can ride from the Battery up to Hastings-on-Hudson for 8 cents,” states the Times.

Streetcarnyc1906Then there was the “soda water habit,” which caused afflicted people to guzzle all kinds of creamy, bubbly concoctions and risk “dyspepsia.”

Finally, the article took New Yorkers to task for dressing inappropriately.

“Young professional men get an idea that dignity is a matter of dress, and go about on hot days wearing high silk hats and frock coats that give one a high fever only to look at them.

Centralparkmall1910concertnpd

“It is true that lanky young men with very lean calves affect knickerbockers in Summer, and stout elderly women appear in light, airy muslins that would be suitable for slender girls of sixteen, but beyond this, and the general appearance of straw hats and shirt waists, there are few indications in the dress of New Yorkers that Summer is with us.”

[Photos: soda water ad, NYPL; splashing in the fountain at Madison Square Park, LOC; the roof garden at the Ritz-Carlton, NYPL; a street car with open windows, NYPL; a free summer concert on the mall, NYC Parks Department]

The High Line could have been a swimming pool

July 3, 2014

Next time you’re strolling along the High Line, imagine yourself swimming it instead. If an idea generated from a contest had panned out, it might have been your city summer cool-off destination.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry

Back in 2003, the advocacy group Friends of the High Line held a contest seeking innovative ideas for the rusty, weedy rail viaduct that once brought goods in and out of the factories of the lower west side.

Highlinelappoolcontestentry2More than 700 entries from 36 countries were eventually displayed in Grand Central Terminal—among them a cow pasture, a wild meadow, and a roller coaster.

But probably the most whimsical entry  came from architectural student Nathalie Rinne from Vienna. She envisioned the High Line as a slender lap pool, a thread of blue amid brown and red warehouses and tenements.

The lap pool never stood much of a chance; the contest was mostly a way to get people thinking and generate support. In 2004, a traditional design contest resulted in the beautiful park that is the High Line today.

Yet on a sweaty summer day when even the breeze from the Hudson make the High Line feel stifling, a swimming pool won’t seem like such an impossible idea.

[Images: Friends of the High Line/Nathalie Rinne]

The elite “carriage parade” in 1860s Central Park

June 16, 2014

By the early 1860s, much of Central Park had opened, particularly the miles of drives meant for recreational carriage rides.

But with only five percent of city residents able to afford a carriage, these drives were mostly used by the very richest New Yorkers—who established an afternoon high-society ritual called the carriage parade.

Carriagescentralpark1869

In what could be considered a foreshadowing of our current celebrity-obsessed culture, poor and middle-class residents often turned out to watch, gawk, and critique the procession day after day.

Carriagecentralpark1869“The great, fashionable carriage parade—so rightly considered one of the notable ‘sights’ of the city—took place between the hours of four and five,” wrote Lloyd R. Morris in Incredible New York.

“To view this, crowds gathered along the walk that bordered the east carriage drive from Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue to the Mall.”

“In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Carriagecentralparknypl“When taking the air in the Park, many of them preferred to be concealed in their broughams, but some had progressed to public exposure in a landau.”

“Their horses were huge, fat, and slow; their coachmen and footmen, soberly liveried, were elderly; their carriages were funereally black.”

Not everyone was impressed by the spectacle of the new rich and their older counterparts on display in $12,000 carriages. One account had it that German schoolkids through rocks at the carriages.

Carriagecentralpark1880s

Walt Whitman “found the carriage parade ‘an impressive, rich, interminable circus on a grand scale, full of action and color,'” wrote Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People.

NY3DBox“[But] as he peered through the windows of the richest carriages, he saw ‘faces almost corpse-like, so ashy and listless.'”

For more information on the building and beginning of Central Park, check out New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Top and second photo: MCNY Collection; third: NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: MCNY Colletion]


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