Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Neighborhood

Christmas tree preparations along Madison Avenue. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016. Fair yesterday, chillier tomorrow as the weatherman forecasts “colder” coming our way. Well, it is December. But yesterday, while it was overcast, it was mild, in the 50s.

In the afternoon I went over to Henderson Place, which is just three blocks up the avenue from my apartment. Frequent NYSD readers are familiar with it because every Springtime I photograph the blooming pear trees that line the avenue in front of the houses.

Carmen Dell’Orefice had called me last week to alert me that they were having an “unveiling” of a new sign – a Historic District Marker. Henderson Place is actually a group of residences – an enclave – that was originally 30 three story red brick houses built between 1880 and 1882. A businessman named John Cleves Henderson owned the land and the area was beginning to develop from warehouses and manufacturing shops into residential neighborhoods.
The late 19th century map of the block (lower right rectangle) covering the Historic Marker about to be unveiled. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Christina Davis, and Carmen Dell'Orefice.
The unveiling by Christina Davis. The Historic Marker.
East End Avenue was then called Avenue B uptown (York Avenue was still Avenue A — it was later renamed York after the famous Sgt. Alvin York, the most decorated American soldier of the First World War, later immortalized by Gary Cooper in the film “Sergeant York”). The city was expanding uptown back then. An elevated railway was slated for Second Avenue — three blocks west of Avenue B/East End which would be drawing more working people to the area.

Mr. Henderson had directed his architects to produce a series of these houses, all architecturally related but in varying styles, for people of  “modest means.”  Of the 30 houses completed by 1882, twenty-one are still standing, and as recently as last year one of them was on the market for $7.5 million. Modest millions.
The view from the Marker toward the corner of 86th and East End with Carl Schurz Park in the background
From the corner of 86th and the avenue looking south toward 1, 7, and 10 Gracie Square which overlooks the Park.
When the enclave was first built, there was a coal yard on the corner across 86th Street where 130 East End Avenue sits today. That should give you an idea of the feel of the neighborhood. There was also a park in the making across the avenue, first called East End Park and today known as Carl Schurz Park — bordered on the north by Gracie Mansion the Mayor’s house — and on the south by Gracie Square, and on the west by the Chapin School for Girls and a three residential buildings including 120 East End Avenue which Vincent Astor built for himself and his wealthy friends in 1931.

The Henderson Place enclave drew artists and theatre people as residents to the neighborhood. Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine lived here at the height of their Broadway careers. More than 130 years later, Mr. Henderson’s enclave for those of modest means adds the substantial lustre of history — and the test of time and style — to the entire neighborhood. In a word: solid — something even Mr. Astor’s building cannot match.
The Christmas Tree that must have gone up this past weekend.
So, all this to tell you that I went over there yesterday afternoon to photograph the unveiling of the sign. Not a major moment in New York but very important because it demonstrates how New Yorkers keep New York a “small town” in its fashion, something that is harder and harder to find in our world.

There was a small group attending of supporters of New York Landmarks, Historic Districts and Preservation including Carmen, and Christina Davis of the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation, Council Member Ben Kallos and Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair of the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. After the unveiling, those attending went across the avenue over to Gracie Mansion for cocktails (or tea).
The south and east sides of the Henderson Place enclave, looking north from the Park.
Postscript to yesterday’s Diary: Re my posting about Harry Benson and the documentary about his life, “Harry Benson; Shoot First.” I had mentioned that he got his first camera, his earliest professional encouragement, from his father when he was first a teenager, and that his father built a small shed behind the family house for Harry to use as a darkroom. I learned from his wife Gigi soon after we went online yesterday that Harry’s father wrote about and photographed animals for Scottish Field Magazine. Also founder of Calderpark Zoo in Glasgow, the senior Mr. Benson lectured on his work at Oxford. He was also awarded an MBE by the Queen for his efforts.
Harry's father, S.H. Benson, MBE, holding two baby tigers when he was curator of Calderpark Zoo in Glasgow which he also founded. Photo by Harry Benson.
Harry's father, S.H. Benson with his wife Mary and daughter Joan in London to receive the MBE from Queen Elizabeth.

Contact DPC here.