A Leisurely Sunday Stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

As Halloween is fast approaching I thought I would take you on a leisurely Sunday stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Cemeteries often have the reputation of being spooky or haunted, and Green-Wood likely has it’s share of ghosts, but it’s a lovely, serene place for an afternoon walk.

Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, not only because of its longstanding role as one of the city’s cemeteries but also its status as the site of a major Revolutionary War battlefield, the Battle of Long Island. In the 19th century, New York City residents would pack picnic lunches and spend weekend afternoons wandering the cemetery’s park-like grounds. In fact, in the second half of the 19th century, as many as half a million people a year visited the cemetery. Today, it is still a great place to spend an afternoon. The cemetery is large, encompassing 478 acres (1.9 square kilometers). I spent almost five hours meandering along the paths among the graves and still did not see the entire cemetery. (More than 500,000 people are buried in the cemetery, just to give you a full sense of its magnitude.)

The grandest entrance to the cemetery is this Gothic Revival structure on the northern side, accessible from Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue. The gate was built in the 1860s.

A closer view shows detailed religious carvings above each entryway. The gate above was designed by Richard Upjohn, while the carvings were by John M. Moffitt.

Throughout the cemetery we come across many mausoleums – in fact, Green-Wood Cemetery has one of the largest collections of mausoleums in the United States. They represent a range of architectural styles and tastes, and many offer beautiful details as well. Here is just a sampling of what we discover.

Here’s my favorite mausoleum, an Egyptian-inspired pyramid with statues of Mary and Jesus, a male Catholic saint (anyone know who it is?), and a sphinx.

Then there were the monuments and memorials. First, there was this one to DeWitt Clinton, former governor of the state of New York in the 19th century and credited with building the Erie Canal.

There’s this Revolutionary War monument by sculpture Frederick Ruckstull titled Altar to Liberty: Minerva.

Or how about this monument dedicated to New York City soldiers and sailors who fought in the U.S. Civil War? It has some beautiful details.

Then I found this simple memorial with a tragic story I hadn’t hear before. In 1876, a fire at the Brooklyn Theater killed at least 278 people, although some accounts say that the number was closer to 300. This monument marks the common grave of the 103 victims who were never identified.

There are so many more to discover but I will show this one last one, a bronze statue by sculptor John Coleman titled “The Greeter,” which marks the grave of 19th-century artist George Catlin. Catlin was most famous for his depictions of the American West and Native American culture.

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to the graves of numerous famous people, but my favorites were some of the most simple. Here is composer Leonard Bernstein’s grave, among the most humble I saw in the cemetery. Visitors have left the small stones on his grave in his memory.

And here is the grave of Louis Comfort Tiffany, most known for his stained glass windows and other glass art. (As you can see, he outlived two wives.)

Although I’m not the biggest baseball fan, I loved the gravestone of Henry Chadwick, known as the father of baseball. Visitors had also left offerings at his grave, this time baseballs that are now in various states of deterioration, and there was a giant stone baseball on top of the pillar. (I felt a little sad for Chadwick’s wife, the former Jane Botts, who had to share this monument rather than having something that celebrated her life independent of her husband’s.)

I found graves of two founders of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They are significantly different from each other. My favorite of the two was this one, James M. Hart’s.

Here’s a close-up view of the decorative plaque.

The other one is Henry Bergh’s another pyramid with an interesting sculpture by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich and John Terken titled “Humility of Man Before a Group of Ageless Animals.”

The cemetery grounds have gentle hills, providing ample opportunity to stretch my legs. At the top of one, I caught this view of the Manhattan skyline, a little hazy in the distance.

Not far from this spot, I found these flowers laying on a park bench. A small plaque on the bench had this poignant inscription: In loving memory of our mummy, Ranjani, 1952-2011.

On one hill is this unusual art installation by Sophie Calle, titled “Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery.” Visitors are invited to write their secrets on sheets of paper and insert them into the slot on the obelisk. Calle will return to the cemetery periodically over the next 25 years to remove the secrets and “cremate” them in ceremonial bonfires. The art installation is unexpected in the middle of a cemetery.

Now I think we’ll wander further, admiring some of the other statues and gravestone throughout the cemetery.

And finally, we’ll stop by the chapel, which was completed in 1911.

The chapel’s interior is small but intricately decorated, with beautiful stained glass windows.

Want to visit Green-Wood Cemetery yourself? You will find directions on the cemetery’s website, here. If you wish to tour the cemetery on your own, you can pick up free maps at the entrance. The cemetery also offers ticketed trolley tours on Wednesdays and Sundays. You can find more information about the tours here.

I think this would be another good post for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

An Open Day at the New York City Marble Cemetery

Green space has always been at a premium in New York City, and historically the public parks were few and far between. So where could the city’s residents relax on a summer Sunday afternoon, perhaps with a good book or a picnic? As strange as it may sound today, New Yorkers of the past often headed to the cemetery. Today, there are only a handful of of cemeteries in the borough of Manhattan (property values pushing most cemeteries to the outer boroughs), but there are still a few historic cemeteries around.

One special cemetery is the New York City Marble Cemetery, founded in 1831. The cemetery is designated a New York City Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the cemetery isn’t usually open to the public, there are designated “open” days several times a year. On those days, it is possible for visitors to experience life as it was in the nineteenth century, picnicking and relaxing in the park-like space.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery on one of the open days. It was a beautiful day, and visitors had gathered to explore the cemetery and relax on its grounds. Here are some photos from my visit.

Want to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery yourself? It is located on East Second Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway stop is the F train’s Second Avenue station, and the M15 bus runs up and down First and Second Avenues as well. Make sure you check the cemetery’s website, available here, for the dates that the cemetery is open to the public. (Note: There’s another historic cemetery named the New York Marble Cemetery, a short distance away on Second Avenue. It’s also open to the public on occasion.)

 

Fifteenth Street Quaker Meeting House and Friends Seminary

I spent last Sunday walking down Second Avenue in Manhattan exploring all that I came across. There were many things I expected to find during my stroll, but I also discovered treasures I wasn’t looking for. One such discovery is located just a short distance from Second Avenue, on the west side of Stuyvesant Square: The Fifteenth Street Quaker Meeting House and Friends Seminary.

The Friends Seminary, a private school for children in primary and secondary grades, has roots that go back more than 200 years to its founding in 1786. It was founded by members of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. In the years that followed, the school grew and moved twice into expanded facilities. In 1860, the Friends Seminary moved to its current location next to the new Fifteenth Street Monthly Meeting. Today, both buildings still stand, and the school has expanded into adjacent buildings as well.

Here’s a photo of the front of the brick Meeting House.

And this is the Friends Seminary’s oldest building, accented by the sun’s rays.

This sign next to the Seminary’s door alerted me to the historic nature of my discovery.

As I looked closer at the Meeting House and its surroundings, I discovered evidence of the Friends’ underlying beliefs, which include pacifism, tolerance of others, and a commitment to diversity among other things.

Note the banner above the front entrance of the meeting house: “Torture is a moral issue.”
There were multiple copies of this sign along the wrought iron fence.

The meeting house and seminary are located at 15 Rutherford Place in Manhattan, between 15th and 17th Streets to the north and south, and between Second and Third Avenues to the east and west. The Meeting’s website has directions for getting there here.

The Harlem Stage Gatehouse: Giving Historic Architecture a New Life

Throughout history, an important part of any city’s growth was the development of a clean water source; reliance on polluted wells or fountains often resulted in the spread of disease. New York City’s solution to the water challenge was to build the Croton Aqueduct between 1837 and 1842, allowing the city to transport water from the Croton River in Westchester County to the North into the heart of the city. The Croton Aqueduct was so successful, in fact, that it provided New York City’s main water source until 1958.

Such a major public works project required infrastructure, and there were numerous pumping stations, reservoirs, and other aqueduct-related structures built throughout the city. As the city grew and transformed over time, many of those structures were torn down and replaced with modern buildings. Still, if you know where to look, you can find remnants of the old system. The New York Public Library, which I’ve written about previously here, has as its foundation the Distributing Reservoir walls from the old Croton Aqueduct. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located in the middle of Central Park, housed part of the city’s water supply beginning in 1862. Recently I discovered yet another remnant of the old Croton Aqueduct system in Harlem: a retired 1890 pumping station remade into the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.

The Romanesque Revival building was designed by architect Frederick S. Cook. From looking at it from the outside, you wouldn’t realize that the building originally extended 75 feet into the ground, allowing the interior to be made into a multi-storied space when it was renovated to house the theater a little over a decade ago. Like many buildings in New York City, the Gatehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City Landmark. Although the interior is very modern, the theater’s architect was careful to maintain and restore the building’s historic exterior.

This next photo shows the building’s original main entrance, which is now just a side entrance to the theater. Above the door you will glimpse small square panes of stained glass, and each metal door has ornamentation.

This close-up view of one of the smaller doors on the building really shows off the decorative details of both door and railing.

Here’s a small stain glass window on the building’s turret.

Perhaps one of my favorite architectural elements was industrial rather than decorative: the old pipes still extending from the ground in several locations nearby.

Want to see the Harlem Stage Gatehouse for yourself? It is located at 150 Convent Avenue, near the corner of 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Perhaps while you’re there you’ll decide to see a play inside the theater. (The theater’s website is available here.) Or maybe you’ll stroll across the street to the City College Campus, where you can hunt gargoyles like I did one day recently. The closest subway station is the 137th Street station, accessible on the 1 train.

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.

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.

Historic Citizens Savings Bank Building: NYC Landmark

Visitors to Manhattan’s Chinatown and nearby streets are sure to see some unique and interesting architecture. On the edge of Chinatown, close to the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge, is a New York City Landmark building: the historic Citizens Savings Bank. Later known as the Manhattan Savings Bank, the building is now occupied by HSBC. (HSBC purchased Citizens Savings Bank’s successor in 1999.)

Citizens Savings Bank is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture and was designed by architect Clarence W. Brazer. The building was completed in 1924 and was designated a city landmark in 2011. It’s not a huge building, but it’s solidly built, with a domed roof. Today, it’s surrounded by modern buildings, making its architecture stand out in comparison.

Above the entrance is this sculpture and clock designed by Charles Keck. It portrays a Native American, a sailor, and an eagle. (Additionally, if you look closely at the photo above, you may be able to see the small stone “beehives” on either side of the sculpture – I learned that beehives symbolize thrift.)

There are also these imposing lions stationed near the entrance – I think they are a much more recent addition.

Although the building still operates as a bank, the employees graciously allowed me to enter and take a few interior photos. From my research, I learned that the somber interior was meant to instill confidence in the bank’s ability to protect depositors’ money. Banks in the 1920s generally did not have insurance for deposits, and it was not uncommon for banks to fail. Depositors wanted to place their money in banks that seemed safer, and architecture could be used to create such an image. There are still some original architectural design details in the bank’s interior, such as the dome and the subtle messages painted in each corner near the ceiling. Would these messages give you confidence in the bank?

Want to see this New York City landmark for yourself? The bank is located at the corner of Canal Street and Bowery on the edge of Chinatown. It’s several city blocks’ walk from the subway. Take the B or D train to Grand Street, the F train to East Broadway, or the J, Z, or 6 train to Canal Street.

Want more detail about the building, the bank’s history, and the NYC landmark designation? The entire city landmark commission report is found here.

 

Subway Station Art: East Broadway Station

The subway station at East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a beautiful ceramic tile mural by artist Noel Copeland. Copeland was born in Jamaica, but he immigrated to the United States and received his art education at the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design. He currently lives in New York City, and he has several public art installations across New York City, located in public schools, public housing complexes, community centers, and public transportation stations.

The mural at East Broadway is titled Displacing Details and is 24 feet long. In creating the mural, Copeland drew inspiration from historic buildings on the Lower East Side. In 1991, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded Copeland the Arts for Transit Creative Station Award for Displacing Details.

Here are a few photos of the mural. The first one shows the panel in the middle, which I love. There’s also a great border that surrounds the entire mural and illustrates various architectural details.

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If you are interested in seeing Displacing Details yourself, take the F train to East Broadway. The mural is on the mezzanine level.

NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

In the early years of New York City’s history, the fire department was made up of volunteers. Beginning in 1865, however, the city had a professional firefighting force for the first time with the establishment of the Fire Department of New York. Over the next several decades, numerous firehouses were constructed to house neighborhood units. Most have since been torn down to make way for newer construction, but there are still some hidden gems scattered around the city. Each one has its own character and history.

The first firehouse I’m going to feature in this post is no longer an active firehouse, but it was originally home to Engine Company 31. It’s a gorgeous building, both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture draws inspiration from 16th century French chateau. Today, the building is home to the Downtown Community Television Center, which provides workshops and other resources for documentary filmaking in the local community.

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The building has some beautiful, intricate details.

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If you want to see the old Engine 31 firehouse for yourself, it is located at 87 Lafayette Street.

Another historical firehouse is the home to Engine Company 55. It is located at 363 Broome Street in Little Italy. Unlike Engine 31, the Engine 55 firehouse is still an active firehouse.

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The building has some interesting architectural details.

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One interesting note: the character actor Steve Buscemi worked as a FDNY firefighter when he was young, and Engine Company 55 was his unit.

Much more important, this firehouse has bronze memorial plaques on the walls to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The oldest one is this one, memorializing men who died in 1903 and 1918:

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Tragically, Engine 55 was one of the first units responding to the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11. The unit lost five of its own that day, and each one has his own plaque next to the firehouse’s entrance. Because the unit was one of the first ones on the scene of the terrorist attack, the firetruck itself was buried under the rubble when the towers collapsed. The crushed truck was not found until approximately 6 months later, when the recovery crews discovered it more than 40 feet below ground. Although the plaques look very similar, I thought it was important to honor each firefighter by showing them here. You will see that all of them state that the firefighter was “operating at Manhattan Box 5-5-8087.” From my research, it appears that 8087 was the fire alarm box associated with the World Trade Center.

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