Friday, December 17, 2010


Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. I'm not a tourist, but I play one on the Internet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In which I never leave the internet.

The Museum of the City of New York is digitizing its entire collection of photographs and is in the process of putting them all online. Base categories are by photographer, era, and borough. All of them are tagged and you can search for almost anything. I just did searches for Automats and the Bowery and Little Italy and Park Avenue and nightclubs. There are still some search result issues -- for example, I can't seem to see photos of Harlem ONLY from the 1930s -- but they're still working on the archive, so a filter of some sort might be implemented later. In the meantime, internet forever!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Good eats

Before the Big Mac: Horn & Hardart Automats

At first I was super excited thinking that the NYPL was having an exhibition on Automat memorabilia, but aw, it's only an article. But a great article nontheless, with links, book recs, and a video featuring a swell rendition of "Take the A Train." At the end it references a short-lived Automat-type shop called BAMN, which opened on St. Mark's Place in the Village. I peeked inside once...but I wasn't going to pay $2 for a pair of tiny corn dogs.

But I've passed the new Chock Full o'Nuts coffee shop and diner mentioned in the article, and it looks straight out of the 1950s. Reviews for the most part are pretty positive, so I'll have to pop in some day soon and have a cup and a bite to eat.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My skyscraper is bigger than yours.

I had such a day today. I discovered almost too late that this weekend was Open House New York, in which places all over the city that are usually closed off to the public are, well, open, with free tours. So I managed to squeeze in three places: the Chrysler Building Lobby, the Grand Lodge of Masons (masons!!), and the 69th Regiment Armory.

The Chrysler Building lobby is already pretty much public, but normally you can't stand around ogling the architecture and snapping pictures like crazy. Plus there was a historian talking about the utterly fascinating story of the building and the fantastically gorgeous lobby. Oh god, the lobby. It's so art deco, it hurts. The historian explained that Walter Chrysler from Detroit personally funded the construction and design, consisting of motifs like eagles and wings, and components like Moroccan marble and plum tree wood panels for the elevators and crazy expensive shit that you can't get anywhere now. The indirect lighting gives the entire lobby (which is Y-shaped) the feel of a swanky lounge. It's amazing. While the Empire State Building, which was finished after the Chrysler, was generally thought of as having the aesthetics of a functional gray flannel suit, the Chrysler was the hip playboy. In terms of prettiness, you cannot beat the giant steel eagle gargoyles.

Then it was off to the Grand Lodge of Masons. This was going to be interesting and exciting, because masons!! It's really weird and fascinating! This particular lodge, completed in 1912, is located on West 23rd Street, just a couple blocks away from where I work. I really had no idea what we were going to see, but I joined a tour, and off we went. We were led through several of the meeting rooms, all of which had different names and themes, such as Egyptian, Colonial, Renaissance, etc. Holy crap, the architecture was boggling. Just so ridiculously, beautifully ornate. Our mason tour guides explained that the two things that masons couldn't discuss during meetings were religion and politics, because religion and politics are divisive, and what they are striving for is unity and brotherhood. There is symbolism up the wazoo. The uncarved stone represents a person; the polished stone represents the idealized human being. Unity between people is like stones being joined by concrete. Thus you have the building of an ideal society. Through ideal society, you have an ideal world (symbolized by a globe); through a perfect world, you have a perfect universe (symbolized by a star-covered sphere). And I was thinking, this is all very well and good, but wow, people. But apparently these are good organizations because they donate millions of dollars to medical institutions and children's hospitals. Like the Shriners, the ones who wear the fezzes -- in fact, one of our tour guides showed us a real fez (I couldn't help a tiny squeal for fannish reasons). When our tour guides were asked what they talked about during meetings or why women weren't allowed to join (there are woman masons in Europe and South America, but not in the United States), they never really gave direct answers. Apparently the first rule about etc. etc. etc. Also, there were many famous masons who were initiated in this particular lodge, including Eddie Cantor (!!!), Harry Houdini, Fiorello LaGuardia, George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Then my last stop was the 69th Regiment Armory, which is actually just behind where I work. It's part of the National Guard and the only regiment left in New York City. A veteran colonel led my small group through the various rooms and the enormous space where there've been Knicks games and Victoria's Secret runway shows. The 69th has a very rich history, having served in US wars since the American Revolution. There was a lot of wartime memorabilia, from the days of Father Duffy to Iraq. There was a German helmet and a Nazi flag captured during WWII, and there were framed photographs of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien in the film, The Fighting 69th. The 69th was famous for being almost entirely comprised of Irish immigrants, and that's why their official emblem is the only regimental emblem with a green background. The place even has its own bar!

All of this was just incredibly fascinating. Now that I know about OHNY, I can't wait for next year's.

Friday, September 17, 2010


What I thought was city dust and debris in the Tribute of Light beams on 9/11 were actually thousands of migratory birds disoriented by the powerful lights. I honestly had no idea that they were birds. Watch the video and you will probably be as amazed as I am. While it was a spectacular sight, I sincerely hope that the birds (the majority of them, at least) made it safely to their nesting grounds. I'm glad the Audobon Society took care to alert those in charge of the lights to turn them off once in a while to let the birds continue on their way. Though a few commenters on the NPR site pointed out that they gathered there because of all the bugs attracted by the light and therefore it was an enormous feeding station!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


It's that time again.

Tonight I'm going to head out to the Brooklyn Bridge to see the Tribute in Light. I've never seen the lights from there, so it should be a memorable sight. I remember last year was chilly, damp, and a bit foggy, and I'd gone all the way down to Ground Zero to see them as up close as possible. Today is actually warm and sunny. Just like it was in '01.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I coulda been a contender

I went to Admiral's Row today. So surreal. I turned a corner, followed a tall red wall topped with barbed wire, and when the wall ended and turned into a rusty spiked fence, there they were, the houses. It was like visiting a forgotten graveyard, so overrun with vines and trees and trash that you can barely see anything. As I made my way down the block I would come across a gap in the foliage and see a broken door, a glass-less window like an eye socket, crumbling bricks, weathered wood. There was a children's playground and pool right across the street, full of laughter and shrieking and glee, yet there I was peering through flaking, wrought iron bars that could give me tetanus at these sad and depressing relics. An older man on a bicycle passed by me as I was taking photos and he muttered, "Shame." If the houses are still up by winter when the greenery dies, I'm going back to get more pics.

Here are the 29 photos I took at Admiral's Row.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a forbidding place, and I didn't feel comfortable snooping around the gates, so I went in the opposite direction, back toward the bridges and the waterfront. I'd actually been down there before, but I hadn't fully explored the area. So, I went up and down the unfamiliar cobblestone streets that criss-crossed just as confusingly as they do in lower Manhattan. This is an old neighborhood rooted in shipbuilding and industrialism. If not for the trendy/indie shops and cafes popping up, this place would remain bleak among the projects and half-constructed/deconstructed buildings.

The weather was okay. I would've preferred it to be cooler. Luckily I slathered my arms in sunblock because I knew that shade in midday would be minimal. I tried finding shade under the Manhattan Bridge, but an ideal little nook right on the water's edge contained a DECAPITATED PIGEON, most likely killed by getting hit by a subway that regularly roared overhead, so I moved out of there quickly.

I did a lot of wandering, and of course I placed the importance of popping into a bookstore before popping into a restaurant. It was an indie place near a power station and thus called Powerhouse Books. Like most every workspace in the area, it was in a loft-like converted warehouse. I thought I was doing well resisting buying anything, but they had a little pocket journal with a vintage mugshot of some fedora'd petty criminal, so I had to have it. Then I hit the New York/Brooklyn table and I was doomed, because I saw the cover of My Ears are Bent and had to have it as well. It's a collection of pieces by a reporter who covered offbeat stories in NYC during the 1930s. Seriously. How could I not get this. It would be against my nature to not get this. So I got it. Rule of Thumb: If you want me to buy something, put a man in a fedora on it.

Oh, before I forget -- there was a SURPRISE CAROUSEL in an empty gallery on a street clogged with construction work. The carousel will be part of the Brooklyn Bridge park and recreation area that will be completed some time next year. A guy inside saw me peering through the window like an awestruck 6-year-old and he said, "Go in and take a look!" Some staff members were giving the carousel a test run without the music. It was pretty but all the static horses were on the outside while the jumpy ones were on the inside, and I prefer it the other way around.

Well, more random wanderings made me tired, plus it was hot, plus I still had to work at the shop in the evening. So at about 3:30, I took the F train back into Manhattan and switched at 34th St. to a local N back to Brooklyn. And for the next hour and a half or so, I napped on the subway in air-conditioned bliss like a freaking hobo. Rode that N to nearly the end of the line, then transferred to a Manhattan-bound one and slept some more.

It was great.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

crumbling city

On Monday evening I attended the first Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn class at Brooklyn Brainery, and it was pretty cool. Just a bunch of NYC history geeks sitting around a huge map, eating cookies and drinking wine and talking about old neighborhoods and Dutch villages. Also it wasn't even a surprise anymore that less than half of the 20 or so people there are originally from somewhere else. That's just the way it is.

If anything it inspired me to learn more about my own borough of Brooklyn, and go out there and explore it. Next week we're going to take a walking tour of Crown Heights. And we talked about something I had never heard of before, Admiral's Row, which is a street of dilapidated houses by the Brooklyn Navy Yard dating back to the Civil War. Most of the houses are going to be demolished soon, so I want to get out there and see what I can see before they're all torn down. Take a look at these photo galleries, and some haunting interior shots.

I've gotten myself seriously lost in that blog.

I want to be this photographer when I grow up.

Let me try and pick my favorite photo essays: (I actually passed by here the last time I was at Coney Island)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ground Zero ship

Something I didn't have the time to post about last week: an 18-century wooden ship was unearthed at the World Trade Center site. How awesome is that? Check out those photos and this AP footage. (My otherwise dormant archaeological inner-self cringed a bit when that worker knocked the edge of a plastic bucket against one of the wooden beams.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

relevant to my interests

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

creepy and kooky pt. 2

Photos from my visit to the Museum of the City of New York:
Part 1: 16 photos
Part 2: 16 photos

Monday, May 31, 2010

creepy and kooky

I got off work early and decided to go up to the Museum of the City of New York, since it was the last free Monday. Saw the Charles Addams exhibit and it was deliciously wonderful. They even had his drawing materials and desk on display, plus a cloth window shade on which he drew an almost life-sized Morticia. One of his morbid NYC-centric cartoons even gave me an idea for something, I don't know what, but I want to do something with it: there are two men standing on a Wall Street corner, and one says ominously, "And on every October twenty-third since 1929..." as they both look up at a skyscraper, from which two ghostly figures plummet. It made me shudder.

There was an exhibit of cars and the auto industry in New York. Pretty, pretty, shiny cars. Just vintage photos and paraphernalia and and models, but still very pretty, along with slideshows of fancy auto shows in the 1920s and '30s. Then there were some very beautiful photos of NYC from past decades, and some really depressing ones by Jacob Riis (Lower East Side tenements, plus the famous Bandits Roost). I watched a short film narrated by Stanley Tucci about the changing face of New York City from its Dutch colony days to pre-9/11. And then I bought some postcards and skyscraper flashcards in the gift shop. Parts of the museum were under construction so I think I could've seen way more, but this was good enough for a free day.

Then I went across the street to Central Park. I had never been in the park this far up, at 103rd Street. I had no idea that the glorious Eden-like Conservatory Garden was up there. Holy crap, what a discovery for me! All the greenery and flowers and the shady, winding pathways! I started taking pictures of flowers like a madwoman and then almost cried when the battery died on me. I will have to go back up there soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Vintage NYC

Color photographs of New York City in 1941.

This brings hearts to my eyes. Many of the views are familiar to me, and I've even taken some photos from the same vantage points.

The person who posted these has tons more sets of vintage photos and images, and I haven't gone through much of them yet but wow, what a collection. Not only New York, but Berlin, Rio, Nashville, Oklahoma City... Go have a look and lose yourself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

She sells seashells...

My adventures in jury duty ended abruptly today because the parties involved decided to settle out of court, so it's all over. We got dismissed at about 12:30. And that was that. How utterly anti-climactic. Oh well.

With the rest of the day free, I went to Coney Island. Yeah, I have no idea why. I hadn't been to Coney Island maybe in almost 10 years. I just rode the Q train all the way to the end of the line. During the off-season it's a decrepit ghost town, and most of the tacky souvenir shops and arcades are closed. It's a bit of a time warp as well, as the stuff that hasn't changed since the 1980s is still there, which is great for photo-taking. The Cyclone rollercoaster is still a thing of wooden wonder, and I was glad to see that maintenance workers were taking care of it. Astroland, the kiddie park, still had rides from when I was a child: the glittery helicopters/spaceships, the firetrucks, the pony carts! There was a sign that read that the park was opening March 28, but I don't know how long they're keeping these old rides...probably until they're ready to devastate-and-renovate. They can't touch the Cyclone, though, as it's been designated a landmark. Hell yeah.

So I just went up and down the boardwalk (after searching for a place that sold sunscreen, spent my last cash on a tube of it -- wasn't going to risk my face peeling off), took artsy-fartsy pics, and felt sentimental and nostalgic a great deal. You'll most likely get to see these photos about 6 or 7 months from now when I get around to posting them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trailer for HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Need. This. Show. Now.

It seems to me that Steve Buscemi was born to play a bootlegger. And I will admit that it has always been a desire of mine to see him dressed to the nines in vintage clothing. His role in Billy Bathgate was far too small to satisfy me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Black Hand

These are examples of Black Hand letters from the Mafia, displayed at the NYC Police Museum. Pretty chilling.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (left) and Hollywood actor George Raft, 1944.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Someone must be tapping directly into my brain...

Mafia museum to open in Manhattan next month -- The video shows that it's housed in an actual former speakeasy!

Official site: Museum of the American Gangster

I wonder if I would be allowed to hold an actual vintage tommy gun?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poisoned alcohol.

The Chemist's War: The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences.

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat. 

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowpocalypse 2010

You're at the end of the line, kid.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oh Amazon, you know me so well.

Found this recommendation in my inbox today: Over Here!: New York City During World War II. My eyes have hearts in them.

Lorraine B. Diehl has also written about the Automat, Pennsylvania Station, and the subway system, all of which seem to be out of print, all of which need to be on my bookshelf, now. Time to go used-book-hunting. Or at least see if the library has any of them. Definitely want to find the Automat book.