Thursday, March 21, 2013

Banksapalooza! - Part One - SI Bank & Trust Stapleton

   For those too young to remember or new to the Island, in the early seventies, Stapleton was a bustling shopping district.  It had already passed its best days but it remained vibrant and thriving.  Stores ran all the way down Broad Street from Targee Street to Water Street (save for the vast and abandoned Piels Brewery site).  All around Tappen Park there were more stores packed with customers.
  Probably at least once a week my mom trekked down to Stapleton with me and my sister in tow. We didn't have a car so it meant a nice walk down Cebra and Beach Streets.  Once there we'd always hit Woolworth's and John's Bargain Store.  There were lots of other places she shopped at as well, too many to mention them all in fact.  Of course, the highlight for me was where we'd always end up; the Stapleton Library.

   Depending on the weather, at the end of our excursions, we'd take the bus up the hill.  That meant the No. 5, which we'd catch at the foot of Beach Street in front of  Ying Wah Chinese Restaurant.  It would drop us at the corner of Cebra and Ward, only a few yards from our house.
   To get the bus we'd often walk past the magnificent Staten Island Savings Bank building on the corner of Beach and Water Streets.  It seemed so gigantic and imposing when I was little.  It's still impressive though it doesn't seem as large anymore.  It also suffers from the general grubbiness of the present day Tappen Park surrounds.  There are no other important businesses in the area and little to no foot traffic.  It seems a wondrous beast from a distant time stranded on a once vibrant but now empty shore.

   This is simply one of the finest looking buildings on Staten Island.  For a full history of Staten Island Savings Bank and the creation of this building, I recommend the Landmarks Commission packet.

   Set in recesses alongside the columned entryway are busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.  Presumably, their presence was to let folks know honesty and thrift would prevail within the walls of the bank

   This shield sits on top of the spiked, iron gates of the bank's entrance.  Bees and hives have long been symbols of industry, while owls of wisdom.  Again, design elements were used to instill confidence in the bank.

   Along the two street sides of the bank, great stylized dolphins hold lamps aloft over the sidewalks.  These, more than the anything else, are the strongest image of this bank for me.  They're like those illustrations of sea monster on old maps.  It's the loss of this sort of elaborate detail that makes much modern architecture such a dull thing.

  This ornate lamp hangs from the roof of the entrance.  It's hard to see, but it's got a CFL bulb and looks distinctly cheesy.

   Stapleton's glory was finally ground out as the eighties dawned and the crack epidemic took hold.  The badness that had started when the breweries closed and the growth of newer shopping locations was accelerated.  Middle-class Stapleton families decamped to neighborhoods and states perceived as safer.
   By the mid-eighties, the long holding action fought by residents and community organizations such as the Stapleton Civic Association and the Stapleton LDC, proved fruitless.  Though they had scored notable successes in refurbishing Tappen Park, including building the gazebo, they were unable to stave off darkness.  One by one shops closed and were replaced with lower quality ones or not at all.

   A composite of shots from about 1990, this picture leaves out the OTB to the left.  111 Water Street, the almost featureless building between the bar and the Discount Center, is Beth Israel's methadone clinic.  That as much as crack was part of the narcotic stake through Stapleton's heart.
   Later there was a pawn shop.  Between those various establishments it was some sort of sadsack, one-stop shopping strip.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beauty Demolished - Barrett Triangle

   I spent the first three years of my life living in an apartment on Stuyvesant Place.  I went to Curtis for high school.  For much of my life between the St. George Library, Borough Hall and Brighton Heights Reformed Church, I've spent a lot of time in St. George.  One of the most resonant images of that neighborhood for me isn't any of the places I've listed above, but, instead, the statue standing behind the bus shelter.  Until today I don't think I ever knew the area it stood in was called Barrett Triangle.  I vaguely remember reading the inscription on the plinth and seeing the name "Clarence Barrett" but I had no clue to who he was or what made him commendable.

   According to the always useful NYC Parks website, Clarence Barrett was born in Rahway but brought to the Island as a child.  He studied landscape architecture and served as an officer in the Civil War.  He fought during the siege of Mobile and the siege of Richmond.  After the war he became a notable landscape architect and sanitation engineer.  Eventually he entered public service, serving as Police Commissioner and then Superintendent of the Poor.

   In 1915, nine years after his death, this heroic statue (crafted by Sherry Edmindson Fry) was unveiled.  It was presented to the city by his widow.  Do rich, public servants do that anymore?  

   Originally, as you can see in the old-timey pictures below, the noble warrior pointed southish not northish and stood several feet away from where he now stands vigil.  He was also the centerpiece of an attractive bit of hedge-surrounded greenery that served as an additional part of the original entrance to the St. George Library.  I don't remember when the dull, gray addition was pasted on to the building, obscuring the grand doorway and obliterating the stairs, but I have vague childhood memories the stairs (which may be totally made up and I'm just remembering pictures).

   The NYC Parks' page states that in 1945 the statue was moved to its present position and the water fountain on its backside disconnected.  I'm assuming that's when the shelter was built.  As a Curtis alum I admit the shelter is memory-scape but I really wish they'd never replaced the original Barrett Triangle.

     Closeups of the statue.  Pretty cool, huh?