Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Gardiner-Tyler House

   Somehow I've never posted pictures of this Golden Age remnant before now.  The Gardiner-Tyler House was built in 1837 (according to an article in the NY Times {paywall}).  I figure it's a nice way to try to get back to posting.  I've been occupied with my swords & sorcery blog and getting things done around the house.  I'd like to see this blog moving along again so here's hoping.

   From 1868 to 1874, Juliana Tyler, the widow of President John Tyler, lived in that house.  According to the NY Times article, her daughter, also Juliana, lived there during the Civil War and advocated for the South.  The Times seemed surprised but I recall reading before that Staten Island was a hotbed of Southern sympathy during the war.

   Once the house stood at the center of a large estate.  Over time it was whittled away leaving it crowded in and cramped.

   In 1874 the house sat amidst 11.75 acres of green Staten Island hillside.

By 1935 there's residential development going on all over the place.  The Gardiner-Tyler House's lot has been subdivided.

Today the open spaces are gone.  Unless you count the expansion of St. Peters Cemetery.  I mean it's kind of open I guess.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


   So Detroit's dying.  Michigan's governor filed for bankruptcy to get the city out from under its massive debt.  A judge may have thwarted that but the money to pay those debts doesn't exist.  Detroit's been a disaster for decades with no present prospects of improving.  As much as Michael Moore wants to blame big business for Detroit's death, it's way more complicated than that, involving post-war suburbanization, white flight, US deindustrialization, one-party rule and massive, massive municipal corruption.
   In the past I made a couple of posts about Detroit and three years ago the luminous Mrs. V and I took a detour through the city on our way to Glacier National Park.  There's really no way to convey the vast devastation of the place but here's a few pictures anyway.

This beautiful building, though money was explicitly raised to renovate it, was demolished in 2011

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Todt Hill's Projects

Portfolio: Todt Hill Houses


   I was shown this site by my wife the other day. There look to be some amazing collections on its pages.  As I find cool things I'll post them.
   The luminous Mrs. V grew up in these one time models of municipal housing.  Until recently they were among the best projects in the city.  Changing times and attitudes have led to a slow downhill trending in quality of life for the place.  So it goes.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Banksapalooza! Part Two - Richmond County Savings Bank

   Standing at the corner of Castleton Avenue and Taylor Street, this 1930 picture gives us so much more than just a great shot of the Richmond County Savings Bank.  There are several little details worth examining.  

In the window at the center left of the picture is a sign advertising the law offices of Francis F. Leman.  I couldn't find much information about him, but in 1920 he had an office at 1619 Richmond Terrace (which was right next door to the Richmond County Savings Bank's office).  According to the American Lawyer he was was from Mariners' Harbor and admitted to the bar in 1894.  I'm sort of 

   At the top of the building with Leman's offices it reads Richmond Insurance Company of NY.  Again, I don't have many specifics concerning the institution, but it was chartered in Illinois.

   Finally, there is the Richmond County Savings Bank.  The bank was found in 1886 just a few blocks away in the Odd Fellows Hall at Broadway and Richmond Terrace.  Today it's one of several divisons of the New York Community Bank.

From the New York Times - October 21, 1886

   The fact that such an impressive neo-classical design is parked on such a grubby commerical strip is a testimony ot how much that part of West New Brighton's changed over the last eighty years.  Once upon a time there were nice department stores, bakeries and movie theaters.  Today, it's not quite the same.

   The bank itself is stripped some of its old architectural charm.  The entrance lamps are gone.  The beautiful clock is now replaced with an ugly light up plastic sign.  It's a rare building on the Island from so long ago that seems able to hold on to the little exterior frills that help make it special.

   So there's another bit of old time Staten Island for you.  Someday I need to get pictures from inside these institutions.  This and the Stapleton SI Bank & Trust are beautiful inside.  So, I guess I got to work on that.

Friday, June 07, 2013

We Have A Winner.

   There's no exclamation point because, while we have a winner, we really didn't have much participation.  It makes me a little sad.

   The very cool astronaut statue sits outside PS 57 over in Park Hill at the junction of Park Hill Avenue and Palma Drive.  If you're not sure where that is it's a block east of the homedepot, just beyond the Lopez Playground.
   I can't figure out exactly why there's an astronaut outside a school named for a vice president not seemingly known for a lot of involvement in the space program.  I might be wrong and I'm always looking for corrections.  If you know something let me know.

   So, Rey Garcia wins, by default.  He said intermediate school and it's not, but it's good enough for this site.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

CONTEST! - Guess Something Right and Win a Prize!

   That's my shelf of Staten Island history books.  It's not perfect but I'm pretty proud of it.  The highlight is the complete set of Leng & Davis.  Another gem is "Staten Island 1524 - 1898" by Henry G. Steinmeyer.
   It's a 1987 re-print of a book originally published in 1950.  Steinmeyer was one of the founders of the Richmondtown Restoration Project.  It's a decent history of the Island's discovery, settlement and development by Europeans.  Better yet it's got great pictures.  I've used them for several posts on this site over the years.
   Now here's the thing.  I've got two copies: one good one and one worn one.  So I'm giving the worn one away to one lucky winner!

All you have to do is guess correctly where this statue is.

   I discovered this statue in the mid-nineties.  It's one of the coolest and strangest things I've ever seen on the Island.  I can't really figure out why it is where it is but look at it.  Who really cares?  I mean it's an astronaut in Zero-G!
   So, here's the rules.  Guess where it is and let me know, either on facebook or in the comments section of the block.  Then, next Wednesday I'll choose randomly a correct answer and send that lucky person the book.  Or if I know you I can just hand it to you.  Good luck!

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.