Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Flowers

From yesterday's travels . . . sunflowers from the flower district and irises in the Jefferson Market Garden on Greenwich Avenue.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The New York House and School of Industry

I stumbled upon this beautiful, albeit unusual, building while walking on West 16th St. last Friday. And with a name like "The New York House and School of Industry," I just had to do some research to discover exactly what that means. The organization itself was founded in 1851 as a school for teaching poor women "plain and fancy sewing." That explains the term "Industry." With the predominance of the needle trade as an outlets for the employment of women, acquiring sewing skills made sense in the late 19th century. By 1951, however, the school had replaced the sewing machines with typewriters and began educating women for jobs as typists.

The building, constructed in 1878, is cited in a couple of sources as the earliest example of the Queen Anne architectural style in New York City. In 1955 it was sold to the Friends of Hebrew Culture, a civic and social organization which held the building until about 1980. After 1980 it was used by the Young Adult Institute under contract with the New York State Office of Mental Retardation. (One wonders if this state agency retains that rather archaic name!) In the mid-80s developers nearly succeeded in razing the building for - shock! - luxury apartments. However, thanks to the efforts of preservationists, the city seized the property under eminent domain law. The building was given New York City landmark status and during the mid-90s underwent a complete renovation. The last information I could find showed that it's now known as Ames House and administered by the Young Adult Institute to house mentally challenged young adults. That information, however, is several years old and I can't confirm its present status. Still, it's nice to find another great example of the City's incredible architectural stock intact and in such beautiful condition!

Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 28, 2008

Vintage Elevator

My office is in a historic 1906 building, a structure not without a few idiosyncrasies. For example, on several floors there are doors which open to brick walls. Until 1929 this building had abutted an 1861 Gothic-Revival church, serving a parish that had been founded in 1848. These doors had led to various levels of the sanctuary and its anterooms. When the church was razed in 1929 and replaced with a hotel, these entries were bricked up.

The building, with five floors and a basement, is woefully under-equipped with bathroom facilities, not surprising in a structure that has changed little in 102 years. So a trip to the loo always involves a run up or down a narrow back staircase. I also especially like the remaining "Fallout Shelter" signs left over from the civil defense programs of the 1950s. I have no doubt that this building could have shielded its occupants from fallout had there been a nuclear war, because it effectively renders cell phones useless when one moves away from the windows. Attempts to install a wireless network between offices on the different floors proved futile because the thickness of the floors and walls blocked all signals. In addition, toss in leaded-glass and stained-glass windows, as well as hardwood floors on every level. In a neighborhood that's increasingly falling prey to the advance of characterless glass towers and post-modern monstrosities, our little building stands as a gem.

Nevertheless, the elevator, an Otis original to the building, remains my favorite feature. It is entirely manual and thus does not stop automatically at each floor. One must learn very quickly how to operate the hand lever which controls the speed of the car and the point at which it stops. If you aren't paying attention, you'll overshoot your destination and have to adjust the position of the car before the manually operated doors can be opened. (Fail to stop the car within a few inches of each floor and you can not open the doors.) Each level has a button which rings a bell on all floors to summon the elevator. So if you're on the first floor and need to go to the fifth (and the car isn't already at one) you ring the bell and someone on the upper floors, wherever the car was last left, must bring the elevator down to you. For visitors, the elevator, its lattice-work cage allowing a view of the shaft and the skylights at the top of the building, always elicits comments. Indeed, it's like stepping into a museum exhibit.

Recently, our Otis service technician did some checking on this model and informed me that it's one of the oldest elevators in Manhattan. Although there are those who want to spend the money and have a modern elevator installed, most of us are happy to put up with the slight inconvenience of this antique. Mind you, I wouldn't want to stand at the controls all day, wearing the uniform and gloves of an old-fashioned professional elevator operator, but for a few trips each day, it's fun!

Posted by Picasa

Bodega Calico

I encountered this sweet little calico, probably no more than seven or eight months old, in a bodega on Hudson Street near St. Luke in the Fields. She was a little skittish each time we walked in here over the weekend, but curiosity always drew her out after a few seconds and she quickly became very affectionate and friendly.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gallow Hill Cemetery, Part 2

Four more from the Gallow Hill Cemetery in Brookfield, CT. The last photo shows the inscription "memento mori" (a reminder of death or mortality) and carved angel that I've often seen in Vermont. This 1783 headstone (see the date in the last photo of Part 1) is the only "memento mori" example I could find in the Gallow Hill cemetery. The stone had obviously been lying flat for some time because grass had completely grown over the edges by several inches and the inscription was heavily worn. Marking the grave of a husband and wife, the stone itself is very wide, perhaps three to four feet, and shows another identical head beside this one, also bearing the "memento mori" and angel motifs.

Posted by Picasa

Gallow Hill Cemetery, Part 1

While out driving in Connecticut yesterday we passed a cemetery I had seen from a distance on many occasions. This time we stopped and it was well worth the trouble. Located in Brookfield, CT, this small cemetery was established in 1734, as you can see from the first photo. The oldest stone I could find was 1757, as shown in the third picture. There were numerous older looking stones but they were too badly weathered to find a legible date. A majority of the headstones fall in the 1800 to 1850 range, although a few date from the 1870s as well. I'm guessing that this cemetery was little used after the mid-19th century because of its distance from the town itself. The 1757 stone is unusual for this cemetery because it's the only one cut from this reddish stone. Also, it incorporates the angel motif that I've more often found up in Vermont. Given the popularity of the carved angel faces on early- to mid-18th century New England stones, there were probably other examples of this motif on the severely weathered stones. Surrounded by a beautiful stone wall, the Gallow Hill Cemetery was no more than three to four acres large.

Posted by Picasa


Yesterday I took a day off to renew my driver's license at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). And, since our cars are registered and garaged in Connecticut, we decided to drive out to Danbury (the kids are on Spring Break) and make a day of it. Of course a trip to the DMV, regardless of your state of residence, can potentially prove among life's most onerous tasks. With long lines, disgruntled patrons, and surly employees, the DMV can become a black hole, sucking away hours of one's time - like waiting for the cable guy or a telephone repairman to show up when . Television shows have lampooned the DMV for decades. The Simpsons, in which no institution is ever spared from satirical barbs, has embodied the very essence of the surly DMV employee in Selma and Patty Bouvier, Marge Simpson's sisters.

Nevertheless, my experience at the Danbury DMV yesterday defied all expectations and stereotypes. I was in and out in under 15 minutes and the staff was actually pleasant. The woman who took my picture and presented the new license was incredibly friendly - so friendly, in fact, that I told her she deserved an award for "Most Friendly DMV Employee." She acted genuinely touched and I'm guessing that she rarely receives compliments on the job, dealing instead with unhappy drivers who want to be anywhere other than the DMV. In the end, it took us longer to find the DMV building than renew the license. My wife and I were shocked.

Monday, April 21, 2008

St. Luke-in-the-Fields Garden

Between baseball games and practices on Sunday I managed to walk by the walled gardens of historic St. Luke-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church on Hudson Street. All winter it looked asleep and bleak, awaiting spring's warmth. Only recently have the trees started to awaken and the first tulips opened their annual blooms. In warm weather it's always a welcome haven for walkers looking for a quiet place to sit and relax. Once the trees leaf out fully and the roses bloom in May and June, it becomes a cool, shady retreat from the West Village fast lane. Even yesterday, under hazy, chilly skies, couples and little groups of friends occupied the garden's benches, retreating into their quiet conversations while the rest of us mucked about with our cameras.

Posted by Picasa

Flower Cat

I met this fluffy guy on Friday as he guarded a shop in the Flower District. I like his white "Got Milk?" moustache. Many small business in New York City have resident cats, particularly delis, bodegas, and stores where food might fall prey to marauding mice. Even the New York Times ran an article about these cats back in December. Although these cats violate city laws banning animals from food-selling establishments, many owners, as the Times article points out, take the chance and rely on these felines to combat the threat of vermin. As a cat lover, I always enjoy walking into a shop that has a cat lounging in an aisle. Yet one can even encounter dogs in shops these days. While they may not be employed for pest control, I suspect having a big, friendly dog asleep at the door might draw dog-loving customers in. But why do I seem to spy more dogs at hair salons? Is there a connection I'm missing? At my wife's favorite salon, one can often find a pair of Boxers holding court. And there's an upscale salon on 10th Street near Fifth Avenue that nearly always holds two very large St. Bernards either asleep on the floor or sprawled on the sidewalk out front.

Posted by Picasa

Transfiguration, Part 3

(Don't know what happened to the original version of this post. On Friday the images were loading, but by the weekend they weren't. Here's the new version.) Once again, these are images from Church of the Transfiguration ("the Little Church Around the Corner"). As I've already noted, all of the images thus far have been taken in side chapels. I haven't even made it into the main part of the sanctuary, having been relegated to admiring it through a locked barrier of leaded glass windows. But I'm determined to get inside and take pictures!

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tiaras - Who Knew??

My wife loves to give tiaras as funny birthday gifts. Just recently, in fact, she's given tiaras - one with flashing lights - to two close friends who were celebrating birthdays. I'm guessing she's thinking of the concept of "Queen for a Day," through which one ideally reigns supreme for a day, in this case on one's birthday. Walk in most novelty shops and one can find a tiara - cheap, plastic, shiny, some with flashing lights or silly labels like "She Who Must Be Obeyed.". (For lovers of trivia: The TV program Queen for a Day, which ran from 1947 to 1964, would take four women with hard luck stories and, based on an applause meter, make one contestant a "queen for a day" with a crown and lavish prizes. Now considered a forerunner of today's "reality" shows, it was something of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for postwar women, taking down-and-out contestants and giving them a "makeover" of sorts with vacations, mink coats, and expensive nights out on the town.)

Walking home the other day I passed through a block of wholesale shops and discovered a store that appears to sell NOTHING BUT TIARAS. The windows were filled with shelf after shelf of gaudy plastic crowns and coronets, from delicate examples of plastic and faux diamonds to elaborate crowns that would make British royalty weepily covetous. A glance through the door revealed more shelves stuffed with tiaras, all wrapped in cellophane, and a few odd pieces of costume jewelry. So now I know how all of those Asian-made tiaras end up in Manhattan novelty shops, by way of this wholesale distributor. I felt like a child discovering that meat and veggies come from farms and not Food Lion, Wal-Mart, or Costco. Who knew?

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Transfiguration, Part 2

Here are a few more images from the Church of the Transfiguration. The final image shows the mosaic behind the altar in a side chapel.

Posted by Picasa