Friday, September 24, 2010

Join us for "Now Circa Then" at Ars Nova


You're invited to join us at Ars Nova Theater (511 West 54th Street) on Tuesday, October 5, for a performance of the new play Now Circa Then by Carly Mensch. Inspired by a trip to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Mensch has written a play about a pair of costumed historical reenactors and their relationship with the 19th-century characters they play.

Following the show, the playwright will join us on stage for a talk back where we will be answering questions about the history of the Lower East Side and the play.


Tickets normally cost $25, but if you use promotion code NEVIUS20 when you
purchase tickets (which you can do here), you'll save $5 per ticket.

We hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great Fire of 1776

Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the end of American control of Manhattan during the Revolutionary War – the Great Fire of 1776, which decimated Lower Manhattan on the night of September 21.

As we write in
Inside the Apple:
The fire started on the evening of September 21, 1776—perhaps in the Fighting Cocks Tavern on the wharf, though that has never been substantiated—and quickly engulfed the city west of Broadway. The churchyard surrounding Trinity Church kept the fire from heading south, but neither Trinity was spared, nor anything between it and St. Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul’s, itself only ten years old, had a bucket brigade manning its roof and was saved. In all, over 400 buildings were gone—nearly twenty-five percent of the city’s structures.

The British immediately blamed the Americans. (One American blamed by the British was Nathan Hale, who was arrested for spying that same day. Hale, however, had nothing to do with the fire.) General Howe called it a “horrid attempt” by a “number of wretches to burn the town….” As most of the damage happened on “Holy Ground” and other Trinity Church property, some saw it as an explicit attack on the Church of England’s power and influence. In truth, the Americans had contemplated the idea of torching the city if it fell into British hands. One of Washington’s generals, Nathaniel Greene (the “Fighting Quaker”), had pressed Washington in that direction. However, when Washington floated the idea by John Hancock, the Continental Congress immediately nixed it and it is unlikely that either Washington or Greene disobeyed Congress.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

40 Years Ago: The First New York City Marathon

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the inaugural running of the New York City Marathon. Now host to over 44,000 runners, the race is thought to be the largest spectator sport in the world, with over two million people lining the course. This is a far cry from the original race, run on September 13, 1970, which drew a field of just 127 people with the only spectators being family, friends, and bewildered passersby.

The race was organized by Fred Lebow and Vince Chiapetta and grew out of Lebow’s dissatisfaction with the Cherry Tree Marathon, run each February in the Bronx. The course had been picked due to the emptiness of  Sedgwick Avenue, which the entrants ran up and down from Yankee Stadium for 26.2 miles. The Cherry Tree Marathon had about 200 entrants and there were no spectators, aid stations, or road closures; Lebow—who ran the race for the first time in 1970—thought he could do better by moving the marathon to Central Park. He convinced the Parks Department that he had the backing of anonymous “millionaire joggers” who would help produce the race. He also pointed out that from a practical point of view, the city would not have to deal with any traffic issues—earlier in the year, Mayor John Lindsay had closed Central Park to traffic on weekends.

The entry fee was one dollar; all the other expenses had to come out of Lebow’s and Chiapetta’s pockets as Lebow’s rich backers turned out to be a fiction. To save three cents per can, Lebow bought sodas in Greenwich Village and took them up to the park to use at the aid stations, but he forgot a can opener. Lebow and Chiapetta both competed in the race and when Lebow got too thirsty to continue, he tried to beg a soda from one of the park’s vendors since he had no money in his running shorts. A nearby visitor took pity on him and bought him a drink.


The winner of the race was firefighter Gary Muhrcke (pictured above), who had signed up that morning, with a time of 2:31:39. While two women had started the race, neither finished; indeed, more than half the field dropped out before the finish line. Muhrcke was awarded a $10 watch; other finishers received old bowling and baseball trophies.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Even Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam....

In honor of the anniversary of the Dutch surrendering to the English on this day in 1664, here's a link to our blog post from last year commemorating the handover.

And here's They Might Be Giants singing Istanbul (Not Constantinople):





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Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Louis Sullivan

Today, September 3, marks the birthday of renowned architect Louis Sullivan—the “father of modernism”—who would be 154 years old today. Sullivan was born in Boston, the son of an Irish immigrant father (who’d come to America in 1847, the worst year of the Irish Potato Famine) and a Swiss mother.

Sullivan is most closely associated with Chicago, where he moved in 1873, just two years after the Great Chicago Fire decimated the city—thus providing ample work for young architects. Indeed, Sullivan has only one building in New York, but it is superb: the Bayard-Condict Building at 65 Bleecker Street.

Originally just known as the Bayard Building, the skyscraper was commissioned in 1897 by the United Loan and Investment Company and named for one of New York’s oldest families.* However, by the time construction was underway, the bank had sold a controlling interest in the project to Silas Alden Condict who used the space for offices and light manufacturing. There is an oft-told story that Sullivan strenuously objected to the angels below the cornice. Supposedly, Condict insisted on the sextet of angels because he wanted “every tenant and every visitor to the Condict Building to realize the true spirit of fair dealing among men can and should prevail during the six business days of the week, as well as on the Sabbath.” However, as Robert C. Twombly and Narciso G. Menocal point out in Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture, similar motifs were already a part of Sullivan’s vernacular and the plans for the building were complete before Condict bought into the project, so it is unlikely that Sullivan objected to anything or that Condict had much say in the decorative scheme.

The building, which emphasizes its strong verticality with unbroken columns and is clad in brilliant cream terra cotta, made East Coast architectural critics take notice (perhaps because it was Sullivan’s first major work near their editorial offices). The Architectural Record wrote that it was “the nearest approach yet in New York… to solving the problem of the skyscraper.The building was substantially renovated in 2000 and is well worth a detour the next time you are in the Village. (Or watching The Wizards of Waverly Place.)


* The Bayards owned a great deal of land in what is now Chinatown and the Village;
not only is there a Bayard Street in Chinatown, nearby Houston Street is
named for William Houstoun, who married Mary Bayard in 1788.


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Read more about early New York skyscrapers
in 
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.


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