Tag Archives: World War II

Here’s how to view the new display ‘New York 1942’ at Gracie Mansion

Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to move his family from their home in East Harlem (Fifth Avenue and 109th Street) to an old mansion in Carl Schurz Park. It was the former home to merchant Archibald Gracie, built in 1799, to look out at the ships of the East River and the turbulent waters of Hell Gate.

Below: Gracie Mansion in 1945. Needless to say, that chainlink fence has been replaced!

Gracie Mansion is known as ‘the little White House’. In truth, it’s yellow now, not white, but it was indeed small and perhaps a bit unsuited for its expanded new purposes. In 1966, thanks to Susan Wagner (Mayor Robert Wagner’s wife), the house was suitably enlarged with a ballroom and two reception rooms. It’s largely because of her and subsequent custodians that the mansion has now struck a perfect balance — an historical home that can vividly represent the City of New York and still comfortably keep a family.

Only one mayor has excused himself from his tradition — Michael Bloomberg — who turned the residence into a house museum, opening up Gracie Mansion to tours and even public events. After all, Bloomberg has a little change in his pocket, shall we say, and his actual home on East 79th Street was close by.

But Mayor Bill De Blasio has chosen to adhere to tradition and move his family into Gracie Mansion. In honor of that revived tradition, Gracie Mansion Conservancy is presenting a series of art installations in the house, celebrating its unique place in American history.

The latest installation New York 1942 presents a wide range of artifacts (59 in all) reflecting life in the city during World War II, a time-warping decor quietly expressing the house’s many historical layers. (An exhibition last year displayed relics from 1799, the year Gracie completed his mansion.)

In the entranceway, you’re met with prints of Norman Rockwell’s striking Four Freedoms, illustrating the accompanying freedoms of speech, worship, want and fear as outlined in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s now-iconic 1941 speech. They seem perfectly at home here and they should consider permanently installing a set here.

Throughout the house are paintings and photographs of every day life from the 1940s —  Gordon Parks photographs, landmarks in watercolors and paints, pictures of skyscrapers and housing projects alike. An old early ’40s television sits in one room; in the next, a modern widescreen presents a jazz band playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” Perhaps the most delectable artifact is its smallest — a little baseball, signed by the World Champion 1941 New York Yankees.

New York 1942 is curated with a modern eye, bringing out the diverse life of the city in the 40s, a perspective that some might have overlooked then. In particular, don’t overlook the somewhat strange Contoured Playground by Isamu Noguchi, a model for a children’s playground the artist wanted to build when he arrived at an Arizona internment camp in May 1942.

Gracie Mansion had an open house this past Sunday, presenting the installation to hundreds of visitors.   You can check out the installation yourself by booking a free tour to the historic home.  Just visit their website to directly book a spot on the next tour — Tuesdays only for the general public, select Wednesdays for schools — or call 212-676-3060.

I couldn’t take any pictures of the installation inside but I did snag a few from the front lawn!


Midnight in Times Square: The history of New Year’s Eve in New York City

PODCAST The tale of New York City’s biggest annual party from its inception on New Years Eve 1904 to the magnificent spectacle of the 21st century. 

In this episode, we look back on the one day of the year that New Yorkers look forward.  New Years Eve is the one night that millions of people around the world focus their attentions on New York City — or more specifically, on the wedge shaped building in Times Square wearing a bright, illuminated ball on its rooftop.

1In the 19th century, the ringing-in of the New Year was celebrated with gatherings near Trinity Church and a pleasant New Years Day custom of visiting young women in their parlors.  But when the New York Times decided to celebrate the opening of their new offices — in the plaza that would take the name Times Square — a new tradition was born.

Tens of millions have visited Times Square over the years, gazing up to watch the electric ball drop, a time-telling mechanism taken from the maritime tradition. The event has been affected by world events — from Prohibition to World War II — and changed by the introduction of radio and television broadcasts.

ALSO: What happened to the celebration which it reached the gritty 1970s and a Times Square with a surly reputation?

PLUS: A few tips for those of you heading to the New Years Eve celebration this year!

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New Years Day celebrations have evolved since the days of New Amsterdam when visitations symbolized a ‘fresh start’ to the year.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


A decorative cigar box from the 1890s, ringing in the new year with a winsome damsel and wholesome scenes of winter beckoning you to smoke a cigar.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


The crowds outside Trinity Church on 1906 gathered to usher in the new year. The church was traditionally the place people gathered before the Times Square celebration took off.



Fated to be the centerpiece of New Years Eve, One Times Square once wore some beautiful architecture until much of it was ripped off to accommodate a frenzy of electronic signs.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


Times Square in 1905 for the very first New Years Eve celebration albeit one with fireworks, not a ball drop.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


The party offerings at the Hotel Astor in Times Square in 1926.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


The view of Times Square from the Empire State Building.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


New Years Eve 1938

AP photo
AP photo

The throngs in 1940 with the Gone With The Wind marquee in the background (not to mention Tallulah Bankhead in the play The Little Foxes!)

Courtesy New York Daily News
Courtesy New York Daily News

Ushering in 1953:


Celebrations were also held for a time in Central Park, like this festive group from 1969:

Courtesy New York Parks Department
Courtesy New York Parks Department

An electrician from the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation tests out the lighting effects that will greet the new year in 1992.


And here’s some videos of New Years Eve countdown past!

Mr New Years Eve himself — Guy Lombardo — here at the Roosevelt Hotel, ringing in 1958

From 1965-66:

A clip from Dick Clark’s first appearance in Times Square. It cuts away to Three Dog Night in California!

CBS’s New Years Eve program featuring Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazzard.

The absolutely bonkers ball drop for the new millennium.

Last year’s commentary by those wacky cards Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.

Life in New York City 1935-1945: Heavenly images from Yale University

Yale University has sprung a beautiful present onto the Internet — a searchable database of over 170,000 public-domain photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, documenting the aftermath of America of the Great Depression and World War II. The photos, dating from between the years 1935 to 1945, include of the greatest American photographers from the period (such as Gordon ParksWalker Evans and Dorothea Lange).

These images aren’t really new; they’ve been available at the Library of Congress for many years. I’ve even ran a couple of these on the blog before.  But Yale has done an outstanding job of sorting and cataloging. Their site even comes with a map if you want to look at images from a particular area of the country.

Take a look at this particular images from New York City during this period, then head over to the database and lose yourself inside these captivating, sometimes harrowing pictures. Thank you Yale!



June 1936 “New York street scene: striking in front of Macy’s” Photographer Dorothea Lange



November 1936 “Street scene at 38th Street and 7th Avenue” Photographer Russell Lee



1938 “New York, New York. 61st Street between 1st and 3rd Avenues. Tenants” Photographs by Walker Evans



1938 Photographer Jack Allison (no caption on photo)



June 1941 New York City, East Side, Sunday morning, photographer Marion Post Walcott


picDecember 1941 :Children playing, New York City: Photographer Arthur Rothstein



October 1942 “High school Victory Corps. Learning the rudiments of advancing on an enemy will prove valuable to these boys if they are called to join their older brothers in the armed forces. This is part of the “commando” training given in physical education courses at Flushing High School, Queens, New York” Photographer William Perlitch



January 1943 “Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. The gymnasium is one of the busiest places at Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. The physical education program is handled by many noted exponents of boxing, wrestling, track and judo. Paul (Tiny) Wyatt, one-time leading contender for heavyweight boxing honors, is shown sparring with Hart Kraeten, former Golden Gloves champ.” Photographer Roger Smith



January 1943 “New York, New York. Child on Mott Street on Sunday” Photograph by Marjory Collins




January 1943  “Italian grocer in the First Avenue market at Tenth Street” Photograph by Marjory Collins



March 1943 “Rockefeller Plaza, exhibit [for] United Nations by OWI, New York, N.Y. Between photographic displays is [the] Atlantic charter in frame with transmitters at each end and where voices of Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek are heard each half hour; surrounded by statues of the four freedoms.” Photograph by Marjory Collins



March 1943 “New York, New York. Times Square on a rainy day” Photographer John Vachon



April 1943 “A follower of the late Marcus Garvey who started the “Back to Africa” movement” Photographer Gordon Parks



June 1943 “New York, New York. Dock stevedore at the Fulton fish market” Photographer Gordon Parks



June 1944 “Children’s school victory gardens on First Avenue between Thirty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Streets” Photographer Edward Meyer



June 1944 “A crowd on D-Day in Madison Square” Photographer unknown

History in the Making 9/25: Music Made For War Edition

During World War II, Steinway and Sons produced specially-built pianos for the American troops.  Called the Victory Vertical or G.I. Steinways, the pianos were sometimes airdropped onto battlefields to provide a bit of relaxation to troops.  They were manufactured in Steinway’s Queen-based factory and mostly sold to the U.S. government.  More pictures below of the pianos in Steinway’s Manhattan showroom:

Meanwhile, some links of interest….

Exxxxcellent: Seventeen years ago, the Simpsons visited the Big Apple in the episode “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” As you may remember, the World Trade Center is featured in a central gag.  [Gothamist]

Still in ‘Power’:  Robert Caro’s The Power Broker turns forty years old this month and reminds a searing, indispensable read. [Salon]

Men in the ‘Moon’:  The imposing roster of the Half Moon Club, an obscure gentleman’s club of the Gilded Age, featured the most important men of New York [New York Historical Society]

Dangerous Mission:  The incredible story behind a newly discovered photograph of a Southern slave in a Confederate uniform. [Smithsonian]

Saturday Matinee:  The extraordinary Valencia movie palace in Jamaica, Queens, is being opened for a rare preview by its current owners the Tabernacle of Prayer Church.  The tour may already be filled up, but call anyway! If they get enough interest, perhaps they’ll start offering regular tours. [Scouting New York]

Opening Soon:  The list of participating sites and events for the 2014 Open House New York will be available next Tuesday, September 30. [OHNY]

A Real Meat Market: Photos by Richard Ovaduke of a very different Meat-Packinig District. [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

Towering: An extraordinary castle on the Upper West Side that once served as New York’s first cancer hospital. [Gizmodo]

Below: On display at the Steinway showroom on 57th Street:

Pictures courtesy the Steinway and Sons Photo Collection at the San Diego Air-Space Museum

IT’S ALIVE! How the American teenager took over the world

College girls at Maryland State, 1923 (courtesy Shorpy)

The captivating tone-poem documentary Teenage makes a convincing case for one of the 20th century’s most powerful organic inventions — the teenager.  Like the telephone or Coca-Cola, the teenager was principally an American invention which took hold throughout the Western world, a product of modernity and modern wealth.

American adolescents, freed from responsibility (thanks to child labor laws) and shaped by world wars, developed habits and morals fashioned from pop culture.  The melodramas of a postpubescent life became heightened and iconized — young love, emotional trauma, budding sexuality and physical awkwardness.

In Matt Wolf’s Teenage, we see this alien lifeform evolve over the course of under 50 years, from the start of the century to the year 1945, a finish line marked by the creation of ‘A Teen-Age Bill of Rights’ which ran in the New York Times.  It mercifully stops before the monster fully emerges, the hyper-teenager (Annette Funicello, Elvis Presley, Catcher In The Rye) standing just beyond on the horizon.

This is not strictly an American story. We see champagne-swilling British adolescents and young Germans  listening to jazz too. Rebellion translates in different ways — flappers, zoot suits, flirtatious dance moves. While American girls were crumbling in grief over the death of Rudolph Valentino, their English counterparts were filling the newspapers with scandalous behavior.  In Germany, the youth even took power before succumbing to exuberance, then becoming entrapped by its dangerous extremes.

Teenage is not a straight-forward story, but a spiritual rumination on youth.  The film uses an impressive collection of stock footage to create a feeling of inevitability to this curious generational shift — from worn clips of war-torn battlefields to images of Harlem race riots and dance floors.  Nothing stops for long.  Young, beautiful faces cascade through various crises, some superfluous, many of their own design.  But most outside their control.

Woven through this dizzying black-and-white atmosphere are a few clever modern reenactments, illustrating a few individual stories, zeroing in on a few youths carried away by vice, radicalism or violence.

This is not a documentary that stops and stares.   It creates a flowing narrative that bleeds subjects into each other, like a watercolor made of newsreel,  perhaps a frustrating experience if you’re looking for something more traditional.  Teenage is a meditation, not a Ken Burns movie.  You may leave the movie thinking less about the historical construct of adolescence and more with the emotional uncertainty of a certain Victor Frankenstein, moments after realizing what he’s unleashed upon the universe.

Teenage is currently playing at Sunshine Cinema in New York City.  Visit their website for other dates and locations.

A giant Coke bottle atop the Empire State Building? Almost.

Did you see the spectacular debut of the Empire State Building‘s new LED lights last night, choreographed to the music of Alicia Keys, being simultaneously broadcast on four New York radio stations?


 The allure of the Empire State Building as a glamorous light spectacle has been around almost since the mast — originally designed, but never used, as a mooring mast for zeppelins — was raised in 1931.

Nearby Times Square was bathed in the light of neon advertisement, and its master of manipulation was lighting designer Douglas Leigh.  The iconic beacon would have been irresistible to Leigh, and in 1941, he proposed for the top of the Empire State something that would have been easily his most ambitious, most striking lighting display to date — an illuminated bottle of Coca-Cola.

According to author John Tauranac, the famous curvaceous bottle would have sat along the spire, changing color based upon the weather. It was one of several potential Empire State Building/Coke tie-ins planned, including a Coke-sponsored performance by the orchestra of Andre Kostelanetz performed at the top, broadcast nationwide on the radio. Coke products would have featured “a small guide to decipher the colors.

The Empire State Building could have used this publicity at this time, as owners were scrambling to fill vacancies within the building. With Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and dozens of other towers now constructed, midtown Manhattan was experiencing a glut of office space.  A Coke sponsorship would have given the Empire State Building free publicity, not to mention sizable rental fees.

Below: Leigh’s famous smoking Camel ad in midtown Manhattan. The Empire State Building can be seen up in the corner.

But Leigh’s timing was terrible; even as the plan was being drafted, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and America entered World War II.  During the war, there would be no lights at all atop the building or in its upper floors.

A few years later, in July 1945, a B-25 bomber would crash into the Empire State Building, killing the pilot and several within the building. More amazing facts about that tragic accident here.

Leigh never gave up his dream of transforming the Empire State Building. After the war, Leigh told Life Magazine he wanted to put a gigantic, lighted cigarette on the building. [source]  Many decades later, Leigh would finally get his chance — albeit without product placement — designing a new, colorful lighting system  in time for the country’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

New York gas rationing 1942: “The taxi driver’s golden age?”

Today begins mandatory gas rationing in New York City due to shortages caused by Hurricane Sandy.

There was limited gas rationing during the 1970s, but the longest a gas ration was ever sustained in New York City was 70 years ago, during World War II, officially becoming a nationwide policy in December 1942. It was actually rubber that the government was protecting, conserving it for military vehicles by reducing the amount of rubber used by America’s growing car culture.

Gas was distributed based on coupons, allotted by communities at their discretion, according to author John Alfred Heitmann. An underground market of ‘chiseled gas’ naturally sprung up, “particularly on the East Coast.”

Most New Yorkers, however, adhered to the rationing. Interestingly, the New York Times and others have referred to the 1942 rationing as a ‘golden age’ for city taxicabs, raking in fares as New Yorkers left their private cars home. “They are making so much money it runs out of their ears and into their savings banks.” 

At left: An illustration from the 1943 Times article. Good times for taxi!

According to the Times, a fleet of 9,300 New York cab drivers received enough gas to travel 100 miles a day and were taken off the road only one day a week. Essentially, every street in Manhattan would have looked like Times Square today — a sea of taxis, checkered, yellow and other colors.(Yellow wouldn’t become the standard color for medallioned cabs until the 1960s.)

Below a cab company advertisement from 1944 [courtesy Flickr]

History In The Making (8/10) The Other Kiss Edition

You’ve seen the V-J Day celebration photos of Times Square from August 14, 1945, the streets filled with relief, joy and revelry. And kissing, lots and lots of kissing, possibly the greatest kiss ever photographed

But photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was hopping all over midtown that day, documenting kisses. In fact, Eisenstaedt himself got into the act that very day, having himself photographed smooching an unidentified female reporter. (William C. Shrout was behind the camera here.) Please note the reactions of the two older ladies behind him. Click into photo for a closer view. (Courtesy Life Google Images)

Staten Island’s Sleepy Cemetery: While wandering down Old Mill Road, Forgotten New York stops at a haunting church cemetery with the oldest grave sites on the island. [Forgotten New York]

All You Can Eat Sirloin Steak! And other delights from a Greenwich Village community guide from 1959. [Off The Grid]

Beauty In Beer: The New-York Historical Society displays a gown from Hillie Merritt, the winner of Miss Rheingold 1956. [Behind The Scenes Blog]

Sweet Story: Remembering the 1916 candy store Philip’s of Coney Island — and now, on Staten Island. [Brooklynology]

A Disturbing Record: On August 12, 1912, Sing Sing Prison inspired the following headline from the New York Evening World: ‘Seven Die In Chair Within One Hour, Beating Record’. [Library of Congress]

Not Very Sporting: What the sites selected for the proposed 2012 New York City Olympics look like today. [New York Times]

That time Christopher Columbus annoyed Robert Moses

Above: Columbus Circle in 1913. Robert Moses wasn’t annoyed with this statue of the explorer, as far as I know, but in 1956, he placed the hideous New York Coluseum convention center next to it, marring the area for decades. (Pic by Irving Underhill, courtesy NYPL)

Christopher Columbus is among the most honored figures in New York statuary, appearing abundantly throughout the five boroughs — standing prominently, nestled in parks and squares, peering from building features.

I’ve located a seemingly complete list of New York Columbus monuments, strangely enough, on a German website, inclusive even of Chris’s appearance of 8th Avenue subway tiles.

While the one perched atop the column at Columbus Circle is the most famous, perhaps the most interesting one sits in Columbus Park, in Astoria, Queens. Depicting a young, robust explorer, the statue was erected here in 1941 in recognition of the area’s growing Italian population. But youthful Chris was almost immediately removed to the basement of Queens Borough Hall, for fears it would get melted down in wartime scrap-metal programs. It was returned to dignity by the end of the war and has commanded the crossroads here ever since.

Had Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had his way, however, the striking, romantic monument would never have seen light of day. “We don’t think the statue looks like anything we have read about Columbus, or that as a piece of symbolism it represents anything associated with Columbus,” Moses complained.

“Anything Moses doesn’t design himself, he thinks is no good.” replied Queens Borough President George U. Harvey.

Nearby you’ll find a dedication plaque from the Italian Chamber of Commerce. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; it lists a dedication date of 1937. Although sculptor Angelo Racioppi had completed the work by then, the community couldn’t afford the base until a few years later!

At right: Racioppi works on Astoria’s Columbus as part of the WPA program.

Mural grande: War bonds in Grand Central Terminal

This gigantic mural display — at the time, some said, the ‘world’s greatest photo mural‘ and I have little reason to doubt — hung over the heads of commuters in the main hall at Grand Central, debuting with great fanfare (and a special radio broadcast) in December 1941. The 85-foot tall mural, featuring photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration, celebrates the most valuable traits of the United States: “the fertile U.S. land, the productiveness of U.S. industry, the future welfare of U.S. children.”

Ostensibly a device to sell war bonds, the mural was keenly placed considering that thousands of servicemen and women departed from Grand Central. In fact, a couple years later, Grand Central hosted a lounge specially catered to uniformed men.

Below: workers scramble to install the massive display before rush hour.

Another view of it here

Photos by Arthur Rothstein (LOC)