Category Archives: Digital Project

Elaine Stritch, Grande Dame of the Stage

Last Saturday night the crowd gathered around the piano at Marie’s Crisis to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Broadway’s 1970 hit musical, Company, in honor of the dearly departed woman who sang it, Elaine Stritch. Glasses were raised again and again to the line repeated throughout the number, “I’ll drink to that.” In real life Stritch made no bones about being a heavy drinker, or anything else for that matter. She dazzled audiences with her acerbic wit and frank speech on stage and off for over 60 years. She died last week at the age of 89 in her home in Birmingham, Michigan. A long-time resident of the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street, Stritch moved back to her home state of Michigan because of declining health and to be closer to family.

Stritch made her debut on the New York stage in the 1944 children’s play Bobino. Two years later she played Pamela Brewster in Loco, and also replaced Jane Middleton as Miss Crowder in Made in Heaven. Critics favorably took note of her in 1947 when she appeared alongside Paul and Grace Hartman in the revue Angel in the Wings.

Vandamm. "Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. ["Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Vandamm. [Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Stritch served as Ethel Merman’s standby for the role of Mrs. Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, but did not appear on the Broadway stage – the famously never-absent Merman did not miss even one performance.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

 Stritch got a break, however, when it was announced that she would star in the national tour of Call Me Madam.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

In 1955 she played a lonely, world-weary owner of a rural Kansas diner in Bus Stop. In retrospect, the character Grace Hoylard, with her acrid banter and jaded musings, seems to have been created especially for the notably wry Stritch.

Zinn Arthur. Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Zinn Arthur. [Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Brooks Atkinson called her out in a New York Times review of the play: “Elaine Stritch’s loose-jointed, tough-talking restaurant keeper is vastly amusing.”

Zinn Arthur. Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

Zinn Arthur. [Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

In 1970 she played another role that suited her perfectly, the hard-drinking, cynical Joanne in Company.

Friedman-Abeles. Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

Friedman-Abeles. [Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

 Walter Kerr praised her performance in a New York Times review:

“And, while we are thoroughly aware of Elaine Stritch from the beginning (Miss Stritch has what funny lines George Furth has chosen to write, and she stands alone in the group in making no pretty pretenses about the pleasures of matrimony), we are still not prepared for what happens to us and to the theater when she reaches a left-field snarl, complete with a snappy, snide foot-tap, called “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Miss Stritch spends a good bit of the evening exhaling cigarette smoke; what smoke she exhales during the song I don’t know, but it is hers alone and it is scathing. A great number, perfectly done.”

Friedman-Abeles. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

Friedman-Abeles. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

If you missed Stritch on the stage, you can still see recordings of her performances – be sure to check out this link.

Martha Swope. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

Martha Swope. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

For even more Elaine Stritch, visit our Collections Portal. We are constantly adding more material as it is digitized and cataloged, thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that supports our project to make accessible more than 30,000 photographs of Broadway productions.

 

 

Happy Birthday to Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Thursday, July 17th, is the 116th anniversary of Berenice Abbott’s birth (1898-1991).  The Museum of the City of New York holds over 2500 works in the collection by Abbott, who grew up in Ohio and lived briefly in New York’s Greenwich Village before moving to Europe in the 1920s, where she developed her photography skills.  Abbott returned to New York City in 1929, and after several attempts to obtain funding, was eventually hired by the Federal Arts Project (FAP) to execute what came to be known as “Changing New York,” a photo-documentary series of 305 images of the changing urban landscape of New York City.  You can read more about this project in an earlier post – Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland’s “Changing New York.”

In the three years since the Museum has launched this blog, numerous posts have drawn on Abbott’s work to narrate the city’s history.

Abbott’s scope was wide, and she traveled to all five boroughs, capturing locations such as Astoria, Queens; Bath Beach, Brooklyn; Shore Acres, Staten Island; Westchester Square, the Bronx; and multiple locations in Manhattan.  Take a a quick moment to peek around on Google Maps, and you’ll see that none of these structures below exist anymore.

43_131_1_430

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Arts Project. 27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.430.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936.  Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

The house in Astoria and the Belvedere Restaurant (located at Bay 16th and Cropsey Avenue, Brooklyn) were replaced with apartment buildings that appear to have been built within a decade of the photographs.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991).  Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937.  Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

The existing house on Hope Avenue in Staten Island may still have the same rock wall around the property, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

As for the Gas Station in the Bronx – Dock Street and East Tremont Avenue don’t even intersect up anymore – Herman H. Lehman High School now sits on the site, though the station may have been demolished as early as the 1930s or 1940s to make way for construction of the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the
Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

We could fill this post with an endless stream of images Abbott took of businesses, buildings, and landmarks that no longer exist; or some, such as Rockefeller Center, to the left, that were just in the early stages of construction, and remain as icons today.   As we honor the birth week of the photographer who had the foresight to capture the city as such a pivotal point in its history, take a look at her other images online, and see what lost fragments of the city’s urban landscape you can identify.

 

Jack Stewart and the documentation of early graffiti writing

When graffiti first began to appear on subway cars in New York City in the late 1960s, Jack Stewart (1926-2005) became one of the first, along with Jon Naar, to photograph and document it. From late 1972 through early 1973, he photographed subway cars every weekend, documenting the rapidly evolving style of the graffiti writers.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart  was born in Atlanta, GA in 1926 and earned a BFA degree at Yale University, where he studied painting with Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. He moved to New York City in 1949 and began designing and executing mosaic murals on commission. In order to better understand how to work with architects on these commissions, he enrolled in the Columbia University Evening School of Architecture. He also exhibited his paintings throughout his life. Stewart later enrolled as a graduate student at New York University in order to study graffiti more formally, earning his Master’s degree in 1975 and completing his Ph.D. in 1989. His dissertation, Mass Transit Art Subway Graffiti, was published by Abrams in 2009 under the title Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s. It was the first academic study of graffiti.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Stewart photographed graffiti throughout the 1970s, but he felt the style peaked around 1973. His work predated Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, both of whom began documenting the scene a few years later, and he covered graffiti in more depth than Naar. Over the years Stewart taught at almost every major art school on the east coast, including Pratt Institute, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the New School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In the last decades of his life, he held positions in many professional organizations, such as New York Artists Equity Association, the National Society of Mural Painters, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the National Academy of Design.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

The City Museum recently acquired 31 of his photographs through a generous gift from the Green Foundation. You can see all of them on the Collections Portal. And, through Labor Day, visit the Museum’s exhibition City as Canvas to see several of Stewart’s photographs on view.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

 Stewart’s papers are at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Revolutionary sisters: Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin

If you’ve never heard of Victoria Woodhull or her younger sister Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin, you’re not alone. When I first came across them in the Museum’s Portrait Archive, I was immediately intrigued by the designation of “Brokers” on their portraits. The more I researched them, the more interested I became.  They challenged the staunchly Victorian society of 1870’s New York City by opening the first female stock brokerage firm, were the first women to start a newspaper (one dedicated to radical reform, no less), and launched the first presidential campaign for a woman. Welcome to the strange and incredible true lives of Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the city of New York.  F2012.58.41.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.41.

The sisters had less than auspicious beginnings. Victoria Woodhull (neé Claflin) was born in 1838 in the wilds of Ohio and Tennie was born six years later. Their father was a one-eyed snake oil salesman and their mother a religious fanatic. The girls were soon part of their father’s schemes, earning money as child mediums, healers, and clairvoyants at tent revivals. For much of their childhood they were nomadic, staying in towns long enough to sell medicines and messages from the beyond, leaving before they could be chased out of town.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

For the next few decades, the sisters traveled difficult roads: bad marriages and a mentally handicapped child for Victoria, and the rough life of an itinerant faith healer for Tennie. And then one day, according to Victoria, the spirit of Demosthenes (the Greek orator, with whom she believed she communicated with regularly) sent her vision of a house on Great Jones Street in New York City where, the spirit promised her their lives would change for the better.

In 1868, the Claflin sisters invaded Manhattan. As promised, a house on Great Jones Street was procured and they immediately set to work taking over the city. Their first stop? Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt because, well, when you want to get to the top you need allies, especially ones who possess one of the biggest fortunes in the country.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

The sisters met the Commodore at just the right time. He had always been a superstitious man who trusted mediums more than medical doctors. At this time he was still deep in mourning for his beloved first wife. Thankfully, Victoria and Tennie could help with that. Victoria began hosting séances to give Vanderbilt business tips while Tennie focused on magnetic healing. She was apparently so gifted that she became Vanderbilt’s lover. It was serious enough to warrant pet names: he called her ”my little sparrow”; she called him ”the old goat.” There were rumors that he asked her to marry him, but alas it can’t be proven. It was this connection, however, (and Vanderbilt’s finances) that led to the sisters’ next big step.

On February 5, 1870 a large, boisterous crowd gathered outside 44 Broad Street to witness a first in New York’s history: two women opening their very own stock brokerage firm, with the silent backing of Vanderbilt’s fortunes. Woodhull, Claflin & Co. opened at 10 A.M. precisely and was promptly swarmed by men wanting to see how the fairer sex handled business. Newspapers were filled with eyewitness accounts of the first day of business. (See the amazing variety of articles this produced here). But for the most part, the papers championed the “Bewitching Brokers” and “The Lady Bankers,” while calling attention to the regal beauty of Victoria and the feisty flirtiness of Tennie. With their studied social rebellions, short hair, and dresses short enough to show their boots, the sisters were treated as novelties by the press. However novel they were, they were also a success – they supposedly made $700,000 the first six weeks they were in business (a hefty $13 million in today’s dollars).

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

The press and public clamored for stories (positive and negative) about the nonconformist sisters, so for years they were never far from the headlines  and that suited them just fine…even when they were subjects of political cartoons like this.

From the New York  Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. eprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

From the New York Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Keep in mind that this happened in the height of the Gilded Age, when a woman didn’t have a voice, property, or money independent of the men in her life, whether it was her husband, brother, or father. Thanks to a private door in the rear of the building leading to a women-only lounge, Woodhull, Claflin & Co. made it acceptable for women ranging from elite society dowagers to actresses to take control of their money. Most people would be content with this success, but the sisters weren’t satisfied; they had bigger plans. As Victoria later said: “We went unto Wall Street, not particularly because I wanted to be a broker…but because I wanted to plant the Flag of women’s rebellion in the center of the continent.”

Using the profits from Woodhull, Claflin & Co., they started their own weekly newspaper, the not so creatively named Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. It’s within these pages that we can see how modern their ideas were, and still are: sexual education for teenagers, eight hour workdays, fair wages, and gender equality are issues still being argued 144 years later!

Alll of this was a mere stepping stone for their next move. Stay tuned for the continuation of the saga of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin.

 

Illuminating New York City Through Material Culture

American Newspaper Publishers Association Dinner Program, 1903, in the Collection on Special Dinner Events. Museum of the City of New York, 42.250.77A.

The Museum of the City of New York’s ephemera collections have held a special place in my heart since I took on their custodianship, along with manuscripts, maps, and rare books, over three and a half years ago.  During my first weeks with the Museum, I began to do what any archivist would do when faced with shelves of boxes filled with unknown contents – I opened the lids and looked inside.   The Museum’s Collection on Formal Dining Events was among the first of the collections I explored, and I was transported immediately to the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, to Delmonico’s for a seven course dinner.  I’d finally come to terms with the fact I could not actually live in 19th century New York City – but this was the next best thing.  I went on to investigate many more of the thematically arranged ephemera collections, finding material related to civic events, cultural institutions, medicine, lectures, musical performances, balls, and schools, among many other topics, dating from the 18th century up to the present time.

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Over the past few years, we have used ephemera to illustrate multiple posts on this blog and the Museum continues to utilize it in programs, exhibitions, and publications, as it has for decades.  Yet, the bulk of the collection remains hidden.  Now, thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Museum has just embarked on the project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.  Over the course of the next two years, the Museum will increase access to over 6,500 objects of material culture by sharing the objects on the Collections Portal, as well as processing the collections and posting the finding aids online via our Catablog for Archival Collections.

We will share our discoveries from the ephemera collections as we prepare the materials for digitization and process them.  In the meantime, here are a few examples that illustrate how these collections document a vast array of events from New York City’s history, including openings and dedication ceremonies for monuments and landmarks, an invitation to stand on the viewing platform at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty (above), or the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge (below):

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Social events, such as dance cards and invitations to balls and dances:

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Civic celebrations, such as the Hudson Fulton Celebration, marking the 300th Anniversary of of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s first successful commercial application of the paddle steamer:

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Ceremonies marking events of national importance, such as the deaths of Presidents Grant and Lincoln:

Program for the Dedication of Grant's Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York.

Program for the Dedication of Grant’s Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York.

Announcement  from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln's Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

Announcement from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln’s Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

And materials from political, social, and professional organizations:

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics.  Museum of the City of New York.

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics. Museum of the City of New York.

We look forward to bringing you more highlights from the ephemera collection in the coming months.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

 

 

Mel Rosenthal in the South Bronx

Mel Rosenthal (born 1940) grew up in the South Bronx. When he returned to the area 20 years later, after receiving a Ph.D. in English Literature and American Studies from the University of Connecticut and a stint working as a medical photographer in Tanzania, he discovered an alien landscape of destruction and affliction. The burned-out buildings and rubble-strewn vacant lots have since become a visual shorthand for the urban decay of the 1970s and 1980s. Rosenthal began documenting the area and its residents, many of them native Puerto Ricans, creating a series of photographs that were eventually published in 2000 in the book, In the South Bronx of America.

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

In what is today roughly Morrisania and East Tremont, in the vicinity along Bathgate Avenue, Rosenthal photographed people who lived, played, loved each other, struggled, and sometimes protested in the midst of an environment that was elsewhere rendered in horrified, sensational headlines.

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

In 1976, Roger Starr, Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, proposed a course of “planned shrinkage” that would allow the city to abandon what were considered blighted areas, especially in the South Bronx. This abandonment took the form of withdrawing public services such as libraries, public transportation, and, perhaps most notably, fire services. “The Bronx is burning” was a literal, not a figurative phrase.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

The attitudes behind these policies were presaged by Starr in his 1966 book Urban Choices: the City and its Critics. In one passage he wrote, “Since they have no property, their only marketable asset is hardship…. [S]ome of the people displaced by urban renewal might just be exaggerating the sense of deprivation they feel over their ‘lost homes.’”

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Starr and his supports believed that planned shrinkage would make way for future middle class housing, or, in the case of the neighborhood documented by Rosenthal, industrial development. And indeed, this area today is characterized by low-slung warehouses.

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

The city administrators’ beliefs about the people who lived in these areas and their “exaggerated” attachment to their communities are belied by Rosenthal’s photographs. The images capture the individuality and the humanity of those few earlier residents who remained, and those from a new generation who made their lives there.

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

His work, then, is not only a moving documentary to the resilience of people living in challenging circumstances, but also an activist’s critique of government policies that wrote off entire communities.

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

The Museum of the City of New York received 42 original prints from the Bronx series as a gift from Rosenthal’s wife, Roberta Perrymapp. We recently finished digitizing and cataloging them. View all 42 on the Museum’s Collections Portal, along with his later photographs of Arab Americans in New York City.

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

 

Inside the Glamour – Baumgarten Interiors

For a span of a few weeks last winter, I lived in two worlds. My real world consisted of a Brooklyn apartment filled with IKEA furniture, roommates, and the usual litany of complaints about New York City living spaces. But for eight hours a day, five days a week, I was transported back to a time when homes wouldn’t be complete without their own ballrooms, libraries, conservatories, myriad guest bedrooms denoted by what color the walls were painted and, well… you get the idea.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.391A.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.391A.

The six unbound albums that are loosely referred to as the Baumgarten Interiors, given to the City Museum by the antiquarian taste-maker J. A. Lloyd Hyde in 1935, show some of New York City’s most elaborately decorated homes and offices. The City Museum’s records on this gift don’t offer much in the way of details, but we have pieced together what ties all of these lavish interiors together: they were the work of William Baumgarten and his eponymous interior design company, William Baumgarten & Co. The photographs were taken in the early years of the 20th century and compiled into albums at a later date. Although Baumgarten’s clients had recognizable names such as Astor, Rothschild, and Juilliard,  his own name has faded from public memory.

William Baumgarten was a taste-maker in his own right. Originally a cabinetmaker, after emigrating from Germany in 1865 he began working for the Herter Brothers, very posh interior decorators and cabinet makers. He eventually took over the business and that’s where things get interesting. At the time, interior decorators like Stanford White (of McKim, Mead and White architectural firm fame) would travel to Europe looking for relics in good conditions to decorate the houses of the wealthy. Among the most popular items were tapestries, but there was that annoying fact of a limited supply and growing demand. To combat that, in 1893 Baumgarten created the first tapestry workshop in America; it was in the Bronx and employed 80 people who made high quality copies of the finest 18th and 19th century tapestries.  So it is not surprising to see how prominently displayed tapestries in these pictures.

After looking at a thousand images, I began to see patterns and become intimately acquainted with the au courant interior trends of the early 20th century. I’ve highlighted a few of them, just in case you need decorating tips for your next apartment.

Obviously tapestries work in both a home and an office setting…the more the better.

Unknown photographer. [William C. Whitney Residence. 68th St. & 5th Ave., N.Y.C. Entrance hall.] ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.71A

Unknown photographer. [William C. Whitney Residence. 68th St. & 5th Ave., N.Y.C. Entrance hall.] ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.71A.

Unknown photographer. Mr. F. W. Woolworth's private office, Woolworth Building, N.Y.C.. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.10A

Unknown photographer. Mr. F. W. Woolworth’s private office, Woolworth Building, N.Y.C.. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.10A

Animal hides were another must have.

Unknown photographer. Residence of Mrs. David Heller, 4 East 82nd St., N.Y.C. Music room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York.  X2013.139.353B.

Unknown photographer. Residence of Mrs. David Heller, 4 East 82nd St., N.Y.C. Music room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.353B.

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Solarium view looking south. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.124B.

What’s intriguing is to see how the idea of home has shifted over the decades; these homes are not designed for comfort, but rather a statement of wealth and power. (Remember how much a mansion and costume ball helped cement the Vanderbilts into New York City society?)

Unknown photographer. John Jacob Astor Residence, #840 Fifth Avenue. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.90B.

Unknown photographer. John Jacob Astor Residence, #840 Fifth Avenue. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.90B.

Because really, who doesn’t need a pipe organ in the entrance hall?

Unknown photographer. Mrs. W. H. Taylor's Apartment 12 W. 96th Street. Entrance hall. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.375B.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. W. H. Taylor’s Apartment 12 W. 96th Street. Entrance hall. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.375B.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Library. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.387A.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Library. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.387A.

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Conservatory off dining room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City og New York. X2013.139.122

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Conservatory off dining room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.122

Please click here to see more images of the glamorous worlds William Baumgarten created in the houses of the elite of New York City and imagine yourself having tea in the conservatory and wiling away the afternoon in your private gallery.

 

Untimely Deaths of Stage Performers

The Museum is digitizing 30,000 photographs of Broadway and off-Broadway productions dating from the 1860s up to the 2000s with a Museums for America grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Some of the material is already available on our online Collections Portal. While cataloging the photographs, I couldn’t help but notice how many performers died at a young age, or from tragic or unusual circumstances. I started keeping a list of entertainers whose lives were abruptly cut short. Please join us now for a tour of the sad demises of Broadway stars:

Nelson Decker enjoyed a promising career as an actor in the mid-nineteenth century. He was a member of the Actor’s Fund of America and joined the prestigious company of Booth’s Theatre when it opened in 1869. In 1881 Decker married English actress Ward Almayne but the marriage was unhappy and soon Decker’s career and health began to decline. In 1891 he was admitted to the Edwin Forrest Home for aging and infirm actors. Not two months after arriving at the home, Decker slit his wrists and throat. A servant found him still alive but lying in a pool of blood. Doctors attempted to save his life but there was nothing they could do and he passed away a week later on December 2, 1891.

Sarony. Nelson Decker. 1878-1891. Museum of the City of New York. 74.22.182

Sarony. Nelson Decker. 1878-1891. Museum of the City of New York. 74.22.182

Brothers William and Gordon Dooley performed stunts and acrobatics together as the Funny Dooleys in a number of vaudeville shows, but their deaths were decidedly unfunny. William Dooley was known as a martyr to stage work and this devotion ultimately ended his life at the age of 39. On the night of his last performance, he presciently remarked to his brother: “Let’s make it good – we haven’t many more shows to give together.” William Dooley reported for work the following day, September 29, 1921, but his body collapsed from the years of constant strain.

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. William Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue". 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.793

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. [William Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue."] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.793

Gordon Dooley continued to perform in vaudeville and musical comedy but outlived his brother by only nine years. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1929 and died of pneumonia at the age of 31 on January 24, 1930.

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. Gordon Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue". 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.792

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. [Gordon Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue."] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.792

Beloved Broadway actor Gregory Kelly starred in the 1925 play “The Butter and Egg Man,” written by George S. Kaufman. He played Peter Jones, an out-of-towner who decides to invest $20,000 in a Broadway show. The play was a resounding success – it toured the following year and was even optioned for a movie. Film columnist Louella Parsons wrote on June 2, 1926: “If First National doesn’t get Gregory Kelly to play the lead in “The Butter and Egg Man,” I will never speak to any member of the organization again. To bring this play to the screen without Gregory Kelly, would be like serving apple pie without cheese, just an unpardonable omission.” Unfortunately for Parsons and everybody else who loved Kelly’s performance, he suffered a heart attack while on tour with “The Butter and Egg Man.” He never fully recovered and passed away on July 9, 1927 at the age of 36.

White Studio. Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in "The Butter and Egg Man". 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.113

White Studio. [Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in "The Butter and Egg Man."] 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.113

British actress Elsie Mackay (the woman leaning against the piano in the photograph below) had a successful career on Broadway but her true passion was flying. In March 1928 she attempted to become the first woman to across the Atlantic Ocean, teaming up with an experienced aviator, Captain Walter G. Hinchcliffe. Not long into the westward flight, Mackay and Hinchcliffe disappeared off the coast of Ireland and were never seen again.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). "Clarence" theater still. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1117

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). ["Clarence" theater still.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1117

Peg Entwistle had already performed in over 10 Broadway shows when she played the role of Amy Grey in the 1932 production “Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire.” That same year she left for Hollywood, hoping to find as much success on the screen as she had on the stage. This proved elusive and on September 19, 1932, Entwistle jumped to her death from the 50-foot “H” of the Hollywoodland sign (the sign was shortened to Hollywood in 1949). She left a suicide note which read: “I’m afraid I’m a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this long ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.” She was only 24.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Laurette Taylor as Mrs. Grey, Peg Entwistle as Amy Grey, and Charles Dalton as Colonel Grey in "Alice Sit-by-the-Fire". 1932. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.94

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Laurette Taylor as Mrs. Grey, Peg Entwistle as Amy Grey, and Charles Dalton as Colonel Grey in "Alice Sit-by-the-Fire."] 1932. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.94

Hal Skelly joined a traveling circus at the age of 15 and moved to the company of Barnum & Bailey a few years later. He also appeared on Broadway in productions such as “The Night Boat” in 1920 and “Betty Lee” in 1924. In 1927 he played what was possibly the greatest role of his career, the part of Skid in “Burlesque.” He had just finished the production “Come What May” when a truck he was driving was struck by a train on June 17, 1934. He died instantly at the age of 42. Skelly had been looking for a friend’s dog when his vehicle rolled onto the train tracks. Police surmised that he might have mistaken the forward gear for the reverse.

Vandamm. Hal Skelly as Skid in "Burlesque". 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 37.414.4

Vandamm. [Hal Skelly as Skid in "Burlesque."] 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 37.414.4

Bill Callahan performed in many long-running Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 1950s such as “Call Me Mister,” “As the Girls Go,” and “Top Banana.” In 1951 he married Eleanor Rao and joined her father’s business, Arc Electrical Construction Company. In 1980 he resigned from the company and ran off with a 29-year-old chorus girl named Wendy McDade. His father-in-law Charles Rao accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from the firm. Callahan and McDade were last seen alive leaving Chicago’s Continental Plaza Hotel the night of March 17, 1981. Their bodies were found the following day in the Chiwaukee Prairie nature preserve in Wisconsin – both victims had been shot three times in the head. To this day the murders remain unsolved.

Lucas-Monroe. Bill Callahan as Kenny Wellington in "As the Girls Go". 1948-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.177

Lucas-Monroe. [Bill Callahan as Kenny Wellington in "As the Girls Go."] 1948-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.177

James Hayden grew up in Brooklyn and lived on the streets as a teenager. He worked hard to overcome his past and was accepted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts despite having no acting experience. After playing the part of Rodolpho in “A View From the Bridge,” he garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of the heroin addict Bobby in “American Buffalo.” But in a grim case of life imitating art and just six hours after receiving a standing ovation for this performance, Hayden died of a heroin overdose at the age of 29 on November 8, 1983.

Stephanie Saia. James Hayden as Bobby, Al Pacino as Walter Cole, and J. J. Johnston as Donny Dubrow in "American Buffalo". 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.106

Stephanie Saia. [James Hayden as Bobby, Al Pacino as Walter Cole, and J. J. Johnston as Donny Dubrow in "American Buffalo."] 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.106

Beautiful Marjorie Battles debuted on Broadway in the 1965 play “Cactus Flower.” She remained in the cast for 650 performances and then left the stage for a teaching career, although she continued to play bit parts on television shows. After her sister died of cancer in 1979, Battles became despondent and spent the remainder of her life as a recluse in her family’s rowhouse in South Philadelphia. She ended her life on October 18, 1987 by jumping in front of a Philadelphia subway train.

Photographer unknown. Marjorie Battles as Botticelli's Springtime in "Cactus Flower". 1965-1968. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.1291

Photographer unknown. [Marjorie Battles as Botticelli's Springtime in "Cactus Flower."] 1965-1968. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.1291

Norman Kean and Gwyda DonHowe led an apparently happy life together. They met in 1957 while working in summer stock and married the following year. He became a theatrical manager and producer and she regularly appeared on the Broadway stage. But despite his best efforts, Kean never accomplished more than mediocre success: his most lucrative production, “Oh! Calcutta!” was seen as a gimmicky tourist attraction rather than a respectable show. Most of the shows Kean produced were flops, like the 1978 production “A Broadway Musical.” It ran for 26 performances at the Theatre of the Riverside Church before moving to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it opened and closed the same night.

"A Broadway Musical" sticker. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

“A Broadway Musical” sticker. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

Kean (the man in the center of the photograph below) never produced another show after “A Broadway Musical.”

"A Broadway Musical" program. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

“A Broadway Musical” program. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

In 1987, Kean learned that DonHowe (shown in the photograph below, to the right) was having an affair. He attempted to save his marriage by staying home more often, but a private investigator told Kean that DonHowe continued to see her lover. On January 11, 1988, Kean stabbed DonHowe to death as she lay sleeping and then jumped to his death from the roof of their apartment.

Photographer unknown. "A Broadway Musical" theater still. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.360

Photographer unknown. ["A Broadway Musical" theater still.] 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.360

Does life imitate art, as Oscar Wilde famously opined, or is it the other way around? In any case, the dramas enacted by these performers onstage had counterparts in the actors’ lives, and their sorrowful deaths illustrate the parallel between stage life and real life.

 

William Auerbach-Levy, Artist and Neighborhood Preservationist

William Auerbach-Levy was born in 1889 in Brest-Litovsk, then part of the Russian Empire. He immigrated with his parents to the United States around 1894 and grew up on the Lower East Side. He began drawing at a young age and eventually became renowned for caricature. He executed serious illustrations with equal skill, however, as shown below on the cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance.

Cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance by William Auerbach-Levy.

Cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance. Illustration by William Auerbach-Levy.

Auerbach-Levy’s artistic abilities enabled him to effectively parody public figures, and his caricatures appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, the New York Post, Collier’s, and Esquire, to name a few. He also authored several newspaper articles and a book entitled Is That Me? to satisfy public interest in his profession. In the article, “A Caricaturist Snitches on His Victims – How Celebrities Act When Impaled on an Artist’s Pencil,” published in the October 18, 1925 issue of New York World, he wrote of the character actress Helen Westley: “When I told Helen Westley that I had come to do a caricature she said, ‘Of course it would be a caricature – aren’t you afraid you’ll forget how to make a straight drawing? Well, go ahead and be as wicked as you like. I’m used to it.’”

William Auerbach-Levy. Helen Westley. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.974

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). [Helen Westley.] 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.974

In the same article, Auerbach-Levy recounted his experience sketching Lionel Barrymore as he applied makeup backstage for “The Piker”. Barrymore saw the sketch right before the curtain went up. “‘Pretty good if you fix-” The curtain was going up. Of course I didn’t ‘fix’ it, whatever it was – I’ve learned that the subject’s criticism of his own caricature may safely be ignored.”

William Auerbach-Levy. Lionel Barrymore. ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1670

William Auerbach-Levy. [Lionel Barrymore.] ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1670

Auerbach-Levy’s article “Something About Caricature” appeared in the September 1933 issue of journal New Hope. He recalled in 1927 sketching producer Jed Harris as he worked with director George Abbott on the production “Coquette”.

Something About Caricature

“Something About Caricature” by William Auerbach-Levy. Published in New Hope Vol. I No. II, September 1933.

“I never saw a man so distressed as Harris when he finally looked over my sketches. Then with deadly earnestness he said, ‘You can’t print that in your paper!’” But as Auerbach-Levy later revealed to journalist Ernest Watson in “The Caricatures of William Auerbach-Levy,” printed in the April 1938 issue of Art Instruction: “Shortly after, I saw Jed again. He said, ‘Bill, that was a marvelous drawing of me! Everybody was crazy about it – you must have been inspired – don’t forget I’m buying the original.’ And, thereafter, it hung framed on his wall.”

William Auerbach-Levy. Jed Harris. ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.715

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jed Harris.] ca. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.715

Harris was not the only person so enamored of his caricature that he requested to buy it outright from Auerbach-Levy. The journalist H. L. Mencken took to his caricature and wrote in a letter to Auerbach-Levy: “I like the caricature very much. It is grotesque and yet it does justice to my underlying beauty. Needless to say, I’ll be delighted to have the original, if it still exists.”

William Auerbach-Levy. H. L. Mencken. ca. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.836

William Auerbach-Levy. [H. L. Mencken.] 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.836

Letter from H. L. Mencken to William-Auerbach Levy, June 16, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. William Auerbach-Levy archives.

Letter from H. L. Mencken to William-Auerbach Levy, June 16, 1929.

Auerbach-Levy’s talents became so well-known, he was even commended in a New York Times article that had nothing to do with him. Critic Alexander Woollcott praised the performance of entertainer Cecilia Loftus in the April 10, 1938 article “Cissie Loftus – As Ever”: “You see most of what are palmed off on us as imitations are doubly that. They are really imitations of imitations. The true gift of caricature is rare. But once some one born with it – a Max Beerbohm, let us say, or a Frueh or an Auerbach-Levy….”

Jimmy Durante was also impressed with the artist when he went to Auerbach-Levy’s studio in Washington Square, as told in the August 6, 1942 article “This Artist Enjoys a Triple Career” that appeared in The Villager.

William Auerbach-Levy. Jimmy Durante. 1925-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.145

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jimmy Durante.] 1925-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.145

“As Jimmie walked through the door, Mr. Levy saw just the amusing angle he had hoped to catch and jotted it down before the unsuspecting subject knew what was happening.

‘What do you want me to do?’ queried Jimmie, ready to pose.

‘Nothing,’ replied Mr. Levy. ‘It’s done.’

‘I knew I was easy to caricature,’ exclaimed the gentleman with the nose, ‘but not so easy as all that.’”

William Auerbach-Levy. Jimmy Durante. 1945-1964. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.659

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jimmy Durante.] 1945-1964. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.659

Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe. Judy Sinclair and Jimmy Durante at a party for "Top Banana". 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2506

Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe. [Judy Sinclair and Jimmy Durante at a party for "Top Banana".] 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2506

Auerbach-Levy even caricatured himself.

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). William-Auerbach Levy. 1920-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1083

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). [William-Auerbach Levy.] 1920-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1083

Auerbach-Levy accomplished much of his work at the aforementioned studio at 46 Washington Square South. He loved the studio and the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood so much, he created a scrapbook, now at the Museum. A cutout quote from the artist himself adorns the first page of the scrapbook: “The reason I like the Village better than any other part of New York is that here you can step out of your door and see the world. Life is here in all its manifestations. You can see more variety in the Village in five minutes than you can on a tour of the rest of the city. For an artist, that is very important.”

The second page of the scrapbook includes a reproduction of an oil painting produced around 1934 by Auerbach-Levy depicting his impression of Greenwich Village in winter.

Winter in Greenwich Village. Reproduction

Reproduction of oil painting by William Auerbach-Levy depicting Greenwich Village in the winter.

The artist Edward C. Caswell drew Auerbach-Levy’s studio and garden, and the drawings were printed in the Greenwich Village publication The Villager. Auerbach-Levy cut out the drawings from the newspaper and added them to his scrapbook.

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell's drawing of William Auerbach-Levy's studio. Printed in The Villager, .

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell’s drawing of William Auerbach-Levy’s studio. Printed in The Villager, February 26, 1941.

 

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell's drawing of William Auerbach-Levy's garden. Printed in The Villager, September 16, 1943.

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell’s drawing of William Auerbach-Levy’s garden. Printed in The Villager, September 28, 1939.

When Auerbach-Levy leased the studio in 1929, the entire 40 Washington Square block was owned by Albert Strunsky. In the early 1940s, Columbia University bought the block. In 1947, Columbia notified tenants on the block that their leases would not be renewed. Columbia, in turn, sold the block to NYU, which planned to demolish the buildings occupying the space between Sullivan and Macdougal Streets and Washington Square South and West Third Street to make room for a new law school. In addition to Auerbach-Levy, filmmaker Joris Ivens, artists Jacques Lipschitz and Kyohei Inukai, and pianist Celia Saloman would be among the 300-plus tenants to be displaced under the plan. The struggle between the competing interests of Greenwich Village artists and the university was faithfully captured by Auerbach-Levy in his scrapbook.

Caption

Houses scheduled to make way for a school. Printed in The Villager, February 17, 1949.

Not only did Auerbach-Levy document NYU’s expansion into Greenwich Village and the neighborhood’s attempts to stop it, he joined in the fight. As recounted in the June 16, 1949 issue of The Villager, “Skits Poke Fun At Tenants, Officials”: “Representatives of press and radio were honored guests Monday night, June 6, at a rollicking party in the studios of Beatrice Worthington and Ines Carillo, Washington Sq. S… The highlight of the evening was ‘a one shot, first and last showing’ of three skits entitled ‘The Follies of Washington Sq.’” The skits were written by Harold M. Fleming and produced by other soon-to-be-displaced tenants. Auerbach-Levy provided on-the-spot caricatures of people in the audience.

Caption

Spoofing NYU Is Serious Business for Washington Square Residents — and Others. By Haile Hendrix. Printed in Caricature, July 1949.

Despite the efforts of Auerbach-Levy and his neighbors, NYU won out. But Russell D. Niles, Dean of the law school, offered to help the artists locate other places to live and work. With help from NYU, Auerbach-Levy moved to 28 East Ninth Street in late 1949 or early 1950. Auerbach-Levy was also asked by NYU to do a caricature of Niles, which he provided. In addition, the university purchased a caricature of the United States Supreme Court and hung it in the Law Center’s student lounge. Auerbach-Levy even attended the dedication of Arthur T. Vanderbilt Hall, New York University Law Center in September 1951 and remarked to the New York Times that NYU had done “a magnificent job“.

Upon Auerbach-Levy’s death in 1964, the artist’s estate bequeathed 3,326 drawings to the Museum. We’ve recently digitized the work and have cataloged and uploaded about half of these so far to the Museum’s Collections Portal. Click here to view the finding aid for the collection, and here to see more Auerbach-Levy artwork online.

Books and the City

New Yorkers love to read. Whether it’s just for a stolen moment at work…

James Godbold for LOOK Magazine. Night Clubs- Copa Showgirls [Showgirl reading backstage.] 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12052.14.

James Godbold for LOOK Magazine. Night Clubs- Copa Showgirls [Showgirl reading backstage.] 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12052.14.

or enjoying (or hoping that whatever we’re reading will distract us from) our subway commute…

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11107.53B.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11107.53B.

or as a handy prop when eating at a restaurant alone (as prizefighter Walter Cartier does)…

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. Walter Cartier, Prizefighter of Greenwich Village [Walter Cartier eating in a restaurant.]. 1948. X2011.4.11122.88D.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. Walter Cartier, Prizefighter of Greenwich Village [Walter Cartier eating in a restaurant.]. 1948. X2011.4.11122.88D.

and, of course, in true New Yorker fashion, wherever we feel like it…

John Albok (1894-1982). Boy reading comics in front of newspaper store, west side of Madison Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets. 1933-1934. Museum of the City of New York. 82.68.11.

John Albok (1894-1982). Boy reading comics in front of newspaper store, west side of Madison Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets. 1933-1934. Museum of the City of New York. 82.68.11.

or, much more comfortably, lying in bed (furry friends optional).

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. A Dog's Life in the Big City [Women reading in bed with dogs.] 1949. X2011.4.12306.245

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. A Dog’s Life in the Big City [Women reading in bed with dogs.] 1949.Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12306.245.

However, in the decades since these pictures were taken, the nature of reading has changed. Kindles, iPads, and even games featuring annoyed fowl compete for our attention, and the commercial landscape of New York City is shifting because of this.

As of last Friday, Rizzoli’s Bookstore has been pushed out of its beautiful 57th Street location. Shakespeare & Company lost their lease on their Broadway storefront last week. St. Mark’s Bookshop is looking for another East Village location due to a massive rent increase. And it’s not just independent bookstores that are feeling the pressure: the Barnes and Noble on 18th Street and 5th Avenue closed quietly last year along with five Borders locations in the city when the parent company went bankrupt.  It seems like a good time to look back at some of the bookstores that have made the city uniquely literary.

At the turn of the last century, Greenwich Village was a bohemian’s paradise. Artists, writers, and hangers-on flocked to the area around Washington Square. The Washington Square Bookshop, run by Egmont Arens (pictured below), was the place for all the original downtown literati’s needs. Arens also established a small publishing company within the store where he published plays  like Two Blind Beggars and One Less Blind; A Tragic Comedy by Philip Moeller and other fare for the Washington Square Players.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Washington Square Bookshop, 17 West 8th Street. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. 91.53.19.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Washington Square Bookshop, 17 West 8th Street. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. 91.53.19.

In the 1920′s, 4th Avenue between Astor Place and 14th Street was the mecca for secondhand books. More than 30 stores specializing in rare, out-of-print, or merely used books lined the streets, earning the area the moniker “Bookseller’s Row”  or sometimes simply “Book Row”.

Andreas Feininger (1906-1999). Secondhand bookstores on Lower Fourth Avenue. ca. 1941-1953. Museum of the City of New York. 55.31.70.

What makes Weiser’s Bookstore (pictured above) unique, however, besides the fact that it was a mainstay of Bookseller’s Row (until it had to move to Broadway in the 1950′s due to increased rent), is that it was known as the best occult bookstore in the city.  But what’s even better is that it still exists…granted, only for established customers with prior appointments, but for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be on that list, they do have an online store.

Another mainstay of Bookseller’s Row was Biblo-Tannen book store where  owners Jack Tannen and Jack Biblo would legendarily sleep at the store to make sure they were the first ones to go the Salvation Army’s warehouse to find the latest overlooked treasures. That kind of dedication made people like Carl Sandburg loyal customers. The store closed in 1979.

Roy Perry. Browsing at Second Hand Bookstalls, Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue. ca. 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 80.102.136.

Roy Perry. Browsing at Second Hand Bookstalls, Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue. ca. 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 80.102.136.

The decline of Bookseller’s Row started in the 1960′s due to constant rent increases and since the secondhand (or even firsthand) book industry has never been lucrative, the end was fairly quick.  Now only two vestiges of Bookseller’s  Row remain: The Strand and Alabaster Bookshop.

While Bookseller’s Row was browsing heaven for bibliophiles, there were, of course, other options. Brentano’s,  Gotham Book Mart, Books and Company and the Oscar Wilde Bookshop were just some of mainstays that provided for every literary need of New Yorkers.

New York was (and still is) a publishing city where the biggest publishing companies have their corporate offices. For many years Doubleday, Scribner’s, and Barnes and Noble had brick and mortar stores lining Fifth Avenue, offering “a cerebral antidote to Tiffany’s glitter and Bergdorf’s finery,” as the Times put it. These stores were architecturally unique, airy, and had a sense of grandeur that some may have found the secondhand bookstores downtown lacking.

The elegant Scribner’s Building on Fifth Avenue was the pinnacle of bookstore architecture. Ernest Flagg designed the 1913 building to highlight its function as a bookstore. In 1974 art critic Henry Russell Hitchcock, comparing the bookstore’s interiors to Grand Central Terminal, called them “the grandest interior space that had been created in New York.” Earning it extra literary cred is the story that Hemingway and his editor were having a discussion there when his editor unwisely questioned Hemingway’s manhood. Words were exchanged, chest hair was exposed, and because it was Hemingway, fisticuffs ensued. (For a delightful account, click here.) Decades later, a young Patti Smith pored over art books during her lunch break during the five years she was a book clerk there. Scribner’s sold the building in 1988; the store is now a Sephora.

Edmund V. Gillon. [Charles Scribner's Sons Building, 597 Fifth Avenue.] ca. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.2.2001

Edmund V. Gillon. [Charles Scribner's Sons Building, 597 Fifth Avenue.] ca. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.2.2001

So next time you need a book to make your commute tolerable, go to your local neighborhood bookstore. You’ll be helping to save the literary history of New York City.

For more images of bookstores and New Yorkers reading, click here.