Thursday, March 26, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Fire engines race to the scene of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, March 25, 1911
Yesterday was the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of New York's greatest tragedies. We've dug up some interesting images from the Library of Congress: above, this photo evidently shows a horse-drawn fire engine racing to the scene of the fire. Below is a crowd of union supporters marching on May 1, 1911 (which is still Labor Day in most of the world, just not the USA). On one of the Yiddish signs is the number 146 -- the number of victims of the fire.
May 1, 1911, Labor Day Parade

Below is our post about the fire from last year:

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire went up in flames—one of the deadliest industrial fires in American history and a turning point for worker’s safety and unionization in America.

The factory was predominantly staffed with young women who lived in Little Italy and the Lower East Side, and when we are giving walking tours of those neighborhoods, our clients are sometimes surprised to discover that the factory was in Greenwich Village. So much of that neighborhood—including the Asch Building, where the fire occurred—is now dominated by NYU that it is easy to forget that the stretch of the Village on both sides of Broadway was once a vital part of New York’s garment industry. In Inside the Apple we note:



Long before the fire broke out, the factory was infamous for its poor labor practices. In 1909, New York’s largest job action, known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” began when workers walked off the job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. For months, the majority of the city’s shirtwaist factories were crippled by the strike, but the factory owners refused to budge. Though the International Ladies Garment Workers Union brokered a settlement in 1910 that stopped short of forcing the recognition of their union, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, refused to agree to it. The factory’s workers went back to work having gained few concessions. 
On the day of the fire, a Saturday, only about half of the factory’s 500 employees had come to work. Just as the afternoon shift was ending, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Typical of garment centers of the day, the factory floor was a virtual tinderbox, with clothes, scraps of cloth, and unswept trimmings everywhere. When the fire started, the majority of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape,* but those on the ninth floor had been locked in. This was done, some speculated, to cut down on unauthorized breaks, though it is also likely that it kept union organizers off the factory floor. Soon the elevators stopped working, which meant that the only remaining exit was the fire escape. Tragically, the fire escape had been poorly installed and maintained, and when too many young women began to climb down, it collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plunging to their death. The rest of the women on the ninth floor were then faced with jumping out of windows or waiting to burn to death. Many chose the former, raining down on the assembled crowd from above. The fire department did arrive, but as their ladders reached no higher than the sixth floor, it did little to save the women. In the end, 146 women died, most of them at the scene—some were only thirteen years old.
* Blanck and Harris, the owners, were able to get up to the roof and escape from there.

Though the fire forced the Triangle's owners to abandon the factory, the building still stands at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Then known as the Asch Building, it was renovated and reopened the next year. However, a New York Times article from 1913 noted that the building's tenants hadn't learned many lessons from the fire -- "they were, in fact, heaping its floors with scraps of clothing and flimsy material... and permitting smokers to stand near these heaps--(revealing) once more the singular carelessness of humanity." The building was purchased by NYU in 1929 and renamed the Brown Building; today, it houses university classrooms.

This post in adapted from an earlier entry in 2009, and one marking the centennial of the fire in 2011.

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Historic Brooklyn Heights

Grace Court Alley, photographed by Edmund V. Gillon (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

James had a story published yesterday on the history of Brooklyn Heights, which was designated a landmark district 50 years ago. Read the full story at Curbed: http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/03/18/how_brooklyn_heights_became_the_citys_first_historic_district.php.

(And, ICYMI, James also had an article on Monday on Curbed about Irish heritage in New York.)

Above and below are some of the archival photos (though not, technically, any postcards) that didn't make it into the final story. At the top that's Grace Court Alley, which is likely built over what was originally a Native American trail.

Map showing early Native American trails in Brooklyn (courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society)

The Low House on Pierrepont Place, photographed by Edmund V. Gillon (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

View of Brooklyn Heights, 1838, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
One item we didn't have time to research is the grand, colonnaded building in the illustration above. Does anyone know what it was? If so, leave a comment.

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish History in New York


Happy St. Patrick's Day. James had a piece published yesterday on Curbed that explores remnants of Irish history in all five boroughs. Follow this link to read "In Modern-Day New York. Reminders of Irish Roots Abound."

The illustration above shows the Irish 69th regiment leaving from St. Patrick's Old Cathedral at the outbreak of the Civil War. The "Fighting 69th" are memorialized in Calvary Cemetery in Queens -- just one of a dozen places mentioned in the article.

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Castle Williams


This year marks both the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the War of 1812 -- and the subject of today's postcard is significant to both.

Pictured above is Castle Williams on Governor's Island (erroneously called Castle William in the caption). The fortification was designed by Jonathan Williams, the chief surveyor of the army, and named for him in 1810. Williams is also honored in the name of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, the street plan of which he laid out in 1802.

One of many fortifications built in the run-up to the War of 1812 to protect New York harbor, Castle Williams saw no action at the time because New York City managed to avoid the conflict. Unlike its companion on Manhattan, Castle Clinton, which was quickly transformed for civilian use, this fort stayed in the hands of the military, as Govenors Island was an important army base at the time. During the Civil War, the castle was first used as a barracks and later as a POW camp for Confederate soldiers.

Free, ticketed tours are now offered in the summer when Governors Island is open to the public, which permit visitors to climb to the top level of the fort.

If you are interested in finding out about other extant Civil War sites around the city, check out this piece James wrote for Curbed back in November.



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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Vanderbilt Mansion and Plaza Hotel


Today's postcard again takes us back to the era before 1907 when messages had to be crammed on the front of the card because the back was reserved solely for the address. You can also date this card as being before 1907 because the building on the right is the original Plaza Hotel. It stood on the exact same spot as the current incarnation, but was only around from 1890 to 1905, when it was demolished so that Henry Hardenbergh's new hotel could be built.


The mansion at the left of the image is the most impressive of the many Vanderbilt mansions that formed a sort of "Vanderbilt Row" on Fifth Avenue south of 59th Street. This was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (grandson of the famous Commodore); at upward of 130 rooms, it remains the largest private residence ever constructed in New York City. The house was built in two phases by George B. Post (architect of the New York Stock Exchange) and Richard Morris Hunt (one of the greatest Beaux Arts architects who also built The Breakers, Vanderbilt's "cottage" in Newport). Sumptuously decorated by artists like John La Farge and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the house was a showcase for Vanderbilt's wealth and taste, but he only enjoyed it for six years before dying. The house itself only lasted until 1927, when it was torn down for the construction of Bergdorf Goodman.

This card was mailed December 26, 1906, as a thank-you for a Christmas present. To maximize space, the sender wrote it like it was a telegram:
Dear Fannie. Thanks very much for my present, was so nice. Am real pleased. Have got through in the office. Am home. Come down if you can. Emily is here. Love from us all. Let me know if you come.
A few tantalizing remnants of the Vanderbilt house remain, including the entrance gates, which were repurposed for the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and the fireplace mantel, by Saint-Gaudens, now in the Met.




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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Postcard Thursday: 1939 World's Fair


At some point, we will examine the New York World's Fair of 1939-40 in greater depth. Today, let's just enjoy this picture of the Electrical Products Building, which housed, among other things, the exhibits from Remington who introduced the electric ("dry") shaver at the fair that year.

courtesy of http://www.worldsfaircommunity.org/

The building was designed by Walker & Gillette, whose work in New York City includes the Fuller Building on 57th Street and the Jacob Riis Houses, a public housing project on the East River that we talk about in Footprints in New York.

Speaking of which....



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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Soliders' and Sailors' Monument


Today's postcard shows the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park; the card was mailed February 13, 1905, less than two years after the memorial had opened.

Based on the Lysicrates monument in Athens (as are many Beaux-Arts structures in New York, including the towers atop the San Remo apartment building), the memorial was designed by Charles and Arthur Stoughton, who won a public competition for what was to be the city's major memorial to the Union Army. (It has, however, always been eclipsed by that other Civil War monument in Riverside Park: Grant's Tomb.)

The monument was opened Memorial Day 1902. A parade of Union Army veterans marched up Riverside Drive, where they were greeted by President Theodore Roosevelt who presided over the dedication. Yet, just two years after this postcard was sent, the monument was already in bad shape. On March 27, 1907, the New York Times reported the structure was "in such bad repair" that marble was in danger of falling at any time. Indeed, three marble slabs had already crashed down. Renovations were made in the 1930s, again in the 1960s, and today the Riverside Park Conservancy is hoping to raise $5.5 million for additional repairs.

As you can see, the message is crammed into the narrow white border on the card's right side. This reads:

Dear Amy,
Your card received. Glad you are improving in health. Hope you will continue to do so and that we will see you again sometime. Did your sister get my card? How is she? Let us hear from you again.
With kindest regards from 
Georgianna Rice

As we've noted before, postcards sent before 1907 could only have the address on the back, so whatever white space was left on the picture side was used for the message. In this case, a relatively wide border allowed Georgianna Rice to fit in a message longer than the usual, "Received your card."


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Thomas E. Davis


The stereo view above shows the Pavilion Hotel on Staten Island, which was originally built to be the home of 19th-century real estate developer Thomas E. Davis.

Who?

You're not alone: Davis -- who by some accounts was the third-largest land owner in the city -- has been almost totally passed over by history.

To rectify that, James wrote a piece for CurbedNY that appeared yesterday. Read it at: http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/02/11/the_forgotten_developer_who_transformed_19thcentury_nyc.php.

The only picture James was able to dig up of a Thomas Davis shows this fellow:



Is that our Thomas Davis? Alas, we may never know.

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Evolution of the Metropolitan Museum


We recently added this early 20th-century view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to our collection. This photo highlights two major additions to the museum's original floorplan: the 1888 Theodore Weston wing (in red at the back) and the Richard Morris Hunt Fifth Avenue entrance (in limestone at the front).

The Weston facade is often mistaken for the original entrance to the building. However, as the photo (below) shows, the squat 1880 Vaux and Mould building that was the original museum had a rather quaint staircase leading up to its main entrance, which in those days faced into Central Park.

courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pieces of this Vaux and Mould building are still visible inside today's museum. The Central Park facade seen here in the left side of the photo is now where the Lehman Wing begins. The Weston addition was designed to harmonize with Vaux and Mould's work. You can judge for yourself by visiting the European Sculpture Court, where Weston's south facade is entirely preserved.

courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hunt's 1902 addition shifted the museum's entrance to Fifth Avenue. Notice in the postcard the blocks of stone atop the colonnade that spans the facade. Those were destined to become large statues that were never carved and the rough-hewn limestone blocks still sit there, unfinished, to this day. Also notice that at the far left of the postcard is Cleopatra's Needle, which was erected in 1881, and has recently been restored.

To see how the museum has grown over the past 135 years, the Met has put together this terrific 38-second video:


(Can't see the video embedded above? Go to http://youtu.be/7oJrJJoTSaI.)

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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.








Thursday, January 29, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Poe Cottage

Poe Cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx; courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the New York Public Library
170 years ago today, on January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" was first published, for which Poe netted a whopping $9.00.

Poe did not write "The Raven" at Poe Cottage, his only extant home in New York City. If you've read Footprints in New York, you know that we have an entire chapter dedicated to tracking down Poe sites in the city, including the Brennan farmhouse (below), where "The Raven" was composed, the mantelpiece that was saved from that house when it was demolished, and the boardinghouse at 85 Amity Street (today's W 3rd Street) where Poe lived when "The Raven" was published. [And if you haven't read Footprints, what are you waiting for? It's on sale at Amazon RIGHT NOW.]

Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
There are many spots associated with Poe in the city, but if you want to bundle up and seek the poet's muse, head to Riverside Park. Between 82nd and 83rd streets on Riverside Drive is Mount Tom. This rocky outcropping was a short walk from the Brennan farmhouse and it's said that Poe would come here to stare out at the Hudson and that it's where he composed "The Raven."


Poe Cottage, the third-oldest building in the Bronx, is open for visitors on weekends. If you want to travel farther afield, you can actually stay in a full-sized replica (above) of the house at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan.


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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.




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