Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sounds Like Fighting Words

Recently my boss asked me to find the first recording of a U.S. President. I thought it may have been Teddy Roosevelt, but it wasn't, and so I went backwards, finding and listening to recordings of McKinley, then Cleveland, until I got to what actually was the first recording of a U.S. President - 23rd President Benjamin Harrison, recorded in 1889. Harrison was in office from 1889-1893, nestled in between Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms. He looks like he sounds.

23rd President Benjamin Harrison sitting pretty, 1888

It could have stopped there, but I got lost in the wonderful audio rabbit hole that is the Library of Congress's main sound recording page. I highly recommend spending some time with the Vaudeville recordings. They are amazing, and quite distracting.

Of course, then it's "What were these early recordings made with and listened on?" When I was looking into the history of sound playing/recording devices, I noticed that two names kept popping up: Thomas Edison and German inventor Emile Berliner. At first I thought Thomas Edison pulled a fast one on Berliner, just like he did Nikola Tesla (be still my heart). You know the story. But no, Edison filed his patent (no. 200,521, issued February 18, 1878) a few years before Berliner, and no doubt got the word out and the cash flow in first as well.

Thomas Edison wearing a very plaid suit and posing with his cylinder phonograph, [1878-1880]

Thomas Edison filed a patent for the first cylinder phonograph in 1878, and followed it up with several additional patents for modifications and improvements. Lines and grooves were scratched on the surface of a cylinder (part? object? thing?) of the phonograph, and as it moved, vibrations produced sound.

Edison had that market cornered for about ten years, until German inventor Emile Berliner came along with his gramophone in 1887. [There's a typo on the Google link to this patent, saying it was originally filed in 1837, not 1887. Huzzah?!]
Emile Berliner, so happy with his gramophone that his eyes are closed, [1910-1929]

Berliner changed (and improved) the design by swapping the cylinder out for a disc-shaped plate, also with grooves. He experimented with a number of materials for the discs including celluloid and hard rubber.  He marketed it to toy companies, and throughout the late 1880s he and Edison entered into a patent-filing war, adjusting and tweaking their respective inventions.

Berliner may have had the last laugh though. During a visit to London in 1900, he saw a painting by Mark Barraud of the artist's dog "Nipper" peering into a gramophone, called "His Master's Voice." Berliner trademarked the image and it went on to become one of the most iconic images in advertising history. Funny thing is, is that the gramophone in the painting is an Edison-Bell model. Apparently the image was first shopped to the Edison company and they turned it down.

"His Master's Voice" by Mark Barraud. Image: wikipedia

**All photos except for "Nipper" are from LOC's digital collection.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Herald Building: Now with a Duane Reade!

This post also appears on Fashion Herald.

The New York Herald building at West 35th Street where Broadway meets Sixth Avenue, was a two-story building designed by Stanford White of architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. White was commissioned to build it for friend James Gordon Bennett Jr. to house the new Herald offices when the paper moved uptown from Park Row in 1894. The story of the Herald and its founders are here, here, and here.

Photo: MCNY

The Herald had offices in this building until Bennett Jr.’s death in 1918. Soon after, Frank Munsey bought the paper and merged it with the New York Sun to create the Herald-Sun. The new combo-paper’s offices were moved to West 42nd Street. 

The north half of the building was demolished in 1921, leaving only the southern part, statues intact on the  building’s façade. 

Photo: MCNY
Eventually, in 1930, a new, 24-story office building was designed and built by the architecture firm Clinton & Russell where the northern half used to be. The firm was founded in 1894, the same year the Herald building was completed (weird coincidence!).

Photo: Berenice Abbott via the  NYPL and MCNY
In the 1930s the Sixth Avenue Group (a business improvement group of sorts) sponsored a contest to re-design and “beautify” the area following construction of a new underground subway line and station, and the razing of the Sixth Avenue elevated line. The low rise portion of the Herald building was completed in 1940. I’m pretty sure that "completed" meant that the building was stripped of its Stanford White-designed façade work and given the 1940s-1950s simple (sterile) treatment. The front windows are much larger in the new building, and the ground floor looks lower, but I think the building's original bones are still there. That same year, the James Gordon Bennett memorial was installed in Herald Square in the form of a 40 ft. tall monument, unveiled during a dedication ceremony on November 19, 1940. 

Postcard: Pisark's
Herald Square and the surrounding area went into a decline in the 1970s and 1980s, but were brought back to life with a late 1990s renovation by the 34th Street Partnership.The building is still there, and the first two floors are currently home to a massive Duane Reade.Time marches on.

Additional Sources:
Kruger, Richard. The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune
“Sixth Ave. Group to Beautify Parks,” NYT, March 24, 1939
“Frank A. Munsey Buys the Herald and the Telegram,” NYT, January 15, 1920

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The James Gordon Bennetts' New York Herald, Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on the New York Herald.

After returning to the States, Bennett commissioned Stanford White to design new offices for the Herald. The new building would be located a fair distance from Park Row and competitor Joseph Pulitzer's World building, completed in 1890. Bennett obtained a 30-year lease at Sixth Avenue and 35th Street, at the south border of a small clearing then known as Dodge Plaza in honor of William Earle Dodge, who I've mentioned before.

Park Row, and most of the competition
Bennett chose the new site for its proximity to public transportation and nightlife. The elevated train line had been built a few years before, and now afforded the public, including Herald's reporters, easy access to most parts of the city. The site also bordered Tin Pan Alley, and several music halls and theaters, including places like Jim Corbett's and the Haymarket.

Corbett's, said to be a hangout spot for JGB Jr., c. 1900. Photo: MCNY
No stranger to scandal himself, Stanford White designed an elaborate Renaissance Revival building based on Fra Giancondo's Loggia del Consiglio, a late 15th century seat of the local city council in Verona.  The Loggia's roof was lined with sculptures of famous poets, including the risque poet Catallus. It is said that this inspiration was chosen on purpose as a nod of sorts to the Herald's coarse nature and Bennett's sporting life.

Instead of poets lining the roof, Bennett chose his spirit animal, the owl. Supposedly he claimed that an owl's cry saved him at sea during his Civil War service.

the Herald building shortly after construction. Postcard: Pisark's
A couple of them are now incorporated in the Bennett memorial in Herald Square. I've written of the monument before, and so have others. . .

Ever-conscious of public perception, Bennett mandated that there would be windows along the Broadway side of the building allowing passersby to view the presses below. People loved it and regularly crowded at them to watch sheet after sheet of the Herald come off the presses.

The Herald building's elaborate western facade and people crowding near the windows, c. 1902 Photo: LOC
And, what they saw below:

The Herald presses, c. 1902. Photo: LOC
The acclaim of the building and increased commerce of the area led to a name change for the Square. It became known as Herald Square in the late 1890s. Still a commercial hub, now instead of newspapers, the square welcomes millions of daily shoppers.

Part 1 can be found here; part 2 here.

More sources:
Broderick, Mosette. Triumvirate, McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America’s Gilded Age.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The James Gordon Bennetts' New York Herald, Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on the New York Herald.

In 1866 James Gordon Bennett Sr. passed the publishing duties of the New York Herald on to a man who many thought to be an unlikely successor -- his son James Gordon Bennett Jr.

Image: NYPL
James Gordon Bennett Jr. is best known in history for his devotion to yachting, ballooning, and socializing on a grand scale. Mostly due to the Herald's commercial success, he was raised to cultivate and enjoy just about any recreational activity that required expensive equipment and/or traveling. Aside from a brief stint serving as a Third Lieutenant for the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War, Bennett practiced a life of leisure with a consistency and fervor that led artist friend and Julius LeBlanc Stewart to paint it at least twice. 

On the Yacht "Namouna", Venice (1890), Julius LeBlanc Stewart
 . . . with totally different lighting schemes. The sky in the painting below looks like the sun is rising and setting at the same time.

Yachting on the Mediterranean (1896), Julius LeBlanc Stewart

As publisher of the Herald JGB Jr. had an extensive list of "Don'ts" for reporters to follow. The list contained very detailed instructions on how to address or refer to the wealthy (i.e. his friends) in text. Father and son were a study in opposites: James Gordon Bennett Sr. was known for exposing scandal, and James Gordon Bennett Jr. was known for living it. Their contradictory lifestyles did not escape other members of the press, who regularly satirized both, and often referred to Jr. as "The Commodore." Here, JGB Sr. visits his namesake from the grave to keep him in line, and Jr. reacts.
Image: NYPL
Under Bennett Jr.'s leadership, the Herald's circulation gradually dropped and expenses steadily rose. Bennett moved to Paris in 1877 (Wikipedia, 4th paragraph) and continued to run the newspaper from there. While in Paris, he launched the Paris Herald (forerunner to the International Herald Tribune), and an evening edition of the paper called the Telegraph. He wasn't gone for good though. The famous Herald building was still yet to be built and the Square named after the paper of the same name. More on this in part 3.

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The James Gordon Bennetts' New York Herald, Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on the New York Herald. All three posts will eventually appear on Fashion Herald, a blog about 34th Street district retail.

One of the fathers of modern journalism, James Gordon Bennett Sr. founded the New York Herald in 1835 in a small office on Wall Street. Bennett vowed that his new penny paper would have none of the political alliances and proselytizing found in other papers.

Cross-eyed, Bennett once wrote that his affliction came from watching the "winding ways of [President] Martin Van Buren." Photo: Library of Congress
Bennett had excellent intuition for what was missing in journalism of his time, and how to appeal to the general population. With an almost prophetic sense of the financial crisis to come in 1837, the Herald was the first general interest paper to pen a financial column. "Money Markets" debuted within a week of the paper's first issue in 1836 and was immensely popular. In it, Bennett exposed stock market fraud and speculated that the rise and fall of the stock market was not accidental.

Bennett also tapped into what have since become public obsessions -- crime, scandal, and celebrities. Lurid descriptions and relentless coverage of these are common today, but in the 1830s, murders and the like were scarcely reported, if at all. The murder of prostitute Ellen Jewett in 1836, and the Herald's subsequent front page coverage of the event and trial changed all of that.

One of many postmortem caricatures of Ms. Jewett. Photo: Library of Congress
The Herald was the first paper to take reporting to that special macabre place by printing detailed descriptions of the courtroom proceedings and crime scene. Bennett was also one of the first editors to publish interviews with key witnesses and others involved in the case, the first being a lengthy interview with Jewett's Madame Rosina Townsend. 

For those who couldn't afford theater or concert tickets, the newspaper turned the news into its own little episodic show -- kind of like one really long Law and Order episode. Each day readers could open the paper to a new spectacle of horrors. Because intimate knowledge of the case was dispelled daily via the paper, devoted readers could consider themselves an active part of the drama.

Bennett spared no expense on technology advances to increase the paper's reporting and production efficiency. During the Mexican-American War, he established a courier service that was faster than the post office in order to get reports from the front lines to the Herald offices in New York City. (It was soon shut down by the postal service.) Bennett secured a steady readership while covering the Civil War by publishing eyewitness accounts of soldiers on the front lines. To evade Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton's censorship ban on the press, Bennett printed war casualty lists. People bought editions of the paper every day in hopes of finding the names of lost loved ones. Like the Jewett trial case, this produced a regularly paying audience addicted to tragedy, though this time is was more personal.

Bennett's coverage of politics was meant to be impartial, and compared with other papers, it mostly was. The April 15, 1865 edition of the Herald shows a strange marriage of the grisly and the political with its Lincoln assassination coverage. Click here to see a large version of the image below. If you enlarge it, the copy theatrically describes Lincoln's murder scene and the ensuing investigation.

Image: Library of Congress
In 1866 Bennett Sr. passed his duties on to his son James Gordon Bennett Jr. who had long been the subject of tabloid-ish reporting in rival papers. More on him in part 2 next week.

Sorry for the lack of links, but most of this was culled from print sources, including these:
-Carlson, Oliver. The Man Who Made News: James Gordon Bennett
-Kluger, Richard. The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune
-Pray, Isaac Clarke. Memoirs of James Gordon Bennett and His Times (google books)
-Sandburg, Carl. Storm Over the Land: A Profile of the Civil War.
-Seitz, Don C. The James Gordon Bennetts: Father and Son, Proprietors of The New York Herald.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jerry McAuley's Helping Hands

Just south of Greeley Square Park on West 32nd Street, near Sixth Avenue and one of the neighborhood's drastically altered corners is the former location of one of Jerry McAuley's rescue missions. The Cremorne Mission was established in 1882 by Jerry McAuley his wife Maria.

McAuley was a river thief and alcoholic who, while serving time in Sing Sing, found religion and vowed to change his ways. After his release in 1864, a couple of relapses, and many personal struggles, he established one of the first rescue missions in the city that catered to adult men -- most at the time concentrated their efforts on women and children -- and called it The Helping Hand for Men. McAuley's mission was located on Water Street and by the 1880s, was a well-known and respected establishment. Around this time the McAuleys decided to expand their efforts into the much talked about Tenderloin district further uptown.

(In yet another weird connection between 34th Street and Bryant Park, William E. Dodge, who now presides over the Reading Room in BP, was also one of the Cremorne Mission's early financiers.)

McAuley chose the name and location for his new mission carefully, opening it next door to a gambling house that provided all types of vice at all hours with no cover charge. In hopes of luring wayward drunks toward their salvation McAuley cleverly gave his mission a very similar name to its neighbor. On plenty of occasions patrons of the Cremorne Gardens who were looking to revel in a scene like this. . .

. . . would accidently enter McAuley's Cremorne Mission, to find a revival sermon in progress similar to this:

Still, many of them stayed, listened to the sermons, changed their ways, and were grateful for the intervention. Some historians theorize that the combination of spirituality, confession, and peer pressure present in the Mission formed the basis for today's Alcoholics Anonymous programs (Sante).

The mission eventually moved to 42nd Street, and was later closed in 1972, though a small memorial to McAuley remains in Greeley Square today. Dedicated in 1913, and donated by the McAuley Committee of the New York City Rescue Mission, the Jerry McAuley Drinking Fountain was the second fountain made in his honor. For for several years, it lived just outside Greeley Square as a monument to McAuley's contribution to the neighborhood. Here is a somewhat awkwardly staged photo of it in use from the mid-1950s:

The fountain has been lovingly restored and is still in Greeley Square Park; look for it in the north end of the park next time you venture to Broadway Boulevard for a class or to scout other neighborhood architectural gems.

Another lasting monument to McAuley and his wife remains in the present-day New York City Rescue Mission. From Water Street to 32nd Street, and back downtown, the NYCRM and its many volunteers continue to help those in need get back on their feet.

**All images courtesy of the NYCRM. Thanks for your amazing work!

Works Cited:
Sante, Luc. Lowlife
Offord, Rev. R.M. Jerry McAuley: His Life and Work (google books link)
Bonner, Arthur. Jerry McAuley and His Mission

Friday, April 13, 2012

Their Last Voyage

This post also appears on Fashion Herald.

Everybody is talking about the Titanic right now, and some are even just learning that yes, it DID actually happen.

One of three sister ships -- the other two being the RMS Olympic, (launched in 1910) and the RMS Britannic (launched in 1914) -- the Titanic was the largest passenger ship afloat. At the time of its maiden voyage from Southhampton England to New York City, US on April 10,1912, the RMS Titanic was guaranteed unsinkable.
Titanic launching from Southhampton. Photo: National Geographic
A few days later the ship collided with an iceberg, and on April 15 sank, taking with it 1,517 passengers and crew members. Among those were co-owner of Macy's department stores Isidor Straus, and his wife Ida, as well as John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant (and much younger) wife Madeleine Talmadge Force Astor.

The "Macy's corner" at 34th Street and Broadway, [1910-1915]. By this time the store and neighborhood were bustling with activity.
When offered a spot in one of the ship's few lifeboats, Ida Straus said something to the effect of this: "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go." Or maybe this: “I have lived with him for 50 years - I won’t leave him now." She stayed on board with her husband and they perished together. After their deaths, her fidelity and loyalty were celebrated in the press, as well as with several memorials and positive portrayals in plays, music, and movies. (Ha! You thought I was going to link to the James Cameron movie but I didn't!) Below is one of several piano pieces composed in 1912:

Isador and Ida Straus rendered on this commemorative piano piece from 1912. Image: NYPL
Macy's had a plaque made, dedicated, and placed in the store's entrance on 34th Street, just west of Broadway in 1913. Also, three years to the day after the ship sank, a monument was dedicated to the Strauses at Broadway and 106th Street near their former home in New York City, in a small park named after them one year earlier.  It's still there.

The Straus Memorial on its dedication day, April 15, 1915. Photo: Library of Congress

The Straus Memorial on its dedication day, April 15, 1915. Photo: Library of Congress
Designed by Augustus Lukeman, the monument's female figure was created in the likeness of statue model Audrey Munson, also known as "Miss Manhattan," and who deserves her own blog post, maybe with Evelyn Nesbit. (They're classier Lindsay Lohans of the early 1900s, except with possibly more affairs and less cocaine -- or maybe not!)

Audrey Munson with Buzzer the cat. Photo: Library of Congress
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the crash, and the tributes and books are still coming. The National Geographic has never-before seen photos of the shipwreck taken during a 2010 expedition to the wreckage site.
Bad screen shot from this Before and After slideshow. This image shows the Straus suite.
 Other sources:
-Titanic Historical Society
-Titanic Facts
-National Geographic has never-before seen photos of the wreckage. They are stunning.
-Isador Straus obituary.
-Straus Historical Society in Smithtown, New York 
- A nice little Macy's history slide show called Macy's Milestones and the very long, very detailed wikipedia entry on the department store.
-Macy's history on the department store's website
-New York Times

Friday, February 3, 2012

Big Retail Comes and Goes with Stern's

The photo below is one of the earliest I have on file of Bryant Park, and maybe one of the most interesting. It shows West 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, about where the W.R. Grace building is now, and a zillion benches lining paths inside the park. All of those buildings have been razed and replaced, and in many cases, their replacements replaced. It was taken in 1912, one year before the Stern brothers built a large flagship store in about the same place on the block.

Photo: BPC Archive

This postcard, most likely of the park between 1913 and 1917 (after Stern's was built, but before the Eagle Hut and Victory Garden), shows the same stretch of West 42nd Street, a pre-Chrysler building skyline, and offers further evidence of park bench enthusiasm.

 Postcard: Pisark's

The retailer had been growing steadily for several years by the time Stern's built the 42nd Street flagship store. It was founded in 1867 as the Stern Brothers Department Store in Buffalo, New york. Just one year later, the company operated out of a one room store on Sixth Avenue, As the store grew, they eventually moved from the Sixth Avenue location, and built built a six-story Renaissance Revival building on West 23rd Street in 1879. Here it is in 1899:

Image: NYPL Digital
And again in 1905, after a few renovations and additions:

Stern Brothers’ dry goods esta... Digital ID: 809803. New York Public Library
Image: NYPL Digital
The building still stands, but now houses a Home Depot that only seems to stock house paint, potted plants, and light fixtures. (If you need actual tools or hardware, venture to the outer borough locations.) Still, it's a pleasure to shop in because of natural light afforded by the huge windows and open floor plan.

Stern Brothers
Mattron flickr
In 1913 the company moved from this location to build a new flagship store on West 42nd Street, across from Bryant Park, where it would remain for many years. That building was nine stores tall, with a separate entrance for those wealthy enough to be in the know. The new building was a big enough deal for the Indiana Limestone Company to use it and the neighboring Aeolian building in a 1921 advertisement for their product.

Image: NYPL Digital

As one of the larger department stores in the city, Stern's had a vast inventory of goods. Here are some entertaining bits from the store's directory:

Subway / Basement Level - buying offices, and among other things, something called the Bryant Park Shops
Street Level - impulse buys for women (jewelry, cosmetics) and convenience for men (shoes, suits, etc.), and umbrellas, which have their own department
Street Floor Mezzanine - "surgical aids," cameras
2nd Floor - children's, lingere (These always on the same floor in most large department stores, and usually not too far from linens and bedding -- an entire female existence centered around sex.)
3rd floor -- fashion, fur, leather
4th Floor - domestics - drapes, bedding, and linens
5th Floor - fireplace shop (I know it's relevant for the early 1900s, but in today's context it's hilarious.)

The Department Store Museum has a complete listing, and other useful Stern's info.

By the late 1960s the sales in everything had declined significantly. The flagship store was moved to Bergen Mall in New Jersey, taking with it, West 42nd Street's status as a retail center. The building was sold and torn down to make room for the Grace Building, built by the W.R. Grace Chemical Company, and designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill Architects (SOM).

W.R. Grace Building, January 2012. Photo: A. Kumer

Construction started on the Grace building in 1971, and was completed in 1974. It is one of two buildings in the city to have a sloped facade. The other, also designed by Bunshaft is the Solow building. The design of the Grace building is rumored to come from the rejected sketches of the Solow building facade.

Though retail still exists on the ground floor of most of the buildings on this block, I doubt any have a fireplace department.

Other Sources:
To read more about The Stern Brothers' former locations, click here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Climb High, Look Far

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

In 1853 the Crystal Palace was built on the present site of Bryant Park. It was big, glass, extremely fancy, and modeled after the one erected in Hyde Park, London a few years before. Similar to the Hyde Park CP, the New York version housed a vast exhibition of the world's industrial innovations, consumer goods and artwork. The exhibits spilled out beyond the palace and onto bordering streets. Sideshows, food kiosks, makeshift zoos, and other attractions lined West 42nd and West 40th Streets. One of the most notable of these attractions was the Latting Observatory, a 315-foot tall iron and wood tower.

Image: NYPL digital

Built on West 43rd Street with an adjoining structure that went through to West 42nd Street, the Latting Observatory was anticipated to be one of  the "chief curiosities" in the city during the CP exhibition.

Image: BPC

Named after Warren Latting, and designed by architect William Naugle, the observatory afforded paying guests views to Staten Island, Queens, and New Jersey from three separate observation decks. The faux fish eye lithograph below shows the view from the tallest observation deck of the tower. In the foreground, along West 42nd Street, is the Crystal Palace on the right, near Sixth Ave., and the Croton Reservoir (later the site of the NYPL) bordered by Fifth Avenue.

Image: NYPL digital

The Latting Observatory was the tallest building in the city from the day it opened on July 1, 1853 until at least one year later, when the Crystal Palace exhibit closed in November 1854. After the closure, the observatory was bought by Hydeville Marble Works, who then removed the top 75 feet of the tower. Exactly one year after that, on August 30, 1856, it burned down in a fire started at a neighboring shop on 43rd Street.