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.