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Gotham

The Piano in the Sukkah: Early Twentieth Century Immigrant Jewish Piano Culture in New York  

The Piano in the Sukkah: Early Twentieth Century Immigrant Jewish Piano Culture in New York

By Sarah Litvin

In 1905, the Yiddish language New York newspaper Yiddishes Tageblatt reported on a new trend in the city’s Lower East Side, “The Greenhorn of Plenty: The Piano in the Sukkah.” Jewish families were hauling parlor pianos to rooftops to incorporate them into the fall harvest festival Sukkoth, the article explained. At the time, New York City was exploding as the center of the country’s bustling piano trade and its largest immigrant city. The peak year of immigration was in 1907 when 1.7 newcomers arrived, and the peak year of piano production was in 1909, when 364,545 pianos were sold. By 1910, more American homes had a piano than a bathtub.

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When the Cops were Spies, and the Terrorists were Everywhere

When the Cops were Spies, and the Terrorists were Everywhere

By David Viola

Just after dawn on February 16th, 1965, two men drove a late-model Chevy through cold, quiet Bronx streets. Robert Steele Collier, twenty-eight, was an Air Force veteran who had received an other-than-honorable discharge after slashing a man in a London knife fight. In the years since his discharge, he had made his way to New York City and become involved in the more militant side of the Civil Rights movement. Even the belligerent Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), which he joined, proved too faint-hearted for his taste.

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“Citizen Power” Rebuilds East Brooklyn: The Nehemiah Housing Plan in the 1980s

“Citizen Power” Rebuilds East Brooklyn: The Nehemiah Housing Plan in the 1980s

By Dennis Deslippe

The jubilant mood of the five thousand people gathered on an October day in 1982 to break ground for a housing project in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn contrasted sharply with the surrounding vacant lots and abandoned walkups. As the crowd of African Americans, Hispanics, and white ethnics cheered, New York mayor Ed Koch lauded the East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) for its construction of affordable two- and three-bedroom single-family houses. To the shouts of “EBC!” Mayor Koch led the countdown, from ten to zero, as the bulldozer dug into the ground to create the foundation for the first house. Dubbed the “Nehemiah Plan” after the biblical prophet who rebuilt Jerusalem, its organizers sought to transform neighborhoods whose deterioration matched that of the South Bronx as a national example of urban decay.

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Voices of Queensbridge: Pedagogical Overview of an Oral History Project

Voices of Queensbridge: Pedagogical Overview of an Oral History Project

Adapted from writing in Voice of Queensbridge: Stories from the Nation’s Largest Public Housing Development

By Molly Rosner

In the fall of 2018, a group of LaGuardia Community College students embarked on a year-long project to document the experiences of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents. This project was funded by the Robert D. L. Gardiner Foundation. These stories were aimed at enriching the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives’ NYCHA collection, which until this project only reflected the agency’s perspective on public housing. The vastness of public housing in New York City necessitated that the students focus on one public housing project and Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing development, were selected due to abundant documentation of the development, and its vicinity to the college. 

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Density’s Child: How Housing Density Shaped New York

Density’s Child: How Housing Density Shaped New York

By Katie Uva

New York is a city defined by its density. Manhattan, with its unique geographical constraints, grew rapidly over the course of the 19th century; by 1890, Jacob Riis noted in How the Other Half Lives that the borough as a whole held 73,299 people per square mile and the Tenth Ward, the densest portion of the Lower East Side, held 334,080 people per square mile. This density was visible in multiple ways; in the innovative, epoch-defining skyscrapers that began to jut out of the Battery and Midtown but also cast worrying shadows on pedestrians below; in the tenement districts with their vibrant street life and their disturbing tuberculosis and fire rates. The 20th century would prove to be a time of experimentation and contestation when it came to density. New York would grow further outwards and further upwards, and would be shaped by the tension between density and sprawl. 

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Desire & Documentary in the Photography of Alvin Baltrop

Desire & Documentary in the Photography of Alvin Baltrop

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

Documentary photography in New York City has a long history, going back to Jacob Riis in the 1880s and Lewis Hine in the early twentieth-century with their documentation of poverty and slums. During the 1930s and 40s, Weegee covered the criminal underworld and the world of high society for the tabloids, while Helen Levitt shot scenes of the everyday life of housewives, children and working men. In the 1950s and 60s, Roy de Carava, Garry Winogrand, Fred McDarrah and Nan Goldin managed to capture both the grit and the glamour of New York’s post-war period. By the seventies, however, the glamour was gone, though the grit remained, as New York was overtaken by its industrial collapse and fiscal woes.

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Horizon Line: An Interview with Jennifer Harley and Emily Chow Bluck

Horizon Line: An Interview with Jennifer Harley and Emily Chow Bluck

Interviewed by Elena Ketelsen Gonzalez

Today on the blog, Elena Ketelsen González sits down with artists Jennifer Harley and Emily Chow Bluck to discuss their collaborative work on race and gentrification in the city. Their work Horizon Line is on display at Gracie Mansion until the end of December, 2019.

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Peter-Christian AignerComment
Made in New York? Innovation Economies and Immigrant Precarity

Made in New York? Innovation Economies and Immigrant Precarity

By Tarry Hum

As one of New York City’s last remaining industrial waterfront neighborhoods, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park figures prominently in Mayor de Blasio’s 2017 New York Works plan, which laid out priority industry sectors and strategies to create 100,000 middle class jobs that pay a minimum $50,000 annual salary within the next decade. The targeted industry sectors and job creation projections are: 30,000 jobs in technology (especially in cybersecurity); 25,000 jobs related to new office districts (such as East Midtown) and outer borough commercial centers; 20,000 jobs in industry and manufacturing based on reactivating the city’s vast industrial infrastructure and implementing the Freight NYC plan; 15,000 jobs in life sciences and health care; and 10,000 jobs in creative and cultural sectors that define and promote New York City’s global brand.

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Peter-Christian AignerComment
Theodore Roosevelt: A Man for the Modern World

Theodore Roosevelt: A Man for the Modern World

Reviewed by Kathleen Dalton

“Theodore Roosevelt: A Man for the Modern World” greets visitors in the entrance as they enter the Old Orchard Museum to buy tickets to visit his house, Sagamore Hill. The current exhibit, on view until December 2019, is a temporary addendum to Sagamore Hill’s extensive permanent exhibit on Roosevelt’s life  and argues that TR was “A Man for the Modern World” who embraced new technologies in order to communicate better with the public. Born into a world of the horse and buggy, he became president at a time when telephones, movies, radio, and automobiles were changing daily life for average Americans. However, the actual central theme of the exhibit is broader than the idea of TR as technologically modern; the exhibit also gathers in moments that exemplify TR as a modern political thinker and reformer.

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New Editors

New Editors

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve expanded here at Gotham, yet again. Since we launched the blog four years ago this month, readership has grown steadily, and with it our desire to make sure that we are representing New York City history in its fullest breadth and richness. With this latest expansion, raising the number of editors from 10 to 15, our digital semiweekly now has much stronger chronological and thematic representation among its first readers and solicitors than ever before. We’ve also recruited (if we may say) an impressively talented group of scholars. Click here to learn more about them.

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Peter-Christian AignerComment