Tag Archives: Manhattan

Exhibition: The Ground Beneath Our Feet


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On the occasion of The Grinnell’s 100th birthday, members of the Grinnell Centennial Planning Team have mounted an exhibition of more than 50 photos, prints, maps, and documents that tell the story of the half-acre triangle of land numbered 800 Riverside Drive, from the Native American Lenape people who inhabited northern Manhattan when Dutch settlers arrived in the early 17th Century through The Grinnell’s co-oping in the late 20th Century. The exhibition explores the individuals who have owned this unique half-acre during the last three centuries, and examines the political and economic events that inserted a triangle in the midst of the rectangular grid pattern that dominates New York’s street plan.

A slide presentation accompanying the exhibition highlights newsmakers who have lived at The Grinnell during its hundred year history, including operetta prima donna Christie MacDonald (a favorite of Victor Herbert who wrote “Sweethearts” for her); actress, playwright, and novelist Alice Childress; architect Max Bond; artist Ademola Olugebefola; Lucy McDannel, the first woman to graduate Yale Law School; and Catherine Phelan, a housekeeper who earned The Grinnell unwanted national publicity in 1934 when she murdered her employer Douglas Sheridan in his Grinnell apartment.

“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” is open to the public free of charge. There are three dates left:

Sunday, October 10th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 12th: 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 17th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Photo: The Grinnell in 1950 when it appeared on the cover of Grace Magazine. At the time, the evangelist Sweet Daddy Grace owned 800 Riverside Drive.

John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday Event


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John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday will be commemorated on Saturday, April 24th 2010 at 4PM in the Riverside Oval (156th Street at Riverside Drive, NYC), a few steps from the site of the naturalist’s final home in northern Manhattan.

In May 1842, Audubon moved his family to a fourteen-acre farm in northern Manhattan, a large triangular plot resting on present-day 155th Street, stretching from Amsterdam Avenue to the Hudson River, and including the land surrounding the Riverside Oval, the site of one of the Audubon barns. 765 Riverside Drive, adjacent to the Oval marks the site of Audubon’s house (pictured here).

Audubon called his farm Minnie’s Land, but after his death, his sons and wife renamed it Audubon Park, selling large portions of their land to wealthy New Yorkers who inhabited villas under the forest trees, laying out their gardens and drives where Audubon once had enclosures for both wild and domesticated animals. Audubon Park was a name familiar to New Yorkers from the mid 1850s until about 1910 when developers, capitalizing on the newly-opened subway with a stop at 157th Street, purchased large portions of the land and erected the magnificent Beaux Arts apartment houses that exist in the area today. In 2009, Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the blocks between 156th and 158th Streets west of Broadway the Audubon Park Historic District.

The event is being sponsored by the Riverside Oval Association, a not-for-profit neighborhood organization, plants and maintains green spaces in the Audubon Park Historic District, presents musical events, and sponsors oral history evenings at neighborhood buildings. Audubon’s 225th Birthday Celebration will kick off the 2010 gardening season and give residents in the neighborhood an opportunity to meet Oval Association members and become involved in the Association’s activities.

In the event of rain, the celebration will take place in the community room at the Grinnell, 800 Riverside Drive.

Books: Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville


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Cultural historian and journalist David Freeland has published his latest book,Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure, a rediscovery of the historic remnants of New York City’s leisure culture, including bier gartens in the Bowery, music publishers on Tin Pan Alley, jazz clubs in Harlem, and other locations throughout the city that remain partially intact, but obscured by the city’s development.

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn’t called “the city that never sleeps” for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The island is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan’s infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history.

David Freeland serves as a guide to uncover the skeletons of New York’s lost monuments to its nightlife. With an eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century entertainment industry.

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn’t called “the city that never sleeps” for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The slim island at the mouth of the Hudson River is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan’s infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history.

Yet with David Freeland as a guide, it’s possible to uncover skeletons of New York’s lost monuments to its nightlife. With a keen eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century entertainment industry.

From the Atlantic Garden German beer hall in present-day Chinatown to the city’s first motion picture studio—Union Square’s American Mutoscope and Biograph Company—to the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, Freeland situates each building within its historical and social context, bringing to life an old New York that took its diversions seriously.

Freeland reminds us that the buildings that serve as architectural guideposts to yesteryear’s recreations cannot be re-created—once destroyed they are gone forever. With condominiums and big box stores spreading over city blocks like wildfires, more and more of the Big Apple’s legendary houses of mirth are being lost.

The New Amsterdam Trail, Free Downloadable Audio Tour


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The Dutch and the indelible role they played in the formation of the ideas and ideals that shaped New York City and America is being celebrated by National Parks Service, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, and the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation with The New Amsterdam Trail. This free downloadable audio walking tour is the first of three in a series featuring the iconic National Park Service Rangers and an expert cast of historians, scientists, and other great storytellers.

Using a backdrop of period music and special sound effects, the audio with map can be downloaded from the Harbor Conservancy’s website or on the Henry Hudson 400 website. Visitors travel through the streets of downtown Manhattan to 10 historically significant locations, cueing commentary from their mobile phone, mp3 player or ipod. As they stand at the tip of the Battery, they can visualize Manhattan in the hours before Henry Hudson arrived and when he first navigated our waters and then listen to the stories of the life and times of New Amsterdam’s most famous and infamous settlers.

The New Amsterdam Trail features Steve Laise, Chief of Cultural Resources for Manhattan’s National Parks; Eric Sanderson, author of Mannahatta, Natural History of New York City; Andrew Smith, editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and Russell Shorto, author of Island at the Center of the World.

The family-friendly walking tour takes about 90-minutes– however, you can walk the trail at your own pace during lunchtime and pause the recorded commentary at any point. For more details and to download the free tour, visit www.nyharborparks.org or www.henryhudson400.com.

The Harbor Conservancy is the official partner of the National Parks of New York Harbor and together they champion the 22 National Park sites that call New York Harbor home by helping to preserve the environment, promote economic development and create the finest urban waterfront recreation and educational park system in the world.

Henry Hudson 400 New York is a foundation created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s legendary voyage for the Dutch to the Hudson River and New York. The unique character of New York City, originally New Amsterdam, has been shaped by the legacy of the multiethnic and tolerant culture of 17th century Amsterdam. Henry Hudson 400 is producing a series of special events in 2009 to celebrate the spirit of freedom, enterprise, and diversity shared by Amsterdam and New York.

The Mannahatta Project Uncovers NYC in 1609


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A new web site (now in Beta) sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows viewers what New York City looked like before it was a city. After nearly a decade of research the The Mannahatta Project uncovers online the original ecology of Manhattan circa 1609. According to the site:

“That’s right, the center of one of the world’s largest and most built-up cities was once a natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, springs, ponds and streams, supporting a rich and abundant community of wildlife and sustaining people for perhaps 5000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1609. It turns out that the concrete jungle of New York City was once a vast deciduous forest, home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders, with clear, clean waters jumping with fish. In fact, with over 55 different ecological communities, Mannahatta’s biodiversity per acre rivaled that of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains!”

The goal of the Mannahatta Project is no less than “to re-start the natural history of New York City.” The site includes a virtual Mannahatta map that allows you to see Mannahatta from any location, block-by-block species information, lessons on the science and technology used to create the site, hundreds of layers of digital data, place-based lesson plans for elementary and high school students that meet New York State standards, an online discussion page, and event listing.

Recent updates to Mannahatta include the ability click on a city block to find out what type of plants and animals called it home, whether the Lenape people lived or worked there, and what kind of landscape features appeared on that block. You can also use the slider bar to fade from Mannahatta to modern day to see how the island has changed in the last 400 years.

Last week a related multimedia exhibit “Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City” also opened at the Museum of the City of New York.

Edgar Allan Poe in New York City


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The blog Ephemeral New York is taking note of the Edgar Allan Poe house museum in The Bronx, which is closing in the spring for year long renovations:

“In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe, his wife (and cousin) Virginia, and his mother-in-law moved from Manhattan to a little wooden house built in 1812 in The Bronx’s rural Fordham neighborhood. The isolated, modest home, which rented for just $100 a year, must have suited Poe well; he wrote “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells” there.

But his time in the house would be short. Virginia succumbed to tuberculosis in 1847. Poe died in 1849 in Baltimore.”

According to the blog, in 1905, the New York State Legislature set aside preservation funs, and in 1910 the house was moved to Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. New York City is a perfect location for a memorial to Edgar Allan Poe – he loved the city, any city.

The Boston of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth in 1809 was one of the world’s wealthiest international trading ports and one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation. It was also a city of squalor and vice, with a grim and ghastly underworld. It was a fitting start for Poe, whose mother and father (both actors) died when he was young. He came to be a master of the macabre weaving elaborate short stories into a shroud of mystery and death and launching a number of new American pop culture phenomenons.

Poe was a man of the new American city, having lived in the five largest cities in America during his lifetime. His first published work – Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) – was credited only to “a Bostonian,” but as a young boy he was taken from his native city to Richmond, Virginia, and in his short life he also lived in Charleston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and the world’s largest city – London.

Poe was a sport, a libertine, as familiar with gambling, hard drinking, and womanizing, as he was with his many literary pursuits. Known to frequent Oyster cellars, brothels, casinos, and other dens of inequity, his literary work reflects the characters he met in his own life, the scoundrels, the bawdy women, and those on the margins of society – he delighted in showing local police unsympathetically in his writing.

Poe was also the first well-known writer in America to try and earn a living through writing alone. As a result, he suffered financially throughout his career until the day he was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious and “in great distress… in need of immediate assistance” according to the man who found him. At the time of his death, newspapers reported Poe died of “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for death from a disreputable cause like alcoholism. Thanks to a disparaging, and now long forgotten literary rival, Poe’s death at 40 remains a mystery – in the end he was the personification of a genre he is credited with inventing.

Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is the first true detective story. The Dupin character established a number of literary devices that inspired the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot – the brilliant detective, his personal friend serving as narrator, and the final revelation offered before the reasoning is explained. But beyond inventing the detective mystery, Poe is best known as a master of the physiological horror story. The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Raven are disturbing and unsettling works that have found their way into popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. Poe’s writing influenced the creation of science fiction (he often mentioned emerging technologies, such as those in The Balloon-Hoax), and the areas of esoteric cosmology and cryptography. He continues to influence Goth pop culture.

Poe’s most recurring themes deal with death, its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, premature burial, reanimation of the dead, and mourning. But outside horror, Poe also wrote burlesque, satires, humor tales, and hoaxes often in an attempt to liberate the reader from cultural conformity – he wrote for the emerging mass market by including popular cultural phenomena like phrenology and physiognomy. He was also a literary critic, and a newspaper and magazine editor.