Monday, March 21, 2011

Patell and Waterman's History of New York

I've added Pattell and Waterman's History of New York site to the blogroll on the right. They've linked to me in the past and I've never really returned the courtesy. They a way more serious and academic site than this one so you should really spend some time and check them out instead of wasting your time here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Port Richmond - some quick and easy shots of back streets

Here are some houses scattered across Port Richmond that I find attractive. They're just regular homes, none of particular historic or architectural significance. They're just here to show off the visually pleasing place that is Port Richmond.

I didn't list addresses because you should take some time and drive along the area's back streets and find the houses on your own.

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Faber Street

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Faber and Harrison

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Sharpe Avenue - peekaboo

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Sharpe Avenue - again

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Clinton Place

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Fraternal Port Richmond

NE corner of Bennett and Port Richmond Avenues, 1905 - Masonic Hall - same place, 2011

Once upon a time Americans bonded with each other at all sorts of fraternal organizations. At the organization's height in 1959 there were just over 4 million Masons in American. Notably there were huge numbers of Elks, Moose, Eagles and Odd Fellows as well.

Today the Masons have dropped below the 2 million mark. At the same time the country's population climbed from 179 million to 308 million. I don't know how high the others groups were in the past but I feel safe in assuming their numbers have shrunk as well.

Loyal Order of Moose Club House on the corner of Bennett and Park, 1927 - same corner, 2011

More knowledgeable people than your humble blogger have examined the question of declining American civic and community participation (see Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone") but I have to wonder why Americans have really turned inward to such an astonishing degree. What turned us from a society of inveterate joiners and boosters into isolated little family units? Is it all the tv and internet that's cut us off from our fellows? I'm not even saying it's a bad thing (if you don't know, I was the kid in corner with his nose in a book), it's just such a drastic change in such a little bit of time.

Once upon a time Port Richmond was home to many of these organizations, hosting large facilities they built with the dues of their members. On Bennett Street you had the Masons and the Moose. A few blocks west on Harrison Street was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. One lot west of Faber Street on Richmond Terrace was the Knights of Columbus' house.

2180 Richmond Terrace, 1932 - Knights of Columbus Assumption Council 1694

According to information from rootsweb, in 1888, the Order of United American Mechanics (a nativist group) had two chapters meeting in a public hall in the neighborhood and the Grand Army of the Republic had its own hall.

Later the Masons built a more magnificent hall on Anderson Avenue.

Eventually, though, they closed up shop and sold the facility to the CYO. From numerous North Shore lodges they've been reduced to one in Stapleton (Tompkins No. 471 to be precise).

The Moose sold their property and bought an old Lutheran church on Nicholas Avenue and the Odd Fellows' nearest location appears to be near West Point. The other groups I listed don't even exist anymore.

once the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall, now an apartment - Harrison Street

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

PORT RICHMOND - and I mean it

The first of several planned posts on Port Richmond.

Without a doubt Port Richmond has the potential to be the greatest neighborhood on Staten Island. Much of its old housing stock has survived the despoliation that ravaged so many older neighborhoods on the Rock. Right off Port Richmond Avenue is Veterans' Park, towered over by the great edifice of P.S. 20, and surrounded by several churches and pleasant pre-war apartment buildings. Architecturally, few neighborhoods have held onto such a significant portion of its past as Port Richmond. Even the simple residential back streets hold significant and attractive homes. In its layout and buildings it is still one of the most pleasing looking parts of Staten Island.

Along Port Richmond Avenue are countless commercial buildings, large and small, many with office space and apartments on their upper floors. At present the neighborhood is well served by several bus lines. But, if the North Shore rail was ever actually built or the Borough President's excellent idea for a bus linkage to the NJ light rail in Bayonne were implemented Port Richmond's stock would go through the roof. It could become the starting point of one of the fastest Manhattan commutes going.

Unfortunately, once New York City decided to allow itself to become dependent on cheap, often illegal, immigrant labor, places had to be designated for them to live. On Staten Island, Port Richmond, much of it a troubled neighborhood by the early nineties when this trend began, drew the short straw. Soon men, working tough, physically exhausting jobs in many cases, were living together packed into poorly maintained apartments. Only later did immigrant families take root and businesses to serve them specifically open.

Much of the Port Richmond of today is one of decayed commercial properties, poor or little municipal maintenance (I dare you to drive either way on Port Richmond Avenue in a straight line without ripping out your car's underside on a pothole or sudden depression in the roadbed), several slumlike apartments, and a steady level of distrust between the African-American and Mexican residents. The latter led to the present near occupation of the neighborhood (at least the section between Nicholas, Castleton, Heberton and the Terrace) by units from the 120th Precinct.

Like much of Staten Island, Port Richmond is an oddly dichotomous place. North of Castleton Avenue has a mostly African-American and Mexican population and there is substantial poverty and several abandoned, tattered houses. South of Castleton Avenue is white, black and all shades of brown and the home of such stalwart Port Richmond businesses as Denino's Pizza, Ralph's Ices and Merlino Photo Studios.

The possibility of the northern section becoming attractive is very real in the light of improved transportation. I don't know how this would happen though without many of the poor or minority residents being forced out. But if the travel time to Manhattan is reduced I see it happening and I don't suspect it will be a pretty event.