Thursday, December 10, 2015

Quarters A (aka the Commandant's House)

If you find yourself maddened by the city, and are in the mood for a quieter setting, but don't want to spend much more than subway fare, I suggest taking a stroll through the Vinegar Hill district of Brooklyn - immediately east of DUMBO.
Unbelievably quiet for being so close to the Manhattan Bridge, with hardly a soul around, the streets here have quite a small-town feel.

The area holds one of Brooklyn's shortest streets, Little Street...

...which ends at what was once Quarters A of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The three-floor, Federal-styled mansion is mostly known as the Commandant's House, and was built a little after the founding of Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1801

Overlooking the Navy compound to its east, it has always been the home of the first officer in charge. Residents of note include: Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who signed the 1841 treaty to trade with Japan, and Silas Stringham, who fought pirating along the African seas in 1845. The property was sold by the Navy in 1964, and has been a private residence since. In 1974, the building gained National Historic Landmark status.
Walking this neighborhood has some odd sights for being within the city limits...

...but, along the way, there are a few reminders of where you're at.

Never change, NYC.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Midtown Marvels (Part Two)

Continuing our walk in Midtown Manhattan head over to Fifth Avenue, and 42nd Street, to see the Main Branch of the New York Public Library, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. It holds a lot of inspirational material, both, works that will inspire you, and pieces which have inspired famous writers.
One collection the building holds is what influenced Alan Alexander Milne to write the children's favorites, Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926, and the 1928 follow-up, The House at Pooh Corner.
Passing through the main entrance, between the lions Patience & Fortitude (which were originally called Leo Astor, and Leo Lenox, after the library’s philanthropist founders, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox)...

...turn right, and then - at the end of the hall - left toward the Children's Room. There you will find a group of stuffed animals under glass. These toys belonged to Christopher Robin Milne, son of Pooh author A.A., and were what influenced him to take literary trips to The Wood. Within the casing you can see the original Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, and Edward Bear (later renamed "Winnie-the-Pooh").

Sadly, Roo had been lost for some time, and is not with his friends. In 2009, Lottie the Otter, was added to the bunch to advertise the Disney book Return to Hundred Acre Wood, but has since been removed.
The doll assortment was purchased at action by Milne's U.S. publisher E.P. Dutton for $2500, and donated to the Main Branch of the NYPL in 1956.

While the Pooh assemblage alone is a great reason to visit this branch of New York City's many libraries, there is so much more to see just at this one branch.
The building still holds parts of the original Croton Distributing Reservoir, which served as a basin for the city's drinking water from 1842 until 1899 (built after it was a potter's field)...

...and beautiful pre-WWII swastikas, which adorn the marble walls.

The Schwarzman Building holds many other oddities, such as a lock of hair from Frankenstein author Mary Shelley (in the Pforzheimer Collection), 40,000+ restaurant menus, cuneiform tablets dating from 2050 B.C. (within the Manuscripts and Archives Division), an 1820 letter from a dying John Keats to his sweetheart, a first print of the Declaration of Independence, Walt Whitman’s personal first edition copy of his book, Leaves of Grass, Charles Dickens' cats paw letter opener (in the Berg Collection room), an original copy of a Gutenberg bible...

...and quite a number of antique phone booths.

There are also plenty of free exhibits every so often (check their website here for events), but this library also contains wonderful permanent art adorning the halls, such as the ceiling of the McGraw Rotunda.

While one can visit their website for info, if you have a question - any question under the sun! - you can call their Answer Zone at 917-ASK-NYPL (917-275-6975), which has been in service since 1968.
When done indoors, head outside - behind the library - to Bryant Park. This area was designated a public space as far back as 1686 by New York's colonial governor, Thomas Dongan. In 1823, the location was turned into a potter's field (a burial place for the poor and undocumented) until 1840.
In 1980, Dan Biederman (chairman of Time, Inc.), and Andrew Heiskell (of the New York Public Library), founded the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, and began to restore the land. Around this time the library built huge storage facilities under the park, as the public space was renovated above ground. Still, it's odd to find a merry-go-round spinning atop a graveyard, but this blog's all about the weird.

As you circle about, you can check out many of the statues in the park such as a bronze sculpture of Mexican president Benito Juárez (by Moises Cabrera Orozco), one of writer Gertrude Stein (by Jo Davidson), and a bust of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (by sculptor Karl Fischer).

Placed on a Swedish, black, granite pedestal, the bronze statue was originally displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but was relocated to Bryant Park in 1932.

Lastly, one shouldn't forget that the SW corner of the park (W 40th Street and Avenue of the Americas) is Nikola Tesla Corner.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Midtown Marvels (Part One)

The three main spots I'll be writing of this time around are all almost next to one another in Midtown Manhattan.
Starting at 154 W 55th Street, and - almost directly across from a very odd street sign -

there is an old stable house that still stands. It is the last of a half-dozen that peppered the immediate area.

Built in 1888 by Charles T. Barney (president of the Knickerbocker Trust Company), the ground floor was for the horses of the area's wealthy. The second floor was for the stable workers' living quarters, but the top floor was rented out cheap to artists who could stand the smell.

Known as the Holbein Studios they were home to art luminaries like impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam, Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent (who was the leading portrait paint of the time).
Next is around the block, located two streets up, at 123 57th Street. There, one can see the only ATM in New York City that pays out in gold coins or bars.

Installed in front of a coin store in 2012, it is currently still there, but out of commission. If it were working, I am curious as to how many people would actually use it?

The only other ATMs in the U.S. that also distribute gold can be found at two Golden Nugget Casinos; one in Las Vegas, and the other in Atlantic City.
Lastly, march one block east to see a huge number nine in front of the Solow Building at Nine 57th Street.

Weighing in at two tons (1.8 tonnes), the work was erected in 1974, and was designed by artist Ivan Chermayeff. The piece was created - believe it or not - to distract one's eye from the fact that the slope of the Solow Building reflects a poor view of the neighboring properties.
If you find yourself with time to kill, and you want to stay in the district, I have two more sites you must see. They are a bit of a walk from 57th, though I don't think chess fanatics will mind the trip down to 48th to see a giant chessboard.
While the official address of the board is 767 3rd Avenue, you will find it against the side of 212 E 48th Street.

The four-storey high chessboard uses 2ft (0.3m) diameter pieces, in blue and beige, to recreate world famous matches. A flag indicates whose move is next, with the corresponding piece's action committed each Wednesday. The curious may enter the lobby of the board's address to ask the concierge for a pamphlet on the current game in progress.
The second stop is one which you'll need a few hours to completely take in, so I'll save it for a post of its own. Tune in later this month.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay is many things to many people. It’s a small inlet beach that overlooks Rockaway Point to the south, and Point Breeze to the north. Located on Floyd Bennett Field, which was once called Barren Island, until a landfill created a connection between it, and mainland Brooklyn, in 1926. It’s a place to collect antiques, or find fossilized horse bones, and a testament to mankind’s hubris.
Folks used to live here in the mid-1800s, and from 1850 through 1930 the area got its name from the near-30 horse rendering plants that used the animal’s carcasses to manufacture glue, fertilizer and hair brushes. The addition of fish oil factories, and the odor caused most to move away.
Around the late-1920s, the city began to use the area as a landfill, dumping trash, and later covering it with beach sand from Jamaica Bay.
In 1950, the landfill burst underwater, and the rubbish has been leaking since, washing up along the shoreline.
A visit during high tide leaves one depressed enough with the sight of glass shards everywhere, but low tide can send one into a fit, as you traverse through a line, two meters thick, of full bottles, old machinery and miscellaneous waste that runs the shore of the entire peninsula.
The area hasn’t lost its reputation for garbage collecting, as a few boat owners have beached their unwanted crafts, which are later hit by visiting graffiti artists, and vandals. The trees are often decorated with beach debris, and the trails are normally a dumping ground for those who feel they carried too many superannuated bottles full of sand before heading back to their car.
Dead Horse Bay is a sight that one must see for themselves to truly get a grasp of what we are doing to our planet.
Photos do not do this unnatural injustice to nature any justice, but here you go anyhow.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Normandie Metal + Dodgers' Office + Kennedy(s) + H.P. Lovecraft

If you find yourself in Brooklyn, around Borough Hall, start this little walk at the NE corner of Remsen and Henry Streets, at the Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Cathedral. The two doors facing both streets hold some of the last remains of the SS Normandie.


The French ocean liner entered service in 1935, having only the RMS Queen Mary as her closest rival. At that time, she was the largest and fastest passenger ship, and still holds the record as the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship.
In 1940, after France fell to the Germans, the U.S. confiscated the SS Normandie, while docked in New York City's harbor. The ship became part of the United States Navy in 1941, and renamed the SS Lafayette. In February of 1942, as the liner was being refitted off a NYC pier to become a troop ship, a welding spark set off a fire, which caused the entire vessel to burn, and then capsize. The wreckage was not removed until 1946, and took two years to finish.
Not much remains of the Normandie; an entire corner is preserved at the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art, a bronze statue (found in a NJ junkyard in 1954) is in Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel, plenty of scattered crystal from the dining salon's massive Lalique torchières, some silverware, and the ten large dining-room door medallions currently displayed on the church doors.

Now, walk up Henry, and then right on Montague Street to 211 Montague, once home to the Brooklyn Dodger's offices. The 1998 plaque celebrates that it's where they signed Jackie Robinson in 1945, becoming the first African-American in the major leagues.

Look across the street, into Columbus Park, and you may lock eyes with Robert F. Kennedy. While the park has a statue to Columbus, and Henry Ward Beecher, as well as hold the Korean War Veterans' Plaza, two Kennedy memorials are here: Robert Kennedy's 1972 bust by sculptor Anneta Duveen, and - just behind it - a tree planted in 1963 by Brooklyn Borough President, Abe Stark, for John F. Kennedy.

Lastly, head south on Court Street, with a right (west) on State Street to the corner of State and Clinton to see 169 Clinton, the one-time home of horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 - 1937), inventor of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft lived here in 1925, and hated the area so much he penned the short story "The Horror at Red Hook" while living there, though it wasn't published until 1927 in Weird Tales.

He wrote to his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith:

The idea that black magic exists in secret today, or that hellish antique rites still exist in obscurity, is one that I have used and shall use again. When you see my new tale "The Horror at Red Hook", you will see what use I make of the idea in connexion with the gangs of young loafers & herds of evil-looking foreigners that one sees everywhere in New York.

Woops! It's no wonder modern scholars have such a problem with HP's legacy.