Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

The Gilded Age elite strolling old Fifth Avenue

February 23, 2015

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a sea of elite New Yorkers dressed in their Sunday best, drivers of carriages delicately navigating the crowds, and look at those lovely lampposts with the quaint street sign!

Sundaymorningfifthavenue

This gorgeous Gilded Age postcard of New York’s most famous avenue needs no explanation.

Neglected subway signage from another New York

February 23, 2015

OldsubwaysignagechamberscloseupIt’s been decades since the MTA introduced the spiffy white-on-black subway station signs on platforms that clearly spell out the name of each station.

But they didn’t get rid of all the scruffy signage from decades past. Some 1970s-era examples can be found in some of the grungier corners of subterranean New York City.

Exhibit A: these long-neglected old-school signs at the Chambers Street 1, 2, and 3 train station.

Oldsubwaysignagechamberstreet

I guess someone made a half-hearted attempt to cover up the old “Chmb’rs” sign, then gave up after coating half of it in the blue paint used for the rest of the wall.

Oldsubwaysignstorplace

At Astor Place, it looks like someone souvenir-hunting tore off the newer Astor Place or Cooper Union signs, revealing this unglamorous one-word sign below.

A winter view of the Depression-era East River

February 9, 2015

“New York City goes about its varied daily businesses in [John] Cunning’s painting, despite the Depression,” explains the description of this evocative view of a wintry river and city, on the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Johncunningmanhattanskyline1934

“Whether or not their offices were full of workers, the Farmer’s Trust Building, 120 Wall Street, the Bank of Manhattan, 60 Wall Tower, and the Singer Building towered proudly against the gray sky,” states the site.

“Commuters who still had jobs had come from the outer boroughs in the ferry boats shown tied up at the Manhattan docks.”

“On the Brooklyn shore, cargo ships are tied up for loading or unloading. The men in the foreground are removing snow from the roofs of a coffee warehouse on Water Street near the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Cunning, a WPA artist, completed “Manhattan Skyline” in 1934.

The Manhattan Bridge’s two lost lovely ladies

February 9, 2015

Look closely: in this 1920s postcard depicting the grand Manhattan Bridge approach from Brooklyn, you can make out two statues inside the granite pylons flanking the roadway.

Manhattanbridgeapproach1925mcny

These heroic sculptures—created during the City Beautiful era, when art was meant to inspire and uplift—were known as “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn.”

Installed seven years after the bridge opened in 1909 and designed by Daniel Chester French, these 12-foot lovely ladies represented the attributes of each borough.

Manhattanbridgestatues

Impressive, right? But by the 1960s, they were gone—victims of bridge reconstruction in the age of Robert Moses and the automobile.

Luckily, Manhattan and Brooklyn didn’t end up in pieces in a Meadowlands dump, the sad fate of parts of the original Penn Station.

ManhattanstatueInstead, they were brought to the Brooklyn Museum, where they’ve guarded the entrance since 1963.

Interestingly, the attributes of each statue represent the way we view the boroughs today.

For Manhattan, that means hubris. “The pose of the figure of Manhattan typifies splendor and pride, of which the peacock at her side is the emblem,” says a 1915 article.

Brooklynstatue“The right foot of the statue rests upon a treasure-box and a winged ball in the statue’s hand suggests the City’s domination in world affairs.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has a softer, more artistic and educational vibe.

“Beside the figure of Brooklyn stands a church and the arm of the statue rests upon a lyre, symbolizing music.”

“A Roman tablet which the figure holds on its knee indicates study, and a child at its feet reading from a book typifies the Borough’s well-filled schools.”

[Statue photos: Brooklyn Museum]

Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

February 2, 2015

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.

Celentanosubway1935

This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.

Celentanounderthesubway

Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.

Celentanostreetscene2

His work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]

Is this New York’s first motorized snowplow?

January 26, 2015

The caption for this photo, giving us a glimpse of the aftermath of a huge city snowstorm in 1899, doesn’t tell us what corner we’re looking at. But it does show something interesting.

Snowplow1899mcny

“Special snow plow vehicle plowing during the Blizzard of 1899,” it reads. For years, of course, the city got rid of snow by packing it in carts drawn by horses. This looks like an early version of a motorized snow plow.

It’s from the wonderful photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Commodore: “New York’s Newest Hotel”

December 15, 2014

Recognize this stately building? Probably not, though it still stands today, a commanding presence next to Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street.

Commodorehotelpostcard

Opened in 1919, it’s the Commodore, billed on the back of this postcard as “New York’s newest and most up-to-date hotel . . . containing 2,000 rooms with baths and circulating ice water in every room.”

CommodorehotelmcnyAfter the hotel’s owner (the New York Central Railroad, owner of Grand Central too) went bust in the late 1970s, Donald Trump came along.

He remodeled the exterior in reflective glass and gave it a more contemporary name, the Grand Hyatt—erasing the reference to Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon and owner of the original Grand Central Depot.

It’s been the Grand Hyatt since reopening in 1980. Here’s another view of it and the rest of what became of Pershing Square.

[Left: The Commodore in 1926, from the MCNY Digital Gallery]

The 1913 Lincoln Highway began in Times Square

December 15, 2014

LincolnhighwaytimessquareIn 1913, before Times Square became the crossroads of the world, its streets were known for another milestone: the starting point for the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway.

Called the Lincoln Highway, this 3,389-mile interstate linking New York and San Francisco has been mostly forgotten.

But its eastern terminus was Broadway and 42nd Street (below, in a 1914 postcard). “The route proceeded west for one mile along 42nd Street to a ferry that took travelers across the Hudson River to New Jersey,” states the website of the Lincoln Highway Association.

Timessquarepostcard1914

From there, the highway went through New Jersey, crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania, and wound its way through nine more states before reaching California.

This was a pretty big deal at the dawn of the automobile age, when most roads were unlikely to be paved.

Lincolnhighwayheadlinenytimes

Traveling by train was the only way to get from one city to another, until Carl Fisher (below), an Indianapolis businessman who made a fortune producing carbide-gas headlights, had an idea.

He convinced the heads of car companies to donate money to build a transcontinental road crossing the United States, deciding on the Lincoln moniker to give it a patriotic flair.

CarlfisherlincolnhighwayThe Lincoln highway was dedicated on October 31, 1913. At the time, highway officials figured that a trip from New York to California would take 20 to 30 days . . . at 18 miles per hour!

The highway’s glory days were over after World War II, with parts of it absorbed into other interstates.

But in 2009, amid a wave of Lincoln Highway nostalgia, a contemporary street sign marking the highway’s New York beginning went up at Broadway and 42nd Street.

[Images: Wikipedia; Times Square postcard stamped 1914, from the NYPL Digital Gallery; New York Times headline, 1913; Carl Fisher]

A 30th Street memorial to a martyred president

November 27, 2014

LincolnplaquecornersignNinth Avenue at 30th Street is a noisy corner, thanks to recent High Line–inspired construction and idling tunnel traffic.

But on the facade of the hulking Morgan Postal Facility on the southwest corner is a little piece of history, a hard-to-see plaque that traces the trail of a martyred president.

The plaque marks the spot as the former site of the Hudson Railroad Depot, where Abraham Lincoln arrived when he visited the city in February 1861 en route to his inauguration as president.

Lincolnplaque2It was also the place of his final departure from New York, on April 25, 1865.

That’s when Lincoln’s casket was lifted into the special car of what was termed his funeral train. This followed 24 hours of public viewing of his open casket at City Hall, and then a solemn funeral procession up Broadway to Union Square.

The day before, on April 24, Lincoln’s body arrived in New York via a ferry from New Jersey to Desbrosses Street.

A crowd of thousands greeted his casket as it was loaded onto a horse-drawn carriage to City Hall.

The next day, as this illustration shows, another crowd sent his casket off by rail, where it would travel to Albany, then cities in Ohio and Indiana before stopping in Chicago and finally Springfield, Illinois for burial.

HRrailroaddepotillustration

Perhaps this is how the Lincoln Tunnel was named, thanks to its proximity to the depot torn down in 1931? A quick check of Lincoln Tunnel historical sites doesn’t mention anything about it though.

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.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,619 other followers