Monthly Archives: May 2012

Prizefighters

If anyone had asked my opinion on boxing a few weeks ago, my response would have been tepid at best. I’d never really given the sport much thought. And yet I now find myself staying up way too late watching grainy videos of boxing matches and old ESPN documentaries about  famous boxers, discovering everything I can about New York’s  boxing world in the late 1940s through the 1950s. What caused this rapid change of heart?  Two words: Stanley Kubrick.

During Stanley Kubrick’s time at LOOK Magazine he photographed two stories about the daily life of boxers.  The first featured Walter Cartier in 1949 and the second Rocky Graziano in 1950. These boxers couldn’t have been more different, and tracing the careers of both highlights the spectrum of men who were lured to this sport.

Walter Cartier was born in the Bronx in 1922. He started boxing with his brothers at an early age (his twin brother Vincent would later be his trainer) and after World War II gained prominence  in boxing circles in New York City.  At the time that Kubrick shot the LOOK story, Cartier was a 24-year old rising fighter, known for being a precise, smart, intense middleweight boxer.  The article accompanying the photographs says that if, “the big purses elude him another year, he plans to quit the ring and attend law school.”  But the big fights came and for years he was constantly on the cusp of becoming the middleweight champion.  As an obituary reads, “Cartier was that handsome Bronx knockout kid who sold tickets. Here was a special kind of a fighter–clean living, loved being a boxer and always kept himself in shape.”

Below you can see the transformation from Walter Cartier, a typical young man living in Greenwich Village who goes on dates and plays with kids, to Walter Cartier the prizefighter.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Walter Cartier – Prizefighter of Greenwich Village . Walter Cartier eating in a restaurant. 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11122.88D.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Walter Cartier – Prizefighter of Greenwich Village Walter Cartier and Dolores Germaine playing on a beach.1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11122.110E.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) Walter Cartier – Prizefighter of Greenwich Village Girl holding a toy gun to Walter Cartier’s head.1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11122.155F.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Walter Cartier – Prizefighter of Greenwich Village Walter Cartier at a punching bag as Vincent Cartier and two other men watch.1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11122.51A.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Walter Cartier – Prizefighter of Greenwich Village Walter Cartier during a fight.1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11122.236.

Where Cartier was dedicated, focused, and meticulous, Kubrick’s next boxing subject was a knockout king – tough and brutal.

Rocky Graziano (born Thomas Rocco Barbella)  grew up in the East Village (10th Street and First Avenue to be exact) and was a complete product of the rough neighborhood.  By the time he was six years old, he had a reputation of being a good fighter.  Or as he put it, “I was the best street fighter in history when I was growing up on the Lower East Side. Hell, I never lost a street fight. Never.  I thought I could lick Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis or anybody.  I was fantastic.”  With a nasty habit of stealing, as he described it,  “everything that began with an  ‘a’ — a piece of fruit, a radio, a car, anything that wasn’t nailed down,”  it’s perhaps unsurprising that Graziano had stints in reform schools and later, in prison.  (For more fantastic quotes, see his New York Times obituary here.) After a dishonorable discharge from the Army for punching a supervising officer, he found himself back in New York City.  A friend,  hoping to find an outlet for Graziano’s aggression, took him to boxing mecca Stillman’s Gym.

Graziano originally viewed boxing as an easy source of cash – he notoriously hawked his first medal for $15 – but his natural talent led him to become the middleweight champion in 1946.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because Graziano’s life story was made into the 1956 film, Someone Up There Likes Me, starring a young Paul Newman.

As with  Walter Cartier, Kubrick’s focus is on the transformation of Rocky Graziano from loving family man to boxer. It should be noted, however, that this story came out after Graziano’s two-year suspension from professional boxing due to failure to report an attempted $100,000 bribe.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999).Rocky Graziano, He’s a Good Boy Now. Rocky Graziano eating breakfast with his family. 1949-1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12284.71B.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Rocky Graziano, He’s a Good Boy Now. Rocky Graziano playing cards with friends. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12284.16A.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) Rocky Graziano, He’s a Good Boy Now. Rocky Graziano exercising. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12284.46C.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999).Rocky Graziano, He’s a Good Boy Now. Rocky Graziano. 1949-1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12284.35B.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999).Rocky Graziano, He’s a Good Boy Now. Man applying petroleum jelly to Rocky Graziano.1949-1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12284.18B.

To see more of Walter Cartier, check out Stanley Kubrick’s first movie, the 16-minute Day of the Fight, which was inspired by the LOOK magazine story.

Both Cartier and Graziano continued to box through the mid-1950’s, after which they both tried their hands at acting, both securing steady roles in television shows. Walter Cartier performed in the Phil Silvers Show and Rocky Graziano co-starred in the Martha Raye Show.

Saving the Interior of the Plaza Hotel

Landmark designations are not only for buildings. Any piece of property that the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) deems to have important cultural, aesthetic, or historical characteristics may become a landmark. The LPC designates individual landmarks such as the Conference House on Staten Island,  scenic landmarks such as Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or historic districts such as the Mott Haven Historic District in the Bronx. In addition, the LPC may also consider the interior of a building for landmark status.

Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, was designated a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 1969. However, only the building’s exterior, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, was protected by the designation.

Wurts Bros. 5th Avenue West 58th Street. Central Park South. Plaza Hotel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.730

The hotel’s interior has changed along with its many owners since opening in 1907. In August 2004 Elad Properties purchased the hotel for $675,000,000. Several months later, the real estate development conglomerate announced plans to convert the 805-room hotel into a multipurpose building with condos and space for high-end retail stores. The extensive renovations would require the hotel to close temporarily. Additionally, the building would house only 150 hotel rooms. Nearly 1,000 Plaza Hotel employees, including about 800 belonging to hotel unions, were given notice of impending layoffs.

In response, the New York Hotel Trades Council launched a “Save the Plaza” campaign and urged the LPC to consider landmarking the interior of the hotel. Actress Kate Capshaw, columnist Liz Smith, and NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum indicated their support by allowing the union to use their names for the campaign. Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg weighed in, inviting the developer and union officials to Gracie Mansion for a talk. After months of tenuous negotiations, Bloomberg announced that an agreement had been reached. The Plaza Hotel would retain 348 hotel rooms and 350 union jobs. In addition, Elad Properties promised that the Palm Court, the Grand Ballroom, and the Oak Bar would remain open for use by the public and visitors to New York, following renovations scheduled to begin on April 30,2005.

Less than two months later, the LPC held a public hearing on the proposed designation of the Plaza Hotel as an interior landmark. Representatives of both the New York Hotel Trades Council and Elad Properties spoke in favor of the designation. On July 12, 2005, the LPC published its findings and announced landmark status for interior spaces in the Plaza Hotel. Below are some of the spaces that are now landmarks.

The Palm Court was modeled after the Palm Court tea room (also known as the Winter Garden) in London’s Carleton Hotel.

Wurts Bros. 5th Avenue West 58th Street. Central Park South. Plaza Hotel, Palm Room. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.729

The Edwardian Room was originally a restaurant for men only. Also called the Men’s Grill, no business talk was allowed inside the room – its purpose was to provide the atmosphere of a private men’s club.

Byron Company. Plaza Hotel. 1907. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6492

Wurts Bros. 5th Avenue West 58th Street. Central Park South. Plaza Hotel, Café interior. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.726

The Fifth Avenue Lobby and vestibules opened in 1921 and were designed by the firm Warren & Wetmore.

Byron Company. Plaza Hotel. 1907. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6477

The Oak Room (not to be confused with the previously mentioned Oak Bar) is considered one of the best preserved public spaces in the Plaza Hotel, and rumored to have been the favorite of Hardenbergh, the architect. It closed in 2011 after a dispute between its owner and the Plaza’s owners, although it is still available for private event rentals.

Wurts Bros. 5th Avenue West 58th Street. Central Park South. Plaza Hotel, bar. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.725

After the $400,000,000 renovation was complete, the Plaza Hotel reopened in March 2008 to mixed reviews. The Plaza’s then-owner, Mike Naftali, said that the public rooms “have been restored to their original  glory.”  But David Garrard Lowe, president of Manhattan’s Beaux Arts Alliance, had this to say: “I think it is vulgar. No one in charge had any taste. Not that they haven’t spent enough money, but this renovation doesn’t hit the right notes. The Plaza has lost its gaiety, its sense of public festivity.”

The Struggle to Save the Austin, Nichols and Co. Warehouse

This building is a piece of trash, and it should be knocked down.” – Simcha Felder, member of the New York City Council and chair of the council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses

Preserving this site is important for the fabric of our community.” – Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

I could not distinguish this warehouse from dozens of other warehouse and factory buildings on the waterfront. It just simply doesn’t deserve it. It’s a nondescript white box of a building.” – David Yassky, member of the New York City Council

Of course it should be landmarked. It’s by Cass Gilbert, one of our great architects. You have people who absolutely know nothing making outrageous statements about the architectural value of the building.” – Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic

You can’t tell me the reason we voted it down isn’t related to the interests of the developer. This sends a chilling message to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and preservation groups.” – Tony Avella, member of the New York City Council

The quotes above are a small sample of the range of feelings evoked by the Austin, Nichols & Co. building at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The warehouse was built from 1914-1915 for its namesake, the largest importing and manufacturing wholesale grocery business in the world. Critics of the time described the building, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, as an outstanding example of Egyptian Revival architecture rarely found in New York City and the United States.

Wurts Bros. Austin Nichols Building, watercolor perspective rendering, dated 1913. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4399

Noted architects Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius identified this type of building as the stimulus for the development of European modernism.

Wurts Bros. North 3rd Street. Austin Nichols Co. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4502

The warehouse utilized piers, railway tracks, freight elevators, conveyor belts, and pneumatic tubes for the production of foodstuffs under the Sunbeam Foods label.

Wurts Bros. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Austin-Nichols and Co., control and motor to refrigerator plant. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4936

Wurts Bros. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Austin-Nichols and Co., peanut butter machines. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4935

Wurts Bros. Austin-Nichols and Co., coffee roasting department. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4937

The building remained the headquarters for Austin, Nichols & Co. until the late 1950s. The building was acquired by 184 Kent Avenue Associates in 1986 and rented to residential and commercial tenants. In 2004, the building’s owners submitted a proposal to the Board of Standards and Appeals to construct a rooftop addition and transform the 72-unit building into 256 condos. This would have drastically altered the building’s appearance. The Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) subsequently held a public meeting and deliberated over possible landmark status for the warehouse, which would negate the owners’ plans for the building.

At the public meeting  held on July 26, 2005, 27 people, including representatives from the Cass Gilbert Society, McCarren Park Conservancy, Municipal Art Society, and New York Landmarks Conservancy, spoke in favor of the landmark designation. In addition, the LPC received over 500 postcards in support of the designation, mostly from Williamsburg residents. Architectural historians Andrew S. Dolkart, Sharon Irish, Sarah Bradford Landau, and Robert A. M. Stern also wrote letters to the LPC endorsing the landmark status. The LPC also heard statements in opposition to the designation, from representatives of the building’s owners and councilman David Yassky.

Two months later, the LPC designated the Austin, Nichols & Co. warehouse a landmark. But on November 29, 2005, the New York City Council took a rare step in reversing the LPC’s designation. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg vetoed the council’s reversal, but the council voted to override the veto.

Cass Gilbert is perhaps best known for designing the Woolworth Building. When the building opened in 1913, it was the tallest skyscraper in the world. The LPC designated that building a landmark in 1983.

Wurts Bros. 233 Broadway. Woolworth Building, final view. ca. 1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10817

In addition to the Woolworth Building, Gilbert designed other NYC landmarks. His first design in New York City was the Broadway Chambers Building in TriBeCa, built from 1899 to 1900. The LPC designated this office building a landmark in 1992.

Wurts Bros. Broadway and Chambers Street. Broadway Chambers Building. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4846

In 1899, 20 architectural firms competed to design the United States Custom House in Lower Manhattan, but Gilbert won the commission. It was completed in 1907 and designated a landmark in 1965.

Wurts Bros. Bowling Green. New York U.S. Custom House, general exterior from N.W. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.746

The West Street Building was also completed in 1907, and designated a landmark in 1998.

Wurts Bros. West Street between Albany Street and Cedar Street. West Street Building, finished view. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.741

The New York Life Insurance Company Building, just north of Madison Square, was built from 1926-1928 and designated a landmark in 2000.

Wurts Bros. Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Street. New York Life Insurance Building, view looking S.E. from N.W. corner of 28th Street, with foundation of new building in foreground. 1961. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10170

Not all of Gilbert’s buildings have fared so well, however. The Westchester Avenue railroad station, built in 1908 to serve the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, is on the New York Landmark Conservancy’s list of endangered buildings.

Wurts Bros. Westchester Avenue Station, N.Y., N.H. and H.R.R. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1842

And what of the Austin, Nichols & Co. building? Surprisingly, the council’s decision was not the last word on the fate of the warehouse. Shortly thereafter, the owners sold the property to 184 Kent Fee LLC, which then donated a historic preservation deed of easement to the Trust for Architectural Easements. In return for the donation, the new owners qualified for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program. The Austin, Nichols & Co. building continues to function as rental residences, but thanks to the donation, its height and shape will be preserved in perpetuity.

During the month of May, we’ll be posting more entries on historic preservation in the city. The Museum of the City of New York is competing for a $250,000 grant from Partners in Preservation, a joint program sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The winner is determined by popular vote, and individuals may vote once a day through May 21st. Please help us by going to http://www.helpmcny.com/ and voting today.

Penn Station and the Rise of Historic Preservation

After reading Lauren Robinson’s fantastic blog post about the return of Mad Men, I found myself haunted by the destruction of the original Penn Station. And as I dug deeper, I discovered that this was a drama of almost mythic proportions; a classic tale of David and Goliath; big corporations against a rag-tag group of underdogs; and art versus profit.

But first, the backstory: the original Pennsylvania Station was designed by Charles F. McKim, of McKim, Mead & White fame, the preeminent East Coast architectural firm of the Gilded Age. McKim’s designs drew heavily on classical architecture like the Roman Baths of Caracalla and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that elevated the mere activity of entering and leaving the city into a  momentous occasion.

McKim, Mead & White. Pennsylvania Station. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 90.44.1.593.

Penn Station was opened on September 8th, 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the largest building ever built (with the qualifier of “at one time”), and boasted the biggest waiting room in history. With 150-foot ceilings and natural light streaming through an iron and glass roof — how could one not think that they were somewhere magical?

George P. Hall and Son. Interior of Pennsylvania Station. 1911. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.5113.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Pennsylvania Station. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.1.216.

Wide World Photos, Inc. Crowds in Pennsylvania Station. ca. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.5088.

Yet only 50 years after it was opened, Penn Station was in trouble. The owners of the station, Pennsylvania Railroad, were broke. The station was falling into disrepair. Airplanes and automobiles had begun to eclipse rail travel. With all this, the nine-acre lot between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd Street was just far too valuable not to sell.  Even the architecture had gone out of style. The opulence and grandeur that were so popular in the Gilded Age were seen as an ungainly relic compared to the modern architecture of the 1960s.

At the same time, Madison Square Garden was outgrowing its location on 8th Avenue and 50th Street and its owners were eying possible building sites for a new, completely modernized sports arena. Suddenly there appeared an answer for both Pennsylvania Railroad’s financial problems and the continuation of Madison Square Garden. On July 25, 1961, the New York Times published the first mention of the relocation of Madison Square Garden to the site of Penn Station. What’s intriguing about this article is that the developers meant to keep the original station waiting room as part of the new facility. Two days later it became apparent that this was not going to happen, and on July 27, 1961 the front page of the New York Times ran the headline “’62 Start is Set for New Garden — Penn Station to Be Razed to Street Level in Project.” The planned $75 million complex included a hotel and a 34-story office building, along with a 25,000 seat arena and a smaller 4,000 seat arena, which the article described as “a huge, sagging pancake.” But, Irving Felt, the president of the company that owned Madison Square Garden, believed “that the gain from the new buildings and sports center would more than offset any aesthetic loss.”

This galvanized a group of five twenty-something architects calling themselves the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York, shortened to AGBANY, to organize a public protest against the demolition on August 21, 1962.  From 5 to 7 P.M, they picketed in front of Penn Station carrying signs reading “Shame” and “Don’t Amputate — Renovate.”  Reports vary that at least 150 people participated and soon organizations like the Municipal Arts Council joined the fight to save Penn Station. For the next year, the battle continued. Larger protests from city residents, however, didn’t come until it was too late.

On October 28, 1963 at 9 A.M., as a light rain fell and picketers wearing black armbands watched silently, electric jackhammers began to destroy Penn Station. For the next three years, Penn Station was slowly demolished.  The destruction was brutal and total; the station’s monumental ornamentation – 16-ton decorative eagles and the 84 Doric columns that made up the Seventh Avenue facade – were dumped unceremoniously into the marshlands of Secaucus, New Jersey.

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.82

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.2

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.79.

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.95.

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.117.

As a direct result, on April 15, 1965, Mayor Robert Wagner signed the Landmark Law, which created the Landmarks Preservation Commission. For the first time there was an agency with government power to designate and even save historical buildings and neighborhoods. The legal ramification didn’t end there though. A year later, after growing countrywide preservation efforts, the National Historic Preservation Act was enacted, ensuring that other cities wouldn’t also have to lose a landmark to realize the importance of its preservation.

Below are some of the strikingly emotional reactions to the destruction of Penn Station from the New York Times:

“Farewell to Penn Station” on October 30, 1963 “Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance. Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed”

Ada Louise Huxtable wrote the following on July 16, 1966:  “Pennsylvania Station succumbed to progress this week at the age of 56, after a lingering decline.  The building’s one remaining facade was shorn of eagles and ornament yesterday, preparatory to leveling the last wall.  It went not with a bang, or a whimper, but to the rustle of real estate stock shares.  The passing of Penn Station is more than the end of a landmark.  It makes the priority of real estate values over preservation conclusively clear.  It confirms the demise of an age of opulent elegance, of conspicuous, magnificent spaces, rich and enduring materials, the monumental civic gesture, and extravagant expenditure for esthetic ends.”

Vincent Scully, Jr., as quoted in the New York Times on February 12, 2012 about the differences in the Penn Station:  “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

For a detailed  study of the demolition of Penn Station,  check out The Fall and Rise of Pennsylvania Station. Changing Attitudes Toward Historic Preservation in New York City by Eric J. Plosky, found here.

During the month of May, we’ll be posting more entries on historic preservation in the city. The Museum of the City of New York is competing for a $250,000 grant from Partners in Preservation, a joint program sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The winner is determined by popular vote, and individuals may vote once a day through May 21st. Please help us by going to http://www.helpmcny.com/ and voting today.

Mott Haven Historic District

The neighborhood of Mott Haven is located in the South Bronx, and is situated on a portion of land historically referred to as Morrisania, named after the powerful Morris family who held possession of it for centuries.    Richard and Lewis Morris, merchants from Barbados, purchased the land from Jonas Bronck in 1670.  Alexander Avenue, which extends through the heart of the Mott Haven Historic District, is reputed to have been named after Alexander Bathgate, the overseer of the Morris manor.

J. L. Mott Ironworks, 1897. in the Bills Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 97.199.1

In 1828, Jordan L. Mott, an inventor and industrialist, purchased land from the Morris family to establish a foundry for his ironworks on the Harlem River at 134th Street.   By the 1840s he’d purchased a second tract of land with the idea of building the village of Mott Haven.  By 1850, Mott had drawn up plans for the lower part of the Mott Haven Canal, which, once completed, allowed canal boats to travel as far north as 138th Street.

Map of Mott Haven Canal Docks and other Property of W. E. Rider and T. H. Conkling, ca. 1880, In the Map Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.3142A.

Mott was viewed with a certain amount of resentment, as his ironworks and canal were the forerunners of a wave of unwelcome industrialization through what had previously been pastoral countryside.   If you look along the canal in the map above, you’ll see the Mott Ironworks located where the canal meets the Harlem River, and several other industrial buildings as you move up the canal.  The neighborhood that forms the Mott Haven Historic District is a residential pocket in the greater industrial neighborhood of Mott Haven, contributing to it’s uniqueness.

Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) and Frank Bauman, for LOOK Magazine. Changing New York: A building and a firehouse being demolished, 1957. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.7552-57.175

The Mott Haven Historic District is roughly situated along Alexander Avenue, bounded by East 137th Street to the south, and East 141st Street to the north.  This stretch has been known throughout its history both as “The Irish Fifth Avenue” and “Politician’s Row.” The Mott Haven Historical District was the first area in the Bronx to receive the designation from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, in 1969, shortly following the first historic district designation in 1965 of Brooklyn Heights.   Following the construction of major highways in the South Bronx in the 1950s, primarily the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the displacement of vast swathes of residents led to poverty and decay in the South Bronx.  Images such at the one above, picturing demolition along the Harlem River at the Park Avenue Bridge (just southwest of the Mott Haven Historic District), became commonplace by the 1960s.

Wurts Brothers. East 137th Street and Alexander Avenue. St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic Church, interior, ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10472.

Scenes such as the one  captured by Rothstein and Bauman illustrate the timeliness of the historic district designation for Mott Haven.  Among some of the architectural landmarks in the Mott Haven Historic District is St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic Church, at the corner of Alexander Avenue and 138th Street, pictured to the right.   The district also boasts several examples of historic residential architecture from the early 1860s – 1920s, with interiors custom designed for their owners, and important civic structures, including: the Tercera Iglesia Bautista (Third Baptist Church) and its parsonage; the Mott Haven Branch of the Public Library, which was the first public library in the Bronx, and constructed with funds from Andrew Carnegie’s grant; and the 40th Precinct Police Station.  While the historical designation of Mott Haven was a step in the right direction for preserving the unique architectural landscape of the South Bronx, no other neighborhoods received the designation until Longwood did, in 1980.

Susan Lorkid Katz. SKIPPED, 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 84.203.101

In the decade in between,  decay continued to spread through the borough, and numerous building fires sprung up on a daily basis, leading to the coining of the phrase, “The Bronx is burning,” attributed to Howard Cosell as he commented on a fire in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium during a New York Yankees game.  The events of the 1970s brought national attention to the South Bronx, including the notice of President Jimmy Carter, and by the early 1980s parts of the borough were beginning to experience an urban renewal.  In addition to Longwood, three other neighborhoods received the historic designation in the 1980s, and four in the 1990s.

Click here to view more images of Mott Haven from the collection, including structures which no longer exist, such as the 138th Street Grand Central Railroad Station and the 3rd Avenue “L”.

During the month of May, we’ll be posting more entries on historic preservation in the city. The Museum of the City of New York is competing for a $250,000 grant from Partners in Preservation, a joint program sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The winner is determined by popular vote, and individuals may vote once a day through May 21st. Please help us by going to http://www.helpmcny.com/ and voting today.