NYC’s Colorful Dance Parade

New York City has parades celebrating many things, and one of the most fun is the Dance Parade. Yesterday was the 11th annual Dance Parade and Festival, which according to the organizers is held “to inspire dance through the celebration of diversity.”

The parade was a riot of colors and sounds, and the diversity of the dancers was truly magnificent. My favorite part of the parade: the look of joy on so many of the dancers’ faces. I think these photos speak for themselves!

Don’t these photos make you want to dance? What was your favorite?

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part I)

This past weekend marked an extraordinary event in New York City and more than 200 other cities around the world: Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is named after Jane Jacobs, a journalist and urban activist who pushed city governments to include local residents in decisions regarding neighborhood development. As part of her efforts, she is often credited with leading opposition to the proposed construction of an expressway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan in the late 1960s, preserving that neighborhood’s character to this day. Now, every year, local volunteers take people on free tours of their neighborhoods. In New York City, those tours are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society, which also offers other tours throughout the year.

This year, there were 68 pages worth of Jane’s Walks to choose from in New York City. I decided to explore the neighborhood of East Harlem in Manhattan, also sometimes known as El Barrio. I actually took 2 walks on Saturday, both in that same neighborhood but focusing on different themes and traveling on different streets. My feet hurt by the end of it, but both walks offered rich treasures.

The first walk, which I will focus on in this post, was named “The Heritage of Italian East Harlem.” It was led by LuLu LoLo, an artist, playwright, and actor who traces her family history in East Harlem back more than 100 years. Here’s a photo of our fabulous guide for the walk.

I knew that this was going to be a fun walk, as it was like we were all great friends from the start. (Well, some people actually did know each other already – this tour attracted a number of walkers whose families had lived in the neighborhood.) Although we had plenty to see on this walk, what made it special was LuLo’s stories about growing up in the neighborhood, and her explanation of how the neighborhood has evolved over time. Much has changed in recent decades, but LuLo brought old family photos to provide a bridge between the present and her childhood memories of East Harlem.

From our starting point, LuLu drew our attention to a faded advertisement for Bloomingdales Department Store located on the side of a nearby brick building. Although the sign has faded beyond legibility, it has been there since LuLu’s earliest memories. (And LuLu admitted, upon one walker’s nosy question, that she is in her early 70s.) See if you can make out the weathered sign in the photo below.

LuLu spent some time describing the early makeup of the neighborhood, where immigrants had settled next to others from their old communities. On this street, on this block, lived the Italians from the province of Basilicata. Another street was home to Germans, another Irish, another Russian. Over here were Puerto Ricans, and shops owned by Jewish immigrants, with living quarters behind the storefronts, were there. Further down were African-American residents. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity, the complexity of East Harlem.

Along with the diverse population came complex politics. This corner, and a neighboring one before it, were known as “Lucky Corner,” the place where a stage was set up during campaign season for candidates to speak to the crowds. Want to gain the votes of the people in the neighborhood? Then you knew you had to come to Lucky Corner.

We learned about Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who earned a reputation as the protector of the working class, regardless of race or ethnicity. LuLu shared precious childhood memories of the congressman, who died of a heart attack at a young age, as well as Leonard Covello, an educator who became principal of a local high school and persuaded immigrant families to let their children go to school. As we walked along 116th Street, LuLu pointed out where these and other Italian Americans of note lived, as well as the music store that has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the building formerly home to the Cosmo Theater, a row of tenement buildings where immigrant families have live generation after generation.

Soon we pass a community art project. Along one side of the art project, there is a suggestion box. Members of the community are invited to make suggestions about what the next version of the art walls will look like. The current theme: environmental concerns.

As we walk further, LuLu tells us more about her parents, Rose and Peter Pascale, who were long-time community activists. For many years, Peter ran Haarlem House, a settlement house that served the immigrant community of East Harlem. In recognition of his years of service, part of the street has been renamed Pete Pascale Place.

Here, our group stands in front of La Guardia Memorial House, built on the site of the old Haarlem House after the city determined that it needed replaced. The new community building is named after Fiorello La Guardia, onetime mayor of New York City. A senior center located on site is named after former Commissioner of Immigration Edward Corsi, another of East Harlem’s past residents.

On the side of this building we found this beautiful mosaic mural commemorating Dr. Antonia Pantoja, who spent her professional life taking care of the community of East Harlem. The mosaic is the work of local artist Manny Vega.

LuLu pointed out the former Benjamin Franklin High School building, where Leonard Covello was once principal. The building is now home to a specialized public high school known as the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

Our final stop was the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of only four Roman Catholic Churches designated as Pontifical Shrines in the Western Hemisphere. LuLu explained that Italian workmen labored to build the church in their off hours, but in the church’s early history the Italians were relegated to the basement for religious services and not allowed to worship in the main sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church’s exterior is concealed by construction scaffolding as the building undergoes repairs, so the only photo I could get outside was of this intriguing bulb-lit sign. (The shrine’s website has a photo of the building without the scaffolding, if you are interested.)

The interior was beautiful though, and here are some photos of the sanctuary and adjoining space.

At this point, the walk disbanded, and each of us went our own way. Despite my tired feet (walking on concrete has that effect!), I trekked to my next Jane’s Walk – also located in East Harlem – which was due to start soon. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

As I think about it, a Jane’s Walk is a perfect fit for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Exploring the James A. Farley Post Office Building

I’ve walked by the James A. Farley Post Office building, located across 8th Avenue from Pennsylvania Station, many times. I’ve always been curious about it, but until recently I had never gone inside. What a treat I had been missing – the building’s architecture and art is fascinating, certainly worth a visit!

Here’s the view of the post office from the Penn Station side. The original Beaux-Arts building, designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, was constructed in 1912. (An addition in the same architectural style was constructed in 1934.) It was originally known as the General Post Office Building but was renamed after the 53rd Postmaster General in 1982. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as designated a New York City Landmark.

Although it’s too small to be legible in the above photo, a famous quote associated with the U.S. Postal Service stretches across the area about the columns: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Although many Americans believe that this statement is the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service, I learned from my research that it is not – instead, the quote was chosen the building’s architects and comes from Herodotus’s Histories. The exterior of the building has some interesting architectural details.

The inside of the building is a magnificent surprise. The high ceiling is incredible, with so many details it’s hard to absorb them all. Included in the ceiling’s design are the seals of ten countries all considered major nations at the time of the building’s construction.

The building is still a working post office, with windows open seven days a week with long hours.

At either end of the lobby are smaller, round rooms with many special architectural details.

These smaller rooms also contain two unique monochromatic murals, painted by artist Louis Lozowick as part of the New Deal’s Treasury Relief Art Project in 1938. They are titled “Triboro Bridge in Process of Construction” and “Sky Line and Waterfront Traffic as Seen from Manhattan Bridge.”

In both the lobby and adjacent rooms, there are artifacts related to postal history, in essence a small postal service museum.

The post office building is part of future plans to expand and improve Penn Station, with new Amtrak access located in parts of the building that are not currently in use. Don’t worry though, the historic details of the building will still be preserved, and the lobby and post office windows still open to all. The plan is to call the new Penn Station annex Moynihan Station, after former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Want to visit the James A. Farley Post Office? It’s easily accessible by public transportation. Many bus routes and subway routes are just a short distance away, and you can take the 1, 2, 3, A, C, or E trains to the 34th Street-Penn Station stop. Additionally, Amtrak trains and Path trains from New Jersey come into Penn Station.

Harlem Murals – Creative Art Works Projects

Not long ago I explored the campus of City College, looking for gargoyles or grotesques. (You can find that post here.) As I made my way from the campus back to the train, I stumbled on two special murals on 138th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place. The murals come from Creative Art Works, a nonprofit organization that engages young people through art. From what I understand from the Creative Art Works website, they hire youth age 14 to 24 to complete these public art mural projects, working under the supervision of a teaching artist.

The first mural, painted in 2016, was supervised by teaching artist Lunar New Year. The mural is titled “The More You Give, the More You Grow.” Here are photos showing some of this mural’s details.

The second mural on 138th Street is titled “Dreams of a Creative Revolution,” and it was created under the direction of teaching artist Maria Berrio in 2012. Two years later, the mural was restored by teaching artists Gera Lazano and Max Allbee’s crew. Here are some photos of some of the mural details. As you can see, it truly has a “dreamy” quality.

 

If you want to see these murals in person, the easiest way to get there is to take the subway. Take the 1 train to the 137th Street-City College station; the murals are only a short distance away. After you’re done viewing the murals, continue up the hill – the gargoyles are only about half a block away.

NYC’s Easter Bonnet Parade 2017

I know I recently wrote about a parade (the Tartan Day Parade, which you can find here), but a few weeks ago New York City was host to one of my favorite parades: the Easter Bonnet Parade! I’m a little behind getting the blog post up about it (blame the hectic last few weeks of the semester at the law school!), but I couldn’t resist sharing my photos from this year’s parade.

New York City’s Easter Bonnet Parade is a long-standing tradition, tracing its roots back to the 1870s. There are several historic churches along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the wealthier residents of the city would dress in their best Easter finery, including elaborate hats, to go to church that morning. After church, people would parade up and down Fifth Avenue showing off their beautiful clothing as poorer residents gathered to observe. For many years, the parade was a major highlight of the spring, something that attracted huge crowds – in fact, by the mid-20th century, as many as 1 million people attended the event! Irving Berlin even wrote a song about the parade, which eventually became the title song for the 1948 movie Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Today, the crowds are much smaller, but it is still a great event for everyone involved. One of the reasons why the Easter Bonnet Parade is so much fun is that it is interactive. Rather than watching from the sidelines, those coming to watch the parade wander up and down the streets with the parade participants. There are no barricades (aside from those stopping automobile traffic), and really no rules. People wander up and down the street however they want, stopping to pose for and take photos of each other.

Some people stay true to the original approach, either wearing vintage-style clothing and hats or what you would normally expect to see people wear if dressing up for church. Others make their own headwear (often with corresponding costumes), ranging from the tacky to festive to high fashion. Sometimes a group of friends or family members create outfits that follow a common theme; other times you will see a person and their dog attired similarly. Everywhere you look you will see something different. The one thing that’s guaranteed: you will have fun!

Now that I’ve written at length about the parade, how about some photos? I hope you enjoy!

These first two women carried out the vintage theme in style.

These two were beautiful – although only the older one was wearing a hat.

This next one catches the spirit of the event – the woman in the middle wanted a photo with the two dressed-up men!

Here’s a family that took do-it-yourself to a new level – aren’t they great?

This man brought his own frame to the parade – and he would pose with you in it if you wanted to.

The woman on the right coordinated her outfit with her well-trained dog, and they were in high demand for photos. The stylish couple on the left were excited to have their photos taken with them.

Then there’s the wacky – but oh so much fun!

It was a very warm day, and I have to believe the guy in the bunny sweater suit was hot. But he still was enjoying himself though! The man on the right had fashioned his own hat out of an old-school Easter basket, turned upside down to become the base for a homemade birdcage.

This one is just sweet.

As you can tell from the photo below, the next one was in high demand from photographers – it almost looks like she is being chased by the paparazzi!

Yes, the man on the left has St. Patrick’s Cathedral on his head.

I’m not sure what you would call the next one, but he was sure accessorized!

The next couple was dancing in the street – one time it’s ok to stop traffic!

This guy had the right idea. The sun was bright, and a parasol would be handy.

This man was one of many people running around with large flower arrangements on their heads. He must have worked hard to make sure it matched his bright pink suit.

All I’ll say about the next one – some people really threw themselves into the spirit of things.

I’ll leave you with one last photo, this one of a young girl dressed in the more traditional Easter Parade attire.

Enjoy this so much that you want to see some pictures from last year’s parade? I wrote about it here.

NYC’s Tartan Day Parade

New York City’s Tartan Day Parade doesn’t have the long history of many of the city’s parades, but it has interesting origins. According to the New York City Tartan Week organizers,

In 1998 the U.S. Senate declared April 6 to be National Tartan Day to recognize the contributions made by Scottish-Americans to the United States. In 1999, two pipe bands and a small but enthusiastic group of Scottish Americans marched from the British Consulate to the UN—our first Parade! Since then, we have grown to include hundreds of pipers, thousands of marchers and many more thousands cheering from the sidelines.

The National Tartan Day New York Committee was formed … in 2002 to organize the Parade and co-ordinate all the associated activities which surround the Parade. There are now so many it has become Tartan Week, with a definition of “week” as anything, so far, from 7-21 days.

Now that we know why they’re marching, let’s watch the parade! As you’ll see, there are plenty of tartans, bagpipes, and drums – although not everyone is wearing plaid. One of the fun things about this parade is that some pipe and drum corps will allow unaffiliated bagpipers to march with them, as long as they can play the 4 songs required for the parade: Scotland the Brave, Rowan tree, Blue Bells of Scotland, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The sun was shining brightly, so please forgive the lighting in some of these shots.

Now for one of my favorite parts of the parade: the Scottie and Westie dogs!

As we were leaving, I spied this creature peeking out above the crowd – could it possibly be Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster?

Albert Capsouto Park

Nestled in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca is a small, triangular green space named Albert Capsouto Park. This park is a recent addition to the NYC park system, having opened in 2009. Despite its short history and limited size, the park has already changed names once and offers several special features.

First, the name change. When the park first opened in 2009, it was known as CaVaLa Park. The unusual name came from the park’s location, as the park’s three sides are bordered by Canal Street, Varick Street, and Laight Street. If you look closely as you explore the park, you will find the dedication plaque with the park’s original name.

In 2010, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation renamed the park in memory of local restaurant owner Albert Capsouto, who was known for his efforts to obtain financial support for small businesses in the area after the September 11 attacks. (The park is less than a mile from the World Trade Center site, and local businesses experienced significant economic challenges in the aftermath of the tragedy.)

Now for the park’s interesting details. My favorite details are found on the large granite posts next to each of the park’s three entrances. The park’s designers installed a series of etched steel plates highlighting historical images and maps of the neighborhood around the park. (Original images are part of the collections of the New York Historical Society, New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.)  Here are few examples of those images, which illustrate the evolution of Tribeca.

As you enter the park, you will immediately notice another feature – a long sculpture/fountain (depending on the time of year) that stretches for 114 feet. The sculptural fountain was created by NYC artist Elyn Zimmerman, and draws inspiration from the canal that used to stretch along what is now Canal Street. When I visited, the Parks Department had not yet turned the water on for Spring, but it is even more beautiful when the fountain is running. (Although there was a little standing water because of a recent rainfall, so you get a little sense of what the fountain is like when it’s running.)

And nearby there are benches and these tables, perfect for picnicking or a game of checkers or chess! (In case you can’t tell from the photo, each table has a checkerboard built in.)

Want to visit Albert Capsouto Park yourself? Take the 1, A, C, or E trains to their respective Canal Street stations. The park is just a short distance away.

Subway Station Art: 125th Street Station

One of my favorite subway stations, in terms of art, is the 125th Street Station in Harlem. Artist Faith Ringgold’s mosaic murals, titled Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines, draws from the neighborhoods rich history and culture of her birthplace. The art is colorful and distinctive – there’s no chance that you will think you are anywhere other than Harlem.

Each section of the murals has an image of an iconic example of Harlem architecture (some no longer in existence), as well as historical figures associated with Harlem’s African-American history. For example, here’s the famous Apollo Theater, with images of Dinah Washington, Florence Mills, Ralph Cooper, Billie Holliday, and the Ink Spots.

Upon closer inspection, the murals details are spectacular.

This next one includes the Cotton Club, a nightclub from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith, who performed at the Cotton Club regularly. (I learned in my research that the establishment unfortunately illustrated the highly segregated society of that era – although African-Americans performed at the venue, only whites were allowed in as customers.)

Here’s the Harlem Opera House, with soprano Mariam Anderson and singer and actor Paul Robeson.

And Yankee Stadium, with boxers Joe Lewis and Sugar Ray Leonard overhead.

Here’s Madame Walker’s Beauty Parlor, with Madame C.J. Walker hovering over it herself, next to Olympian Jesse Owens. Notably, Owens appears to be jumping out of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Marcus Garvey and Adam Clay Powell, Jr. float over the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

And Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rise above the Theresa Hotel, at one time known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.”

Here’s W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune, associated with organizations they founded –  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), and the National Council of Negro Women (N.C.N.W.).

Above the Schomburg Library, a New York Public Library Center devoted to the study of African-American history, literature, and culture, you’ll find writers Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston.

And Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Aaron Douglas keep the Studio Museum of Harlem company.

Finally, you’ll find tile work related to the station itself, including the historic 125th Street terra cotta station signs and trim, as well as a rather out-of-place modern mosaic and tile sign.

If you’d like to see Flying Home in person, take the 2 or 3 train to the 125th Street Station in Manhattan.

A Carnival of Flowers at Macy’s

One of the sure signs of Spring in New York City is the Macy’s Flower Show. The show, which has a different theme each year, first began in 1946. This year’s theme was “Carnival.”

There are two major parts to the Flower Show. First, even before you enter the department store, there are the elaborately decorated windows. (Forgive the reflections on the windows – it’s hard to take good photos in the light!)

Having admired the windows outside, let’s go through the main entrance to see what we find inside. There’s plenty more to see, although we’ll have to navigate the crowds if we want to take any photos. As we come upon the carousel, you can hear the organ playing a tune and the animals rise up and down.

Isn’t this fun? Make sure to look up as well. There are flowers and scenes scattered high and low throughout the first floor, so much that your senses are overloaded.

Want to join in the fun? Put your head in the holes and pose for a photo! Look! We caught someone doing that very thing!

Or maybe posing before a fun house mirror is more your thing.

Unfortunately, the show is already over – so if you want to see it for yourself, you will have to visit next year! In New York City, the Flower Show is at the Macy’s Herald Square location (touted as the largest department store in the world), but it’s held at the Chicago and San Francisco stores as well. Want to see what last year’s show looked like? I wrote about it here.

Hunting Gargoyles at City College

Near Harlem in Manhattan, in a neighborhood called Manhattanville, is the City College of New York. Although City College has roots going back to the 1840s, the college didn’t move to the Manhattanville campus until 1907. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the original campus buildings though – architect George Browne Post designed them in the neo-Gothic or Collegiate Gothic style, making the campus feel much older than it actually is.

What make City College’s architecture fun are the approximately 600 grotesques. (I know – I titled this post “Hunting Gargoyles,” but as I’ve done further research I’ve learned that gargoyles are decorative waterspouts, while grotesques refer to the broader category of gothic creatures and humans.) Yesterday was such a sunny spring day that I thought it was a perfect day to hunt gargoyles – and grotesques!

Let me take you on a tour:

Want to hunt gargoyles and grotesques for yourself? Take the 1 Train uptown to the 137th Street – City College stop. It’s just a short walk from the station to the campus entrance.