Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Timeless holiday cat art.
A Xmas shopper. Digital ID: 822811. New York Public Library
Christmas Shopper, 1914, NYPL Digital

Wishing you a merry Christmas. Digital ID: 1585592. New York Public Library
1910, NYPL Digital

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Union Dime: Saved Dimes Turn into Prime Real Estate

In 1859, a group of thirty four business men founded and chartered a mutual savings bank. They named it Union Dime Savings Institute to show solidarity with the Federal Union as well as remind people that “dimes saved increased to dollars.”  They were also the first banking institution to use the word "Dime" in its title, though others soon followed. The bank first opened a modest office at Canal and Varick Streets. In 1867, they moved their headquarters to Canal and Laight Streets, and in 1876, to 32nd and Broadway:

Broadway and Sixth Avenue, loo... Digital ID: 809713. New York Public Library
photo: NYPL Digital Collection

This six-story white marble building was built in 1874, and in October of that year, Union Dime Savings Institute bought the title of the property from Rudolph A. Witthaus, for $275,000, nearly $70 per square foot. This was considered a fair amount of money for a neighborhood that hadn't quite achieved its desirable reputation.

Greeley Square, c. 1908, with the elevated 6th Avenue train station on the right.

The front façade faced Greeley Square and 32nd Street, and the building housed the Union Dime offices as well as apartments on its upper floors.  The bank remained there for the next 34 years before moving uptown eight blocks to the corner of 40th Street and 6th Avenue. The old building at 32nd sold for a record high price of $1,000,000, or, about $250 a square foot. Aside from making news for its price tag, the deal aroused interest because the purchasers, City Investing Company, didn’t own any adjacent property, or have any plans for the space or building, suggesting to many, an intention to flip the property for a higher price.  

At around the turn of the century, the 34th Street district was going through a massive transition. Improvements in mass transit led to the arrival of retail giants Macy’s, whose flagship store was built in 1901-1902, and Gimbels (1910).  The 6th Avenue elevated train had been operating since 1878, but the early 1900s also saw the addition of the “Hudson Tubes” (New Jersey PATH train), and the completion of Pennsylvania Station in 1910. Additionally, the Hotel Martinique on 32nd Street and Broadway finished its third phase of completion in 1910-1911, rounding out the district as a new hub for retail, transportation, and hospitality.

Regardless of the rise of the 34th Street district, in 1908, Union Dime purchased the corner lot on 40th Street and 6th Avenue, across from Bryant Park, for $1,000,000. (Many also know the block between 5th and 6th Aves on 40th Street as the longtime home of the Tesla Society, named after the inventor of wireless communication and alternating current electricity, Nikola Tesla.) Five row houses were demolished to make room for what The Independent referred to as “one of the most imposing banking edifices in the city” (vol. 68, p. 664). The Italian Renaissance building was designed by architect Alfred Taylor, and featured a 96 x 85 foot main banking room with 48 ft. tall ceilings.

View from Bryant Park (known then as Reservoir Square) looking towards 6th Ave. 40th Street is along the left. Photo, NYPL

View of the South side of the Union Dime building on 40th Street, looking east toward the park and the NYPL building. Photo, NYPL

I'm not sure when this building was torn down, but it was still there in the 1930s (upper left, just behind the 6th Avenue elevated train line):

And, in the 1950s, when this subway map was published and distributed by Union Dime:

It was probably torn down sometime in the mid-1950s, to make way for a 34-story office building designed by Kahn and Jacobs, and Sydney Goldstone. The building was completed in 1957, and is still there, looking much the same as it did in 1959, when a photo of it was published on the cover of Union Dime's 100th Anniversary booklet.

**Special thanks to Mr. Boyd Lewis at Union Dime, Inc. for his insight and interest, and a copy of the Union Dime 1959 yearbook.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The New York Public Library Lays Its Cornerstone

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog, and was posted on November 10, 2010, the same day it should have been also posted here. (oops. vacation brain . . . )

On November 10, 1902, a hundred and eight years ago (and twelve days), the first cornerstone of the New York Public Library's Central Building was laid. One of New York City's architectural treasures, the NYPL borders Bryant Park on the east, along Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 40th Streets. It is also the former location of the Croton Distributing Reservoir.

Croton reservoir : 42nd Street... Digital ID: 465503. New York Public Library
                A pedestrian level view of the Croton Distributing Reservoir at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Ave.                        Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Croton reservoir in 1900, in p... Digital ID: 465501. New York Public Library
Overview of the reservoir, seen from the corner of Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street, 1900. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Plans for the formation of a grand public library began in the late 1800s, when a group of prominent New York citizens agreed that the city, growing rapidly in population and international importance, needed a library. The site of the Croton Reservoir was chosen as the location, and a competition was announced for the building's design. The winning architects, John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings of architecture firm Carrere and Hastings, submitted a Beaux-Arts proposal, with a raised terrace at the rear of the building, and two comfort stations along the east end of neighboring Bryant Park (then called Reservoir Square).

Central building, cornerstone ... Digital ID: 465291. New York Public Library
Cornerstone laying, 1902. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection

[Exterior marble work : west f... Digital ID: 489442. New York Public Library
View of the west facade of the library during construction, 1903. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection

View from the construction site of the NYPL. Bryant Park, then called Reservoir Square, can be seen on the left, 1906. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection
It was the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States, and took nine years to complete, with a cost totaling over nine million dollars. In 1906, the roof of the building was completed, and designers set to work for five additional years on the interior. Dr. John Shaw Billings, the first director of the New York Public Library, created a plan for an enormous reading room, seven floors of stacks, and an efficient retrieval system.

Interior construction, 1909. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Carrere and Hastings furniture plans. Image: NYPL Digital Gallery

The main branch of the New York Public Library opened to the public on May 23, 1911.

Postcard of the NYPL showing the north and east facades. Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

To read more about the history of the NYPL and its buildings, click here, and to search though historic photos on the NYPL's digital gallery, look here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NYC Monuments: William Earle Dodge

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

Sometimes it seems as if New York’s monuments and statues move about the city's boroughs as much as its citizens do. Often, they will be relocated from one public space to another, because of construction, the whims of city officials, or convenience. The stories of monument preservation, placement, and movement from one park or square to another provide insight to the nature of the public places where they stand.

One in particular, William Earle Dodge, who currently resides midway through Bryant Park's 42nd Street allée, was first dedicated in Herald Square Park, located within one of our sister business improvement districts, the 34th Street Partnership.

Overhead view of Herald Square, showing the Dodge monument, Herald building, and 6th Avenue elevated train, c. late 1930s. Photo: NYC Parks Department

William Earle Dodge was best known as a founder of the successful copper and metals company Phelps Dodge & Co. He also helped start the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and staunchly supported the Prohibition Movement. He served as President of the National Temperance Society from 1865 to 1883, and was instrumental in the publication of over 2,000 supporting books, pamphlets, and posters.

Pedestrian view showing the Dodge monument in Herald Square, c. late 1800s. Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

When he died, friends formed a commemorative committee to erect a statue in his honor. This statue was sculpted by John Quincy Ward, and placed on a base designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Among Hunt’s many accomplishments, which include founding the American Institute of Architects (AIA), he also designed the base for the Statue of Liberty, as well as the façade and Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Statue of Liberty by night, Ne... Digital ID: 836991. New York Public Library
Lady Liberty. Postcard: NYPL Digital Collection
Hunt’s base for the Dodge monument featured a water fountain and small lion’s head, a nod to Dodge’s commitment to temperance. Literature buffs too, will also recognize the inherent symbolism in the lion’s head - commonly used to suggest stateliness, leadership, and reverence.

Pedestrian view of the Dodge monument, 1914. Photo: NYC Transit Museum

Dedicated on October 22, 1885, the statue presided there, in the company of the Herald Building, until Herald Square was refurbished in 1940.

One year later, in 1941, Dodge was moved to the Northeast corner of Bryant Park, and placed on a granite pedestal. The original Hunt pedestal was removed from Herald Square; its current whereabouts are unknown.

Partial view of a 1939 architectural plan detailing the granite pedestal for the Dodge statue once moved to Bryant Park. Map: NYC Parks Department

Dodge remained in the northeast corner of the park, in close proximity to another publisher and philanthropist, William Cullen Bryant, until the 1992 renovation of the park.

Profile view of Dodge on the upper terrace in Bryant Park, 1983. Note the absence of the Bryant Park Cafe. Photo: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

Rear view of Dodge on the upper terrace, nine years before his (and the park's) restoration. Photo: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street partnership

At that point, Dodge underwent a $23,000 renovation, and was moved again in the park to his present location, along the 42nd Street allée, where the Bryant Park Reading Room is located during the warmer months, and currently, the Holiday Shops.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bryant Park's 1934 Moses Renovation

This post also appears on the Bryant Park Blog.

Over the years, Bryant Park has undergone numerous physical transformations. Some temporary, such as Citi Pond at Bryant Park -- which, to the delight of ice skaters, opened last Friday, October 29 -- and others more permanent, such as the 1934 renovation of the park headed by then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

Assisted by consulting architect Aymar Embury II, and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, Moses transformed the grounds of Bryant Park from a Victorian greensward to a French Classical landscape very similar to today’s design.

Bryant Park, circa 1930
Before Moses set to work, Bryant Park was laced with winding paths, broken up by small clumps of trees, and lined with wood and cast iron benches, common elements in Victorian Era landscaping. The paths encouraged park visitors to meander, while the trees provided shade as well as an air of mystery to what lay directly ahead on the path. The benches supplied a bit of ornamentation as well as seating for patrons.

As part of the Moses Renovation, the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain was moved from the east end of the park, directly in front of the William Cullen Bryant monument, to the west end at 41st Street and 6th Avenue, where it sits today on what we call the Fountain Terrace. 

Construction in Bryant Park, May 1934, before the fountain was moved to its present location. Prior to 1934, it was located on the east end of the park, just behind the New York Public Library. Photo: NYC Parks Department

Taken in June 1934, this photo shows the present location of the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain on the west side of the park. Photo: NYC Parks Department
An expansive lawn was added in the center of the park space. London Plane trees were planted along allées lining two sides of the lawn’s perimeter, which was also bordered by a stone balustrade.

The park re-opened to the public on September 14, 1934.

Mid-1930s postcard showing the park after the Moses Renovation.
To learn more about Bryant Park’s history, before and after the Moses Renovation, click here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Trip to Coney

At first glance, it looks like a Coney Island bathing beauties shot from the early 1900s. The subjects' legs are crossed, hands neatly folded in their laps, and a few even have demure smiles for the camera. And of course, the lady suits. Men's bathing suits never drape that well.

But then you begin to notice the brawn - slouchy postures, broad shoulders, short hair, and square jaws that are sort of smirking, not so much smiling. Coney Island has a rich history, most of it revolving around fun, the having and creating of. Perhaps they were preparing for the annual Mermaid Parade, or just experimenting. Adolescence is tricky for everyone.

Another notable feature is the half moon, an image ubiquitous with Coney Island, perhaps because it is the location in Gravesend Bay where explorer Henry Hudson's ship the "Half Moon" docked on it's way to Asia. Or, because of the Half Moon Hotel, which you can read more about here and here. Also, in 1933, the popular song "It's Only a Paper Moon" was written, and over the years has been used and/or covered by just about everybody.

Parade of Horses

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

Before the Bryant Park Carousel was installed in June 2002, the 40th street allée next to the Goethe statue was peaceful, but obviously missing something. Seeking to enhance the French classical design of the park grounds, create a family friendly atmosphere, and complement the neighboring Beaux Arts façade of the New York Public Library, the Bryant Park Corporation added Le Carrousel to the barren space.

Before Le Carrousel was installed in the park, along the 40th Street allee

Le Carrousel was designed and manufactured by Marvin Sylvor‘s Fabricon Carousel Company in Brooklyn, and installed in the park in early June 2002. Mr. Sylvor was internationally recognized, and had built carousels all over the world. He passed away in 2008.

Carousel installation, late May 2002

The menagerie in Fabricon's studio awaiting transport to the park

In addition to its colorful menagerie of animals, which include a deer, a rabbit, a cat, and ten horses, Le Carrousel also features a fully restored ticket booth, originally built in 1928 for a carousel in Hull Massachusetts.

The Bryant Park carousel ticket booth, mid-restoration in Fabricon's studio

A parade of horses on the south side of the park

Bryant Park hospitality staff lead the animals to their new home

The Bryant Park carousel measures 22 feet wide, weighs 12,000 pounds, and spins to the sounds of French Cabaret music. Just a month after the carousel opened, on July 31, 2002, a naming ceremony was held for the lead horse “Granny’s Folly.” The horse was named after a mounted police steed that had served the NYPD since 1984. He was struck by a livery cab on Pelham Parkway in 1992.

Le Carrousel's lead horse Granny's Folly

Named after one of his riders, Sergeant Grannville Waterman, the horse was famed for stepping on a mugger's foot, preventing his escape outside of Madison Square Garden during a Michael Jackson concert.
Just last summer, seven years after the carousel opened, it underwent a full restoration by artist Andrew Tedesco

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Washington Irving in Bryant Park

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.  

Currently, the Bryant Park grounds are home to several monuments that pay homage to artists, writers, and leaders. Some, such as the statue memorializing William Earle Dodge in the Reading Room, originally stood in other parks and courtyards throughout the city before making their way to Bryant Park. (Dodge’s original home was Herald Square.) Others, such as a bust of American author Washington Irving, resided first in the park, and have since been moved elsewhere.

My interest was first piqued when I found (and bought) this postcard at the Brooklyn Flea. In case you can't read the back, it says "Same old story" and nothing else. A perfect non sequitur circa 1914.



In the late 1800s to early 1900s, a large bronze bust of Washington Irving, mounted on a granite pedestal, stood in the south side of Bryant Park. The author of “Sleepy Hollow” and many other works, Irving was one of the first American writers to gain international acclaim. 

The statue was donated to the City of New York in 1885 by Joseph Weiner, a German physician and admirer of Irving’s. Sculpted by artist Friedrich Beers, the bust was originally intended for placement in Central Park. Upon completion some members of the NYC Art Committee declared it a success, while others insisted that it wasn’t flattering enough to Irving. The Commission decided to put the bust in Bryant Park, because Irving had served on the park’s advisory council at one point.

It remained in the park for many years, and possibly up until the 1934 renovation. Some say that the statue was moved before that, lost, and then later recovered in a storage shed under the Williamsburg Bridge.

In 1935, the Irving bust was moved to Washington Irving High School (go bulldogs!), where it remains today.

Look here for more details on the history of this and many other NYC statues, and of course, here, for more information about NYC parks, including the other Washington Irving bust, located in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Facades to Pedestals

In the middle of midtown shopping and tourist chaos, at 34th Street, where Broadway and 6th Avenue meet, is a small park maintained by one of my employers, the 34th Street Partnership, called Herald Square. This small triangle of land was named after the New York Herald, a daily newspaper established in 1835 by James Gordon Bennett, Sr. (1795-1872). Known primarily for its sensationalistic coverage of crime and scandal, as well as a massive national circulation, the Herald set up its headquarters at the north end of this small green space in 1894, in a two story arcaded building designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White.

postcard from around 1898 showing the Herald building, as well as the Dodge monument

The ornate building featured several bronze owls mounted along the façade as well as statues of Minerva and two bell-ringing blacksmiths, nicknamed “Stuff and Guff” or “Gog and Magog.”

At this time, the James Earle Dodge monument, now in Bryant Park, occupied a stately position in front of the Herald building. More on him later . . .

Minerva on top of the Herald, and later, as part of the James Gordon Bennett monument

In 1918, the Herald moved its offices to 42nd street, and three years later, the statues were removed from the building’s façade. They went into the possession of William Dewart, then proprietor of the New York Sun. Years later, in 1940, when Herald Square underwent a massive renovation, the statues were given to the city on permanent loan and placed in a Milford granite pedestal in Herald Square Park. The pedestal, designed by architect Aymar Emburry II, along with the statues from the Herald building make up a monument to James Gordon Bennett. The dedication ceremony was held on November 19, 1940.

Before and After contrast

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Library Under the Lawn

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog. All photos, Bryant Park Corporation. 

In 1983 the Bryant Park Corporation retained landscape architecture firm Hanna / Olin Ltd., now The Olin Studio, for the re-design of Bryant Park. Over the next several years, plans were drafted and the park began its transition into a beautiful, well used public space.

Concurrent with Bryant Park’s facelift, the New York Public Library embarked on a large construction project of its own: the addition of 120,000 square feet of library stacks beneath the surface of the Bryant Park lawn.

The excavation for the two story stacks began in July 1988, with Tishman Realty & Construction Co., Ltd. managing construction.

Requiring a 30 foot excavation in the center of the park, the finished stacks accommodate up to 3.2 million books and 500,000 reels of microfilm, doubling the library’s storage capacity.  The stacks are connected to the main library by a 62 foot long tunnel. Additionally, there is a fire escape on the west side of the Bryant Park lawn, disguised by a dedication plaque.

The stacks took less than a year to complete, and the lawn was seeded, and in place by September 15, 1989. The park partially reopened to the public in spring of 1990.