Posts Tagged ‘New York City in 1910’

New York City’s “open-air” schools for sick kids

September 13, 2014

Despite advances in sanitation, New York City at the cusp of the 20th century was a breeding ground for illness, especially in the city’s crowded downtown slums.
Outdoorschooljacobriis19103

Trash- and manure-filled streets combined with dark, dank tenements enabled the spread of a host of communicable illnesses, with tuberculosis among the most dreaded.

Outdoorschooljacobriis1910mcnySo education officials launched an unusual type of school for children thought to have or be predisposed to the White Plague: outside classrooms.

Holding class outside, or in an unheated indoor area with all the windows wide open, meant exposure to fresh air and light, and both were thought to combat tuberculosis.

The idea came from a German “open air” school started in 1904. Other cities adopted them, and New York’s first outdoors school launched in 1908 on an abandoned ferry.

Over the next few years, other outdoors schools opened their doors to tuberculosis kids, malnourished kids, even kids described as “nervous, irritable, or anemic.”

One school was located on Carmine Street, on top of a public baths building. Another opened at Public School 33 (which may have been on West 28th Street).

Outdoorschooljacobriis1910mcny2

Horace Mann, the private school then in Morningside Heights, also started a rooftop school, described as “closed on three sides only, the south side being entirely open with a drop curtain to close that side in time of storm,” explains a 1914 report.

Outdoorschoolsittingoutbagbeals“The floors are made of wood. Indoor toilet rooms are provided and also an indoor room where children may go to get warm if necessary in exceptional cases.”

Kids handled the bracing weather by wrapping themselves in “sitting out bags” (right).

Well-meaning as it was, this educational movement apparently died out quickly. In 1914, the medical director of New York City’s open-air schools came out against them, citing bad weather and the expense of building truly stable structures on the roof.

“With the changeable climate of New York City, and the extremely raw weather in the winter, I am distinctly in favor of keeping classes within buildings,” he says in this 1918 book on open-air schools.

Openairschoolps51anemicclassesloc

[Top three photos: Jacob Riis, 1910, MCNY Collections Portal; fourth photo: Jessie Tarbox Beals, Library of Congress; fifth photo: PS 51 “anemic classes” from the Library of Congress]

Fifth Avenue and the original Waldorf-Astoria

July 17, 2014

In late 19th century New York, Fifth Avenue reigned as Millionaires Row. But by the time this postcard was produced around 1910, the stretch of Fifth Avenue north of 32nd Street was shedding its reputation as a wealthy residential enclave.

The rich were migrating northward. Posh mansions were being razed to make way for commercial buildings, like offices and hotels.

Fifthavenue32ndstpostcard

No hotel was as extravagant as the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the building on the left with the flag.

Waldorfastoria34thstreetviewBuilt as separate hotels in the early 1890s on the site of two former Astor family mansions, it was combined in 1897.

Times Shutter features a similar postcard, with some info about the hotel (it was the largest in the world, a gathering place for the rich and ostentatious, and the first to allow unchaperoned women!) as well a photo of the same stretch of Fifth today.

Today, the hotel is gone (the Empire State Building took its place two decades later), as is two-way traffic and that lovely streetlight on the left.

Gone too is Fifth Avenue with a quaint, unhurried feel.

[Another view of the Waldorf-Astoria, from 34th Street, right]

High-school girls in 1910 celebrate Midsummer

June 23, 2014

New Yorkers in 2014 enjoyed the summer solstice by going to the Mermaid Parade, testing out the new roller coaster at Coney Island, and cruising on Citibikes.

In the 1910s, they did it by reviving an ancient holiday most commonly celebrated in northern Europe: Midsummer’s Day.

Midsummersdayfestival1911The idea of bringing back this once-popular summer event—a festival of food, dancing, and maypoles—began with a group of students from all-female Washington Irving High School on 15th Street and Irving Place.

WilliamgaynormayorThey decided that Midsummer’s Day should be celebrated in the modern city with a traditional folk festival, with Mayor William J. Gaynor (left) in attendance.

According to a New York Times article, six girls sent and signed this very fanciful, slightly hippie-ish letter to Mayor Gaynor:

“Whereas the great family known as the City of New York should, like other happy families, take part in the joys of its daughters, you, the honored father of the city, are advised that your girls are minded to meet you in the family garden, Pelham Bay Park, June 24, 1910, and to pay you filial respect, to entertain you with songs and games, and otherwise celebrate our family loyalty.”

MidsummerdayfestivalrelayMayor Gaynor, impressed with the idea, promised to bring his wife and enjoy a luncheon on the grass in the Bronx with 2,000 Washington Irving students, alumni, and family members.

After eating, a Midsummer procession was to occur. “Competitive songs and dances will follow, with the ancient midsummer torch race and other traditional games,” the Times wrote.

Midsummerdayfestivalfling

I couldn’t find an account of how the Midsummer Day festival went off. And unfortunately, when it came time to do it again in 1911, the Mayor didn’t show, according to a 1911 Times article.

But thousands of Washington Irving girls did. These photos, from the Bain Collection of the Library of Congress, are from the June 24, 1911 festival.

What was lost when we lost Penn Station

May 17, 2012

The demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station in October 1963 is considered a city tragedy, a “monumental act of vandalism,” as The New York Times put it at the time.

It was also a catalyst for the preservation movement that’s saved countless buildings from also ending up in pieces in a Meadowlands dump.

Photos of the 1910 Beaux-Arts masterpiece are in no short supply. But have you ever really looked at them and contrasted the images with the Penn Station of today?

Here’s the original Penn Station main waiting room, above in 1911, inspired by glorious ancient Roman baths.

Imagine waiting for your train there, next to one of six Doric columns under a 150-foot high ceiling, with sunlight pouring through the lunette windows.

Here’s the Penn Station waiting room today, above right. Hmmm.

Then there’s the main concourse, where passengers would go to buy tickets before descending the stairs to their trains.

The original was made of glass and steel, reminiscent of train sheds in Europe.

This is it above, in 1962, a year before it was torn down.

Here’s the concourse now, an ugly blur of fluorescent lights.

“The Green Car” in Washington Square, 1910

December 22, 2011

Painter William Glackens didn’t have to go far to create this depiction of Washington Square at the turn of the last century.

He and his wife moved to 3 Washington Square North in 1904, and he had a studio at 50 Washington Square South.

“In The Green Car, a view to the north from his studio window, Glackens suggests this transition from old to new,” states the caption to this painting at metmuseum.org.

“In the background is a glimpse of “The Row,” the elegant red-brick, Greek Revival houses that had been built along Washington Square North in the 1830s and 1840s for some of New York’s most prominent old families.”

“In the foreground, a fashionably dressed young woman hails a streetcar, powered by underground electrical cables, which was emblematic of modern developments.”

Alfred Stieglitz’s “Old and New New York”

February 9, 2011

Stieglitz’s 1910 photo captures a moment on a changing Park Avenue South.

Park Avenue here is still lined with free-standing mansions and townhouses, yet the under-construction Vanderbilt Hotel looms in the distance between East 33rd and 34th Streets.

This photo and others of New York in the early part of the 20th century can be seen at the Met’s Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand exhibit through April 10.