“The street has provided generation after generation with a mystical flash of belonging… experiences of mortal peril, dissipation and adventure…” writes Ada Calhoun in her new book St. Marks’s Is Dead. Her wry and witty journey through history notes that each generation plunged in the excitement and grunge of the Lower East Side street proclaims its own moment “the golden age,” while bemoaning subsequent events as the death of the place’s “true essence.” That heart might be an immigrant’s dream, revolution, creativity, dissent, fashion experiment or altered consciousness.
Her bedlam of voices making these claims is entertaining and illuminating, the voluble chatter of participants, residents, business folks and dissidents who gave the street its gritty allure. Calhoun conducted over 200 interviews to assemble this history, and they range from obscure rantings of yesteryear to tales of the poor and famous. You will hear from Leon Trotsky, W.H. Auden, Debbie Harry, Klaus Nomi, street people, skate-boarders, drag queens and theater operators. Emma Goldman, famed anarchist, ran the Modern School for a while, where ardent revolutionaries could learn from the works of Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx. Pamela Moore, a pulp novelist of the 1960s described the creative invasion of the 1950s as “their own brand-new Beatnikville where the artists had moved in on the Slavic factory hands and all lived together in glorious, outrageous, dedicated poverty!” Continue reading
In Crossing Broadway Washington: Heights and the Promise of New York City (Cornell University Press, 2014), Robert W. Snyder explores New York City in the 1970s.
When the South Bronx burned and the promise of New Deal New York and postwar America gave way to despair, the people of Washington Heights at the northern tip of Manhattan were increasingly vulnerable.
The Heights had long been a neighborhood where generations of newcomers — Irish, Jewish, Greek, African American, Cuban, and Puerto Rican — carved out better lives in their adopted city. But as New York City shifted from an industrial base to a service economy, new immigrants from the Dominican Republic struggled to gain a foothold. This was followed by the crack epidemic of the 1980s, and the drug wars. Continue reading
Grand Central Terminal, which turns 103 today, has recently produced a new history video series about the iconic building. The series features Grand Central Terminal historian Dan Brucker.
Among the Grand Central treasures Brucker shines a spotlight on, are the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass; the Main Concourse ceiling; the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant; the whispering gallery; and The Campbell Apartment, Grand Central Terminal’s own speakeasy. Continue reading
Ella Madison was born in 1854 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her parents were John and Caroline Robinson. Her sister, Caroline Victoria (usually called Victoria) was married to Solomon Northup‘s son, Alonzo. (Alonzo and his family later moved to Weedsport in Cayuga County). It was reported that Ella, while a teenager, had relocated to New York City, and marched in a parade in 1869 that commemorated the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship rights to former slaves. Her mother died that year, while visiting her daughter, Caroline, in Washington County, New York. Continue reading
Recently the Treasury Department has announced its intent to place a prominent woman of historical importance on the U.S. currency. There is no one who is more deserving of this honor than Frances Perkins, a New York woman, who was probably the most significant and important female government official of the 20th century.
As Secretary of Labor throughout President Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms and the first woman ever to hold a cabinet position, Frances Perkins designed most of the New Deal Social Welfare and Labor Policies, such as social security, the minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and protections for unions, and reshaped America. Continue reading
Shifting alliances can make strange bedfellows and surprising adversaries. The push to integrate the New York City Plumbers Union as the Civil Rights Act was cobbled together 50 years ago shows how our perceptions and expectations can change with time.
Not long before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, construction began on what is now the Hunt’s Point Food Distribution Center, the largest food distribution complex in the world. Full integration of the union workers at Hunts Point, supported by many, might have derailed or undermined this important legislation. Continue reading
The Board of Trustees of the Museum of the City of New York has appointed Whitney W. Donhauser President and Director of the Museum. She will join the City Museum on January 1, 2016, succeeding Susan Henshaw Jones who is retiring at the end of the year.
Whitney W. Donhauser has had a 23-year career in museum management and fundraising. As Senior Advisor to the President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donhauser worked with the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Director, President, and executive leadership on formulating and implementing Museum policy. Continue reading
The first Western-trained Chinese physician to practice in the U.S. lived most of his life in Brooklyn, where he established America’s first modern hospital for Chinese patients. A strong civil rights advocate at a time when his community could boast few of them, he spoke out frequently and forcefully against the injustices to which Chinese in America were subjected.
China-born Joseph Chak Thoms (1862-1929), known in his native Cantonese dialect as Tom Ah Jo, arrived in California as a teenager in the mid-1870s. He had a gift for language and soon mastered English with hardly an accent. After being baptized by a Presbyterian missionary – which earned him a beating from his uncle – he took a job as a cabin boy and sailed around the world on a steamer, visiting Japan and India before returning to America. Continue reading
The Historic Districts Council, an advocate for New York City’s historic neighborhoods representing a constituency of over 500 local community organizations, has named Daniel J. Allen, Board President.
“Mr. Allen has been a valued member of the HDC board for several years. His knowledge and experience as both a professional and community preservationist make him an ideal candidate and we are very happy to welcome him into this new position,” Simeon Bankoff, HDC’s Executive Director said in a statement to the press. Continue reading