Friday, May 30, 2008

PODCAST: The Stonewall Riots

Above: one of the few extant photographs of the actual riot

It's the summer of 1969, and the police have raided the Stonewall, a popular gay bar in the West Village. Join us as we look at the raid, the riots, and their significance today.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

The original front of Stonewall

The chalkboard outfront of the Stonewall the day after the riots

The Mattachine Society and one of their civilized protests, at their 'Annual Reminder' in Philadelphia

Matthew 'Matty the Horse' Ianniello, seen here in 2005, purportedly received cuts from the profits of Stonewall and many other mafia-run establishments

What the Times reported after the riots:

The early gay magazine The Advocate with news of the riots ... and Jon Voight!

The first New York gay pride parade, organized by the Gay Liberation Front

The parade finishes at Sheeps Meadow in Central Park

Christopher Park, outside the Stonewall Inn

Two fantastic resources to check out, both books named Stonewall, one by David Carter from 2005, the other by Martin Duberman

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hamilton Grange: Movin' on up!

Pic courtesy of Friends of St Nicolas Park

The Hamilton Grange National Monument is finally on the move! The home of Alexander Hamilton, built in 1802 and inhabited by the Founding Father for all of two years before his fateful duel with Aaron Burr, is being slowly lifted from its cramped, ingracious little spot next to St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

As you can see from the website, the house had to actually be lifted over part of the church that had been built blocking the Grange front porch. Once at the proper height, the entire home was moved into Convent Avenue where it will slowly be lowered. On June 7th, it will be moved to its new digs at St. Nicolas Park, where it will be crowded by nothing but shrubs, picnic tables and trees.

What the Grange used to look like and where it was situated;

What the scene at the Grange was like a few months ago:

And here's the graphic of what the new Hamilton Grange arrangement will finally look like, courtesy the National Park Service:

Obviously they will have to rebuild the side porches, the original entrance and other features that were stripped off when the house was moved next to St. Luke's in 1889.

I highly recommend a trip up to the neighborhood of Hamilton Heights to check out this very unusual sight. You may not see a national monument hoisted up into the air for quite some time!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sarah Jessica Parker: her New York City history

Above: the sun comes out for Sarah Jessica Parker

New York City usually spends the summer movie season being destroyed by aliens or scarred by car chases. So despite what you may think of the upcoming Sex And The City movie, consider this -- not only does the Big Apple make it out alive, it actually transforms back into that place of fantasy and romance that made you fall in love with it in the first place.

All the Sex And The City actresses have New York connections, especially native New Yorker Cynthia Nixon. But lead star Sarah Jessica Parker developed her acting chops here and maneuvered through many notable Broadway and off-Broadway performances to somehow become the quintessential young New York actress.

Although Sarah was born in Nelsonville, Ohio, in 1965, her father was a Brooklyn native so the city was always in her blood. Even almost removing Sex And The City entirely from the equation, you can still trace her early history through the streets of the city at these sites:

Roosevelt Island
In 1977 Sarah's family packs up a VW van and moves to the burgeoning social experiment known as Roosevelt Island. From here, she is able to go to performance schools in the city and audition for shows at an early age. The island had only been named after Roosevelt for four years and many were still calling it Welfare Island. Sarah most likely took the Roosevelt tram, which had just been built the year before.

Professional Children's School (132 West 60th Street)
Sarah attended this performing arts school in her early years. The Professional School has fostered hundreds of precocious young performing arts students since 1914, including another famous Sarah (Michelle Gellar). The photo above is of PCS students in 1955. Sidenote: the Professional Children School spawned most of the Culkins (Macaulay, Rory, et al)

Neil Simon Theatre (W. 52nd Street)
Formerly the Alvin Theatre (pictured above in 1947), this was where Annie made its Broadway debut, and from 1978-80 featured a young Sarah Jessica, in latter years as the title character (below), in what looks to be a horrendous fright wig. Four years later the Alvin would be renamed for playwright Simon, and its first production -- Brighton Beach Memoirs -- would star Sarah's future husband Matthew Broderick.

Sarah performs a song from Annie in a 1982 television special here.

Manhattan Theater Club (at City Center, 131 West 55th Street)
City Center, a former Shriners hall, welcomed the renown theater company to its location in the 1980s. Sarah spent many great years during the 90s on the stage of the MTC, most notably playing a dog in the 1995 comedy Sylvia. Her co-star Nixon frequented the stage many times as well.

Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W 46th Street)
Sarah met her future husband Matthew Broderick (above) through her association with the Naked Angels theatre company, but the two would take to the big stage together in the revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a show which would garner Broderick a Tony Award. Sarah Jessica marries Broderick in 1997 in civil ceremony in a former Lower East Side synagogue.

66 Perry Street
Sex And The City, which debuted in 1998 and scoured the city during its seven year run for trendy and romantic locations, placed Sarah's character Carrie Bradshaw at the address 245 East 73rd Street, although the actual building where exteriors were shot was located at 66 Perry Street in the West Village, nearby her present home. (You may want to avoid this location for the next few weeks.)

Lenox Hill Hospital (100 East 77th Street)
Sarah gave birth to her first child here, in one of Manhattan's oldest hospitals, in 2002. The facility opened in 1857 as the German Dispensary but moved to its present location in 1862. In 1918 it was renamed after the Upper East Side neighborhood where it resides. Perhaps Sarah delivered her son James Wilkie Broderick in a room near where Winston Churchill was treated after he was hit by a car in 1931.

Plaza Hotel (5th Ave and 59th Street)
Turned 40 years old at a lavish birthday party at the Plaza Hotel, which was at the time 97 years old. The whole cast celebrated with her, as did that other New York City comedy icon -- Jerry Seinfeld.

Below: Sarah as Annie

By the way, in 1971, when Sarah was only six years old, a young designer by the name of Manolo Blahnik came to New York City with his portfolio, looking for work. He met with the legendary Diana Vreeland at Vogue Magazine, who suggested he focus strictly on making shoes.

"Your shoes in these drawings are so amusing,” she said as she thumbed through his sketches.

Less than 30 years later, Manolo's shoes would become famous worn on the feet of the former child star.

Below: Manolo, signing a shoe in New York Fashion Week in 2006

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Philly's New York nude treasure

I was in Philadelphia for the holiday but couldn't leave the Bowery Boys behind, stumbling into an attractive nude lady with a connection to old New York.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, known less for its collections of Thomas Eakins than for its usage in the movie Rocky, holds an old piece of Stanford White's original Madison Square Garden. Standing at the top of the entrance staircase is Diana, a delicate depiction of the Roman goddess by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of New York's most important civic artists.

The 13 foot tall woman was placed at the top of the ornate Garden building on 27th street and Madison Avenue in 1893, where she actually served as a weather vane, twisting about on her axis 350 feet above the city. Diana even came with a billowing cape, a 'flying drapery', which would whip behind her during a violent gust. One can easily image her inspiring future comic book writers.

This was only the second Diana on top of the Garden rooftop. Gauden made an even larger version in 1891, but the 18 feet Diana proved to bulky to serve as a graceful vane and was replaced with this one. The original Diana moved to the White City, the famous World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where she was damaged in a fire.

Augustus used New York's most famous model at the time as inspiration for Diana -- Julia "Dudie" Baird (seen below), who posed for many artists at the time and whose body has inspired more than a few pieces throughout the city, including the golden Victory at Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza.

By 1925, White's Madison Square Garden was torn down and moved uptown. Diana was displayed elsewhere for a few years before moving to Philly in 1932, where she has sat at the top of the art museum's stair ever since.

If you've never been to Philly but find the statue somewhat familiar, it's because Saint-Gaudens rendered smaller versions in bronze, including the one most notably held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (below).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

Another angle of Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous snapshot of some spontaneous love-making in Times Square on V-J Day

Friday, May 23, 2008

PODCAST: Grant's Tomb

What's buried in Grant's Tomb? A quirky history that includes an ambitious architect, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, lots of ugly raspberry paint, and charges of prostitution and animal sacrifice! Oh yeah, and that Civil War guy's buried here too....

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

Ulysses S. Grant - America's most popular citizen in the years following the Civil War.

And his wife Julia Dent Grant, entombed next to him

An ominous view of the Tomb during World War I, as battleships pass by it

A great photo illustrating how somewhat barren that area of town was at the time. The silo-like building in the background is apparently a gas shell.

One rendering of a staircase that was to travel from the Tomb to the water front. This addition was never built.

The website of the Grant Monument Association details some of the disasterous deterioration of the memorial during the 1970s:

Frank Scaturro, the Columbia University student who helped bring Grant's Tomb back to life (photos courtesy the GMA website)

Grant's Tomb today, complete with unicyclists (in foreground)

Those 'funky' mosaic benches. Actually they'd be quite amazing if they were any place else...

The sarcophagi of Ulysses and Julia

Thursday, May 22, 2008

George W. Bush ... on horseback!

Okay nobody may ever honor our current president with a lavish equestrian statue, unless it's a joke and he's wearing a cowboy hat. But military tradition and the neo-classical and Beaux-Arts predilictions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries slapped many commanders in chiefs onto a saddle for decoration. New York city has five such statues of four presidents:

The first and most famous is first president George Washington looking down Broadway at Union Square, created by Henry Kirke Brown in 1856 (before the events honored by all subsequent presidential equestrian statues even occurred!)

The arch at Grand Army Plaza hosts two different presidents, placed here in 1896. Although John Duncan (later of Grant's Tomb fame) would design the arch, the presidents are sculpted by William Rudolf O'Donovan. (The great painter Thomas Eakins meanwhile sculpted the horses!)

The 16th president, Abraham Lincoln rides on the left (although he certainly never fought in any Civil War battles):

And the 18th, Ulysses S Grant:

Grant has a far more flattering depiction on horseback not terribly far away from this one, on a traffic island in Crown Heights (the picture at top), designed by William Ordway Partridge and planted here, also in 1896. As Grant's Tomb would be opened the next year, clearly Ulysses-mania was in the air!

Finally the 26th president Teddy Roosevelt gets his honor with a politically incorrect bonus -- a 'proud Indian' and a 'noble black man' astride him.

James Earl Fraser sculpted the bronze which was dedicated in 1940. Upon closer inspection of the statue's unusual characters beside him finds that they are supposed to represent Africa and the Americas, with the two men guiding the former president. Also note that it appears that Teddy is about to reach for a gun, making this by far the most unusual of the presidential equestrian statues in the city.

The statue is placed here because Teddy's father is one of the founders of the museum, as well as a tribute to Roosevelt's careers as a historian and explorer.

Roosevelt once justified his slaughter of over 10,000 wild African animals by saying, "I can be condemned only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned."