Thursday, June 25, 2015

BRONX PORTRAITS: People of the South Bronx

Many well-known people have either been born or lived in the Bronx.  They constitute a very long listing: scientists like Leonard Susskind and Neil deGrasse Tyson;  visual artists like Margaret Bourke-White and Larry Rivers;  authors like E. L. Doctorow and Edgar Allen Poe;  actors like Lauren Bacall and Al Pacino;  film directors like Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen;  musicians like Roberta Peters and Robert Moog;  political figures like Bella Abzug and Colin Powell;  sports figures like Nate Archibald and Cus D'Amato;  and business leaders like B. Gerald Cantor and Collis Potter Huntington.

The Bronx Walk of Fame: Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Rock Steady Crew, Grand Concourse, The Bronx, NYC

The Bronx Walk of Fame: Valerie Capers, Joe Franklin, Grand Concourse, The Bronx, NYC

Some of these famous Bronxites also have joined a group of approximately 100 citizens through induction into the Bronx Walk of Fame, an annual recognition that began in 1997 and takes place during Bronx Week. 

Originally celebrated as Bronx Day, Bronx Week began in 1971. The Bronx Walk of Fame recipients have their name displayed on a streetpole on the Bronx's most famous thoroughfare, the Grand Concourse, as seen in the two photographs above.

Here we see Dr. Ruth Westheimer (sex therapist inducted in 2008) and Rock Steady Crew (hip hop and break dancing group inducted in 2008) in the top photo, and Valerie Capers (blind jazz pianist inducted in 2012) and Joe Franklin (radio and television host inducted in 1999) in the photo below. 

An average of five Bronx people are inducted each year into the Bronx Walk of Fame.  Only Dr. Ruth, so far, has neither lived nor been born in the Bronx; but she had so many connections with the Borough that she became an "honorary Bronxite."

Besides the famous (and the infamous), however, the Bronx, like every other place, boasts an enormous variety of interesting citizens and personalities. Their mere presence enhances the Borough's quality of life, and their activity and commitment to the Bronx, even if not (yet) broadly recognized, is something to be celebrated.

The photographs below do this; they celebrate a few of the people of the South Bronx whom I managed to capture candidly during my wanders over the past year. My captions give only first names and where the photograph was taken.

Mychal: Social Activist, 138th Street, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Afzal: Pharmacist, 138th Street, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Danny: Dry Cleaner, 138th Street, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Philip: Web Designer, Ryder Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Amir: Restaurateur, Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Edwin: Cinematographer, Bronx Documentary Center, Melrose, The Bronx, NYC

Kyle: Copwatcher, Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Joe: Photographer, Bronx Documentary Center, Melrose, The Bronx, NYC

Evelyn & Mark: Stepping Out, East 140th Street, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Carlos & Franklin: Stoop-Sitting, Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Reynaldo, Sean & Tony: Jamaican Corner, Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

David & Friends, 3rd Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Grandma Mary with Destiny/Nevah/Paris/Dante/Ariana, 3rd Avenue, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Climate Justice Meeting, Brook Park, 141st Street, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Three Men: Summer Stage, St. Mary's Park, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Dominoes, Gerard Avenue, Concourse, The Bronx, NYC

Eddie: Football Coach, Grand Concourse, Concourse, The Bronx, NYC

Water Seller, 145th Street Bridge, Mott Haven, The Bronx, NYC

Monday, June 22, 2015

EAGLES and Other Winged Things: Photographic Encounters in NYC

This is another post illustrating some of my photographs taken last year. During my wanders about New York City in 2014, it seems that representations of eagles and a few other winged beasts kept vying for my attention.

I share fourteen of these with you, ordered chronologically by approximate date of production, since I could think of no better way to organize them.

Trophée d'Armes, Fort Jay, Governor's Island, NYC, 1790s

Located above the Fort Jay sally port, this Trophée d'Armes clusters a cannon, mortar, artillery shots, fasces, flags and several other elements around a centered, frontal eagle. The eagle clutches a shield depicting a rising sun.

Taken together, these elements symbolize the State of New York as well as America, and this monument may, indeed, be among the oldest monumental pieces of carved stone intended to represent our young country. 

The eagle had only became an official symbol of the United States a decade earlier, in 1782, when William Barton suggested that it be the main feature of the country's Great Seal. Among its competition for this honor had been the turkey, favored by Benjamin Franklin.

Owls & Globe, Ottendorfer Branch Library, 135 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1884

The Ottendorfer Library was the second branch of the New York Free Circulating Library, which had been established in 1879 to provide free reading material to all New Yorkers. The library system had expanded to eleven locations when, in 1901, it became part of the New York Public Library system.

The Ottendorfer is located in what, then, was known as "Little Germany," or Kleindeutschland, an area south of 14th Street and east of the Bowery. Assimilation, as much as learning, was the library's intention; and so, of its original bequest of 8,000 volumes, half were in German and half were in English.

This elegant, floriated string course featuring Owls and Globes, alludes to the wisdom and knowledge gained through book-learning. It also represents one of the earliest applications of terra-cotta ornament in New York City architecture.

Eagle with Flags, Target & Rifles, German-American Shooting Society, 12 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC, 1889

Here is another remnant of Kleindeutschland, the German-American Shooting Society. Below the central Mansard gable of architect William Frohne's clubhouse is a seal showing an eagle "displayed:" frontal, with wings and legs spread wide. Above it are crossed rifles, a target, and the words Einigkeit Macht Stark, or "Unity Makes Strength."

Because Germany consisted of many small states and princedoms until unified in 1871 into a nation state under Kaiser Wilhelm, shooting clubs served as the local militias of those states. When transferred to America (and Brooklyn also had one), these clubs became major community social centers formed around shooting competitions.

The eagle we see here is not only a likely reference to the German coat of arms (which dates back to the Holy Roman Empire), but also to the highlight of the shooting competition held in these clubs; in that competition, an elaborately-carved, wooden eagle was a target to be dismembered by the club's sharpshooters.

Bat, Anonymous Stonecarver, Leech House, 520 West End Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1892

The residence of Isabella and John Leech was one of the grand mansions of the Upper West Side when completed in 1892. Its architect, Clarence True, began his early practice under Richard Upjohn, as later, William Van Alen would begin his under True. This link offers several good photos of the house.

This wonderful bat, squatting, wings outspread, dominates its foliated window sill, just east of the residence's main entrance. With a permanent winged greeter like this, one hardly needs Halloween decorations.

Phoenix, FDNY: Engine 55 Fire Station, 363 Broome St., Manhattan NYC, 1899

This could be an eagle, but the flames issuing from the broken, segmental pediment below suggest a Phoenix. Certainly, the themes of renewal and transformation associated with the phoenix make it an optimistic, and appropriate, symbol for a fire house.

Lunette with Eagle, 124 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, late 19th-early 20th century

Capping an otherwise fairly straightforward Lower East Side tenement, a "displayed" eagle takes up a full third of the building's width, making a brazen, decorative statement. 

The American architect and theorist, Robert Venturi and his partners surely would have seen this eagle as a precursor for their concept of the "decorated shed:"  a building whose space and structure serve a straightforward, functional program, but then it displays applied ornament which bears no relationship to that program.


Eagle Plaque, Heins & LaFarge, 33rd Street Station (#6 Train), Manhattan, NYC, ca. 1903

This Eagle Plaque, made in Boston at the Grueby Faience Co., was to be found in several of New York's subway stations of the Lexington Line, among them, the 14th Street and the Brooklyn Bridge stations. I see it as a strong, simplified version of the Great Seal of the United States, put to use as a station marker.

Eagle, Hamilton Fountain, Warren & Wetmore, Riverside Drive at West 76th Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1906

The Hamilton Fountain is among the few, remaining horse troughs that once served the City. It's donor, Robert Ray Hamilton, was a great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.

At one time, the fountain also fed a trough in Riverside Park, directly below it to the west, a discovery made only seven years ago.

Eagle in Pediment, N Y County National Bank (orig.), 14th Street & 8th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1907

From one bank to another to a men's spa and now, what's next for this bit of Beaux-Arts classicism? Through all these changes, the eagle remains, ever vigilant, "king of the skies," or at least ruler of its classical pediment. 

The original architect of the bank was Rudolph Daus, who set up his own studio in Brooklyn in 1884, after having worked in the studios of Richard Morris Hunt and George B. Post.

Eagle on Rostral Column, Graham Triangle, Menconi Brothers, 3rd Avenue & 139th Street, Bronx, NYC, 1921

This elegant Doric column, topped by an eagle, commemorates the citizens of the South Bronx who were killed in WWI. Among them was John B. Graham, whose name is given to the narrow, triangular oasis where it rises between three busy streets.

Eagle with Gospel of John + Symbols of the 4 Evangelists, Wheel Window, Church of St. John Nepomucene, 411 East 66th Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1925

Architect John Van Pelt, using brick and limestone to convey a rustic flavor, designed this church dedicated to the 14th century Bohemian saint, John of Nepomuk, in a style that references southern Italian Romanesque architecture. 

Here, above the main entrance, we see an eagle standing on the top of an arch holding a Gospel book; farther up, we see the four winged beasts, emblematic of the Four Evangelists, flanking the large wheel window.

Winged Wheel, Parking Garage Entry, West 101st Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1920s

My guess is that this garage structure dates from the 1920s.  It is one of two automobile entrances, both with a winged tire nestled inside the lunette of its arch. I would like to believe that this motif is a logo--but for what? Not Michelin (that's Bibendum); not Good Year (that's a winged foot); not Bentley (that's a winged letter B).

The closest approximation is the Detroit Red Wings logo (also a winged, spoked wheel), but that is shown in pure profile. Maybe it refers to a specific early 20th century urban parking system. If not, then it at least is a commendable artistic expenditure that tells everyone, "automobiles welcome here."

9/11/01 Mural, Scott LoBaido, Smith & Garnet Streets, Gowanus, Brooklyn, NYC, ca. 2002 ff

This mural of an eagle's head and the World Trade Center's twin towers seen against the ground of an American flag was done by Scott LoBaido, an artist who has dedicated himself to painting patriotic murals throughout our country.

During 2006, over ten months, in his Flags Across America project, Scott LoBaido drove across the United States and painted a large American flag on one rooftop in every state.  His stated purpose was to insure that returning soldiers, flying home, would be greeted by the flag.  

Bald Eagle, Peter Daverington, Part of the Audubon Mural Project, Storefront at 3623 Broadway, Manhattan, NYC, 2014

Once John J. Audubon found success in the sale of his Birds of America in the early 1840s, he bought property in upper Manhattan, in what is known as Washington Heights

Moving ahead some 170+ years, in September of 2014, the National Audubon Society issued its analysis of how the birds of America will (or might) respond to climate change. This report, Audubon's Birds and Climate Change Report, caught the attention of Avi Gitler, a local gallery owner.

Gitler proposed commissioning artists to paint bird murals on the roll-up steel security gates of local businesses in the neighborhoods adjacent to Audubon's final residence, thus piquing interest in the plight of America's birds.  

This is an on-going project, and it apparently has grown from an initial concept of a dozen birds to, now, an eventual depiction of each of the 314 species that the Report identifies as endangered.

I offer one of the earlier contributions, Peter Daverington's Bald Eagle, here rather dramatically lit by the early morning sun.

Monday, June 1, 2015

LOWERING OUR GAZE: 2014 Sidewalk Photographs

William Van Alen, Chrysler Building, 1928-1930, Manhattan, NYC

New York is a city of skyscrapers and tall buildings, particularly in Manhattan. Most of the time, as I and others walk its sidewalks, we direct our gaze upward. After all, there is so much to see on a typical Manhattan building. However, from below, we would be hard-pressed to get as clear a view as this (above) of that iconic, seven-sectioned stainless steel crown of the Chrysler Building.

Still, even with lower buildings, our eyes are often seduced by a visual array of sculpted cornices, pilasters, arcuated openings, fluted columns and historiated capitals and lintels. 

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for lowering our gaze, and not merely to make sure we don't stumble over a bit of uneven pavement.  A different sort of visual seduction happens at eye-level and below.  Rarely is it thoughtfully planned or consciously designed.  That "seduction" may involve a person navigating or engaging the city in some manner, but more often it involves some fragment or trace of that engagement--its human author long gone.

This selection of twenty-one photographs, taken last year as I walked New York, gradually brings down our gaze to discover a more base visual seduction--an unplanned aesthetic of spontaneity, surprise and serendipity, right at our feet.

Mahatma Lintel, Manhattan, Lower East Side, NYC

Adam on Lafayette, Lafayette Street, Manhattan, NoHo, NYC

Cappuccino/Tattoo, St. Marks Place, Manhattan, East Village, NYC

Cappuccino &... (you name it: Car Wash, Laundromat, etc.) has long been a staple of our Northwestern states, which just makes this combination in New York all the more curious.  Fun City Tattoo is the City's oldest tattoo parlor, dating back to 1976, but this curious merging of services dates to its move to 94 St. Marks Place in 1991.

Angels Moved, The Hub, East 149th Street, The Bronx, NYC

In Memory of Mom, East 4th St., East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Mono Mono, East 4th Street, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

5 Women, Doorway, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Brownstone Stoops, West 84th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC

These stoops must date from the later 19th century, after Riverside Drive was designed (just to its west) and the Broadway IRT brought public transportation uptown a few blocks to the east. Only then could New York accommodate the new residential population that expanded and settled into the Upper West Side.

Slush, 96th & Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

Chrome Columns, 3rd Avenue, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Mist on 5th, 103rd & 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

La Virgen y Los Potros, 117th Street, East Harlem, Manhattan, NYC

This detail of the shrine of the Virgen del Carmen Protogenos was first set up in honor of Italian-American soldiers, since Italians from Salerno first settled this section after 1878. Later on, following WWI, Latin American and Puerto Rican immigration began to transform "Italian Harlem" into "Spanish Harlem." Through all of this, our Virgin has held her ground; only now she chiefly serves a Latino community.

Her main statue (not visible here) is enclosed in glass and is protected by a broad canopy. Besides this secondary statue, the Virgin has accumulated at least six sports trophies, gifts placed over time in appreciation of her benevolence. But they also seem to be expanding her realm and protecting her.

Doll Shrine, East Village, Manhattan, NYC

Homeless Stump, Wooster Street, SoHo, Manhattan, NYC

Kilroy on Alexander 1, Alexander Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

Kilroy on Alexander 2, Alexander Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

This little man, standing before the steps to a Bronx brownstone, I am sure is not intended to represent Kilroy, that ubiquitous balding fellow made popular by American Armed Forces during WWII. Yet, both he and Kilroy are cartoon figures with long noses, and people tend to do double-takes before discovering either of them. Thus, I associated this little fellow with "Kilroy was here," the sentence that always accompanies the older cartoon figure.

Bowtie on 10th 1, 22nd Street & 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Bowtie on 10th 2, 22nd Street & 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Curb Your Ego, 16th Street at 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

I'm not sure how many people see this sticker, curling down the curb at several intersections, or how many people register its message. Yet, it is a clever three-word pun on the admonishment we often see: "curb your dog." 

Given that this is New York City, I would argue that big egos--those in need of curbing--outnumber the city's 600,000 pet dogs. However, the largest concentration of big egos is in Wall Street, not in Chelsea.  Let's hope the artist responsible for this sticker also placed some on the curbsides at the bottom of Manhattan!

Oldsmobile, 3rd Avenue, The Bronx, NYC

New Year's Eve, 86th St & Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

On the last day of 2014, New Year's Eve, I saw this mask on the street as I was carrying groceries home from the 86th Street Fairway--a perfect final discovery for this post of sidewalk photos. Luckily, I was wearing my cargo pants, which have a pocket solely dedicated to carry my small camera.