Posts Tagged ‘New York during World War II’

The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church

May 26, 2016

NormandieposterThe biggest bottle of champagne in the world helped christen the French luxury liner the S.S. Normandie when it first launched in 1932.

Too bad this nautical marvel and Art Deco beauty didn’t plough the Atlantic for long.

In 1941, after the Germans took over France and with the Normandie safely docked in New York, the U.S. Coast Guard seized control of the ship.

The plan was to renovate the 1,000-foot liner into a ship for troops and to rename it the USS Lafayette.

Workers were busily converting the 1,000-foot vessel when it caught fire and capsized in its berth on the Hudson in February 1942.

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The destruction of the Normandie—everyone thought it was sabotage, but that wasn’t the case—was major news in wartime New York City.

People lined up to view its remains, as Pete Hamill recalls in his memoir, A Drinking Life:

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“[His mother] took us there again and again, to gaze at its parched hull, more than a thousand feet long, its giant propellers high out of the water. In my memory, the ruined liner looks humiliated, like a drunk who has fallen down in public.”

After the Normandie was hauled away, its ruins were sold for scrap metal—with a few exceptions.

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NormandiechurchThe magnificent doors of the first class dining room from the Normandie’s luxury liner days were salvaged by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral (right) in Brooklyn Heights.

To this day, the doors—with their intricate medallions showing scenes and sights in Normandy and lovely carvings of trees and leaves—greet visitors to the church at two different entrances at Henry and Remsen Streets.

They’re a quiet remnant of New York during World War II, a time that fewer and fewer residents have any memory of.

Times Square at night, as 1941 becomes 1942

December 29, 2014

Wartime New Yorkers still took the time to celebrate the new year, crowding into a Times Square ablaze with light in this Life magazine image.

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Life put together a slideshow of other photos that capture New Year’s Eve 1941: military policemen, soldiers and sailors dancing and drinking, and NYPD horses herding the crowd.

A West Chelsea warehouse with a nuclear past

January 16, 2014

On the prime West Chelsea block just off the West Side Highway and north of Chelsea Piers sits a stretch of handsome warehouses.

West20thsignOnce run by a company called Baker and Williams, these warehouses played a key role in the creation of the atomic bomb.

This is where the heads of the Manhattan Project—the code name for the building of the first atom bomb in the 1940s—decided to store tons of uranium.

According to this federal document, approximately 219,000 pounds of uanium from Africa by way of Canada was stored here before “distribution to U.S. government reservations.”

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It wasn’t until the early 1990s when the government cleaned the warehouse of residual uranium. “Workers removed more than a dozen drums of radioactive waste, according to the Department of Energy in Washington,” wrote The New York Times in 2007.

Of course, it’s not the only site in the city that played a key role in Manhattan island’s namesake project.

Research was conducted at Columbia University, administrative headquarters established at 270 Broadway, and an engineering office (set up to acquire crucial bomb-making material) existed at Fifth Avenue and 29th Street.

All the ways New York celebrated the New Year

December 30, 2013

You could make the argument that New York practically invented, or at least modernized, the New Year holiday.

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It all started with the early Dutch settlers, who began the tradition of New Year’s calling: going around the colony “calling” on their friends and neighbors to wish them well in the coming year (and indulge in plenty of pipe-smoking and partying too).

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In the 19th century, New Year’s calling persisted, and bells would ring at midnight on January 1 at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan.

By the 20th century, both traditions were replaced with something new: the dropping of an illuminated ball in Times Square starting on December 31, 1907.

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Gathering in restaurants and bars became popular, as this photo, dating to 1910-1915, shows. Prohibition would soon put a damper on that.

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The down and out weren’t excluded from welcoming the New Year. Here, men dine at a Salvation Army dinner sometime before 1920.

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In 1942, some Greenwich Village boys blow horns in front of Max Moscowitz’ clothing store, on Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue.

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In 1956, Times Square was packing in what looks to be a mostly orderly crowd—even then, they must all be from out of town!

The British soil that built part of the FDR Drive

October 31, 2011

Next time you’re stuck in traffic between 23rd Street and 34th Street on the FDR Drive, take a moment to consider where the land beneath you came from.

It wasn’t fill from digging the subways or skyscrapers—it was actually transported here all the way from England in the 1940s.

“During World War II, the Luftwaffe savagely bombed the city of Bristol, England, a major port for American supply ships,” wrote Michael Pollack in his FYI column in The New York Times in June 2009.

“After the supplies were unloaded, the American ships had no British goods to replace them on the return trip, and needed ballast for stability. So they loaded up rubble from Bristol’s bombed-out buildings.”

“Back in New York, the ships dumped the ballast from 23rd to 34th Street as landfill for what would become the East River Drive, now Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.”

Though you won’t find it on any city road maps, the slight curve of the East River between these blocks is known as Bristol Basin (above).