Archive for the ‘Staten Island’ Category

The women of John Sloan’s South Beach Bathers

July 16, 2012

Exchange the wool bathing outfits for bikinis, and female beachgoers today aren’t much different from their 1908 counterparts, as depicted in John Sloan’s 1908 painting “South Beach Bathers.”

“Sloan first visited South Beach, an amusement park on Staten Island that attracted primarily working-class clientele, on June 23, 1907,” states the web site for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

“Like many of his New York–themed works, his depiction of South Beach suggests a story that begins when one person looks at another. In South Beach Bathers a woman adjusting her hat is eyed appreciatively from the side and behind by men lounging on the sand.”

“Women play several roles at once in Sloan’s art: beyond being objects of desire, they record the new independence of modern New Yorkers, while also presenting a variation on old ideals of beauty in art.”

A packed city beach on a hot summer day

April 9, 2012

Call it the other South Beach—not the one in Miami notorious for its topless bathers but the less posh South Beach on the eastern shore of Staten Island, featuring bathers sporting wool suits in this 1920-ish (?) postcard.

Back then, it was a jam-packed resort with hotels, an amusement park, beer gardens, bathing pavillions, and a general Coney Island-like vibe.

A century later, it’s a quieter place renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Beach with a much thinner crowd and a view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (not seen here, as it won’t be completed until 1964).

A never-built subway tunnel to Staten Island

May 31, 2011

If things went according to plan and the Fourth Avenue subway tunnel connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, proposed in 1912, was actually built, would Staten Island have become as urban as the other four boroughs?

We’ll never know, because like so many other ideas tossed out by the MTA and its forerunners, this one got shelved.

Okay, it did get off the ground a little bit. In 1923, the Brooklyn Transit Company began digging a tunnel under Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge that would connect the Fourth Avenue line to Staten Island off St. George.

But 150 feet in, digging stopped due to lack of funds. A Staten Island-Bay Ridge subway link was again considered in 1929, part of the city’s plan for subway expansion (see color map above).

The Depression ended that. In the early 1960s, community leaders proposed adding subway tracks to the under-construction Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

But anti-mass transit Robert Moses, Triborough Bridge Authority boss at the time, wasn’t going to let that happen.

[Black and white map, above left, reveals the original 1912 tunnel plan]

A long lost Narrows Ferry schedule to Brooklyn

May 20, 2011

In 1908, you had one transportation option if you were traveling between Staten Island and Bay Ridge—say to get to Coney Island or South Beach (Staten Island’s Coney-like amusement pier): the ferry.

This ferry schedule spells it all out for you. It was found stashed in Clinton Hill mansion all these years and is strangely well-preserved.

The ferry departs Brooklyn from Gelston’s Wharf in Fort Hamilton.

I don’t know if there still is a wharf known by that name, but the Gelston family settled here almost two centuries ago, reports a 1918 New York Times article:

“George S. Gelston came to Fort Hamilton in 1839 and bought the property on which was located the old Hamilton House, erected in 1750, and used during the Revolutionary War by both George Washington and Lord Howe as Headquarters.”

Today, Gelston Avenue in Bay Ridge looks like it may have at one time run down to the water.

Dorothy Day: the “paradoxical saint” of New York

April 24, 2011

Anarchist, pacifist, and committed Catholic Dorothy Day is in the process of being canonized for sainthood.

She’s not the first New Yorker to become a saint or be in line for the designation, but she may be the least likely candidate.

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day spent her early adult years as a Marxist journalist and agnostic, anti-war, pro-suffrage activist.

She lived lived on the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, in common-law arrangements with men, and had an abortion.

Then in the 1920s, after her daughter was born, she experienced a spiritual awakening. Day started going to mass daily, studied scripture, and embarked on an ascetic life.

And she founded the Catholic Worker movement: a newspaper with a socialist, pacifist slant that included a larger dedication to serving the poor.

Day did this by opening “houses of hospitality” in poor areas of the city that provided food, clothing, and shelter for the down and out.

Day herself lived in one, a group of cabins in Staten Island, the borough where she died in 1980 and is now buried in.

She never gave up her commitment to peace and improving the lives of the poor, which earned her accolades on the left.

But she also condemned abortion and birth control, which won her praise from conservative Catholics.

New York’s scary 1930s venereal disease posters

February 3, 2011

Think the Bloomberg administration is heavy-handed when it come to public health pronouncements? (Soda is bad, smoking is bad, fat is bad, etc.)

Then check out what New Yorkers were forced to stare at on subway cars and bus depots in the late 1930s when LaGuardia was mayor.

The steep decline in syphilis and gonorrhea cases after World War II in the U.S. is probably the result of antibiotics, not so much these finger-wagging warnings.

They were made by the Works Progress Commission’s Federal Art Project, and if you dig the cool design—or have an interest in the history of bacterial STDs—you can buy reproductions from www.vintagraph. com.

1920s cannibal killer the “Brooklyn Vampire”

December 20, 2010

Albert Fish came to New York in the 1890s, earning a living as a male prostitute and then a house painter.

He married and had kids, yet family life didn’t alter his many horrific compulsions, most disturbingly, to molest and murder children.

He’s been tied to one child murder in Staten Island and one in Brooklyn, hence his nickname.

But it was the killing of Grace Budd, who lived at 406 West 15th Street, that put Fish on the list as one of the city’s biggest monsters.

After going to the Budd home in Chelsea in 1928 to meet with Grace’s brother about a job, Fish spotted the 10-year-old girl. He offered to take her to a party he claimed to be going to that afternoon.

Grace’s parents said yes . . . and never saw their daughter (at right) again.

The case was solved after Fish sent a letter to the family in 1930 describing the terrible things he did to little Grace.

It took four years, but the NYPD traced the letter back to the boardinghouse on East 52nd Street where Fish rented a room.

Confronted by police, he confessed to strangling Grace in a cottage in Westchester and then cannibalizing her corpse.

At the end of his sensational 1935 trial, he was found guilty. He was executed at Sing Sing in March 1936, unrepentant and looking forward to the “supreme thrill” of the electric chair.

Decades later in the 1980s, another New York cannibal escaped execution.

Things to see and do in New York in 1960

October 28, 2010

According to a partly shredded Texaco street map of the city, that is.

Sure, most of the streets are the same. But there’s no Soho or Tribeca, and Battery Park City is at least a decade away; West Street is the western border of Manhattan, the map reveals.

Texaco put together a few paragraphs on what do in New York. Some interesting bits:

The map suggests visiting “a great univeristy”—Columbia. NYU was still a middling commuter school at the time.

“Greet airliners at Idlewilde Airport.” Guess President Kennedy is still alive.

“Ferry your car over and tour the farmlands of Staten Island.” No Verrazano-Narrows Bridge yet; that isn’t open until 1964. Farmland?

Grisly murders rock 19th century Staten Island

July 10, 2010

Polly Bodine, in her 30s, was a suspicious character in 1843 Staten Island, a rural enclave with just 10,000 or so residents.

A “fallen” woman, she lived with her parents in Graniteville after separating from her husband. She had a lover, a druggist in Manhattan.

So on Christmas Day, when the bodies of her brother’s wife and baby daughter were found bludgeoned and burned in their home across the street from the Bodine’s, suspicion fell on Polly.

On one hand, she was known to be very close to her sister-in-law.

But at her murder trial that summer in Richmondtown, witnesses claimed to have seen her hawking Emeline’s things at a pawn shop.

That trial ended in a hung jury. A second trial, in Manhattan, returned a guilty verdict, which was later invalidated. Perhaps the jury was biased by a P.T. Barnum wax figure of Polly kicking Emeline to death displayed near the courthouse.

At her third trial, held upstate—the only place they could find an “unbiased” jury—Polly was found not guilty and set free. She died in 1902.

“Panorama from the Produce Exchange”

June 18, 2010

There’s something poetic about the phrase on this postcard. It matches the expansive, enchanting depiction of New York Harbor, with all those little boats bobbing toward Staten Island.

The postmark on the back reads 1909.

The Produce Exchange was a Victorian building with a tower at 2 Broadway from 1884 to the 1950s. It was replaced by a skyscraper.