Friday, April 21, 2017

Plymouth Church

Sad to say, this is the last post for This Hidden City, as I've been swamped with new projects, as well as work. Still, you can enjoy this post, and 73 others (dating back to 2013), that should keep anyone busy in NYC for ages.
With that said, let's check out Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, and all the interesting things inside.
Based in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of the borough, at 57 Orange Street (between Henry and Hicks Streets), this historic church was founded in 1847, and built in 1850, when Brooklyn was still its own city. The building was constructed in a classic 19th century urban tabernacle style, with Italianate and colonial patterned architecture, designed by one of the founders of the American Institute of Architects, Joseph C. Wells.

Started by a congregation of a little over twenty members, which included wealthy businessmen John Tasker Howard, David Hale and Henry C. Bowen, the plot was purchased from the original church that stood on the grounds; First Presbyterian Church. Plymouth flock's first preacher was Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe), who became infamous for his mock slave auctions, and an important figure in the early abolitionist movement. Thanks to his work, the church became known as "the Grand Central Depot" in what is known as the Underground Railroad.
In the garden along Orange Street, there is a statue of Henry Ward Beecher, which was designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who helped create the Mount Rushmore Memorial (and - strangely enough - was a member of the Ku Klux Klan).

The garden also holds the original tower bell from when the church was built.

In what is known as the church's "arcade" there sits what is deemed to be a piece of the Plymouth Rock, above a plaque that reads: "The Door Stone of American Liberty." Plymouth Church acquired the rock (as well as its Tiffany Studios stained glass windows) in 1934 after merging with the nearby Church of the Pilgrims.

The church gives tours upon request, as well as open tours every so often on Sundays, so you can call them to check all this out yourself. On these tours, one can see the entirety of the grounds, the garden, the Sanctuary, Hillis Hall, and even the basement where many slaves were hidden from persecution.

Plymouth Church was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on July 4, 1961, and named a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Well, it's been a fun five years working on this blog, and visiting New York City's lesser known spots. I hope you have enjoyed my posts, and - with or without me - keep on discovering the hidden gems this city has to offer.
Lastly, feel free to check in on the other things I'm up to on my personal website:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bartow-Pell Mansion

The Bartow-Pell Mansion is located in the extreme northeast section of the Bronx borough, within Pelham Bay Park.
In 1654, a British doctor living in Connecticut, Thomas Pell, purchased 9000 acres from the Siwanoy tribe of the Wappinger Native-American Confederacy, and King Charles II employed it as the Manor of Pelham in 1666. His nephew, Sir John Pell, was willed the land, and finished building a house on the shores of Long Island Sound in 1670 (which is now gone).
By 1770 the estate was whittled down to 220 acres. and then purchased by Herman Leroy in 1813. A descendant of the Pell family, Robert Bartow, bought it back in 1836, and construction soon began on the house that now sits on the property, which was finished in 1842.

Built in a Federalist form, the architecture also blended a Grecian style of stone work, and the interior was designed in the Greek Revival spirit.

The land and home were owned by the Bartow-Pell family until 1888, when it was sold to the state of New York. It laid in ruin for some time, until it was leased to horticulturalist Zelia Hoffman in 1914 to use for her group, the International Garden Club. By 1917, the garden was restored to its current glory.

The group then turned their attention to the house, where they rebuilt the beautiful spiral staircase.

One of the rooms still holds a piece of what is called the "Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak"; the only tree to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times (April 9, 1906).

Once found on Shore Road, the tree is said to be the location where Thomas Pell signed the original treaty for the land with the local Native Americans on November 14 of 1654, though the iron fence that once surrounded it still stands.
Out back, behind the garden, is the family burial plot, designed in 1891 by Lord of the Manor (and grandson of Thomas Pell), Benjamin Pell. The four granite posts have the family coat of a pelican, as well as a different inscription - marking an important date in Pell family history - on each post.

In the summer of 1936, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia used the Bartow-Pell Mansion to oversea the development of Pelham Bay Park's Orchard Beach. The grounds were left unattended until 1946, when it was opened to the public as a museum, and later designated a National Historic Landmark (1978).
In 2008, the land was granted a fund by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has since been managed by the Heritage Conservation Network's non-profit organization Adventures in Preservation, which has recently restored the exterior of the building.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Esoteric In Grand Central Terminal

I'm back from vacation, and for This Hidden City's 3rd Anniversary post, I thought I'd cover some of the lesser known (and seen) aspects of a place most locals and tourist have entered: Grand Central Terminal. I'll also try to dispel some myths along the way.
For the few unaware, Grand Central Terminal is the railroad terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Though another building, also called Grand Central Station, had been in use since 1871, it was torn down. The Main Concourse Building there now was built from 1903 to 1913 by, both, the architecture firm of Warren & Wetmore and Reed and Stem WASA Studio. It is different from what is now known as Grand Central Station, as that is a subway stop, and Grand Central Terminal is where all Metro-North Railroad train lines end (soon the East Side Access project will connect the Long Island Rail Road there as well).
While all other Metro-North stations are owned and managed by Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Grand Central Terminal is owned by Midtown TDR Ventures.
We'll start outside, and work our way around inside, until we reach its very depths and heights. As you enter on 42nd Street, one can look up 48 ft (15 m) to see the statue of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury, titled "Glory of Commerce", which was designed by the French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan, and carved by the John Donnelly Company. Within the statue is the world's largest Tiffany clock, stretching 13 ft (4 m) across.

The clock was installed in 1914, but was heavily damaged throughout the years. In 1992, Rohlf’s Studio in Mt. Vernon began repairs. Since access to the clock was only available via one set of small stairs, it had to be disassembled piece by piece, and the repairs were not finished until 2004.
Walking to the center of Grand Central Terminal, we find another amazing clock atop the information booth. Created in 1913, by Seth Thomas Clock Company of Connecticut, the clock is worth $10,000,000, due to the huge convex opal faces on all four sides. The top of the clock holds a compass, pointing to true north with 100% accuracy.

Still looking up, we now notice the ceiling of the Main Concourse. The astronomical design was the idea of Warren Vanderbilt, and it was completed by Hewlett-Basing Studio, with consultation by Warren's friend, portrait artist Paul C├ęsar Helleu. Sadly, they screwed it up, and drew out the constellations backward (reversed left-to-right). Instead of admitting their mistake, the Vanderbilts claimed it was meant to be seen from the viewpoint of the Heavenly Father. Though that still makes no sense, if it were so, why would most of the star sequences be correct, but the constellation order out of place?

Now, if you look near Pisces, you may notice a small hole in the sky.

Myth has it that, in a 1957 bid to redress anxiety due to the successful launch of the Soviet's Sputnik satellite, a U.S. Mercury Redstone missile was displayed in the hall, but at 6 inches (15 cm) too long, they dug out a hole so the rocket could fit. While most of the facts are true, the reason for the hole is not. It is actually what remains from where they installed an anchor holding a stabilizing wire to the rocket's tip. Feel free to do the math: ceiling height = 125 ft (38 m), rocket length = 70 ft (21 m).
On the other side of the ceiling, near the crab constellation known as Cancer, is a very fitting reminder about the hazards of smoking.
By the 1980s, the ceiling was pitch black, and thought to be caused by diesel and coal engine smoke from the idling trains. In 1984, they performed Spectroscopic studies, and found it was actually nicotine and tar from cigarettes. It took 12 years to clean up the mess, but they left one brick as black as they found it, as a reminder of what many of us are doing to our lungs.

Now, look back to the photo of the Information Booth Clock, and one can see the windows in the background. As you may have noticed, there are walkways within those windows. Known as the "glass catwalks" - as they are made from sheets of glass block, fitted between metal girding - the walkways connect offices on either side of the building.

The view from up there is pretty great, too.

Back down on solid ground, we walk under many of the 35,000 exposed light bulbs... the 2,000 sq-foot (186 sq-m) chamber between the Main Concourse and Vanderbilt Hall, just outside the Dining Concourse. Here, you will find what many call the "whisper gallery". To get a little thrill, just plant your nose in one of the corners, and whisper whatever you'd like to someone doing the same in an opposing corner.

Oddly enough, no one knows if this effect was purposefully created, or is a happy accident of its construction.
As previously mentioned, Vanderbilt Hall is right next to the Dinning Concourse.

This area used to be Grand Central Terminal's waiting room, but is currently only used for special events or the terminal's yearly Christmas Market. Though roped off, one can venture in, and see the depressions made on the marble floor (worn out from 100 years of commuters' footsteps).
Heading underground, thirteen storeys down in fact...

...we pass 500,000,000-year-old bedrock...

...into one of the world's deepest basements. The 49-acre (20 ha) sub-basement is the largest in the city. It holds one of the most infamous rooms, known as M-42, which accommodates the old rotary AC-to-DC converters. Though all rail lines now run off solid-state converters, these old machines once supplied track current, nonstop.

Because of that, the room isn't even on Terminal blueprints. Well, that, and fear of subterfuge.
You see, in June of 1942, the Germans launched "Operation Pastorius", where four Abwehr agents were dropped off by submarine off the coast of Amagansett in Long Island (another four landed in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL). They were to sneak into M-42 with explosives, and destroy it, as well as a list of bridges, water treatment plants, and other rail stations.

The plan failed after one of the crew, George John Dasch (who disagreed with Nazi policies), gave up the rest.
The room known as M-42 also has what is considered to be the world's first electronic computer. It was built by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, in 1913, to help the terminal find trains that had broken down in tunnels. It was run through the use of an electric cord a conductor could pull if stalled, causing a bell to ring.

The system became obsolete by 1922, thanks to radio communication, but the computer is still on display, intact.
Last stop for this post is just under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel...

...and is known as Roosevelt's Station, though officially titled Track 61.

The abandoned train line was built in 1929 for all sorts of VIPs, with the first to use the track being General John "Black Jack" Pershing in 1938. It was made most famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and used to hide his disability due to polio.
The train that now sits there is said to be FDR's personal armored train car, but a simple internet search of the car's serial number shows it is an old Metro North Commuter baggage car parked there in 1985.

Still, the elevator that used to take FDR and other important folks up to the hotel is there, though - admittedly - not as exciting to see.

Thanks for coming with me this far, as I hope to continue to keep posting way past this anniversary.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Hole

About a year ago, I posted how - if you wanted to visit a part of New York City that was more small-town, than big-city - you should visit the Vinegar Hill district of Brooklyn (click here to read more). If even that spot seems too urban for you, I would suggest a visit to an area known as "The Hole".
This is a part of the city that is almost completely rural in look, and feel, yet still retains a very New York quality.

It's a place where the sidewalks inexplicably end into wooded areas...

...and the puddles never seem to drain.

Located on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, the five-block area is disputed to be a part of East New York, Howard Beach or Ozone Park, but neither neighborhood claim it as part of their district.
Located on the north side of Linden Blvd, between S Conduit Ave and Drew St, the whole place lies 10 meters (32ft) below sea level, and is prone to severe flooding.
The following photo is of the intersection of Emerald St and Dumont Ave, with the last rain a week before the pic was taken.

Sadly, this has caused many of the residents to move out, leaving quite a number of abandoned single-family homes, giving the community its title of being a "lost neighborhood".

Some lovingly refer to the region as "the Wild West", and there are parts that do seem lawless.

Speaking of "Wild West", if you're done walking the area, and would still like to check out some of the history nearby, head over to where Linden Blvd meets S Conduit Ave. There sits an idyllic ranch that was once the home to the New York City Federation of Black Cowboys.

The organization was dedicated to keeping the memory and tradition of African-American cowboys alive, and honored the 8000+ black cowboys of the Western Frontier. The group held youth programs, rodeos, and visits from schools, using horsemanship to teach local youth important life skills.

The property now belongs to GallopNYC, a non-profit helping the disabled through therapeutic horsemanship, though if you hang around the area long enough, you may just spot one of the ol' wranglers.

Monday, October 17, 2016

John Bowne House + Old Quaker Meeting House

In the north-east section of Queens sits much of an old Dutch town, later absorbed by the expanding NYC borough. Flushing, originally called Vlissing, was established in 1645 by a charter of the Dutch West India Company (part of the New Netherland colony).
The area is rich in the history of religious freedom, due to a theological battle between New Amsterdam Director-General Peter Stuyvesant, farmer John Bowne, and the local Quaker population. It seemed the religion of Quakerism was, at that time, prohibited by Puritanical decree. A group of thirty residents drafted, and signed, a petition known as The Flushing Remonstrance, on December 27, 1657, forcing the Dutch governance to allow freedom of religious practice.
After George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends (more commonly known as Quakers) in England, he traveled to "the New World", and began preaching in a small grove of oak trees in Flushing, 1672. There now stands a pyramid-shaped rock to memorialize the spot where many congregated to hear him speak.

Directly across the street is John Bowne's house.
Despite the ban on Quakers, Bowne held meetings in his home, and he was soon arrested by Stuyvesant. After expulsion to Holland, John appealed, and won his case to worship freely.

Built in 1661, the site was also a stop in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
Though additions have been added to the original structure, much of the interior is preserved, and holds furniture, clothing, and work tools, dating back to when it was originally constructed.

Located at 37-01 Bowne Street, family members lived in the home until 1947, when they donated it to the city as a museum. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Now, walking north, one turns west (left) on Northern Blvd to see the original Flushing Town Hall.

Built in 1862, it was the seat of the Flushing town government, until the area was consolidated with New York City in 1898. The building became a New York City Landmark in 1968, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Just across the boulevard is the Old Quaker Meeting House.

After returning to the Americas, John Bowne bought the land in 1692, and, now free to hold Quaker services, quickly began work on a house of worship. Finished in 1694, the first recorded meeting was held on November 24th, making it one of the oldest religious chapels in the United States.

In 1776, the house was seized by the British, and converted to barracks, as well as a hospital and prison. After the Revolutionary War, the Quakers were allowed to return in 1783.
Along the rear of the building is the Quaker graveyard, which was established sometime in the 1670s, and is the reason the land was purchased to construct the meeting house. Though it is believed Bowne (and his wives) is buried here, Quakers did not use tombstones until 1820, so there is no way to know for certain. Graves of note include: abolitionists William Burling and Matthew Franklin; founder of The New York Gas Light Company, Samuel Leggett; John Murray, Jr., founders of the Free School Society and Society for the Manumission of Slaves.

The Landmark Preservation Commission designated the Old Quaker Meeting House a landmark in 1970.
If you are still walking the neighborhood, looking for old churches and cemeteries, head south on Main Street to see St. George's Church.

While established in 1702, as a mission of the Church of England by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, their first church in the U.S. was not built until 1746. In 1821, after purchasing new land, a second church was constructed on its current property of 135-32 38th Avenue, though the building there now is the third structure on the site (constructed in 1854).
In September of 2010, the infamous "Brooklyn Tornado" blew the 45-foot wooden steeple off the tower, crushing a NYC bus. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the steeple was rebuilt in 2013.
The church is surrounded by a cemetery, which was in use until 1887. Grave markers (about fifty) and burial vaults (nine) are found throughout the grounds, except for its main entrance along Main St. It is believed a few graves actually lie under 38th Street's asphalt.

The church, as well as its graveyard, were made a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2000.