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101 objectsA History of New York in 101 Objects
By Sam Roberts
336 pages, Simon and Schuster
$30.00

 

From the New-York Historical Society website:

 Can one object define New York City? Can 101? New York Times urban affairs correspondent Sam Roberts has assembled a kaleidoscopic array of possibilities in a new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects. Featuring objects from the New-York Historical Society collection, this exhibition assembles some of Roberts’s choices, which together constitute a unique history of New York.  By turns provocative, iconic, and ironic, and winnowed from hundreds of possibilities, his selections share the criteria of having played some transformative role in the city’s history.

tokenFrom the New York Observer:

The history of New York City has always been nuanced, its narrative hidden in everything from ticket stubs to water tanks. Now, Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent at the New York Times and a Brooklynite at heart, has taken on the ambitious task of excavating the meaning within some of NYC’s most noteworthy artifacts in his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects.

“It’s sort of an inanimate Humans of New York. It is a subjective, labor-of-love collection of objects that epitomize the transformation of New York over four centuries into the city that we know and love today,” Mr. Roberts said.

“It is not the history of New York,” he added. “It’s not even a history of New York. It’s really my history of New York through 101 objects.”

Within his compilation, Mr. Roberts left no room for nostalgia or ephemerality. Instead, he chose “things that would be more quirky. Things that would be more conversation pieces. Things that would make people think of history in a new light.” For him, it doesn’t matter if something’s trending at the moment. The real objects that define New York are those that will endure for decades to centuries.

 

knishKnish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
By Laura Silver
300 pages, Brandeis University Press
$24.95

 

From the Daily News:

Brooklyn ‘knish lady’ Laura Silver writes the definitive book about Eastern European potato staple from its roots in Poland to Brighton Beach, the knish is a part of American Jewry. And the city is experiencing a bit of a knishaissance.

She gained from loss.

When Mrs. Stahl’s knish shop closed in Brighton Beach in 2005, most New Yorkers shrugged and moved on at the departure of yet another neighborhood institution.

But Brooklynite Laura Silver took action, researching the seminal Eastern European staple, teasing out family stories, and even connecting with Mrs. Stahl’s descendents for “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food,” a new book that is nothing short of a biography of the Polish potato-filled pastry.

 

new york modNew York: A Mod Portrait of the City
Written by Zdenek Mahler, Illustrated by Vladimir
128 pages, Universe
$24.95

 

From Amazon.com

Exactly half a century old, this timeless illustrated classic artfully captures the “Mad Men” era of New York City for readers of all ages. The unique essence of New York City is poetically celebrated in Vladimir Fuka’s brilliant, colorful illustrations and collages and Zdenek Mahler’s playful accompanying narrative. The book takes readers on a charming journey of discovery through the magnificent metropolis’s architectural landmarks, cultural hot spots, and neighborhoods, from uptown to downtown, from Wall Street to Coney Island, and the Guggenheim Museum to Yankee Stadium. Interesting historical fun facts about the city and its inhabitants are combined with descriptions of the reality of everyday New York.

 

nyc 3DNew-York Historical Society New York City in 3D
 
In The Gilded Age: A Book Plus Stereoscopic Viewer and 50 3D Photos from the Turn of the Century

 

By Esther Crain and the New-York Historical Society
 
160 pages (paper), Black Dog & Leventhal
$34.95
 

From the publisher:

This smart, upscale, and unique package contains 50 rarely seen stereoscopic images – including spectacular 3D views of bygone architectural marvels, as well as once-in-a-lifetime events such as the construction of the Statue of Liberty – and a paperback book that brings history to life.

Be transported to New York during the Gilded Age and experience daily life in one of the world’s most vibrant cities through mesmerizing, contemporary 3D photography and exciting tales of the time.

Black Dog & Leventhal has partnered with the New-York Historical Society to present New York in the Gilded Age as it’s never been viewed before. This innovative package includes a sturdy metal stereoscopic viewer and 50 stereoscopic photographs of turn-of-the-century New York. The package also includes a 128-page paperback that provides a brief history of the stereograph craze and an overview of the city’s evolution during that time.

rebel soulsRebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians
By Justin Martin
368 pages, Da Capo Press
$27.99
 

From The Boston Globe:

In the late 1850s Walt Whitman was living at home with his mother in Brooklyn, scraping by on journalism, not poetry. A compulsive rambler, Whitman found his way to a dark little spot on Broadway and Bleecker called Pfaff’s. Here, he found another family of sorts in the company of writers, wits, actors, and artists. Beer (and banter) flowed freely. It wasn’t quite Cheers, but there, everyone knew the struggling poet’s name.

Whitman now is a central figure in the American canon, but his Pfaff’s pals are all but forgotten. In “Rebel Souls,” biographer Justin Martin brings them wonderfully to life in his enjoyable romp through the milieu. Whitman is the emotional core of the book — Martin’s passages on Whitman’s romantic travails and his experiences tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War are unforgettably moving. But the other members of the Pfaff’s coterie almost steal the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For a general appreciation of where you are, it helps to know who came before you and what was done.  Especially if it helps you now.
—Philip Copp in “One Track Mind”

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

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

In 1978, Philip 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.

Copp is now working on his Portfolio Series, where each portfolio of the series will detail one line of the subway system, the first of which is due out later this year.  In advance of its publication, we have asked Copp to tell us a bit about his journeys through the NYC subway (and elevated) system and his plans for the future.

Drawing no. 160, SIlver Connections, Volume I Book II, page 682

Drawing no. 160, Silver Connections, Volume I Book II, page 682

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.

Silver Connections

Silver Connections

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.

Drawing no. 36, Silver Connections, VolumeiV, page 295

Drawing no. 36, Silver Connections, VolumeiV, page 295

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.

Silver ConnectionsI’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.

Copp-bowlinggreenOne 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.

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.

copp 2That 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.

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

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

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.

My first Portfolio is nearly completed, and should be in print by early November.  Please check back again soon for further information.

My daughter, like her mother, LOVES books, and, also like her mother, she loves books about New York.  I noticed recently, as I was putting books away after one of the read-a-thons we call “bedtime,” though “booktime” would be more accurate, is that we have a TON of picture books about New York City, and I am guessing that this is typical of many New York households with children.  I think that we, as parents, either consciously or unconsciously, want our children to love New York as much as we do and to understand the beauty and richness and complexity that is their hometown.  There are countless children’s books that have New York City as their setting or subject, and the list keeps growing.  I do not profess to be an expert on the subject, but I am most certainly an expert on what books my New York daughter likes.

One of her all-time favorites is Kay Thompson’s Eloise, a book I never read myself as a child.  From a parent’s perspective, Eloise’s story is a sad one.  She is left to live with her very loving nanny at the Plaza Hotel while her mother gallivants around the world leading the glamorous life and calls every once in a while to say hello or to send for her daughter to join her in some exotic locale.  But Eloise shows us that she is a resourceful and inventive six year old with unlimited imagination and spunk. The Plaza Hotel, that New York landmark that in real life houses her portrait, is Eloise’s plaything and constant companion.  She is indeed a “city child,” as she describes herself, mingling with (and sometimes terrorizing) the hotel guests and using its hallways and grand salons as backdrops for her daily dramas.  My daughter and I have read Eloise countless times, and, as its subtitle states, it is “a book for precocious grown ups,” thus I enjoy it as much as she does, every single time.

Another classic that graces our shelves is not an obvious New York book.  My daughter loves Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen so much that she memorized it word for word.  The only way I know she is reciting and not actually reading it is that she looks at the pictures, not the words, when “reading” it aloud.  The story appears to be set in Brooklyn, where Sendak grew up, and features an unusual depiction of the Manhattan skyline.  From a historical perspective its themes are dark—mustachioed men baking a boy in an oven—but it is also a story about a child dreaming of falling into an imaginary urban landscape where buildings are made from baking ingredients and utensils.

My daughter’s third favorite New York book is a lesser-known, quieter book that has actually moved me to tears.  At Night, by Jonathan Bean, is about a girl who cannot sleep until she decides to set up a makeshift bed on her roof.  She finally falls asleep once she is able to feel her place in the city:

She lay in her bed
on her house in the city,
in the night,
under the sky.

She thought about the wide world
all around her and smiled.

She looked up,
breathed, closed her eyes…and slept.

An illustration from Jonathan Bean’s AT NIGHT

This excerpt loses much without the illustrations, but I have choked back tears when reading this aloud, perhaps because I, too, had trouble sleeping as a child when faced with the dark night.  To my daughter’s relief, by the time the protagonist falls asleep on the roof, her mother is sitting in a chair watching over her daughter, so she is not sleeping outside alone.

I feel that I must not leave out This is New York, Miroslav Sasek’s classic 1960 book from his series of children’s travel guides to large metropolises around the world.  My daughter claims that she finds the book “boring,” as it does not have a story but is a catalog of facts about places in the city, but I have caught her poring over its pages and see her face light up whenever she comes across an illustration of a site she recognizes.  Narrative or no narrative, she is drawn to its visual cues—water towers, subway stations, hotdog vendors, and, of course, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

These are four out of oodles of great picture books about or set in New York.  Everyone who grew up in New York has his or her favorites.  These are my daughters, at least for now.  I cannot wait until she is older, when I can introduce her to more complex New York stories such as Stuart Little and The Cricket in Times Square.  One of my personal favorites is E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler about a sister and brother team who hide out in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and get caught up in a mystery involving a statue.

New York is a fascinating topic for readers, no matter what age.  Children who grow up in New York City have a very singular perspective.  For a short while, before they realize that the world is wide, they do not know anything else.  They think the entire world is like New York until they slowly come to realize that New York is like no other place in the world.  Oh, to be in that place again, when the world was my oyster, and that oyster was New York!

Reading list:

Bean, Jonathan. At Night. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

Konigsburg, E L, and E L. Konigsburg. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Sasek, M. This Is New York. New York: Macmillan Co, 1960.

Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960.

Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970

Thompson, Kay, Hilary Knight, and Marie Brenner. Kay Thompson’s Eloise: The Absolutely Essential Edition. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999.

White, E B, and Garth Williams. Stuart Little. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

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Madeline at the Paris Flower Market. TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC. (via N-YHS site)

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market. TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC. (via N-YHS)

“The purpose of art is to console and amuse—myself, and, I hope, others.”
― Ludwig Bemelmans

It seems I’m making the rounds of the great New York cultural institutions.  Once you’ve gone to see the children’s book exhibition at NYPL (see my post on The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter), you MUS MUST MUST go to N-YHS (that’s The New-York Historical Society) to see Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.  Is it just a coincidence that this, too, is a children’s book-related, as well as a New York-related, exhibition?  Perhaps it’s just in the air.  Or perhaps I have a six-year-old New York kid, so I am tuned in to these kinds of things.

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962)

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962)

Regardless of whether or not you have children, however, the Madeline exhibition is a fantastic feast for the eyes.  There are over 90 paintings, photographs, and drawings on view, as well as items such as two panels from murals created for the children’s playroom of Aristotle Onassis’s yacht, The Christina, and two Madeline-themed lamps from Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.

Ludwig Bemelmans, “Interesting as the hotel was, my ambition was to paint” (1950), from “Adieu to the Old Ritz” in the December 1950 issue of Town & Country. Photo: Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce.

Ludwig Bemelmans, “Interesting as the hotel was, my ambition was to paint” (1950), from “Adieu to the Old Ritz” in the December 1950 issue of Town & Country.
Photo: Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce.

Bemelmans, who was born in Austria-Hungary in 1898, came to New York in 1914, exactly 100 years ago, where he worked in several hotels and restaurants.  Although he is most famous for his books about Madeline, a feisty young French girl (who he described as his alter ego), he was most certainly a New York artist and writer through and through.  As a matter of fact, he began writing Madeline (dropping the “e” from Madeleine because more words rhyme with Madeline) on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy Park.  He also designed matchbooks for Luchows (the long-gone German Restaurant that was on 14th Street), a menu for the Waldorf-Astoria, and murals for the Hotel Carlyle, which he exchanged for an 18-month stay for himself and his family.  He also wrote Hotel Splendide (1941), an illustrated memoir about his years working at The Ritz in midtown, among other books for adults.

The book Hotel Bemelmans collects two dozen of the authors best writing about his life in hotels and restaurants.  From the Barnes and Noble website about the reprint edition with an introduction by Anthony Bourdain:

jpeg“Ludwig Bemelmans was the original bad boy of the New York hotel/restaurant subculture” writes Anthony Bourdain, and with his reporter’s eye for sensory detail and his keen wit, Bemelmans’ humorous autobiographical tales of behind the scenes kitchen life at the Ritz in 1920s and 30s New York never fail to amuse and engage.

Proabaly Bemelmans’ best work—and certainly his most famous essays—Hotel Bemelmans brilliantly evokes the kitchens, back passages, dining rooms, and banquet halls of Bemelmans’ years at the Hotel Splendide—a thinly disguised stand-in for the Ritz. It’s a strange, fabulous, and sometimes terrible universe populated by rogues, con-men, geniuses, craftsmen, lunatics, gypsies, tramps, and thieves—and it’s all here in bitingly funny detail. Twenty-four of the tales are vintage Bemelmans, two have never before been published, and the lot is accompanied by 73 of Bemelmans’ original, charming drawings.

In addition to Madeline, also by Bemelmans is the lesser-known yet entirely charming children’s book Sunshine: A Story About the City of New York, in which a grouchy old man in Gramercy Park rents a room to a noisy woman.  From Kirkus reviews:

sunshineNot entirely for the children is this latest by the fine-knifed master of satire. Although the “juvenile” Bemelmans of Madeline has an imaginative, gentle whimsy, here the verse is often over-sophisticated and relies on experiences familiar only to adults — room renting, lawyers and leases. However, the situations are delightful — how the stuffy Mr. Sunshine (all gloom and thunder clouds) rents a room to quiet, sedate little Miss Moore who, to the horror of Mr. Sunshine, runs an active and noisy music school, how Miss Moore is trapped into paying her rent money for two thousand umbrellas, how the rent is raised and the children and Miss Moore give a concert at Carnegie Hall. The illustrations by the author, full color and black with one color, are delightful. The rain has never rained so hard over New York, nor the snow snowed in Central Park with such glittering brilliance.

Click here to view an animated version of Sunshine:

Sunshine: A Story About the City of New York

This book, along with all of the Madeline books are available for perusing at the exhibition.  There is also a great (free) audiotour that is geared toward children but is quite interesting and informative. The exhibition is on view through October 19.  For more information go to: http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/madeline-new-york.

 

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter (photo: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times)

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at NYPL (photo: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times)

If you haven’t yet seen “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” at the New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schartzman Building), you MUST MUST MUST.  This visually stunning and stunningly informative exhibition, curated by children’s book historian, author, and critic Leonard S. Marcus, presents familiar favorites as well as little known landmarks in children’s book history:

The ABC of It draws from collections across the Library to present literature for children and teens against a sweeping backdrop of history, the arts, popular culture, and technological change.  The books and related objects on view reveal hidden contexts and connections, inviting second looks and fresh discoveries.  They suggest that books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves—and are rarely as simple as they seem. (The ABC of It Exhibition Program, page 3)

If you have children, they will love the colorful displays and will be delighted to pull books off the shelves to read or share.  But the exhibition should also be viewed solo, so that one can linger over the rare first editions of classics and read excerpts from old favorites.

Toward the end of the exhibit, there is a section devoted to books about New York City.  There are myriad books about our “storied city,” many favorites, and many of which I had never read or even seen (though perhaps you have!).  Here is a selection of titles I discovered that I thought were worth a closer look (all text is quoted directly from exhibition panels):

 

the blockThe Block

Langston Hughes; Romare Bearden, illustrator
New York: Viking, 1995

 

This volume’s powerful illustrations of Harlem neighborhood life are segments of a 1971 six-panel collage by Romare Bearden, and were paired for this book with poems by the artist’s contemporary Langston Hughes.  Hughes, like Bearden, was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance.  Although the poet did not compose these lyrics with young readers in mind, accessibility and unadorned truth telling were always high on his aesthetic agenda, and from his very first appearance in print, in the April 1921 issue of The Brownies’ Book magazine, Hughes considered writing for the younger generation a priority.

 

 

sunshineSunshine

Ludwig Bemelmans
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950
 

Ironically named Mr. Sunshine is the Scrooge—like New York landlord who, in this rascally tale by the creator of Madeline, meets his match in a flamboyant music teacher-tenant.  Ludwig Bemelmans, an Austrian-born illustrator and man about town, lived on Gramercy Park for years as well as at the Carlyle hotel, where the café-bar he decorated with murals still bears his name.  Here, the peripatetic artist, drawing in his manic, rapid-fire style, gives us his impressions of a raft of the city’s iconic landmarks, from the Faltiron Building and City Hall to the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

 

 

 

 

 pet metPet of the Met

Don and Lydia Freeman
New York: Viking, 1953

 

Following World War II, Don Freeman was ready for a change and returned to his native California with his wife and collaborator, Lydia.  As new parents, the Freemans began making picture books.  In Pet of the Met, the couple introduced readers to Maestro Petrini, a musical mouse in residence at the gilded old Metropolitan Opera House.  In this charming story, the maestro, who ordinarily works as the prompter’s trusted page-turner, enjoys a rare onstage moment during a performance of The Magic Flute as his adoring mouse family looks on from the balcony.

 

 

all of a kind family

All-of-a-Kind Family

Sydney Taylor; Helen John, illustrator
Chicago: Wilcox and Follett, 1951
 

A sort of Loew East Side Little Women, this episodic novel set in the year 1912 dramatizes the daily routines and holiday observances of a first-generation Jewish American family with five daughters.  Taylor based er first novel and its four sequels on memories of growing up in lower Manhattan and the Bronx. She modeled Sarah, the middle child, on herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

next stop gran centralNext Stop, Grand Central

Maira Kalman
New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999

 

In 1998, Maira Kalman, a New Yorker cover artist and deadpan chronicler of the everyday, agreed to paint a series of temporary murals to conceal a major renovation project being planned for Grand Central Terminal.  Kalman began her research by simply “watching people go about their business”—commuters rushing to and fro and the usually unseen personnel who make the bustling rail hub function.  Based on the murals, Kalman’s picture book has taken its place as a classic depiction of the city’s kinetic energy and organized chaos.

 

 

chinatownChinatown

William Low
New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997

 

New Yorkers often assume that Chinatown has always occupied a prominent place in the city’s downtown landscape.  But Chinatown did not become a thriving ethnic enclave until the 1960s, when a new federal policy opened the door to greater numbers of Asian immigrant.  William Low, a Bronx-born first generation Chinese American artist, here celebrates the vibrant street life and durable traditions of the New York neighborhood that has become synonymous with Chinese food and culture.

Here’s a roundup of NEW(ish) New York books:

 

whitmanilluminated_crawfordWhitman Illuminated: Song of Myself
By Walt Whitman, Illustrated by Allen Crawford
Tin House Books
256 pages
$28.95 

 

From Tin House:

Walt Whitman’s iconic collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, has earned a reputation as a sacred American text. Whitman himself made such comparisons, going so far as to use biblical verse as a model for his own. So it’s only appropriate that artist and illustrator Allen Crawford has chosen to illuminate—like medieval monks with their own holy scriptures—Whitman’s masterpiece and the core of his poetic vision, “Song of Myself.” Crawford has turned the original sixty-page poem from Whitman’s 1855 edition into a sprawling 234-page work of art. The handwritten text and illustrations intermingle in a way that’s both surprising and wholly in tune with the spirit of the poem—they’re exuberant, rough, and wild. Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself is a sensational reading experience, an artifact in its own right, and a masterful tribute to the Good Gray Poet.

whitmanilluminated_crawford6

illustration from WHITMAN ILLUMINATED

 

j10060The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
by William B. Helmreich
Princeton University Press
480 pages
$29.95
 

From the publisher:

As a kid growing up in Manhattan, William Helmreich played a game with his father they called “Last Stop.” They would pick a subway line and ride it to its final destination, and explore the neighborhood there. Decades later, Helmreich teaches university courses about New York, and his love for exploring the city is as strong as ever.

Putting his feet to the test, he decided that the only way to truly understand New York was to walk virtually every block of all five boroughs–an astonishing 6,000 miles. His epic journey lasted four years and took him to every corner of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Helmreich spoke with hundreds of New Yorkers from every part of the globe and from every walk of life, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, David Dinkins, and Edward Koch. Their stories and his are the subject of this captivating and highly original book.

We meet the Guyanese immigrant who grows beautiful flowers outside his modest Queens residence in order to always remember the homeland he left behind, the Brooklyn-raised grandchild of Italian immigrants who illuminates a window of his brownstone with the family’s old neon grocery-store sign, and many, many others. Helmreich draws on firsthand insights to examine essential aspects of urban social life such as ethnicity, gentrification, and the use of space. He finds that to be a New Yorker is to struggle to understand the place and to make a life that is as highly local as it is dynamically cosmopolitan.  Truly unforgettable, The New York Nobody Knows will forever change how you view the world’s greatest city.

 

9781580054942Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York
Edited by Sari Botton
Seal Press
288 pages
$16.00 (paper)
 

From Powell’s:

Goodbye to All That is a collection of essays about loving and leaving the magical city of New York. Inspired by Joan Didions well-loved essay by the same name, this anthology features the experiences of 28 women for whom the magic of the city has worn off—whether because of loneliness after many friends marry, have kids, and head to the suburbs; jadedness about their careers; or difficulty finding true love in a place where everyone is always looking to trade up to a better mate, a better job, a better apartment.

With contributions from authors such as Cheryl Strayed, Ann Hood, Dani Shapiro, and Emma Straub, this collection is relatable to anyone who arrived with stars in their eyes, hoping to make it. Each essay reveals the authors own unique relationship with New York City, and together they encompass the complicated emotions all New Yorkers have about leaving.

 

9781623650209Unhooking the Moon
By Gregory Hughes
Quercus
335 pages
$16.95

 

From Kirkus Reviews:

Astonished to hear that their father had a drug-dealing brother in New York, newly orphaned Bob and his live-wire little sister, Marie Claire (aka Rat), hitchhike to the city from Winnipeg. For lack of a better plan, they wander Manhattan and the Bronx asking passersby if they know him. This strategy leads to encounters with a host of colorful city types, notably a pair of softhearted con men and a lonely rising rap star, plus plenty of terrific street theater and nights spent sleeping in, alternately, Central Park and a hyperluxurious apartment. And ultimately the children’s search is successful! Their information about Uncle Jerome is even (more or less) accurate, as he turns out to be the CEO of a huge pharmaceutical company. Though many of Hughes’ characters will sink emotional hooks into readers, Rat takes and earns center stage by glibly charming the pants off every adult, showing a winning mix of quick wits and vulnerability, and taking wild flights of imagination—her explanation of the (subtle) differences between a Windigo and a pedophile being a particular highlight. So appealing are they that when one of them suffers a tremendous blow, readers will feel it as intensely as the other characters. The dizzying highs intensify but also ameliorate that devastating low. Middle grade; ages 9 to 12.

 

9780763656966Tap Tap Boom Boom
by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Candlewick Press
32 pages
$16.99
 

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In toe-tapping, jazz-chant verse, author, bookseller, and PW blogger Bluemle (How Do You Wokka-Wokka?) writes about the way a sudden thunderstorm “makes friends/ of strangers.” At the story’s start, two boys in a playground gaze through iron railings at a girl in a yellow dress hurrying to keep up with her father. On an ordinary day she’d disappear into the crowd, but when the rain starts pelting down, the boys, the girl and her father, and half a dozen others dash for the subway station: “Feet wetter?/ You’d better/ go down/ underground,/ where the water/can’t getcha./ You betcha.” Over photographic images of subway fixtures, Karas (The Apple Orchard Riddle) draws people chatting, sharing pizza, and shrinking away as their dogs shake themselves off, balancing the force of the storm with the warmth of city-dwellers sharing an unexpected break in their day. Bluemle’s story unfolds on a scale just right for preschoolers, with plenty of hullaballoo, subtle attention to the senses, and an affirmation of the way misfortune can lead to small miracles. Ages 3–7.

Illustration from TAP TAP BOOM BOOM

Illustration from TAP TAP BOOM BOOM

 

 

 

 

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Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via Flavorwire.com.  From Art on the Block by Ann Fensterstock.

Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via Flavorwire.com. From Art on the Block by Ann Fensterstock.

While recently re-revisiting my SoHo book idea that seems forever stuck in Neverland, I was thinking about books of note have recently been written about SoHo.  There is, of course, Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho (2010) by Roslyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro, a history of the evolution of SoHo as told through the history of 80 Wooster Street and the people who lived there, as well as Soho: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony (2003) by Richard Kostelanetz, which is soon to be out in a revised edition, among other excellent books that have come out over the years (see list below).

There are two new books, however, published within the last year, that merit particular attention in case they’ve been overlooked by my fellow SoHo memoriticians.  The first is Ann Fensterstock’s Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from Soho to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond that follows the evolution of New York’s arts hubs over the past fifty years.  There is also the novel The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, about a young artist who moves to New York from Nevada and then finds her way to Italy where she becomes involved in a radical movement.  Although neither of these books focus solely on SoHo, the sections that do are quite compelling and each do their part in shaping our collective memory of SoHo in the 1970’s.

art on the blockIn Art on the Block, Ann Fensterstock, an art collector and art historian, traces the migration of the art world over the past fifty years, with a sharp focus on gallery owners, from Midtown to SoHo to the East Village to Brookyln and beyond to:

…reveal the impact of shifting real-estate markets, economic cycles, political movements, art-world producers, and consumers on contemporary art’s evolution. Rejecting any one explanation for the art world’s geographical, commercial, and aesthetic restlessness, Fensterstock instead presents “variables” to consider as she adeptly guides readers through the decades, from the decline of late-1960s Midtown modernism to 2010’s Lower East Side revival. (Publishers Weekly, June 24, 2013)

Chapters 3-6 of this book are a concise but thorough overview of the development of SoHo from the 1950’s through the end of the 20th century.  Beginning with the early years, Fensterstock explains how, due to the influence of zoning laws, the decline of manufacturing, LOMEX, and the specific needs of New York artists, SoHo came into being as a residential and commercial neighborhood for artists and then recounts how the pioneer gallerists of the SoHo art world shaped it into an international destination.

When it comes to I pleasure-reading, I tend to shy away from non-fiction, but I found Art on the Block so very readable and engaging.  Fensterstock is a seasoned storyteller, and although I felt that some the of sections on SoHo began to resemble shopping lists of galleries and their star artists, I knew who many, if not most, of them were, and I was thus drawn into the orbit of this history.  In addition, because this book places SoHo in a larger New York context, with an art world both pre-dating and existing elsewhere after SoHo was no longer a Mecca for gallery-goers, it presents the “big picture,” with SoHo being only one of the many stops on the art train.  SoHo is by no means a bit-player in this story, but Fensterstock’s longer lens provides a welcome perspective to my often myopic viewpoint.

flamethrowersAnd speaking of pleasure-reading, Rachel Kushner’s new novel, The Flamethrowers, is a true literary pleasure.  This woman knows how to write.  From the book’s jacket copy:

The year is 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art.  Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art.

Kushner’s Reno is a diminutive protagonist when compared to the entirety of the New York art world in Fentsterstock, but her world and words are no less expansive.  The reader is immediately drawn in to Kushner’s vast landscapes, the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the gritty streets of 1970’s downtown New York City, and the tumultuous streets of Rome filled with demonstrators and riot police, while simultaneously drawn out for a bird’s-eye view.  I’m no literary critic, but that seems like one groovy parlor trick.

Reno moves organically from place to place in search of the new and the fast, much like the art world does in Fensterstock’s book.  In the sections that take place in SoHo, we follow Reno as she experiences loft living at its most glamorous, a raucous dinner party complete with wacky characters and their scintillating conversations, to its most mundane, the brute work of gutting an industrial space of its machinery to make room for art and life, to its most disturbing, a mugging on a desolate street late at night.

Kushner’s SoHo is familiar without being predictable, as are her characters.  We meet several artists and strivers at various levels if success and renown as well as gallery owners vying for the favor of potential cash cows, all familiar-seeming and perhaps based on real people.  Judging from her author photo, Kushner is too young to have lived actually lived it, but she creates characters with authenticity without resorting to the hyper-reality of character types. Reno eventually leaves New York for Italy, where she is invited to drive a race car, and we are introduced to other landscapes peopled with other characters.  SoHo is once again one stop of many that Reno will probably make in her lifetime.

Anyway, this all is beginning to sound a lot like a college paper, so I think I’ll stop now.  My intention here was not to write book reports, but to let you all know that, in case you missed these books, there is some great new writing about SoHo out there.  I’ve included a list below of other books I’ve come across in my research.  This list is by no means exhaustive so please write in if you know of others!

Books:

Anderson, Laurie, Trisha Brown, and Gordon Matta-Clark. Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s. Munich: New York, 2011.

sohoguideAnderson-Spivy, Alexandra, and B J. Archer. Anderson & Archer’s Soho: The Essential Guide to Art and Life in Lower Manhattan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Attie, Dotty, and Sharyn Finnegan. Better Than Ever: Women Figurative Artists of the ’70s Soho Co-Ops. Brooklyn: Long Island University, 2009.

Bernstein, Roslyn, and Shael Shapiro. Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho. Vilnius, Lithuania: Jonas Mekas Foundation, 2010.

Block, René, Ursula Block, and Kurt Thöricht. New York, Downtown Manhattan, Soho: Ausstellungen, Theater, Musik, Performance, Video, Film : 5 September Bis 17 Oktober 1976 : [katalog]. Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 1976.

514yGItNS0L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Davidovich, Jaime. The Live! Show. Astoria, N.Y. (35th Avenue at 36th Street, Astoria, N.Y. 11106: American Museum of the Moving Image, 1989.

Dolkart, Andrew. Touring Lower Manhattan: Three Walks in New York’s Historic Downtown. New York: New York Landmarks Conservancy, 2000.

Edelson, Bob. Soho, Nyc. Soho, N.Y: Soho Book Project, 1993.

Fensterstock, Ann. Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from Soho to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

112-Greene-St-coverFiore, Jessamyn, and Louise Sørensen. 112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970-1974). Santa Fe, New Mexico: Radius Books, 2012.

Gayle, Margot, Robin Lynn, and Edmund V. Gillon. Friends of Cast Iron Architecture Presents a Walking Tour of Cast-Iron Architecture in Soho. New York: Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, 1983.

Gayle, Margot, and Edmund V. Gillon. Cast-iron Architecture in New York: A Photographic Survey. New York: Dover Publications, 1974.

Glassman, Carl. Soho, a Picture Portrait. New York: Universe Books, 1985.

Gratz, Roberta B. The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. New York: Nation Books, 2010.

Hudson, James R. The Unanticipated City: Loft Conversions in Lower Manhattan. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.

Kahn, Steve. Soho, New York. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

sohokostKostelanetz, Richard. Soho: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Robinson, David. Soho Walls: Beyond Graffiti. New York, N.Y: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Siegfried, Alanna, and Helene Z. Seeman. Soho: A Guide. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1978.

Simpson, Charles R. Soho, the Artist in the City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Stratton, Jim. Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston/galveston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/st. Paul, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland (maine) San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Washington D.c., New York. New York: Urizen Books, 1977.

61Y6JQ5684L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Tannenbaum, Allan. New York in the 70s: Soho Blues, a Personal Photographic Diary. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2009.

Taylor, Marvin J. The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Taylor, Paul, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, and Allan Schwartzman. After Andy: Soho in the Eighties. Melbourne, Australia: Schwartz City, 1995.

Tricarico, Donald. The Italians of Greenwich Village: The Social Structure and Transformation of an Ethnic Community. Staten Island, N.Y: Center for Migration Studies of New York, 1984.

Zukin, Sharon. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Fiction:

byrdByrd, C L. Soho. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1981

Innaurato, Albert. Coming of Age in Soho. New York, N.Y: Dramatists Play Service, 1985.

Kushner, Rachel. The Flamethrowers: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2013.

Periodicals:

NY Soho Arts Magazine. New York, N.Y: NY Soho Arts Magazine, 1996.

Soho Guide. New York, NY: Soho Partnership, 1994.

Soho Journal. New York, NY: SoHo Partnership, 1994.

Soho News. New York: Soho Weekly News, inc, 1973.

The Soho Weekly News. New York: Soho weekly news, 1973.

Reports:

Soho-cast Iron Historic District Designation Report. New York, 1973.

Soho/noho Occupancy Survey. New York City: Dept. of City Planning, 1985.

Other Media:

dr-videovich-with-toys_WEBA Visit to Soho. New York: Inner Tube Video, 1980. Video.

Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho. New York: Pathfinder, 1982. Sound recording.

The Live! Show. Chicago, Ill: Video Data Bank, 1982. Video.

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GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES Edited by Judith Stonehill

GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES
Edited by Judith Stonehill

As someone who blogs about memories of a bygone New York, the recently published Greenwich Village Stories, edited by Judith Stonehill, speaks to my heart and my mind.  Whereas I gather people’s recollections about pre-1990 SoHo, Stonehill collects stories of Greenwich Village pre-now, to create a mosaic portrait of this ever-changing neighborhood.  Published by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation in collaboration with Rizzoli, this “love letter to Greenwich Village, written by artists, poets, playwrights, musicians, restaurateurs, and other neighborhood habitués who each share a favorite memory of this beloved place. The sixty-six stories in this collection of Village memories are original and vivid—perfectly capturing the essence of the Village.”

Even people who have never been to NYC or who were born too recently to have “been there” have their own “memories” of Greenwich Village, through the countless films, television shows, songs, novels, poems, and images they have seen that focus on this famous (and infamous) neighborhood.  People who have lived or worked there have more concrete memories.  For some, the Village means their very first apartment, a walk up facing Sheridan Square for $40 a month, for others it is the cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery, enjoyed only vicariously through the taste buds of Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City.

That all of these are “memories,” no matter where or how they originated, speaks to the mythical nature of this neighborhood as well as its ability to transform itself depending on the eye of the beholder.  This is what makes these stories, these individual memories, so remarkable, especially when considered together as a group. At heart, they all describe the same essence of a place, one where creativity is nurtured and opportunity abounds, also a place where hard lessons are learned and children become adults, but the experiences surrounding this core vary spectacularly. Even so, Greenwich Village is recognizable to us in every tale.

Judith Stonehill has done a fantastic job curating this collection of gems. These stories and their accompanying illustrations are a record of a neighborhood and community, ever evolving. She has captured a very unique place that we all cherish, but, due to its singularity, that we know will never exist again as it was.

GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES
Edited by Judith Stonehill
In Association with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Universe Publishing, an imprint of Rizzoli
New York
Hardcover / 192 pages / 77 color and black-and-white illustrations
6 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2
PRICE: $29.95 US & CAN
www.rizzoliusa.com

 

The following excerpts provide only a glimpse of the riches that are to be found in Greenwich Village Stories.

 

Bleecker Street Cinema. Photo by Robert Otter. 1965. (GVS, page 65)

Bleecker Street Cinema. Photo by Robert Otter. 1965. (GVS, page 65)

Graydon Carter

In an age of cities,
there is just one village
that is known by people the world over:

Greenwich Village.

It got there by being small.
Let’s keep it that way.

(Page 31)

John Guare

I found my first apartment a while later on the corner of West 10th Street and West 4th Street where those streets collide in a burst of Village logic. I lived in a four-story walk-up with a twenty-foot ceiling and skylight, wood-burning fireplace, eat-in kitchen, bathroom with a tub and shower, looking out into a bunch of back- yard gardens. The rent? $32 a month. The previous tenants were two sisters who had lived there for forty years at $22 a month.

I found out Lanford Wilson lived cater-corner to me on the 4th Street side and knew him by this time. I’d open my window and sit there violently tapping the keys of my typewriter to torment him or he’d do the same to torment me.

In 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved out of their apartment at 1051⁄4 Bank Street up to the Dakota and I got the apartment, which had been a sculptor’s studio built in the garden. It had a thirty-foot ceiling with skylights and a spiral staircase up to the roof. That rent was a massive $500 a month. Pilgrims who didn’t know their idol and his wife had moved uptown flocked to my door and left me love letters.

(Page 64)

High Line train running on elevated tracks through what is now Westbeth. 1936. (GVS, page 66)

High Line train running on elevated tracks through what is now Westbeth. 1936. (GVS, page 66)

Robert Hammond

There were maybe twenty people there, and we heard a presentation by the Regional Plan Association, which had been commissioned by CSX, the railroad that owned the High Line. They discussed different options, from demolition to using it for freight to making a park up on top of it.

After that, people got up and spoke about why it was a bad idea to repurpose the High Line. It was a blight on the neighborhood. It was going to fall down any day. It was holding up the economic development of the area. It was dangerous. It was dark underneath. A whole litany of arguments, and really vehement. I was surprised at how strongly these people felt. I had been thinking about speaking at the meeting, but not after all that.

I stayed behind afterward, trying to find anyone else interested in saving the High Line. There was no one except the guy who had been sitting next to me. He told me his name was Joshua David.

I said, “Well, you know, I’m very busy, but if you start something, I could help.” And he said, “Well, I’m also very busy. Maybe you should start something.” We exchanged business cards and agreed to talk later.

(Pages 67-8)

Washington Square Serenade. Drawing/collage by Tony Fitzpatrick. 2008. (GVS page 35)

Washington Square Serenade. Drawing/collage by Tony Fitzpatrick. 2008. (GVS page 35)

Ed Koch

I moved to Greenwich Village in 1956. My first apartment was at 81 Bedford Street and subsequently, 72 Barrow Street and later, 14 Washington Place, from which I moved to Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. There were lots of things to like about the Village. One was my involvement with Citizens for [Adlai] Stevenson, the predecessor political club to the Village Independent Democrats (V.I.D.). He was running for president of the United States at the time against Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson’s speeches have never been equaled in style or substance. They were thrilling. I campaigned for him nightly in Sheridan Square, standing literally and occasionally on a soapbox.

While that was a very involving activity for me, there was one other even more fulfilling: eating dinner. At that time, there were three restaurants that I regularly went to because the food was truly delicious and very cheap. The oldest of the three was Louie’s, a bar in Sheridan Square in a building that is no longer standing. Louie’s veal parmigiana was $1.75, and beer was a dime a glass. Another restaurant was the Limelight on Seventh Avenue, which had prix-fixe dinners for $1.80, which I think ultimately increased to $2.50. With a delicious three-course dinner, plus coffee, you also got the opportunity to peruse photographs in a gallery provided by the owner of the restaurant.

Then there was the Lion’s Head on Christopher Street in Sheridan Square, near the offices of the Village Voice, where the food was superb and even more varied than the others and just as cheap, but not prix fixe. The reporters and authors of books, plus the politicians, made it their dinner table away from home. It is no longer there.

Later, when I was mayor, about 1978, a fourth restaurant, the Buffalo Roadhouse, opened on Seventh Avenue. I really loved it, especially during the summer, because it had outdoor space. Its hamburgers and soups have never been equaled, at least for me. I believe the owner wanted to upscale and changed to French cuisine. It ultimately closed, and I didn’t miss it.

(Page 92)

The Cardplayers, on Horatio Street. Photo by Ruth Orkin. 1947.

The Cardplayers, on Horatio Street. Photo by Ruth Orkin. 1947.

Jesse Malin

I think about the cycles a city goes through historically. People come and go; neighborhoods are built up, broken down, and reborn to find their place in time again. The streets walked by Emma Goldman, Bob Dylan, Charlie Parker, Diane Arbus, Allen Ginsberg, and Joey Ramone are the same streets my grandfather traveled from his tenement apartment to his high school to hear Albert Einstein speak. Even through all these changes, you can still find the art, the beauty, and even some trouble on these East Village streets. The sun still rises over Tompkins Square Park shedding light on a spray-painted wall that reads “The Future is Unwritten.”

(Page 105)

Wynton Marsalis

In 1981 I lived in the Village with my brother Branford. We had an apartment on Bleecker Street near Broadway. We must have been eighteen and nineteen years old then. Art Blakey lived there, too, and he got us into the building. I remember we used to leave the apartment at twelve o’clock at night and go to all of the clubs in the Village. We would go to the Tin Palace, the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, and Sweet Basil. I played a lot at a place called Seventh Avenue South, too. And then, we would go to get us some break- fast at Sandolino’s around 5 a.m. and come home about 6:30 in the morning. We called that “doing the circuit,” doing all the clubs like that in one night. I remember all the musicians and gigs down here in the Village. It was very colorful—it reminded me a lot of the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was much more integrated than the rest of New York City, with a lot of different people, no judgment, and a lot of freedom.

(Page 107)

Swimmer, Back Flip. Pier 49, Bank Street. Photo by Shelley Seccombe. 1979. (GVS, page 127)

Swimmer, Back Flip. Pier 49, Bank Street. Photo by Shelley Seccombe. 1979. (GVS, page 127)

Isaac Misrahi

My mother used to say, “If you want to be young forever, move to the Village.” I arrived more than twenty years ago and have lived here ever since. I will probably move out feet first.

(Page 121)

Ioannis Pappos

I was part of the cocky Hermès-tie invasion of the West Village. At the peak of the dot-com craze, I moved to New York and leased a loft on Leroy Street at the Printing House, which was practically a frat house for Wall Streeters. The annual rent could buy a small condo in Texas, but it was spacious. My first night I gave my bike a spin around the living room— I had arrived.

Right away I recognized that the West Village was in the throes of collision. It harbored a mishmash of different species and formed a battleground of sorts for MBAs like me with money (at least on paper) and subletting artists. We had Pastis and Da Silvano, they had El Faro and Tavern on Jane. We all mixed at Florent and rubbed shoulders, literally, at snug La Bonbonniere during hangover Sundays. Dog walkers and tattooed musicians would “Hey, man” me at Meatpacking District parties, and I felt somehow abashed—it was as though they picked up on every- thing about our white-collar raid and still they pardoned us. I wanted to see them fighting for rent-justice, I expected contempt and dirty looks, but those madcaps didn’t seem to give a damn. I envied them. As soon as the 9/11 mourning subsided, the Spotted Pig and six, seven (I’ve stopped counting) Marc Jacobs stores sealed my hood’s fate: being poor and marginal in the West Village was now almost suspicious.

(Page 126)

Mary Help of Christians R. C. Church, on East 12th Street. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. 1985. Despite community protest, the church was demolished in 2013.  (GVS, page 135)

Mary Help of Christians R. C. Church, on East 12th Street. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. 1985. Despite community protest, the church was demolished in 2013. (GVS, page 135)

Lou Reed

My favorite moments in the Village are always with the beautiful sun drifting over the Hudson River. And as I look out, I am taking photos in my mind or with one of my cameras. It’s always great for me to start the day with a beautiful photo and then three hours of tai chi, all these golden moments in the Village.

(Page 131)

Brooke Shields

The friendliness one encounters in the West Village is unlike that of any other area in the city. People still make eye contact and are actually interested to hear how you are doing. There is an Old World warmth you feel from your neighbors and a sense that they look out for each other. I am thrilled my girls are experiencing life in a real neighborhood in the middle of such a metropolitan city. I want them to grow up walking to school and knowing and supporting local shop owners and restaurant proprietors. We know our mailman! Whenever I describe our neighborhood to people, they think I live in Vermont or Connecticut. Nope, it’s the Village, I say. And I love it.

(Page 145)

Matt Umanov

In the early 1970s, when my guitar store was very small and located on a then-sleepy block of lower Bedford Street, we had well-known musician customers as well as the occasional clueless walk-in. On a particular day, a somewhat ragged-looking hippie-type kid walked in, took down a guitar from the display wall and started playing, quite badly. After ten minutes of torture, Susie, my wife at the time, and I were just on the verge of shutting this kid down and showing him the door when in walked Bob Dylan, a sometime regular there. Without saying a word, Bob picked up a guitar and started playing with the kid. They were, in a word, collectively awful, and if it hadn’t been Bob, we would’ve tossed them both, on general principles. They never said a word to each other, just played together, and after about fifteen minutes the kid put down the guitar and left.

(Page 161)

 

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Judith Stonehill is the author of New York’s Unique and Unexpected Places, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn. She was the co-owner of the New York Bound Bookshop. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was founded in 1980 to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. GVSHP is a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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71ZNXNXW9PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In recent posts, I’ve written about noteworthy New York independent bookstores from years past, namely, Sunwise Turn, founded and operated by Madge Jenison and Mary Mowbray-Clarke, which was located in midtown Manhattan from 1916 until it closed in 1927 and Gotham Book Mart, founded by Frances Steloff, an institution in literary New York for 87 years.  Another on the list of great New York biblio-hubs is Books & Co., owned and operated by Jeannette Watson from 1977-1997.

Back when Gotham Book Mart was still going strong in Midtown, Books & Co opened up on Madison Avenue and 74th Street, just south of the Whitney Museum.  Rather than becoming Gotham’s rival, the two stores peacefully coexisted as dual Meccas of independent bookselling.  As a matter of fact, according to Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. by Lynn Tillman, it was none other than Frances Steloff who once gave Jeanette Watson one of her most precious bits of advice.  “You never say to customers you’re out of a book; you walk them to the section.  Even if you don’t have the book, they may see something else they like,” (57) Steloff told Watson, and she took it to heart, creating an inviting bookstore where one was welcome to browse without the pressure to purchase.

In the beginning, Books & Co. was a partnership with Burt Britton, formerly the manager of the review books section at The Strand, who established some of Books & Co.’s signature traditions. It was Britton’s idea to have their books signed by the authors to add a personal touch, and he also invented “The Wall.”  Just to the left when you walked in to the store, the Wall represented spectrum of important works of literature, including many translations.  As the Wall became well known, writers came by often to see if their books were on it.  In January 1980, however, after falling on hard times due to lax bookkeeping and a large debt due to overstock (singed books could not be returned) Britton and Watson went separate ways.

After this separation, Watson worked tirelessly to make sure Books & Co. remained the cultural hub it had become.  The store hosted book signings, publishing parties, and author readings every week. Watson also had an art gallery in the store, putting up exhibitions of work she personally liked.  In the 1980’s, the store developed an extensive photography section in and had photography exhibitions of works by Andre Kertesz, Geoffrey James, and Lynn Davis, to name a few.

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Book & Co., founded by Jeannette Watson, was a New York institution from 1977-1997

Big box bookstores also have readings and books signings, but you do not often see the authors themselves browsing their shelves on their own time to see if their books have been placed front and center.  This is all left to publicity departments who pay a premium for advantageous placement.  At Books & Co., it was important to writers and readers alike to be part of the store’s inner-circle, to belong to the Books & Co. family.

When the big box stores started spreading throughout Manhattan, however, things eventually changed for Books & Co., not due to any diminishing sense of community, but due to the almighty dollar.  Sales dipped dramatically, and even the store’s most loyal customers could not resist buying books at a discount despite the fact that it meant shopping elsewhere. Watson recalls that “What Books & Co. offered, in the face of discounting, in place of discounting, was something more personal.  The feeling was we knew who came into our shop and what they like to read.” (Bookstore, 204)

But in the end that was not enough to keep the store going, and it closed its doors in 1997.  “I didn’t know exactly what I should feel, what the bookstore represented,” she says of the store’s closing: “It was greater than any one individual’s feelings.  I felt sad that the city would lose this bookstore—if I were one of my customers, that’s what I would say.  I do feel that the bookstore, in the way its been run by me for twenty years, is anachronistic.  If the bookstore were going to continue, it would have to be totally changed, computerized, Internetted.  Books & Co. was like the last nineteenth-century bookstore in the twentieth century, almost the twenty-first.  I wish I could have passed on the mantle and I wish there were someone who would be willing to take the bookstore, invent it in a new way, a modern way, and continue to have great books, the good books, and all the readings” (Bookstore, 272)

 

 

 

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Only by embracing the lessons embedded in our city’s history can we avoid repeating the failed policies of both the recent and distant past, and have true clarity about what action is required to correct today’s public policies. The Poor Among Us is not just a history; it is a foreboding and a call to action.

—Ralph da Costa Nunez, co-author of The Poor Among Us

 

The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Homelessness in New York City - See more at: http://www.icphusa.org/Bookstore/Featured/#sthash.knKu2jPf.dpuf

The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Homelessness in New York City – See more at: http://www.icphusa.org/Bookstore/Featured/#sthash.knKu2jPf.dpuf

Last month, The New York Times ran a much-read and discussed series of five articles entitled “Invisible Child,” profiling 11-year-old Dasani (pseudonym), a homeless child living with her family in the decrepit Auburn Family Residence in Fort Greene, a Brooklyn neighborhood where there are also million dollar homes.  According to the source notes for the series:

Andrea Elliott, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, began following Dasani and her family in September 2012. The series is written in the present tense, based on real-time reporting by Ms. Elliott and Ruth Fremson, a photographer with The Times, both of whom used audio and video tools.

Throughout the year, Dasani’s family also documented their lives in video dispatches from the Auburn Family Residence, which does not allow visitors beyond the lobby. Ms. Elliott and Ms. Fremson gained access to the shelter to record conditions there.

Mayor Bill de Blasioreferred to Dasani and her neighborhood to illustrate the economic disparity that exists in New York when he announced his appointment of Lillian Barrios-Paoli as his Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services by saying:

The story of this one young lady, Dasani, I can tell you–having criss-crossed the city and talked to all sorts of people in the course of this week–that it’s been gripping to a lot of people. It’s been gripping to all of us who are part of this transition. It’s not that we didn’t know these problems exited before, but to see them through the eyes of one child and one family brings it home in a very forceful way. (source: politicker.com)

One of de Blasio’s priorities as mayor will be to address New York City’s homelessness crisis and to change the way the city treats its poor, recently putting out his Five Point Plan to Reduce Homelessness.

Homelessness is a social issue at the forefront of New Yorkers’ minds.  The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) has launched two indispensable resources to help the public understand this complex and important issue, a book and a website.

The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Homelessness in New York City by Ralph da Costa Nunez, president and CEO of ICPH and professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and Ethan G. Sribnick, senior research associate at ICPH is a new book, published by White Tiger Press, that focuses on New York’s poor children and families.  According to the book’s press release:

Conditions that perpetuate homelessness and poverty today have deep roots in America’s past. The Poor Among Us explores the world of New York’s poor children and families, from the era of European settlements to the present day: their physical and social environments, the causes of their poverty, and the institutions and social movements that evolved to improve and regulate their lives. This comprehensive history examines the successes and failures of past efforts to reduce poverty and homelessness, providing the historical context that is often lacking in contemporary policy debates.

Poor Among Us uses more than 100 photographs, etchings, and maps to bring the reader face-to-face with the experience of poverty and homelessness throughout New York City’s past and present. Dozens of accounts of children and adults — from those experiencing poverty firsthand to the philanthropic reformers working on their behalf — provide a window into what it was like to live during each time period.  Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

At the end of the 19th century, Jacob Riis did this with the publication of How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890), a groundbreaking early publication of photojournalism that documents squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s. Like Poor Among Us, Riis used the power of images to illustrate and underscore the terrible plight of “how the other half lives.”

 

Boys Wait in the Children's Aid Society Offices (image: nypl)

Boys Wait in the Children’s Aid Society Offices (image: nypl)

PovertyHistory.org is a new interactive Web site launched by ICPH detailing New York City’s long history of poverty and homelessness that “investigates public policies that have shaped the lives of poor and homeless New Yorkers. With comprehensive timelines, analytical maps, striking images, primary sources, and informative essays, the site is a valuable resource for students, teachers, service providers, and policymakers with an interest in the history of these seemingly intractable issues.”

Photo from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (image: getty images)

Photo from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (image: getty images)

One hopes that the work of ICPH, as well as the recent reporting in The New York Times and our mayor’s new initiatives will open the eyes of a public who, though aware of New York’s homelessness and poverty problems, often feels powerless to effect change and thus often look away instead of facing the issue head on.

Read a discussion of How the Other Half Lives from The Big City Book Club hosted by Ginia Bellafante at The New York Times: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/category/big-city-book-club/

View a slideshow of Riis’ images: http://news.yahoo.com/photos/how-the-other-half-lives-photos-capture-new-york-slums-in-1890-slideshow/

 

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