ABOUT NEW YORK


The City that Never Sleeps







I LOVE NEW YORK
--New York Tourist Bureau Ad Slogan


". . .the world's greatest experiment in social and political democracy."

-- Mayor Fiorello La Guardia


"Our society will never be great until our cities are great." 

-- President Lyndon B. Johnson


"Well, here I am Lord
knocking at your back door.
Ain't it wonderful to be
where I've always wanted to be?
I GUESS THE LORD MUST BE IN NEW YORK CITY." 
-- Harry Nilsson


A "fairy catastrophe"

A "theater of progress. . .the performance can never end." 

-- Le Corbusier, French architect of the United Nations headquarters

and a leader of the modern International style of architecture


"Skyscraper national park."

--Kurt Vonnegut


"New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse." -- Mayor Ed Koch, January 1, 1986





For many New Yorkers,
NEW YORK CITY itself is the most magnificent and beloved character in a city full of an extraordinary large cast of characters. Paris and Venice may have their own unique beauty and Old World charm, but New York City is uniquely vibrant and beautiful with its blend of innovative and bold modern Art Deco skyscrapers and architectural designs of the 20th and 21st centuries with Old World buildings and styles of the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, no other city in the world has New York's combination of excitement, ebullience, energy, vitality and, most of all, diversity.  New York City is also the most heterogeneous city in the world.  For many New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers, the city is a patch quilt of beautiful spaces and treasured moments.

Throughout the city's history it has been described in extremes -- both positive and negative -- ranging from colorful and magnificent to noisy and dirty.  There are many misconceptions about New York and some of them noted by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in The Ten Misconceptions of New York, written in 1939 -- the year of the World's Fair in New York -- include:  New York is "a cold, hard place to live," "an unhealthful place to live," and an "architectural hodge-podge."      

Wander the City's old streets where ghosts of the past linger in its buildings and twisting alleys.  Stop and listen to the hum of the City's pulsating sounds, -- sometimes ominous -- of screeching cars, the honking of taxi horns, footsteps on the sidewalk, the laughter of crowds and the quiet in its early morning hours.  Television detective shows often focus on murder and crime in the City; however, contrary to public opinion New York City remains the safest big city in America, according to FBI statistics.

Commerce and success were extremely important to the Dutch West India Company, the founders of New Amsterdam, and the company was always welcoming to a wide diversity of people as long as they were willing to work. Holland was the only 17th Century country in Europe that offered women an education and that tradition was continued in New Amsterdam. New York has been described as the cultural capital of America and is the birthplace of motion pictures and television broadcasting. New Amsterdam was a city of commerce and a town of merchants.  Author Russell Shorto calls New York "The Island at the Center of the World" in his book about Dutch Manhattan.  This island at the center of the world has more than 400 miles of coastline.  The City of Greater New York is composed of the islands of Manhattan, Staten Island and Long Island.  New York City is separated from the state of New Jersey by the Hudson River.  The East River separates the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx from Long Island and the Harlem River separates northern Manhattan from the Bronx. 

The population of New York City dropped to 12,000 during the Revolutionary War (due to disease and the absence of men who joined the Continental Army).  New York City became the American city with the largest population in the country in the year 1790 and has remained as such ever since.  Before 1790 Philadelphia had been the country's largest city.  In 2012 the population of the borough of Manhattan alone is 1.6 million.  On an average work day Manhattan’s population increases to 3.9 million with all the commuters and visitors coming into the city.  Its population was as high as 2.3 million in the year 1910 and the Lower East Side with its immigrants and tenement buildings was the most crowded area in the entire world. 

In HERE IS NEW YORK (written in 1948), E.B. White describes three different NEW YORKs:

  • "the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the City for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable."
  • the New York of the "commuter--the city that is devoured each day and spat out each night," and
  • the New York of the person who was born elsewhere and came to New York in "quest of something."
White also described those living in the borough of Manhattan as "strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town."

As with many large cities, there will always be those who LOVE it and those who HATE it.  A large number of words have been used to describe the City ranging from such extremes as sparkling to dirty, rich to poor, exciting to noisy, elite to vulgar and heaven or hell.  It is a City of many wonderful treasures.  Look and you shall find them -- sometimes in unexpected places.

Throughout its history, New York City has been a symbol of freedom, hope, tolerance, American culture and artistic expression, and power. The hopes and promises of the City and what the City itself means to each of its over eight-million inhabitants are as different as its diversities of people and cultures.

Think of New York City as a city with many neighborhoods and communities of various nationalities and cultures with certain similarities and many differences. Some neighborhoods were named after the immigrants who settled them so there are  neighborhoods known as Germantown, Little Italy, Little Ukraine, Chinatown, Little India and Little Korea, etc. The City has been described as a "melange of customs and people."  A walk through these different neighborhoods will reveal entire new worlds.

In a history of New York City, EMPIRE CITY: NEW YORK THROUGH THE CENTURIES, authors Kenneth T. Jackson and David S. Dunbar list ten factors that make New York City so special. Among them are: the City's tempo, its reputation for tolerance, its public transportation and its incredible diversity.

New York City began to acquire its very famous skyline between 1890 and 1930 according to Thomas  Bender in his THE UNFINISHED CITY New York and the Metropolitan Idea.  Motion Pictures and photography have made the NYC skyline one that is easily recognized throughout the world.  But New York City is also a city with beautiful parks,  forests, wetlands and salt water marshes. 

IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT NEW YORK:

  • Europeans first entered New York Harbor in 1524 when the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano -- financed by the king of France, Francois I -- discovered New York Bay and New York harbor.  His ship, the Dauphine, and crew of 49 men sailed into the bay at the locale of today's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. TheVerrazano-Narrows Bridge suspension bridge, which connects Staten Island and Manhattan, is named in da Venazzano's honor. Unfortunately, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority misspelled the explorer's name with only one "z" (although Verrazzano has two z's).  da Verrazzano called the land "Angouleme" after a province in France.
  • Esteban Gomez -- a black navigator from Portugal, was hired to explore America by King Charles of Spain. Gomez reached the rivers of New York harbor on January 17, 1526.  Gometz arrived on St. Anthony's Day and therefore named the river the San Antonio (it later became the Hudson).  He and his crew did not go ashore but wrote about the beauty of the land and water.
  • On April 4, 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman who was searching from the Northwest Passage to Asia, sailed into New York Harbor on the triple-masted ship Halfe Moon and into the river that took his name and is now the Hudson River. Hudson's journey, which began from Amsterdam, was financed by the Dutch East India Company (there was also a Dutch West India Company.)   Hudson's ship dropped anchor at a site in northern Manhattan near what is now Inwood Hill Park.  He and his crew of both English and Dutch sailors were greeted by Indians wearing deerskins and cooper ornaments and offering them tobacco leaves. Early explorers noted the island’s beauty, its hills, and its meadows and described it as “curiously bedecked with Roses, and an innumerable multitude of delightful flowers.”  (During this period there were 30 different varieties of orchids growing on the island.)   And the air was described as sweet and smelling like champagne. Hudson would return here in 1611 when his crew would mutiny and throw him overboard. 
  • New York Bay was populated with whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, porpoises, an abundance of oyster beds, lobsters and fish, and, yes, even sea lions.  Pearl Street in lower Manhattan was named for “the mounds of oyster shells left by Lenape American Indian bands along the East River shore.” Lenape ("the Ancient Ones") settlements were located in Manhattan in neighborhoods that are now Chinatown, the Upper East Side and Inwood.  In The Big Oyster:  History on the Half Shell, author Mark Kurlansky writes of the time when New York City was the oyster capital of the world and of the influence of oysters on the life of the City.  From the time of the first Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam until 1927, oysters were sold on street corners all over Manhattan.  Oyster beds in the New York area can be traced as far back as 10,000 B.C. and were so plentiful (in 1880 they were producing seven million oysters per year) that the author contends New York City should have been nicknamed "The Big Oyster."  It was disease and epidemics of cholera that led to the destruction of the oyster beds.  Epidemics were eventually traced to the oyster beds because as the city and industrial pollution grew (along with the dumping of raw sewage into the rivers) obviously the oysters became unfit to eat.  The last oyster bed was destroyed in 1927.  Because oysters clean the waters, the author notes that the waters must have been very clear and beautiful when Henry Hudson first sailed into the river.  In recent years there have been attempts to reestablish oysters beds.
  • In early 1613 Adriaen Block became the first white man to sail up the East River and through Hellegat (Hell's Gate) in his ship, Tiger.
  • The Iroquois indians were particularly known for their fur trade and trade in beaver fur in early New York was so profitable that it made John Astor a millionaire and the beaver appears on New York City's official city seal. Beavers (an estimated over 60 million of them), black bears, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, mink, blackbirds, turkeys, doves, deer and even lions and bobcats were among the island’s wildlife. Hats, muffs and coats made from beaver fur were extremely popular and treasured throughout Europe at this time and worn by both women and men. The Dutch saw the potential and riches in fur trade and trade in furs between the Dutch and the Indians dates back to 1610. In the 17th Century, beaver oil was thought to cure rheumatism, toothaches, stomach aches, poor vision, and dizziness.  Even today there are wild parrots living in parts of Brooklyn and also in Harlem. 
  • The highest point on the island of Manhattan is 265.05 feet above sea level and is at Bennett Park in Washington Heights. Bennett Park was originally part of Fort Washington where the Continental Army -- consisting of 2,900 troops -- was defeated by the overpowering number (8,000) of British and German soldiers on November 16, 1776. American troops were driven out of the New York area and retreated to Delaware. General George Washington had chosen the location at West 183rd Street for his operations because of its height. The highest point in the five boroughs encompassing New York City is at Todt Hill, Staten Island (409.8 feet above sea level).
  • New York City was nicknamed GOTHAM by author Washington Irving in 1807. Gotham was a humorous reference to the English Village of Gotham of which it was said: "more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it." Gotham City" was officially proposed as the City's nickname to City Council members in the spring of 2008 by a councilman from Queens. I'm not certain whatever became of that proposal.
  • Coney Island, built in 1897, was the world's most famous amusement park until Disneyland opened in 1955.
  • In the early days of silent movies and before the film industry moved to Hollywood,  American Vitagraph in downtown Manhattan on Nassau Street became the first American film studio.  Director and producer, D.W. Griffith was turning out motion pictures at Biograph Company his studio at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. Griffith, an early pioneer in filmmaking and editing techniques, became the greatest American silent film director (The Birth of a Nation, 1915) and was the first producer-director of motion pictures. His early films starred the young actress, Mary Pickford (who gained riches and fame in such films as Rebecca of Stony Brooke Farm and Sparrows), and the Gish sisters: Lillian (Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms, and Orphans of the Storm) and Dorothy (Orphans of the Storm). Mack Sennett (known for his slapstick Keystone Cops comedies) and Lionel Barrymore also worked for Biograph.
  • The first television networks were all located in Manhattan. NBC conducted experimental television broadcasts from the Empire State Building in 1932. NBC also became the first network to offer regular television services with its telecast of the opening of the New York World’s Fair on April 30, 1939. In the late 40s and early 50s, television shows such as Texaco Star Theater, Studio One, Philco TV Playhouse (all in 1948), The Honeymooners (1955) and Playhouse 90 (1956) were filmed in front of live audiences and broadcast “Live from New York” throughout the country. The Ed Sullivan Show (1955) hosted by newspaper columnist Sullivan, brought Broadway and opera stars, as well as Elvis Presley and the Beatles, into the nation’s living rooms on Sunday evenings. Sullivan’s show was tremendously popular and he would be called America’s Minister of Culture. “I Love Lucy” premiered on October 15, 1951 and made Lucy and Desi America’s favorite married couple; by 1954 the show was attracting an unprecedented 50 million viewers. Many actors and directors, later to move on to great fame in Hollywood, were introduced to American audiences through live television broadcasts. The young James Dean appeared on Studio One and Kraft Television Theater and Paul Newman in dramatic productions of Playwrights ’56 and The Philco Television Playhouse. Director Sidney Lumet, who started in television, would later direct many Oscar-winning films. Lumet is known as a “New York director” due to his love of filming on the streets of New York (The Pawnbroker in Harlem; Serpico about corruption in the New York City Police Department; Dog Day Afternoon -- at a bank in Greenwich Village; The Wiz, a version of The Wizard of Oz with a black cast and with the Brooklyn Bridge and other NYC locales as its backdrop; and Network a negative look at the television industry).
  • During World War II the port of New York was the departure point for more than 3.2 million members of the armed forces who left New York harbor for Europe or the Mediterranean.  Large numbers of supplies and hardware were also shipped from New York to Europe during the war. 
  • At the Brooklyn Navy Yard the battleships North Carolina, Iowa and Missouri and others were launched.  American ships, damaged by bombs and torpedoes, was also repaired at the yard.  Over 75,000 New Yorkers were part of the important workforce at the yard including many women.
  • The American people seem to have a love/hate relationship with New York City. Many would not be caught dead living here while others dream about exciting visits here. Presidents have told New York City to DROP DEAD and New Yorkers themselves have conflicting feelings about the City. Sometimes New Yorkers may seem a little "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" as the Rodgers & Hart song from the Broadway musical, PAL JOEY, admits. New Yorkers may frequently complain about the City, but despite all, it's still amazing to see how well a city of over eight million people actually works and survives.
  • New York City's official theme song is "New York, New York," by Broadway composers, John Kander and Fred Ebb. The song was first performed by Liza Minnelli in the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same title and recorded later by Frank Sinatra.
  • America's first pizzeria was opened in New York City in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi and was located on Spring Street.
  • New York City also introduced New Yorkers and the country to such products as the English Muffin (created at a bakery at 337 West 20th Street by an Englishman, Samuel Beth Thomas -- the site is now a co-op affectionally known as "the Muffin House") and yogurt (made at a Dannon factory in the Bronx by Daniel "Dannon" Carasso and Juan Metzger in 1942).  In addition, the following were also created in NYC:  Chunky (in 1930 by Philip Silverstein), and the tootsie roll named after his daughter in 1896 by Leon Hirschfield, an immigrant from Austria.  The Nabisco Factory, now the Chelsea Market, gave New Yorkers, America and the whole world its famous Oreo cookie invented and developed in the year 1912.
  • The "concept of a cocktail" is said to have come from a popular New York City bartender, JERRY THOMAS, who published the first bartenders' guide:  How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant's Companion (with cocktail recipes) in 1862.  
New York City has fortunately been the subject of a number of very talented and pioneer photographers who have beautifully captured the City in black and white.  Some of the more important ones are:

In The Unfinished City New York and The Metropolitan Idea, Thomas Bender notes that the Alfred Stieglitz circle of NYC photographers saw the City as "a place of visual delight, not a place of working, living, and laughing; nor a place of active public life, of people enjoying the streets or using them for formal rituals of self-representations."  Stieglitz's vision of the City was in contract to others, such as painter John Sloan, whose works focused more on working class people, people's activities, people in a park or other public places.  

Other photographers such as Lewis Hine (1874 - 1940) and Jacob Riis (1849 - 1914) were social commentators. Hine did a series of photographs on child labor and Riis is known for his photos of immigrants on the Lower East Side. For over 50 years James Vanderzee (1886 - 1983), an African-American photographer, had his own studio in Harlem where he captured portraits of Harlem residents and others who passed through.

The Photo League was established in 1936 in New York by Berenice Abbott and Paul Strand to promote documentary photography of social causes, working class families, and political and trade union activities.  In addition to Abbott and Strand,  photographers in the group included:  Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Lewis Hine, Ruth Orkin, Ralph Steiner, Weegee, Edward Weston,Margaret Bourke-White, and others.  The very progressive group was eventually investigated by the House Committee of UnAmerican Activities and blacklisted on December 5, 1947.   

Painters such as John Sloan (1871 – 1951) and Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967) would also capture the beauty of New York City.  Sloane moved to NYC in 1904 and his paintings are often of city neighborhoods, especially those he loved and where he lived, both the Village and in Chelsea.  He also painted the working class people on the streets and a New York City of the early 1900's:  Jefferson Market Courthouse, Backyards Greenwich Village, Six O'Clock, the Flatiron Building, McSorley's Bar, the Sixth Avenue Elevated subway trains, The Coffee Line, The Haymarket (1907), and the Wake of the Ferry.  Sloan's works have been featured in a special exhibit, Seeing the City:  Sloan's New York organized by the Delaware Art Museum and exhibited in other parts of the country.  

Hopper's most famous painting, Nighthawks -- of customers sitting at the counter of a Greenwich Village all-night diner -- portrays the moody, dark side of the City.  The subject of Hopper's paintings are ordinary scenes or indistinctive buildings:  New York Corner, The Roofs of Washington Square, Drug Store, Night Windows, or People in a Park.  



INFORMATIVE BOOKS ABOUT NEW YORK:

THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEW YORK CITY: HISTORIES AND VIEWS OF IMPORTANT STRUCTURES, SITES AND SYMBOLS by Donald Martin Reynolds*

THE BIG OYSTER: A HISTORY ON A HALF SHELL by Mark Kurlansky

EMPIRE CITY NEW YORK THROUGH THE CENTURIES by Kenneth T. Jackson and David S. Dunbar *

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEW YORK CITY by Kenneth T. Jsckson

THE EPIC OF NEW YORK CITY A NARRATIVE HISTORY by Edward Robb Ellis*

A PICKPOCKET’S TALE:  THE UNDERWORLD OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW YORK by Timothy J. Gilfoyle

THE GANGS OF NEW YORK by Herbert Ashbury

THE GAY METROPOLIS, 1940 – 1996 by Charles Kelser

THE GAY MILITANTS HOW GAY LIBERATION BEGAN IN AMERICA, 1969 - 1971 by Donn Teal

GAY NEW YORK: GENDER, URBAN CULTURE, AND THE MAKING OF THE GAY MALE WORLD, 1890 - 1940 by George Chauncey

GOTHAM A HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY TO 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace*

GREENWICH VILLAGE CULTURE AND COUNTERCULTURE by Rick Beard and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz (published for the Museum of the City of New York by Rutgers University Press*

GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY LANDMARKS by Andrew S. Dolkart*

HARLEM ON MY MIND: CULTURAL CAPITAL OF BLACK AMERICA, 1900-1968 by Alton Schoener*

THE HISTORICAL ATLAS OF NEW YORK CITY A VISUAL CELEBRATION OF 400 YEARS OF NEW YORK CITY'S HISTORY by Eric Homberger*

THE HUDSON A History by Tom Lewis

THE ISLAND AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD:  THE EPIC STORY OF DUTCH MANHATTAN AND THE FORGOTTEN COLONY THAT SHAPED AMERICA, by Russell Shorto 

LOW LIFE:  Drinking, drugging, whoring, murder, corruption, vice and miscellaneous mayhem in old New York

NEW YORK in the 50s by Dan Wakefield

97 ORCHARD STREET:  An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman

REPUBLIC OF DREAMS Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia 1910 - 1960 by Ross Wetzsteen*

TERRIBLE HONESTY MONGREL MANHATTAN IN THE 1920s by Ann Douglas 

THE UNFINISHED CITY New York and The Metropolitan Idea, by Thomas Bender

THE WOMEN OF THE HOUSE: HOW A COLONIAL SHE-MERCHANT BUILT A MANSION, A FORTUNE, AND A DYNASTY by Jean Zimmerman*

THE WORLD TRADE CENTER:  CLASSICS OF AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE by Anthony W. Robins.  First published in 1987 before 9/11, the book's revised 2011 edition is a "memory of the World Trade Center as it once was."*

*Denote an especially excellent and informative books about the City; however, all of the above are highly recommended.

NEW YORK ARCHITECTURE

SUBWAYS

Map of New Amsterdam

Map of New York City 

New York City Street Grid 

New York City Neighborhoods

African-American Burial Ground 

Views from Brooklyn

The Bowery Boys

Charles Fazzino's 3-D Drawings 

City Lore

Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

Ephemeral New York

Forgotten New York

Hudson River Art School

Gotham Center 

Explorer NY 400 

I Love New York 

Immigration to the United States 

Menu Pages

Mount Vernon Hotel 

Mysteries of New York 

The Naked City 

New Amsterdam History Center

New Netherland Project

New York City's Waterfronts

New York History

New York City Timeline 

New York City Trivia 

New York City, Places of a Lifetime

New York Correction History Society

New York Public Library Picture Collection 

The New York Times

Office of Metropolitan History 

Old Photographs of New York City  

Old Streets of New York

Paintings by Francis Guy 

Seal of New York City

The Stork Club

Time Out New York

This Is New York 

Tom Nast's cartoons and drawings

230 Fifth Avenue