The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘then and now

brotherly piety

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The back situation seems to be ameliorating itself, thankfully- and as this post is being written- has transmogrified from a crippling stiffness and intermittent sword blade of pain to a dull and omnipresent ache. Ultimately, this is a good thing, as I have actually managed to sleep without interruption for two days in a row and am able to move about in fine fettle. With luck, I will be able to resume my wanderings in a day or two, but for now- here’s another “Then and Now” shot, this time of the Paragon Oil building on Hunters Point Avenue in venerable Long Island City’s industrial quarter. It should be mentioned that I am fascinated by this building.

This edifice- known sometimes as “the Subway Building” and others as the “Paragon Oil building”- was, in fact, Queens Borough Hall. Check out the January 2012 posting “high doors” for more on the structure.

- photo by nycma.lunaimaging.com, August 7, 1936

The shot pictured above emanates from the awesome collection of historic photographs made available by the NYC Municipal Archives, and was captured by a now anonymous municipal photographer in August of 1936. The center of Queens during the 1930’s, this was Borough Hall. Back then, the power brokers of the borough located themselves nearby the Newtown Creek and perched high above the southern extant of the Sunnyside Yard and alongside the Long Island Railroad tracks. Prior to this, the unofficial Borough Hall of Battleaxe Gleason was located at the Miller hotel (which would become the LIC Crab House) and the official one was on Jackson Avenue nearby modern day Court Square.

twisting willows

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- photo by Mitch Waxman, 2012

During this infirmity which has struck me down, a twisting gimlet of overstressed tissue in my lower back (for those of you who haven’t read my endless complaints about it in the last week), an amazing amount of time has been spent combing the vast Internet in search of amusement and diversion. While doing so, a few images at the New York City Municipal Archives provided me with some intellectual whimsy. The shot above is quite modern, captured a few days after Hurricane Sandy. It depicts the “Queens Midtown Highway” section of the Long Island Expressway.

- photo by nycma.lunaimaging.com, May 13, 1941

The historic shot from May 1941, above, is shot from a few hundred feet south of my vantage point. Unfortunately, the spot where that photographer stood is now obscured by both a chain link fence and a highway sign which blocks the historic view. Of particular note in the 1941 shot are the presence of private homes, rather than industrial buildings, along the northern side of the highway. Also, the blanket of vaporous exhaust visible in the air of Long Island City is of some interest.

of antique workmanship

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- photo from “King’s views of New York City, A.D.1903” a public domain ebook courtesy Google Books

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Perusing the catalogs of historic photos which I routinely harvest from antiquarian sources such as the “google books” service over the holidays, I came across this image of the Stern Brothers store on 23rd street between 5th and 6th avenues in a 1903 photo survey of New York. For one reason or another, I’ve spent a lot of time marching up and down 23rd street and have always been curious about the structure (which currently houses a largish “Home Depot”).

from wikipedia

Stern Brothers was founded in 1867 by Issac, Louis and Benjamin Stern, sons of German Jewish immigrants. In 1867 they began selling dry goods in Buffalo, New York. From these humble beginnings the Stern Brothers became an important merchandising family in New York City.

In 1868 they moved to New York City and opened a one room store at 367 Sixth Avenue. In 1877 the store was again relocated to larger quarters at 110 West 23rd. Street. Outgrowing the store at 110 West 23rd. Street, Stern Brothers erected a new structure at the same location which became the new flagship store in 1878. It was noted for its cast-iron facade at 32 to 36 West 23rd. Street & 23 to 35 West 22nd. Street.

The building was designed by Henry Fernbach. It was enlarged according to a design by W.M. Schickel in 1892. The enormous, six story building was executed in the Renaissance Revival style. W.M. Schinckel’s typically 19th. century addition tripled the dimensions of the original structure on the eastern portion of the site. The tall central section of this addition animates the long and delicately detailed facade. The company’s monogram is still located above the central arch. (This structure is still in use today. The first floor houses a Home Depot, while the upper floors are showrooms.) The entire Sterns family worked in this store, which carried both luxury goods and merchandise the working classes. It was an elegant store noted for its fashionable clothes. Ladies from all over the city came to Stern Brothers for their Paris fashions. This enterprise was distinguished by its elegant door men in top hats and the generous and friendly service of the Sterns themselves.

A “longer” version of the same subject – photo by Mitch Waxman

On Tuesday, on my way to a client’s office on 23rd street to pick up a job, I made it a point of trying to find a similar vantage point to the one in the historic photo- although the 1903 version is clearly shot from the elevated landing of a staircase, or perhaps, the first story window of some long gone structure.

What remains in Manahattan these days is corporatized, commercialized, bland, and privatized- who would blame these stalwart titans of economic might for shunning and denying the requests of some shabby man with a camera who is unprofitably seeking the past?

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 6, 2011 at 12:15 am

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