As a tour guide I am supposed to tell people how wonderful New York City is...I do. But they don’t see that Harlem is now only 40% black, overrun by self-righteous white yuppies renovating Harlem’s brownstones pushing the original residents out. Greenwich Village once an epicenter of gay culture, dance clubs, cool quirky shops, cutting edge boutiques is now devoid of anything gay, buried in GAP, Polo, Starbucks, Sephora, Michael Kors, more GAP, more Polo, more Michael Kors. (Btw, Michael Kors being a screaming queen doesn’t count.)
The mushroom rate of the ‘space needle’ über high, über rich residential high rises on 57th and 58th Streets will put parts of Central Park’s south end into permanent shadow at certain times of the year. Jackie Onassis is turning in her grave.
Jackie O. would also be horrified to discover that grand Central Terminal is to be encased in super tall, super glassy high rises, therefore dwarfing the spectacular station, reducing it to a needle in a haystack.
Tribeca and Soho once filled with artists and art spaces are now filled with tourists artfully shopping. Times Square has become a 2nd rate shopping mall filled with Elmos badgering your for $5 photos. The lower east side aka ‘the Bowery’ is rapidly loosing any trace of our large immigrant history. It IS filled with our ‘new immigrants’ the young rich, spacey Millennials, trust fund babies and tech company millionaires. Apartments costing $1 million in the Bowery are cheap.
Little Italy is nothing but 6 or so blocks of Italian restaurants trying to hang on while the Chinese and the stores of Soho eat up their once large thriving Italian neighborhood. Fuggedaboudit.
New York’s harbor was once the busiest harbor in the world. Today, with a combination of damage from hurricane Sandy and the sheer greed of the Bloomberg/DeBlasio real estate ‘developers’, in South Street Seaport nothing will be left but a few gratuitous red brick buildings and only one old sailing ship to be now surrounded by a mirror glass ersatz ‘Pier 17’ and two gigantically tall mirror glass ‘luxury towers’ encroaching on America’s historical land mark the Brooklyn Bridge.
Go to Brooklyn then you say? Oh no, that is being gentrified at a hyper speed such has been never witnessed before in America. The foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is now being encased in a towering glass apartment building in DUMBO and the once spectacular view of the bridge from the Brooklyn Heights promenade is now obliterated by a gigantic apartment complex. If anyone would have told me that one day the views of the Brooklyn Bridge will be gone, I’da said you’re nuts.
Further in Brooklyn, whites buying $1+ million town homes in Bedford–Stuyvesant is now the norm. What was once our largest African American neighborhood, now has it’s residents being forced to go back to their Southern roots where they might be able to afford the rent. Meanwhile ultra hipster Williamsburg battles it out with ultra orthodox Satmar Jewish Williamsburg for real estate, who will win is anybody’s guess.
Hey, but Hans you’re safe in Queens. Not so, as my neighborhood fights off the flood of ‘poor upper middle class’ who can’t quite afford the $500,000 to $1 million dollar glass towers of the East River’s Long Island City. One by one we are seeing the affordable shops disappear, street vendors forbidden and a slimey corrupt councilman like Jimmy Van Bramer sign off on real estate deals wiping places like the spectacular 5 Pointz Graffiti Museum and the immigrant’s car-repair shops of Willet’s Point off the map while he brown noses his way up in the mayor’s administration.
If anyone has noticed, I haven’t posted daily “Photos of the Day” since mid June, I needed time to reflect. I will continue to tell people how ‘wonderful’ New York is, but I will also tell them that the city is an illusion, a big grand, sparkling, smoke & mirrors illusion. With my camera I will try to find something worth capturing that someone’s cell phone camera has not. My main concentration will be on researching and writing a book about my Von Rittern land baron roots in Bremen, Germany, and a second book on my Broadway stage door memories.
In the meanwhile, my German guests, while taking my tours say to me, “Sadly, it’s happening in Germany too, capture it while you can.”
Postcard story from New York: “STOMPING AT THE SAVOY IN HARLEM”
New York, October 15, 2:00pm, 1954
The Savoy the showplace of Harlem, has acquired an international reputation for its unique styles of dancing. Such dances as the Lindy-Hop, Big Apple, and the latest of all sensations the Mutiny Swing, had their origin at The Savoy.
To: Mrs. M. A. Ryan
U.S. Army Air Corps
8505 W. Warren Ave
“Hi Marg: We arrived in NY Monday at 9:30p.m. are having a swell time here. Say hello to the girls for me
Connie + Bob”
Sadly Connie & Bob’s adventures at the famed Savoy were never received by Mrs. M. A Ryan at the U.S. Army Air Corps since the postcard is stamped “FOUND IN PACKAGE BOX COLLECTION”.
It is guaranteed that Connie & Bob had a ‘swell time’ since The Savoy nightclub was dubbed the swingingest hot spot in Harlem and all of New York City. The first non segregated club allowing blacks and whites to swing together. The famed Cotton Club was for white patrons only with famed black musicians on stage. At The Savoy – real hep cats dug some cool jive on the be-bop side! They were jammed packed every night from March 12, 1926 to July 10, 1958. Often thousands had to be turned away. The Savoy is deeply rooted in our dance, music and culture. Music united all at the Savoy !
Read about it’s wonderful history here and see the link to the YouTube videos below.
See a brief video history:
With swing’s rise to popularity and Harlem becoming a connected Black community, The Savoy opened at a perfect time, giving the rising talented and passionate Black dancers an equally beautiful venue. The Savoy’s ballroom, which was 10,000 square feet in size, was on the second floor and a block long. It could hold up to 4,000 people. The interior was painted pink and the walls were mirrored. Colored lights danced on the sprung layered wood floor. In 1926, the Savoy contained a spacious lobby framing a huge, cut-glass chandelier and marble staircase.
The Savoy was extremely popular right from the start. A headline from the New York Age March 20, 1926 reads “Savoy Turns 2,000 Away On Opening Night – Crowds Pack Ball Room All Week”. The ballroom didn’t go dark a single night of the week.
The Savoy even participated in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, presenting “The Evolution of Negro Dance”.
The Savoy was unique in having the constant presence of a skilled elite of the best Lindy Hoppers, known as “Savoy Lindy Hoppers”. Occasionally, groups of dancers such Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers turned professional and performed in Broadway and Hollywood productions. Whitey turned out to be quite a successful agent, and in 1937, the Marx Brothers’ movie A Day at the Races featured the group. Herbert White was a bouncer at the Savoy who was made floor manager in the early 30s. He was sometimes known as Mac, but with his ambition to scout dancers at the ballroom to form his own group, he became widely known as Whitey for the white streak of hair down the center of his head. He looked for dancers who were “. . . young, stylized, and, most of all, they had to have a beat, they had to swing”. The Savoy held a yearly dancing festival called the Harvest Moon Ball featuring lindy dancers. The first Ball was held in 1935, and the contestants introduced the Lindy Hop to Europe the next year.
Unlike many ballrooms such as the Cotton Club, the Savoy always had a no-discrimination policy. Generally, the clientele was 85% black and 15% white, although sometimes there was an even 50/50 split. Lindy hop legend Frankie Manning noted that patrons were only judged on their dancing skills and not on the color of their skin: “One night somebody came over and said, ‘Hey man, Clark Gable just walked in the house.’ Somebody else said, ‘Oh, yeah, can he dance?’ All they wanted to know when you came into the Savoy was, do you dance?”. Virtuosic dancers, however, excluded others from the northeast corner of the dance floor, now referred to as the “Cat’s Corner,” although the term was not used at the time. This part of the floor where the professional Lindy dancers ruled was on the 141st street side of the room and was then referred to just as “the corner”. Only Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers could dance and work routines there. Competition was huge in “the corner” and every serious hopper awaited the nightly “showtime”. Other dancers would create a horseshoe around the band and “ . . . only the greatest Lindy-hoppers would stay on the floor, to try to eliminate each other”. On 140th street was the opposite, mellow corner which was popular with dancing couples. The skilled Tango dancer known as The Sheik frequented this corner.
Many dances such as Lindy Hop (which was named after Charles Lindbergh and originated in 1927) were developed and became famous there. It was known downtown as the “Home of Happy Feet” but uptown, in Harlem, as “the Track” because the floor was long and thin. The Savoy earned the nickname “Home of Happy Feet” from Lana Turner who remarked of the dancers, “What happy feet these people have”. The Lindy Hop is also known as The Jitterbug and was born out of “. . . mounting exhilaration and the ‘hot’ interaction of music and dance”. Other dances that were conceived at the Savoy are The Flying Charleston, Jive, Snakehips, Rhumboogie, and variations of the Shimmy, Mambo, and many more.
It is estimated that the ballroom generated $250,000 in annual profit in its peak years from the late 20s to the 40s. Each year, the ballroom was visited by near 700,000 people. The normal entrance fee was 30 to 85 cents per person, depending on what time a person came. 30 cents was the base price, but after 6pm the fee was 60cents, and then 85cents after 8pm. The Savoy had made enough money by its peak of business in 1936 that $50,000 was spent on remodeling it.[
The ballroom had a double bandstand that held one large and one medium sized band running against its east wall. Music was continuous as the alternative band was always in position and ready to pick up the beat when the previous one had completed its set. The bouncers, who had previously worked as boxers, basketball players, and the like, wore tuxedos and made $100/night. The floor was watched inconspicuously by a security force of four men at a time who were headed by Jack La Rue, and no man was allowed in who wasn’t dressed in a jacket with a tie. Besides the security staff, the Savoy was populated by “Harlem’s most beautiful women”: the Savoy Hostesses. They would be fired for consorting with patrons outside the ballroom, but inside the hostesses would teach people to dance and were dance partners for anyone who purchased a 25 cent dance ticket. Roseland Ballroom hostesses often visited the savoy on their night off; this inspired Buchanon to create Monday-Ladies-Free Nights. Other special events began during the week, including the giveaway of a new car every Saturday. The floor had to be replaced every 3 years due to its constant use.
“Stompin’ at the Savoy“, a 1934 Big Band classic song and jazz standard recorded by Chick Webb, was named after the ballroom. The song was featured in an episode of I Love Lucy in which she performs the Jitterbug.
Chick Webb was the leader of the best known Savoy house band during the mid-1930s. A teenage Ella Fitzgerald, fresh from a talent show win at the Apollo Theater in 1934, became its vocalist. Floating World Pictures recently made a documentary called “The Savoy King” about Webb, Ella, and the ballroom. It was shown at the 50th New York Film Festival.
The Savoy was the site of many famous “Battles of the Bands” or “Cutting Contests“, which started when the Benny Goodman Orchestra challenged Chick Webb in 1937. Webb and his band were declared the winners of that contest. In 1938, Webb was once again challenged by Count Basie Band. While Webb was officially declared the winner again, there was a lack of consensus on who actually won that night. Earle Warren, the alto saxophonist for Basie reports that they had worked on a song called “Swingin’ the Blues” for the purpose of competing and says, “When we unloaded our cannons, that was the end”. Webb’s “unbeatable” band had been bested.
The Savoy participated in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, presenting “The Evolution of Negro Dance”.
Despite efforts by Borough President Hulan Jack and others to save it, the Savoy and the nearby Cotton Club were demolished for the construction of a housing complex, Bethune Towers/Delano Village. The Ballroom was shut down as a result of “charges of vice filed by the police department and Army”. The mayor was the target of protest by angered members of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The ballroom was auctioned off for $25,000 to a “middle-income housing project”. Count Basie was quoted in the paper saying “With the passing of the Savoy Ballroom, a part of show business is gone. I feel about the same way I did when someone told me the news that Bill (Bojangles) Robinson was dead”. On 26 May 2002, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, surviving members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, unveiled a commemorative plaque for the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets. The tradition of swing has lived on today and many surviving dancers from the Savoy still dance when they can. As Norma Miller says in her memoir, “Although Harlem created it, the Lindy belongs to everyone”.
Photo of the day: THE DIVINE AUDACITY ~ CATHEDRAL IN NEW YORK CITY TO START CHARGING ADMISSION – Over the weekend New York City’s gothic treasure, St. John the Divine had the ‘divine’ audacity/necessity to send a memorandum out to the tour guide industry advising us that as of February 1st of this year tour groups will be charged admission. Brace yourselves – $5.00 (4€ euros) – to enter a church! The 9/11 memorial charges a cover charge of $2.00.
For the many, many of you that I have taken there on my tours, you well know it is one of the mostly undiscovered treasures of the city. They are fascinated to see the unfinished towers and dome. They love the story of the center doors only opening three times a year for Easter, the blessing of the bicycles and the blessing of the animals. To see the World Trade Center Towers on the columns in front begins to fascinate the wonderful mixing of old and new history inside.
Inside there is always a sense of awe. I advise my guests to take a brochure and put a donation in the donation box at the entrance. You then pass wonderful hand carved 15th century German wooden choir stalls and enter this magnificent world of surprises. The fireman’s memorial, the American history stained glass window that has the prototype of the first television of 1926 in it as well as movie stars Jack Benny and Mary Livingston. Another stained glass window shows the sinking of the Titanic. I tell the touching story of how the cathedral cared for the AIDS patients of NYC when no one else dared to as we look at the AIDS memorial. I show them the plaque dedicated to the horrible bookstore fire that damaged the church in 2001, ruining the organ’s pipes for 10 years. I show them the ‘zipper’ of the church marking the finished and unfinished part of the cathedral. I show them such wonderful worldwide gifts as the 17th century Barberini tapestries, the golden chests donated by the King of Siam, the urns given by the emperor of Japan, the Keith Haring graffiti triptych in the Asian chapel donated by John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. I lead them through the 7 chapels dedicated to the main 7 languages spoken in NYC in 1892. I take them up near the altar for one of the most breathtaking views of the front stained glass window containing 10,000 pieces of glass, 40 feet in diameter. I show them menorahs on the altar as well, explaining the church welcomes all faiths.
Well – they welcome all faiths, but they now do not welcome groups unless you pay to get into the house of god. Never at no time in New York has there been a house of god that has had the need to charge admission into what I thought is the house of the people. St. John the Divine is desperate for money, last year having sold off precious adjacent land to the church and allowing god awful high rise apartments to be built, therefore obstructing the rays of sunlight into the north side of the church. Now they are obstructing the tourists of New York.
As a fellow tour guide Tom said: “What they really, really, need is help to grow their endowment. Presumably they have an endowment, like Universities and Museums. With a massive old building that must have massive maintenance costs, there is no longer a massive congregation as in the old days to keep up the place. That’s where smart and competent money-managers take hold of the finances of the institution and go on a major campaign to grow a big endowment, sufficient for maintenance. This is how Carnegie Hall was saved. The famed Koch Brothers have contributed literally hundreds of millions of dollars: $100,000,000 EACH to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Lincoln Center and The American Museum of Natural History, total $300,000,000. So, who’s in charge of this program at The Cathedral?”
They are nickel and diming, almost literally, a huge problem. It will have the most unfortunate and unintended consequence of keeping some likely visitors O-U-T. The sudden sticker shock of $5.00 will leave many at the door. I can understand starting at $2.00 – but $5.00?! A full bus of 55 guests would cost $275!! The biggest losers here are the young visitors to New York, the student tour groups. My student tour groups from Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and all along the coast. They are already on a tight budget, eating at McDonalds to save money on the big trip from their home town. They enter St. John the Divine starry-eyed and filled with wonderment at this magnificent gothic structure, the likes of which most will not get to see unless they are privileged enough to go to Europe. Sadly, it is simply adding itself to the list of those famous cathedrals of Europe all forced to do the same out of necessity. Notre Dame in Paris charges €3/$4.10 to see the treasury of riches. The Basilica in Rome charges 12€ euros/$16.00. The Cologne/Köln Dom in Germany charges 4€ Euros/$5.00. Seville cathedral in Spain charges 8€ euros/$10 dollars. St. Paul’s cathedral in London charges 16€ euros/$21.85. The wonderful art-filled little adobe churches in poor Tucson, Arizona do not charge at all. St. Patrick’s cathedral on the wealthy Fifth Avenue here in NYC does not need to charge. St. John the Divine in New York now wants to be added to the world wide list of those charging admission.
Perhaps St. John the Divine got the idea from the very recent surprising November 2013 decision of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to charge $10/7 € euros admission and perhaps I should feel I am getting a bargain. (In comparison, The Museum of Natural History’s full price adult admission charge is $22/16€ euros). But is this the beginning of a possible disturbing and disheartening trend in the famed churches New York City? Where the declining parish necessitates charging at the door? Most of the churches in Harlem are only surviving on the Sunday gospel tour dollars. It is no longer ‘the fashion’ to go to church in most large cities, therefore the declining membership results in declining donations. These grand cathedrals were built for the masses – church going masses who today – are tourists. A sad trend.
I am only a New York City tour guide and have no idea how this cathedral functions. But, what is needed at St. John the Divine is a professional, knowledgeable, experienced, committed, well paid, position of fundraiser to grow a serious endowment. Considering their list of well connected parishioners, their current plan seems like nothing more than a high school-level accounting class solution…if that.
Here is the memo:
To: Professional Guides, Tour Operators, and Guest Lecturers
From: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Department of Public Education and Visitor Services
Please note the following updates in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s visiting group policy, effective February 1, 2014.
• Self-guided groups are encouraged to schedule their visit at least two weeks in advance. Groups are defined as ten or more visitors. Scheduling requests can be made through a web site request form, or through the Public Education Office by phone or email below. The group will receive confirmation of a one-hour time period to visit the Cathedral.
• Group arrivals are permitted between 9am and 5pm daily.
• Groups should enter through the Cathedral’s southern door at Amsterdam Avenue. The group leader or guide must check in at the Visitor Center upon arrival.
• Payment of the discounted group admission of $5 per person must be made upon arrival. One group leader or guide receives complimentary admission.
• Groups that do not pay group admission may only enter the Cathedral as individual visitors.
• The Cathedral accepts cash, checks, and Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. Checks should be made payable to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
• Tour companies are encouraged to join the Cathedral’s voucher program to obviate admission payment on arrival in exchange for discounts and quarterly billing. To join the voucher program or receive more information please contact the Public Education Office.
• Scheduled groups will be given access to the entire Cathedral, including restrooms, as well as brochures for their participants. Confirmed groups will be alerted of changes to access as soon as possible. Groups that schedule to arrive during times of limited access will be notified in their confirmation.
• Late or early group arrivals will be accommodated as best as possible, however we do not
guarantee access to all parts of the Cathedral.
|“The Apollo Theater mourns the loss of civil rights leader, educator and revolutionary politician Nelson Mandela. In 1990, Nelson and Winnie Mandela visited Harlem, New York shortly after his South African prison release. His triumphant story of fighting against the South African government for their racist policies resonated deeply with the Harlem community.
It was an honor to have Mr. Mandela visit us in Harlem and we send our condolences to Mr. Mandela’s family, friends and supporters around the world.”
© 2013 Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The mighty Quinn: For the past twelve years, Quinn and Bloomberg have systematically destroyed New York City as the city has become a city of the über rich and the very poor, 45+% now live near or at the poverty level. We have lost over 12 hospitals during their term in office, glass luxury apartments replace them. Quinn ruled the city and controlled the zoning laws with her slush funds making the city open season for the greedy real estate developers as zoning law changes have become the norm. South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 is being torn down, neighborhoods like Harlem, Greenwich Village and Soho are loosing their soul. Her tearing down of St. Vincent’s Hospital, it’s church and the 9/11 memorial is the most egregious. As the years passed, she became the most powerful politician only second to Bloomberg, a power that was had by vitriolic temper outbursts and control of the city funds.