A streetcar at Madison and 4th Avenue in 1890. Via MCNY.
Greenwich Village is known as the birthplace of many things – the modern gay rights movement, Off-Broadway theater, the New York School of artists and poets, the “new urbanism” pioneered by Jane Jacobs, among many other trailblazing firsts. Less closely associated with the Village, however, are radical and transformative innovations in transportation technology. But while little known, the Village was in fact home to the first elevated rail line, and the first streetcar.
The whole history right this way
Hanukkah celebration by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association at the Academy of Music in New York City, 1880, via Wikimedia Commons
Hanukkah is engrained into New York’s holiday season, but roughly 100 years ago the Festival of Lights was big news to many New Yorkers. Look at the newspaper coverage back in the day regarding the holiday, and most “took an arms-length approach,” as Bowery Boys puts it. “More than one old Tribune or World carried a variant of the headline “Jews Celebrate Chanukah,” as though there might have been some doubt. A 1905 headline even informed readers that, “Chanukah, Commemorating Syrian Defeat, Lasts Eight Days.”
Such headlines weren’t just the result of ignorance–New York’s Jewish population was low through the 1800s, and even within the religion, Hanukkah has traditionally been a minor festival. But a boom in Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and a reassertion of religious traditions in a new country completely changed the fabric of New York. Eventually, the eight-day festival of light–which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks over 2,000 years ago–emerged as an important tradition of the city.
Here’s what happened
© Estate of Fred W. McDarrah
Perhaps no single photographer could be said to have captured the energy, the cultural ferment, the reverberating social change emanating from New York City in the second half of the 20th century as vividly as Fred W. McDarrah. McDarrah got his start covering the downtown beat of the Village Voice in the 1950s and ’60s, as that publication was defining a newly-emerged breed of independent journalism. McDarrah penetrated the lofts and coffeehouses of Lower Manhattan to shed light upon a new movement known as “The Beats” and went on to capture on film the New York artists, activists, politicians, and poets who changed the way everyone else thought and lived.
Through the generosity of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah and the McDarrah family, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation was fortunate enough to add to its digital archive a dozen of the most epochal of Fred McDarrah’s images of downtown icons, including Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Jane Jacobs, and Allen Ginsberg. And just in time for the holidays, you can purchase your own copy (with all proceeds benefitting GVSHP!).
Learn the story behind all the photos
Baseball on Ice (1884) via Fine Art America
For baseball fans, winter becomes an unbearably long season. In addition to the cold weather and early darkness, there are no games to watch. As a solution to this ball game drought, Brooklynites of the mid-and-late-1800’s began playing ice baseball. Getting its start in Rochester, N.Y. and later moving downstate to Brooklyn in 1861, the sport of ice baseball forced players to strap on skates and attempt to follow the rules of regular baseball on a frozen pond. Although ice skating remains a very popular winter activity in New York City to this day, baseball on ice eventually lost its charm before the turn of the 20th century, as players, and fans, complained about the freezing cold and slippery conditions.
The building in 1905, via MCNY
This morning, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the former IRT Powerhouse (now the Con Ed Powerhouse) at 12th Avenue and 59th Street an official New York City landmark. The Beaux-Arts style building, designed in 1904 by McKim, Mead & White, is considered a remarkable example of the style applied to a utilitarian building. It was bestowed with such grandeur to convince the public to embrace the subway, a newly-created transportation option at the time. The monumental building not only powered the city’s the first subway line but upon completion 111 years ago it was the largest powerhouse in the world.
Find out more
The first electrically-illuminated Christmas tree in 1882, courtesy of the Thomas Edison Museum
At a townhouse on East 36th Street in 1882, the first Christmas tree to ever be adorned with electrical lights was lit, paving the way for the frenzy surrounding tree lightings around the world today. As an engineer and vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, as well as Thomas Edison’s business partner, Edward Hibberd Johnson, was quite familiar with light bulbs. While festively decorating his apartment ahead of the holiday that year, Johnson had a very bright idea: wiring 80 red, white and blue light bulbs together around the tree and placing it in his parlor window.
More history this way
Jimi Hendrix, via Wiki Commons
Jimi Hendrix would have turned 75 this week. In his brief 27 years and even briefer musical career, Hendrix left an indelible mark upon guitar playing and rock music, permanently transforming both art forms. But perhaps in some ways his most lasting impact came from a project completed just three weeks before his death–the opening of Electric Lady Studios at 52 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. On August 26th, 1970, the studio opened, the only recording artist-owned studio at the time. It provided Hendrix with affordable studio space that would also meet his personal technical and aesthetic specifications.
Kicked off by an opening party near summer’s end, Electric Lady Studios was the location of Hendrix’s last-ever studio recording–an instrumental known as “Slow Blues”–before his untimely passing on September 18, 1970. Fortunately, this was only the beginning of the studio’s incredible run recording some of the greatest rock, hip hop, and pop albums of the last nearly half-century and only the latest incarnation of one of the Village’s most unusual and storied structures.
The whole history here
Rendering courtesy of Gillie and Marc
The husband-and-wife sculpture team Gillie and Marc have an ambitious plan to install bronze sculptures of powerful women throughout New York City beginning next year. Over 25 years, Gillie and Marc have completed over 100 commissions for sculptures in public places and businesses in more than 40 cities. (In New York, their work has been everywhere from Rockefeller Center to the Fulton Center, and they plan to install the world’s largest rhino sculpture in Manhattan next year.) But in all their commissions, they were shocked to find that only one was to celebrate a woman.
To help narrow the glaring gender gap in public monuments, the artists plan to install eight life-size bronze sculptures of powerful women across New York City as a public art exhibition. It’s set to debut in 2018, and until the public has a chance to vote on which women should be featured.
Learn more about the art project
The 1931 tree, via Rockefeller Center
The official website of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree describes the holiday tree as a “world-wide symbol of Christmas,” a statement we really can’t argue with, especially since 125 million people visit the attraction each year. And with tonight marking the 85th Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting, an annual celebration that attracts tens of thousands in person and hundreds of millions more on television, we decided to take a look back at the tradition’s history. From its start as a modest Depression-era pick-me-up for Rockefeller Center construction workers to World War regulations to its current 550-pound Swarovski star, there’s no shortage of interesting tidbits about one of NYC’s biggest attractions.
More on the history here
Christmas shoppers on 6th Avenue (1910) via Library of Congress
Black Friday marks the start of frantic holiday shopping, the day when retailers offer their best deals of the season to lure in eager shoppers. While some gift-givers now choose to digitally add items to shopping carts from the comfort of bed instead, many still line up outside of stores at the crack of dawn in search of major discounts. This is not a modern phenomenon, as these photographs from the Library of Congress of 20th century New York City reveal. Like today, New Yorkers of the early 1900s were drawn to the magical window shops and displays. Ahead, explore vintage photos of shoppers browsing New York City stores looking for the perfect presents, postcards and more.
See the photos here