Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1936’

A 1930s artist’s claustrophobic New York Harbor

October 21, 2019

George Grosz made a name for himself drawing and painting caricatures of life in his native Germany during the postwar Weimar era.

But this Expressionist painter who helped lead the Dada movement left Germany in 1932 and relocated to New York City, turning his cynical eye on his adopted home city.

“New York Harbor,” from 1936, is his take on Depression-era Gotham. The colors are cool and the brush strokes thick, giving New York a tough, chaotic feel.

Grosz is like the gulls flying over the harbor. He’s observing this modern city of industry and power, a place that’s so consumed by progress it doesn’t have room for humanity…notice the total absence of people.

New York is dazzled by its first luxury hotel

October 19, 2015

In 1836 Manhattan, houses were lit by candles. Floors were generally made out of wood. Private bathrooms? Decades away.

Astorhouse1874nypl

Yet all of these things could be had at the Astor House (above, in 1874), the city’s first luxury hotel, at Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets.

Built by multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, this 360-room granite palace dazzled New Yorkers, few of whom had the means to spend a night there or dine in the hotel’s for-men-only restaurant, enclosed under a rotunda in a center courtyard (below, in 1899).

Astorhouserotunda1899“It can never be a success—it is altogether too far uptown,” Astor’s associates warned him, forgetting the he was a real estate pro who foresaw the northward march of the city.

The hotel wasn’t just a huge success, it became an emblem of the growing Empire City.

And what amenities! An in-house gas plant provided gas lighting. A plumbing system offered hot and cold running water to each floor. Rooms had private water closets. A car ferried guests to Madison Square Garden.

Astorhousebroadway

President Lincoln stayed there twice: first when he came to New York to deliver his famous speech as a presidential candidate at Cooper Union in 1860, then in 1861, on the way to his inauguration. He made an impromptu speech at the hotel during his second stay, as memorialized in the Harper’s Weekly cover below.

Astorhouseharpersweekly2With City Hall and Barnum’s American Museum across the street, the Astor House booked plenty of politicians. artists, and entertainers, such as Jenny Lind, Mathew Brady, Daniel Webster, Jefferson Davis, and Henry Clay.

Even as the city inched uptown and sumptuous hotels threatened the Astor’s status, it remained a beloved fixture—until John Jacob Astor’s descendants fought over the property and the subway arrived.

In 1913, the Greek Revival beauty, with its Doric columns and pink granite, was torn down because subway construction threatened its foundation.

Astorhouse1913demolition

It was replaced by—what else?—office space aptly called the Astor House Building.

[Photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

1936: the year of the city swimming pool

May 28, 2012

Mayor La Guardia was a busy man during the Depression summer of 1936, the hottest on record in the United States.

Through June, July, and August, he attended dedication ceremonies at the 11 brand-new municipal pools the city opened that year.

The pools were a monumental achievement. Built with WPA labor, they were safe alternatives for city kids who used to cool off by swimming in the East and Hudson Rivers.

Judging by the enormous crowds seen in these vintage photos from that opening summer, they were a huge hit. The McCarren Park pool (top left), was so enormous, it could hold almost 7,000 swimmers at a time. Closed in 1984, it’s finally reopening this summer.

Astoria Park in Queens offered incredible views of the Hell Gate Bridge and was so state-of-the-art, Olympic trials for the U.S. swim and dive teams were held there.

The Sunset Pool, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, featured underwater lights, which were flipped on by Mayor La Guardia during the opening ceremony on July 21.