Just as we walked past them…
That was taken from the the high line… I was so looking forward to this but THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE. You walk in a line of people up one way then back the other. They stop in front of you. They are slow. They have selfie sticks. They are everything I hate as a fast walker in the big city.
Bridges and ferries:
And to end? Trash collection:
and garbage trucks. They gotta park somewhere.
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space is amazing. Its very existence, its declaration of ongoing resistance against gentrification and displacement, and the many wonderful urban spaces to be found on the Lower East Side. A testament to all those who have fought to build community and to preserve it in that face of brutal development pressures driven by the commodification of land.
Ah, the Lower East Side…
For so long it was only known to me through Neil Smith’s work, his descriptions of the battles over Tompkins Square Park and a vibrancy in the squatting/camping/we-will-not-be-moved-from-these-spaces organising that I always found so inspiring.
I saw it on the map, saw this museum marked there and so we headed that way after the inspiration of Harlem — where better to go?
As a living history of urban activism, the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) chronicles the East Village community’s history of grassroots action. It celebrates the local activists who transformed abandoned spaces and vacant lots into vibrant community spaces and gardens. Many of these innovative, sustainable concepts and designs have since spread out to the rest of the city and beyond.
We wandered through the small museum staffed by volunteers — hardly a museum, a wonderful community space of two rooms, one ground floor and the basement where a video is running. The walls of both are lined with pictures and stories of the people who squatted these buildings to create and save housing, transformed vacant lots into vibrant gardens and community spaces, developed movements to push for political will in support of bicycles over cars, as well as cycling lanes, bike racks and respect. This building itself was squatted, which is how this place can exist at all. Every community should have such an accessible shopfront space telling such important stories, with people wandering in and out.
I got a birthday present there! The Architecture of Change , edited by Jerilou Hammett and Maggie Wrigley, an amazing collection of 36 articles from DESIGNER/builder magazine describing movement and struggle around space, design, art, architecture, education and justice (so far, I am only a quarter of the way through) around the country. I opened it up and within the first few pages found a picture of the Vilchis brothers lounging around Boyle heights which made me so happy.
I was less happy that the article failed to mention Union de Vecinos, co-founded by Leonardo and one of the grassroots organisations in LA that I love and admire most. Opportunity lost, they have so much to teach. Ah well.
Tompkins Square Park is still a cool public space full of life and people (though perhaps too much concrete), a very different one than Smith described if I remember rightly (but so much bigger than I was expecting! So maybe my memory is faulty…but still closes at midnight, so no one is welcome to sleep here). And look, Charlie Parker Place.
A public park alongside a medley of community gardens, they are everywhere, and I was truly smitten. Especially after reading the love and fierce resistance it took to first build and then keep them.
I wish we’d have had more time here to see some of the other radical spots here, but we were heading over to Williamsburg to meet my cousin. We had a quick walk to the metro — and a quick stop in Bluestockings bookstore on the way. I sent them a lot of emails in my PM Press days, and their amazing selection did not disappoint. Two of the books I’ve worked on under Postcolonial Fiction (!) by Gary Phillips and James Kilgore — seeing that is such a pleasure:
On the way — Joe Strummer saying know your rights:
Such cool city streets and a wealth of things to see and places to eat (omg the best pastrami sandwiches ever at Harry and Ida’s Meat & Supply Co), we loved this place:
There is a wonderful and all-too short video of Faith Ringgold talking about Harlem’s Sugar Hill, and the many people who lived there on the New York Times website from 2010. This comes just above a map that shows building by building where some of the people I admire most once lived.
I wish I had found this earlier. I love hunting down the homes of people who have inspired me, because it always takes you into residential streets, among the everyday places of the city that as a tourist you never see. It also allows you a slightly different glimpse of the person themselves — after all, I believe places shape us just as we shape places. Of course, a lot has changed in Harlem since these incredible days. There is so much nostalgia not for segregation, but for these spaces that concentrated community in such a way. Look at all of the people who lived only a few blocks from each other.
We did, however, know to find 409 and 555 Edgecombe. But the best site I found (also post-visit), was from the NY architecture site from a report prepared by Elisa Urbanelli, Landmarks Consultant (excerpted here, there is another good history of sugar Hill found in the docs establishing Sugar Hill as a historic district, much of it reintegrated into the arguing documents to extend the Sugar Hill historic district to include Hamilton Heights).
The Ebony article characterized Sugar Hill society and the residents of 409 and 555 with the observation that “Harlem’s most talked-about men and women in law, sports, civil liberties, music, medicine, painting, business, and literature live on Sugar Hill.” Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. presented a portrait of the Hill’s residential grandeur in 1935:
On Sugar Hill…Harlem’s would-be ‘sassiety’ goes to town. ‘Midst panelled walls, parquet floors, electric refrigeration, colored tile baths, luxurious lobbies, elevators and doormen resplendent in uniforms, they cavort and disport themselves in what is called the best ofay manner.”
There were racketeers and gamblers who called the Hill home, living side by side with judges, scholars, and writers. In the 1940s Ebony reported that Sugar Hill incomes ranged from $3,000 to $7,000 per annum, most being within the upper half of wages in the United States, yet also estimated that one-quarter of Hill dwellers had to take in boarders and make other sacrifices in order to meet expenses. Rents in Harlem were generally high, but in Sugar Hill they were even higher. At 409, tenants paid from fifty to ninety-eight dollars per month, while at 555 Edgecombe, two-and-one-half rooms rented for sixty-six dollars and five rooms for eighty-seven dollars. As one observer commented, “…Harlem prices leave little for luxurious living. The main difference between those on Sugar Hill and those in the slums is the knowledge of where their next meal is coming form and, at night, a spaciousness which helps erase the memory of a Jim Crow day.”
There’s a link to http://www.hometoharlem.com/ at the end of this, but it connects to nothing. I honestly do not know why I didn’t become a landmarks consultant. Best. Job. Ever.
But to return to who actually lived here — I’ve pieced this together from multiple sources, which I find astonishing. There is also an absence of plaques or markers, though it was nice to see a number of streets named after the famous people who had lived on them.
363 Edgecombe is where Faith Ringgold herself lived — I was hoping to see her quilt at The Studio in Harlem, but much of it was closed in preparation for new exhibits. Still.
365 Edgecombe – Cecilia Hodges
375 Edgecombe – Roy Eaton
377 Edgecombe – Sonny Rollins
381 Edgecombe – Joe Lewis
409 Edgecombe: Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois (Du Bois!), Aaron Douglas, William Stanley Braithwaite, Clarence Cameron White, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Jimmy Lunceford (conductor at the Cotton Club), Dr May Chinn.
I remember from Walter White’s autobiography that he shared a building with Du Bois, it’s actually hard to imagine the two of them and Roy Wilkins occasionally meeting in the lobby. Back to Elisa Urbanelli:
No. 409 Edgecombe was certainly the most prestigious of addresses on Sugar Hill in the 1930s and ’40s. Counted among the residents of this very special enclave were people of national and international significance. As one who grew up at 409, Arnold Braithwaite eloquently explains, “…nowhere in New York City, and perhaps the country, will you find any other apartment building, whose halls and suites echo with the ghosts, as it were, of distinguished men and women, many of international repute, who were forced to over come the obstacles of poverty, for most; of pernicious racism, for all.”
As Ebony stated in the mid-1940s, “legend, only slightly exaggerated, says bombing 409 would wipe out Negro leadership for the next 20 years.” Indeed, residents have included such notable African-American luminaries as scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois; former N.A.A.C.P. leader Walter White; White’s successor, Roy Wilkins; and Thurgood Marshall, who was then special counsel to the same esteemed organization and later became the first African-American Justice on the U.S.Supreme Court. They were joined by New York State Assemblyman William Andrews, Assistant Attorney General of New York State Harry G. Bragg, and Charles Toney, a municipal judge, as well as others who had crossed the racial barrier into the fields of politics and law. Residents involved in the arts included renowned poet, critic, and literary anthologist William Stanley Braithwaite; Aaron Douglas, the famed painter and illustrator of the Harlem Renaissance and head of the art department of Fisk University; Luckey Roberts and Jimmie Lunceford,, popular jazz musicians; actor and singer Jules Bledsoe; and classical composer Clarence Cameron White. Another long-time resident, prominent physician Dr. May Edward Chinn, had an office at the ground story and lived upstairs. (For more information about these and other tenants of 409, see the Appends.)
What it looks like now? Sadly with scaffolding — it felt like almost every building we hoped to see had scaffolding:
A view beyond to see how it sits on this street, looking down Edgecombe towards the more modest buildings (but still Sugar Hill):
An atmospheric view down the backside of this stretch of Edgecombe:
And from here you can see all the way (looking up, it must be said) to 555 Edgecombe.
It left off that list Zora Neale Hurston. Wikipedia notes Kenneth Clarke (who wrote an amazing study of Harlem) but forgets his wife Mamie who was equally brilliant, Andy Kirk and Canada Lee. Joe Louis lived here a while too, he, Basie and Robeson are noted in the AIA Guide to New York City. The Lonely Planet adds Billy Strayhorn.
One of the few old pictures I was able to find:
Here is Duke Ellington’s ‘Take the A Train’ up to Sugar Hill (though we took the C)
The loveliest thing of all is that musician Marjorie Eliot opens her room up in the building, inviting people into her living room on Sundays for live jazz.
The saddest thing — that the National Park Service listing for this historic building only lists Robeson. Which is fucking crazy.
I did find one lovely site — While We Are Still Here — that is displaying information about 409 and 555 Edgcombe Ave.
While We Are Still Here (WWSH) ensures that the “post-gentrification” community of Harlem and beyond will honor and find a meaningful connection to the legacy of African American achievement, and its paramount importance to world culture.
What we didn’t see?
749 St Nicholas Ave — Ralph Ellison
773 St Nicholas Ave — C. Luckeyth (lucky) Roberts
But here’s the view down St Nicholas Ave:
Harlem though…Harlem is so much more than this of course. We Went to the Schomberg Library, I remember Ella Baker describing coming out of the subway here, staying in the Y.
Saw The Studio, saw the Apollo, walked past this:
Walked down some of these streets of the famous brownstones I have read so much about (how can I see these the same after reading Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones?)
Found 267 W 136th St, a rooming house where almost everyone from the Harlem Renaissance stayed: Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Bennett and others, and closely connected with Fire! magazine.
Nothing here either to note the brilliance these walls have contained.
We saw memories of Marcus Garvey:
A bit of East Harlem (SO not enough), memorialised in a Tito Puento street sign:
There is so much more we didn’t see here of course. So much left to see, I should say.
Ain’t it the truth? Straight from the awesome Emily’s Cartoons.
I worried that moving north would make the tradition of bluebell hunting on my birthday much harder, and I was right, but on the 22nd of April we still found lots of them, though it seemed perhaps they weren’t quite at their height.
The walk from Altrincham to Durham Massey also wasn’t quite a country walk, but it had its moments.
From the town:
With its suspicious great-coated highwaymen and thieves:
I confess, though, I love these few weeks when we get to walk softly through a world of flower petals:
We had a bit of country lane before arriving at the deer park crawling with human beings (and a few highly indifferent deer):
I confess I didn’t love the house (once belonging to the Earls of Warrington and then Stamford) so much as the old brick outbuildings — some of them from the original Elizabethan period I imagine, like the mill:
The stables (and everything being surrounded by such beautiful stretches of water really helps):
These are places of work, unlike the ostentation of the house which is a thing of Empire. And if you weren’t sure, they immortalised a black figure right dead centre in front of it to remind you:
Not a slave, the plaque is quick to proclaim, but a moor. Cemented into eternal service.
We were there for the bluebells though, I admit I should have chosen a wilder wood, with no memories of slavery and long stretches of bluebells to be stumbled across at will, but ah well. They were beautiful here none the less.
The other spring flowers were also stunning, they have truly done a wonderful job making this a winter/early spring garden with color lasting beyond all of the crocuses and most of the daffodils, but before many of the other flowers are yet out.
The new foliage of the trees:
We walked back to Navigation Road station along the Bridgewater Canal.
Returning to both Victorian industrial splendour in the shape of these 1897 Linotype works (clearly being prepared for what I imagine will be more ugly luxury flats, but I am glad they are keeping the facades at least):
And some more modern splendours of ugliness:
We ended the day with Fast and Furious 8, which was a ridiculous and enjoyable as expected, though this AMC cinema always make me feel as though the apocalypse has already happened when we come in this entrance.
A grand day.
Some thoughts and notes on the Crisis Conference held in London last Thursday — and my first ever storify blog! It’s pretty cool, though almost as terrifying as tweeting as your every word is immediately out there — I don’t know why this blog feels safer but so it is…
Queequeg! Who could have guessed that he stayed — well, Amos Smalley, upon whom Melville based the character — in this very room (that top room, there at the sunlit end), in this very house where I first met Sam’s grandmother wearing a baseball cap backwards to dinner causing what I later realised was probably some level of disapproval. I stayed here the last time I came, when Queequeg’s room was Tas’s. Her family built this house long ago.
So exciting. Good to come back to a place that always feels a bit like home away from home, after Sam and me got ourselves through college commiserating over worries about our families, lack of funds, the love and loss of land, and missing wildness. We also both lived in in places inundated by seasonal tourists, though the ones on her island were of a slightly different sort. We would escape to the basement in Mary Lyons to drink tea in the evenings — escape everyone else — listen to music, talk about home and writing. We invented the happiness game. I wish we lived within at least a thousand miles of each other.
I love that it still feels wild here, and old. Surrounded by ocean:
Walking through woods full of lovely stone walls from when this place was once grazed flat by sheep:
Old iron wheels and the great tower from those (very semi)industrial times when this island once produced the bricks that helped build Boston’s Beacon Hill
The beginnings of spring (already in full daffodil flower here in Manchester, with crocuses being done), and the season of pinkletinks. I was invited to share the audible delights of peeper’s corner, and we sought them further here:
I am forgetting this pond’s name, black silver reflecting the last of the beech leaves before the new green begins. And now the pinkletink.
Imagine them so loud they can be heard for miles, through the glass car windows even. So loud that as you approach they hurt your ears. They remained invisible to us, escaping to obscurity and silence as we approached.
They are also reintroducing Cranberry bogs, amazing:
This island also has the best baked goods I have had in ages. But mostly, I loved the beauty of it. The emptiness of it. And I miss the whole of this family, who feel a bit like mine, except that they are always so very late. I was so sad to leave…yet I was leaving in the co-pilot’s seat of a tiny Cessna (look, it’s me!)
This made me feel like a flyer or a film star, and was an incredible view as we flew through crystal clear skies to Boston. I now know what some, not all, of those buttons, levers and gauges do.
It took the sting off, I confess. But I was still sad to go.
We got more sunsets the last time I was here, seven years ago now… hope it’s not another seven before I get back.