|The New York Aquarium in Battery Park, 1917.|
The Battery on Sunday is the Champs-Elysées of foreigners. I heard nothing spoken around me but French and German. Wrapped in my cloak and seated on a bench, I watched the children and the poodle-dogs at their gambols, and it seemed to me as if I were in some public resort over the water. They bring such happiness to a day of idleness--these foreigners--laughing, talking nonsense, totally unconscious of observation, and delighted as much with the passing of a rowboat, or a steamer, as an American with the arrival of his own 'argosy' from sea. They are not the better class of foreigners who frequent the Battery on Sunday. They are the newly arrived, the artisans, the German toymakers and the French bootmakers--people who still wear the spacious-hipped trowsers and scant coats, the gold rings in the ears, and the ruffled shirts of the lands of undandyfied poverty….They sit and smoke on the long benches. They run hither and thither with their children, and behave as they would in their own garden, using it and enjoying it just as if it were their own. And an enviable power they have of it!]
|The Battery by C.F.W. Mielatz.|
|Coenties Slip, 1909, by C.F.W. Mielatz. The tall structure in the rear is the tower of the Produce Exchange, which stood at 2 Broadway.|
[Charles Frederick William Mielatz was born in Brandenburg, Germany, in 1864, grew up in Chicago, and died in New York in 1919--a very close contemporary of Huneker. Mielatz was a fine etcher of, mostly, New York City scenes. The New York Herald (June 4, 1919) called him "Perhaps the best known etcher in the country"--though to date very little has been written about him. His last years overlap with the early years of John Sloan, whose etchings of the New York scene may be said to follow in a line from Mielatz's. His New York images are immensely evocative, as Huneker suggests.
|Jeanette Park in 1915, the year of New Cosmopolis. (From Museum of the City of New York.)|
Coenties Slip and Jeannette Park today are rather different from the way they were in Huneker's time. In the late 1960s and early 1970s most of the old waterfront buildings familiar to Huneker and Mielatz were pulled down for massive modern office complexes. On the south rose Four New York Plaza (1968) on the Water Street side of the block, and Two New York Plaza (1970) on the South Street side of the block. On the north rose 55 Water Street (1972) which, with 3.7 million square feet of floor area, was the largest office building in the world when it was built. In between, on the site of the Jeannette Park that Huneker wrote about, a new public space was created by the well-known Modernist landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg in 1972. It comprised both the city-owned site of Jeannette Park as well as a new Privately Owned Public Space. In 1985, a Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by the architects William Fellows and Peter Wormser and the writer Joseph Ferrandino, was added to the space, which was rechristened Vietnam Veterans Plaza. The memorial, a glass-block slab bearing etched inscriptions from servicemen's letters home, is quite affecting, especially when it is illuminated at night. Jeannette Park, by the way, was named for a sailing ship that sank during an 1881 expedition to the North Pole sponsored by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett Jr., who named the ship after his sister.
|Sanborn map showing Coenties Slip and Jeannette Park in 1913.|
|Map of Coenties Slip and Vietnam Veterans Plaza today. (Image used with permission of PropertyShark.)|
It is worth noting that a couple of new parks lie immediately nearby. Coenties Slip Park, between Water and Pearl Streets, opened in 2006, the design of George Vellonakis, the Parks Department's landscape architect. It contains a sculpture, Coenties Ship, by Bryan Hunt. An escalator between the north and south wings of 55 Water Street leads to a park--a Privately Owned Public Space--also opened in 2006. Called the Elevated Acre, it was designed by Rogers Marvel, the recently dissolved firm that has had a major impact on the city's public environment and who will be the subject of a future post on this blog.
|Warren & Wetmore's Seamen's Church Institute, surmounted by the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, southeast corner of Coenties Slip and South Street, photographed in 1925. (Photo from Museum of the City of New York.)|
|Corlears Hook Park, before 1908. (Photo from Museum of the City of New York.)|
[Corlears Hook Park, which was less than a decade old when Huneker wrote about it, is still there, but has been drastically reconfigured, as have the streets all around it. Originally square, and bounded by South Street, Jackson Street, Cherry Street, and Corlears Street, the park is now rounded off on its eastern (water) side, as the FDR Drive cuts through (east-north), marking a separation (discussed in Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes) between Corlears Hook Park and East River Park (built in the 1940s). As for the surrounding streets, virtually everything between the Brooklyn Bridge and 23rd Street to the east of Madison Street/Avenue D was razed and rebuilt with modern housing projects, mostly after World War II.
|Printing plant of R. Hoe & Co., Grand Street and Sheriff Street.|
On Saturdays when I did not have to lecture, we used to visit the saloon of Justus Schwab, the most famous radical center in New York. Schwab was the traditional Teuton in appearance, over six feet tall, broad-chested, and strait (sic) as a tree. On his wide shoulders and strong neck rested a magnificent head, framed in curly red hair and beard. His eyes were full of fire and intensity. But it was his voice, deep and tender, that was his peculiar characteristic. It would have made him famous if he had chosen an operatic career. Justus was too much the rebel and the dreamer, however, to care about such things. The rear room of his little place on First Street was a Mecca for French Communards, Spanish and Italian refugees, Russian politicals, and German socialists and anarchists who had escaped the iron heel of Bismarck. Everyone gathered at Justus’. Justus, as we affectionately called him, was the comrade, adviser, and friend of all. The circle was interspersed with many Americans, among them writers and artists. John Swinton, Ambrose Bierce, James Huneker, Sadakichi Hartmann, and other literati loved to listen to Justus’s golden voice, drink his delicious beer and wine, and argue world-problems far into the night.
|50 East 1st Street, where Justus Schwab's basement saloon was located. (Photo used with permission of PropertyShark.)|
You are so beautiful and trustinglying there on the sky
|Tompkins Square, looking east, 1870s. In the foreground is the bandstand, to its left in the background is St. Brigid's Church.|
|Carl Schurz Park, looking to the northeast, in 1915. (Photo from Museum of the City of New York.)|
Jefferson Park is on the East River between 111th and 114th Streets. It opened in 1905 when its East Harlem neighborhood was heavily Italian. In 1911, the city added 1,008 small farm plots where neighborhood children could grow vegetables and flowers. Robert Moses remodeled the park in the 1930s, adding one of his signature swimming pools in 1936. The Felsenkeller at the eastern end of 57th Street was one of the German beer gardens that once were a feature of the city. Not much is to be learned of the Felsenkeller, but a letter to the New York Sun (March 10, 1939), in answer to another writer's query, indicates it was "run in connection with a bath" (a swimming pier?), and "was open only in the evening in good weather, as there were no shelters. Indeed it was a great place to spend an evening." Another letter in the same issue said "It was a delightful place, built right over the water, and patronized by refined and congenial people. However, for many years it has ceased to exist, and is now only a memory." In the New York Sun of March 13, 1939, yet another correspondent wrote that it "was situated on the south side of Fifty-seventh street and hung over the sloping ground facing the river. It was a high-class beer garden and concerts were given nightly. My recollections bring to mind a concert grand piano which stood near the entrance, which was a few steps below the street level." ("Felsenkeller" means "rock cellar.")]
|Union Square, looking north, in 1915. (Photo from Museum of the City of New York.)|
[Perhaps only very briefly in its history, when in its earliest years it was an elegant residential quarter, was Union Square not "hopelessly encumbered with debris." Remarkably much of Union Square's immediate surroundings remain from Huneker's time, as one may see in the picture showing Union Square in 1915, the year of New Cosmopolis. In the upper right corner is the Germania Life Insurance Company Building (1910-11), now the W Hotel, at the northeast corner of Park Avenue South and 17th Street. (When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Germania Life thought it prudent to change its name to Guardian Life.) To its left is the Everett Building (1908), followed by the Century Building (1880-81), home of the excellent Century Magazine, for which Huneker sometimes wrote. The building now houses what is probably the largest Barnes & Noble store in the city--where you can purchase a copy of Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes. The high, pyramid-topped building rising in the center in the background is the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building (1909) which, when Huneker wrote "The Lungs" had only a year earlier yielded to the Woolworth Building the title of world's tallest building. Metropolitan Life was part of what Huneker calls the "wonderful surroundings" of Madison Square. As for the plan of the square itself, it's been much simplified in the years since, with, among other things, the addition of the two ramrod-straight lateral paths at 15th and 16th Streets.