Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Horror on Ward Hill

The other day I spent a couple of hours trying to track down any pictures of the hilltop mansions from Staten Island's past. I didn't have much luck. The microfilm spool for Jones Woods was overexposed and the poorly labeled. There was no shot of Chester Clark's Hill Top on the hill bounded by Cebra and Ward (and the one I really wanted because I grew up on Cebra and wandered around the old driveway and bits of its foundation).

But I did find a lousy picture of a second house that stood on the same hill as Clark's house. Its address was 192 Ward Avenue and it was owned by Berthold Ludwig.

I don't know when either of the buildings were destroyed. The story I heard as a kid was that there had been a fire, but we also only heard about one house up on the hill, not two. If you know anything, please, let me know. Some day the Advance will digitize its collection and make itself useful to amateur sleuths like me, but till the day I must rely on the memories of strangers.

192 Ward Avenue - home of Berthold A. Ludwig

1917 map showing location of house in lower right corner

Article from The Day, a New London, Conn. newspaper. For some reasoned it carried this story of the terrible events of that day 102 years ago. Now, that spot, once the home of a wealth chemist is covered over by ugly townhouses. Nothing, save a map and bad photo are readily available. Perhaps ghosts of memories of those events linger on in the families effected by this outburst of rage. Berthold Ludwig had three sons. Who knows how many servants lived in the house. And maybe no one remembers this at all. Even if they were teenagers, the people burned are probably long, long gone.

It's no great insight, but things like this happen all the time, all around us. They seem so big, so important at the time. And then, twenty, fifty, a hundred years later, they are little more than a clipping from an old newspaper.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Stapleton Projects Project-Part Three

To make up for the debacle of the posting yesterday afternoon, I'm putting some more pictures right away.This block of Broad Street between the two vanished streets, Patten and Clarke, is a mix of commercial/residential buildings and actual houses. That's something you don't see much of anywhere. Just look at Port Richmond Avenue or New Dorp Lane. Detached houses would seem to a waste of valuable commercially zone lots.

For anyone curious about the name of this site, it comes from the Planet of the Apes movies.This site grew out of an earlier site called Fight Like Apes that fell apart with lots of unpleasant behavior. This site wasn't originally going to be about Staten Island. When it evolved into that I was already stuck with the name.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Stapleton Projects Project - Part Two

So, while I had planned to work my way from in on the backstreets to out on Broad Street, that ain't happening. Actually finding the pictures on the microfilms spools is annoying. So, when I come across any block/lots for the area I decided I might as well get them when I can.

Which means for this post, we jump right to Broad Street. Specifically between Patten and Gordon. It's an interesting assortment of buildings, but all are commercial on the first floor and residential up above. That's a type of construction you don't seem to see anymore. Personally, I always thought it was sort of nice. You need to buy something, you just go downstairs. Seems pretty convenient, if you ask me.

What it meant for Stapleton, was that just as the neighborhood's population was drastically increased, it lost a host of businesses. It's seems like a pretty counterintuitive thing to do. Did the remaining businesses have the capacity to meet the needs of the new residents? Did the stores that suddenly faced decreased competition raise their prices or reduce the quality of their services?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Let It Begin! - Stapleton Projects Project Part One - Lost Stapleton

I mentioned on Facebook in the group North Shore Staten Island Stuff about my hope of recreating the neighborhoods lost to the construction of the various NYCHA housing projects across the North Shore in the early sixties. Because it's my home, because I'm getting reinvolved in community affairs, I'm starting with Stapleton.

The backstreets of Stapleton, over ten blocks of detached homes, small apartments, and a few commercial operations were demolished in order to build the Stapleton Houses. They were completed in 1962 and are the largest public housing complex on Staten Island with over 2,000 tenants.

While the area had some buildings in poor condition, there is no way it could really be thought of as blighted. But the city is its infinite wisdom decreed it so and up went the terraced towers that still loom over Broad Street today.

As I learn more I'll speak more about the nature of what was there in the region bounded by Broad, Tompkins, Hill, and Warren. For now, I'm just going to start putting up pictures.
Caveat - These pictures are from the WPA property photos and were taken between 1939 and 1941. Things may have drastically changed over the ensuing twenty years before the projects were built.

Tompkins Street btw Patten (Custer) and Clarker

(make sure you click on the pictures to enlarge them)

1917 map

1917 map smaller scale

So there's the first round of lost homes and businesses. I'm not sure I can ever quite forgive the mid-century urban planners who thought they could "fix" cities by destroying existing neighborhoods and packing people into high rises.