Archive for the ‘Upper Manhattan’ Category

A thanksgiving message on a Harlem church door

November 22, 2012

A church in Hamilton Heights greets visitors at its doors with this message, from Psalm 100:4, a reference to a different kind of thanksgiving than our contemporary turkey/football/parade holiday.

A remnant of the west side town of Carmansville

November 19, 2012

Carmansville (sometimes called Carmanville) was one of many small 19th century villages that sprang up along the Hudson River.

Centered around 155th Street and Broadway, it was named for Richard Carman, “a wealthy landowner in the area who made his fortune rebuilding much of New York City after the great fire of 1835,” states a Parks Department website.

Carmansville was absorbed into the city by the 20th century, its grocery store, school, and church long gone.

But one piece of the village remains: a playground on 151st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Called the Carmansville Playground, the name was chosen in 1913 to “preserve the former designation of this section of the city.”

Carmansville also lives on in the BBC America show Copper; a character in the show, set in the 1860s, relocates to the hamlet from downtown.

The 1930s Little Italy of a New York–born painter

October 11, 2012

Born in East Harlem’s Little Italy in 1902, Daniel R. Celentano studied with painter Thomas Hart Benton as a kid and later worked as an artist for the WPA.

He painted scenes all over New York but is perhaps best known for his depictions of sometimes raucous, sometimes solemn Italian-American neighborhood life during the Depression and World War II.

“Festival,” from 1934, features a “lively scene, evoking the scents of tasty Italian food, is overshadowed by the immense natural-gas tanks at the right that once blighted Manhattan’s immigrant slums,” states the Smithsonian website.

“Italian Harlem Street Scene” (I’m not certain of the exact date) is more foreboding.

The cross way in the distance on top of the tenement looks like it’s about to snap in the wind.

The bold street photography of Gordon Parks

September 24, 2012

Born in 1912, Gordon Parks excelled as a fashion photographer, composer, screenwriter, and director (he helmed the 1971 classic Shaft).

But it’s arguably his street portraits that really resonate—like the one above, “A Woman and Her Dog in Harlem New York 1943” and below, “Harlem Neighborhood, New York City” (1952).

Impressed by photos of migrant workers he saw when he was in his 20s, Parks bought a second-hand camera, taught himself to shoot, and soon set up a business doing portraits in Chicago.

He became one of the most prominent photographers of the 20th century, depicting workers and servicemen for government agencies, doing fashion spreads for Vogue, and chronicling race relations and the Civil Rights movement on staff at Life magazine.

Below: “Three Boys Who Live in the Harlem Area,” 1943

His ordinary images of the men, women, and children of Harlem and other city neighborhoods still pack an emotional punch. They freeze in time moments of triumph, uncertainty, and loneliness.

Above: Fulton Fish Market, 1943

Two current exhibits celebrate Parks: one at the International Center for Photography and the other at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Futuristic housing never built in 1960s Harlem

September 13, 2012

Nuclear power plants? Landing pads for spaceships? Board game pieces?

Actually, they’re apartment buildings—and if visionary designer (some would say futuristic crackpot) Buckminster Fuller had his way, they may actually have been built in Harlem.

Fuller drew up these plans in 1964: His idea was to build 15 100-story structures spanning the entire width of Upper Manhattan, with each tower capable of housing 45,000 people.

It’s an intriguing idea—unless you had to live there.

But it wasn’t as crazy as Fuller’s 1960 plan, which was to cover Manhattan in a two-mile dome.

The point was to help control the weather and air pollution while keeping energy costs down.

Neither plan, of course, made it past fantasy stage.

Three ways of viewing a Lexington Avenue corner

September 3, 2012

In 1915, when this photo was taken, Lexington Avenue at 116th Street was firmly in the Little Italy of East Harlem, hence the Italian in the signs on the far right above a chemist’s office.

“This section of East Harlem was developed  during the 1880s with the familiar New York brownstone residences and walk-up apartments,” states New York Then and Now, where the photo and the one below appear.

“One block west is the elevated crossing of the New York Central and New Haven Railroads on Park Avenue. The Subway Cafe, on the right-hand corner, anticipates the opening of the Lexington Avenue subway by three years.”

By 1975, the Italian neighborhood is mostly gone; Puerto Rican New Yorkers have moved in. The buildings themselves haven’t changed much—and the Bloomingdale’s ad from 1915 is visible 60 years later.

In 2012, the streetscape still looks similar. The corner building that went from saloon to Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is now home to a taco shop, a sign of the neighborhood’s Mexican population.

And though the Bloomingdale’s ad on the corner has been painted over, next to it out of view, a second Bloomingdale’s ad is still legible! Here it is from an earlier Ephemeral post.

Where home plate once was at the Polo Grounds

September 3, 2012

The bathtub-shaped stadium known as the Polo Grounds, on Eighth Avenue and 155th Street in Harlem, met the wrecking ball in 1963 (here it is being dismantled at right).

In its place, the city built the Polo Grounds Towers, a public-housing complex with four 30-story red-brick buildings.

Maybe these projects were okay in 1968, but today, they’re as isolated and decrepit as the Polo Grounds were crowded and inspiring.

Inside the complex is one small reminder of the location’s former glory: a very faded plaque affixed to one of the red-brick buildings.

The plaque commemorates the Polo Grounds—home not just to the Giants but also the Yankees in the 1910s and the pre-Shea Stadium Mets in the early 1960s.

It’s supposedly placed at the approximate location of home plate, where greats like Willie Mays scored runs and Bobby Thompson hit his “shot heard round the world” in 1951.

The plaque is rusted and old—a faded bit of New York baseball history, like this secret staircase that once led to the Polo Grounds.

The “Boy Mayor” who cleaned up city politics

August 16, 2012

Sworn in when he was just 34, reformist John Purroy Mitchel became New York’s second-youngest mayor ever in 1914.

His age set him apart from his predecessors—as did his mission: to get rid of the corruption that had infiltrated city politics since Tammany rule in the 1800s.

“While in office Mitchel cut waste, improved accounting practices, and worked to professionalize the city’s civil service by standardizing salaries and work guidelines for municipal employees,” explains Columbia University (Mitchel was part of the class of 1899.)

He also cut police graft and created the first zoning laws, and four years later ran a reelection campaign that endorsed a national draft.

Tammany bosses were determined to beat him in 1917, and he was defeated by Tammany-backed John Hylan.

After losing the election, he enlisted in the Air Service and prepped to fight in World War I. On a training mission in Louisiana in 1918, he fell from his plane and was killed.

[Above: Mitchel throwing out the first pitch at the Polo Grounds in 1916]

Mitchel was memorialized all over the metro area: two flagstaffs in Bryant Park, Mitchel Air Force Base in Long Island, and this plaque at the entrance to the Central Park Reservoir.

[Photo: centralparknyc.org]

When the Straw Hat Riots rocked 1920s New York

August 13, 2012

Senseless riots have always broken out in the city: Astor Place, the Draft Riots, Tompkins Square.

But a riot that started over a silly male fashion rule about not wearing straw hats past September 15? It’s probably the most pointless of all.

It began on September 13, 1922, two days before the end of straw-hat season. Donning straw after this date made you the target of street kids, who would steal your hat and stomp on it.

Eager kids living near Mulberry Bend decided to get a jump on this weird tradition, grabbing hats off factory workers’ heads and smashing them.

Some men fought back, and brawls began by the Manhattan Bridge. Police broke them up, but only temporarily. For the next few nights, mobs of youths across the city roamed the streets, stealing hats and beating victims.

“A favorite practice of the gangsters was to arm themselves with sticks, some with nails at the tip, and compel men wearing straw hats to run a gauntlet,” states The History Box.

“Sometimes the hoodlums would hide in doorways and dash out, 10 or 12 strong, to attack one or two men. Along Christopher Street, on the Lower West Side, the attackers lined up along the surface car tracks and yanked straw hats off the heads of passengers as the cars passed.”

A mob a thousand roamed Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, reported The New York Times, while more gangs came out on the Lower East Side and East Harlem.

Incredibly, no one was killed—though riots broke out again over the next few years that did claim at least one victim.

[Above photo: Men in straw hats on William Street, about a decade before the 1922 riots.]

The city’s kitschy, most colorful store signs

August 6, 2012

Blue, yellow, red, green: these vintage signs, from the 1960s and 1970s and still going strong (if a little worn), explode with color.

Has anyone gone to Canal Rubber, off Greene Street, to see if the promise on their sign is true? Just wondering.

Pete’s Pizza and its wonderful sign are on Avenue M in Brooklyn. I love the way each e in Pete’s is a little off-center.

Wakefield Paint and Wallpaper has a lovely carousel going on their sign. It’s at the end of the 2 and 5 line in the Bronx.

Bermudez Bakery is in East Harlem. The color scheme is a little too bright for my taste, but “dulces” sounds good.

“The Killarney Rose opened its doors over 43 years ago, making it one of the longest standing downtown local bar,” the website tells us. Looks like an old-school place to get a drink on Pearl Street.