Open House Harlem Pt 2: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill

October 6, 2007

The OpenHouseNewYork Weekend continued with a trip to another section of Harlem, the areas known as Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill.

Like Manhattanville, the western boundary of Hamilton Heights is the Hudson River, the eastern end at St. Nicholas. The neighborhood’s name derives from its most notable early resident, the first Secretary of the US Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who spent the last years of his life here at his country home.

As with Manhattanville, development here started in earnest when the railway lines were extended. A jewels of the area is the Church of the Intercession, built on one of the highest points of Manhattan. Its origins date to 1843, when sanitation problems downtown led Wall Street’s Trinity Church to stop performing burials in their yard.

To create a solution, Trinity reached beyond the city limits and purchased a large parcel of land in the tiny country hamlet of Carmansville for use as a graveyard. The land, which they dubbed Trinity Church Cemetery, became the last resting place of many notable and affluent citizens.

Within a few years, demand began for a convenient chapel, eventually leading to construction of the Gothic style cathedral that adjoins the Cemetery. Now celebrating its 160th anniversary, the Church features an altar designed by Tiffany, notable terracotta floor tiles, and an Aeolian Skinner organ.

Nearby is Audubon Terrace, which fills a block that was once part of a farm owned by naturalist John James Audubon. Created by railroad heir Archer Huntington, Audubon Terrace was intended as a modern-day acropolis, a sophisticated center of art and culture. At the dawn of the 20th century, Huntington hired the leading architects of the day, including Stanford White and Cass Gilbert. They designed the Beaux-Arts plaza and buildings that today house the Hispanic Society of America, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Boricua College.

Sugar Hill, a residential section of Hamilton Heights, was once the country’s most fashionable address for African Americans, the place where life was sweet. In these palatial brownstones and apartment buildings lived the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, including Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn (who immortalized the neighborhood in his song Take the ‘A’ Train), Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Zora Neale Hurston and Paul Robeson.

The neighborhood was also home to prominent professionals and civil rights activists like W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

When the city’s fortunes declined in the late 1960s and 1970s, this area was severely affected; as most of the well-heeled moved away, drugs and violence became widespread. Elegant brownstones were divided into cheap, poorly-maintained apartments, then vandalized. A significant number of neglected buildings were demolished or burned.

But today, Sugar Hill is on the upswing. Professionals, artists and community activists again walk these streets. Newly-created private schools and arts institutions (including the Dance Theatre of Harlem) have made this area their home.

Everywhere are signs of renewal and revitalization. Houses that were filled with squatters only a few years ago are now being restored and selling for millions of dollars. Buildings that had become rooming houses are being converted back to spacious homes and Sugar Hill is again becoming one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city.

Audubon Terrace at 155th Street and Broadway

Sculpture on the Plaza at Audubon Terrace

Bas-relief of Don Quixote on horseback

Above the entrance to the former home of the Museum of the American Indian

Entrance to American Society of Arts & Letters

The Church of the Intercession

Detail of wall at the Church of the Intercession

Gatehouse at Trinity Church Cemetery

The Gould mausoleum in the Cemetery

Garret Storm’s mausoleum in Trinity Church Cemetery


Building with Mansard roof in Sugar Hill

On W. 152nd St., three houses designed to look like one

Restored buildings on St. Nicholas Avenue

Classic Sugar Hill brownstones on St. Nicholas

Row of houses on St. Nicholas Avenue

Doorway with stained glass panel

Wrought iron railings in Sugar Hill

Painted stonework highlights the construction date

openhousenewyork weekend
Hamilton Heights Homeowners Association
The Hispanic Society of America
Church of the Intercession
NY Times: Living in Sugar Hill
Harlem One Stop Tour: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill
Historic Districts Council: Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill
Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization
Harlem One Stop Tour: A Walk Through Sugar Hill
Harlem One Stop Tour: Trinity Cemetery
Dance Theatre of Harlem

Six Years On

September 11, 2007

This is the sixth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

In previous years, the city held a memorial service at the site of the vanished complex. But now, due to the construction equipment and activity at the original location, the ceremony was moved across the street to tiny Zuccotti Park.

It was a day of firsts: The first time the service wasn’t held at the site of the Twin Towers. The first time the anniversary fell on a Tuesday (the day of the attacks). The first time the sky wasn’t a clear, brilliant blue. The first time grieving family members and survivors didn’t have access to the spots where the buildings had stood.

During the ceremony, while a flute and guitar softly played, first responders who had worked during the rescue and recovery efforts stood in the rain and read the nearly 3,000 victims’ names. They paused only for four moments of silence marking the times the hijacked airplanes hit the buildings and the times the towers fell.

Those in attendance were able to cross the street and descend a long ramp to the bedrock that had supported the foundations of the World Trade Center. There a single, shallow wooden pool had been erected to represent the footprints of the Twin Towers. That was where they left pictures, placed birthday gifts and anniversary cards, and wrote messages for and about those they’d lost.

Once the dignitaries departed, the marksmen left the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, the reporters and photographers went on to the next story and the chairs were folded up and taken away, the day’s on-and-off drizzle turned into a torrent of rain.

Down at the site, deep below ground level, the downpour overflowed the small wooden pool, blurred the penned notes and photos along its rim, and shattered the thousands of roses that floated on its surface. 

Note: More photos from the memorial service are posted here.


Girl at service with photo in her arms & on her shirt

Tattoo of Uncle Mike

NYPD officer with thousand-yard stare

Therapy dogs with girls

TV in Port Authority trailer showing live broadcast

Flowers in fence surrounding site

Pool with replicas of tower footprints

Thank you for being my friend

“We lost both,” she said.

We miss u Uncle Harry

We love and miss you

Save us a space on your shimmering star

Matthew Diaz

I ♥ you!

FDNY photo in the pool

Dad, keep holding the door

Happy 29th birthday

Volunteer distributing roses

Police officer writing on reflecting pool

I love you so much daddy

God bless

Teddy bear with roses

Family coming back up the ramp

NYC Dept of Parks: Remembering Those Lost On 9/11
ABC: Video of a somber day
NY Post: Heaven’s Tears Flow
AM New York: Somber, emotional ceremony
NY Times: Bloomberg Tries to Move the City Beyond 9/11 Grief
NY Times: 90th Floor Frozen, Even as Ground Zero Changes
NY TImes: Near Ground Zero, Much Is Changed
NY Times: How Much Tribute Is Enough?

Yom HaShoah

April 15, 2007

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah (in Hebrew, yom means remember; shoah is the word for catastrophe).

In most of the United States, the day passes almost without notice. In Israel, however, it is a day devoted to nationwide remembrance and education. During my recent visit to New York’s Jewish Museum, I saw a film depicting one of the most moving parts of the observance — the sounding of the Yom HaShoah siren.

At 10:00 a.m., a two-minute siren blast is heard throughout the country. While the siren screams, everything else comes to an immediate dead stop. Pedestrians stand still as statues, cars pull to the side of the road, workers halt their motions, people dining in cafes and chatting on mobile phones suddenly fall quiet, and the entire nation stands at silent, reverent attention.

Here in New York, a small ceremony for Holocaust survivors was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan (not far from the site of the World Trade Center).

This was a day when the sun never came out. From morning to night, the sky remained flat and gray as cold rain poured onto the city. It was as though the heavens themselves were remembering and mourning the horrors we humans inflict on one another.

Memorial Candles on the Brooklyn Promenade
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Knesset: Yom HaShoah
Yad Vashem
The Ghetto Fighters’ House
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Jewish Virtual Library: Holocaust Memorial Day
Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

The Fire Stills Burns in Memory

March 25, 2007

In the heart of New York City near Washington Square
In nineteen eleven, March winds were cold and bare.
A fire broke out in a building ten stories high,
And a hundred forty-six young girls in those flames did die.

Ballad of the Triangle Fire by Ruth Rubin

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of Asch building, a massive structure at the corner of Washington Place and Green Street.

The top three floors of the 10-story building were occupied by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a manufacturer of women’s clothing. That afternoon the factory was packed with nearly 500 workers, most of them young immigrant women.

The factory was a typical sweatshop where workers, including children as young as 12, labored 14 hours a day, 72 hours a week. The place was dirty, crowded, loud and dangerous. Although it was filled with paper and fabric and lit by open gas flames, there was only one exit, no fire extinguishers and no sprinklers. A single stairway led to the roof.

That day, when the cry of “Fire!” was heard, workers rushed to the exit, only to find the supervisors had locked the door from the outside, a common practice intended to prevent them from taking breaks or stealing materials.

The fire department was on the scene within minutes, but their ladders were too short to reach beyond the 7th floor and the water from their hoses went no higher. The windows were the only way out. Terrified girls jammed onto the only fire escape, which buckled, twisted and collapsed under their weight.

The firemen held life-nets, trying to catch the desperate workers who were jumping from the windows, but the nets couldn’t withstand the force; the girls’ bodies tore straight through the fabric and crashed into the pavement. Eyewitnesses told of girls sailing through the air hand in hand and of a couple who embraced and kissed before they lept together.

By the time the fire was extinguished 146 people were dead, making it the worst industrial disaster in New York City history. It took one week to identify the dead; seven remained unknown, as did the cause of the fire.

The tragedy at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory galvanized working women, leading to increased trade union membership and a series of strikes across the nation calling for higher wages, safer conditions and women’s suffrage. It also focused public attention on the inhumane working conditions in the city’s factory’s and led to massive reforms, including the creation of the new safety and labor laws, strict building codes and fire inspections.

Today, the 96th anniversary was marked by a solemn ceremony outside the Asch building, which withstood the blaze and is now owned by New York University.

Politicians, fire officials, labor leaders and clergy honored the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and railed against the dangerous working conditions that still exist around the world. A prayer was said and the Ballad of the Triangle Fire was sung.

Finally, schoolchildren were given white carnations, each tagged with the name of a victim. A silver fire bell tolled 146 times as the children read the names, then placed the blossoms in a pile, forming a tangled mound of crushed flowers and stems on the chilly sidewalk.

The plaque is the only memorial here
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Victims’ names written in chalk
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Union members holding signs
Originally uploaded by

Workers listening and holding union signs
Originally uploaded by

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scarpetta
Originally uploaded by annulla.

City Council President Christine Quinn
Originally uploaded by

Kids from P.S. 20 listen to speakers
Originally uploaded by

Students holding a union sign
Originally uploaded by

Cardinal Egan leading the group in prayer
Originally uploaded by

Victims’ names attached to white carnations
Originally uploaded by

Cornell University: The Triangle Fire
Historybuff: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
The Gale Group: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: 1911
Library of Congress: An Elegy for Fire Victims
New York Times: Workers Assail Night Lock-Ins by Wal-Mart
Hamlet: the Untold Tragedy of the Imperial Food Products Fire
International Labour Organization: The Kader Toy Factory Fire

Behind the Gates of New York Marble Cemetery

November 26, 2006

Every day thousands of people pass the thick stone walls and tall iron gates but few step behind them. New York Marble Cemetery is open to the public only a handful of days each year; from March through November, the gates generally open (for a few hours) the last Sunday of each month. However, since the Cemetery lacks both staff and shelter, if the weather is inclement or no volunteer is available, the entrance to this secret garden will remain locked.

Today was the cemetery’s last scheduled opening for 2006. A stream of curious visitors came, encouraged by the open gate and the unusually mild weather. A volunteer provided literature and information about the cemetery, its founders, the current state of repair (a section of the 12-foot high walls recently collapsed) and the trustee’s efforts to protect and restore it.

New York Marble Cemetery (also known as the Second Avenue Cemetery) is the oldest public non-sectarian cemetery in New York City. Established in 1831 to serve the city’s gentry, more than 2,000 interments have taken place here. Unlike most American cemeteries, this half acre patch of green has no gravestones, ground markers, mausoleums, lamps, flower arrangements or monuments. Although the setting is stark, this isn’t a place where the original decorations have been lost or stripped away; by design, the cemetery is simple, unadorned and restrained. The original landscape consisted of a level stretch of lawn marked only by shrubbery and white sand paths.

Founded during an epidemic when in-ground burials were forbidden, interments are 10 feet underground in solid white marble vaults, each the size of a small room. The 156 vaults are arranged in a grid and access provided by removal of stone slabs set below the lawn’s surface. The numbers of the vaults and names of the original owners are on marble plaques set into the surrounding walls.

Although the most recent burial was in 1937, New York Marble Cemetery is not simply a place of historic interest; despite appearances, it is a working burial facility. Each vault belongs to the heirs of the original owners and descendants retain the right to be interred here. In fact, some have made plans to ensure that this cemetery, the last place in Manhattan where a person can still be legally buried, will be their final resting place.

Visitors at outer gate Posted by Picasa

Alley leads from the outer gate to the inner gate Posted by Picasa

Visitors enter cemetery through inner gate Posted by Picasa

Vault of publisher Uriah R. Scribner Posted by Picasa

Vault of Elisha Peck Posted by Picasa

Visitors on the lawn Posted by Picasa

Volunteer answers vistors’ questions Posted by Picasa

Visitors and plaques along the south wall Posted by Picasa

View to west wall Posted by Picasa

Shrubbery and east wall Posted by Picasa

Broken stone awaits repair Posted by Picasa

  • New York Marble Cemetery
  • Cemetery Schedule and Map
  • Letter Regarding Construction Behind Cemetery

  • Middle Age Crazy

    August 12, 2006

    High atop a hill at the northern tip of Manhattan Island stands the Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art of the middle ages. Constructed in the early 20th century, the fortress-like building was inspired by medieval structures. The setting, structure and core of the collection were gifts from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to the people of New York.

    This building incorporates chapels, halls, rooms and architectural elements from Europe. The ancient stone portals, windows, columns and fountains allow many of the items on display to be shown in settings similar to their original situations. Visitors don’t simply view a wooden crucifix hanging against a white gallery wall; they see it displayed in a stone chapel, illuminated by sunbeams streaming through stained glass windows.

    The museum also features three enclosed gardens, including an herb garden containing more than 250 species that were grown during the Middle Ages. The plants, grown in beds and large pots, are grouped by their intended use: household, medicinal, aromatic, kitchen and seasoning, salads and vegetables, plants used by artists, magic plants, those associated with love and marriage.

    The most famous work in the Cloisters is the Unicorn Tapestries, a series of Belgian textiles portraying a party of nobles hunting and capturing the mythical creature. The collection also includes stained-glass windows, metalwork, sculpture, painting, liturgical miniatures, enamels, jewelry and of course, cloisters.

    Main entrance Posted by Picasa

    Lion wall fountain Posted by Picasa

    Doorway to a courtyard Posted by Picasa

    Butterfly in herb garden Posted by Picasa

    Dragon fresco Posted by Picasa

    Lion fresco Posted by Picasa

    Carved ivory Posted by Picasa

    Miniature ivory carving Posted by Picasa

    Cross shadow Posted by Picasa

    Red columns Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn is Found Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn Leaps Out of the Stream Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn at Bay Posted by Picasa

    The Start of the Hunt Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn in Captivity Posted by Picasa

    Window in gothic hall Posted by Picasa

    Swabian stained glass panel of groom Posted by Picasa

    Swabian stained glass panel of bride Posted by Picasa

    A seat in the shade Posted by Picasa

    Bonnefort Cloister on lower level Posted by Picasa

    Espaliered pear tree Posted by Picasa

    Exterior at closing time Posted by Picasa

  • The Cloisters
  • Introduction to the Cloisters
  • The Unicorn Tapestries
  • The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture
  • Middle Age Crazy

  • A visit to Governors Island

    July 7, 2006

    If you’ve spent any time in New York, you’ve probably seen Governors Island, but chances are you’ve never been there. This island in New York Harbor long served as a key defense base and access was restricted to authorized military personnel.

    In the period immediately following the revolution, the newly-formed United States fortified Governors Island. Fort Jay was built at the island’s highest point and Castle Willliams near the shore. Administrative buildings, housing and other facilities were erected, and for hundreds of years the island was occupied and run by various branches of the military.

    In 1996, in a cost-cutting measure, the Coast Guard reassigned officers and troops, moved equipment and records, and permanently closed the base at Governor’s Island. Once emptied of its inhabitants, the island was essentially split in two; the 92-acre area surrounding Fort Jay and Castle Williams was declared a national historic landmark district and the remaining 150 acres turned over to City and State of New York, which have not yet decided on its use.

    This summer, the island’s historic landmark district is open to the public. Ferry service brings visitors from the Battery Maritime Building (next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal) and tours are provided by the National Park Service; both ferry and tour are free of charge.

    Benign neglect has allowed much of the historic district to slide into decay and most of the Victorian manses on Colonel’s Row, once devoted to officers’ housing, remain off-limits. While visitors aren’t able to enter most of the buildings, they are free to enjoy the sweeping views, stroll the wide walkways, laze under the centuries-old shady trees and explore the ghost town the lies only a few hundred yards from Manhattan.

    Welcome to Governors Island Posted by Picasa

    Castle Williams and lower Manhattan Posted by Picasa

    Cannon and dry moat at Fort Jay Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned hospital Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned dental office Posted by Picasa

    Support Center New York Posted by Picasa

    Inside abandoned building (shot through window) Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned housing Posted by Picasa

    Vine-covered fence Posted by Picasa

    Visitor reading in the leafy shade Posted by Picasa

    Our Lady Star of the Sea Posted by Picasa

    Weeds growing through cracked tennis courts Posted by Picasa

    Decaying porch steps Posted by Picasa

    Library Posted by Picasa

  • Governors Island National Monument
  • Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation

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