Posts Tagged ‘New York City during the Depression’

The anonymity of a nighttime pushcart market under the elevated

August 22, 2022

WPA painter and onetime New York City resident Nathaniel C. Burwash didn’t want viewers to know the exact location of his nocturne of a pushcart market under the elevated.

The crudely painted street sign on the street lamp is unreadable; the signs under the “meat provisions” pushcart don’t add up to anything. Faces are amorphous or turned away, and the elevated train tracks over narrow streets could be in almost any downtown neighborhood during the Depression years.

Though we don’t know the precise address in “New York Pushcart Section No. 2,” Burwash’s mysterious name of the painting, we can easily recognize the New York-ness of the scene: the activity of an outdoor marketplace, the arrangement of the pushcarts, the interest (and disinterest) on the part of shoppers and pedestrians lost in their own interior worlds.

Illuminated by a street lamp and the inside lights of what looks like a passing train on the far side of the painting, it’s a scene that captures the everyday rhythm of an ordinary neighborhood from afar, with a deliberate degree of anonymity.

The story behind New York’s library lions

May 16, 2011

Twin male lions have been guarding the entrance of the New York Public Library’s majestic main branch since the Beaux Arts building opened at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in May 1911.

They were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after two NYPL benefactors, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox.

With their fortunes, Astor and Lenox built public libraries, which by the 1890s were to become part of the city’s new free circulating library.

New Yorkers took to the two Leos instantly. But in the 1930s, the lions underwent a name change.

With the Depression taking its toll on the city, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia declared them to be “Patience” and “Fortitude.” He felt that these were the qualities city residents needed most to survive the horrible economic times.

[Above: Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street on Easter, 1913; G.G. Bain News Service]

Stashing away cash at the city’s first savings bank

March 3, 2011

Before New York was flooded with neon-lit Citibank, Chase, Commerce, and Bank of America branches at every corner, the city had dozens of sober, stately neighborhood banks—like the appropriately named Bank for Savings.

I don’t know when this card dates to, but it had to be before 1959, the year Fourth Avenue was officially renamed Park Avenue South.

It may even predate 1933, when the FDIC was created. Notice there’s no “FDIC insured” line on the card.

$1000 must have been a princely sum for working stiffs back then. You can just imagine all the stamps on each customer’s passbook over five years.

The original Bank for Savings branch still exists on Park Avenue South and 22nd Street. But today, as you can see in the photo above, it’s a Morton Williams supermarket.