Monday, February 28, 2011

Street Eats and City Crowds -- 100 Years and Counting

This photo was posted on Shorpy's, a historic and vintage photo blog. It shows Herald Square, currently managed and maintained by the 34th Street Partnership, and the surrounding area, in 1908. That's the 6th Avenue elevated train on the right, and in front of the Herald building, the William Earle Dodge monument, now in Bryant Park.

Image from Shorpy's

Although a relatively common view -- I'm pretty sure the photo was taken from the elevated subway station at 33rd Street, in Greeley Square -- what is special about this particular one, is the insane amount of detail and information it conveys. If you click here to see the high resolution photo, you will see much, much more.

This lunch wagon, spotted by a Shorpy's commenter, and re-blogged by Midtown Lunch, was parked on Sixth Avenue, east of the elevated train tracks, or, to their left in the above photo. The commenter, Copyboy, included an excerpt from a letter sent to the New York Times complaining the cart's placement on Sixth Avenue obstructed pedestrian and vehicular traffic from 34th Street, all the way to 42nd Street, on the northwest corner of Bryant park, where it was often seen.

Displayed on top of the facade of the Herald Building, shown in a close-up below, is the James Gordon Bennett Memorial, removed from the building in 1921, and later reinstalled on a Milford pink granite pedestal in the park in 1940. The owls are another story.

And there's this:

Not nearly as many people in the street then, as now, but it looks so much more chaotic. I can identify at least six different types of transportation in use: automobiles, trolley cars, horse-drawn carriages, walking, the elevated train (not in this close-up, but in the main shot), and that strange thing in the pink box that looks like a motorized pedi-cab with the driver in the back, and passengers up front.  I guess bicycles were still too new to be considered a viable form of transporation, rather than a leisure activity. Also, without traffic lanes, and  organized direction, the street looks more like a free-for-all than it likely was. They're probably all heading for the lunch wagons.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Presidents' Day (Yesterday)!

February 22, 1732 marked the birth of our nation’s first President, George Washington. Now celebrated along with Abraham Lincoln's birthday as a federal holiday, Presidents' Day, on the third Monday of February. It's also an extra day off of work for many of us. 

In 1932, to celebrate the bicentennial of Washington's birth, the Washington Bicentennial Committee, headed by Sol Bloom  and Grover Whalen, was formed to erect a replica of Federal Hall just behind the NYPL, in Bryant Park. The original Federal Hall was located on Wall Street, and it was there that Washington took his first oath of office.


This building cost an estimated $8,000 to construct, and 25 cents per patron to enter. It stayed up for a little over a year after the celebration, mostly collecting dust and resentment. The faux Federal Hall stayed up for months, and was torn down in April 1933, at the urging of the Parks Department. The Commission was supposed to restore the park to its prior condition, but was thwarted by lack of funds. The often articulate barometer of widespread NYC sentiment, the New Yorker, referred to these as some of the park's "dreary years" in a December 1, 1934 article.

A much older, and slightly different version of this post is on the Bryant Park blog, posted around President's Day last year, and before I figured out what to do with pictures on blogs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bryant Park's Choice Seating

This post also appears on the Bryant park blog.

Bryant Park is known for many things, including an abundance of its iconic green chairs. Before the park had movable chairs, seating was much more limited. With only benches and a few picnic tables, people were often crowded together on the library steps, and perched on the balustrade (which is bad for the masonry).
northwest section of Bryant Park, 1983
Afternoon lunchers clustered around one of the NYPL flagpoles, 1991

During the restoration of Bryant Park, in the late 1980s, Park management heeded the advice of Urbanist William H. Whyte, and decided to introduce movable chairs into the park in time for its planned re-opening in 1992.

As Whyte aptly wrote in his book The Social Life of Urban Spaces: "Chairs enlarge choice: to move into the sun, out of it, to make room for groups, move away from them. The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it. If you know you can move if you want to, you feel more comfortable staying put."
During the summer of 1991, most of the park was not quite yet ready for the public. However, Park management, the NYC Parks Department, and Community Board 5, agreed to a partial opening of the fountain terrace on July 1, 1991. To prepare, the BPC (then called, Bryant Park Restoration Project) purchased 400 sturdy, white stackable chairs.
Park users enjoying the new seating on the fountain terrace, 1991

This trial run of movable furniture received ample positive feedback from the press, and more importantly, park users. By the time the entire park was re-opened to the public, on April 22, 1992, BPC replaced the white chairs with the now iconic, green Fermob chairs.