Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The first official patient of the Free Hospital and Dispensary for Animals at 350 Lafayette Street, under the care of veterinarian Bruce Blair.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was formed in 1866 by philanthropist Henry Bergh. Eight years later, he helped co-found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Yes, animals came first. Animals were not only better understood than children, they were instrumental to the daily flow of the city. Almost every vehicle on the street was horse powered. The skills of animal husbandry and veterinary medicine were adequately developed in a country that was mostly rural, while the psyches of the human adolescent were only just being appreciated.
At right: Mrs. N.H. Barnes and her dog Mousie, circa 1910-1915, courtesy Library of Congress
And don't underestimate the power of the upper crust and their favorite luxury items -- exotic pets. New Yorkers were perhaps empathizing with animals, if not exactly knowing how to treat them.
After all, the menagerie of the Central Park Zoo was created from the bad decisions made by wealthy people, regretting their decisions in bringing unusual animals into their homes. In 1907, New York even experienced a bit of a monkey craze, with dozens of small primates becoming adorably mischievous fashion accessories.
Animal rights became an interesting tangent of New York's progressive movement, a focus on the well-being of four-legged creatures that culminated, one century ago this week, in the opening of the Free Hospital and Dispensary for Animals (at 350 Lafayette Street), the first institution of its type in the United States.
Like many progressive institutions of the day, the animal hospital was a life's ambition for a wealthy socialite -- in this case, Ellin Prince Speyer, the wife of railroad banker James Speyer (founder of the Provident Loan Society.)
Above: Work horses compete in an obstacle course in Union Square, during the Work Horse Parade of 1908. Picture courtesy Shorpy
Speyer formed a Women's League of the ASPCA in 1906 and quickly organized public displays that would bring attention to the plight of work animals. The following year, on Memorial Day, she organized the first annual Work Horse Parade with contests and exhibitions, all in an effort to bring attention to the condition of horses on city streets.
People were given prizes if their old horses were in good shape! "An effort has been made to induce the peddlers and hucksters of the city to enter," said the New York Times.
The Women's League provided watering station for horses during the summer and even free "horse vacations," renting a farm in upstate New York for the care of older animals.
But the League was concerned with the health of all animals, not just horses. (Indeed, the New York Sun takes note of Mrs. Speyer's favorite animal -- "the life saving Japanese spaniel Trixie.") Members visited area schools to lecture on the proper care and feeding of pets, speaking to the young owners of dogs, cats and birds.
They believed that beneficence to the animal kingdom was a signal to a healthy, moral household. "You don't find wife-beaters who are fond of pets and lovers of animals," said the League in an editorial in 1912.
This sophisticated devotion to animal care was considered truly unique. For instance, when an impressive animal clinic opened at Cornell University in 1911, the New York Times replied with the headline, "Where Sick Animals Are Cared For Like Humans."
Speyer opened a small animal clinic in New York that same year, but it was woefully inadequate to the needs of New York's animal population. So, with the help of lavish benefits and donations from other wealthy families (including many of her banking friends), the Women's League raised $50,000 and opened up a proper animal hospital on March 14, 1914, the first animal hospital of its kind in the United States.
The five-story building is still there today. New York's first free animal hospital could accommodate fifty horses and 150 cats and dogs. "There are also operating rooms where every modern appliance for animal surgery is at hand." [source]
Horses were mostly kept and operated upon on the second floor. But a rooftop garden accommodated the most sickly horses in need of fresh air and sunshine, lifted there by a large, state-of-the-art elevator. I suppose it was also used for patients from the third floor -- dogs, cats and birds. Autopsies were also conducted on the roof, and dead animals were disposed of in a basement incinerator. (The Times actually calls it 'the death room.')
Perhaps most curious of all -- an entire floor was given over to a new apartment for the hospital's lead veterinarian Dr. Bruce Blair (pictured at top) and his new bride.
On its opening on March 14, Speyer showed the waiting dignitaries a mysterious envelope which contained a $1,000 bill, anonymously donated for the purposes of buying the hospital's first animal ambulance.
Perhaps the hospital's most famous patient on opening day was not not a horse, but a green parrot named Abe, who was a bit of a minor film star in 1914. I believe this was the star of the 1914 Oliver Hardy film The Green Alarm.
Today, the Animal Medical Center traces its lineage to this first animal hospital and to Speyer's organization. It moved to its current location on the Upper East Side in 1962. (You can read more about their history here.)
Here's the building as it looks today:
Friday, March 7, 2014
The Bridge to Everywhere: The George Washington Bridge strangely political, unexpectedly naked, undeniably beautiful
PODCAST The George Washington Bridge is best known for being surprisingly graceful, darting between Washington Heights and the Palisades, a vital connection in the interstate highway system. It's also been part of more than a few political scandals. And we're not even counting the current scandal involving New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
At the core of this story is a professional disagreement (or betrayal, depending on how you see it) between Gustav Lindenthal, the dreamer of a monumental crossing linking New Jersey with Midtown Manhattan, and his protegee Othmar Ammann who envisioned a simpler crossing in a less populated part of town.
The final bridge was eventually built thanks to a few strategic political moves by New Jersey's Jazz Age governor George S. Silzer. But the original bridge design was quite ornamental, a bridge close in appearance (if twice the size) to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge you see today is technically unfinished.
ALSO: The story of the little red lighthouse and the great big flag!
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The Bowery Boys #162 George Washington Bridge
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A view of the landscape around the George Washington Bridge, clearly illustrating the two different sets of conditions on both sides of the bridge. The New York side abuts an existing neighborhood, while the New Jersey side retains a bit more of its natural beauty. July 4, 1947 (Courtesy New York State Archives)
Gustav Lindenthal worked with Othmar Ammann on the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge, completed in 1917....
...but his ultimate dream of building a colossal Hudson River bridge, with a entrance point on the Manhattan side in Midtown, was never realized. His vision of a dramatically large span was illustrated in the New York Tribune in 1921:
Othmar Ammann, whose bridge design eventually won out, due to its relative economy (compared to Gustav's design) and choice of location:
The cable crew of the George Washington Bridge. The daunting construction job was completed ahead of time. (Courtesy Flickr/dsearls whose father appears in this picture!)
Opening day on the bridge, 1931, with 5,000 people in the stands and thousands more gathered around the New York and New Jersey sides. New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt was there, as with Lindenthal and Ammann. Who was not there? The mayor of New York City Jimmy Walker, who was attending an NYU football game. (Flickr/wavz13)
Margaret Bourke-White captures a Canadian Colonial Airways aircraft flying up the Hudson, October 1939.
Inside the bridge: a selection of photos from the Library of Congress from atop the tower, inside the anchorages, way extremely overhead and incredibly close:
From a cigarette card, showing the New Jersey toll booths:
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge....(Flickr/CPWview)
This is how a crossing would have looked in the late 1940s-early 1950s!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Aaron Burr's cousin built the first bridge over the Hudson River - in the same year Burr shot Alexander Hamilton
Above: A wooden bridge in Kentucky using the Burr truss, invented by Theodore Burr and first used over the Hudson River's first bridge span. (Courtesy LOC)
People has schemed to put a bridge over the Hudson River for over two hundred years. That task would prove most difficult to those in Manhattan, given the distance between its shores and those of New Jersey. After several failed proposals, the two were linked with the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels (1910), the Holland Tunnel (1927), and finally, the George Washington Bridge (1931).
But further upstate, industrious New Yorkers had an easier time of bridging the two sides, as the river became narrower in places and engineers could work upon sparsely populated lands. The first bridge over the Hudson River rose at the village of Waterford (near Albany) in 1804, the work of inventor Theodore Burr, the cousin of Vice President Aaron Burr.
From an 1820 map of the Hudson River. You can see where Burr's bridge was located, situated over the Hudson until the 20th century (courtesy NYPL):
While Aaron was engaging in a vituperative war of words with Alexander Hamilton, his cousin Theodore was crafting an extraordinary bridge, described in a later history by his ancestor as "four combined arch and truss spans, one of 154 feet, one of 161 feet, one of 176 feet, and a fourth at 180 feet." By this point, he was already a well-known, even adventurous builder, but the Waterford bridge was truly something unique. He eventually patented his design, which became known as 'a Burr Truss,' used in the construction of covered bridges throughout the United States.
A sketch of the Waterford bridge, as illustrated by Thomas Cooper in 1889, and an excellent view of what became known as the Burr Truss:
The bridge was coming along nicely by the spring of 1804. The local paper noted that "the erection is proceeding rapidly, the abutments, (on shore sides) and one of three piers are already near finished, and the frames of the arches are in a state of equal preparedness. Concerning the abutments and piers, there is not the least doubt that they will render the bridge secure from ice in spring seasons."
I'm not sure where Burr was in July, whether at the bridge site or back at his grist mill in Oxford. The bridge was over one-third completed that month when Theodore got word that his esteemed cousin had met Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, 150 miles down river, leading to the death of Hamilton.
But while Aaron's reputation would quickly deteriorate, Theodore's would briefly flower, becoming America's most prolific bridge engineer in the early 19th century. His most impressive span, the Susquehanna River Bridge in Pennsylvania, survived until 1857.
Strangely, however, Theodore's eventual fate would eventually mirror his cousin's. Many of his bridges fell apart, and his finances were ruefully mismanaged. He actually disappears from the historical record; according to author Donald E. Wolf, "[h]is heirs report that he died in 1822, but they have been unable to say what caused his death or to identify the place of his burial."
The Union Bridge, as the Waterford-to-Lansingburgh crossing is sometimes called, was called "the greatest wooden span of its time." Originally exposed to the elements, the bridge was later sheathed in a covering. It held sturdy over the Hudson River until it was destroyed in a gas fire in 1909.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Manhattan Bridge, June 5, 1908 Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives
Queensboro Bridge, August 8, 1907 Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives
George Washington Bridge, 1927, Courtesy Life
Brooklyn Bridge, late 1870s
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, 1960, photo by Matthew Proujansky
Williamsburg Bridge, 1902, courtesy Shorpy
Friday, February 28, 2014
It's Meryl in the rain, 1979! From the tumbler ingridsbergman (If anybody knows the name of the photographer, please let me know!)
Almost forty years later, Streep is considered one of the world's greatest and most accomplished living actresses. She's been nominated for more Academy Awards than any other actor. In fact, she's considered a benchmark for many thespians to aspire to. She's so revered that she's occasionally a punchline. (The Onion: "Court Rules Meryl Streep Unable To Be Tried By Jury As She Has No Peers.")
But her early work on the New York stage -- much of it with The Public Theater -- cemented her reputation as a performer of uncommon ability. She became a fixture of both Broadway and off-Broadway at the moment when the creative revolutions of the 1960s were beginning to sink into mainstream productions.
She often worked in classical drama, retooled with unconventional direction. Her formal training mixed with the spirit of off-Broadway innovators such as Joseph Papp. It's hard to imagine Streep in a world parallel to that of A Chorus Line (which debuted the summer of her arrival in New York), hoofing it to Midtown auditions, cramming onto crowded subways to get to her performances in Shakespeare plays at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
Below: Meryl on the subway, 1981 (Courtesy Google Life images)
"For those who believe that stars are born overnight only in old movies like Stage Door on the late, late show, let me present Meryl Streep. She is on the threshold of stardom," wrote the prescient Syracuse Herald-Journal in 1976.
Here is a look at some of her early New York stage successes from the 1970s, both off and on Broadway, accompanied by a few quotes from her first reviews:
Vivian Beaumont Theatre/Lincoln Center
Playing: Miss Imogen Parrott (at left)
In her professional stage debut, Streep was praised by the New York Times: "tart, level headed, stunningly decked out in salmon gown and white plumes." The play itself was only modestly received. "A Chorus Line soars, Trelawny falls flat." [source]
(The Times didn't see the appeal in her early years. Her first mention there, for a play by the Yale Repertory Theater, described her performance as "perhaps too giddy and high strung.")
27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams (January-March 1976)
performed with A Memory of Two Mondays by Arthur Miller
The Phoenix Theatre in the East Village (today the Village East Cinemas)
Playing Flora (pictured below)
Writes Walter Kerr: "We can settle down now, locked in the girl's dilemma, to let actress Meryl Streep studiously slap away most believable mosquitoes, splay her legs like a rag doll, twist an evasive but sinuous toe to keep the porch swing rocking rhythmically, count her thoughts on her fingers, clutch her oversize white purse as she weighs inadvertent betrayal against what is happening to her flesh." [source]
This was her breakthrough, and the very first of thousands of awards and nominations that would come her way for her work. When it transferred to Broadway, she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress In A Play. (She was nominated up against Mary Beth Hurt, her co-star from Trelawny. They both lost to Shirley Knight.)
Secret Service (April-May 1976)
The Playhouse Theater
Playing Edith Varnay
"Streep was all heaving anguish, startled eyes and passionate stances." [review]
Henry V (June-July 1976)
Shakespeare In The Park
Playing French princess Catharine, pictured below ("I cannot tell vat is dat.")
This is her first appearance in the New York Shakespeare Festival and the way she spent America's Bicentennial. New Yorkers also got to hear her first non-English accent. "[T]hough Meryl Streep tends to be stiff in her first scene --the English lesson -- she displays lovely bite and timing when Mr. [Paul Ryan] Rudd courts her." (Picture courtesy Public Theater)
Shakespeare In The Park
Playing: Isabella ("And have you nuns no farther privledge.")
This is her for first nun role. She would return to the habit in the Oscar-nominated film Doubt. Reviews were mixed, the Times questioning the chemistry between Streep and her co-star John Cazale. The reviewer Kerr suggests her timing is off.
She took a break from the theater to star in her first work for television and film.
From an interview in the New York Times: "Miss Streep, who was drinking a Heineken at the Algonquin, gestured with her hand.... 'Last summer I did all those things in the Park ... and then I went and made a movie in London -- Julia. I were a red dress in every scene and I look bizarre."
The Cherry Orchard (February-April 1977)
Vivian Beaumont Theatre/Lincoln Center
Playing: Dunyasha ("I must tell you at once, I can't bear to wait a minute.")
Below: Meryl at the Vivian Beaumont, courtesy the Public Theater
Happy End (May-July 1977)
Martin Beck Theater
Playing Lieutenant Lillian Holiday ("Hallelujah Lil")
For this short-lived musical, Streep sang for the first time on the Broadway stage, and looking like a mix of Liza Minnelli and Charlie Chaplin:
Here's an interview she did for that show:
The Taming of the Shrew (August-September 1978)
Shakespeare In The Park
Playing -- who else? -- but Katarina
She's featured in this behind-the-scenes video with her co-star Raul Julia:
Taken In Marriage (February-April 1979)
The Public Theatre/Newman Theatre
Co-starring with Dixie Carter, Colleen Dewhurst, Kathleen Quinlan and Elizabeth Wilson
"Meryl Streep, as Andrea, is a series of prisms, breaking the character's pale light into flashes of misery, remorse, frustrated love and self-hatred.....[S]he is the most wretched member of her family." -- Richard Eder. (Picture courtesy Public Theatre)
Below Meryl Streep in the rather unusual rendition of Alice In Wonderland, originally called 'Alice In Concert' (later retitled 'Alice In The Palace'). According to the Public Theater, this was from an early 1978 showcase which ran for three performances. She's pictured here with Elizabeth Swados and Joe Papp.
Most pictures here courtesy the Public Theater, unless otherwise noted. You can already visit their website for information about this season's Shakespeare In The Park.
And thanks to Simply Streep for help on the dates of the productions.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Get Rich Magic: The astral adventures of Madame La Viesta and the Occult School of Science on Lexington Avenue
Above: Famed spiritualists gather in Chicago, 1906. The names weren't listed, but perhaps Mme. La Viesta is pictured here? (Courtesy Chicago Daily News/Library of Congress)
The Gilded Age brought us human beings of impossibly vast wealth. It also brought us a mainstream appreciation of spiritualism, an exploration of magic and the afterlife as a way of understanding a quickly changing world.
And sometimes it brought us both. Frank W.Woolworth, builder of a retail empire and a legendary skyscraper, was a proponent of Egyptian occult practices, so much so that his mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery is an ode to the Egyptian theories of the afterlife. The Chicago meat mogul Philip Armour was a rumored spiritualist. The wives of robber barons frequently attended seances and psychic readings. Few were immune to the lure of the spiritualism and the possibilities of otherworldly assistance in becoming rich.
Do you want to be rich like Woolworth? In 1913, the same year as the completion of the Woolworth Building, a series of curious advertisements ran in newspapers across the country:
The ad promoted a free book that revealed the secrets of a "great psychic force which learned men claim rules the destinies of man," produced by the Occult School of Science, located at 2075 (or 2083) Lexington Avenue at 125th Street.**
At this unusual institution, a student could discover a gamut of psychic and magical practices in service of practical life, from finance to marriage. Among its offerings included divination ("instructions for making a gold vibrator, for locating gold and silver ore"), fortune telling (course name: Methods of Successful Mediums) and the subconscious ("The Egyptian Interpretation of Dreams").
La Viesta was well known to spiritualism enthusiasts, as well as to those who mocked them. In 1904, at a place called the Cosmological Center, La Viesta described her recent visit to Mars and Venus via a projection of her astral self.
Her descriptions predate John Gray's famous book by decades. Inhabitants of Venus "are associated most happily in soul mated couples, for they have a flexible astral or psychological tubing which invisibly connects their bodies." [source]
In 1907, she revealed to the world the secret of the 'soul kiss', a rapturous and strangely indescribable form of love -- taught to her on a recent astral voyage to Neptune -- involving an aroused nervous system, cellular breathing and 'wireless' transmission of love from miles away. She was so passionate about this shimmering new form of love that she wrote a song about it called "Description of a Soul Kiss."
Below: Frank Leslie's American Magazine mocked an earlier lecture La Viesta in this 1902 article:
She was known for unusual lectures given from her Upper West Side apartment where she resided over a room of both corporeal and astral students. (Meaning that it looked like a fairly uncrowded room.) She suggested that both disease and finance were mere "states of mind" that could be controlled using vibrational or astral techniques. It was possible to let life's many inconveniences "evaporate into the nowhere and melt into the astral ethers." [source]
La Viesta was also a fan of the dew bath, involving women rubbing against morning grass which supposedly contained the secrets of age-defying beauty.
Said La Viesta: "I have removed my clothing and have stood in the yard at the rear of my home in the darkness of the night and allowed the dew drops to collect over me until I was happy." [You can read more on the curious dew-bath craze here.] At right: Illustration of a woman luxuriating in a dew bath, from 1902 NY Evening World
By 1912, at age 50, La Viesta became associated with the Occult School of Science, founded by Frederic Nugent. Had she been clairvoyant, she might have known to stay away from Nugent, a notorious grifter.
Nugent, also known as Professor John D'Astro, seemed to approach spiritualism from a more cynical place; in short, he wanted to get rich himself. Through his advertisements, he coerced people into 'free' spiritual guidance, then sent them catalogs full of useless and costly items.
The trickster specifically targeted poor people, placing hundreds of advertisements throughout the United States with trumped-up or falsified testimonials. He also joined Madame La Viesta at the podium of the Occult School, offering courses of palmistry and phrenology that could cost up to $12.50 (or almost $300 today).
The Occult School wasn't Nugent's only scam. He was apparently the mastermind behind at least six other mystical ruses, including the Iridescent Order of Iris, which purported to have over a thousand members, and a separate mail-order lodestone business, the Magnetic Mineral Company, which claimed to share the secrets of 18th century Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture.
Nugent's lodestones granted good luck to their bearers, or so claimed his advertisements. He bought the rocks from an unknown source at 12 cents a pound (today about $3), then re-sold the magic stones for up to $25 a pound (or about $570).
It was this scam that brought Nugent to the attention of U.S. Post Office inspectors who arrested him for using the mail system to defraud. They seized "hundreds of pamphlets advertising Nugent's schemes and thousands of testimonials." After spending a time in the Tombs, Nugent was indicted and sent to prison.
But whatever became of Vesta La Viesta, Nugent's prized instructor? Since that was not her real name (are you surprised?), it's been difficult to track her later antics down. It does appear she continued to share spiritual guidance, sometimes with people of some renown, such as the aviator Stanley Yale Beach. In 1923, she wrote up her experiences in the book People Of Other Worlds. Perhaps she finally left for the orbiting planets?
**They have several addresses listed, most of them on or around this intersection. I also found 147 East 125th Street as a possible address. Most likely, the mystics moved around!
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Lord & Taylor's splashy move to Fifth Avenue in 1914, to the "very centre of the sphere of fashionable activity"
Lord & Taylor's at Broadway and 38th Street, in the 1920s, photo by the Wurts Brothers (courtesy NYPL)
Loehmann's, the once-great Brooklyn-based department store, closes all their locations for good tomorrow, another causality of the changing economy and people's changing tastes in shopping.
But let's not dwell on the decline of the department store. Let's revisit the heyday, shall we?
"Half way between Madison Square and Central Park on the west side of Fifth Avenue, is the new Lord & Taylor store in the very centre of the sphere of fashionable activity of the city and is convenient to all the transportation lines, to the hotels and restaurants and to the theatres."
The store traces its lineage to a three-story women's clothing store on 47 Catherine Street, which was opened in 1826 by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor. Nearby, men could find equally fine fashions at the clothier of H & D.H.. Brooks (today Brooks Brothers) at Catherine and Cherry Streets. Catherine Street is hardly a place where you would look for high-end brands today, located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.
Lord & Taylor had subsequent locations in Manhattan at Broadway and Grand Street and, later, at Broadway and 20th Street on Ladies Mile.
Flash forward to 1914 -- the new store was an automated wonder, according to the New York Sun, equipped with a system of conveyor belts. "[T]he human equation has been eliminated wherever possible and machinery performs its part quietly and out of sight."
Shoppers could also escape to the tenth floor for "a dainty luncheon" or some afternoon tea:
The building is in the go-to architectural style for department stores -- Italian Renaissance Revival -- and, apparently, the go-to architectural firm for such places, Starrett and Van Vleck, also known for Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The new store made a unique appeal to the male shopper with its tailored men's department, "a realm of complete masculinity". There was a men's-only entrance on the 38th Street side where gentlemen could access the Manicuring Parlor. "[M]ake your purchases, be shaved and manicured, change your clothing, if you like, and leave without passing through any of the departments where women's goods are sold." In addition, the entire fourth floor was "devoted to men's apparel and accessories for motoring."
The store also had featured an Equestrienne Section, including "a mechanical horse, duplicating the actual motion of walking, trotting, or cantering."
In 2007, the Lord & Taylor building was made an official New York landmark.