Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ghosts of Long Ago Jersey Street

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From what I've been able to gather, Jersey Street was once a vibrant working class immigrant community stretching from the Terrace to Castleton Avenue. The Richmond Terrace Houses seem to have gutted the community when they were built before I was born (completed 1964). by the time I was in high school in the early eighties several run down blocks of apartments and stores were demolished and replaced with ugly row houses. The A&P closed and eventually the uniform factory by the projects closed up shop.

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Today Jersey Street is a grim shadow of the vibrant neighborhood it once was. The ornate old PS 17 that once looked down from Prospect Avenue burned down and the present PS 31 is routinely ranked one of the worst elementary schools in the city.

There are a few stores but none that are noteworthy and a few that are a bit scary. The rampant drug dealing of the eighties and early nineties isn't as obvious as it was then but there's still crime and all too frequent shootings.

Even when I was little Jersey Street had a bad reputation. Unfortunately I suspect that mostly had to do with the fact that it was becoming a predominantly black neighborhood and nothing to do with any actual crime. My mother took me with her all the time to visit her friend Peggy D. in the projects and we never had a problem or worried about anything. Still, as I grew I guess I took on the same attitude about the neighborhood as most of the people around me. Perhaps if people hadn't been so ready to assume the worst they wouldn't have stood by when the worst did happen and they might have helped or demanded that the police stepped in. Instead they stood by and said "What do you expect?"

REMEMBER: Clicking on the old timey pictures enlarges them and also shows you the entire picture. Sometimes the site doesn't do that with the visible versions.

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Tomorrow: the churches of Jersey Street and environs

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Secret Churches

In my research I've discovered the existence of several defunct churches now in service as something else. Sometimes it's fairly obvious the structure used to be a church but sometimes it just looks like a house.

Norwegian Lutheran Free Church - Wardwell Avenue in Westerleigh

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I never even realized this places existence until my friend, Steve MacD. told me about an aunt who'd attended an evangelical Norwegian church in Westerleigh. Later I correlated this memory when going through the Davis and Leng Staten Island books at the CSI Staten Island Archives. Funnily enough, despite it's obvious previous history as a church, it never occurred to me all the times I drove past the building.

Kingsley Methodist Church - Cebra Avenue in Stapleton

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All I know is that was one of the great Methodist Calamity casualties in the late sixties. When I was a lad I was told it was owned by two "gentlemen artists", later the Mormons owned it. It was the center of the Mormoning activities which consisted primarily of sending out two tow-headed young men in white shirts and black ties to knock on doors. Later a Pentecostal congregation set up residence there and I don't know what the present owner plans to do with it. From the below old postcard you can see it once had the common four sided steeple I'm finding on many of the Island's old wooden Methodist churches. I've only recently realized how big the building actually is (50' by 85') and I imagine there are extensions in the back for offices and the like.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Standard Varnish Works

Standard Varnish Works

So in tooling around the NYPL Digital Collection, I came across this old illustration of the "Standard Varnish Works - Elm Park". Looking over the picture I immediately knew I had seen the three large stacks in the picture's left. I also knew I'd seen them along Richmond Terrace but I couldn't recall exactly where in reference to the Bayonne Bridge.

Looking at the illustration again I knew where things were. In the bottom right there's a little pointed roofed building that I knew was just to the west of the bridge. A few minutes on Googlemaps proved me right.

The link at the beginning of this post takes you to a pdf of the proceedings taken by the NYC Landmarks Commission. They essentially take away the rights of the property owner for some supposed greater community good. Clearly I'm a fan of the old and historical but I'm also a strong supporter of property rights. At the least there should be some sort of compensations when property's landmarked and in the case of a the barest remnant of a dilapidated old factory it shouldn't be done at all.

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Staten Island Actor's Home

Here's a colored postcard of the Actor's Home in West New Brighton. Yeah, it was a pretty building.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Methodist Church in Mariner's Harbor

All I know is that the picture claims to be of a Methodist Episcopal Church on Harbor Road at Journeay Street. Now there's a Pentecostal Tabernacle next door and the building's been changed so much on the outside that it took me an extra second or two to recognize it. One more example of the changing of the guard on Staten Island's working class streets.

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More Writers

E.R. Eddison - The Worm Ourboros and the Zimiamvia Trilogy

A writer I know a bit about but I haven't been able to read yet. Meaning I haven't been able to wade through his pseudo-archaic dialogue as of yet. Still, he was important to writers as diverse as Lovecraft and Tolkien. It really seems the first book is the most important to the later development of Sword and Sorcery. Perhaps he's a little more trying for highbrow than pulp but his importance seems clear.

Second Coming

Andre Norton - Witch World

border="0" alt="" />This is someone I've never read anything by but her following is still huge and her output is legendary. I'm including her without much knowledge of her stuff because she was a member of Lin Carter's SAGA group back in the seventies.


Richard Kirk - Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos

Actually the award winning writer Robert Holdstock and Angus Wells switching off titles in this five book series. I got 'em but haven't read 'em. They look luridly over-the-top. I first became aware of them in the old "Giants in the Earth" feature in the old "Dragon Magazine" back in the early eighties. They'd do write ups and give you stats for various fictional characters.

Newest Stuff

Glen Cook - The Dread Empire, the Black Company, numerous other series and single books

So I've read a ton of his stuff and it's pretty amazing. It's grim, exciting and pretty well (mostly) plotted and often utterly insane. I see it as somewhere
between the D&D style epic stuff like Steve Erikson and the outright S&S stuff of someone like Robert E. Howard.

Mysterious Methodist Episcopal Church

For some time I've wondered at the history of the small church on Willowbrook Road near Forest Avenue just by the Burger King. Now it houses a Spanish language evangelical congregation but its apparent age and the old cemetery ringing it clearly indicates an old, lost heritage.

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Doing one of my period searches through the NYPL Digital Archive I found this picture. A quick look at googlemaps confirmed my suspicions - it's the same building.

The two outer windows in the staircase have been removed and the steeple is long gone. There are added awnings and other minor changes but the original building still comes through.

I still don't know anything about the church and its history. I guess I can add it to the list of Methodist church closings and consolidations in the late sixties but I have no way at present of knowing for sure. I've never actually knowingly known anyone who belonged to any of the Island's Methodist congregations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Paved Wonders of Staten Island

Once there was a beautiful building designed to house down at their heels actors who'd reached the latter stages of their lives. Now it's the Staten Island Zoo parking lot.

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Once German immigrants sought to create a prestige private school in St. George. They founded the Staten Island Academy. It burned down in the seventies and was replaced with...a parking lot.

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Vanderbilt Family Mansion - Swedish Home for the Aged

Originally this mansion (one of the few remaining from Staten Island's "Golden Age") was built for one of the Vanderbilt Family daughters. At some point it was given over to charity and the Swedish Home for the Aged was opened. Only this past spring did it finally close due to failing revenues. Still, the gorgeous Victorian mansion remains hidden away in the woods between Victory Boulevard and the Staten Island Expressway.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Summerfield Methodist Church

When the Methodist Church seemed to collapse on Staten Island's North Shore in the late sixties, Summerfield Methodist Church survived. At present it's still an active congregation but it's a small remnant of what it once was.

Comparing the old photo to the Google Map view you can see the houses on the church's right are still there. The one to its left is the church parking lot.

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Mariner's Harbor Dutch Reformed Church

I don't know much, in fact nothing, about the history of this church. I guess it flourished in the days when the street names of Mariner's Harbor (Walloon, Van Name, Brabant, Confederation) reflected the heritage of their inhabitants. I think it closed up in the sixties.

Presently it's the Fellowship Baptist Church, an independent Baptist congregation run by the Rev. Williams. Except for the color and the front steps the church looks pretty much the same. I was inside it several times years back for an old job and it was well maintained and comfortable seeming.

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Mariner's Harbor Baptist Church

Nestled away near the Lawgiver's home, this beautiful old red brick church was initially built as the Mariner's Harbor Baptist Church. It closed down when the congregation merged with other congregations and formed the Willowbrook Baptist Church back in the late sixties. At present it's a Seventh Day Adventist Church. It's been changed a little with some decorative touches and the peak on the steeple lost to time and wear but it's still a striking church.

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First Presbyterian - Stapleton

Tucked away in the back streets of Stapleton is the beautiful old First Presbyterian Church. It clearly was once an active and wealthy congregation. The Pouch family (wealthy Islanders) were members and somebody shelled out for Tiffany stained glass windows (picture later).

As Stapleton changed and the old families and white folks ran away the congregation dwindled and finally closed in the early nineties. A Spanish evangelical church occupied the building for a time but they too pulled out. Recently it was bought by Mount Sinai Baptist Church and they've been renovating the buildings and restoring them for active use.

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The church is hidden away in one of the most beautiful and secret places on Staten Island. Lining its narrow streets are numerous large and well kept homes. My mother's friend, Helen Pose lived in a large house on Harrison Street and even as a little kid I knew it was beautiful.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Canal Street - Stapleton

Even when I was little Stapleton was still a major commercial hub. The decay triggered by the Stapleton Houses and the methadone clinic weren't obviously terminal yet. Store ran along Broad Street from Van Duzer Street all the way to Tappen Park and Wright Street. The only exception was the towering remnants of the Piels Brewery.
Around Tappen Park on Water Street and Canal Street were tons of stores and some restaurants. It was beautiful.

Well that was over thirty years ago. People like my mom and the equally late Helen Pose struggled against the tide of crime, apathy and the cheapness of the merchants and had as much luck as King Canute.

I went to the NY Parks sponsored Oktoberfest today and it was barely a pale shade of the street fairs and flea markets held there through the early eighties. Sure there's development going on today and few builders are cleaning up some of the decayed buildings but it's not the same and I imagine never will be. I wish them luck but it's just not the same.

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That's the Meadow Brook Dairy building, second from the left behind the scaffolding.

Tompkins Department Store

I remember my mom talking about going to Tompkins when she was a kid. It was one of the first real department stores on the island and supposedly one of the finest. By the time I came around it was just a memory. Here's some pictures.

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Levi Stubbs - RIP

Levi Stubbs died yesterday. He'd been sick for some time and hadn't toured in eight years. I obviously didn't know the man but I'm still sad.

I can't think of a more powerful pop song right now than "Reach Out I'll Be There." There might be but I don't care.

Friday, October 17, 2008

S&S - updated

I've added links were possible and changed some of the art.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Swords and Sorcery - More

In 1961, Michael Moorcock wrote a letter published in the magazine Amra asking for a name for the sort of story written by Robert E. Howard. Fritz Leiber responded with the following:

"I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!"

That's as good a definition as any I could need. It covers a wide gamut of authors and styles but they're all alike in tending to the grittier side of things and a melancholic tone. I just want to put out a list of who and what I consider important or foundational to the genre and make a view comments where possible.

This is a preview of something I'd like to do in the near future. I'd plan to make (once I master Wordpress) a site about S&S with links, pictures, maps and everything. We'll see how that goes.

The Foundations - The Creators and their Characters/Milieus
Robert E. Howard - Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, etc.
Clifford Ball - Duar the Accursed
Henry Kuttner - Elak of Atlantis, Prince Raynor
C. L. Moore - Jirel of Joiry
Clark Ashton Smith - Hyperborea, Averoigne, and Zothique

The Second Generation
Fritz Leiber - Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Jack Vance - The Dying Earth
L. Sprague de Camp - Pusadian Tales
Poul Anderson - The Broken Sword, etc.

The Rebirth - Following the publication of the Conan books by Lancer in the sixties there was a market for new books. De Camp and Lin Carter led much of the way with their editing of these editions of Howard, their "completion" of his story fragments and their pastiches to fill in "gaps" in Conan's timeline. While more often mediocre or bad rather than good, these paved the way for the boom in S&S publishing that took place over the next decades.

For over ten years there was great new stuff by older authors as well as great new things by new authors. There were numerous story collections and even an association of S&S authors; SAGA

Michael Moorcock - Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Prince Corum, Erekose, etc., etc.
Fritz Leiber - A glorious return to the abandoned Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser saga
Lin Carter - numerous collections (Ballantine Adult Fantasy, Flashing Swords, Year's Best Fantasy), Thongor, etc. - Carter's novels tend to be poor pastiches of Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. His greatness lies solely with his enthusiasm for the genre and his tremendous editing efforts
John Jakes - Brak the Barbarian - unrepentant homage to Robert E. Howard
Andrew Offutt - editor (Swords Against Darkness) and numerous Howard pastiches
Karl Edward Wagner - Kane and several Howard pastiches - With Moorcock, the best of the newcomers. Succumbed to booze far too young and after having not written much for a decade prior to his death in 1994.
Charles Saunders - Imaro
Jessica Amanda Salmonson - editor (Amazons)

Newest Stuff - There's plenty of stuff that falls into the S&S genre being written nowadays. More often than not they like to call it "heroic fantasy". It's like science fiction being called speculative fiction in order to try and market it more upscale. It's all a little disingenuous and condescending. If you're already writing or reading about imaginary worlds with low levels of technology, wizards, dragons and treacherous viziers then you should be able to handle the words "Swords and Sorcery" (Note - I haven't read a lot of the newer stuff yet, but I'm working on it)

P.C. Hodgell - Jame
David Gemmell - Druss the Axe, etc.
Robert Jordan - Conan pastiches galore - I read one and it made me long for the duller works of Lin Carter
Brian Ruckley - Godless World

As I discover more I'll add them. Needless to say, there's plenty more authors to add to each of the sections above and I hope to do that on the full S&S site someday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Old Family Manse as It Appears Today

The House (Obviously) - Not taken from the exact same vantage spot as the house is fronted by a large hedge and there's a great big pine tree blocking the view.

The Garage - Taken from a similar spot as the 1939 picture, you can see that the doors and the driveway have been changed. The woods behind the building have grown and grown and grown. Since my friends and I stopped playing in them over 20 years ago they've grown wild and the paths trodden on by dozens of kids feet are fading away.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Whitewashing the Basement

Yesterday I emptied and cleaned the basement. Then, using a formula my wife found online, with lime purchased at Reiman's Hardware, I mixed up several gallons of old fashioned whitewash.

The results are crappy looking up close but the basement seems cleaner and it is brighter and it was very easy. I can't wait to see how much of the garbage I pulled out of the basement was actually taken by the garbagemen this morning. I know it was a lot but aren't they called New York's Strongest?

My Aunt's House Today

This is my aunt's house today. It's been vinyl sided and the lawn's been done and the trees have grown. You can't see in the present day photo but the house next door has been sided and modified in all sorts of uncomplimentary ways.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The House My Mother Lived In, My Aunt Lives In, and I Will Live In (Maybe)

This is the house (on the right) my grandparents bought after living in an apartment for the first year after they'd moved to Staten Island from the Scandinavian wonderland that was 1930s downtown Brooklyn. My grandfather had the desire to own a home, Staten Island was cheap and he had a contact who was able to get him jobs. Eventually he ended up a carpenter for the Erie Lackawanna Railway repairing barges at the foot of Pelton Avenue. (Later he cut off his thumb, got fired, went into business for himself scraping and finishing floors and made a bundle of money off the Todt and Emerson Hill crowds.)

From this house he and my poor, deeply neurotic grandmother successfully raised four girls. They taught all four to work hard, look out for each other and always extend a hand to whomever they encountered (Apparently my grandmother was always opening the house to wandering relatives, Swedes, Norwegians and the occasional hobo. My mother claimed there were actual hobo signs scratched on the sidewalk, but then my late mother was given to false and fanciful memories at times).

One of my aunts still lives in the house and someday, God willing, in the far future, it will pass to me and I might live in it. The street it's on is a little too busy but it's a quiet neighborhood with a good deli nearby.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The House That Was My Home

This is a 1939 picture of the house that I grew up in and spent most of my life until six years ago living in. The photo was taken by the WPA sometime between 1939 and 1941. They took pictures of every single piece of property. You can head down to the St. George Library and make copies of any of them if you know which block and lot you're looking for. It's a great resource for seeing what Staten Island looked like in its pre-bridge heyday.

My family bought the house in 1969 for a song and it's still in my family to this day. It's not a great shot but I like it. I remember when I was three and we moved in. Not a lot of clear, linear memories but plenty of distinct moments and sights.

The backyard seemed huge when I stood in it. I looked up at the immensity of the unpainted stucco house with brick red window frames and then at the woods rising up on the hill behind the garage. Then there were the men from Post Exterminators spraying for wasps in the attic and sinking holes in the foundation to make sure termites didn't show up.
It was beautiful and it still is even if the neighborhood around it's changed and the woods across the street from it have been murdered and filled crappy (I mean structurally) townhouses.

Rock 'n' Roll to me

For some reason this picture is worth all the thousands of words I could or ever would want to say about rock 'n' roll. And the album's sort of okay too.