Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker

Joseph Mitchell outside Sloppy Louie’s restaurant with Louis Morino, the subject of Mitchell’s 1952 <i>New Yorker</i> profile ‘Up in the Old Hotel’
Joseph Mitchell outside Sloppy Louie’s restaurant with Louis Morino, the subject of Mitchell’s 1952 New Yorker profile ‘Up in the Old Hotel’

From the New York Review of Books a profile of Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker:

Where the hell is this going? As in all of Mitchell’s pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so you’d notice. Mitchell is one of the great masters of the device of the plot twist disguised as a digression that seems pointless but that heightens the effect of unforced realism. Louie tells Mitchell of an incident that occurred a few years after he left Joe’s. Mrs. Frelinghuysen had died and Louie had married and bought his restaurant and rented the building it was in. One afternoon a long black limousine pulled up in front of the building and a uniformed chauffeur came into the restaurant and said, “Mrs. Schermerhorn wanted to speak to me, and I looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean—Mrs. Schermerhorn?’ And he said, ‘Mrs. Schermerhorn that owns this building.’” Louie is stunned to hear this. He had assumed the real estate company he paid his rent to was the owner. But no, the beautiful woman who gets out of the limousine, the recently widowed Mrs. Arthur F. Schermerhorn, owns the building. Louie asks her if she knows anything about its history, but she doesn’t—she is just inspecting the properties she has inherited from her husband. She drives off and he never sees her again.

I went back inside and stood there and thought it over, and the effect it had on me, the simple fact my building was an old Schermerhorn building, it may sound foolish, but it pleased me very much. The feeling I had, it connected me with the past. It connected me with Old New York.

Read the rest.

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Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker

How elevators made the modern city possible

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From the Boston Globe:

Elevators first arrived in America during the 1860s, in the lobbies of luxurious hotels, where they served as a plush conveyance that saved the well-heeled traveler the annoyance of climbing stairs. Initially these steam-powered “moveable rooms” were extravagantly furnished with chandeliers, benches, and carpeting, says Lee Gray, a columnist for Elevator World and an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Passengers were expected to sit down and get comfortable before the operator fired up the new contrivance. “It was all about luxury,” said Gray.

It wasn’t until the 1870s, when elevators showed up in office buildings, that the technology really started to leave a mark on urban culture. Business owners stymied by the lack of available space could look up and see room for growth where there was previously nothing but air—a development that was particularly welcome in New York, where a real estate crunch in Manhattan’s business district had, for a time, forced city leaders to consider moving the entire financial sector uptown. That plan came to be seen as unnecessary thanks to the initiative of one Henry Hyde, the founder of a large insurance firm, who realized that by installing a pair of elevators in his headquarters, he could make it the tallest building in the city: seven stories and 130 feet. In so doing, Hyde ushered in a new era. As a writer for Scribner’s Magazine put it almost 30 years later, the passenger elevator turned out to be “a revolutionary agent” that did for modern building what the steam engine had done for transportation.

Advances in elevator technology combined with new steel frame construction methods to push the height limits of buildings higher and higher. In the 1890s, as Bernard recounts in his book, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago; by 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York. Quickly, the modern city assumed its present shape. As Patrick Carrajat, the founder of the Elevator Museum in New York, put it, “If we didn’t have elevators…we would have a megalopolis, one continuous city, stretching from Philadelphia to Boston, because everything would be five or six stories tall.”

The arrival of the elevator upended more than urban planning: It changed the hierarchy of buildings on the inside as well. Higher floors had once been distant, scrubby spaces occupied by maids and the kind of low-rent tenants who could be expected to climb six flights of stairs. The more important people climbed at most one or two flights, which gave brownstone-style homes, for instance, their high-ceilinged parlor floors. While the arrival of elevators didn’t change this right away—the top floor of Henry Hyde’s building was occupied by the in-house janitor—the upper reaches of buildings eventually became desirable. The elevator ushered in the end of the garret and the beginning of the penthouse, as lawyers and businessmen came to appreciate the advantages of having beautiful, bird’s-eye views and respite from the loud noises of the street. Hotel owners, meanwhile, started turning their top floor rooms into their nicest ones. They could even rent out their roofs for garden parties where guests could survey the glittering new city, all without doing a bit of work to get there.

Read the full article here.

How elevators made the modern city possible

On the near-death of Grand Central Terminal

From Harper’s Magazine:

Many consider the destruction of New York’s original Pennsylvania Station in 1963 to have been the architectural crime of the twentieth century. But few know how close we came to also losing its counterpart, Grand Central Terminal, a hub every bit as irreplaceable. Grand Central’s salvation has generally been told as a tale of aroused civic virtue, which it was. Yet it was, as well, an affirming episode for those of us convinced that our political culture has become an endless clown-car act with the same fools always leaping out.

“In New York then, I learn to appreciate the Italian Renaissance,” said Le Corbusier of Grand Central. “It is so well done that you could believe it to be genuine. It even has a strange, new firmness which is not Italian, but American.” It was not seen as such by its owner, New York Central Railroad, which viewed it mostly as a cash cow. As early as 1954, the Central proposed replacing the terminal with something called The Hyberboloid — an I. M. Pei monstrosity that, at 108 stories and 1,600 feet, would have become the world’s tallest building at the time. There was enough public outcry that a scaled-down Hyberboloid was built instead just north of Grand Central, where it was retitled the Pan Am (later the Met Life) Building. Even at a lesser height, it proved every bit as grotesque as promised.

Still unsatisfied, New York Central proposed in 1961 to build a three-level bowling alley over Grand Central’s Main Concourse, which would have required lowering the ceiling from sixty feet to fifteen and cutting off from view its glorious blue mural of the zodiac. This, too, was stopped. Foiled again, New York Central resorted to plastering the terminal with ads and bombarding travelers with canned Muzak, complete with commercials, over the public address system.

Read the rest.

On the near-death of Grand Central Terminal

Meet Sal Locascio, 87, the oldest cab driver in New York City

From the New York Times:

The front seat is a sea of belongings, including the daily newspapers and a clipboard where he constantly jots down personal notes and the day’s to-do list. He leans his right elbow on several grapefruit-size balls he has made from rubber bands people have given him during his daily circuit of social pit stops in Manhattan. He keeps hard candy in his pockets and a box of dog biscuits in the trunk, for dispensing.

Mr. Locascio sits on a stack of four mats and cushions, and on Monday he wore faded brown slacks and a ripped flannel shirt, as if dressed for a 1970s New York movie.

He dropped a British businesswoman at Bryant Park and slipped the tip she handed him into a wad of bills in his shirt pocket.

Mr. Locascio said that after high school, he worked in construction for his father, a Sicilian immigrant, and then did a stint as a buildings inspector in the city. He lost the job and began driving a yellow cab in the early 1960s.

“I could see I was stuck in the racket,” he said, so in 1968 he bought a medallion for $25,500.

Mr. Locascio said a broker recently told him that medallions now sell for around $1 million and implored him to sell.

“I told him, ‘Listen, I’ll retire when you retire,’ ” Mr. Locascio said.

“So I’m not lying when I say I wouldn’t trade the job for a million bucks.”

Meet Sal Locascio, 87, the oldest cab driver in New York City

It Ain’t Hard To Tell – Illmatic at 20

The album’s cover has a seven-year-old Nasir Jones, a preternaturally adult glare on his face, transposed over the Queensbridge projects. In the music, Nas darts around in memory. He might be dwelling on the mayhem of crack (“I lay puzzled as I backtrack to earlier times”), flexing gangster bona fides (“I used to watch ‘Chips,’ / now I load Glock clips”), or just touching on childhood days in freestyle. The reflection rounds out an otherwise elusive persona, one that sounds young and old, and so equally involved and detached that it can be confusing. The voice of “Illmatic” boasts a crew yet seems solitary, celebrates the projects and draws them as a prison, talks hard while lamenting crime’s havoc and saying that the streets have him “stressed something terrible.” Improbably, this voice feels like a flood of real life.

Read the rest at The New Yorker. Or listen to Life’s A Bitch below again, with visuals from La Haine. Or listen to It Ain’t Hard To Tell.

It Ain’t Hard To Tell – Illmatic at 20

Ellis Island 100 years ago

From the time Ellis Island opened in 1892, to 1954 when it closed, more than 12 million immigrants from all over the globemany of them childrenpassed through its doors. Almost 40 percent of Americans can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island. As child migration surges along the southwest border, a look back at some of the children that embarked on a long voyage across the ocean in the hope of becoming Americans.

See more at New Republic.

Ellis Island 100 years ago

You can never have too many fireworks in Manhattan

From New York Times:

It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and the man known to his friends as Scruff was ticking off his final to-do list. A grocery run for steak and shrimp. A haircut. And more fireworks.

History has shown, Scruff observed, that you can never have too many fireworks.

All over the country, people will gather for pyrotechnic displays this weekend, none larger than the Macy’s Fourth of July show taking place this year over the East River, by the Brooklyn Bridge. But even as millions of people watch that show on television, another Independence Day tradition will be honored on the other tip of Manhattan.

For at least a quarter-century, residents of Inwood, in northern Manhattan, have gathered around Dyckman Street for an unsanctioned fireworks competition, pitting various neighborhood blocks against one another, and all of them against the police.

You can never have too many fireworks in Manhattan