Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Restoration of a Pilot House

Reginald Marsh. Tugboat pulling freight car floats. ca. 1938. Museum of the City of New York.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cargo containers coming into New York Harbor were loaded from ocean-going vessels onto large barges with railroad tracks on the deck. Vessels like the steam tugboat New York Central No. 31 (built in 1923 for the New York Central Railroad) moved these barges between rail yards so that the containers could be attached to trains headed to the rest of the country.

Reginald Marsh. Tugboat pulling freight car floats. ca. 1938. Museum of the City of New York.

These vessels had distinctively tall pilot houses, enabling the captain to see over the cargo on the barges in order to pilot the craft safely around the Harbor, as well as several windows for good visibility in all directions.

New York Central No. 31 was operated by a crew of 6 in the freight yards of Weehawken, NJ, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  She retired in 1970, and the South Street Seaport Museum purchased her pilot house for the collection in 1980 with funds from the Seamen’s Bank for Savings.

Long a fixture on Pier 16, the pilot house had not been restored since 1989.  When the Museum of the City of New York took over operations at the Seaport Museum, it was clear that the time had come for some preservation work, as the harsh weather conditions on the waterfront had damaged the structure.

BEFORE: New York Central No. 31 Pilot House (1980.007) in April 2012

Glen removing the rotted layers of the roof in early May

A cross-section of the roof, including the original canvas covering

One surprise when we removed some of the rotting siding — graffiti from before the last restoration in 1989! Wonder if this couple is still together…

In early May, Jim Clements and Glen Garver, both master joiners, came to the Museum to begin work.  Jim and Glen have done extensive work both ashore and afloat, including several other pilot house projects. We were fortunate to have these two fine artists working with us on the restoration of the New York Central 31 pilot house.

The first step was to remove all of the rotting wood, exposing the internal structure of the pilot house along with a few surprises, including the original canvas roof and a graffiti record of 1980’s-era love.

Jim and Glen removed any material that was rotted and replaced it with historically – appropriate materials that would be able to withstand the harsh waterfront weather conditions.

New and old wood along the roof edge

New siding done in traditional tongue-in-groove technique

Jim fairing joints at soffit and fascia.

Once the structure was updated, Jim and Glen primed the building for painting, which Sal Polisi, the woodcarver at the Seaport Museum’s maritime crafts center, completed.  The pilot house had long been painted a greenish-gray color, but Norman Brouwer, a noted maritime historian who is consulting with the Museum on various projects, selected an olive green and bright red color scheme that is more historically accurate.

Sal painting the name board he hand-carved for the pilot house

Sal also restored and repainted the name boards he’d made for the pilot house back in the 1980’s.  These signs are exact replicas of the signs the vessel would have sported in the 1930’s.

Waterfront staff led by waterfront director Jonathan Boulware then moved the pilot house to a new location on the pier using pipe rollers and a forklift.

With a few coats of paint, the pilot house now looks cheery on the pier, and it currently serves as the ticket office for Trapeze School New York.  Come on down and check out a piece of history before you go fly high over the East River!

The Seaport Museum, currently under the management of the Museum of the City of New York, is open seven days a week from 10:00 – 6:00.

AFTER: the pilot house, brightly painted in historically accurate colors, after her restoration

Peter Pan: over 100 years of the boy who wouldn’t grow up

Wendy Darling:
Boy, why are you crying?

What’s your name?

Wendy Moira Angela Darling. What is your name?

Peter Pan.

Is that all?

Peter Pan:

-Act I, Peter Pan; or, the boy who wouldn’t grow up by J. M. Barrie.

Otto Sarony Co. [Maude Adams as Peter Pan], 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 32.290.9.

This is how we are introduced to Peter Pan, in the Darling children’s bedroom, crying with frustration over his separated shadow.  The boy who wouldn’t grow up turns 108 this year and with his latest incarnation, Peter and the Starcatcher, showing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, he still can still draw our attention.

 Peter Pan made his Broadway debut on November 6, 1905, just under a year after appearing for the first time on the London stage.  Written by J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan; or, the boy who wouldn’t grow up was produced in London by Charles Frohman and remounted at his Empire Theatre on Broadway and 40th Street. The production starred Maude Adams as the  eponymous boy.

Theater program for “Peter Pan” at the Empire Theatre, November 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.42.2.

The Empire Theatre revived the play three times in the early part of the 20th century, all starring Ms. Adams who by the 1915 production was 43 years old.

Unknown. [Eva Le Gallienne as Peter Pan]. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 37248.9

Barrie’s boy got two revivals in the 1920s, the second of which was directed by and starred Eva Le Gallienne.  Though only 29, Ms. Le Gallienne was already a seasoned Broadway director.  Her production was seen as a  break away from Frohman’s productions. However, the New York Times review noted that the play “had lost nothing essential of its magic”.  The reviewer described Ms. Gallienne’s Peter as a “gallant, buoyant  clean-cut figure”, but also noticed that she “wears the limit of bare legs”.  Though her pose at left is decidedly less boyish than her predecessor, the choice of city rooftop is perhaps the most striking contrast to Ms. Adams’s idyllic woodland backdrop.

Lucas-Monroe. [Boris Karloff as Captain Hook], 1950. Museum of the City of New York.

The final Broadway production of Peter Pan the play was mounted in 1950 at the Imperial Theatre.  Continuing the tradition of a grown woman playing Peter, Jean Arthur took up the title role, and none other than the original Frankenstein, Boris Karloff, played Captain Hook.  In the premiere London production, the actor who played Captain Hook also portrayed Mr. Darling, the children’s father.  Peter’s archenemy is a father figure in disguise, an image as psychologically subtle as the make-up on Mr. Karloff’s face.

Peter Lawrence, a producer on Mr. Karloff’s production, arranged a national tour in the fall of 1951.  This time Peter was played by the improbable Veronica Lake.  The Digital Team at the Museum uncovered the images below in the archives of the Lucas-Pritchard / Lucas-Monroe Studios.

Lucas-Monroe. [Veronica Lake as Peter Pan], 1951. Museum of the City of New York.

Lucas-Monroe. [Veronica Lake as Peter Pan and Lawrence Tibbett as Captain Hook], 1951. Museum of the City of New York.

Though Peter Lawrence’s production was the last time the play was produced on Broadway, Barrie’s work was turned into a popular musical that opened just four years later. With a score by Mark Charlap and music by Carolyn Leigh, the production was directed by Jerome Robbins and starred the very popular Mary Martin.  Ms. Martin’s boy became the definitive Peter Pan. (She donated her Pan costume to the Museum in 1968 including the piece for Peter’s shadow.)

Sheet music for “Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “Peter Pan”, 1954. Museum of the City of New York. 70.22.123D.

Though the musical’s original run was only 152 performances, Ms. Martin starred in three live televised productions that gave the show a wider audience. The musical was revived five times, the last opening in 1999.  Now on Broadway, Peter Pan has been re-made for the 21st century in Peter and the Starcatcher, a precursor to the boy’s adventures with the Darlings. The play garnered an impressive nine Tony nominations this year, winning awards for its feature actor and sweeping the design categories.  The boy who wouldn’t grow up still won’t, and we can’t stop clapping our hands.


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Hidden in Plain Sight

New York is home to many humble cemeteries right on the beaten path, their presence unannounced by towering monuments. Many of the city’s parks, such as Madison Square and Bryant Park, originated as potter’s fields. Other cemeteries have somehow weathered the test of time and withstood ever-encroaching development. If you’re not paying attention, you might walk right past them and not even notice.

George Miller, Jr. Jewish cemetery at Bowery near Chatham Square. ca. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.12.34

The first Shearith Israel cemetery at St. James Place near Chatham Square in Chinatown dates back to the 17th century.

Beecher Ogden. Jewish Burial Ground. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2658

The oldest extant tombstone is from 1683, belonging to Benjamin Bueno de Mesquita.

Beecher Ogden. Graves in the Jewish cemetery. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2667

It is often referred to as the first Shearith Israel cemetery, because it is the oldest surviving burial ground of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. But the synagogue’s oldest cemetery can be traced back to 1656, when authorities granted to Congregation Shearith Israel “a little hook of land situate outside of this city for a burial place.” Unfortunately, its precise location is now unknown.

Robert L. Bracklow. Jewish Cemetery, Chatham Square. 1880-1910. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.359

Shearith Israel was founded in 1654 by 23 Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil. It was New York City’s only Jewish congregation until 1825. The cemetery is the final resting place for a number of notable people. The image below shows the tombstone of Jonas Phillips, a merchant, Freemason, and ardent supporter of the American cause during the Revolutionary War.

Beecher Ogden. Jewish Cemetery on New Bowery Street. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2666

Phillips is not the only patriot buried in the cemetery. Below you can see the headstone of Gershom Mendes Seixas, Shearith Israel’s cantor, who also advocated for the United States during the revolution. Seixas was a participant in the 1789 inauguration of George Washington.

Beecher Ogden. Graves in the Jewish Cemetery. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2680

At the bustling intersection of Church and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn stands the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church. The landmarked structure was built from 1793-1798 and designed by Thomas Fardon.

Dutch Reformed Church, Built 1796, Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York Postcard Collection. F2011.33.1976

The adjoining graveyard quietly blends into the surrounding neighborhood.

Flatbush Avenue Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7417

The engraved text on many of the tombstones has been rendered illegible by exposure to the elements.

Cemetery of the Flatbush Avenue Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7510

The surnames of some of the people buried in the churchyard are reflected in the names of Brooklyn neighborhoods and streets: Peter Lefferts, Catherine Wyckoff, and Philipus Ditmas.

George P. Hall and Son. Cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 92.53.35

The New York Marble Cemetery, bounded by Bowery, 2nd Avenue, and 2nd and 3rd Streets in the East Village, is New York City’s oldest public non-sectarian cemetery.

First Marble Cemetery. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.243

Also called the Second Avenue Cemetery, it was incorporated in 1831. Most of its 2,080 burials took place between 1830 and 1870.

Chicago Albumen Works. Jacob A. Riis. Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York.

Public concern over yellow fever outbreaks caused legislators to outlaw earth burials, so 156 marble vaults were built 10 feet underground. There are no gravestones in the cemetery, although you can see names of the deceased on plaques in the surrounding walls.

Jacob A. Riis. The Old Marble Cemetery — proposed for a play ground, taken in summer 1895. Museum of the City of New York.

The marble used for the cemetery’s vaults, plaques, and lintels is soft and susceptible to the elements. The Dead House, used for the temporary storage of remains, was particularly vulnerable and had to be demolished in 1955.

Jacob A. Riis. The Dead-house in Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York.

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A Fine Line: The Art of the Clothesline

Living in New York City, one becomes accustomed to the grey area between public and private space. Intimate details are exposed through the most mundane daily tasks. Laundry is one of those inevitable rituals that most New Yorkers have to perform in public. Before laundromats, the clothesline was an intrinsic component of the urban landscape. It is impossible to imagine the archetypal tenement building complete without several strands of white linen connecting each structure.

Sid Grossman (1915-1955), Vacant Lot between Buildings at 148th St., 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Thompson Street Clotheslines. Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). ca. 1895, Museum of the City of New York.

Overlapping in a complex network, each line of garments reads as a household census noting: age, family size, and social status. Bed sheets, undergarments, and women’s hosiery on thin strings allude to bodies not present. Starched white shirts dangle neck-down on tiny tightropes stories high above a precipice of filth-black alleys. A warm summer breeze could bring each garment to life with the weightlessness of guardian angels overlooking the city.

Photographer unknown. Minetta Alley. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2570.

“…they [clotheslines] were useful in many ways besides drying laundry: for running messages and cups of sugar from one apartment to another, or–stretched diagonally down to the ground–for conveying groceries to the elderly infirm or growlers of beer up to the corner saloon. They were characteristic of a life stretched by necessity, out of interiors of apartments as far as possible into the public space beyond.” -Luc Sante 1

Andrew Herman. Hanging laundry. 1940. Museum of the City of New York.

Chicago Albumen Works
Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). Typical Tenement Fire escape, serving as an extension of the “flat”– Allen Street. ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Greenwich Village Alley with Modern Art Lines. 1905-1920, Museum of the City of New York. 95.74.12

It was inevitable that the City’s great documenters would utilize the presence of the clotheslines as a visual element in depictions of poor and working class neighborhoods. It often added physicality to the frame, serving as a system of measurement of overwhelming heights. Each diagonal line became a symbol of the chaos and intersection of lives and cultures within an imposed vertical grid. The clothing was a recurring character of universal need. The photographer could either promote order or disquiet through composition. At times the wash-line appears uninvited, as unavoidable as a passing vehicle in the corner of the camera frame.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Court of the First Model Tenements in New York City. March 16, 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.48.

“…Abbott documented this space as a communal laundry line: ropes with pulleys led from apartments to five-story poles imbedded in concrete. Abbott made two exposures, with the laundry and poles forming different abstract configurations. She later recalled that winter day the laundry frozen stiff and the children huddled together, too cold to move (McQuaid, 375).” -Bonnie Yochelson 2

John Albok (1894-1982). John Albok’s backyard, view of clothesline strung between windows in brick courtyard, 1392 Madison Ave. ca. 1933. Museum of the City of New York. 82.68.64.

Charles Von Urban. 505-511 Greenwich Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 33.173.130.

Arnold Eagle, Wooden Rear Tenements–Children Playing in Dirt. 1935. Museum of the City of New York.

Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971). Tudor City from 39th Street. c. 1930-1933. Museum of the City of New York. 39.20.24.

Line drying has largely disappeared from New York as so many traditions of the lower classes in the name of social progress. Industrialized laundries with delivery and drop off were introduced as a convenience service to the middle class at the turn-of-the-century. Electric dryers were developed in the 1930s, but did not become marketable until the late 40s and early 50s. Soon, New Yorkers began to haul their laundry (as most do now) in swollen bags down the narrow passages and steep stairwells of their buildings through the street to laundromats lined with self-service machines and coin dispensers.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Interior, Box of Laundry. 1929. Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Laundry in Greenwich Village [Women in the laundromat.] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10875.9E

Clothesline poles do remain in the five boroughs–frequently as lanky stems shrinking to the base with rust, waiting to be uprooted by landlords. Recently, neighboring communities have gone so far as to outlaw clotheslines for being eyesores (as detailed in the New York Times article “To Fight Global Warming, Some Hang a Clothesline“). Although it is difficult to imagine anything staying clean for long when hung above the city’s streets, in the twenty-first century the poles have taken on new symbolism for environmentalists seeking their resurrection.

1 Sante, Luc, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, Macmillan, 2003.

2 Yochelson, Bonnie, Berenice Abbott: Changing New York, The Museum of The City of New York, The New Press, New York, 1997.