Posts Tagged ‘Museum of the City of New York’

Where was New York’s “German Play Ground?”

November 24, 2010

While browsing the Museum of the City of New York’s Byron collection online archive, I came across the photo from 1903.

Interestingly, instead of going by the park’s real name, it’s mysteriously labeled the “German Play Ground.”

Must be Tompkins Square Park, which was heavily German at the time—so much so that the neighborhood was known as “Kleindeutschland,” or Little Germany.

Of course, lots of neighborhoods were German, such as Bushwick, known for its breweries. But here, I think the winding paths and benches give it away.

When Upper Fifth Avenue was a shantytown

November 15, 2010

By the turn of the 20th century, rich New Yorkers had flocked to Fifth Avenue between 59th and 96th Street, making it the wealthiest stretch of the city.

But just a few decades before that, upper Fifth Avenue was a poor man’s land, as depicted in this 1868 painting of Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, by Ralph Blakelock.

“While the gentry of nineteenth-century New York built urban villas on mid-Fifth Avenue, wide open stretches of the boulevard north of 60th Street had been settled by African Americans and German and Irish immigrants,” states the description of the painting on the Museum of the City of New York’s web site.

“These residents operated truck farms and kept goats, chickens, and pigs but were powerless to hold onto their tracts in the face of such politically charged real estate developments as Central Park or, subsequently, the enormous price rises of the residential areas created at its borders.

“As late as 1905, when millionaire Andrew Carnegie erected his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, his nearest neighbors were living in dwellings like the principal structure depicted in this view.”

When Steeplechase Park thrilled Coney Island

May 18, 2010

From 1897 to 1964, Steeplechase Park blew away the seaside crowds.

Twenty-five cents got you admission to the park’s 25 rides, including the ferris wheel, steeplechase race, “trip to the moon,” and later, the parachute jump.

Added to the park in 1939 by legendary founder George Tilyou, the parachute jump is the only remnant of Steeplechase that still exists. Today, the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league stadium occupies the site.

It could have been worse. Donald Trump’s father bought the dilapidated park in the 1960s intending to raze it and build high-rises.

Unable to change the zoning, he knocked it down and then sold the land to the city.

The above 1898 painting, expansive and enchanting, is part of the collection at the Museum of the City of New York. So who painted it? It’s a mystery:

“The artist McKay (his first name is uncertain) was probably employed as a scenic painter at Steeplechase Park sometime between 1898 and 1906,” states Painting the Town: Cityscapes of New York. “Nothing further is known about him.”

“Track Gang” at work in the subway

February 9, 2010

Philip Reisman, born in 1904 to Polish immigrant parents, painted Ash Can School–inspired scenes of city life above and below ground.

I can’t find much background on this painting—like what station it depicts or when it was done. Judging by the woman on the platform at left in jeans, it must be the 1960s or 1970s.

The Museum of the City of New York has another example of his work and more biographical info.

“Summer Electric Storm”

July 16, 2009

Painter and Greenwich Village resident Cecil Bell captures a moody lightning storm on a New York summer night in 1938.

It may have been painted from his own apartment at 19 East Ninth Street. Bell, who studied under John Sloan at the Art Students League, liked to work from his rooftop, according to biographical information provided by the Museum of the City of New York, which owns the painting.


The tall apartment building on the left dwarfing the Village’s tenements and churches is One Fifth Avenue, erected in 1929 at the foot of Washington Square Park.

The magic of a New York city roof garden

May 27, 2009

This 1904 painting, “Roof Garden,” is more than 100 years old, but it captures a magical part of a New York City summer in the 21st century: enjoying the nighttime breeze at a rooftop bar or restaurant. 


It’s part of the Museum of the City of New York’s “Painting the Town” collection and is the work of French-born painter Charles Constantin Joseph Hoffbauer.

New York’s first floating hospital

March 16, 2009

Here’s the “Emma Abbott,” painted by Julian O. Davidson. He depicts the city’s first floating hospital, launched in 1875 by a charitable organization composed of well-to-do New Yorkers called the St. John’s Guild. The ship sailed the harbors and rivers, taking care of slum kids and mothers too poor to afford decent medical care.

Emma Abbott was an opera star at the time who donated the money to help build the vessel.


Thousands of women and children were treated there until about 1900, when the Emma Abbott was retired. Subsequent floating hospitals continue to treat New York’s most vulnerable.

This painting belongs to the Museum of the City of New York.

“Laying the tracks” at Union Square

July 6, 2008

“Laying the tracks at Broadway and 14th Street,” by Hughson Hawley, 1891. A trolley car, soon to be put out of service by the new underground rapid transit system these men are building, zips by in the distance.

Museum of the City of New York

“The Bowery at Night”

June 25, 2008

Painter William Louis Sonntag, Jr. depicted the Bowery in 1895, as it was transitioning from New York’s prime theater district to the 20th century’s fabled boulevard of skid row bars and bummy hotels. This rich, stunning painting is part of the Museum of the City of New York’s collection. Note the Third Avenue El on the left.