On June 24, 1936, thousands of Lower East Siders turned out for a spectacle the likes of which New York had never seen. They jammed Hamilton Fish Park, filled Pitt Street, and perched on surrounding fire-escapes and rooftops to get a glimpse. With great fanfare (and the swim stylings of the Jones Beach Water Troupe) Mayor La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses officially opened Hamilton Fish Pool. The dedication kicked off New York’s “Summer of Pools.” One by one, for each week of the summer, 11 gleaming outdoor pools, financed and built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), opened in underserved neighborhoods across the city, providing recreation and relief to millions of heat-addled, Depression-strapped New Yorkers.
All posts by Lucie Levine
Eleven blocks of Rockaway Beach will be closed this summer due to erosion, but that’s just one setback in a long history of resilience on the peninsula. Four-and-a-half miles of the beach are open right now, with every block steeped in history. The Rockaways ushered Henry Hudson into the New World; Walt Whitman into paradise; Hog Island into oblivion; and the Transatlantic Flight into existence.
As “the brightest jewel within the diadem of imperial Manhattan,” the pristine beaches of the “Queens Riviera” became the preferred summer locale for New York’s most illustrious citizens. Later, the “people’s beach” at Riis Park helped make the Rockaways accessible to more New Yorkers. From, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to Patti Smith to Robert Mosses, everybody wanted to be at Rockaway Beach.
Photo via Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
The New York Public Library first roared into existence on May 23, 1895, educating and inspiring countless millions, free of charge. The Library’s 92 locations include four research divisions and hold over 51 million items. Out of all these tomes, the greatest tale might be Library’s own history: Founded by immigrants and industrialists, it was equally admired by William Howard Taft and Vladimir Lenin; open to all, it has counted among its staff American Olympians and Soviet spies; dedicated to intellectual exploration and civic responsibility, it has made its map collection available to buried treasure hunters and Allied Commanders; evolving with the city itself, it has made branch locations out of a prison, a movie theater, and most recently, a chocolate factory. The history of the New York Public Library is as vital and various New York itself, so get ready to read between the lions.
A 1939 photo of an atom-smasher (cyclotron) at Columbia University. Via Wiki Commons.
Most people assume that “The Manhattan Project” is a clever codename, a misnomer for the famous test sites in New Mexico. But, with over 1,200 tons on uranium stashed on Staten Island, and a nuclear reactor whizzing away at Columbia University, the top-secret wartime program began in Manhattan, and fanned out across the island, from its southern tip to its northern reaches, from its dimmest docks to its brightest towers. Ultimately 5,000 people poured into New York to work on the project, so duck, cover and get ready for an atomic tale of scientists, soldiers, and spies.
Today, Brooklyn is home of all things avant-garde, but King’s County has always led the pack. Beginning as early as 1868, the women of Brooklyn established one of the first suffrage organizations in the country and began advocating for women’s enfranchisement and political equality. The “wise women of Brooklyn,”as they were lauded in suffrage literature, made some of the foremost contributions to the movement. From the Silent Sentinels, who organized the first March on Washington, to the African American women who established the nation’s first suffrage organization by and for black women, Brooklyn was home to extraordinary advocates. Here are 8 badass Brooklynites who brought us the ballot.
Photo via Wally Gobetz/Flickr
You know that Old King Cole had a pipe and bowl, but did you know he also had a cloak and dagger? New York’s hyper-illustrious St. Regis Hotel, home to the famous King Cole Bar, has a clandestine pedigree that goes straight to its core. Founded by a family of spies, the Hotel became headquarters for the nation’s wartime spy service, and in the process helped inspire not only the Bloody Mary cocktail but also the Invasion of North Africa.
Photo of the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball courtesy of the Van Alen Institute
The architects who built the Jazz Age really knew how to get down. In January 1931, they turned the city’s annual Beaux Arts Ball into the ultimate Gatsby-approved bash. Instead of the stuffy historicism of years past, the party’s theme was “Fête Moderne — a Fantasie in Flame and Silver.” Advance advertising for the Ball in the New York Times promised an event “modernistic, futuristic, cubistic, altruistic, mystic, architistic and feministic,” featuring the city’s most renowned architects dressed as their buildings, celebrating both themselves and the modern fantasy metropolis they had forged in flame and silver. Art Deco New York: the skyscraper city, glittering and strong, reaching ever higher – through technological advancement and American ingenuity – toward excitement, prosperity, enlightenment, and power.
Arbuckle’s, via Brooklyn Historical Society
Brooklyn is properly known as Kings County. During New York’s Gilded Age, Sugar King Henry Osborne Havemeyer and Coffee King John Arbuckle made sure the borough lived up to its name, building their grand industrial empires on the shores of the East River. By the turn of the 20th century, more sugar was being refined in Williamsburg and more coffee roasted in DUMBO than anywhere else in the country, shaping the Brooklyn waterfront and NYC as a preeminent financial and cultural center. The history of coffee and sugar in this town is as rich and exciting as these two commodities are sweet and stimulating, so hang on to your homebrew and get ready for a New York Story.