here is new yorkAs I was looking though my bookshelf for something to read on the train, I noticed two slim volumes sitting quietly side by side: E.B. White’s Here is New York and Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York.  I grabbed them both and used my time on the subway to revisit them, one on the way uptown, the other on the way down.

These two works have found themselves in each other’s company before, no doubt.  They are, at least on the surface, ripe for comparison, in that they are both brief, personal love letters to New York City, though their authors are separated by, among other things, time and circumstance.

White’s essay, originally published as an article in Holiday magazine, and then in book form, was written in his sweltering hotel room during a visit to New York in the summer of 1949. He observes:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

colossus of new yorkWhite falls into the third category of New Yorks—born in Mount Vernon, he was a New York settler until 1938, when he moved to Maine.  Colson Whitehead, on the other hand, is a born and bred native.  On being a true New Yorker, he writes in his 2003 book The Colossus of New York:

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ”It happened overnight.” But of course it didn’t. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can’t remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people’s other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.

Being a native New Yorker myself, I can relate to Whitehead’s idea of having one’s own New York, how each person here sees his or her own story in the city’s streets, all of them unique and specific to that person.  I can also confirm that the starry-eyed transplants, the third of White’s New Yorks, give our fair city an energy that is unique to cities where almost everyone is from someplace else.  But I must protest when White asserts that “[i]t is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

It is the very fact that we have all three of White’s New Yorks, the commuters, the natives, and the settlers, that this city has a passion that attracts the passion of others.  Without a perfectly-balanced cast of Whites, Whiteheads, as well as throngs of itinerant men and women in white shirts, the curtain would go down on the never-ending universal drama that is New York.  It is the constant ebb and flow of the tension and relaxation created by the intermingling of these three cities that allows New York to constantly generate the high-strung passion that is its life force.

Toward the end of Colossus, Whitehead writes that “Talking about New York is a way of talking about the world.”  In the micro you see the macro, or as White movingly observes:

A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.

All this, for the price of two swipes of a Metrocard.

White, E B. Here Is New York. New York: Harper, 1949.
Whitehead, Colson. The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts. New York: Doubleday, 2003

Tags: , , ,

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.08.36 PMThe New York Society Library announced the winners of its New York City Book Awards earlier this month. The only literary award to focus specifically on books in which New York City plays a prominent role marks its twentieth anniversary this year.

We are pleased to share this year’s New York City Book Awards winners:


coney islandConey Island: Visions of an American Dreamland 1861-2008

Robin Jaffee Frank (Chief Curator at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art), The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art/Yale University Press

This illustrated 304-page catalog includes the first sustained visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island, with essays by distinguished cultural historians including Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project and winner of a 2002 New York City Book Award.


prince of darknessPrince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire

Shane White, St. Martin’s Press

A groundbreaking biography of Wall Street’s first African-American financier, Jeremiah Hamilton, who in the 19th century competed with icons such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and became the nation’s first Black millionaire.




city on a gridCity on a Grid: How New York Became New York

Gerard Koeppel, (CBS News producer), Da Capo Press

Conceived and begun in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this book casts new light on the development of New York City’s iconic street grid, with a colorful cast of characters and lively anecdotes.




one righteous manOne Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York

Arthur Browne (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Daily News Editorial Page Editor), Beacon Press

Documents the history of African Americans in New York City from the 1910s to 1960 through the life story of Samuel Battle, the first Black officer in the New York Police Department.



The Hornblower Award:

reading publicsThe annual Hornblower Award, established in 2011, honors a debut book about New York City. This year’s recipient is Tom Glynn for his vivid history Reading Publics: New York City’s Public Libraries, 1754-1911 (Empire State Editions/Fordham University Press). The book examines New York City’s public libraries over more than a century and a half, and explains how the public and private functions of reading have changed over time.





Special Citations:

The jury occasionally awards special citations for a body of work that it believes deserves recognition. This year, citations will be awarded to two iconic New York City writers who both published books in 2015: Roger Angell, an American essayist, sports writer and regular contributor to The New Yorker whose latest book is This Old Man: All in Pieces (Doubleday) and Vivian Gornick, an American critic, journalist, essayist, and memoirist whose most recent book is The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

For information please visit The New York Society Library website.

Jessie T. Beals with John Burroughs (Library of Congress)

Jessie T. Beals with John Burroughs (Library of Congress)

Jessie Tarbox Beals was a hustler.  She was the first woman to be hired as a staff photographer at an American newspaper, The Buffalo Courier, in 1902.  She lugged around 50 pounds of photography equipment while wearing a whalebone corset and an enormous hat.  When photographers were locked out of a murder trial, she climbed up to an open transom in the courtroom and snapped a shot that got her a five-column front-page feature.  In other words, she hustled.  A relentless self-promoter, she taught her husband how to develop her photographs so that he could be her assistant

Of photojournalism, Beals states in The Focus, St. Louis, Missouri, 1904:

Newspaper photography as a vocation for women is somewhat of an innovation, but is one that offers great inducements in the way of interest as well as profit. If one is the possessor of health and strength, a good news instinct . . . a fair photographic outfit, and the ability to hustle, which is the most necessary qualification, one can be a news photographer.

Born Jessie Tarbox in 1870 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Beals began photographing as a hobby at the age of 18.  She made a name for herself documenting the exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, after which she and her husband moved to New York City and set up a successful photography studio, taking portraits of many prominent figures, including Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt.  She also documented life in New York, photographing subjects, rich and poor, throughout the city.

Four young children loading rocks into a wagon while a smaller child sits on the ground playing with his toy ponycart, ca. 1915. Jessie Tarbox Beals (source: Library of Congress)

In 1917, Beals separated from her husband and moved in with a friend in Greenwich Village with her daughter, where she opened The Village Art Gallery and sold prints and postcards of her work while taking portraits of the neighborhood writers and artists in Greenwich Village’s bohemian heyday.  As a single mother, she also continued to hustle to maintain a steady income, leveraging the fact that she was a “woman photographer” and using her keen eye to follow news stories outside of New York.

“Alice sit by the fire” The Village Store in Greenwich Village, 1917. Jessie Tarbox Beals (source: Library of Congress)

In his biography of Beals, Alexander Alland, Sr. quotes a 1906 New York Heraldarticle that states that:

Mrs. Beals is the only woman in the world who has gone to the racetracks as a professional camera operator snapping highspeed automobiles tearing along a cross country speedway in a breathless effort to capture a record.  In  all the turmoil of the roaring engines and the yelling crowds, she remains unmoved as she hurries about from place to place to get characteristic pictures of the men and the machines.

Sadly, Beals hit hard times during the depression.  Broke, and her body broken by a lifetime of hustling, Beals died a pauper at Bellevue Hospital in 1942 at the age of 71.  A Library of Congress biography states that Beals “deserves recognition for her pioneering role in news photography, the excellent quality of her photographs, her struggle to overcome gender-based career obstacles, and her life-long devotion to her career. Her courageous example encouraged other women to pursue photography.”

Alice Austen (1866-1952) at age 22, posed at her home "Clear Comfort" published by Friends of Alice Austen House (source: NYPL)

Alice Austen (1866-1952) at age 22, posed at her home “Clear Comfort” published by Friends of Alice Austen House (source: NYPL)

Just across the river, Alice Austen, born on Staten Island in 1866, was a contemporary of Beals, and was also destined to become one of the first female American photographers.

Austen was abandoned by her father before she was born and grew up using her mother’s maiden name in her maternal grandparents’ home, Clear Comfort, which is now known as the Alice Austin House Museum, a national historic landmark. Austen’s uncle Oswald, a sea captain, taught his ten-year-old niece how to use a camera that he purchased during his travels.  Austen immediately showed a natural skill for photography.  Austen’s other uncle Peter, a professor of chemistry, taught his niece how to develop and print from glass plates, and both uncles set up a darkroom for Austin where she would spend house developing and printing her photographs.

Austen spent a good part of her life traveling, always carrying her cumbersome photography equipment and documenting the people and places she saw.  She became an active and prominent member of Staten Island society until the 1920’s, when her family’s fortune began to wane and then lost everything in the 1929 market crash.

Organ grinder, 1896. Alice Austen (source: NYPL)

Like Beals, Austen eventually ended up a pauper, living in a poor house, until Loren McMillen of the Staten Island Historical Society rescued a cache of her old glass plate negatives and brought them to the attention of Oliver Jensen, who placed her photos in Life Magazine, Holiday, and in a book entitled The Revolt of Women.  Proceeds from the sale of her photographs allowed her to move into a nursing home, where she died peacefully in her sleep in 1952.  “Alice’s work is significant because of its high quality, its range, and its level of expression. For her the creative process was one of composition and selection which allowed her subject matter to speak for itself,” states the Austen House website.

Indeed, Austen’s photographic subjects, like those of Beals, were diverse: her friends and family, immigrants, gardens, street people, views of New York harbor, yet they all tell vivid, unspoken stories.  Her work is also significant in that many of her photos explore themes of femininity and gender roles, depicting her coterie of female friends “fraternizing,” and even, according to a New York Times review of her photographs “hammed it up herself, posing in men’s clothes or short skirts (above the ankle!) and smoking cigarettes.”

Trude and I, masked, short skirts (source: femmes-fatale)

Trude and I, masked, short skirts (source: femmes-fatale)

Jessie Tarbox Beals and Alice Austen led parallel lives that very well may have intersected at one time or another.  Together and apart, they left behind a body of work that gives us an invaluable glimpse of New York City (and beyond) at the turn of the twentieth century.  This description of Austen’s legacy from the Austen House website applies equally to the legacy Beals left behind, “With a natural instinct for photojournalism some forty years before that word was coined, she saw the world with a clear eye and photographed the people and places in it, as they actually appeared, giving us a visual record of more than fifty years of social history.”



Jessie Tarbox Beals:

Alland, Alexander. Jessie Tarbox Beals, First Woman News Photographer. New York: Camera/Graphic Press, 1978.

New York Historical Society Guide to the Jessie Tarbox Beals Photograph Collection

The Library of Congress Jessie Tarbox Beals Collection


Alice Austen:

Novotny, Ann, and Alice Austen. Alice’s World: The Life and Photography of an American Original, Alice Austen, 1866-1952. Old Greenwich, Conn: Chatham Press, 1976.

Alice Austen House

Camera Ready: The Alice Austen House, a rustic reminder of an uncommon artist and a cottage shrine to a life in pictures (The Bowery Boys)


Tags: , , , , ,


New York Bound Books is pleased to announce that Silver Connections Volume II by Philip Ashforth Coppola is now back in print in a limited edition!

448 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
includes appendices, bibliography, & index
Limited Edition, 100 copies

To order email

Read a recent article about Philip Ashforth Coppola by David Dunlap in The New York Times here.

myrtle avenueSilver Connections, Volume II

by Philip Ashforth Coppola

About two months after Volume I, first version text, was released, in August, 1984,  I hauled myself to the New York Public Library Map Room, and settled in for several Saturdays on end, perusing, of all things, old un-scrolled blueprint maps from about 75 years ago.  As a casual writer, I can’t think of anything more dry – unless maybe financial tables – than scrutinizing old blueprints of street maps.  But as a researcher, those old blues were solid gold to my mind and pen.   They were exactitudinally and painstakingly drawn up by Delos F. Wilcox, Chief of the Bureau of Franchise of the New York State Public Service Commission for the First District.   They just don’t make bureaucracy like that any more, let me tell you the truth; civil servants who seriously believed in their title and task.  Delos F. Wilcox, Esq. & Chief, took just one of Brooklyn’s historic horse or street or trolley car companies per map, and traced its route, plus annotated the map with its franchise dates(s) and history and news of its mergers, acquisitions, &/or eventual takeover.  Between 1908-to-1910 he chronicled no less than 66 street transit companies of old Brooklyn, plus their subsidiaries, in this way.  He even wrote up the story of the Brooklyn Bridge transit tracks (which helped with Chapter XVIII, further down the tracks).  Mr. Wilcox’s labors on the evolution of Brooklyn City’s streetcar mazes formed the basis for the first chapter of my look at the BRT empire in Volume II.

Vol II, Drwng. 43By the early 1980’s I’d figured out that the street cars predated the elevated lines, and that the els predated the subways.   So I had a pretty good handle on how the book should proceed.  After the streetcars came the elevated companies; those friendly neighborhood Brooklyn elevated lines which were almost a part of the family.  There seemed to be a cultural affinity toward Brooklyn’s system different from Manhattan’s: the Manhattan els were for New York City, the U.S.A. (even foreigners from New Jersey), and visitors from afar; Brooklyn’s els were a Brooklyn institution, its pride and bane, a part of the fabled Brooklyn transit system, whose trolleys helped name a baseball team, and whose 8 elevated lines (I’m including the Franklin Ave. and the Canarsie inclines) took its passengers to all corners of the wonderful Borough – a good place to visit, a great place to live!
sw stairwayTo my mind, fate or luck is sometimes a matter of timing.  When I examined the Brooklyn system in the mid-1980’s, I toured the Broadway El when its neighborhood was, in the words of today’s observers, a bombed-out war zone.  Never mind, though; I visited all the stations and described the buildings along the way as I saw them, without condemnation, and I hope I wrote it up so that my readers get that “you are right there, now” (frozen in late-’80’s time, as it is) experience.  The same stretch now, some 30 years later, is probably changed, many buildings razed and replaced, and a different kind of zone; kinder, I hope. I also had the chance to examine the Franklin Avenue Incline/Shuttle as it had existed since, let’s say, at least 1905, when the last remnant of the 1888 Fulton Street El still stood at the crossroads, with a Fulton Street El station house perched on its north side, and with those inimitable 1888 stairways with their totally un-20th Century porch ends leading up to the structure.  The porches are gone, the house and structures are gone now, and the Franklin line has been reduced to one track; the Dean Street station is abandoned. With the renovation work of 1999-year 2000, the Franklin Avenue shuttle is still serving its public, but it is not the same as it had been for 90+ years before.  But you can find the original Franklin Avenue Shuttle in my book.  It’s just a matter of timing that I caught it before it was changed.   My luck has helped me elsewhere, besides.

sw stairsTo my knowledge, limited as it may be, there has not been a chronicle of the Brooklyn transit like this Volume II prior to its release in 1990. Within its pages there are the aforementioned horse cars, trolleys, and elevated lines, and the characters (figuratively and literally) who made it all happen.  The lines examined are the Broadway El, the Myrtle Avenue remnant, the Franklin Avenue Incline, and the Canarsie line from Broadway Junction.  These are all the existing transit lines prior to the BRT’s entry into the subway game. I planned my history to stop just short of Brooklyn’s subway system.  Besides the evolutionary history, the last chapter recounts the diminution of the Brooklyn elevated system; listing each segment of the lines as they disappeared, chronologically, plus the forces which did the demolition work.  The coming, and passing, of the Brooklyn Bridge’s transit amenities is also revealed.  Some people don’t know that the bridge ever actually had trains running across it.   And, as extras, the Williamsburg Bridge’s structural woes, at that time, are examined, and a visit to the mythical Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is recounted.

All this is in Volume II: text and maps and illustrated views of Brooklyn’s transit system that we are no longer able to see and experience.


Tags: , , , , , ,

The cover from the first edition of PARNASSUS ON WHEELS by Christopher Morley (image: Wikipedia)

The other day I went to my overflowing, sagging bookshelves looking for a book to read on the subway. I almost randomly chose Christopher Morley’s New York, a collection of delightful essays and poems about the city, and I rediscovered a passionate and prolific celebrant of New York who dropped off New York’s literary map. Two of his most captivating novels, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, may be familiar to some—they are truly classic New York titles that are often read and reread. These books were written early in Morley’s distinguished career as a newspaper columnist, essayist, novelist, playwright and enthusiastic bibliophile.

Morley muses in his 1933 book, Internal Revenue, “I had a queer thought the other day, that the two subjects most worth thinking about, for me, are Shakespeare and New York City.” (Internal Revenue.  Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1933.)  Indeed, he was a self-described bard of New York:

Mark all these things: her generous reckless moods,
Proud, spendthrift, swift, assured, and terrible:
And make interpretations of your own.
But just one caveat:
She is not always merely what she seems:
I’d like to have you see her as I do –
The greatest unwrit poem in the world.
(Parsons Pleasure. 1933)

Christopher Morley

Morley wandered about the city, through its nooks and crannies, in search of topics for his essays. One of his favorite stops was to a bookshop, from the most rarefied establishments to the rough and tumble Fourth Avenue stalls. Morley also once reverentially described McSorley’s saloon, which was later immortalized by Joseph Mitchell, another great New York observer.

In his 1939 novel, Kitty Foyle: The Story of a Woman, Morley took on the highly controversial and verboten topics of abortion and the love affairs of unmarried, working women.  The novel was an instant hit, selling more than one million copies, and was made into a movie the following year. It starred Ginger Rogers, who accepted the part only after the abortion was rewritten as a stillborn birth and some other ticklish features were changed.  Rogers received the Academy Award for Best Actress, beating out Katherine Hepburn (The Philadelphia Story), Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) and Bette Davis (The Letter). The movie was also nominated for best film and best director. Life Magazine did a spread on the movie with Ginger Rogers wearing a decidedly unglamorous working girl’s dress on the cover. That dark dress with white collar and cuffs, worn by Rogers in the film, is still known today in the garment trade as a “Kitty Foyle Dress.”

I mention Kitty Foyle to illustrate the breadth of this talented, spirited multifaceted man who offered much more than the whimsical pieces for which he is best knownI implore everyone to explore Morley’s work (see list below).  Readers will not only delight in his writings, but will learn about New York in the 1920s and be touched by Morley’s life-affirming, wholesome philosophy of life.  But there is no need to rush, according to advice from Morley himself:

Epitaph for any New Yorker

 I, who all my life had hurried,
Came to Peter’s crowded gate:
And, as usual, was worried,
Fearing that I might be late.
So, when I began to jostle
(I forgot that I was dead),
Patient smiled the old Apostle:
“Take your Eternity,” he said.
(From: Parson’s Pleasure)

Recommended Reading

Christopher Morley’s New York. Illustrated by Walter Jack Duncan.  New York: Fordham University Press, 1988.

The Haunted Bookshop. Garden City, Doubleday Page and Co., 1918.

Reprint____________ Illustrated by Douglas Gorsline.  Phila: J.B. Lippincott, 1955

Kitty Foyle. Phila: J.B. Lippincott, 1939

Parnassus on Wheels. Garden City, Doubleday Page and Co.: 1917

Reprint___________ 1955. Illustrated by Douglas Gorsline.  Phila: J.B. Lippincott, 1955.


Tags: , , , , ,



In this month’s issue of NEW New York Books, we venture beyond the printed page to include a podcast and a website, as well as a good ol’ printed and bound book. Writing about New York comes in all shapes, sizes, and media these days, as these three gems will prove.


strangers in the westStrangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900

By Linda K. Jacobs
paperback, 496 page
Kalimah Press


Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900 tells the never-before-told story of the first Arab immigrants who came to New York from Greater Syria and settled in tenements on the lower west side of Manhattan, founding an Arabic-speaking enclave just south of the future site of the World Trade Center. It began as a family history project for Linda K. Jacobs, the book’s author, as all four of her grandparents were part of the community, and soon evolved into the first ethnography of this early Arab community. It was a community of peddlers and merchants, midwives and doctors, priests and journalists, belly dancers and impresarios, and between 1880 and 1900 these immigrants built a thriving colony that soon became the cultural and economic center of the Syrian diaspora in America. This is their story.

Linda L. Layne, Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, author of Home and Homeland, says of Strangers in the West:

At a time when the issue of immigration is once again a national concern, Jacobs’ fascinating account of this first generation Arab-American community is a welcome reminder of the challenges immigrants face and the wealth of benefits they bring to American society. Engagingly written, this work of historical demography is a superb resource.

Click here for more information or to purchase this book.



chintzcoverThe Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York

by Ed Hamilton
paperback, 287 pages
Červená Barva Press

In seven stories and a novella, Ed Hamilton takes on this clash of cultures between the old and the new, as his characters are forced to confront their own obsolescence in the face of a rapidly surging capitalist juggernaut. Ranging over the whole panorama of New York neighborhoods—from the East Village to Hell’s Kitchen, and from the Bowery to Washington Heights—Hamilton weaves a spellbinding web of urban mythology. Punks, hippies, beatniks, squatters, junkies, derelicts, and anarchists—the entire pantheon of urban demigods—gambol through a grungy subterranean Elysium of dive bars, cheap diners, flophouses, and shooting galleries, searching for meaning and a place to make their stand.

logo2New Netherland Praatjes Podcast

If you visit the iTunes Store, you will see that there is a podcast about anything and everything you have ever wanted to know. There is something for everyone, and this includes old New York enthusiasts.

From the New York History blog:

The New Netherland Institute is now producing a new podcast hosted by best-selling author Russell Shorto. ‘New Netherland Praatjes’ (Dutch for ‘chat’) is a series of chats with historians, archaeologists, and other experts on New Netherland and the world of the 17th-century Dutch.

The latest episode features historian Susanah Romney, whose book New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America won the 2014 Annual Hendricks Award. Romney’s work challenges the assumption that state actors and trading companies were predominantly responsible for the perpetuation of New World colonies.

Subscribe to this series of podcasts via iTunes .

Also available on the New Netherland Institute’s website is the audio of the fifteen presentations at their latest conference, “The Dutch in American Across the Centuries: Connections and Comparisons.” The conference was jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies (AADAS).

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

Greene Street: A Long History of a Short Block

What can one block, a span of less than 500 feet of a New York City street, tell you? If you look closely enough, you can see 400 years of economic development. In a new website entitled, “Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block,” (, William Easterly and Laura Freschi of NYU and Stephen Pennings of the World Bank have created an interactive timeline covering 400 years that charts the economic evolution of one NYC block, Greene Street between Houston and Prince, that reflects the broader evolution of the entire SoHo area from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history.

From Laura Bliss at CityLab:

Led by William Easterly, Co-Director of the DRI and an economics scholar, the Greene Street Project is an interactive tour of the historic development of this single block in SoHo.

Most development economists tend to focus on macro-level units such as cities, or even more commonly, nations. But Easterly believes that such broad assessments belie the more chaotic realities that shape economies at the hyper-local scale.

“There’s a ‘Great Man’ view of history: that great successes happen because some wonderful, wise leaders intended them to happen,” Easterly says. “But looking at development at the micro level allows us the ‘common man’ view: that there were unintended consequences from lots of surprises on this block, and individuals taking advantage of them.”



Tags: , , , , , ,


Barbara Cohen, a dealer in New York books, at her apartment in Manhattan. “‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” Ms. Cohen said. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times


In 1915, ISAAC NEWTON PHELPS STOKES(1867-1944) published the first volume of his six-volume The Iconography of Manhattan Island. This year 2015 marks the centenary of this unparalleled reference work that encompasses New York City’s history, architecture, maps, and prints.

In a recent New York Times article, “A Visual Banquet of Manhattan Has Its Own Compelling Past,” David Dunlap celebrates this occasion by by featuring none other than our own fearless leader, Barbara Cohen:

“ ‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” said Barbara Cohen, who is among the more important contemporary dealers in New York books. She brought the centenary to my attention. (Read the full article here.)

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes' monumental six volume history of New York

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes’ monumental six volume history of New York

Barbara, a huge fan of Stokes, has written about Stokes’ work on this site in the past. Read What is the Stokes Iconography? and Stokes, Wharton, and Love Fiercely, a post about Stokes and the Gilded Age as reflected in Jean Zimmerman’s book, Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance.

With six volumes spanning several centuries, the folio-sized Stokes Iconography is the definitive collection of images related to New York City. Complied from original sources and based on the public and private collections of I.N. Phelps Stokes, it includes reproductions of important maps, plans, and documents, dating from the city’s earliest history.

The six volumes were published between 1925 and 1928 with meticulous care. It includes an exhaustive bibliography and a massive index, itself an impressive reference. It was originally issued in two editions, the first on Holland handmade paper with a choice of two bindings, vellum and bluecloth. The second was a limited edition issue (42 copies) on Japan vellum with extra color plates signed by the engraver and designers.

The first volume took six years of research and covers three centuries: the Period of Discovery (1524-1609), the Dutch Period (1609-1664), the English Period (1664-1763), the Revolutionary Period (1763-1783), the Period of Adjustment and Reconstruction: New York as the State and Federal Capital (1783-1811). Volume II has the earliest cartography of New York, with maps dating from 1500. Volume III continues the historical narrative, beginning from The War of 1812 and the Period of Invention, Prosperity, and Progress (1812-1841), the Period of Industrial and Educational Development (1842-1860), The Civil War and the subsequent Period of Political and Social Development (1861-1876), and finally the Modern City and Island (1876-1909). Volumes IV and V are a chronology of the periods outlined and include reproductions of handwritten and printed accounts of events in Manhattan. The final volume includes more maps and an addendum.

This monumental work can be viewed in its entirety online through the Columbia University Libraries site. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself (or revisit, if you are a student of Newyorkiana) with the Iconography and celebrate its 100 years with us. Cheers!

Tags: , , , , ,

imagesIt’s that time of year again! When the New York Society Library begins taking submissions for their New York City Book Awards. Quility books that focus on New York City are published every month, and these awards are a great way of acknowledging the best of the countless New York stories out there.

Here’s a list of last year’s awardees, in case you missed any of them:

imgresAward for Natural History
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg (Simon & Schuster)

Award for Biography/Memoir
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist by Thomas Beller (New Harvest)

Award for Fiction
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Tyrant Books)

The Hornblower Award for a First Book
Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City by Catherine McNeur (Harvard University Press)

For a full list of past winners, click here.


The New York City Book Awards

The New York Society Library’s New York City Book Awards, established in 1995, honor books of literary quality or historical importance that, in the opinion of the selection committee, evoke the spirit or enhance appreciation of New York City. The city must play an essential role beyond that of the setting. A worthy book, whether academic, literary, or popular, must be well written and engaging. It should shed some new or unusual light on New York City.

The Hornblower Award

As part of the Book Awards, the Library also presents the Hornblower Award. Established in 2011, this award is given to an excellent New York City-related book by a first-time author.


The Library welcomes submissions of qualifying books from publishers and authors. Submissions are now welcome for books published between January 1 and December 31, 2015. Click here for submission guidelines and entry form. Winners will be announced in March 2016.

NYSL buildingHistory

For a century and a half, until the New York Public Library system was founded in 1895, the New York Society Library was known simply as the “City Library.” The New York Society, a civic group, opened the library in the old City Hall on Wall Street in 1754. The first library of its kind, the group felt that New York City needed a subscription library that anyone could join and offered a wide range of books.

For over 250 years, the New York Society Library has made books available to all in New York City. After moving to several locations in downtown Manhattan, the Library moved to its current home at 53 East 79th Street in 1937.

Over the years, the library has been visited by the likes of George Washington, Washington Irving, James Fennimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, John James Audubon, Willa Cather, Herman Melville, W.H. Auden, Clarence Day, Lillian Hellman, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, Wendy Wasserstein, Shirley Hazzard, P.G. Wodehouse, Mary McCarthy, Truman Capote, and thousands of others.


The New York Society Library relies on the support of members and friends to sustain its collection, adult and children’s programs, exhibitions, and extraordinary personal service. Please donate today by clicking here.




Tags: , , ,

Dual contracts coverSilver Connections

by Phillip Ashforth Coppola
Four Oceans Press, 2015

168 pp, illustrated throughout, bibliography


To place an order, place email



In 1978, Phil Copp intended to spend a month working on an article about the art in New York City subway stations that he hoped to sell to a magazine. Today, thirty-four years later, Copp has probably not spent a day during which he did not work on this “article,” now a multi-volume collection of books, some self-published in limited edition and some in manuscript form.

We are pleased to announce that Copp has now completed the first volume of his Portfolio Series, entitled DUAL CONTRACTS PORTFOLIO:IRT PELHAM BAY LINE. His first professionally printed book, this handsome 8×10 volume with full-color cover is 168 pages with numerous illustrations and a bibliography. When the series is completed, each portfolio of the series will detail one line of the subway system.

To celebrate the first portfolio’s publication, we are posting Copp’s recent essay about his journeys through the NYC subway (and elevated) system and his plans for the future.


Phil Copp (image: Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
Phil Copp (image: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

A Brief History of Silver Connections

by Phil Copp


I began my study of New York City subway station interiors in 1978 – at first out of curiosity, to find those tile pictures I’d heard of long ago, and to learn their stories. But soon I realized that the MTA, at that time, pursued a policy of resurfacing stations with big bland tiles. Any station which had become inconveniently old, dingy, or pocked, with gaps in its tiles or mosaics, stood in line for an MTA make-over. Two timely examples were Bowling Green (1905) and the IRT’s Cortlandt Street (1917) station, both heedlessly impersonalized in the mid/late 1970’s. Bowling Green got a new red wall, as an “experiment” to see how an old station could be completely modernized from the ground up. Cortland Street got walls of beige bricks – perhaps to give it a sleek finish in the style of the World Trade Center, upstairs. As I dug deeper into my study, I heard of the Brooklyn Bridge (1904) side platforms, not seen since the early 1960’s, and the IRT’s 14th Street/Union Square (1904) side platforms, sealed up, maybe, in 1910—neither of these the MTA’s doing, but still part of the system’s pervasive loss. And I saw whole routes gone under: the BMT’s Broadway (Manhattan) line, and their Fourth Avenue (Brooklyn) line. These were both given the big tile treatment in the 1970’s, also. The Authority seemed dismissive of the irreplaceable mosaic intricacies, artistry, and craftsmanship inherited from prior transit authorities of an earlier era, in a different New York City. With the possibility of unending losses like this, the light study I first envisioned developed into a serious journey through the whole system.

Illustration from Dual Contracts: IRT Pelham Bay Line
Illustration from Dual Contracts portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

But the MTA has had a change of heart and mind since the mid-1980’s. Now they essentially preserve their heritage and, in some exalted cases, have found an artisan who can replicate 90-year-old mosaic patterns, to repair gaps where necessary. But still, there are anomalies: 23rd & Lex. (1904), re-done; N. 3rd Ave & 149th St, Bronx (1905), re-done; and 137th & B’wy (1904), re-done, although two 1922 name panels there are retained. All of them were re-imaged in the mid/late 1980’s. And now the 42nd St. (1904) shuttle platforms have been obscured and thoroughly commercialized in this Century.

Since the end of World War II, there have been five complete stations abandoned, in one year or another, plus there are bits and pieces and areas of stations sealed from the public, and others begun but not finished and buried, so that the transit system, besides the travelways obviously active to all commuters, is a maze of mystery and lost spaces beyond and besides. There’s a lot of New York – this unique niche of New York – and New York history being lost to the ravages of time. My purpose for creating this record is focused on two goals: to preserve the design formats and ceramic icons, in text and drawing, of all of the NYC subway stations as they originally appeared when first opened to the public, and to give credit to those who created the formatted designs for those stations – as well as the manufacturers who fashioned those plaques and mosaics from the architects’ plans.

That second goal has enlarged the project’s scope to include the persons inseparable from the construction of the system: contractors, engineers, city or state authorities, and the financier of the IRT only, as far as I am aware. I got caught up in the history of the construction because, learning more as my research progressed, the whole story fascinates me – and I believe those players ought to be recognized. Besides, the construction and the design are interrelated, and the story of one leads into the other. And so, for Volumes I, II, III, and IV, my primary message delivers the oldest stations in word and picture, and my secondary focus, in company with the first, spotlights the architects, engineer/architects, and craftspeople. I wouldn’t be too far wrong to say that they have all (excepting Mr. Belmont and his equine legacy) been lost to the passage of time and events.

Illustration from Dual Contracts Portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line
Illustration from Dual Contracts Portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

By my count, there are 496 stations in the system – not counting the “new” lines: Parsons Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and the 63rd Street tunnel link. That 496-station system evolved, in stages, over the years spanning 1900 to the early 1940’s; anything after that I consider “new” (even 70+ years later). So far, through the four volumes I’ve finished, I have covered transit developments in the New York City region from 1900 to 1908. Since 1978, these past 36 years have been rather crowded, and I have only 8 years of events to show for them.

Along the way a host of generous people have given me encouragement, help, and answers. Through the good graces of a few booksellers of recent memory, the interested public have become ready patrons. It’s good that recognition has been minimal, though, because, through my solo efforts alone, I can produce only a limited number of copies per volume.

Since I have published, I’ve been interviewed now and then by a variety of media. They’ve mostly been New York-based news reporters, but there have been a few others; interviewers from England, Japan, Mexico, and Thailand. Even the MTA Arts for Transit chief contacted me, at one time, for verification of the American Encaustic Tiling Co. And a few college students have tapped me for some input as well.

Filmmaker Jeremy Workman documented my project over a number of years, beginning in the year 2000; his 30-minute film, “One Track Mind,” debuted at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival. We’ve had subsequent showings and Q & A’s at a variety of locations since. The Museum of Modern Art bought a copy of the film for their archives a few years back. And I think PBS shows the movie at odd hours of the day – like at 2 or 3 in the AM, for the insomniac transit crowd.

39 drawing

Illustration from Dual Contracts portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

I’ve come upon this study as an outsider. I grew up in New Jersey, with no particular fascination with transit – though I did play around the railroad tracks behind the A & P with my best friend Danny, to the alarm of our parents (and the DL&W engineer whose train I outran across his track one afternoon). In my school days, I much more favored tromping around in the woods and meadows of the South Mountain Reservation, than sojourning through urban spaces across the river. Before 1978, the most NYC history I knew was from Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History – and that’s not exactly historic at all. When I hit the Library in 1978, I had absolutely no idea which came first – the elevated trains or the subway system.

One of the advantages of being on this project for so long is that I’ve known stations and interiors that are now either changed, or demolished. I’ve written about them (the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, ca. 1987, for instance), or I have notes and photos on them (the Centre Street Loop, ca. 2003, and the Stillwell Avenue Terminal, ca. 2001, and both BMT and IRT Cortlandt Street stations), so I can write them up in future chapters. Likewise, I’ve been fortunate to know one or two key persons in this drama who have since left the scene. But their stories are not lost with them. Even some sources of information I’ve relied on are no longer available. But what I garnered is preserved in my notebooks and lodged in my file cabinets.

One of the disadvantages of not living in New York, though, is that I’ve still missed a lot, because the system is continually evolving, in one way or another, in one borough or another, along one line this month and another route the next. Though I used to get in to see the sights and hammer away at the primary source books nearly every weekend, when I began this study, that’s barely the case now. But we’re trying to change that.

Proceeds from Silver Connections do not pay the bills. I labor on my study in evenings or on weekends, funding my project as I go. Though good, sympathetic people have helped me produce the four volumes of my study, I am essentially a one-man band. The passing times have reshuffled my crew, such as it may have been, and I’ve not produced anything since 1999, except for the few copies of Volumes I and II, scraped together from old & new printed pages, two years ago, and the recent Volume I – Revised text, last year.

Volumes from Copp's SILVER CONNECTIONS (image: Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Volumes from Copp’s SILVER CONNECTIONS (image: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

There is a Volume V, begun about a decade ago, which I had to put aside as I revised Volume I. Volume V proceeds along the lines of its predecessors, and delivers (will deliver as presently planned) not only the full descriptions and images of the stations of the Centre Street Loop, the Steinway line from 42nd Street to Hunters Point Avenue, and the BRT’s Fourth Avenue subway, but also their construction history, the deliberations of the Public Service Commissioners, the fortunes of its Chief Engineers (up to 1914), and a roster of the contractors and the engineers involved. In short, the standard, researched approach which makes Volumes I through IV so voluminous.

That takes years of devotion and energy, but time moves right along for all of us, and I’m no longer 29, and my steadiness of hand and sharpness of eyesight are not what they used to be. With this condition in mind, it is very much time for a new way to complete this research. And so my efforts from here on will depart from the format of the fat volumes that chronicled the years 1900 through 1908 (and up to 1914, if all goes well).

And so I’ve embarked on a new approach to this record of the NYC transit system. I have begun my Portfolio series. Each Portfolio will detail one line of the subway system. I figure I can cover one route, within the bounds of one borough in a year’s span, as things stand now. It looks like there are 31 lines, by my count, so I’ll have to do better than that. I will start with the Dual Contract routes, of course, because they were the next era of construction after the intermediate tunneling work succeeding Contracts 1 and 2. But I won’t be following a strict chronology. If I did that, I would consider all four railroads to Coney Island (Brighton Beach, Culver, West End, and Sea Beach) in my first Portfolio. But I haven’t; I’ve started further north. Along the way, Staten Island will be remembered, of course. So will the Newark City Subway. Considering a timely finish to this record, the IND lines will be more of a breeze to get through – as they are just white-tiled walls with a colored stripe. Perhaps I could sail through a whole borough or two of them in one year. There is a lost code to their color sequence, by the way, but I think that has been cracked since 1957. We’ll have to look at that in due time. As it is, I already examined both the 8th and the 6th Avenue stations in Manhattan at the very beginning of my project, before I realized that they weren’t the earliest lines on the subway map.


What this Portfolio series means, though, is that I am not researching the personalities or the manufacturers or the detailed construction of these transit lines. There will be just a minimal gloss of historic background, which is not much history. And so I won’t tell you what Commissioner Eustis said to Mayor Gaynor, nor the joke which contractor Sam Rosoff played on the bank president. Nor, regrettably, much about the three – or four? – architect/engineers who designed the Dual Contracts and the IND station formats (but I have their stories). I won’t be saying much about the artisans and tile companies, either. Nor what happened with the four main subway pioneers, profiled in Volume I, after October 1904. All these sidelights are sidelined, thrown into limbo for now, under the present exigencies, because all those details are research, and they comprise the secondary focus of this study.

My primary goal is to record station layouts and their décor, as I see them on my field trips, before more is lost. This is what I have to do, because this is what I set out to do. Days do not stop running by, but maybe I can still hit my 2030 target for completing this study after all.

Tags: , , , ,


The Iconography of Manhattan Island is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians.  Its full title is The Iconography Of Manhattan Island 1498 to 1909 compiled from original sources and illustrated with photo-intaglio reproductions of important maps, plans, views and documents in public and private collections.  I.N. Phelps Stokes in six volumes, folio-size, and published by R.H. Dodd. Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries