Monthly Archives: February 2012

How Harlem River Speedway Became Harlem River Drive

Before it was called the Harlem River Drive, the parkway running north and south along the west bank of the Harlem River was called the Harlem River Speedway. Construction began in 1894, and the speedway opened in July of 1898.

Jay Hambridge. Summer on the Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 34.100.33

It stretched from 155th Street in Washington Heights to Dyckman Street in Inwood. At first, use of the speedway was restricted to equestrians and carriage drivers. This pleased the wealthy, who worried that sharing the road with other vehicles would ruin their good time. In advance of the speedway’s opening, a New York Times headline from May 15, 1898 announced: “No Danger that Bicyclists Will Mar the Horsemen’s Sport on the Speedway. THEY ARE EXCLUDED BY LAW.”

Robert L. Bracklow. Harlem River Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.249

The speedway became a tourist destination where people could watch horse and boat races, visit Highbridge and Fort George Amusement Parks, and enjoy the scenery along the Harlem River.

Robert L. Bracklow. Washington Bridge and Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.444

Robert L. Bracklow. Boat Races on Harlem River under Washington Bridge. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.115

Some New Yorkers were unhappy that tax dollars were used to build an exclusionary road. As Charles C. Sargent, Jr., noted in his article “A Horseman’s Paradise” in the November 1898 issue of Munsey’s Magazine, “For the men – a few hundred at most – who own fast horses and want to ‘try them out,’ the sapient rulers of New York have spent in making the Speedway money that would have built thirty school houses, and would have provided twice over for the twenty five thousand children turned away last September from the overcrowded primary schools of the metropolis.”

It was not until 1919 that the Harlem River Speedway was opened to motorists. Three years later, it was paved.

New York Edison Company. View of the Harlem River Speedway and Harlem River from beneath Highbridge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2150

In 1940 Robert Moses envisioned a highway that would connect all of Manhattan’s driveways. The Harlem River Drive would incorporate sections of the old Harlem River Speedway, linking the Henry Hudson Parkway, the George Washington Bridge, and the East River Drive.  In addition, traffic from the Triborough Bridge and bridges connected to the Major Deegan Expressway would flow into the Harlem River Drive. This ambitious project was completed in 1964 at a cost of $38 million.

George Roos. Harlem River Drive and the Macombs Dam Bridge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8558

The digital team reflects on Valentine’s Day

We here in the digital lab have conflicted feelings about today’s holiday.  So we’ve pulled images from our collection that express a variety of  viewpoints about romance and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s cards in the mid-19th century and Stanley Kubrick’s  images of teenagers canoodling on a fire escape  in the 1940’s show that New York is the place to be in love. (But just in case you don’t agree with that last sentence, we have images for you too.)

Our collection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards  runs the gamut from the sweetly violent….

Comic Valentine card. ca. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 03.49.1

to the quad-lingual (what a lucky girl Miss Louise Horn was)…..

Valentine: Eternal Love. 1847. Museum of the City of New York. 31.18.19.

to the faintly seductive.

Greeting card. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 38.8.262.

Moving beyond greeting cards to real people,  here are some more  images of love, from Bohemians to Bobby Soxers.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Couple standing near fountain in Greenwich Village. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. 94.104.862

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Park Benches - Love is Everywhere.1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10347.11.

And if you don’t find anything to love about Valentine’s Day, these could be more your speed.

Advice to Girls About to Marry - get used to this language when you tell him you want a new hat. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.582.

James Henderson (Firm). Single One, Married One - "Lucky Dog". ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.560.

Currier & Ives. "No One to Love Me." 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.603.

Treasures and “Shandas” from the Collection on Yiddish theater

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the streets of the Lower East Side were plastered with theatrical advertisements for Der yidisher kenig lir and Mentsh un Tayvl.  Second Avenue was the Broadway of the Yiddish stage and two of its brightest dramatic lights were Jacob P. Adler and David Kessler.

White Studios. David Kessler, ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.7.2.

A prominent actor and manager, Kessler operated several theatres.  His Second Avenue Theatre is often credited with the establishment of the Yiddish theater district on Second Avenue.

Morris Bellin Studio. Jacob P. Adler. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.7.1.

Adler, known as “The Great Eagle” for his commanding gaze and presence, was not only a major star but also fathered an acting dynasty consisting of his children Celia, Luther, and Stella Adler.  Though Adler and Kessler worked together in their early careers, these two titans competed for audiences, doubtless putting a strain on their friendship.

Thanks to generous funding from the David Berg Foundation and the Lemberg Foundation, the Museum has begun processing its Collection on Yiddish theater. While there is still a lot to discover, this letter from Jacob P. Adler to David Kessler provides a peek into their friendship and their rivalry.

Jacob P. Adler letter to David Kessler, undated. Museum of the City of New York, Collection on Yiddish theater.

The translated letter reads as follows:

Friend Kessler!
I wonder very much that with my good performance and friendly relationship with you that you should believe  I badmouthed you or spread slander, and that I spoke badly when I was not spellbound by the masterpiece.   Of course, I understand that you, with your own opinion that differs from mine entirely, would also stage it in order to bring in cash.  But who knows?  [Upon reflection, I] may turn out to be satisfied and not protest that my daughter is acting in it.
I know that you probably half believed.  Now you know positively that the gossip monger is a dirty, contemptible creature.  I beseech you to spit in his face, and tell him he should write in his own name.
With caution and friendship,
Yours truly, Jacob P. Adler.

The daughter Adler refers to is likely the talented Celia, the eldest in his acting brood. Though she spent time performing in Philadelphia, Ms. Adler came to New York at David Kessler’s invitation, and performed in several productions with him. I looked into several different sources, but was unable to determine which production caused the “shanda” (Yiddish for  scandal) mentioned in the letter.  What was said, who said it, and about which production is unknown.  What is clear is the intensity of feeling from Adler, that same intensity he devoted to moving audiences.  It gives us a the tiniest glimpse of what it must have been like to see the passion of “The Great Eagle” on stage.

Check back for more peeks into the troves of the Museum’s Theater Collection.

Many thanks to Alyssa Masor for her guidance in Yiddishisms.