New York City Fire Museum

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Time spent 62 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned This incredible 1872 punch bowl and goblets, 36 pieces and 800 ounces worth (that’s 50 pounds!  22.68kg!) of sterling silver.  A gift to Isaac Newton Marks, president of the New Orleans Fireman’s Charitable Association.  It’s hard to see in the picture but the stem of each goblet is a fire fighter.

New York City Fire MuseumThe Fire Museum is like the attic of the New York City Fire Department.  It’s where all the old interesting stuff is, and exploring it is very much like sifting through a collection of fire-related artifacts that someone at some point considered worth keeping. Continue reading “New York City Fire Museum”

Dyckman Farmhouse

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Time spent 55 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Jacob Dyckman was the first in his family to go to college, earning a degree from Columbia in 1806.  They have his diploma on display in the parlor.  Always nice to meet a fellow Columbia man.

The Dyckman Farmhouse is the least fancy historic home I’ve been to so far on this project.  Owned by the Dyckman family, who had a large farm at the northern tip of Manhattan, the house is reckoned to have been built around 1783, so it’s also the oldest historic house I’ve been to yet.

The Dyckmans owned it for over 100 years, though they didn’t always live there; for a while they rented it, and it served as an inn for a bit too. As the subway was rolling north and Inwood was urbanizing, descendants of the Dyckmans decided the house should be preserved as a museum.  It opened to the public in 1916.  

It’s totally different from the fancy, symmetrical, Federal style of the other historic houses I’ve seen so far.  Rather it is very basic, 2 stories plus a cellar, simple, small, cozy, and a little threadbare.  And like all old houses, seemingly quite crowded and uncomfortable back in the day.

It’s hard to imagine the original surroundings of the house. They built it deliberately close to what was then the Kingsbridge Road (now Broadway).  But mentally erasing the apartment buildings, cars, and buses and putting in rolling fields and outbuildings is hard.  There’s a tiny plot of green in back and on the sides of the house, with a reconstructed Hessian hut, but it barely begins to evoke the original agrarian setting.

This would be a great opportunity for some augmented reality, though I get the sense that the Dyckman Farmhouse budget probably wouldn’t allow for anything that high tech.

The view from the Dyckmans’ front porch today

I didn’t go on a tour, just walked around the house on my own, and I definitely missed the value of a good guide, who I think would’ve conveyed a better sense of the people who lived there than I got from the room descriptions alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winter kitchen, in the cellar. In the summer they would’ve cooked in a kitchen in a separate building.

I asked about Hamilton, of course, and to my surprise the answer was they’re not aware of any connections with the great man.  However, George Washington likely visited the farm at some point. That said, it would be easy and instructive to combine a visit to Dyckman Farm with the Hamilton Grange, providing a contrast of styles between a working farm and a stately country retreat.

For Reference:

Address 4881 Broadway, Manhattan (at 204th St.)
Website dyckmanfarmhouse.org
Cost Free/Donation

 

Transit Museum at Grand Central Terminal

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Time spent 16 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Elevateds were built in the late 1890s and much of the signage was done in beautiful glass with floral decorations. I think of them as just big and hulking, but they must have been rather beautiful as well.

New York’s main Transit Museum is in Brooklyn, and it is very worth visiting.  When they restored Grand Central in the early 2000s, they opened a tiny branch (or “gallery annex”) of the museum there.  I’m tempted to say skip it — the exhibit space is very small, it’s more gift shop than museum, and there’s so much else to see at Grand Central.

And yet, I’ve seen some really good shows in that little space, so I wouldn’t dismiss the museum out of hand.

This year, the transit system is celebrating the construction of the new Second Avenue Subway.  In a brilliant bit of counter-programming, the current show at the Transit Museum’s GCT branch is about a bit of deconstructing, showing photos of the dismantling of the Third Avenue Elevated in 1955.

The pictures were all taken by Sid Kaplan, now a rather well known printer and photographer, but then a 17-year-old kid.  They are beautiful, great slices of life and times long gone. Even with the High Line and the remaining Elevated lines outside Manhattan, it’s still hard to imagine a time when Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues were overshadowed by train tracks.

Sometimes when I ride the subway I imagine the future moment when a train rolls down those tracks for the last time.  It’ll probably be because of some calamity.  Flooding of the tunnels, giant monster attack, zombies.  Or maybe the subway will be obsolete someday due to self-driving cars or teleportation. So it resonated with me to see a sign announcing to riders, in a matter-of-fact way, the end of the Third Avenue El.

If your time at Grand Central is limited and you have to choose between seeing the Transit Museum there and, say, having a half dozen oysters at the Oyster Bar, or strolling through Grand Central Market, or just seeing the building itself, I  recommend you prioritize any of those other things.

But if you have a spare 15 minutes, the Transit Museum’s small, well conceived shows are worth the time.  And it is a fantastic gift shop, too.

For Reference:

Address Grand Central Terminal, main level, west side
Website nytransitmuseum.org
Cost Free
Other Relevant Links

 

Hall of Fame for Great Americans

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Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Honestly, the whole thing, as a total work of art, history, sociology, Americana, and miraculous survival.  The whole Hall of Fame is the best part of the Hall of Fame.

Halls of fame today are two-a-penny.  Everyone and everything from minor league lacrosse to rock n roll  has a hall of fame.  But it wasn’t always that way.  There had to be, at some point, a first one.

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was the first hall of fame in history.  Designed by the ubiquitous Stanford White as part of his broader super-classical design for NYU’s campus in the then-bucolic Bronx at the turn of the 20th century, the Hall of Fame was a shining beacon on a hill, inspiring Americans everywhere by demonstrating greatness across all fields of endeavor.  And American greatness at that. Continue reading “Hall of Fame for Great Americans”

Gracie Mansion

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Time spent 76 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The name “Margaret” scratched in the glass of the library window.  Back in the 1960s, Margaret Lindsay, daughter of Mayor John Lindsay, decided to test whether her mom’s diamond ring was really a diamond.  Caroline Giuliani scratched her name in one of the windows, too.  Copycat. But I like that in an official house filled with history and art, they’ve allowed those little human touches to remain.

Visiting Gracie Mansion for this project made me realize I knew nothing about Gracie Mansion, beyond the name.

Gracie Mansion is both older and newer than I thought.  Older, in that I didn’t  realize that the original house was built in 1799, in the classic Federal style I’m coming to know well.  Newer in that it only became the official mayor’s residence of the city in 1942.  La Guardia was the first mayor to live there; prior to that it served several roles, including as the home of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Mayor’s front door
Just inside the front door of Gracie Mansion. The ballroom is through the doors at the top of the stairs. No photos from here on, sorry.

The Executive Director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, who was one of the leaders of our tour, described the situation as “Robert Moses wanted to be the mayor’s landlord.”  (He was head of the Parks Commission at the time.) And it became so. 

I also didn’t know exactly where Gracie Mansion is.  I always assumed it was in the East 50s or so.  More central.  Actually it’s in Carl Schurz Park, high in the East 80s, making it really far from everywhere in the city I tend to go.  And a beneficiary of the  Second Avenue subway.

Doing the math, this year is the 75th anniversary of the house becoming the mayor’s residence, and so they’ve decorated the public spaces with a great variety of art that hearkens back to the city in 1942, a time of war and jazz, fear and excitement.  Weegee photos, a Noguchi scuplture, a 1941 signed Yankees champion baseball, Joe DiMaggio prominently in front…

The house has evolved substantially from its original form, with additions true to the Federal style in the mid 1960s (which apparently was fairly scandalous in a time of architectural modernism, but I can’t imagine a modernist wing stuck on the old house).

As with all buildings over a certain vintage in the city, there is a Hamilton connection, although ironically it’s a recent one.  When they built the 1966 addition, they located and installed the mantelpiece from the Bayard Mansion in the new ballroom.  Thus Hamilton died post-duel in front of the ballroom’s  fireplace.  According to Curbed, there’s a chance that Gracie Mansion and Hamilton Grange were designed by the same architect, too.

Spectacular views from Carl Schurz Park

The tour was excellent, the art on display evocative and well chosen.  We got a little rushed, as there was an event going on with the Onassis Foundation that evening in honor of Greek Independence Day, and so we got chased out of the last few rooms.  Sadly the mayor did not crash our tour.  Still, I appreciated the overview of the history of the building and its evolution, and learned a bit I didn’t already know about LaGuardia and some of the other mayors who lived there.  All of the 14 or so people on my tour were New Yorkers, and I strongly encourage everyone who lives here to visit.

For Reference:

Address E 88th St & East End Ave, Manhattan
Website www.nyc.gov/site/gracie/index.page
Cost Free but tours are limited and advanced reservations required
Other Relevant Links

 

Merchant’s House Museum

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Time spent 104 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In mid-19th C. New York rowhouse-style mansions, bedrooms were semi-public space.  When you came calling, you’d first go upstairs to a bedroom where you’d leave your coat and hat and change from street shoes to indoor shoes.  Only then would you go down to the parlor.  Seems strange to me– like they should’ve had a changing room as part of the floorplan.  But even in these grand houses, space was at a premium.

The Merchant’s House Museum is a venerable 19th century home and maybe the only historic house in the city where so many of the furnishings on display are actually original to the house, owned by the home’s owners and maintained by the museum to this day.

The merchant in question is a guy named Seabury Treadwell, who bought the house for $18,000 in 1835.  His family lived there for 90 odd years, and by a series of fortuitous events, the house and all the stuff in it became a museum in 1936.  In 1965, when the Landmarks law was passed, the Merchant’s House Museum was among the very first places to be landmarked by the city. Continue reading “Merchant’s House Museum”

Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS)

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Time spent 19 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Micro-mini exhibit on activist technology over time

The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space occupies a classic old-school East Village squat, and consists of some artifacts, photos, and other memorabilia documenting the East Village of the 80s and 90s.  It and its denizens focus mainly on squats (abandoned buildings that individuals made habitable and moved into), community gardens, bike lanes, and other aspects of a time and culture that feels increasingly at odds with the hyper-gentrified city of today. Continue reading “Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS)”

General Grant National Memorial

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Time spent 53 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned New York City fielded a volunteer army force called the Mozart Regiment.  I hoped that all city army units had classical composer nicknames, but alas, it’s because the regiment was financed by the Democratic National Committee of Mozart Hall.

“Let us have peace.”  So reads the inscription on the last resting place of America’s greatest military hero of the 19th century.

At one point, Grant’s Tomb was the most visited tourist destination in New York City.  And to this day it is the largest tomb in North America. Built when the city didn’t extend that far north, it was a prominent marble landmark on a hill, attracting visitors in droves, by boat and train, coach and bus, to pay their respects. Continue reading “General Grant National Memorial”

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

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Time spent 61 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Hamilton placed a marble bust of himself styled as a slightly smirking, handsome, Roman senator, in the entryway of the Grange. Looking at it now it’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, Jefferson, you may get to be president, but see if anyone composes the biggest musical in Broadway history about YOU someday.”

How do you kick off a project like this?  I decided to stick fairly close to home, and what better way to start in this Hamiltonian era than with the Harlem summer, country home of Alexander, Eliza, and family?  Hamilton went into serious debt to buy the land (32 acres) and have the Grange designed and built.  It’s a beautiful, Federal style home dating to 1802. Lots of symmetry, including two faux chimneys just to create balance.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial Continue reading “Hamilton Grange National Memorial”