Tag Archives: Manhattan

Notable City Residences

8,336,697 people lived in New York City as of July 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau, and a lucky few of them live in fascinating places. Here we take a look at some the more interesting residences, images of which are featured in the Museum’s collection. All photographs were taken by Edmund V. Gillon and donated to the Museum by Blair Davis.

Brooklyn Heights

In 1965 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, bounded roughly to the north and the west by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the south by Atlantic Avenue, and to the east by Court Street, Cadman Plaza West and Old Fulton Street. This act ensured the preservation of the neighborhood’s signature brick and brownstone buildings, most of which were built in the 19th century, and the protection of the neighborhood’s tree-lined character, which has remained relatively unaltered since the Civil War. It is no surprise, then, that Brooklyn Heights has some of the most exceptional housing the city has to offer, including the four examples below.

Edmund V. Gillon. College Place. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Edmund V. Gillon. [College Place.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Carriage houses are holdovers from times when horse-drawn vehicles were the primary method of transportation; the buildings stored carriages and horse tack. Although rendered obsolete by modern transportation, some carriage houses still exist in the city. The carriage houses in Brooklyn Heights were built around the mid-19th century and are often located on alleys or quiet side streets.

Edmund V. Gillon. 165 Columbia Heights. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Edmund V. Gillon. [165 Columbia Heights.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Despite their humble origins, but perhaps because of their limited supply, carriage houses are now considered fashionable, highly desirable residences, and come with a corresponding hefty price tag. Renting a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom carriage house can set you back $10,000 a month. The carriage house pictured to the left was put on the market in 2008 for $7.2 million, but eventually sold in 2012 for $4.1 million.

Edmund V. Gillon. Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

Edmund V. Gillon. [Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

 

The Riverside apartments  were built in 1890 by William Field & Son and financed by philanthropist Alfred Tredway White, whose motto was “philanthropy plus five percent. ” White accepted a limited return on his investment in exchange for building affordable housing for Brooklyn’s poor and working class families. The Riverside buildings occupied only 49 percent of the lot, which allowed space for an internal courtyard. White’s progressive ideas about housing were years ahead of the law, and more generous as well: in 1895 the New York Tenement House Law was changed to require that a new tenement occupy no more than 65 percent of its lot.[1] The Riverside received praise from Jacob Riis, who wrote in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives: “Its chief merit is that it gathers three hundred real homes, not simply three hundred families, under one roof.” Although four of the nine buildings in the Riverside complex were demolished to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the LPC nonetheless included the Riverside apartments in the 1965 Brooklyn Heights Historic District designation. At a time when housing for working and middle class New Yorkers is in dwindling supply, and developers declare “There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” White’s business model is sorely missed.

Edmund V. Gillon. 70 Willow Street. ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

Edmund V. Gillon. [70 Willow Street.] ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

The Greek Revival house at 70 Willow Street was built around 1839 by Adrian Van Sinderen and is commonly referred to as the Capote house. From 1955 to 1965 Truman Capote rented a room in the house, where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While he was living there he also noticed a news article about the 1959 murder of a Kansas family that would lead him to write  In Cold Blood. This three-story, 11-bedroom, 9,000-square foot mansion with the impressive pedigree recently sold for $12.5 million.

Roosevelt Island

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Octagon Tower was part of the New York City Lunatic Asylum (later Metropolitan Hospital) on Roosevelt Island. It was built in 1835-1839 by Alexander Jackson Davis. In 1955 the hospital vacated the facility when it left Roosevelt Island for Manhattan. The buildings fell into a state of disrepair, as you can see in the picture to the right. But in 2006 the ruins were converted to luxury housing, with the newly restored Octagon Tower serving as the lobby entrance.

Nolita

Edmund V. Gillon. 190 Bowery. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

Edmund V. Gillon. [190 Bowery.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

 You would never guess that the building pictured to the left at 190 Bowery is now a single-family residence. The former Germania Bank building was built in 1898-1899 by Robert Maynicke for its namesake, which served the middle class German residents who populated the area along and to the east of the Bowery, north of Division Street. The building functioned as a bank until the mid-1960s, when photographer Jay Maisel purchased it for $102,000. Maisel moved into the six-story, 72-room, 35,000-square foot building and continues to live there today with his wife and daughter, leading Wendy Goodman of New York magazine to declare 190 Bowery “maybe the greatest real-estate coup of all time.”

Greenwich Village

In 1969 the LPC designated the Greenwich Village Historic District which included the two structures pictured below.

Edmund V. Gillon. Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street. ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

Edmund V. Gillon. [Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street.] ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

The former Washington Square Methodist Church at 135-139 West 4th Street was built 1859-1860 by Gamaliel King and constructed of marble in the Romanesque Revival style. Just over 100 years later it became known as Peace Church for its opposition to the Vietnam War. From 1973 to 1984 Reverend Paul Abels served as the church’s pastor. Abels was the first openly gay minister in a major Christian denomination in the United States. Ahead of his time, Abels performed “covenant ceremonies” for gay couples unable to wed legally. In 2004 the shrinking congregation sold the building to a real estate developer, who retained the facade and converted the interior to luxury apartments.

Edmund V. Gillon. Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Edmund V. Gillon. [Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street.] ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Another church converted to residences is Portico Place. It was originally the 13th Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1847 in the Greek Revival style and attributed to Samuel Thomson. Over the years the congregation merged with other nearby Presbyterian churches and eventually came to be known as the Village Presbyterian Church. The congregation disbanded in 1975 and the building was placed on the market in 1977. In 1982, the former church became a 15-unit residential building.

1. New York (State). Tenement House Commission, The Tenement House Problem: Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900, Volume 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 275.

Street clocks – how New Yorkers kept time on the go.

Street clocks once dominated the sidewalks of New York City. First introduced in the 1860s, the clocks quickly became popular with businesses looking for novel ways to advertise and with the general public who appreciated the convenience.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway - Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway – Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Few of these clocks exist today, however. Some became casualties of accidents as automobiles proliferated in the 20th century. Others gave way to the digital timepieces that predominate today.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Sensing this unfortunate trend, in 1981 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated eight sidewalk clocks still standing as landmarks, including the one below.

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

This double faced cast-iron clock at 522 Fifth Avenue on the southwest corner of 44th Street was manufactured in 1907 by the Seth Thomas Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

It originally stood one block south on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in front of the American Trust Company, but was moved to its current location in the 1930s when the American Trust Company merged with the Guaranty Trust Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Now it stands proudly as a reminder of a not too distant past.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

Alfred E. Smith – the people’s politician?

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

This week, we have a  guest post from one of the interns who worked with us over the summer, Karis Raeburn, who has since returned to Dayton, Ohio, where she is obtaining her Master’s Degree in Public History, with studies in archives management, museum studies, and collection management, at Wright State University.  Karis processed the Alfred E. Smith papers  (finding aid available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections) and before she headed back to school, she took the time to tell us more about Smith,  the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Alfred Emanuel “Al” Smith (1873-1944) grew up in the Fourth Ward of New York City’s Lower East Side.  This map provides a snapshot of living conditions in the neighborhood approximately ten years before his birth.  The wider electorate looked upon Smith as a “typical” New Yorker, and New Yorkers loved him for his humble origins.  Smith rose through politics with the backing of the  Tammany Hall political machine, sitting on the New York State Assembly and serving first as Sheriff of New York County and then as President of the Board of Aldermen, before going on to be elected governor of New York State four times between 1919 and 1928.  Smith went on to run as the Democratic candidate for the United States presidency in 1928, losing to Herbert Hoover.

Cartoon which would have been published in "The World" if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

Cartoon which would have been published in “The World” if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

When I first started looking at the documents in the Al Smith collection, I couldn’t quite believe that people had so much respect for a politician.   I’m British; we don’t like our politicians very much.  The collection, however, holds published articles in praise of Smith, an honorary doctorate from SUNY, and a booklet full of voter signatures in Smith’s home district pledging their support in the 1928 election.  Other messages of support came from the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America, and one of Smith’s former teachers.  Could people really like a politician this much?

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.56

When I began researching Smith, I discovered that, far from the one-sided view of him I feared I was getting, the collection is actually an accurate representation of how popular Smith really was, at least in New York City.  It would be foolish to think he was universally loved: he was a Catholic, he was anti-Prohibition, and he was linked to Tammany Hall.  He was progressive in his support for civil rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights – gaining him admirers as well as detractors – but he tried to follow a populist line and always maintained an image as a true working class New Yorker.

Smith’s down to earth persona helped him win the race for  Governor of New York in 1918.  Although he lost the  next election in 1920, he was successful in the 1922, 1924 and 1926 elections, choosing not to run in 1928 in order to run for the United States presidency.  Running for president proved to be vastly different from running for governor, and Smith’s image worked against him in places that distrusted urbanites, despite the reality that, by 1928, Smith’s life in upstate New York looked more like that of a country gent than of a city slicker.  Smith was also seen as having a limited view of the country’s issues; he had never traveled outside New York state before the election campaign, spoke with a heavy New York accent, and his Roman Catholic religion was attacked with abuse and slurs throughout the campaign, especially in the south.

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

The 1928 Presidential election, though difficult to call during the campaign, resulted in a landslide victory for Hoover. After his devastating loss, Smith left politics behind and became president of Empire State, Inc., the organization that built the Empire State Building.   He held this position until his death in 1944, never returning to the political stage.

The collection contains documents that span Smith’s entire life, from playbills that document his childhood exploits in amateur dramatics at St. James’ School to his calendar notebook for 1945.  Smith’s scrapbook, created around 1896, shows his early interest in politics: he pasted a number of newspaper clippings on New York political stories alongside playbills and invitations to events.

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

There are photographs showing him throughout his lifetime, from a picture of him taken at Coney Island, aged 4, to a shot of him surrounded by his children and grandchildren.  There is even a memorial postage stamp in the collection, issued in Smith’s honor in 1945.  Among other documents attesting to his popularity, from as early as 1916, is a  beautifully illustrated testimonial presented to him from the Knights of Columbus  celebrating his election as Sheriff of New York County.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.57

In 1928 his former teacher presented him with a certificate and photographs entitled “Fond Memories and Fonder Hopes to my Dear Boy Alfred E. Smith.” The honorary doctorate of laws conferred on him by SUNY in 1933 states, “Public Education in this State owes much to his broad-minded, consistent and courageous support, and the conferring of an honorary degree upon him will be but a just acknowledgment of this debt.”

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

The City Museum’s Alfred E. Smith papers are a window into the life of a man who, while not quite making it big on the national stage, was an extremely successful and well liked politician in New York City and State.  Click here to see more images of objects related to Smith in the collection.

What skating rink is that? Who lived in that house? Solving mysteries in the collection.

From time to time, the Collections Department receives inquiries from the public about the information associated with images we’ve cataloged online.   The data in the catalog records is pulled from inscriptions on photographs, and from photographers’ logs, notes, and shot lists that were acquired along with many of the Museum’s major photographic collections, such the Wurts Brothers  or Byron Company.  When we notice something that seems incorrect, we conduct further research, but generally, we consider these materials primary sources, and with collections numbering in the tens of thousands of images, must trust that the photographers kept accurate records.   Nobody’s perfect of course, and from time to time a researcher, or just someone browsing images on the Collections Portal, comes across an image they feel has been misidentified and reaches out to us, often through the research@mcny.org email (to learn more about our collections research services, check out the research page on the Museum’s newly redesigned website!)

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Old Carnegie Residence. 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

One such situation occurred when we were contacted by a researcher from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which resides in the former Andrew Carnegie family residence on Fifth Avenue and East 90th Street.  The Cooper-Hewitt had, in turn, been contacted by a preservationist, who was seeking to confirm the address of an even earlier Carnegie residence.  That researcher referenced the photograph to the right from our collection, which at the time was identified on the Collections Portal as “Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51st Street.”  That description came directly from one of the Wurts Brothers photography logs, shown below. If you enlarge the image of the log book, you’ll see on the bottom right corner of the right page the description of the photograph: “Aug 19 1932. Fred R. King. [...] Photo Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51 St.” Or does it actually say 5 West 51 St.? It’s hard to tell.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

The preservationist who contacted the Cooper-Hewitt wasn’t even interested in the Carnegie Mansion, she was interested in 15 West 51st Street, in relation to a preservation project her firm had underway.  The Cooper-Hewitt confirmed that the Carnegies lived at 5 West 51st, not 15 West 51st, but they then looped us into the conversation to determine the actual address of the residence pictured above.  The Cooper-Hewitt had been seeking an image of the house at 5 West 51st Street, to no avail; all they had found was the elevation to the left, created when the house was originally built in 1879 for George Mosle by Detlef Lienau, which they supplied to us.

We  zoomed in on the photograph in question (you can do this too – clicking the photograph will take you directly to our Collections Portal, where you can use the magnifying glass icon to  see the details.) There was no address visible on the building, but there was a sign indicating that the structure had recently been sold. Going back to the log book, the name Fred R. King was associated with the address. Frederic Rhinelander King (1887-1972) was an architect; notably, he designed the Women’s National Republican Club at 3 West 51st Street, built from 1933-1934.  The Wurts Brothers probably took the photograph for King just before construction of the clubhouse.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

With over 125,000 images available online, our Collections Portal is often the best source for identifying discrepancies in catalog records. We found the image to the right, then identified as “[Perhaps] West 51st St. #7. Graves House.” It looks much the same as in the first photograph, and to the right of it is the original building in question. At this point we were confident in identifying the original image as 5 West 51st Street, and the image to the right as 7 West 51st Street.  When we looked back at the elevation supplied by the Cooper-Hewitt and compared it to the photograph, certain common architectural details – such as the balustrade under the third story windows – began to emerge, affirming that in fact we’d identified the early Carnegie Residence, 5 West 51st Street.  Good news for the Cooper-Hewitt; not so much help for for the preservation planner.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Pictured to the left is another misidentified image brought to our attention by a researcher. The photograph was originally described by its creator Byron Company as “Rinks, Iceland Skating Rink, B’way 53rd Street & 7th Ave.” The date given was 1898. But as the researcher pointed out, Iceland skating rink did not open until 1916. We weren’t certain if the title, the date, or both were incorrect. We zoomed in on the image. This revealed a group of people sitting on the sidelines to the left. Their attire led us to believe that the given date of the photograph, 1898, was indeed correct. So now we knew that the photograph wasn’t of Iceland skating rink – but what was it? We looked at rinks on the Collections Portal, but nothing matched the image. We wondered if it could possibly be St. Nicholas Rink, before it became a full-time boxing arena.

St. Nicholas Rink opened in 1896 on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue and was one of the first enclosed ice skating rinks to take advantage of refrigeration technology. The facility has an entry in Wikipedia with an accompanying image. The image on the Wikipedia page gave us hope that the Museum’s photograph was of St. Nicholas Rink. In the Streetscapes column published February 6, 2005 in the New York Times, Christopher Gray writes that the building was “a broad, industrial-like structure with a procession of high brick arches in neo-Classical style…” After reading this description and seeing the photograph of the rink’s exterior published with the article, we believed that the Byron image showed St. Nicholas Rink.

We are grateful when someone points out questionable information on the portal, and continue to invite comments. If you have insight into an image on the portal, email us at portal@mcny.org.  In addition, the Museum shares a “Friday Mystery Image,” every week on our Facebook page.  Check in around lunchtime each Friday if you’d like to help us identify unknown images in our collection.

Aftermath of a Fire in the Lower East Side

Chartered in 1875, the Manhattan Railway Company operated elevated train lines in Manhattan and the Bronx. In 1879, it leased elevated lines running along Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues from the New York Elevated Railway Company and the Metropolitan Elevated Railway; and in 1891, also leased lines from the Suburban Rapid Transit Company.  Eventually, all three companies were absorbed by the  Manhattan Railway.  During the course of its operations the Manhattan Railway Company photographed the construction of the 74th Street Power Station and numerous substations, capital improvements, and activities and events that affected train service.

Below are images of one such event documented by the company 110 years ago.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155D

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155D

In the early morning hours of January 12, 1903, a fire broke out at Houston and Allen Streets, in the basement of a building owned by the leather manufacturer Fayerweather & Ladew.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.155A

Firefighters remained on the scene for 13 hours and 45 minutes. In addition to the Fayerweather & Ladew buildings on 159-165 East Houston Street and 207-211 Allen Street, adjacent buildings on Houston, Allen, and Eldridge Streets also sustained damage. These pictures capture the loss and recovery effort in eery detail.

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154A

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154D

Manhattan Railway Company. Houston & Allen St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.154D

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157A

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157A

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157D

Manhattan Railway Company. Allen & Houston St. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.53.157D

These images are among 1,856 photographs in the  Museum of the City of New York’s Manhattan Railway Company collection, all of which are on the Museum’s Collections Portal. For more winter firefighting images, be sure to check out Susannah Broyles’s excellent post about the Equitable Building fire.

Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland in a “Changing New York”

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

This week, we have a  guest post from our fabulous archival intern, Suzanna Calev, who is currently obtaining a double Master’s Degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management and History at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Suzanna recently completed processing Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York papers  (the finding aid is available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections).  Suzanna’s  insights on the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Every time I return to New York, I find the city has changed.  Whether it is the demise of my favorite brunch place or the construction of a new high-rise, New York City is always changing, always re-inventing itself.  Being a native of the city, I should not be surprised by this, but I always have a mixed feeling of hope and nostalgia by the transformation of the city I love, missing the old stomping grounds from my childhood and hoping that the coming changes are favorable ones.

Perhaps this is exactly what the photographer Berenice Abbott felt when she returned to New York City in 1929. Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Abbott moved to Greenwich Village in 1918 with college friends. She moved to Paris in 1921 and it was there that she developed an interest in photography, working as an assistant to Man Ray. Her return to New York City was meant to be temporary, but when she saw how much the city had changed – the skyscrapers replacing nineteenth century classical columns, new towers and structures popping up all around her – she decided to move back permanently to capture this transformation through the lens of a camera.  For more information on Abbott’s life,  as well as the Changing New York  project, take a look at the finding aid for Berenice Abbot’s Changing New York papers.

40_140_0191_recto-copy

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Park Avenue and 39th Street,” 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

After photographing the city independently for six years, unable to get financial support from organizations, foundations, or private individuals, she was finally hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP), a small division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) formed in 1935 to centralize various public work projects. The FAP was a relief agency for artists and supported the work of many painters, photographers, and printers, including Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, and Lee Krasner.

In 1937 the Museum of the City of New York mounted an exhibition, Changing New York, of Abbott’s photographs for the FAP. This prompted interest in publishing a Changing New York book that would include both the photographs and captions written by Elizabeth McCausland, a writer, art critic, and Abbott’s longtime partner.

Abbott’s papers relating to the project, along with several of Abbott’s photographs from the Changing New York project, were in the custody of the Metropolitan Museum of Art prior to their transfer to the Museum of the City of New York.  The Changing New York materials appear to have been deposited with the Met as a matter of convenience, if not accident, when the FAP presented the Met with materials from another project.  Because of the City Museum’s role in the original exhibition, the Met felt the rightful home of the papers was with the City Museum and custody of the collection was transferred in 1947 along with 215 unmounted and 71 mounted photographs from the Changing New York project.

The Berenice Abbott papers contain the original captions proposed for the book and they are an absolute treasure to read.  They reveal the literary genius of McCausland, who attempted to produce cinematic effects with her descriptions of the photographs.  For example, she implored the reader to recite “like Vachel Lindsay’s train announcer” the names of various cheeses for Cheese Store on Bleecker.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). "Park Avenue and 39th Street," 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Cheese Store,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.29

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, "Berenice Abbott papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

E. P Dutton, the publisher of the book, foresaw many tourists visiting New York and buying guidebooks for the opening of the 1939 New York’s World Fair, so he wanted Abbott’s book to be a simple guidebook that could attract multiple audiences. As a result, he rejected McCausland’s original captions, such as the one for the Cheese Store, pictured above.  The published Cheese Store  caption below is strictly factual:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

It saddens me that Dutton didn’t use McCausland’s original captions.  The published captions lack her lyrical voice. Many of the original captions convey McCausland and Abbott’s political and social beliefs, which may have been too radical for Dutton and Co., Inc.  For example, the original caption for Gunsmith and Police Department suggested that the placement of the gun over the shop facing the police department in Abbott’s composition was intentional.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), "Gunsmith and Police Department," 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), “Gunsmith and Police Department,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, "Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

McCausland’s bold caption above was replaced with a toned down version that suggested a cooperative relationship between the Police Department and Frank Lava’s gun shop:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Although Dutton had final say over the captions, thankfully we can still see how Abbott and McCausland viewed the changing landscape of the city and how they wanted to impart these changes to the general public.  Despite the conflicting vision over the Dutton book, it is comforting to know that no matter what the era, New York City continuously surprises and mesmerizes its inhabitants.

Ghosts of the 6 Train

New York City’s vast transit system is in a constant state of flux, expanding to fill the needs of underserved areas and simultaneously contracting due to budget cuts or obsolescence. Abandoned subway stations across the city remind us of how transit has changed over the years.

On March 24, 1900, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) broke ground in a ceremony at the front steps of City Hall for the construction of a subway system. This was not the first attempt at subterranean transit in the city, but it was the most comprehensive.

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Only four years later on October 27, 1904 at 7 PM, subway stations spanning about 9 miles from City Hall to Grand Central, and Times Square to 145th Street and Broadway opened to the general public, with an estimated 150,000 people paying 5¢ to ride underground.

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

The line’s southern terminal, City Hall, was intended to be the system’s showpiece and differed vastly from the other subway stations with its vaulted ceilings covered in Guastavino tiles, leaded skylights, and brass chandeliers.

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

For all its elegance, however, the station was never as important as officials hoped it would be. Its proximity to the much-busier Brooklyn Bridge station made it somewhat redundant. In addition, the tight curve of the platforms was deemed too difficult to lengthen when the Board of Transportation embarked on a $13 million project in 1944 to expand subway platforms to accommodate increasing ridership.

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Although it closed as a subway station on December 31, 1945, the City Hall station continues to serve as a loop for downtown 6 trains returning to the local uptown track. You can see the station for yourself if you stay on the 6 train after the Brooklyn Bridge stop.

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Just two stops uptown was the Worth Street station, situated at the intersection of Lafayette Street and the northwest corner of Foley Square and Thomas Paine Park. It provided easy access to the numerous government facilities in the area.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

The station’s platforms were lengthened twice, in 1910 and again in 1948. But improvements made to the Brooklyn Bridge station in 1956 extended egress to the north at Foley Square and Pearl Street, making the Worth Street station redundant. It closed in 1962.

Six stops uptown from Worth Street, the 18th Street station became a casualty of the platform expansion project begun in 1944. Its closure on November 8, 1948 coincided with the opening of the 22nd Street entrance to the 23rd Street station.

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

Try looking up from your book the next time you commute, and you may see glimpses of the past flashing by outside the window.

The Apartment That Wasn’t

John Williams Campbell was born in Brooklyn in 1880 into a well-to-do family. His father was treasurer of the Credit Clearing House, a credit bureau for merchandise wholesalers. At the age of 18, Campbell joined his father at the firm and moved up the ranks, becoming a senior executive seven years later. By the 1920s Campbell was making millions as president of the Credit Clearing House and served on the board of the New York Central Railroad. In 1923 he focused his attention on building a private office, one that would showcase his position and wealth. To that end, he hired architect Augustus N. Allen to design the space. Campbell’s choice of location – a 60-foot long, 30-foot wide single room on the ground floor of Grand Central Terminal – was a departure from the typical skyscraper suite.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

The office boasted a butler, a pipe organ, and a piano, as well as Campbell’s private art collection.  A mahogany musician’s gallery with carved quatrefoils was installed. After hours, Campbell’s office doubled as a private recital hall, where guests could relax on 19th century Italian seating furniture (masquerading as 13th century) and listen to famous musicians play.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Hand-painted wooden beams adorned the 25-foot ceiling. The large stone fireplace behind Campbell’s desk housed a steel safe. Perhaps the most notable feature of all was the hand-woven Persian rug that covered almost the entire floor. It was rumored to have cost $300,000, nearly $4 million in today’s dollars.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Perhaps because of all its amenities, the office was dubbed “Campbell’s Apartment,” but there is no evidence that he or anybody else lived there. After Campbell’s death in 1957, the space became a signalman’s office. It was later used by the Metro-North Railroad police, as gun storage and then as a jail. During these years, it seemed to follow the fate of its mother building Grand Central in neglect and decline: the leaded glass windows were covered with plywood board, the timbered ceiling was concealed unceremoniously with a dropped ceiling, and the beautiful furnishings gradually disappeared (current whereabouts are unknown). Luckily, the restoration of Grand Central that began in 1993 saved Campbell’s office from a fluorescent-lighted fate. Two costly renovations in 1999 and again in 2007 ($1.5 million and $350,000, respectively) restored the office to its former glory and transformed it into a luxury cocktail bar and lounge with the purposely adopted misnomer, Campbell Apartment.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895

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.

Hidden in Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adjoining graveyard quietly blends into the surrounding neighborhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Albumen Works. Jacob A. Riis. Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.283

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

Jacob A. Riis. The Old Marble Cemetery — proposed for a play ground, taken in summer 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.281

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

Jacob A. Riis. The Dead-house in Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.285

For more information about these sites, please visit:

http://www.1654society.org/

http://www.facebook.com/FlatbushReformedChurch

http://www.marblecemetery.org/