Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crime Scene: Mariner's Harbor, 1921

   So, in doing research for an upcoming post called "Banksapalooza!", I discovered a ninety year old crime in Mariner's Harbor.  That quaint little bank building pictured above was one the center of a six-hundred thousand dollar defalcation.  That's around eight million dollars in today's debased currency.
   The bank, the Mariner Harbor National Bank (being called a national bank simply means it's chartered under federal regulations not state ones), was once a thriving local bank.  According to the articles I read in the New York Times, in 1921, the establishment had more than 2,000 depositors.  I don't know if that's good or bad, but it sounds like the bank was fairly substantial.
   I won't go into super detail, but the head cashier (bank controller), Sylvanus Bedell, got himself involved in the machinations of a wealthy schemer.  From there he found himself making all sorts of investments, described by the Times as wildcat schemes.
   Bedell's first and biggest crime involved the Johnson Shipyard Corporation of Staten Island and it's president, Robert Magruder and his son, Donald D. Magruder.  One of the furthest afield was a $10,000 investment by an Atlanta based engineering firm in order to buy the yacht Taro for deep-sea diving experiments.  They failed and the money was lost.  He also helped a florist from Staten Island invest $65,000 of the bank's money in projects that failed.
  Mr. Bedell testified in 1923 that he had first gone wrong when he helped the senior Magruder convince the federal government his firm was on a firm financial standing in order to be awarded shipbuilding contracts in 1917.  Mr. Bedell said it all started when he bought ten shares in Johnson Shipbuilding and was later made treasurer of the company at $25 a week (about $425 today).  By 1920 he was being paid $200 a week (over $2,000 today).  Over time he cashed about $500,000 worth of checks of bad checks for Magruder.  Magruder claimed the firm would make good the money when the federal payments came through.  Unfortunately, a bank auditor discovered a problem.  From there it all started to come out and poor Sylvanus Bedell found himself arrested and penniless.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Some Filler - Bay Street - 1931 vs. TODAY

   I've been trying to get better at posting stuff, but my usual bugaboo, laziness, has too often got the better of me.  I am working on a post about Staten Island's North Shore Norwegians.  I'm just waiting to hear back from several people I've e-mailed.  Hopefully, it'll mean pictures and details about another community that was once much more substantial that it is today.
   My dream after that is to work on one about the Germans of the North Shore.  Perhaps, more than any other ethnic group whose time has come and gone on Staten Island, the Germans built and molded much of old Staten Island.  If you've got any information about them I'd love to hear from you.

   So here are some pictures of Bay Street past and present.  I haven't taken the camera out so I'm reduced to going back to the Google Street View shots.  In deference to complaints I've gotten about the slow load time I just clipped them.  Unfortunately, whatever I do with them, they stink.  Still, I find them interesting.  Bay Street has always been a sort of odd mix of commercial and residential.  Clearly it's been that way for a long time.  It's a shame it's so shoddy and decrepit looking these days.

310 Bay Street - 1931 - Today an empty lot

Even eighty odd years ago, Bay Street had auto shops

corner of Bay and Clinton Streets - 1931 - Today, ABCO Refrigeration occupies the place of both old wooden buildings

   The middle building has a sign showing it to be "PHILIP KAPLAN - New & Secondhand Plumbing Material"  That line of white objects along its side is a great big, bunch of bathtubs.

494 Bay Street - 1931 - Replaced by a dull building that's housed a string of clubs and bars over the years

     Not only is the long vanished house a loss, look at how 498 Bay (left side of picture) has changed.  Awnings, transom, masonry detail above the entrance, all gone and  just sort of uglified.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Edward I. Koch - R.I.P.

   Mayor Ed Koch is gone and with him someone who seemed at times like he'd live as long as the city of New York stood.  The first time I ever heard of Ed Koch was when he ran for mayor in 1977.  I was really too young to pay much attention to him or understand what was going on in the city.  Not until his second term, starting in 1981, did I see him as someone other than the man always blurting out, "How'm I doin?".  By then, aside from seeing his pure joy at representing this city to the world, I was able start understanding the things he had done to help address the financial crisis that had nearly murdered the city.  By then, even my staunchly Republican parents had become fans of his.  Aside from a neighbor who ran for state senator, the only Democrat my father ever voted for was Ed Koch.  
   If you're not a native New Yorker you owe it to yourself to read about the man and his accomplishments.  His greatest one was proving that New York City, contrary to many's beliefs, was indeed governable.  I'm glad he didn't become governor (though we would have been saved the sanctimony of Mario Cuomo) and began the recovery of New York from the disasters of the sixties and seventies.  His strenuous efforts also laid the groundwork for the later successes of Giuliani.
   Ed Koch wasn't perfect.  He, Police Commissioner Ben Ward and the NYPD of the mid-eighties were unable to staunch the blood from rising crime rates.  He couldn't stem the flood of homeless people on the city's streets.  For all the fiscal stability he helped bring (along with the Gov. Carey, the MAC and the municipal unions) to New York City, the city took on a rotten sheen that was only washed away by the collapsing crime rates of the nineties and the development of the past two decades.
   I will miss Ed Koch.  Even as my love for this city dwindles (skyrocketing taxes, endless development, etc.), and as Bloomberg acts the fool (soda, fats, smoking and, really, he wants to make Kissel and Conyingham Avenues a bike route?), and a cast of ultra-liberal Democratic party hacks wait in the wings to replace him, reading about Koch reminds me of better times and how a mayor ought to act.  Unlike today's mayor, he walked the streets, met regularly with the public (and listened to what they said), and reflected the sheer excitement of being a citizen of this great and wondrous city.