Thursday, January 19, 2012

Manhattan '43

I got an email awhile back from a fellow named George Miller down in Florida. He sent along a couple of photo slides that his father took in Manhattan in 1943. He especially thought we'd be interested in seeing these two shots of Leon & Eddie's:

The first photo is taken from a very tall building (probably the RCA Building) and shows the roof of Leon & Eddie's painted in white with the words: UNDER THIS ROOF STARS SHINE ALL NIGHT. It's a rare view. And you get a great glimpse of 52nd Street before it was all bulldozed, back when it was known as Strip Street.

Here's Leon & Eddie's again, up close, complete with a sailor in the picture. It is 1943 after all.

I liked George's father's slides of the city and asked him for more. He digitized and sent along a handful. These were my favorites. Here's a wartime scene of Rockefeller Plaza. The statue of Prometheus is tarnished and grim beneath the words: UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER.

Nearby, a troop of young Nazis go goose-stepping past, decked in gas masks. This represented "The Militarization of Children," part of the Office of War Information's "Nature of the Enemy" exhibition, aimed to "expose the Nazi philosophy of 'fear, slavery, and death.'" (See more shots of the show here.)

After fear, slavery, and death in 1943 New York, you could head over to Larry Sunbrock's Big Top Circus on 50th Street behind the Roxy Theater. Sunbrock's circus didn't do very well and soon closed due to financial troubles.

It would return again to the city, however, and in 1947 Sunbrock's employee, a daring young man named John Ciampa, aka "The Brooklyn Tarzan," would be arrested after scaling the exterior of the Astor Hotel in a publicity stunt to promote the ailing circus.

Check out the incredible footage of Ciampa climbing tenement walls and running atop a subway train in Brooklyn here.

For more of this time in the city, read Jan Morris' wonderful book Manhattan '45.

And there's lots to see and read in these posts about Leon & Eddie's and Strip Street.


marc kehoe said...

Thank you for these great pictures, Jeremiah. Would be interesting to compare a shot taken today from Top of the Rock with that view of 52nd street in its glory days.
The "Unconditional Surrender" sign
sure looks like the grandparent of contemporary conceptual art signage.

Karen Gehres said...

That footage of John Ciampa is incredible. Thank you for sharing.

esquared™ said...

Reminds me of Cushman's photos and this scene from Rear Window.

However, quoting from Allen's Midnight in Paris, which really stakes through the heart of someone who longs for New York of yesteryears:

“Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in — it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

+1 on the post, nonetheless...

James Campbell Taylor said...

That first photo is incredible. When I worked at the MoMA I remember seeing similar photos of the area from this period. That painted rooftop advertising is almost quaint in its audacity. Even though New York is still overtly commercial, today that type of brazen large-scale self-promotion would probably be considered desperate or trashy. When it comes to signage and advertising I feel that the scale of New York has retreated to the point where its almost covert.

esquared: I too thought of this blog a lot while watching "Midnight In Paris". Woody is much less a nostalgic than his fans.

Mitch said...

One other great building that can be seen in that first photo is the original Museum of Modern Art, up on 53rd St. The building is still there today, but the effect is totally different as it no longer plays off against brownstones, but rather is on a block with glitzy highrises.

mingusal said...

"Strip Street" - 52nd St.- was, of course, also known as "Swing Street." A musical revolution would begin to take shape there in October of that very year when Dizzy Gillespie opened the first major engagement by a bebop band (with Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, and Lester Young) at the Onyx Club, then at 62 W. 52nd. They shared the billing with Billie Holiday & her band. Cover was an exorbitant $2.00.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i don't disagree with Woody. there's a lot in the present time worth being in denial about.

Brendan said...

$2 in 1945 = about $25 today.

Not super expensive or anything, but you can see plenty of great live music of all kinds for that or less right now.

Grade "A" Fancy said...


James Campbell Taylor said...

JM, I totally agree. People always say nostalgia is dangerous or counterproductive but it's one of the few tools we have for tolerating aspects of the present. And because it only exists in our heads we our all directors of our own nostalgia.

Katrink said...

Fucking WOW! Great post, amazing video. It made my day. Thanks!

Michael Simmons said...

I love Woody, but he can afford Manhattan rents in The Twenty-Worst Century.

Caleo said...

I understand the point esquared is making... but don't tell me that present day Manhattan is better or just different than it was in the late 80's when I got here.
No way, no how is it better.
It is infinitely worse in every way.
That doesn't mean that NYC isn't still one of the great places on this earth, but to anyone who was here 20+ years ago... something has definitely been amputated and muted. A living, seething energy is, if not gone, greatly reduced in intensity.

Space Pope said...

That's an awesome retrospective. Things (by which I mean the feelings people had for their city, their energy and the way they made ends meet) were different then from the 70's, just like the 70's to the early 90's were different from now.

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, just transformed. Where the energy then was alive, chaotic and vibrant, it now seems guided, predictable and superfluous.

esquared™ said...

To JM, A New Yorker is someone who longs for New York;

to me, a New Yorker is when you view New York with just as much nostalgia as you do excitement.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Milan Kundera supposedly said, “A European is someone who longs for Europe.”

i still feel the excitement. but not as much as i once did.

John A Ciampa said...

I am John Ciampa grandson of John Ciampa the human fly known as the Brooklyn Tarzan and The Flying Phanthom. He climbed things like they were not even there. In my journey never have met him before face-to-face he’s been with me the whole way to show me how to get up and dust myself off and move forward and never give up and keep climbing . When I came to doing things like creating of the first ever Bloggers School what people said it couldn’t be done I just kept pushing forward and thinking of how he just climbed and climbed and climbed his way up.