Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Stapleton Projects Project - Part Four

After a lengthy delay caused by 1)second eye surgery, 2)busted equipment at the Archive, and that ol' standby, 3)laziness, here's the return of the Stapleton Projects Project.

As in the last two posts, today's continues along Broad Street. Specifically, it's Broad between the vanished street, Clarke Street and the vanished, southern portion of Cedar Street.

As with the other buildings of lost Broad Street, it's a interesting mix of commercial and residential. Notice that Building F says Salvation Army on side. I think that's their original location (the present building at 15 Broad was the Veteran Fireman's Association).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Horror on Ward Hill

The other day I spent a couple of hours trying to track down any pictures of the hilltop mansions from Staten Island's past. I didn't have much luck. The microfilm spool for Jones Woods was overexposed and the poorly labeled. There was no shot of Chester Clark's Hill Top on the hill bounded by Cebra and Ward (and the one I really wanted because I grew up on Cebra and wandered around the old driveway and bits of its foundation).

But I did find a lousy picture of a second house that stood on the same hill as Clark's house. Its address was 192 Ward Avenue and it was owned by Berthold Ludwig.

I don't know when either of the buildings were destroyed. The story I heard as a kid was that there had been a fire, but we also only heard about one house up on the hill, not two. If you know anything, please, let me know. Some day the Advance will digitize its collection and make itself useful to amateur sleuths like me, but till the day I must rely on the memories of strangers.

192 Ward Avenue - home of Berthold A. Ludwig

1917 map showing location of house in lower right corner

Article from The Day, a New London, Conn. newspaper. For some reasoned it carried this story of the terrible events of that day 102 years ago. Now, that spot, once the home of a wealth chemist is covered over by ugly townhouses. Nothing, save a map and bad photo are readily available. Perhaps ghosts of memories of those events linger on in the families effected by this outburst of rage. Berthold Ludwig had three sons. Who knows how many servants lived in the house. And maybe no one remembers this at all. Even if they were teenagers, the people burned are probably long, long gone.

It's no great insight, but things like this happen all the time, all around us. They seem so big, so important at the time. And then, twenty, fifty, a hundred years later, they are little more than a clipping from an old newspaper.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Stapleton Projects Project-Part Three

To make up for the debacle of the posting yesterday afternoon, I'm putting some more pictures right away.This block of Broad Street between the two vanished streets, Patten and Clarke, is a mix of commercial/residential buildings and actual houses. That's something you don't see much of anywhere. Just look at Port Richmond Avenue or New Dorp Lane. Detached houses would seem to a waste of valuable commercially zone lots.

For anyone curious about the name of this site, it comes from the Planet of the Apes movies.This site grew out of an earlier site called Fight Like Apes that fell apart with lots of unpleasant behavior. This site wasn't originally going to be about Staten Island. When it evolved into that I was already stuck with the name.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Stapleton Projects Project - Part Two

So, while I had planned to work my way from in on the backstreets to out on Broad Street, that ain't happening. Actually finding the pictures on the microfilms spools is annoying. So, when I come across any block/lots for the area I decided I might as well get them when I can.

Which means for this post, we jump right to Broad Street. Specifically between Patten and Gordon. It's an interesting assortment of buildings, but all are commercial on the first floor and residential up above. That's a type of construction you don't seem to see anymore. Personally, I always thought it was sort of nice. You need to buy something, you just go downstairs. Seems pretty convenient, if you ask me.

What it meant for Stapleton, was that just as the neighborhood's population was drastically increased, it lost a host of businesses. It's seems like a pretty counterintuitive thing to do. Did the remaining businesses have the capacity to meet the needs of the new residents? Did the stores that suddenly faced decreased competition raise their prices or reduce the quality of their services?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Let It Begin! - Part One - Lost Stapleton

I mentioned on Facebook in the group North Shore Staten Island Stuff about my hope of recreating the neighborhoods lost to the construction of the various NYCHA housing projects across the North Shore in the early sixties. Because it's my home, because I'm getting reinvolved in community affairs, I'm starting with Stapleton.

The backstreets of Stapleton, over ten blocks of detached homes, small apartments, and a few commercial operations were demolished in order to build the Stapleton Houses. They were completed in 1962 and are the largest public housing complex on Staten Island with over 2,000 tenants.

While the area had some buildings in poor condition, there is no way it could really be thought of as blighted. But the city is its infinite wisdom decreed it so and up went the terraced towers that still loom over Broad Street today.

As I learn more I'll speak more about the nature of what was there in the region bounded by Broad, Tompkins, Hill, and Warren. For now, I'm just going to start putting up pictures.
Caveat - These pictures are from the WPA property photos and were taken between 1939 and 1941. Things may have drastically changed over the ensuing twenty years before the projects were built.

Tompkins Street btw Patten (Custer) and Clarker

(make sure you click on the pictures to enlarge them)

1917 map

1917 map smaller scale

So there's the first round of lost homes and businesses. I'm not sure I can ever quite forgive the mid-century urban planners who thought they could "fix" cities by destroying existing neighborhoods and packing people into high rises.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Theaters of Port Richmond

Like Stapleton, Port Richmond was a major shopping district on the North Shore thru the mid-seventies. Like Stapleton, it once had several theaters gracing its streets, drawing people to to the area in great numbers. First the Plaza (Forest Avenue Shoppers' Town), then the Staten Island Mall killed Port Richmond dead.

The commercial strip staggered on for years, at one point trying to keep itself alive as a furniture store hub. Only the advent of Mexican immigration seems to have revived it, though not in a way I imagine anybody anticipated.

While I'm going to concentrate on the three theaters, this map provides a great sense of where Port Richmond's cultural hub was located. In addition to the theaters, there are several churches and fraternal organizations.

I've written several posts on Port Richmond's churches, but here's a recap. St. Philip's Baptist was (and still is) and African-American church. Today, it's located in the old Zion Lutheran Church. In keeping with Port Richmond's long history of immigrant residents, St. Philip's original location was purchased by an Indian Mar Thoma congregation. Zion was built by Norwegian immigrants, with their first building on Avenue B, then the building on Bennett Street, before moving out of the neighbor and into Westerleigh.

The Park Baptist Church was built on the corner of Vreeland and Park. The magnificent Dutch Reformed Church still stands watch at the foot of (Port) Richmond Avenue just a few blocks from the Terrace. Just off the top right edge of the map is St. Mary's of the Assumption Catholic Church.

I've written about the fraternal groups in Port Richmond in the past. Here you can see where the two largest were located in relation to the churches and theaters: the Masonic Lodge (which later moved a few blocks away to Anderson Avenue into a beautiful neo-classical building which in a wonderful, ironic turn, became the CYO's main building) and the International Order of Odd Fellows.

So here are the theaters. Follow the links to full histories and other cool photos from the very good site, Cinema Treasures.

The largest theater, and the one with the coolest history (because it served as a great rock venue), was the Ritz on the corner of Anderson Avenue. Built in 1924, it was a latecomer and only makes it on to the above map as a name in pencil. The building's still there, and apparently remnants of its glorious past linger on in the form of colorful murals.

The Palace Theater is gone. Opened in 1916, it only made it to 1950 as a theater. I have no idea when it was demolished. It was located at 108 Richmond Avenue, opposite Bennett Street. Sadly, in this first picture, it's showing The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brothers first full-length movie. It's not as bad as Go West or Love Happy but it's pretty weak. It does have the viaduct bit, so it's got that going for itself.

Finally, Leo's Empire Theater. It lasted as a theater from 1916 to 1978. That's pretty amazing, though it did go out pretty ignominiously. Even I can remember its notoriety in the late seventies when it attempted to survive as porno house. Community activists quickly put an end to that nonsense. After that, Farrell Lumber bought the building and used it as a storage site. Today it's a church. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Capitol Theater - Broadway, West New Brighton

Here's a set of Yesterday and Today pictures. It's the Capitol Theater on Broadway just above the corner of Castleton Avenue. One of aunt's told me about going to the movies there and then getting ice cream at a shop next door. I'll venture a guess that it was in the building in the left of the picture.

You can see it had large windows and a striped awning. One of the most common changes to many old commercial buildings is their conversion to residential use. The large display windows are simply removed and space bricked up. 

Take a look around some day for similar buildings. It's interesting to realize how many neighborhoods had little stores sprinkled through them. The same sort of centralized shopping districts that killed the shopping districts (ex., Stapleton, Port Richmond, etc.) probably put the end to them as well.