Posts Tagged ‘1930s New York City’

A turkey dinner at the Municipal Lodging House

November 24, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1931, in New York City.

By early 1932, one in three city residents will be out of work. Roughly 1.6 million were on the relief rolls, according to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Down and out New Yorkers began building a Hooverville in Central Park.

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And an astounding 10,000 men waited for their turn to sit down to dinner at the Municipal Lodging House, the public city shelter for homeless men, women, and children at the foot of East 25th Street.

This New York City Department of Records photo captured a group of these men in bulky overcoats and hats. They’re young and old, mostly oblivious to the camera and focused only on consuming their turkey and potatoes.

Art Deco beauty of an East Side subway entrance

September 3, 2015

Art Deco skyscrapers stand proud like shiny monuments across the Manhattan skyline. But Art Deco subway stations? Those are harder to find.

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The lucky commuters who take the E or 6 train at Lexington Avenue and 51st Street get to pass this stylized Art Deco subway entrance.

Thanks to the sleek design and surrounding buildings, it’s always the end of the Jazz Age.

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The sign is right outside the General Electric Building (formerly the RCA Victor Building) a 1931 Art Deco beauty, with its decorative bursts along the facade meant to represent the awesome power of radio waves and electricity.

And that wonderful clock, with forearms that stretch time!

A 1930s painter’s gentle, downtrodden New York

August 9, 2014

New York artist Raphael Soyer’s style of painting was seriously out of fashion during his lifetime.

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[“Nocturne,” from 1935, inspired by Soyer’s “Bowery Nocturne” lithograph done two years earlier]

Born in Russia in 1899, his family arrived in the Bronx in 1912.

Soyer soon went to work, holding menial jobs. But throughout the teens, he also studied art, taking free classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.

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[“Employment Agency,” from the 1930s]

Rather than the abstract style that was popular in the 1930s and beyond, his work was realistic—he cast his eye on the lonely and downtrodden working-class New Yorkers he saw in bars, employment agencies, and on city streets.

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[“Office Girls,” from 1936]

With his twin brother Moses and another sibling, Isaac, he was a leading Social Realist.

Soyer sketched and painted compassionate images of lonely and dispossessed Bowery bums, shopgirls, and secretaries going about their lives and appearing ordinary, unheroic, yet deeply human.

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[“Sixth Avenue,” 1930-1935]

His 1987 New York Times obituary contains an exchange Soyer once had with Jackson Pollack, which Soyer recounted in an article in Art & Antiques magazine:

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[“Cafe Scene,” 1940]

“Without greeting me he rudely said, ‘Soyer, why do you paint like you do?’ ” Mr. Soyer wrote. ”He pointed to an airplane. ‘There are planes flying, and you still paint realistically. You don’t belong to our time.’ ”

”I could have said to Jackson, ‘If I don’t like the art of our time, must I belong to our time?’ But I did not say that. I merely said that I paint the way I like to.”

The men who built the roadway on 28th Street

December 7, 2013

You rarely consider the effort that went into building the typical unfashionable Manhattan side street. Laying those granite blocks looks like hard work, and there’s no equipment or machines in sight.

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The caption of this photo, dated October 2, 1930, reads “Elevated shot (from El station) of men laying blocks down street-activity makes pattern.”

It’s from the wonderful New York City Municipal Photo archive. Here’s another look at the street, the Sixth Avenue El Station, and the thousands of granite bricks waiting to be laid down.

I love the ad inside the stairwell of the el station: graham crackers.

Mark Rothko’s solitary 1930s subway platforms

April 22, 2013

Rothkosubwayseries2Waiting for the subway to pull into the station can be a collective experience.

But not for the people in Mark Rothko’s Subway Series paintings. These figurative scenes, completed in the 1930s, depict isolated, Giacometti-esque New Yorkers who appear to be trapped in their own individual worlds.

These subway paintings “enabled him to focus on the horizontals and verticals, treating the figures as tall, spindly, stick-like forms,” according to the caption accompanying one of the paintings on the website for the virtual Musée Historique Environment Urbain.

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“They are flat, stiff and inexpressive and yet suggestive of an inaccessible inner drama.”

Rothkosubwayseries3A 2012 biography of Rothko by James E.B. Breslin had this to say: “As in all his subway paintings, Rothko’s interest is not in the trains but the platforms: modern, public, urban spaces where strangers come and go—or wait.”

“His stations are not grimy, dark, hellish underground spaces; nor are they filled with quick-moving, shoving, noisy rush-hour crowds. Rather, they are bare, compressed areas which contain a slow, quiet, and solitary mobility.”

Rothko, born in Russia and raised on the West Coast, moved to New York in the 1920s and soon began his career as a painter. Classified as an abstract expressionist, he spurned the label his entire life.

An earlier post on the most famous painting in the Subway Series.

When New Yorkers tried to rename Third Avenue

March 25, 2013

Thirdavenuesign1956 was a crucial year for seven-mile Third Avenue.

That’s when the last piece of steel from the Third Avenue El was dismantled (below at 34th Street in the 1930s), bringing sunlight and broad views to a thoroughfare long known for its shadows and grime.

And right about when the El was finally removed, some residents and real estate officials called for Third Avenue to be given a more glamorous name.

“[Borough President Hulan E. Jack] said that at least five new names had been suggested,” wrote The New York  Times on February 17, after a ceremony marking the removal of a steel column.

ThirdavenueelAmong them were The Bouwerie, United Nations Avenue, International Boulevard, and Nathan Hale Boulevard (the Revolutionary War hero was reportedly hanged at today’s Third Avenue and 66th Street).

“One atomic-minded New Yorker had offered Fission Avenue,” stated the Times.

Borough President Jack was against a name change, though he did propose renaming the Bowery “Third Avenue South” to get rid of the Bowery’s “connotation of drunken derelicts and broken dreams.”

In the end, of course, Third Avenue remained Third Avenue . . . and the Bowery now connotes boutique hotels.

[Photo: New York City Municipal Archives]