Tag Archives: Bronx

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.

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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.

 

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

 

Conservation of the J. Clarence Davies Map Collection

The Museum is nearing the completion of the two-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant-funded project “Conserving, Digitizing, and Creating Access to the J. Clarence Davies Collection of Art.”   Begun in 2011, this project encompasesed 1,578 paintings, drawings, maps, and prints documenting the history of the city of New York from the 17th through the 20th century.

unknown photographer. J. Clarence Davies Real Estate Office, ca.1894. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.7075.

unknown photographer. J. Clarence Davies Real Estate Office, ca.1894. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.7075.

J. Clarence Davies (1868-1934) was a leading New York real estate businessman who primary dealt in Bronx properties, earning him the nickname “the King of the Bronx” from his colleagues. (He’s pictured in front of his office, last man on the right, in the photo to the left).  He was a civic leader who served on many public and charitable committees, and was also one of the foremost collectors of visual records of New York City’s past. His donation of New Yorkiana to the Museum in 1929 reflects all five boroughs, and included not only maps, prints, paintings, and drawings, but also textiles, ceramics and other types of objects–as long as they depicted the city in some way.  Davies was such an avid collector that he occasionally acquired works for his collection regardless of their condition.  It is also clear from notes on many of the objects, and is evidenced by wear and tear, that Davies used at least portions of his map collection as a working reference collection, and consulted it regularly for his real estate business.  Both of these factors, along with the objects’ ages, led to the need to conserve particular objects within the J. Clarence Davies Collection.

From my perspective, as the archivist who cares for the Museum’s map collection, one of the most exciting aspects of this project was the conservation element.   In order to decide what maps would be good candidates for conservation, we evaluated items in terms of both their condition, and their significance to New York City and the Museum’s collection.   Once candidates for conservation were identified, the Museum worked with the Northeast Document Conservation Center to obtain treatment estimates.  Walter Newman, former Director of Paper Conservation at the NEDCC, made three trips to the Museum over the course of the project to evaluate works onsite.

Some of the condition issues encountered when examining the maps were simply a result of regular use, as shown with the map of the Property of Phillip Hone, below.  Philip Hone served as the Mayor of New York from 1826-1827, but is most famously know for “The Diary of Phillip Hone, 1828-1851,” a chronicle of his rise to great prominence in New York society and the events that come with such a position, and also for documenting the changing city; thus, making this map a significant object in the Museum’s collection, and an excellent candidate for conservation.  (Please click on the images in the post to open larger views and fully see the condition details of the before and after shots.)

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (Before treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (Before treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

As you can see in the “before treatment” photos, above,  the map had been folded up in the past and sections that were exposed when folded were particularly soiled and discolored. The paper was brittle and there was extensive breaking and some loss along the folds and at the edges. There were several pieces of paper tape on the reverse.  There were a few dark brown stains and scattered finger marks.  One section on the reverse was also marked by liquid stains and insect specks.  The image below shows the map after conservation.

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (After treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (After treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Some objects were clearly relevant to New York City’s history and their condition begged for  immediate conservation:

Map published by M. (Matthew) Dripps.  Southern Part of West-chester County N.Y. Surveyed by R. F. O. Conner, 1853  (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2628

Map published by M. (Matthew) Dripps. Southern Part of West-chester County N.Y. Surveyed by R. F. O. Conner, 1853 (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2628

This map is especially significant as it depicts sections of the Bronx which were previously considered part of Westchester, prior to the consolidation of New York City in 1898.  As evidenced from small staple holes in the map, it was originally mounted on dowels at the top and bottom and rolled around the dowels when not in use, accounting for the rippled texture of the map in the “before” shot to the left.  Additionally, at the time Davies acquired this map, it would have been common practice to back rolled maps on fabric and shellac the front to protect the surface.  Over time the shellac darkens and cracks, and the ancient acidic fabric breaks down; as a result, the very materials that were intended to extend the life of the map contributed to its ultimate deterioration.

Bird's Eye View of that Portion of the 23rd and 24th Wards of the City of New York, lying west of the N.Y. and Harlem Railroad, and of the Grand Boulevard & Concourse, Surveyed by Louise A. Risse, 1897, (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2612B.

Bird’s Eye View of that Portion of the 23rd and 24th Wards of the City of New York, lying west of the N.Y. and Harlem Railroad, and of the Grand Boulevard & Concourse. Surveyed by Louise A. Risse, 1897 (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2612B.

The map above, picturing the Bronx as well as a portion of northern Manhattan, also shows evidence of brittle paper and breaking along creases caused by rolling.

Northeast Document Conservation Center lab. Andover, Massachusetts, 2012.

Northeast Document Conservation Center lab. Andover, Massachusetts, 2012.

The two maps above were unrolled to be examined onsite at the Museum; Mr. Newman, however, recommended they not be unrolled again until the objects reached the NEDCC’s lab.  While this project was underway, I had the opportunity to visit the lab, see the NEDCC team at work, and learn all about the various techniques they use to conserve paper objects.

A few of the many conservation treatment techniques used over the course of the project included: reduction of surface soil using dry cleaning techniques; humidification of objects were and blotter-washing with filtered water to clean the paper and reduce acidity (after determining the media wasn’t water soluble); removing old paper mends  before washing with a wheat starch paste poultice (recommended for removing adhesives from paper); backing objects with thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste to mend tears and fill losses; adding additional strips of heavier weight Japanese paper using wheat starch paste to further support breaks and provide overall supports; and a final humidification of objects and flat drying between blotters under pressure.

One of the highlights of this project was the discovery of the map below, Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, surveyed by Bernard Ratzer, and published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, at the Museum’s offsite storage facility.  This map is considered one of the finest depictions of pre-Revolutionary New York City.  While documentation in the Museum’s collections management system had indicated that the Museum held several later reprints, the discovery of an original printing of an early edition of the map was an exciting surprise.  After visiting Brooklyn Historical Society, to examine their “first state” Ratzer (published 1770), it was determined that the Museum’s copy is likely a “second state” – not as rare, but still quite a find.   Aside from the fact the map had at one time been cut into several sections to facilitate storage (it’s 48 3/4″ high x 35 3/4″ wide), it did not appear to be significantly deteriorated, considering it is over 225 years old;  it had been backed, however, on a heavy fabric somewhat resembling burlap, which necessitated immediate removal.

Engraved by Thomas Kitchin. Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767. Surveyed by Bernard Ratzer. Published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, (Before closeup to left, after to right).  Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2537

Engraved by Thomas Kitchin. Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767. Surveyed by Bernard Ratzer. Published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, (Before closeup to left, after to right). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2537

As a result of conservation, the seams between the sections are hardly visible, significant surface soil has been removed, and the map is now backed on Japanese paper rather than coarse, acidic cloth.

Davies once stated he “had treasured his collection for many years in the hope that he might someday be able to place it where future generations could study with its aid the history of the city.”  The Museum considered Davies’s collection so  important that a copy of the deed of gift was among the documents placed inside the cornerstone when construction began in May 1929 on the present, landmarked building on Fifth Avenue.

Click here to view more selections from the J. Clarence Davies Collection.

The Museum of the City of New York gratefully acknowledges the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support on this project.

Art Deco Treasures

Art Deco architecture flourished in Europe and the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. Spurred by the 1925 Paris exhibition Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes which boasted over 16 million visitors, structures such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building began dotting the New York City skyline. Below are some recently digitized photographs, not yet available on the Museum’s portal, that struck me as particularly beautiful in their exemplification of Art Deco architecture.

The Ziegfeld Theatre opened to audiences on February 2, 1927 with the musical comedy “Rio Rita”. The 1,638-seat theater, named in honor of impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, was financed by William Randolph Hearst and Arthur Brisbane and designed by Joseph Urban and Thomas W. Lamb. Located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, the theater dazzled audiences during its 38-year tenure with original productions of “Ziegfeld Follies of 1931″ and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, to name a few. The limestone structure was razed in 1966 to make way for an office building. In 1969 a 1,131-seat movie palace named after the original Ziegfeld Theatre opened just a few hundred feet away.

Ziegfeld Theatre. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.84

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Ziegfeld Theatre. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.84

Graybar built their namesake building at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 43rd Street from 1926-27, which served as the distribution company’s corporate headquarters until 1982 . In 2012, New York City Department of Planning (DEP) announced a proposal to rezone East Midtown, the area generally located between Second and Fifth Avenues, from 39th to 57th Streets. Some people are worried that the proposed rezoning could lead to the demolition of older buildings which are not protected by landmark status. Following the DEP’s announcement, the Municipal Art Society of New York submitted the Graybar Building as well as 16 other structures in East Midtown to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for evaluation.

420 Lexington Avenue. Graybar Building, detail of middle entrance. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.2609

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 420 Lexington Avenue. Graybar Building, detail of middle entrance. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.2609

The Goelet Building, now called the Swiss Center Building, was built from 1930-32 and designed by Victor L. S. Hafner. The engineering firm E.H. Faile & Co. produced the building’s structural frame. Commissioned by Robert Goelet, the building was constructed at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 49th Street, on land previously occupied by the Goelet family mansion. The building’s heritage was beautifully displayed on the main entrance at 608 Fifth Avenue: the cast metal tympanum, shown in the three photographs below, featured a shield with the family monogram “G” as well as the family crest, the swan. Subsequent modifications to the building in 1965 by the Swiss Center included removal of the entrance arch on Fifth Avenue.

608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4841

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4841

608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4842

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4842

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Entrance. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4906

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Entrance. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4906

The Herman Ridder Junior High School (Public School 98) in the Crotona Park East section of the Bronx was designed by the Board of Education’s Bureau of Design and Construction and built from 1929-31 in response to the borough’s rapid increase in population during the 1920s. The concept of junior high schools, where young teenagers could transition to high school or prepare to enter the workforce, was relatively recent at that time.  The junior high schools in existence were modeled after elementary school plans, albeit with some modifications. The Herman Ridder Junior High school was the first school in New York City built specifically with the needs of junior high students in mind.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Boston Road and 173rd Street. PS 98, Herman Ridder Junior High School. 1933. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.5573

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Boston Road and 173rd Street. PS 98, Herman Ridder Junior High School. 1933. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.5573

The Bronx had become a magnet for the middle class with upwardly mobile aspirations, an affordable alternative to pricey Manhattan real estate. The completion of the Jerome Avenue subway line in 1918 made the area more accessible and therefore, more desirable. Scores of Art Deco apartment houses were being constructed during this time. The boom was particularly evident along Grand Concourse. Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples is 888 Grand Concourse, shown in the photographs below. It was designed by renowned architect Emery Roth in 1937.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7464

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7464

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7465

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7465

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7467

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7467

Digitization of the Wurts Bros. Collection was made possible by the generous funding and support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17778

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17470

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.9.58

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.34

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.13

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.2.2F

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962. Museum of the City of New York. 01.59.22

Some people, like the man below, embrace the “if you can’t beat the heat, join it” philosophy.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Male Beauty, Coney Island, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.23

Skully, also known by variants like “skellie,” is a children’s street game played with bottle caps. Its popularity among youth began to fade in the 1980s.

Joseph Rodriguez. Game of Skellie, East Harlem, 1987. Museum of the City of New York. 2007.8.1

A telltale sign that summer has arrived is hearing the music from ice cream trucks. Ice cream vendors have used noise to attract customers since the late 1800s. But not everybody welcomes the familiar melody of ice cream trucks. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the music in the city’s noise code. An outright ban was unsuccessful, but now vendors are only allowed to play music when their vehicle is in motion.

Gerard Vezzuso. Young boys at ice cream truck, Staten Island NY, 1999. Museum of the City of New York. 01.26.8

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.

A Trip Up Broadway

From 1916 to 1921, Arthur Hosking photographed Broadway, from its southernmost leg at Bowling Green all the way north to Yonkers. Here are some highlights, all taken in 1920 unless otherwise noted.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Bowling Green looking north from Custom House steps. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.4

At the far right of this photo is the Produce Exchange, which was demolished in 1957. This photo was taken in 1921, when both street trolleys and horse-drawn carriages competed as viable means of transportation.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Broadway looking north from Rector Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.18

A photo taken a few blocks north at Broadway and Rector Street shows pedestrians, automobiles, and street trolleys competing with each other for space. Trinity Church is on the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Looking north from 2nd floor window at corner of Fulton Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.30

Broadway is bustling at the intersection of Fulton Street. St. Paul’s Chapel, seen on the left, was built from 1764 to 1766 and is Manhattan’s oldest continuously-used public building. In 1966, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The City Hall Post Office on the right did not fare so well. Built in 1878, it was immediately despised by city officials and the public alike. It was razed in 1938 in anticipation of the 1939 World Fair. (See http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON022.htmfor more details.)

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View of east side of Bway, looking north from Lispenard and Canal Street, where the two streets converge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.58

Taken in TriBeCa, this photo shows an advertisement for Nehemiah Gitelson & Sons. Nehemiah Gitelson immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1880. In addition to running the family company, he supported Jewish scholarship. In honor of his patronage, the Jewish Theological Seminary named his donation of over 1,100 volumes the Nehemiah Gitelson Talmudic Library.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking south from 18th Street taken from 3rd floor fire escape. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.85

In 1815, the intersection of Broadway and the Bowery (now 4thAvenue) was designated a public meeting space and named Union Place for the convergence of the city’s main thoroughfares. The city gradually began to acquire surrounding land, and in 1832 Union Place was renamed Union Square.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from "El" station at 33rd Street and 6th Ave, showing Herald Square. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.108

This photo shows Saks & Co. on the left, then Macy’s. To the right is the New York Herald building. Only the Macy’s building survives today. Saks & Co. merged with Gimbels  to form Saks 5th Avenue in 1932. However, the original Saks building in this photo operated under the name Saks 34thStreet until its closure in 1965. The New York Herald building was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White in 1894 and demolished in 1921.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from 44th Street (Times Square), where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.117

This photo shows the heart of Times Square. To the left is Hotel Astor, built in 1904. Before 1904, the area was known as Longacre Square, but Adolph Ochs, owner and publisher of the New York Times, convinced the city to officially rename the space Times Square. Hotel Astor remained until its demolition in 1967.

Arthur Hosking. View of the southeast corner of Broadway and 155th Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.158

Here is the Church of the Intercession in Hamilton Heights. It was only 8 years old when this photo was taken.

The photo below shows Broadway at a much slower pace in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Broadway Inn is to the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from Mosholu Ave with Broadway Inn at left. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.190