Sunday, December 18, 2011

Italian Episcopalians

  As a native Staten Islander born the year after the Verrazano Bridge was opened, I grew up hearing a lot about how the Brooklyn Italians were "flooding" and "ruining" the borough.  Whatever.  I suspect that was mostly said by the people who had no idea of the deep Italian roots already on Staten Island long before the Verrazano was built.  Eh, what can you do about people?  They're going to say what they're going to say.
   I'm glad this site started as the "church project" because the research I've done in that direction has been invaluable.  More than anything else it's given me a better understanding and insight into the development of the Island and the shifts in its population, native born and immigrant, over the past centuries.
   One of the most interesting things I've discovered are two churches formed as Italian protestant congregations.  One, that I don't have much information or pictures of, was the Italian Pentecostal church.  All I know is that it started on Pike Street in Tompkinsville in 1923 and later moved to Richmond Road.  Today it's the Christian Pentecostal Church.

Jewett Avenue and New Street  - 1929

   The other, which I have less information about, but some nice pictures of, is the Holy Redeemer Protestant Episcopal Church (Italian).  From it's name I assume it was a sort of mission outreach from Staten Island's old line (and Wasp) Episcopal churches to the Italian born immigrants.  I wonder what the thoughts that went into the decision to to that were.
  Was it thought that converting the Italians to mainline Protestantism would make the immigrants better citizens?  Less Italian and therefore more American?
   According to "A Brief History of the Episcopal Church" by David Lynn Holmes, Episcopalian outeach to Italians was possible because of Italian, particularly male, dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church in America.  They were angry that the Church had opposed Italian unification in 1870 and they were frustrated by Irish domination of the Church in America.  Even many of the Episcopal priests were ex-Catholic priests.
   I can't imagine the Episcopal Church of today, even if it was still vibrant and relevant, doing the same sort of outreach/conversion to the Hispanic immigrant population in the neighborhood.  I think they'd think the whole undertaking reeked of racism and cultural superiority.
   How long were there enough converts to keep a congregation going?  Did they just merge into the existing English language congregations as they assimilated into America?  Holmes' book says that's what happened with earlier German converts to the denomination.  Like a history of Staten Island's Methodist congregations, I'd love one of the Episcopal churches.  While no one ever really answers, I'm asking for any information anyone's got.

   I love the swing set by the side entrance.  Today the church grounds are an auto repair lot.  That stretch of Jewett between Richmond Terrace and Castleton Avenue is one of the more scuzzy looking parts of Port Richmond.
 Same location, a cold December morning - 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jersey Street 1968

The Staten Island Advance had a great page from its October 30, 1968 edition yesterday.  While hard to read, it shows several terrible pictures of Jersey Street's decaying storefronts in that year.  Jersey Street's history and decline is something I've written about several times in the past.

When I was a kid taking the old No. 5 bus to Curtis in 1980 I'd pass what I'm pretty sure was this stretch of buildings.  On had a tree growing out of it.  And then in 1983 or 1984 they were gone.

The long stretch of vacant stores were ripped down, presumably by the city, and replaced with fairly unattractive townhouses.  Still, it was a better alternative than letting the stores continue abandoned and present fire and safety hazards to the neighborhood.

I only wonder that the Advance doesn't appear to offer any speculation as to why the stores were abandoned.  Port Richmond stayed a viable shopping strip until some years after the Mall opened in New Springville.  Stapleton lingered on and still does to a some degree.  What caused Jersey Street to suddenly collapse?  Perhaps it was the projects?  Was it the Jewish working class moving up and away?  What, when and how did this happen to such a vibrant neighborhood?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Greetings

   I haven't posted lately because the Christmas season is upon us.  Too many things going on and whatnot.  But I'm still excited about doing this blog and proud of much of what I've done over the years.
   If I take a little time this week I might actually get some things up.  My fingers are very crossed right now.  Till then.

PS - Everyone have a blessed and happy Christmas!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Smith Infirmary - all things must pass

   According to the Advance the other day, the old heart of the original Staten Island Hospital, the Smith Infirmary, is about to end its days.  After thirty years of neglect it's been deemed unsound and unsafe by HPD and the Buildings Dept.
   I am of mixed emotions about the matter.  It's sad that such a magnificent building has been allowed to go to ruin but then it is a dangerous site that could simply collapse.    
   The city did nothing to preserve it but then it really had no obligation to do so.  It was a piece of private property sold to a private developer.
   That the developer appears to have been a con artist and the condos actually built in the newer building were ultimately abandoned is not the city's fault either.
  If it goes, which is most likely, I'll miss it.  It's been part of my landscape my entire life (literally - I was born in the old hospital).  Growing up and living on Cebra Avenue most of my life its literally been in my line of sight more days than not.  One of my earliest posts was about the old hospital and my friends and my exploration of the abandoned complex.  But it's what happens.  We can document the past, even fetishize it, but we can't stop it from becoming the past.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Small Churches - St. Sylvester's

   Escaping the same devastation caused by the creation of the Staten Island Expressway that forced St. Simon's Episcopal Church to relocate to Richmond Road, St. Sylvester's R.C. Church and its attached shrine survived in their original location at the corner of Clove Road and Targee Street.  It's a pretty neighborhood church that, unfortunately, suffers from the noise and exhaust of all the highway traffic just outside its doors.  Still, it escaped Robert Moses' assault.
   The only Catholic church I was at all familiar with growing up, was Our Lady of Good Counsel on Victory Boulevard near Silver Lake.  It's an ugly example of the awful modern architecture that all denominations seemed to think was a good idea at the time.  Just look at All Saints Episcopal, Olivet Presbyterian and Zion Lutheran for other examples of this drab ugliness.  I'll take the wood and stained glass simplicity of this style of church over any of those testaments to dioceses and boards of elders and church councils gone wrong.
  The church suffered the loss of its school this past summer in the Great School Closure that saw 27 schools in Archdiocese of New York cease operations.  Parochial schools have been taking severe hits for years now and the expansion of charter schools (essentially private style schools without the tuition) has been a stab in the gut to them.  
   Still, this little church persists and provides a reminder of smaller, quieter times on the Island.  There have been minor changes; the steeple's been enclosed and the wood shingle on it covered.  It remains an attractive place.  I do wonder how many people visit a grotto that once existed in just the quiet shadows of Grymes and Emerson Hills and today sits under the cacophonous one of the Expressway as well? 

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

   The grotto in older days seems to have had a much wilder, more natural surroundings.  Today it sits on a perfectly manicured lawn with precisely trimmed hedges next to it.  Not an improvement in my eyes.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Once Upon a Farm

  Once Staten Island was covered in farms.  Even when I was a boy in the early seventies some lingered on before succumbing to the bank accounts and bulldozers of developers. The last one I remember sat on Forest Avenue near the old Majors department store in Mariners' Harbor (where Lowes and Kohl's sit.  It couldn't have had much land and it vanished when the street was widened (and this is all only the barest of memory and wide open to correction from you folks).
   Willowbrook was, apparently, part of the heartland of the Staten Island farming district.  It was well watered by the stream of the same name that ran through it.  Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and Chrampanis Farms are remnants of the Greek farming community.  Immanuel Lutheran lingers from the German farmers long gone to New Jersey and points unknown.

573 Watchogue Road, May 1932

Same place, today

Aerial view, 1924

   That little pink splotch is the house and all the patchwork quilt around it is farmed land.  It shows up, unnamed, on the 1874 maps but I have no idea how old it is.  I would guess early 19th century but that is only a guess.  The farm appears to be carved out of a much larger piece of property belonging to the De Puy family, presumably one of the old Dutch families.
   Now, except for the odd placement of the side windows (which, I know, you can't see in the modern picture), you'd probably never suspect how out of time the house really is.    Under that siding is probably nearly two hundred year old wood shingle.  Very cool.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Beautiful Mansion Reigning on Jewett Avenue

    These splendid Victorian era mansions remain towering over the west side Jewett Avenue between Maine Avenue and the Boulevard.
   The latter has always struck me as the entrance to Westerleigh, the old National Prohibition Campground Association development.  It's hard to imagine a group of Americans actually dedicating themselves to any sort of restraint these days.
   The older pictures were taken in 1905.  The Beers' Map from 1874 only shows empty lots owned by a Smith family.  The temperance group didn't start buying property until around 1877 so this makes sense.  They do appear on the 1917 map but there're no owner names listed.

   Though they still stand, much of their period detail, like on so many of the houses I post about, has been stripped away.  The little architectural fripperies that enhanced the already considerably character of these houses has been worn away by time and, I imagine, expense.

   Still, while occasional tear downs still happen in Westerleigh, the neighborhood still preserves much of its 19th century feel and is more than well worth several drives through.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tidewater Staten Island

1280 Richmond Terrace, 1931

   This simple and attractive house sits on the sharp bend in Richmond Terrace at the foot of Pelton Avenue.  The lot in the right of the picture has over the years been used as storage for bundles of wood as well as heavy equipment.  Once, though, it was a gas station, specifically a "Tydol" station.  I'd never heard of it so of course I looked it up.  Click on the link and you can learn about it too.  Then you'll have that going for you.

Same house, today

   The house, sans porch, doesn't otherwise look all that changed.  A fence has replaced the hedges, though with the increased traffic on the Terrace that would seem to be sensible.  The trees now tower over the house and the Captain's House behind it is hid from view.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Mansion in West New Brighton

618 Delafield Avenue, July, 1932  

   Described as a mansion on the NYPL site, this once ornate home sits on Delafield Avenue near Clove Road.  Like so many beautiful older houses it has suffered the fate of being sided and stripped of all its unique touches.  The shutters, original columns and corbels have all been lost to time.  Still, there's hope the inside has been preserved.

Details of central roof section

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Small Churches - part 1

  For those in the know, this blog's Staten Island focus started with big ideas regarding something I called "the Church Project".  I was going to document and get photos and histories for all the older churches on the North Shore.  Never happened.  Still, it's something that lurks in the back of my head and surfaces from time to time.  Here's something I'm calling "Small Churches - part 1".

   Not far from my house are two little churches, one with an interesting cultural history and the other with an interesting congregational history.  

Bethel Temple Church
  I knew that Jersey Street once had Italians, Chinese, Jews and Germans.  I didn't know it also Norwegians.  This little church on Hendricks Avenue right off of Jersey Street was, according to Leng and Davis, originally the St. Olaf Norwegian Church.  Who knew?

Bethel Community Church
  This small church, located near the end of Van Duzer Street where it meets Bay Street, is only from 1940 or so but had a significantly longer history.  This past spring they celebrated their 115th anniversary and had their stretch of the street named in honor of Bishop C. Asapansa Johnson.

  According to "Holden's Staten Island", the congregation was founded in 1896 on Targee Street, incorporated as the Bethel African American Methodist Church in 1909 and in 1917 was located at 110 Van Duzer Street.  In 1940 the congregation built and dedicated the present building, also on Van Duzer Street.

   In the 40s the church became independent from the denomination under the leadership of its pastor, Rev. Coma Asapansa Johnson.  I've learned a little about him and he appears and interesting figure.
   He came to the US from Sierra Leone and was the first black chaplain in the FDNY.  I also know my sister's 8th grade teacher at the late Trinity Lutheran School was named after him.

   Someday I'd love to see history of all the strands of African-American history on the Island.  One can only hope.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Haunted House

  One of the games I play (in my head) is deciding whether or not a particular house might be haunted.  Sometimes it's an easier call to make than others.  This one - no question - haunted.  It even had a cat sitting guard on the front porch.

Driving from Tompkins Avenue to the south, it emerges thru the trees

From the curb in front it looms large, filled with menace
Finally, pulling away towards Bay Street, looking back over your shoulder it towers above you

   The house is on Townsend Street, part of a once beautiful section of Clifton with many large, stately homes.  They once existed in the shadow of the Vanderbilt estate.  
It was owned by someone named Farrington in 1874
   Today, like South Avenue in Mariners' Harbor, many of the larger homes have been demolished and replaced with rows of fairly ugly townhouses.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cornices and Corbels

  So we (the luminous Mrs. V. and I) bought a decent Canon camera this summer and I intend to use it to revitalize this site and help out those folks suffering from slowness with the google street views.  These are just some shots of attractive details from my immediate neighborhood.  There's probably a way to tell what firm made which corbel but it's presently beyond me.  If you know anything let me know something.

frieze below the corbels
corbels on brick

who was P. Mart?

cat adorned corbels

click to see the cat better

between the two corbels are little bits called dentils

   So there you go, folks.  A return of Ape Shall Not Kill Ape and some pleasant decorative architecture from the Hamilton Park area.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Delafield Place

69 Delafield Place - btw Davis and Bard Avenues - 1931
   This beautiful stone house is the centerpiece of a hidden treasure (well not so much anymore), Delafield Place.  From other information it seems to have been built around 1840.  The NYPL digital collection indicates that in 1898 it had belonged to someone named Voorhis.  A good Dutch name, I like that.

   They leave out that it is the Elliott house of Elliott houses.  It was the actual home of  Dr. Samuel MacKenzie Elliott himself.  He built almost two dozen stone homes across the North Shore, including the present parsonage of Our Savior Lutheran Church and St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

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   Today, though bereft of the ivy, the house remains pretty unchanged.  The home to its right is still there though thoroughly obscured by the trees.  To its left, however, only a few years back, a rundown but attractive enough old home was torn down and four unpleasant townhouses put in its place.  Not only are they ugly, but they look seriously out of place across the street from Walker Park.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Delafield Avenue - just another pretty house

587 Delafield Avenue (off Broadway), August 1932

   Delafield Avenue is an interesting street.  Like West New Brighton overall it runs the gamut from beautiful to  fairly shambolic.  This house is on the stretch between Broadway and Elizabeth and that piece of Delafield has a bit of both.  There are homes in beautiful states of maintenance, a few looking to fall to bits and some that have been repaired oft seen mix of lousy brick facing and cheap siding.

   I think the house above, listed in 1932 as belonging to the Gordon family, is one of the nicer ones.  Still, I don't like the replacement of the screening on the front porch with year-round windows, even with the added porch.  The loss of contrast between the window frames and the support posts causes their inward angle to be lost to the eye and that's one of the nice touches about the house as originally built.  Also, the siding over what appears to be stucco is disappointing.  Still, it's a nice house, a nice house.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

They Took My Thumb

Erie-Lackawanna tugboat, Richmond Terrace and Bement Avenue

   My grandfather, the late Holger Anderson, was many things in his life; subway tunnel digger, LIE tree cutter, brass foundry worker, carpenter, floor scraper and other things.  By the time I was born he was exclusively a floor scraper, in fact, one of the best around.  Not long before I was born, though, he had still been a carpenter.

   As a carpenter he work for the Erie-Lackawanna Railway at a boatyard they maintained at the foot of Bement Avenue and Richmond Terrace.  He primarily worked repairing the wooden barges used by the railroad to shunt car around the harbor.  He had started in the yard working for Bethlehem Steel but at ome point the railroad took over and he ended up with a pension from them.

  As a railroad carpenter my grandfather worked with huge circular saws.  They had all sorts of safety guards and things to keep the users safe.  He also used little handheld saws.   With one of them he took off his thumb one day.

  Supposedly he stuck the severed digit into his pocket and drove up to St. Vincent's Hospital.  It was the early sixties so reattachment didn't work.   Later in life he used the sharp little stump of his thumb to grab recalcitrant grandchildren.  It was very effective.

   He's been gone 23 years now and would have been 102.   Still miss him.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011


   I just came across a new (to me) site called SiTreasure.  It's run by Angela D'Aiuto, a real estate saleswoman and community activist.  She also has a blog called SiTreasure Blog but that hasn't been updated in months.  Still, the more the merry and the more information and pictures the better

Moving on to West New Brighton

Civil Courthouse at Castleton and Bement

   So, Rosebank turned out to be a bit of a bust. Not enough decent free pictures to put up for examination. I'm happy with the few I posted but it's time to move on.

   West New Brighton is a huge area. I've always put it from Lafayette to the Terrace to Clove Road to Forest Avenue. Within it are the small semi-neighborhoods of Randall Manor, Livingston, Sunset Hill (ok, that's not even a real semi-neighborhood, just a real estate designation) and Snug Harbor.

   There are stately old homes as well as city housing projects. It's population is Irish, African-American, German, Italian, Hispanic from all over, and too many people from too many other places to list.  It's a great place with great stores.  New Brighton (Cottage Hill in particular) may be my home but much of my business is done in West Brighton.

   Hopefully I'll be able to get more pictures of West New Brighton than I was of Rosebank.  I'll also try to get back to a little more regular posting again.  Thanks for the support and comments.
House built and owned by Dr. Elliot,
now Our Savior Lutheran's parsonage

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Belair Road - Hidden Jewel in the Crown

Some might argue that Belair Road is really part of Shore Acres. Feh. For me, Shore Acres only includes that area between Bay Street and the water. I place this little traveled street squarely in the neighborhood of Rosebank.

Winter - looking southward from in front of 37 Belair Road - 1934

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25 Belair Road - 1934

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While the decorative supports for the porch roof have been lost a zoom in on it will show the beautiful scrollwork eaves have survived.

18 Belair Road - 1934

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Today the hedges have been allowed to grow over the columns standing astride the entrance walk and the tree in the front yard towers high above the roof of this quaint Mediterranean style house.

59 Belair Road - 1934

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Oddly unpainted but largely intact - sorry about the telephone pole

I'm finding I'm having a much tougher time creating posts about Rosebank that I thought I would. Most of my work is predicated on what I can find digging through NYPL's digital collection. While I'm finding numerous good shots of Rosebank's beautiful and often stately homes, I'm finding few images of the neighborhood's commercial structures.

Oh, there are a few specific shots, but most are like the stores I put up that were essentially background images on Rosebank's Tangled Backstreets. So far I'm having little luck with pictures showing Bay Street in its past glory which seems odd. I mean we're talking about a stretch of major road from Vanderbilt Avenue to at least Hylan Boulevard and I'm getting next to nothing. So there's a bunch of work I need to do and it means getting up off my rump and going to the St. George Library. Oh, well.