Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1880s’

An East 10th Street townhouse inspired by India

November 2, 2015

The building materials of New York’s row houses don’t vary very much: brownstone, brick, mason, glass.

Teakwoodhousemain

But teakwood? This hearty wood native to South Asia is a rarity in the city, which makes the gorgeous 1887 townhouse at 7 East 10th Street so noteworthy.

TeakwoodhouseacrossstreetThe house itself isn’t remarkable, but the beautifully carved teakwood on the bay window and trim attracts many admirers.

Who made the house such a show stopper? Lockwood De Forest, an artist and decorator who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Asian-inspired artifacts were a popular design motif at the time, and De Forest himself was enamored with Indian woodcarving, arranging for craftsmen in India to make wood carvings that could be shipped to America.

While Asian decorative elements were often found inside late 19th century parlors, De Forest made the unusual decision to incorporate them outside on the facade.

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“His elaborately carved teakwood projecting bay and trim on the otherwise ordinary town house is one of this city’s marvels, both for its intricate artistry and for its having so heartily survived the elements all these years,” wrote Francis Morrone in Architectural Guidebook to New York City.

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For reasons lost to history, teakwood trim also ended up next door at 9 East 10th Street, built in 1888, a building called the Ava.

In 1900, House Beautiful magazine called it the “most beautiful Indian house in America,” according to nyc-architecture.com. These days, the dazzling and well-preserved home is owned by New York University.

A bumpy dedication of the Statue of Liberty

September 28, 2015

Statueoflibertymoran1886On October 28, 1886, the city had scheduled a day of festivities for the official dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Things mostly went off well, but not without plenty of hitches that turned the celebration into a comedy of errors.

First, there was the cold, miserable rain, which poured down on marchers during the morning parade from 57th Street to Madison Square Park to the Battery.

President Cleveland (a former governor of New York State) was to lead the parade and then watch from a reviewing stand at Worth Square—which he did, umbrella-less, with sheets of rain pouring down on him for two hours.

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In the afternoon, after the city’s first-ever ticker-tape parade, an official dedication ceremony took place on what was once known as Bedloe’s Island—with thousands of New Yorkers watching from the Battery.

Interestingly, no regular citizens were allowed on the island, and few, if any, women were invited. A group of suffragists rowed out close, though, and held their own ceremony, hoping the day would come when women had the liberty to cast votes.

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The 2,500 or so French and American dignitaries invited to the ceremony were treated to music, prayers, gun salutes, speeches, and finally, the unveiling of the copper-colored statue, which had been shrouded in a French flag.

The wet flag was lifted prematurely, however, in the middle of a speech by New York Senator William Evarts, cutting Evarts off.

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After President Cleveland accepted the statue from France, a flotilla of ships began setting off alarms in celebration, drowning out the rest of the speeches.

The boats also released plumes of smoke, which along with the clouds and mist made it even harder for crowds on shore to see the copper-colored statue.

Statueofliberty1890sA huge fireworks display had to be cancelled that night because of the rain. And the actual lighting of the statue?

It didn’t go off well, mainly because no one could figure out how to light Lady Liberty properly—odd, as she was supposed to be an official lighthouse for New York Harbor.

Finally, on November 1, the city did a do-over of the fireworks and illumination. According to the New York Times, at least the phyrotechnics went of splendidly.

“Land and sea alike were teeming with glories. The vast fleet added not a little to the scene—the distant city with its million lights and flame-tipped spires was a sight to be remembered itself.”

“When the last rush of rockets from the island had scattered their showering gold and the wonted darkness settled again, the great figure grew brighter and huger and gleamed ghostly but beautiful, the new Anadyomene, Liberty rising from the sea.”

The elephants that tested the Brooklyn Bridge

December 22, 2011

When the Brooklyn Bridge—under construction for 13 years—was gearing up for opening day in May 1883, 19th century New York’s biggest showman made a proposal.

To test out the bridge, P.T. Barnum offered, he’d walk his troupe of elephants across it.

Authorities turned him down. But a year later, on May 17, 1884, his elephant march (plus other creatures) happened, as this 2004 New Yorker cover cleverly illustrates.

It was a demonstration to the public that the bridge was safe and a brilliant promotional stunt for Barnum’s Museum and touring show.

“To people who looked up from the river at the big arch of electric lights it seemed as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island,” wrote The New York Times.

“At 9:30 o’clock 21 elephants, 7 camels, and 10 dromedaries issued from the ferry at the foot of Courtlandt-Street. . . . The other elephants shuffled along, raising their trunks and snorting as every train went by. Old Jumbo brought up the rear.”

Jumbo was Barnum’s prized giant African elephant, shown in this sketch arriving by crate to the city. He was already a celebrity in London when Barnum purchased him.