Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cool SIRT (Staten Island Rapid Transit) links

When I was a kid, my mom would take me and my sister to New Dorp to go shopping or in the summer see a Disney matinee at the Lane Movie Theater. Since we didn't drive we'd catch the old 103 bus in front of Trinity Lutheran Church at the foot of Cebra Avenue or we'd walk down and catch the train in Stapleton. Mostly she opted for the convenience of the bus but I remember plenty of rides on the old trains with wicker seats and conductors collecting fares.

When I was older my friends and I took to long, exploratory hikes around the North Shore. One of the coolest ones took us along the abandoned overpasses of the South Beach rail line. Now they've been pulled down and the old right-of-ways have been filled with houses.

So here are some pictures from several different sites. All are worth spending some time with and any native Islander should have some memories tugged by some of them.

Third Rail's SIRT issue

Forgotten New York - SIRT photos

Joe's SIRT photos

Someone else's cool SIRT photos

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Link

There's a new link on the page. It's for the NYPL's "Staten Island on the Web" section. I forgot to put it up last time so here it is. There's lots of fun stuff to be found. I was particularly looking for photos of the Bethlehem Ship Yards in Mariner's Harbor building destroyers during WW II but they're gone. Someday, maybe, I'll find them again and put them up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Postcards by Grimshaw

So I found out about the postcards. All I had to do was type "W.J. Grimshaw" and postcards into google and it took me to the Grimshaw family page. I always feel extra stupid when it takes me a week to actually do the five seconds of work needed to solve a problem or answer a question.

William Grimshaw was born on October 14, 1830 in Accrington, Lancashire and emigrated to the U.S. in about 1847. After living for a brief time in Pennsylvania, he moved to Bordentown, New Jersey where he apparently married Emily Brown in 1853. After living there for more than 20 years, the family relocated to Staten Island in 1873, where William was engaged as a carpenter for the remainder of his life. William and Emily had at least four children -- William J., Frank P., Lamar C., and Margaret Grimshaw. William died in 1905 and Emily passed away in 1908. William's oldest son, William J., operated a stationery and confectionery business that became later focused on selling ice cream when it was first introduced.

Now Mr. Grimshaw and his son's postcards are collected for our pleasure on the NYPL's Digital Collection pages. I've said it before, check them out.

Richmond Terrace Apartments - the present

So here's the other building shown in the postcards posting. If the Prospect Gables have seen better days, then this place REALLY has seen better days.

It sits at the foot of York Avenue and Richmond Terrace. I'd wager that the postcard was created back when the Jersey Street area was still a thriving working class commercial strip for the surrounding homes on Westervelt and York. There was at least one synagogue, a Polish Catholic church and all manner of shops. There was a public school, PS 17, and supermarkets.

When I was a boy the area was already on the way down. The A&P closed and many of the old tenements were abandoned and sank into ruin. In the later 70's the school burned down (though there was already another school nearby). The Richmond Terrace Public Houses had gone from being a diverse working class bastion to a place where the hardworking tenants were force to live cheek by jowl with individuals of the least reputable sort.

Now the area has achieved a stasis. In the early 80's I watched several blocks of old building be torn down and replaced with little attached homes. The commercial strip of Jersey Street between Pauw Street and Castleton Avenue struggles on. Working class families have reclaimed many of the older homes on the streets branching off Jersey and there's been a stabilizing effect on the whole neighborhood. Despite all that, the Jersey Street environs are still a marginal place with more crime than much of the rest fo the Island and general shabbiness that never seems to go away.

Later criminals began preying on the neighborhood and

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Prospect Gables Redux

Located only a few houses and across the street from the albatross that is the home I purchased two years ago and still can't live in, the Prospect Gables have clearly fallen down on their uppers. I feel like I remember seeing the Gables with their fanciful roof top adornments still intact but I could have taken crazy pills. You can clearly see the once painted patterns used to create the fake Tudor effect in the postcard picture. The old concrete stanchions are still visible at the bottom left of the picture. The lower story windows are bricked up today, probably a reminder of the neighborhood's less criminally averese days.

I still am puzzled by the postcard's existence but I'm thankful for it. These postcards (and the NYPL's easily accessible collection) will give me things to write about whenever I run out of my own trite ideas.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Postcard from New Brighton

These were real postcards printed at some distant time in Staten Island's past. Both building still exist (with modern pictures forthoming) and have suffered considerable aesthetic deterioration and their blocks have tumbled down the economic ladder a few rungs. There also continues to be no reason for the postcards to exist. Perhaps I can do little research on the history of postcards of such everyday domiciles. I mean it's cool to be able to send a painted picture of your house to friends and family but it just doesn' make any sense.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Links

I added a bunch of new links today. The first two are the most valuable but all have good things contained within.

Forgotten New York is one of the coolest sites for pictures of the five boroughs bar none. It's creator, Kevin Walsh, has been doing hist site for ten years and recently he wrote a book called "Forgotten New York". Go to the "Street Scenes" section and check out the Staten Island articles. The man's collected some amazing things and gathered good information.

The New York Public Library Digital Collections is a great picture resource. Just enter what you'd like to see in the search and go for it. Unfortunately there's not a lot of good information attached to the pictures. Sometimes there's a note scribble onto the image or there's a caption indicating date or location but more often than not it's all a little vague.

The last two sites are similar to my own. They're personal sites with things of special interest to their creators. Nonetheless, for the interested Staten Islander they do provide a wealth of interesting pictures from across the decades. They also have their own sets of links to other Staten Island biased sites. Check them out and if you find fun sites on your own, let me know and I'll put up a link.

Old Church Building

It's still a beautiful neo-Gothic structure. There's some minor changes (the old steeple spires are missing (which is not visible in my mediocre picture) and there are windows over the bell openings), but it's still the same building from the postcard. Reading about Zion's history from there website, I discovered the building was opened in 1921. The congregation had started as a simple Norwegian Sunday school meeting in a building on Avenue B (which was just torn down) and had finally reached the point they could afford to erect a real church. Then a mere forty-three years later they moved on to the lifeless structure on Watchogue Road.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Zion Lutheran Church

I guess that Zion Lutheran moved to its present location in Westerleigh from Port Richmond in the mid sixties because they wanted a larger building and many of its parishoners had moved to that neighborhood. Whatever the reasons, who'd want to trade this beautiful gothic building for this lifeless example of modern architecture?

The old Scandinavian Lutheran Church is now St. Philip's Baptist Church and appears to be maintained in good condition. It is one of several churches in the area and one of the two directly along the park that once formed the heart of one of Port Richmond's nicer residential sections. I forgot to get a picture of the building's present condition (because I'm a dope) but I'll put that up next.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Same House - Different Picture

So here's what the house looks like today. It's a pretty little house that's been kept up rather well. You can see that the clapboard sheathing has been replaced with wider boards and the decorative trim at the top of the left hand chimney is gone but it's still a splendid reminded or Staten Island's long ago Dutch settlement.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Van Santvoord House

This cool little brick and wood house sits at the bend in Richmond Terrace at the foot of Pelton Avenue. I'll post a picture of the house at it looks today. It's still beautiful. Now, unfortunately, it's been chopped up into multi-family. What are you gonna do. At least it's still there.

Staten Island

I love Staten Island. If you know me that probably doesn't come as any sort of a surprise, but I just wanted to get it out there for anyone else bored enough to be reading this. I can't think of leaving Staten Island. I know, I know. Staten Island's a provincial, conservative town with stupid, classless people.

First, with almost half a million people it's only as provincial as you want it to be. Whatever cultural attractions we lack are simply in another borough, that is, in a different part of the city Staten Island belongs to.

Secondly, it is conservative. People who own homes, worry about earning enough money and sending the kids to school usally don't have the luxury or time to not be fairly conservative. Suits me fine.

Finally, they're really no less classy than any bohemian wannabe in Manahattan or Brooklyn. Look, we live in a pretty tacky society in general these days. For every NASCAR or wrestling fan there's some hipster going to a pompous show at PS 1. We live in a day of cheap spectacle and crazy social antipathies. If you like junk I don't it must be tasteless.

Coming on to Staten Island from any of the bridges or the ferry can still take my breath away. Masonry towers and old wooden houses brek through a seemingly endless green cover of sycamores, oaks and maples. The same vantage point shows the Island as a black space floating in front of me bound together by the yellow-orange street lights and rushing bands of car lights. I'm still moved when I look out over the borough from the crest of one of our bridges and I get just a bit excited when I can pick out a house I know between the leaves and branches that seem to be ready to smother it.

I like its houses and I like its people, even the ones I can't stand on a day to day basis. That's probably because I know I'm a bit of a jerk and I only feel superior because they don't like what I like or act just like me. I mean there's just no rational foundation for me feeling I'm any better than anybody I meet on the street and when I stop looking down my nose long enough I remember that and I can tell myself to shut the heck up.

I'm not foolish enough to think I'm anything but a product of this borough and I know I'm not "better" than the vast majority of them. Just because I think I'm smarter than so many of my fellow Staten Islanders doesn't make it even occasionally true. Everyone likes to think they're smarter or cooler than everyone around them (and everyone knows how cool I am).

These are the people I've known all my life and will probably know till the day I die. They have the same concerns for how the Island evolves and grows in the future that I do. If we don't agree on precisely how things turn out we at least all know what's important to think about.

If I was to go anywhere else I'd feel unmoored and set loose in a very discomfomrting way. It happened during my years in Albany (admittedly a small, anti-cosmopolitan outpost in New York's northlands) and I suspect it would happen wherever I moved to.

I love the tree covered hills and the evolving prairies growing on the remnants of the Fresh Kills Landfill. I love our French Provincial Borough Hall and the abandoned derelict Seaview TB hospital. I love the handful of ancient colonial homes scattered around the North Shore and old Victorian homes vainly struggling against development in Tottenville.

I'm going to start posting pictures from the Island throughout time. Some I'll snag from books and websites while the others I take with my handy little digital camera. If you have any ideas or comments please feel free to leave them and I'll see what I can do.