Circa 1930s: West 99th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive
By Caitlin Hawke
A mash-up of what the 300-block of W. 99th Street looked like 80 or 90 years ago
MTA Calming Your Way
By Caitlin Hawke
With all the talk about various coming MTA station closures for "digital upgrades" on the B and C line, I am reminded that some of us lived through the IRT station upgrades at 103rd (2004) and 96th Streets (2010)--and survived to tell the story. Yes, I am grateful for those investments -- more capital than digital. And yes, they took forever.
Let me take you back. Remember the new but miscalculated staircase on the west side of Broadway exiting the 103rd Street station? Each step seemingly a different height, walking up or down it was something of a funhouse ride or some bad Candid Camera prank -- only the risk was smashing your nose on the way up, or far worse on the way down! They sure did fix it in a flash. And at 96th, remember how prior to the renovation we used an underpass to get to the platform? It's not that long ago and how quickly we forget. Even with my pathological nostalgia, I can't say I miss that.
Leaving the 96th Street Station, I was looking up the other day and once again saw the real-life version of the rendering above. It struck me as a nice touch. Maybe the sculpture has a function, too. (Pigeon abatement?). Quaint and already retro in its non-digital way.
The looped birdsong that goes with these 200 stainless flowers is intended to have a calming effect on riders. On most days, particularly after a post-apocalyptic commute from work, calming's a thing I am grateful for. Getting most of the way home in one piece on public transportation, is another.
With Spring galloping in, we have real looped birdsong starting up. And Hawkes do appreciate the birds.
Yes. And They Are Schooling Us.
By Caitlin Hawke
Neighbor Emily Berleth clued me in about the locale of the powerful photo on the cover of the April 5 New York Review of Books featuring a piece by Adam Hochschild "Bang for the Buck." It was taken by William Klein in 1955 near the intersection of W. 103rd Street and Broadway. I looked for the exact location, but I think it is gone (please let me know if you recognize the doorway the boys above are in).
Working in a public health environment, I experienced the same feeling looking at the NYRB cover as I did when I saw a picture of a baby smoking that tore up the internet a while ago. Both images just stop you in your tracks and can never be normalized, or we are done.
But one sits in the shade of our Bill of Rights. The other doesn't. That allowed us, on smoking at least, to rewrite history in just one generation. It reassures me that we could do the same for guns.
But if the big bang of the Second Amendment is still expanding in the form of relaxed gun laws across the country, when will contraction begin? Feeling the need to rewrap my head around it, I had another look:
Nothing about the mighty hunter. And nothing about bump stocks and automatic weapons. Apropos of hunters, a demographer told me last week that their numbers in the U.S. are in steep decline. One can project their die-off, and no one is clamoring to fill in and take up the hunt. Does this mean that new rationales for the right to bear arms will have to be spun out?
Getting back to the kids, if you don't recognize it, the title of this post is a Bushism, made in 2000. It was taken out of context and was probably more of a slip up. But he did say "Childrens do learn." Both became a meme. And now, I feel, we have a full-throated answer to the question: Not only are they learning, but they're schooling us, royally.
So, this post is inspired by the photo taken in our neighborhood 65 years ago that resonates loudly today.
It is for all the kids packing up to head to DC, to Central Park West or to their local main drag on Saturday. I am watching you in admiration, and I am watching adults fill into your slipstream and take the ride on your effort. And I am watching, in this election year, what pressure you might bring to bear on how the right to bear arms is conferred upon our citizenry by our lawmakers and our policymakers -- who all, in the end, will have to answer to the youth, you: our rising voters.
Thanks to you, our tipping point is Parkland.
Our mantra is your mantra: #NeverAgainMSD. Many of us will say it loudly in person with 6-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 18-year-olds not in tow but way out ahead of us. Pulling us along. Leading the chant.
We owe you deeply for doing the lift we should have done. But failed to do.
Life. Liberty. Happiness. These all precede the Second Amendment, you seem to say. Let's get those right first, you protest. Come November, you warn, he who gets hurt will be he who has stalled.
Saturday, your battle outside will be raging.
Precious Plantings and the Neighborhood Tree Doctor
The "One from the Vault" feature plumbs the archives of back issues of block association newsletters for new neighbors and lovers of our community and its history. To read others pieces from the vault, click on the category at right.
By Caitlin Hawke
Happy Vernal Equinox!
What better day than to pull from the vaults from about 10 years ago, a newsletter piece written by local gem Dorothy O'Hanlon and featuring the architect of many a planter (and walker of many a hound) our neighbor, Precious Costello Caldwell, Jr.
Since 2008, other media outlets have piled on, and he has been profiled in the NYT, on the show "Neighborhood Slice," in other blogs and on the news.
But you read it here first!
His tree well construction days are behind him, I hear. But he'll go down in our local lore as the arborist EMT who salvaged our West End gingko post-assault three years ago. A miracle of ingenuity and TLC, his surgery postponed the tree's inevitable demise.
It's a good time to remind you that the Block Association's Spring Planting Day is scheduled for April 21, 10 a.m. Save the date. I'll post a reminder in mid-April.
Hope to see you at the Master on Thursday, March 22 for the Block Association's Annual Meeting.
Details for both events are on the BA calendar. And now to Precious.
Join Us: March 22, 7 p.m. at the Master's Riverside Lobby
1920s: West 108th Street and Broadway
By Caitlin Hawke
This neighborhood as muse never fails to delight me.
In my noodlings, I found this picture of the southwest corner of 108th Street and Broadway, circa 1910-20, with Emanuel Blout's Victor Talking Machine store firmly anchoring the corner. One could easily spend a whole day off of work (ahem) doing a deep dive into the lore of the Victor and Victrola, and investigating the robust collectors network, too.
The billboards atop this pretty building, which I've seen in earlier incarnations and hope to post images of soon, speak to a vibrant neighborhood just booming along a decade plus after the subway opened. The presence of the store so far uptown attests to the fondness for this beautiful machine.
This Victor Talking Machine business wasn't Emanuel Blout's first foray into the music selling business, he was an early partner of Emile Berliner who eventually ceded his gramophone patents to Eldridge Johnson who went on to found the Victor Talking Machine Company.
In any event, in 1920 Emanuel Blout was well off enough to purchase the building that housed his Victor dealership.
There's a charming, if wonky, FAQ on the Victor-Victrola Page where I learned the difference between the two: "A 'Victor' is a phonograph with the horn mounted externally. A 'Victrola' has an internal horn, often with doors in front that open and close to control the volume. Both are products of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Victors were made in the 1901 until the early 20's. Victrolas were made from 1906 up through 1929, when RCA bought the company and became 'RCA Victor'."
If you have one taking space up in your home, values can be anywhere from $500-3000 and on up to $10,000 for the rarest of the rare.
Don't get me started on the demise of vinyl and rise of streaming music. For today, I just want to think about my phonograph fetish and imagine walking into E. Blout's to browse his beautiful machines. Scroll down for my lagniappe for anyone wondering how it sounds (if you are reading this in an email click the blog post title to stream the video).
Aptly enough, the video above is "Spring Is Here" by Irving Aaronson and His Orchestra played on a Victor Victrola model VV-XI.
An Interview with Editor Hedy Campbell
By Caitlin Hawke
Did you get yours? The Spring 2018 Block Association newsletter is hot off the press. If you want to jump the gun, you’ll find a copy here.
I’ve lived in the catchment going on half of forever. And still that evening when I put my key to the hole and push open my door to discover the crisp quarterly lying in wait, I drop everything to read it on the spot. Old faithful.
If you are a Block Association member, have you ever wondered how this sweet read wends its way to you? It took me a long time to learn that Ken Henwood was the delivery man for my building, and he’s virtually my next-door neighbor. So, let’s ballpark it at 80 times that Ken has crouched in front of my apartment and glided the quarterly under my door. I am aghast that I’ve never actually thanked him for doing this! (Ken, thank you!)
If you live in the catchment, you, too, probably have a courier ferrying “old faithful” to your door or building entryway. And you, too, probably dig in as soon as you get it.
We’re coming up on the newsletter’s 47th birthday. The first issue — entitled “Neighborhood News” — rolled off a typewriter on May 20, 1971, thanks to original editor and publisher Richard De Thuin who, sadly, passed away recently. You can read that whole issue right here.
More or less, the newsletter has been chugging along ever since. So here now is a chance to consider the 102-103 Streets Block Association Newsletter and what happens behind the scenes to get it to your door.
The best place to begin is with Hedy Campbell. You may know her name from the many roles she’s had within the Block Association since moving here in 1984. Shortly after arriving, she went to a Block Association board meeting and has stuck around ever since. Over the three and a half decades, she’s organized Halloween parades, solstice caroling nights, Spring planting days, and more.
About eight years ago, the West End Historic Preservation’s effort to landmark the avenue inspired her to think about the people who live in those buildings and the stories they could tell. This led to the launch of the Block Association’s Residents of Long Standing Hall of Fame with 27 inductees and counting — a great feat that we owe to Hedy’s ingenuity and her appreciation for neighborhood and neighbors.
She’s also inadvertently responsible for this blog. Hedy gingerly approached me to manage and update the website when the prior webmaster stepped down. My first response was that I couldn’t imagine taking on more work given my time commitment to BAiP. But how could I say no to her (anyone else ever had that reaction?). That was four years and nearly 300 posts ago!
The hat Hedy’s worn longest is newsletter editor. She took over the duties at the beginning of 1987, succeeding a long line of editors: Richard De Thuin, Mary Louise Taylor, Evelyn Brodwin, Marilyn Ehlers, Connie Fredericks, Ginger Lief and Kathy Giannou. Between 1987 and now, Hedy has had a couple of breaks when Jock Davenport and David Reich each did stints as editor. (My apologies to any past editors I’ve neglected to mention!).
I caught up with Hedy to ask about her 20+ years at the helm. What follows is our recent Q&A.
In the coming weeks, to honor the longevity of our newsletter I’ll be featuring all kinds of pieces “from the vault." Many of these archival pieces are thanks to Ginger Lief and Ken Henwood who've preserved the back catalog. I'm very grateful to both of them, and to Ginger in particular -- the human "wayback machine."
So, stick around since there's lots more memory lane to come! And if you are a fan of the newsletter, tell Hedy and her team in the comments below.
Q&A with Hedy Campbell, newsletter editor
Caitlin: To orient us, what roles have you held within the Block Association over the years?
Hedy: My board positions have been co-chair; chair; treasurer; recording secretary; newsletter editor and co-editor. I ran the Halloween parade for many years. And I’ve run caroling for many years. (Anthony Bellov used to run it but some years ago maxed out. He was happy to continue as the musical brains of the operation as long as somebody else did the organizational stuff.) And for more years than not, I’ve been in charge of yard sale refreshments.
Caitlin: Can you tell me a little about your history with the newsletter? I know it started in 1971 but tell me about when you entered the picture.
Hedy: For some years starting in 1987 it was just me and my typewriter and our goal was a monthly distribution, which was a goal I couldn’t consistently meet. I don’t remember when we decided to go quarterly, which actually made brilliant sense because we’ve always asked for dues quarterly. Alan Leverenz was the first designer I worked with. Jock Davenport took over from me as editor for some years. David Reich took it over from him, then I became co-editor with David, then I became editor again.
Caitlin: And here we are. Do you know how much people appreciate the fruits of your labor?
Hedy: Not really. We get occasional comments from readers, mainly written on the flaps of contribution envelopes.
Caitlin: Well believe me, we do. So, how does each issue actually magically appear under my door every three months?
Hedy: The issue gets submitted digitally to Best Copy — the Mom & Pop (or more precisely Pop & Son) copy shop on the northeast corner of 101st Street and Broadway. They print it, insert the loose sheet manually, and fold the print run. Block Association member Eliza Lansdale gets it from them. She counts out newsletters and envelopes and runs around the neighborhood delivering them to sub-distributors and building captains who then distribute them further. For instance, she gives a couple of hundred issues to a high-school student who lives in my building. That person subdivides the batch and delivers to the small buildings on West 102nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. The big buildings like the Broadmoor and the Master get batches delivered to their building captains.
Caitlin: Why a print newsletter in this day and age? Do you foresee a day when it will go electronic?
Hedy: In addition to disseminating information, the print newsletter is our vehicle for envelope distribution, which is still primarily how we receive membership contributions from residents. But residents should know that on our website, they can contribute by credit card any time.
Caitlin: In its slightly anachronistic way, I suspect that a paper copy makes people stop and really take the time to read the news and neighborhood vignettes. How much does it cost to produce?
Hedy: Each issue costs about $800. The contribution envelopes cost about $150. We print 2100 copies. And that’s attractive to our advertisers because I estimate that 2-3 people read each issue, so our reach is around 4000-5000 people. The ads generate income to defray the cost of publication, and thankfully we have all the ads we need. Jane Hopkins has done such a good job! In publishing, a 50:50 ratio of ads to articles is the approximate goal, and we’re roughly there.
Caitlin: OK, we've got the distribution but what about the content -- what's your process there?
Hedy: Four times a year, about six weeks in advance of publication, I send out an email to contributors in which the article lineup, assignments, and deadline are specified. That email is based both on what we historically print in a particular issue (such as the recurring annual events) as well as any current issues of importance (the gingko tree assault, for example). A group of faithful writers submit their articles, which are then lightly edited; this takes several hours, and I am grateful now to be working with Amy Edelman who has come out the gate very strong in this copy-editing role! Ads that Jane Hopkins collects and all the articles are sent to the designer, Bradley Spear, who then does a preliminary layout. I review the layout and provide feedback about placement and prioritization. Brad makes changes and returns revised layouts for review. With some luck, only minor tinkering remains. Some issues (like the last one of 2017) require more back and forth until the layout is set. Content is proofread, and corrections are provided to Brad who makes corrections and returns a final proof for review. Brad sends the graphic file to Best Copy for printing. And then we start the delivery process above.
Caitlin: What we in the community get out of the newsletter is intangible: first and foremost, its very existence fosters a sense of community. What do you get out of your involvement with the newsletter?
Hedy: I get to shape the content of what is the primary public face of the organization. I believe that the organization’s role in the community is an important one, and therefore making its functions and initiatives known to residents in a way that reflects our efforts accurately and positively is critical. Although there are many residents who are here and have been here for many years, there’s also a lot of turnover. Providing a sense of perspective, which I can do because I’ve been here a long time, is part of what we want to communicate.
Caitlin: It seems you’ve been looking to train someone to take over for quite a while. Do you think you’ll ever succeed, and if not will this 47-year-old institution of a newsletter vanish?
Hedy: It’s possible. There could come a time when I just have to say that’s it. But for as long as I have an associate who will take care of the nuts and bol