Thursday, October 21, 2010

New York Shoe Market - in the heart of the heart of West New Brighton

sw corner of Caroline and Castleton, c. 1927 You can see that the no longer extant fake mansard roof and gables was already decaying.

As I've written about several times previously, the site of the West Brighton Projects was once a diverse and complete district unto itself. There were movie theaters (including the first ever on Staten Island) on Castleton and Broadway. a factory filled the land now later turned into Cpl. Thompson Park. There were tenements, houses, churches, and of course stores. Decent stores, not just scuzzy delis and 99 cent stores. Tompkins Department Store was on Castleton only a few blocks from Broadway. Now, the residential heart of the area bounded by Castleton, Broadway, Henderson and Alaska has been long replaced with anthill like housing projects and the theaters are long, long gone.

The buildings that once housed the stores and theaters remain, repurposed and often run to seed. But they are still there and a little squinting can bring up images of a time most of us walking there today can't quite believe ever was.

Today's building is listed on the map as belonging to James Butler. The info tag indicates that the James Butler store in the picture is one of several.

I'm more interested in the left side of the building and the cheap, quality shoes it has on offer.
I like the image of the woman passing by and stopping and debating the quality and necessity of the shoes on display and contemplating if she's got the $2 or $3 she'd have to spend on them.

You can just make out the words on the truck's side: New York Shoe Store

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The building, owned by a community group called "Heritage House", for a long time, was allowed to fall deep into decay and now sits marked with the dread boxed X indicating it's not to be saved in case of a fire.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Park Fit for Heroes

Hero Park was built on land donated by Dr. Louis and Berta Dreyfus back in 1920. The centerpiece of the park was (and still is) the glacial Sugar Loaf boulder and its plaques commemorating the 144 Staten Islanders who died in the First World War.

Dr. Dreyfus(whose house I posted about in the past) had invented a process for manufacturing chewing gum base in 1909 had become fairly wealthy as a result. He founded the L.A. Dreyfus Company in Clifton in 1909. Dr. Dreyfus died quite unexpectedly in 1920 at the age of 52. He was about to give a speech at the opening of the new trolley line in St. George when he suffered a heart attack, fell into the arms of Msgr. Cassidy of St. Peter's and was taken off the stage as the Police Band broke into the Star Spangled Banner.

Dr. Dreyfus' widow, Berta, donated thousands of dollars to numerous churches and charities over the years. In return she got IS 49 named after her. Woo hoo! When she died it was clearly a notable event. Even Mayor LaGuardia came to her funeral.

(r. to l. Pastor Carl Sutter, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia)

Hero Park was the park my friends and I went to go sledding at when Silver Lake was too much effort and where we played football on a the same ridiculously sloped area along Victory Boulevard.

Often it was just a place to hang out. When I was younger I had heard tales of "older kids", mostly the brothers of my friends, having keg parties up in the wooded patch near Howard Avenue. The cops might show up, make sure they weren't too loud, and then roll by for a beer before going off duty. By the time I was old enough for keg parties the cops weren't that accommodating anymore.

My time just hanging out at Hero Park was spent mostly around and on the Sugar Loaf boulder. With its eagle topped plaque it was a striking focal point of the park. When the plaques started vanishing we were all dismayed. In recent years the Friends of Hero Park have helped refurbish the park and replaced the missing plaques.

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I tried to track down whatever happened to Dr. Dreyfus' company and finally found out in an article on the Free Library site. After Dreyfus' death the firm continued to grow. In 1935 it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wrigley and in 1949 it outgrew its home base and moved to Edison, NJ. In 2005 Wrigley, in order to survive, consolidated its gum base production in Georgia and closed the Edison plant. There are some touching words about how grateful they were for the LA Dreyfus plant's employees' dedication over the decades but business being what it is it was time for a change.

North Shore Staten Island Stuff

So I started a facebook group called "North Shore Staten Island Stuff" in order to get the Ape word out to more people. I admit to a little bit of jealousy when I saw the cool looking site and connectivity on the Secret Staten Island site.

Of course that's just silly. It's a nice looking site and they've had the foresight to use social media to get more people involved. It's also a different sort of site than "Ape Shall Not Kill Ape". It's much more direct and inclusive than ASNKA and it's set up to encourage reader input and participation. Mine's still an idiosyncratic blog dedicated to my own peculiar interests and the North Shore specifically. SSI is dedicated to covering the entire Island and they look like they're doing a great job.

So, I've started a facebook group for ASNKA and I hope it gets more people involved and puts me into more contact with people with the information I'm looking for.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Asbury African M.E. Churchyard

A recent first time visit to Meislohn-Silvie Funeral Home the other day got me to looking around at the Pathmark plaza and the tangle of streets behind that testament to grubbiness. I started thinking about the tangle of streets behind it (Lexington, etc.) and I trying to picture what it all looked like once. So I turned to the trusty 1917 maps I've been using.
I'll do more digging later but right now the thing that caught my immediate attention was the "African Ch. Cemetery". It was on forest Avenue between Linden (now Eldgridge) Avenue and Livermore Avenue. Now if my increasingly spotty memory serves me right that where Osaka and the new 7-11 are located.
A quick visit to tremendously helpful Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries Staten Island site filled me on this lost graveyard. Apparently, while never officially registered with the city as a cemetery, the property was owned by the Second Asbury (Zion) African Methodist Episcopoal (AME) Church and used for burials.
By 1913 there were no standing headstones and by 1980 when developers who'd bought it from the city dug it up they claimed no bodies were found. My cynicism makes me immediately doubt this claim.
So the next time you get a bag of chips or some sushi think about the the bodies of ex-slaves and their relatives probably lying under your feet. Ah, commerce.

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I'm always (sort of) on the lookout for postable stuff, information and above all photos. In particular I'm looking for pictures from the seventies and early eighties of commercial sites and of the North Shore specifically. If you or anyone you know had anything like that and might be willing to share it with me please let me know. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Horrmann Castle

High atop a hill in Eldorado, or at least Grymes Hill, Staten Island, stood a castle. A wonderful castle built by beer and with German whimsy. For decades it towered over the brewery owned by its builder and the Stapleton homes of its owners employees.

Later it became a convent and eventually burned down. When I was young its site had become a wooded cliffside where stolen cars were dumped. I know some of the tiles from its ruins had been rescued by the Olsens, a family with their own beautiful home nearby. Today its beautiful vantage point overlooking the now decrepit Stapleton neighborhood is occupied by a series of fairly typical Staten Island mansions at the end of their own little gated private road.

CORRECTION - In the comments, someone kindly told me this did not burn. Instead, it was simply demolished.

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