Posts Tagged ‘New York at the turn of the century’

A painter drawn to the “Mountains of Manhattan”

November 13, 2017

Overshadowed by social realist painters and then the abstract movement early in the 20th century, Colin Campbell Cooper never quite got his due.

But his evocative takes on New York’s streetscapes and skyline reveal a fascination with the bigness of the city’s architecture contrasted against the smaller personal stories of millions of anonymous New Yorkers.

The bigness you notice first, especially with paintings like the “Mountains of Manhattan” (top) and the “Cliffs of Manhattan” (second), which both depict the city as an awesome and mighty wonder along the lines of the Rockies or the Alps.

When Cooper contrasts the big and the small, as he does here in 1917’s “South Ferry,” he gives us a more humanistic view of Gotham.

We may not be able to read their faces, but every one of those trolley riders ans sidewalk vendors has a story.

“Chatham Square,” above, from 1919, is similar. The city’s skyscraper mountains are in the background, while the day-to-day life, its human side, is in the forefront.

Commuters wait for the elevated train to pull in, soldiers march under the tracks, and movie houses attract crowds on the sidewalk. We don’t have to be able to see them up close to know they are us.

“New York From Brooklyn” gives us a more detailed and personalized County of Kings. Meanwhile, Manhattan across the river is muted, as if it’s an impenetrable fortress.

Cooper lived in New York from 1904 to 1921. “My pictures are built on these contrasts,” he once said of the juxtaposition in many of his paintings of older, smaller-scale buildings and the modern skyscrapers dominating the skyline.

“Columbus Circle” (above), completed in 1923, illustrates this perfectly.

The Hotel Astor’s Valentine’s Day menu in 1906

February 13, 2012

I don’t know why the Woman’s Press Club held a breakfast in honor of Valentine’s Day. Newspaper accounts seem to indicate it was an annual event around the turn of the century.

But here’s the menu, from the new, posh Hotel Astor in Times Square, and it’s quite extensive. Roast squab on toast, beef mignon, ice cream, and something called a Valentine’s salad—which I believe involves beets.

This menu comes from the New York Public Library’s fantastic Buttolph Menu Collection, a treasure trove of menus from 1851 to 1930.

“Central Park, New York,” 1901

August 8, 2010

Maurice Prendergast’s mosaic-like watercolor captures a lovely, leisurely day of carriage riding and strolling. And huge, puffy turn-of-the-century hats.

 
Canadian-born Prendergast was a member of The Eight, a group of artists who opposed the rigidity of the American art world at the time.

Peaceful pink skies along Riverside Drive

March 22, 2010

This postcard, dated 1910, depicts then-new Riverside Drive just past Grant’s Tomb (also new, dedicated in 1897) at 122nd Street. 

Frederick Law Olmsted, who conceptualized Riverside Park and Drive, envisioned rocky outcroppings and winding curves that mimicked the Hudson Valley:

“From 1875 to 1910, architects and horticulturalists such as Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons laid out the stretch of park between 72nd and 125th Streets according to the English gardening ideal, creating the appearance that the Park was an extension of the Hudson River Valley,” according  to the Riverside Park Fund.

“Knocking around” Manhattan with O. Henry

March 19, 2010

Short story master (and convicted embezzler) William Sidney Porter, aka O. Henry, arrived in New York City in 1902 like so many other writers—to be near the publishing business and really make it big.

And like struggling writers still do, he spent time walking around, laying low in odd corners and quarters of the city.

“When I first came to New York I spent a great deal of time knocking around the streets,” he told The New York Times in 1909.

“I used to walk at all hours of the day and night along the river fronts, through Hell’s Kitchen, down the Bowery, dropping into all manner of places, and talking to anyone who would hold converse with me.”

And though he’s most closely associated with Pete’s Tavern, the 146-year-old bar on Irving Place down the street from his apartment at the time, he credits his “knocking around” with providing great story material:

“If you have the right kind of eye—the kind that can disregard high hats, cutaway coats, and trolley cars—you can see all the characters in Arabian Nights parading up and down Broadway at midday,” he said.

Yes, the awning on the side of Pete’s Tavern, above, really does say “The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous.”

The “Wolf of Wall Street”

December 14, 2009

David Lamar was kind of a low-grade Bernie Madoff. He earned his nickname partly by taking millions of dollars from private citizens, promising to invest their cash in stocks and securities, and then keeping the money for himself.

Falsely claiming to be a scion of a wealthy Georgia family, Lamar lived large. He mingle with politicians and financial bigwigs, pretending to be a legit finance guy.

But for three decades he would be in trouble with the law, indicted for grand larceny, hiring detectives to commit murder, hiring Monk Eastman’s gang to beat a man up, and impersonating a politician over the phone. 

He died penniless in 1934 in the Hotel Wellington in midtown. Three waiters who he had generously tipped during his days on Wall Street chipped in and paid for his funeral.